Monday, June 30, 2008

First night nerves

I arrived about 2:58pm and checked in, apparently 2 minutes early was okay. Travelodge is basic but hey, it's a cheap hotel.

I spent some time dealing with a problem at work, they apologised for contacting me but as I'm the only one who knows how the core code works I can't really be upset. (I spent some time last week getting someone studying what I'd done, hopefully he can make the changes.)

I was too tired to do any serious writing, I'd spent a couple of hours on the train working on my changes to Monsters, so instead I did some programming. I know, sounds pathetic and sad, the thing is, I like it. For me, programming is relaxation. And I get paid for it. How cool is that?

So come 6:00pm I was hungry and the informal Scribomeet was due to start. So I prevaricated. Of course I did. I'm not a natural mingler, in the terribly misunderstood words of Chase from "Being There": I like to watch. But networking is a necessity in this biz.

So I scrunched up my courage, and my hunger, and headed down.

There's a lot I don't know about this event. Some of it I got sorted this evening. My biggest issue was food. Well, there's the Harvester Inn right next door to the Travelodge (who don't really do food). Which is good. There's also a Kentucky Fried Rat.

And apparently there's an on-site caterer, who does breakfasts. This is important.

(Once upon a time I used to assist in the organisation of events of all sorts, including massive outdoor events for 5000+ people lasting several days. Food and toilets.)

What's also important, and awkward, is that there is no cashpoint nearby. A quick trip to multimap shows that the nearest one is as far away as the station (a trip will probably be required tomorrow). Maybe there's a supermarket closer that does cash-back. Interrogation of the locals is required.

So, this picture is early on, probably about 7:00pm. Far left side-on is Stuart Perry then comes Piers Beckley then, with their backs to us from the left Tony Keetch (who's a Pitch in Time finalist, with an advantage over the common writing folk ... he's also an actor). The one in red is Jason Arnopp.

As for everyone else in the picture, and those who arrived later, sorry I have a poor memory for names and faces. (And the camera was unable to shoot the future - now there's an idea.)

And much merriment was had by all, alcohol consumed (though not by me) and many were the secrets revealed. Fear not, my lips are sealed, and will remain so until I am offered the right price.

Suffering from extreme tiredness I excused myself early and trekked with leaden feet back to my domicile. Where I wasted time dealing with e-mails (more excellent responses to the enquiries I sent out), researching parkour on YouTube and reading other people's blogs until I decided to do this. And then I did. And now I've finished.

What's on the turntable? "Pluto" by Bjork from "Homogenic"

An hour to go...

I'm so well organised (ahem) that I've got some time to blog before I wander off to the station to catch the train to the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival, total journey time predicted to be 5.5 hours door-to-door. Bleagh.

Apart from the walk to the station I need to get to Manchester Piccadilly station. The train I shall take goes to Manchester Victoria instead. It takes 23 minutes. The metro from Victoria to Piccadilly (a distance of barely 1 mile) takes 26 minutes. If my first train went to Piccadilly (which it easily could) that too would take about 20 minutes. But it doesn't. End result: I have to leave an hour earlier than I otherwise would.

I'm doing the old first class thing again, only £50 return. It's just so worth it for the leg-room, the time to write comfortably and the appalling food. Seriously, if you ever travel first class on Cross Country trains just never have the pannini, they are truly awful (the coffee, biscuits, orange juice, are okay and the Sunday packed lunch for First class is fine). I shall have to experiment with First Class on Virgin sometime and see what that gives me.

In reference to yesterday's blog, I pulled a USB lead from my ancient iMac to an external drive and it worked with one of the cameras. Yes! So I can do pictures and words. That'll be fun.

I've had another positive e-mail back from an industry professional to meet up for a chat. He's a money man and I have a particular question I'd like answered in regard to writers acquiring properties. It's also very important to learn about all aspects of the business. I'll let you know.

I shall blog as best I can, but I won't be able to see all the sessions because there are many that are simultaneous.

Right. 40 minutes to go. Need to pack up everything and then make dinner for my wife and kids for tonight. (The least I can do since they put up with a mostly absent father, and Monday evening is always busy for them.)

What's on the turntable? "Sweet Dreams (are made of these)" by the Eurythmics from the album of the same name. I love Annie Lennox (and Dave Stewart's okay).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rushed off my feet

Just time to say I'm completely unprepared for the Cheltenham Scriptwriters Festival which I'm off to tomorrow. I'll have to walk to the nearest station, which isn't too bad in current state of walking fitness.

