In a word: terrified. And then: furious. Also: telling myself I didn't feel either of those things, and everything was fiiiiiine.
The story of Digitiser had a perfect three-act structure, and I'd walked away as the victorious hero. That's the version of my life I wanted to believe. In reality, what they don't show you after the credits roll on, say, the average action movie, is the characters struggling to return to their regular lives, or dealing with post-traumatic shock.
Life is rarely as cut and dried as cinema would have us believe. If lives are stories, we're all the main character in our own personal tragedy. As depressing as it might be to consider, there's no point pretending that the heroes in our own individual movies don't always ends up kicking the bucket, and there's little use kidding ourselves that we get to control the narrative up to that point.
I know that over the remainder of 2003 I wrote two episodes of My Parents Are Aliens, the script for Zed Two's Future Tactics game, lots of Brush Lee And Jackie Chain for Fox Kids, and various other on-spec, or non-commissioned, bits and bobs. Most of which I've forgotten.
I know I started writing a column for Edge magazine. I know I briefly flirted with resurrecting a sort-of-Digi with Stuart Campbell, Kieron Gillen and Jonathan Nash - but was sufficiently distracted that it launched almost without me realising. I know I was still writing for Christian O'Connell's XFM Breakfast Show.
However, the only job from that year which really stands out is EastEnders; I'd been accepted to write an actual episode, following a successful stint on the show's shadow scheme. Pretty much from the beginning it would prove to be a disaster.
Note to self: next time your entire life implodes, don't accept a job on the most high-profile television show in Britain.
EastEnders is divided into weekly blocks. Usually, four or five writers are appointed episodes for each of those blocks, overseen by a single script editor.
There was another shadow writer later in my week, while the other eps were all assigned to 'Enders established writers. I was given the Monday episode.
Excitingly, I was going to be writing for Dirty Den, who had recently been brought back from the dead. I remember at our first briefing being told that the resurrected Den was to be approached as an icon, rather than a character. This slightly irked me, as a hardcore fan, because I wanted to write for the Den I knew, rather than some pantomime villain version of him.
I had to read six months' worth of storylines - the three either side of my week - though these remained in flux, depending on what the individual writers brought to their episodes. This is something I learned quickly about soap writing: continuity was always changing, right up to the last moment, and would lead, inevitably, to lots and lots of different drafts. My final draft was closer to my first one than any of the dozen or so in between - as the story experimented with various different iterations of the narrative.
The script editor responsible for my block was new to the show, and I soon got the sense that she was finding her feet with this suck-it-and-see approach every bit as much as I was.
Having been given six months' worth of eps to read through, and the rough outline of what needed to happen in my episode, I was sent away to have a think. Then, I was told, all the writers in my block would be brought in for a pitch meeting.
We hadn't had one of these on the shadow scheme, so I asked my script editor what happened at a pitch meeting, and she told me: "It's just a chance for you to talk about your episode, and ask any questions you might have".
I took this to mean that this was all that would happen at the pitch meeting, so I went in, armed with a bunch of questions and little else. I somehow still felt pretty confident at that point. That wouldn't last.
The writers sat on one side of a table. The script editor and various producers sat on the other side. I was the Monday boy, so I was the first to talk. I asked some questions, then said "I think that's about all I have."
Had I not gone first, I'd have probably been able to bluff my way through. No such luxury.
"Right," replied the most senior producer in the room, who had a look on his face that landed somewhere between rage and disgust. After an awkward silence, he asked the Tuesday guy to go ahead, while leaving his eyes on me for slightly longer than I felt was necessary. I had a sinking feeling. I was swallowed up body and soul the second the next writer opened his mouth, and began waving his hands around like screenwriters do whenever somebody writes a parody of a screenwriter pitching a movie.
"It's night. We open on the moon, and pan down to Albert Square..."
And at that point it wasn't so much a penny that dropped, as an entire bank falling off the edge of a cliff.
I suddenly knew why it was called a pitch meeting; it was so that I could pitch my vision for the episode.
Why I hadn't made this connection, when every other writer, including the other shadow scheme writer, seemed to get it, or why my script editor hadn't highlighted this, I don't know. I walked out of that room about fifty times heavier than when I'd walked in. It was horrible. I felt nauseous.
It remains the single worst, most humiliating, moment in my entire TV career.
EastEnders rumbled on for almost six months. Draft after draft after draft. Meeting after meeting. Change after change. They even called me in for a "chat" on my birthday, despite promising to give me just one day off.
My script editor became obsessed with getting in a whole subplot about Dirty Dancing - a film I'd never seen - whereas I became obsessed with sneaking in a reference to Digitiser's Zombie Dave.
Astonishingly, "Zombie Dave's Pizza" remained in the script until the penultimate draft - when I was the one to take it out. There was also a subplot I'd instigated about human beatbox, which was a nod to The Snakes. Clearly, I was missing Digi, and these callbacks were little more than a cry for help.
