Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer. He has spent his career telling stories in film, television and digital media. His films have screened at dozens of international film festivals including Cannes, New York, Marseille, Dublin and London’s FrightFest and have received numerous awards including a Royal Television Society award and a BAFTA Wales nomination for Best Short Film. His debut novel, The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys, is out next month.
These are some of Jack Jewers’ favorite things…
I’m in no way trained in art history, but I discovered a love and talent I didn’t realize I had during lockdown when, like many people, I had various projects up in the air and was a bit stuck for Things to do. I started writing art history Instagram stories and they kind of exploded. I take an old painting (usually from the period I’m writing about), look for the hidden messages within it, and analyze why the painting was so successful, often from a cheeky, sideways perspective. For me, art is also a real way to write. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I started writing The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys was when someone told me that if you want to delve into the minds of characters, you have to look at paintings from that period and pay attention to the small details. That’s because they can tell you so much about fashion and hairstyles, and if you dissect a painting and look beyond the surface, it can also tell you a lot about the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the people from that era. It stuck with me and gave me a new way of appreciating art history.
My first foray into professional writing was guidebook writing, and that’s when I discovered that the best way to travel is to get lost. It’s nice to have a rough idea of where you’re going, but that often means speeding past thousands of years of history and missing out. One of my favorite places to travel is the Languedoc region of France because it has this glorious atrophy, you could drive along and see a half-ruined castle on the street corner and you could walk in and take a look inside. When you allow yourself these experiences, the most magical connections to the past often occur. This is the closest we can get to time travel.
Cinema was my first creative love and is my background. During lockdown, my wife and I discovered the pre-code cinema. Pre-Code means Hays Code, a very strict set of censorship rules introduced in Hollywood in 1934. It completely changed cinema. Up until then, Hollywood had been daring, experimental, often quite risqué, and far more socially progressive than one might expect. There was a plethora of films that were completely swept away because they couldn’t be shown anymore. Now, of course, they are accessible, but because they have disappeared from our culture for 20-30 years, they are easily forgotten. Finding these films was an absolute revelation.
One example I keep coming back to is that from a socio-historical perspective, you can see how the portrayal of women has changed within a few years. In Hollywood, up until the mid to late 1930s, women were not only in front of the camera with female-centric stories, but also behind the camera as writers and creatives. Then the Hays Code came into play, and the portrayal of women suddenly became all about motherhood. Take That skinny man series, The first film, for example, was shot in 1934 and is one of my absolute favorites. It’s a very good story and a lot of fun, and the main couple are on par intellectually. They have a very codependent, passionate marriage. If you get to the last The Thin Man movie ten years later, she’s nothing but a housewife. You’ll be relegated to the kitchen in just a decade by women who are moviegoers.
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My book is about Samuel Pepys, who is known to have written over a million words in exceptional detail over a period of ten years in the 16th century. A lot of what he writes about is things like meals and food. This got me thinking about how important food is to me because, like a lot of people, I associate food with friendship and family. Pepys was the first person in England to drink a cup of tea (on record), although he disliked it and preferred coffee! He also writes about lavish parties he throws and almost bacchanalian dinner parties where everyone is very drunk. He famously threw a particularly hilarious dinner party on the anniversary of a major operation he had in his 20s to remove bladder stones. It’s ironic, and speaks to his dark wit that he would celebrate his near-fatal condition, caused by overeating and the high life, with an over-the-top party every year. Eating as a form of shared activity with friends and family is important to me, and I’ve been searching for the perfect fried chicken since I was 15.
Someone once asked me what I would do if I had to change jobs completely? Somewhat surprisingly I said that I want to be a perfumer. I have no experience at all and would probably be awful, but fragrances are creative to me because they are the most impressive shortcut to fiction. You could spend page after page describing the look of a place, but nothing gets the reader there like describing the smell. Fragrances are important to me in my creative space; I always have a few oils, a scented candle or something burning with me.
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