But I haven't prepared all that I wanted. I shall have to make a list and just do them all.

However one thing that I have done, taking a leaf from the exhibitions I've previously attended, is to go through the delegate list and make a list of my own, of the people I want to talk to. Then I've either sent an e-mail when available, or done some rooting about the net to find their e-mail address, or as a last resort tried various combinations of first name, second name and domain until it didn't bounce back.

I can be very sneaky. Still, it means I get contact with specific individuals who are attending and hopefully may be interested in chatting.

I've already had one reply which was positive although it's a collaborative thing, which means no money until somebody makes some. But still, I kind of guessed that before I sent the e-mail so I'm not complaining. And some of the things they want match the kind of things I'd like to do.

I am planning to blog during the event. So stay tuned. One of the things I want to do is find a digital camera in this house that actually works with one of the computers (we have lots of both but last time we checked nothing wanted to talk to anything else).

Anyway, Supernatural is on so I shall waste another hour.

What's on the turntable? "I will survive" by Enrique Iglesias from "Escape".

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Blunt End

I got an e-mail back from the BBC Writersroom today saying that I didn't get anywhere in the Sharps competition, of course I'm a little disappointed however in some ways it's probably a good thing, I wasn't happy about taking another day and then another week off work -- as a contractor I don't get paid under those circumstances.

You see, the inner-optimist is irrepressible: presented with a failure, the silver-lining is quickly highlighted. Seriously, what can you do? (Mind you, I'm still wondering where my inner-pessimist went...)

On the other hand I received another e-mail from my script consultant in response to my response to his response... I'll start again:

I sent a script to him, he wrote his notes (and don't forget, professional script editor and lots of other related stuff on TV shows you've heard of and maybe even like, I know I do). So I got his notes (he really liked the script - I mean, he really liked it, but he felt it wasn't as good as it could be), from which I figured out how to fix those things he felt could be better.

I wrote down what I thought would fix it and sent that to him. Today he came back and said that he thought my ideas would indeed fix the problems. Yay.

I saw it as a kind of test.

When directors are auditioning actors they often ask them to play the same scene in different ways. It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that they are testing the actor's ability to act. Nope. They are testing the actor's ability to take direction.

The same goes for notes. Can you take the notes and do something with them? Of course not all notes are good notes, but with someone who has this kind of experience, they are. It's entirely possible that he didn't see it as a test, but I did for my own confidence in my ability to write.

Another little boost.

What's on the turntable? Nothing. I have been listening to a reading of an abridged version of "Methusaleh's Children" by Robert Heinlein on BBC7, but my truly awful Internet connection is getting in the way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Oh fer heaven's sake!

Still nothing from the BBC about Sharps, now I'll have to wait another 24 hours as I only get to read my e-mail evenings after I get back and mornings before I go to work.

That damnable inner-optimist is jumping up and down going "I told you, I told you, they were trying to tell you you got through on Friday but messed up!" The inner-realist is completely out of wet kippers and I haven't heard from the inner-pessimist in weeks. I wonder whatever happened to him.

What's on the turntable? "The Fez" by Steely Dan from "The Royal Scam"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ten ways to get laid

Okay, I'm lying. Just looking for some cheap searches to hit and boost my meagre visit rate (though it is improving with BBC Sharps).

I got a nice e-mail today from Auntie Beeb saying that yes, indeed, they had received my script, Smoke, contrary to earlier e-mails. But there was nothing to indicate when they might be letting short-listed people know they'd got through. Or whether they were going to let people know who had utterly and miserably FAILED.

:-) He-he-he. Just practicing the angst.

Now, over here, is Jason Arnopp's Ten Ways to Prepare for the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival, which is where my title came from.

So I was checking myself against this list to see how prepared I am. But now my absolutely terrible Internet connection (worse than modems in the 80s) has packed up so I can't get his blog back.

Just in case it won't come back let's see what I can remember:

1. Don't get drunk. No risk of that. Seriously, I hardly ever have alcohol. It doesn't like me.

2. Have business cards. I have business cards.

3. Wear clothes. I have suitable apparel to appear as a relaxed authoring type.

4. Smell nice. I have deodorant and anti-perspirant in abundance.

(Aha. My connection is returning, let's keep going without looking.)

5. Have scripts on a memory stick. Clever idea. I like that one, I've been meaning to buy a nice meaty one.

6. Know your pitches. I'm pretty good but will practice more.

7. Know your delegates. Unfortunately I'm a newbie and newbies don't get access to a delegate list.

(Hm, running out.)