Something else which made it through was Dirty Den's use of the phrase "big constables" - a barely-disguised innuendo, which wasn't just in there for the sake of it; I thought it was true to the character.
I fully expected it to be removed every time I got a set of notes. Somehow, nobody ever flagged it up or mentioned it, instead choosing to debate the broader picture. My proudest achievement, however, was in naming one of the big constables "DCI Kiston". Years earlier, Leslie Grantham had been in a Doctor Who story called Resurrection of the Daleks. His character? Kiston...
Beyond that, though, EastEnders was a wretched experience. At one point, I wasn't understanding the notes I was getting, so the executive producer had given my script editor some suggested dialogue to pass onto me. I misunderstood what was being asked, cut and pasting it into the script. I got a call from the apoplectic script editor; I wasn't meant to use it word for word! It was just a suggestion! My mistake had reflected badly on her, apparently.
Eventually, I was told the script was done. Nevertheless, the script editor ended up rewriting a big chunk of my episode, putting in the sorts of pantomime-y lines, which I felt were the antithesis of the real and gritty EastEnders I had loved. To be fair, she did a better job of making it sound like the EastEnders of 2003 than I had done.
The end result is an episode that is probably 75% mine, and 25% hers, but very typical of that era of the show. The division of labour was slightly misrepresented to her producer, however, who rang my agent to tell her that my episode had to be "completely" rewritten. Suffice to say, I wasn't asked back. Nor did I want to go back, and I haven't I watched a single episode of EastEnders to this day.
They say to never meet your heroes. That can be extended to "Never write for one of your favourite TV shows".
Upon reflection, I don't know what went wrong on EastEnders. I don't know if I just wasn't focused, or whether the script editor saw me as a chance to prove herself.
Or whether even thinking that is simply me projecting onto her the all-consuming sense of betrayal and unfairness I was feeling back then. Whatever the case, it fuelled the maelstrom that was choking my insides. The stability I'd derived from being a father and a husband, and the writer of Digitiser, had collapsed in on itself, taking a chunk of me with it. Who I had been, the person I always wanted to be, was diminished, buried beneath the rubble of a relationship.
Outwardly, I don't think most people who knew me had any idea what was happening. I clearly do a good impression of "Normal", but to throw yet another metaphor at the wall, I was lost in churning waters without a lifebelt. Dry land was nowhere to be seen, and I was thrashing around for something to cling to. It felt like drowning.
I started a blog, and an associated message board - the Board of Biffo. It gave me just enough of a thin platform of driftwood to stand on - for a while. As history records, however, the Board of Biffo wasn't to last.
I had needed to leave Digitiser. I'd been working with Teletext for ten years and two months.
When I started freelancing, it was to buy the time to get my TV writing work off the ground. At last, that looked as if it had happened (if not in precisely the way I'd envisioned).
I was tired of feeling like Teletext could pull the plug on Digi at any moment. I wanted some control back over my life. Instead, losing that thread of continuity, that one last thread of semi-stability I had left, backfired enormously. It had been the bulwark that had stopped me feeling everything I'd been bottling up for years.
Like a dam, the churning waters behind it had built in strength - and when it broke, when I finally felt the hurt, the injustice... it was messy. Somehow, I never got depressed, never wallowed. My parents had never really endorsed such feelings. Instead, it became channeled into anger. It had burned inside me for five years, and losing Digitiser set it loose.
It consumed what was left of my marriage. I did my best to damp it down - driven by the deep guilt of inflicting a broken home on my children, and the profound shame of feeling like I'd failed. Those voices did their best to drown out everything else, even the very good reasons I'd had for walking away from my marriage years before. I'd allowed myself to be bullied into staying by everyone around me.
It led to a repeated cycle of break-up/guilt-induced reconciliations, the decaying orbit of a space capsule bouncing off the atmosphere before it inevitably burnt up on re-entry. Or how a suicide victim's wrists are marked with test cuts, inflicted before they worked up the courage to open an artery.
My life became... chaotic. I became chaotic. Looking back, I can see how I was fuelled by feeling rather than intellect, and made some extremely bad choices and judgements. I hurt and upset people, and I saw enemies everywhere.
That's why memories of that time - of the years which immediately followed Digitiser - are more vague than those either side. Churning waters are harder to see into than still ones.
And yet, as my personal life collapsed, my writing career began going from strength to strength. It seemed as if the TV industry was determined to get a show "Written by Paul Rose" on the air.
And it very nearly would.
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART ONE: WE TWO VETS - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART TWO: HUSK & HORNBLOWER - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART THREE: NORTH OF WATFORD - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FOUR: KNIFE & WIFE - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART FIVE: SOOTY - BY MR BIFFO
SCRIPTS OF MY YEARS PART SIX: CROSSROADS - BY MR BIFFO