Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer. His career has been spent telling stories across film, TV, and digital media. His films have been shown at dozens of international film festivals, including Cannes, New York, Marseille, Dublin, and London’s FrightFest, garnering multiple accolades, such as an award from the Royal Television Society and a nomination from BAFTA Wales for Best Short Film. His debut novel, The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys, is out next month.
These are a few of Jack Jewers’ favourite things…
I am not in any way trained in the history of art, but I discovered a love and talent that I didn’t know I had during lockdown when, like many people, I had various projects up in the air and I was a bit stuck for things to do. I started doing art history Instagram stories, and they kind of blew up. I take an old painting (typically from the period I write about), look for the hidden messages in it, and analyse why the painting was so successful, often from a sassy, side-eye point of view. Art is also a real way into writing for me. One of the best bits of advice I got when I was starting to write The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys was when someone told me that if you want to get into the mind of characters, look at paintings from the period and look at the small details. This is because they can tell you so much about fashion, and hairstyles and when you break down a painting and look past the surface, it can also tell you a lot about the hopes, fears and desires of people from that period. That stuck with me and gave me a new way to appreciate art history.
My first foray into professional writing was writing guidebooks, and something I discovered in doing this is that the best way to travel is to allow yourself to get lost. It is nice to have a rough idea of where you are going, but that often means you’re racing past thousands of years of history and missing it. One of my favourite places to travel is the Languedoc region of France because it has this glorious atrophy about it, you could be driving along and see a half-ruined chateau on the corner of the road, and you can go and peek inside. Allowing yourself to have those experiences is often when the most magical connections to the past appear. It’s 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 pre-code cinema. Pre-code means the Hays Code, a very strict set of censorship rules brought into Hollywood in 1934. It changed cinema completely. Until then, Hollywood was daring, experimental, often quite risque and much more socially progressive than you might expect. There was a wealth of films that got completely swept away as you couldn’t show them anymore. Now, of course, they’re accessible but because they disappeared from our culture for 20-30 years, they’re slightly forgotten. Finding these films was an absolute revelation.
One example that I often come back to is, from a social history perspective, you can watch the portrayal of women change within a few years. In Hollywood, up until the mid-late 30s, women were not only in front of the camera with stories that put women front and centre but also behind the camera as writers and creatives. Then the Hays Code came in, and the portrayal of women was suddenly all about motherhood. Take The Thin Man series, for example, the first film was made in 1934, and it is one of my absolute favourites. It is a very good story and is incredibly fun, and the main couple are absolute intellectual equals. They have a very codependent, passionate marriage. If you get to the last The Thin Man film ten years later, she is nothing but a housewife. You go from women being active participants in cinema to being relegated to the kitchen in just a decade.
My book is about Samuel Pepys, who famously wrote about a million words over ten years in extraordinary detail in the 16th century. A lot of what he writes about is things like meals and food. That kind of got me thinking about how food is important to me as like many people, I associate food with friendship and family. Pepys was the first person in England to have a cup of tea (on record), although he didn’t like it and preferred coffee! He also writes about lavish parties that he has and almost Bacchanalian dinner parties where everyone gets very drunk. Famously he would hold a particularly raucous dinner party on the anniversary of a major operation he had in his twenties to remove bladder stones. This is ironic and speaks to his dark wit that he would celebrate having a near-fatal condition caused by overeating and the highlife by having an over-the-top party each year. Food as a kind of communal activity with friends and family is important to me, and I’ve been on a quest since the age of fifteen to make the perfect roast chicken.
Someone once asked me what I would do if I had to change careers altogether? Somewhat surprisingly, I said I would like to be a perfumer. I have no experience whatsoever and would probably be terrible, but scents are essential to me creatively because it is the most evocative shortcut to fiction. You could spend pages and pages describing a place’s look, but nothing will get the reader there as quickly as describing the smell. Scents are important to me in my creative space; I always have some oils, a scented candle, or something burning.