8. Know the speakers? Was that one? Well I might try, I'm terrible at remembering names and faces.

I'll have to refer to the now loaded page ... oh pretty good, those are all genuine Jason suggestions just missed two.

9. Take a notepad. I always do.

10. Manage your expectations. In other words, don't expect a dramatic change from the event, but it can definitely help. My inner-realist is getting in a good supply of moist kippers to use for beating my inner-optimist over the head. (Won't work, of course, the optimist is irrepressible. Bloody annoying optimists.)

So I'm reasonably well prepared, though if someone wants to see "Une Nuit a Paris" I shall be buggered because I haven't been through it yet since I finished writing it for Scriptfrenzy.

(Damn. My connection is gone again.)

What's on the turntable? "Android Warehouse" by (early) Steely Dan from "The Roaring of the Lamb". Brilliant album, very raw compared to the slick band they became, as typified by "The Royal Scam"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sharpish and funny

Apparently the peeps at BBC Writersroom who are running the Sharps competition were hoping to get their shortlist sorted sharpish (see what I did there) and get the e-mail out today (20th June) which would have been pretty good.

Well the general verdict is that they didn't ... except I did get an e-mail from the Writersroom, in fact I got 5 in total.

13:59 You applied but we didn't get your script...
14:08 Automatic recall of last e-mail
14:09 Please ignore the "we didn't get your script" e-mail
14:39 You applied but we didn't get your script...

However I have this e-mail that arrived on Wednesday that confirmed they had received my script.

So, as instructed by the last e-mail, I replied sending the Wednesday e-mail as proof. That's when I got the 5th e-mail, which was an out-of-office automatic response. (It was 10:00pm on a Friday, I didn't expect them to still be there.) Is this a record?

Of course the optimist in me wants to think that they were really trying to tell me that I'd been short-listed but being all in a rush they messed up.

But the realist in me keeps beating the optimist over the head with a wet kipper.

Let's get funny for a minute.

The department at work went for a fun evening out at the local comedy club last Friday. There was a late addition to the bill, a chap called Steven Violich. Who just happens to work on my team (ooh, I like the sound that: "my team").

Steven is a New Zealander, a web developer and a stand-up. (Hey, and why not, I'm a Senior Web Developer and I write scripts, novels, poetry, etc.)

I didn't go to see him as I was on my way back home (doing the weekly commute) but some of the guys went to see him and a good time was had by all; though apparently, to quote The Blues Brothers, the room was a "f*ckin' barn".

But that wasn't the funny bit, just background, this is the funny bit (now I have to modify things here otherwise you'll see the punchline coming).

On the Monday people were talking, as they do, about it and then discussing how hard it is to be funny and someone mentioned dead goldfish (I don't know why) and I said something about having to get the plumber in to fix the toilet when my pet dolphin died.*

And great merriment was had by all. If you don't get it, I refuse to explain it.

Maybe the Sharps thing will sort out on Monday, I hope so because I'm running out of kippers.

What's on the turntable? "Love You To" by the Beatles, this version is on the Yellow Submarine movie album.

* As I explained this is not exactly how it came out. The dolphin came first and was not originated by me, and the plumber was actually Lars's idea (after me) and he's German! But the bit in the middle, the funny bit, which I've left out because it's funnier if you make the connection yourself, that really funny bit was me.

Monday, June 16, 2008


It's been a while since I've written anything about living here in Reading, but I had a letter today that's prompted a description of Fun and Games with Thames Water.

When one moves into a new dwelling one must inform the various utility companies about your new occupancy. As I am a decent law-abiding citizen I did so.

I discovered that Thames Water are my water supplier and sent them a letter explaining I'd be here for 6 months.

In response they sent me a bill for one year's water in advance, a total of about £240, or £20 per month. I was miffed, since I had been quite clear in my letter.

I returned their bill and a letter explaining that I was not about to pay for a year in advance when I wouldn't be here for half of it.

A couple of weeks later I received payment book, for 8 months, at £30 per month (totalling, yes you noticed, £240). This time I was really not happy.

I sent a letter explaining that though they might take me for an idiot, I was not one and was capable of basic arithmetic, and I was not about to pay them £30 per month. Today I received a letter saying they could accommodate me for 6 or 8 months at £20/month. Which was a definite improvement.

Of course, the thing is, looks like I will be here for a year after all if the employer wants to keep me. But don't tell them that, I'll wait till it happens.

