07 July 2009
I am a film director and have worked with celebrities all my life and do not get phased by them. On Saturday I hosted the Buzz Aldrin event at the Royal Festival Hall and found it as exciting as if I had been a child. Apart from the size of the uuditorium, nearly two thousand five hundred people, there was, for me, the huge thrill of shaking Buzz Aldrin’s hand backstage and the first thing him saying to me being, ‘I love your book’, (The Book of the Moon). Buzz’s wife, Lois, interrupted him and said , ‘I’ve stolen it from him.’ I practically collapsed with pleasure. It made me think what a wierd and strange thing writing is and what an equally strange effect the moon has had on my life.
I wrote my book because a friend, Justine Picardie, whom I thought of as a ‘real’ writer suggested, at a slightly drunken, New Years Eve party, that I write a moon book. We had been talking about how much we had both enjoyed reading Andrew Smith’s Moondust. This reminded me of a time in the early seventies when I had read Norman Mailer’s account of the Apollo 11 mission A Fire on the Moon. I told Justine that when I finished reading Mailer’s account of the landing I shook from head to foot, so exciting had I found it and so well written. I went on to say rather glibly that ‘I didn’t think the definitive book of the moon had been written and Justine said, ‘I think you should write it.’ Five words that would alter the course of my life.
A couple of months later I remembered our conversation and, in a break from filming commitments wrote a treatment and sent it to the only literary agent I knew well, Victoria Hobbs. In the film world getting a project off the ground takes a long time, sometimes years. Thanks to Victoria’s skill my proposal for a moon book was sold very fast un the UK and the US. I was dazed. It was summer 2007, I had a deadline to meet, and it was only two and a half years away. That deadline was the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, starring Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
I swapped the public rigours of the film set for the quiet of the British Library. What a brilliant institution that library is, a national resource and part of the civilised life of the country. Friends asked if I was lonely. Did I miss the hurly burly comradeship of film making? I wasn’t at all lonely. I found that writing is quite like directing. You spend long periods of time inside you own head. But whereas as director I am king of the set but not of the film, as a writer I am king of the page and of the book. In a film there is always a lot of argument and committee led decision making, too many people, with a right to an opinion, chipping in often one of making the film different rather than better. Writing a book is another kettle of fish altogether. I had no one to argue with, instead I had the firm and tactful good advice of my brilliant editor at Transworld, Katie Espiner.
In September 2008 I emerged blinking into the light outside the British Library, the manuscript delivered and the picture edit to come. I felt very proud of it and knew that my life had taken a new turning or at least that I had added another string to my bow. I have always wanted to be able to say I am a writer. I have written film scripts, poems, and, like everybody, started at least three novels. But I didn’t think I could call myself a ‘writer’.
I went on to the enormous stage of the Royal Festival Hall basking in the reflected glory of being with Buzz Aldrin, a man who, in the writing of my book has become a hero. I did my short talk about the moon and Buzz’s forty year journey back from the moon. Then Andrew Smith came on to introduce Buzz and it struck me for the first time how strange life’s coincidence’s are. It was a chat at a party about Andrew’s book that had taken me into two years of blissful writing solitude and led to me sitting on this enormous stage. And then Buzz himself came on. When I met him backstage I thought that he had the film star aura of another of my heroes, the American actor George C. Scott. Buzz looks and sounds a bit like Scott’s portrayal of General Patton, I had to suppress a desire to salute him, military style. Buzz did his piece and then sat with Andrew and me for the discussion.
Two wonderful things happened. During the interview Buzz looked at me and indicated my clothes. I had chosen my wardrobe with actress care. A black crumpled linen suit, light blue linen shirt, open at the collar and black suede slip on shoes. Buzz was wearing a punchier blue suit, shiny black shoes and a light blue tie. He looked organised, together, glamorous, the rocket man. He had a gold Apollo 11 mission badge as a tie pin and a gold moon ring with a discrete diamond star set in it. (Mrs Aldrin was in the audience wearing a gold necklace, made of tiny moon faces.) Buzz looked across at me and said, ‘I wish I was dressed as a writer.’ I blushed, Buzz Aldrin just called me a writer. Then the second marvellous thing happened. Buzz suddenly said ‘And there’s one person on earth who really understands the moon’s magnificent desolation.’ I said, ‘Who’s that, is it you Buzz?’ and he replied, ‘No, its you, Rick Stroud, in your book, The Book of the Moon.’ I wasn’t collapsing with delight any more, I was levitating. Thank you, Buzz, for a great and life enhancing evening.
London July 2009.