A stage monologue and a BAFTA-nominated short film make a unique double bill for writer Geoff Thompson in his home town this week, writes Terry Grimley ...
Geoff Thompson always wanted to be a writer, but it was the nine years he spent minding the doors of Coventry nightclubs that would prove the making of him.
"Mine was always the story that got read out at school," he recalls. "When other people were writing five lines I was doing 15 pages. I wrote my first film when I was 11.
"But nobody picked up on it. I was surrounded by people saying people like us don't write. That's really hard to break out of."
So he ended up doing a succession of jobs - pizza-maker, factory worker, hod-carrier - before taking up the one that would eventually unlock a writing career that so far has spanned theatre, film, fiction and non-fiction and brought him a BAFTA award for the short film Brown Paper Bag.
Ask him why he became a nightclub bouncer and his answer could hardly be more startling.
"I had a debilitating fear of violent confrontation, so I became a doorman to confront my fears. I drew a pyramid of my fears on a piece of paper and confronted them, and the pinnacle of my pyramid was this. It was really a fear of change, to be honest.
"I went on the door to eliminate fear, but I realised you don't eliminate it, you learn to drive it. The danger is that you become the person you hate. It's a very seductive trade - very difficult to get into and very difficult to get out of."
Thompson maintains that appearances are deceptive and that doormen are rarely men of steel. Many have themselves been victims of bullying.
In Coventry he found himself in the frontline against two generations-worth of displaced anger and frustration rooted in the loss of former boom-town industries.
"It's a very unsteady world. That's why so many end up dead, in prison, divorced, losing children. When I was working the doors in Coventry four of my friends were murdered.
"I had a few nasty situations, including one where I thought I had killed somebody.
I unashamedly got on my knees and said if you give me one more chance I'll turn this round.
"I started writing about my experiences and in writing about the situations I had been in I realised how violent I had become. I didn't recognise the guy I was writing about."
His first book, Watch My Back, was an account of his door-minding experiences and he has also written books about self-motivation.
When he was first approached by the Birmingham-based producerdirector team of Natasha Carlish and Michael Baig-Clifford they were interested in making a TV documentary about him. But the eventual outcome was Bouncer, a tenminute short scripted by Thompson and starring Ray Winstone which was nominated for a BAFTA.
His second collaboration with Carlish and Baig-Clifford, Brown Paper Bag, went one step better by actually winning.
Thompson, who underwent a kind of epiphany which he describes as more spiritual than religious about seven years ago, had an uncanny premonition of their success. While meditating after Bouncer had been completed but before it was nominated, he had a vision of himself at the BAFTAS ceremony. He saw the award on the table but when he picked it up, it was inscribed Brown Paper Bag.
"Natasha is an incredible producer - she re-mortgaged her house to do Brown Paper Bag. Bouncers has been to something like 32 festivals and won awards all over the world."
There is a chance to see it at Warwick Arts Centre this week when it forms part of an unusual mixed-media double bill with Thompson's thematically-related stage monologue The Doorman.
The two pieces were originally combined by producer Paul Crewes - another Coventry native - when he was at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Now an independent producer, he is touring the double-bill through his own company.
Despite their success, Thompson describes his two short films as "asides". If things go well, it's possible that he could have two feature films going into production later this year.
The first, Clubbed, is an adaptation of Watch My Backwritten at the instigation of playwright Jim Cartwright. Pre-dating Bouncer, it initially attracted European development funds before running out of impetus, but could now be back on track.
The second film, continuing the collaboration with Carlish and Baig-Clifford, is about the stress on a married couple after the wife is mugged and the husband feels he has failed in his duty to protect her.
The woman takes up running to overcome post-traumatic stress, and the film culminates in her running a marathon - possibly in New York. So far £450,000 has been secured for the film and if the rest can be raised at this month's Cannes Film Festival, shooting could begin in Birmingham in October.
"It's all about change and men's inability to cope with it," says Thompson.
"They have this feeling they have to be hunter-gatherers and protectors, or they are worthless. Women want to be protected but it's not as strong as men think it is."
He says the fate of the working class writer is to be lured into a kind of social void where old associates no longer see you in the same way and there is resentment from inhabitants of the new world to which you aspire.
"People hate the fact that I'm writing films having not been taught to write films," he says.
But he thinks the world is ready now for what he has to tell it about the male psyche and its relationship with violence. It is the key to so many of the issues which disturb us in the contemporary world.
"It's about where violence comes from. It's been written about from the outside in - sometimes you get a middle-class person writing about it - but this is written from by inside out by someone who isn't afraid to be honest. Well, by someone who is afraid to be honest, but is honest anyway."
* Doorman and Bouncer are at Warwick Arts Centre from tonight until Saturday at 7.15pm (Box office: 024 7652 4524).