What's on the turntable?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Sharps End, or, the End of Sharps

I didn't mention the fact that I had completed my BBC Sharps script and zoomed it off on Thursday evening. If you're planning to enter it's too late unless you can deliver by hand (or have access to a Royal Mail sorting office that does collections on Sundays).

I was quite pleased with the result, fairly light dialogue but with a solid drama base. A bit like a lemon meringue pie. I watched the "niceness as a disease" episode of House last night, the case of the week tasted everything as lemon meringue pie.

It's quite funny I suppose: The setting for the story is a community group of people giving up smoking. I smoked for two weeks in my entire life (it was a very stressful time). My parents never smoked, nor my sisters, nor my wife, very few friends I've known for years have ever smoked (except one but he has special dispensation).

So what right do I have to write about people wanting to give up smoking?

My mother's family are hardcore Londoners, and when I was younger every single one of them smoked. Whenever we went to visit we entered an atmosphere of tobacco. I've always been a people watcher, I saw the way people handled cigarettes, pipes, and roll-ups.

I always ended up with a nasty headache from breathing air heavy with cigarette smoke. And yet, the smell gives me some comfort. Scarily enough I realised a few years ago I was a closet smoker even though I never bought a pack (except for that two weeks). How does that work? I breathe deeply of other people's smoke. Laughable really. But an intense smoke-filled atmosphere still makes me sick.

So I have some experience of the matter. Plus the fact that smoking is an addiction just like any other, and that was the theme that I worked to in my script. Creating characters where the outer conflict of trying to give up smoking reflected an inner conflict of what they were really addicted to.

So, we shall see.

I didn't get any additional reading of this script partly because I ran out of time, although the actual writing only took a few hours. It only took a few hours because I did my planning, even down to the scene level.

I decided on the setting first (since that was the part that was prescribed by the "opportunity") then I populated it with people who might want to give up smoking, although one character was actually my wife's idea. Then I took the three main characters and constructed their inner conflict to mirror their outer one.

Finally I spit up the scenes very mathematically with #1 character getting most of the time in the story, #2 getting half that and #3 getting half again. So we have A, B and C plot lines, one clear leader and the others. Knowing how long the script needed to be (30-35 minutes) and knowing that scenes needed to be around 2 minutes each I could allocate actual page counts.

Of course, when I came to write it other scenes occurred to me and often scenes would be shorter than the plan. This is fine, after all we don't want 15 scenes of exactly 2 minutes each. That would be silly. Also how the supporting characters influenced the main plots became clear and a new character appeared that I hadn't thought of originally.

This was all good. And it meant my first draft was almost spot-on.

I then read through it and tidied up bits (there was one thing I wrote later that needed to be mentioned earlier, for example) . There was one scene I disliked when I wrote it and I realised that I was actually repeating stuff that had been mentioned in a previous scene. So I ripped that out and replaced it with something much better, which then played into an extra scene I had written later on.

All three plot lines intermingled and played off against each other. The characters were good, each had his/her own voice (I hear the characters talking as I write but, let's be clear, I don't write what they're saying, they say what I'm writing); the scenes feed nicely one to another, there's tension, there's action, there's humour. Yup, I like it.

(And I should add, the script will easily convert into a stage play so if the BBC don't want it I know what i can do with it.)

What's on the turntable? "Toss the Feathers" by The Corrs from "Forgiven not Forgotten"

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oh my word!

I recently paid for additional notes on my TV script "Monsters", I decided to splash out a bit and used someone with a huge amount of real TV & Film experience. I got the notes back on Wednesday and they were generally positive, and some nice compliments.

Although I don't assume people are "just being nice", I am a bit of a cynic and wasn't sure exactly how to take the compliments and positivity (was he just being nice, or did it really mean something?).

I'm not the sort of person who spends time in internal debates, it's a pointless waste of time. So I asked him: was he being nice or did it mean more? (I was slightly more diplomatic than that, I can do diplomatic if I have to.)

I'm still rather in shock from the reply.

Apparently it meant "more". He really did mean that I have talent, in other words I am writing as well as people who get paid to write for British TV*. And this is someone who knows (his resume is impressive, including being Head of Drama Development for a major British TV company).

It hasn't sunk in really.

Of course this doesn't mean I will ever get paid for scriptwriting (I'm a cynic and a realist), but at least I know. There is an additional bit to this which is that this gentleman (and he is nothing else) also says he will use his contacts to assist any good writers he finds. And in a business where contacts are everything that means a lot. So, being me, I specifically asked whether I would fall into that category, and once again he responded with an unequivocal yes.

Nothing like being sure about things.

Now what? I have some hard work ahead of me. I need to get a handle on the changes needed in "Monsters", as I shall be meeting him at the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival to discuss it. Plus I need to get pitch documents sorted for all my other scripts and ideas, business cards I already have, though not 100% correct in what they say, they do have my contact details and that's the main thing. And I can be so much more confident, I know I'm sufficiently good to get paid work, now it's up to me.

With my 50th** birthday coming up in September let's see if I can't get a commission for something.

* My darling wife made a cynical comment at this, implying that British TV writing is not necessarily good. Harrumph.

** Why is this important? A survey of British writers showed that the majority of the successful ones are male and over 50. Clearly, my time has come.

What's on the turntable? "Mr Blue Sky" by ELO from "Out of the Blue" ... how apt is that?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Writing novels

I had to comment because English Dave wrote this here and Charlie Williams commented here...

Novels I can do. Not published I admit but my third almost got me an agent, and my fourth was just easy-peasy. So I thought I'd do something harder, like write scripts.

But it was English Dave's Parthian shot that got me.

Parthian shot? Well, that's where "parting shot" came from. Okay there's actually (apparently) no proof but if you read the complete Sherlock Holmes you'll find Conan Doyle uses it in exactly the same context. I shall never use "parting shot" again, and have to explain myself every time.

So what was his Parthian shot?

I'm dusting off a few old movie scripts and digging out a thesaurus.
It was the thesaurus comment that put me in mind of an anecdote: I have been a professional book editor in my time, unfortunately I have never had the pleasure of editing anything that was any good.

There was one book where the storyline actually had potential, but the person who wrote it was not very literate -- not illiterate, he just didn't have a wide vocabulary. And occasionally, through the text I'd come across words that did not fit. Just completely the wrong word, except the meaning would be vaguely similar.

It finally dawned on me. The Microsoft Word Thesaurus. God 'elp us.

Yes indeed. From time to time he would realise that there was probably a better word and he would highlight the offending one and right-click his lil ole mouse. Then select the cleverest-sounding word in the thesaurus selection. Without having a clue what it actually meant.

It was sad.

In fact if he could have learnt to write a bit better his lack of vocabulary would not really have mattered that much.

I know English Dave isn't going to do this.

In fact it is possible to make money writing novels, I know a chap who really has given up the day job: Roger Ellory. I'm happy to say he is a good friend. And he writes literary crime fiction, and it's bloody good stuff.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, but I was pining for Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield today.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Celtx at version 1

The free scriptwriting and film production package "Celtx" has reached version 1. I've been using it for over a year, and I like it a lot though it's unlikely I'll ever use all the film production facilities.

It allows you to create screenplays, stage plays, radio plays, comic scripts and AV scripts. It's intuitive to use and allows output as PDF. It also allows collaboration and sharing of scripts online with as many or as few people as you like. It will print scripts as either A4 or foolscap.

On the production side it generates all the sort of stuff needed by the various departments in as much detail as you need, depending on how big your production is.

It's not perfect, my biggest problem is that the PDF formatting is not absolutely identical to the on-screen formatting so in a feature script there's a few pages discrepancy between how many pages you think you have, and how many you do have.

But this is not too serious. And it's free!

If you haven't plumped for a specific scriptwriting application, plump for this one.

What's on the turntable? I'm listening to an unabridged reading of "Day of the Triffids" by John Wyndham. What a genius.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival and First Class

I have booked for the Festival though I haven't got anywhere to stay yet, it's a toss up between going for something comfortable and expensive. Or not.

It's a bit like travelling first class on trains, which I have started doing -- I'm not made of money but just having leg-room, not being overcrowded and having the opportunity to write in comfort for 3 hours is not to be sniffed at.

You can usually get a cheap upgrade on weekends (and bank holidays), you just have to find an unreserved seat and sit in it. Then ask for an upgrade when the conductor comes around. Plus you get free coffee (with real milk) and free food.

Plus if you buy sufficiently in advance you can often get them at silly prices - £26 single for Reading to Manchester. Which is just nuts because the standard single is £52. The standard return is £64, (so £32 each way) and a £15 upgrade, but I can't do that on Friday afternoons.

It's worth it.

So, do I go for comfort or cheapness? I haven't decided.

(First class on Friday allowed me to get to reach 20 pages on my "Sharps" short, and I'm liking it.

What's on the turntable? "Starlight" by ELO from "Out of the Blue"