Friday, December 31, 2010

11111011010 vs 11111011011

Now that's just silly, I spent 5 minutes converting 2010 into binary, (by hand, none of this electronic gizmo help) and then checking the result to ensure I got it right.

So here we are at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 most bloggers have already done the customary look back and look forward, so I'm a bit late to the party - but I brought a bottle.

One of the most significant aspects of this year has been the huge reduction in my blogs - I wrote 257 in 2009 and only 61 in 2010. It's not personal, I still love you very much, but the first six months involved living at home where I find I have a lot less to say, perhaps because my evenings are not spent alone in a room. And the second half of the year I spent living back at my parents house - which has been a strange experience - and the day job was so tough I spent most evenings working as well.

This also had a dire effect on my writing output.

This year I only wrote one feature, one short, one web series (page 1 rewrite) and one TV pilot (also a page 1 rewrite).


So let's look at the goals I set last year:

Get a commission Well as I did virtually no promotion through the year it's hardy surprising that was a complete failure, not even a nibble. And the one show I actually had a genuine chance on - Survivors - was cancelled. I have some new ideas in this area so shall be moving ahead with that.

Finish works in progress These were Tec, the TV series, which I did complete but script consultant feedback was not great. So I have been rewriting this for a third time. And then there was Winter which I had hoped we would have shot by now but things changed...

10 new TV series ideas Nope. Just the one and that was in the last couple of weeks because I decided I might try my hand at writing a sitcom (since there are two sitcom opportunities coming up and the Daughter suggested a "situation" that I don't believe has ever been used).

Enter 4 screenwriting competitions - well I did seven (woo-hoo): Blue Cat, Red Planet, Shine's Big Idea, 4Talent and three related to the London Screenwriting Festival 2010 - and my short was on the short list for one of those (what one might generously call a "finalist").

A bit poo overall.

So, let's see other writing highlights of the year: the previously mentioned London Screenwriters Festival was brill. Thoroughly enjoyed meeting old friends, and made lots of new ones. There was also Adrian Mead's thing in Edinburgh, where I met up with David "The Bishop" Bishop and made a good contact for my feature Running which I am currently rewriting.

So, what happened to Winter? It was initially set as contemporary SF short. Then modified into a contemporary 5 part web series. Then Chris the Director suggested something which required a complete rewrite into an Steampunk piece set in an alternative 1911. Another rewrite is required to iron out the illogical bits - but the new improved "logical" version has more emotion (I love writing action, but action plus emotion is just the best).

The alternative Steampunk timeline thing is a major cross-platform or transmedia (as the buzzword goes) project and has lots of opportunities for creativity in different media.

So, targets for the coming year:
  • Promotion: I'm afraid I don't want to give you the details on this. I know, I'm mean. But if everybody did what I'm about to do it would rather spoil things. Anyway this is to increase my chances of getting a commission, and amounts to getting my name out there more.
  • Complete current projects: Running rewrite (and delivered to contact); sitcom scripts (codename Charity) and entered into competitions; Winter rewritten and ready to go; Tec rewrite;
  • Enter 12 screenwriting competitions;
  • Go to London Screenwriters Festival 2011;
  • Build a website for me;
So there we have it.

From tomorrow I'm having a two-week break from work (and even family, though I do miss them terribly when I'm away) during which time I expect to be thoroughly revived and refreshed, becoming all shiny and new. And during this time I'll be able to get down to some solid writing - I shall hopefully finish the Running rewrite, and get Charity planned out.

I wish you the very best for the coming year (whether it began today for you, or at some time later).

Oooh, Primeval is back from extinction, I'm looking forward to that!

What's on the turntable? "Time Square" by Tangerine Dream from "Tan-go"

Monday, December 20, 2010

And I'm back in the room

and I have so much to say that I just don't know where to start - the end result is that this is probably going to be quite disjointed.

Currently I'm having fan-girl squees all over TV writer Howard Overman - which sounds as disgusting as something he might write for Nathan in Misfits; now in its second season and as brilliant as ever (he created and writes the series - it's not for the easily offended). Plus he wrote the new Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency adaptation - on BBC4 no less, not known for its fictional drama.

Since the London Screenwriters' Festival I have been waiting on the results of certain activities. I foolishly failed to take my own advice and had high hopes of the Channel 4 mentoring scheme. My usual advice to anyone is "enter and forget", I didn't do this and was seriously disappointed when I failed to get in. Very silly me.

On the other hand the Shine Pictures competition I did indeed enter and forget- just as well.

There is one more thing I entered which I was expecting the results of before Christmas but I suspect I won't hear anything until afterwards now. Which is fine.

(Note to self: reprogram computer keyboard driver so that when I type ';' with a 't' immediately after it it changes the ';' to an apostrophe - because that is the most common typo I make and it's really annoying.)

(Note about note to self: learn how to reprogram computer keyboard driver.)

The site I was working relaunched pretty successfully - and rather better than the US version of the site which had problems every time they did a relaunch of each of its eight sections (which they did by stages). We received a personal congratulatory email from the person at the top. Very nice.

As previously mentioned I do my "I am a rock" impression during these difficult periods (though not with the bad connotations of the Simon and Garfunkel song of the same name). And today one of the staff referred to me as a "saint" - I think she was going for a Saint Peter comparison but didn't quite make it. Being a rock is all very well but, you know, sometimes even rocks need to cry. (See what I did there? No? Check the lyrics, man!)

It's Christmas. And we have rail network problems. This does not bother me. I ignore them. And travel long distances by train and arrive as required. It's been said that if someone comes back with the instant quip, he's a comedian. But if he comes back half an hour later with the quip, he's a writer.

Well, I was standing on a busy station with 500 commuters who were waiting for a train that was going to be packed, and two people decided to take out their frustration on a network rail employee. I will not stand for that sort of thing so I told them to leave him alone, in my extreme writerly cleverness I said "Why don't you leave him alone?" so then they tried to take it out on me, I gave them my best condescending smile and just turned away as in "I am not listening to your nonsense."

Of course, half an hour later, after replaying the episode many many times I realised that a much better line - played loudly to the entire audience - would have been "Do you understand the meaning of the word bully?" which would have left them speechless. Then I could have turned away without the condescending smile to thunderous applause.

Might have got a punch in the mouth though. But it would have been in the cause of art, and there is no better cause than that.

Speaking of writing (brilliant segway) I am in the middle of a rewrite of the feature script Running. Thing is this: I had two chunks of feedback from the Blue Cat competition this year and both readers liked aspects of it but there were things to work on.

I began by completely re-working the opening - not the first few scenes because they are cool - but after that. And then I got stuck. Took me a whole 24 hours to realise that I was making a huge blunder: the readers liked the story, and here I was changing the story. Major ooops.

So I threw those changes away and put back what I had before.

However I do have a slight problem: the original version of the script was set in a generic US city, so cops with guns is perfectly normal. The new setting is Edinburgh (because I have someone who wants to read it and it needs to be set in Scotland - and Edinburgh is perfect for the premise). So guns suddenly cease to be common. Bit awkward, still, I'll manage.

And then I realised the first few scenes, though very exciting and jolly good action, don't actually make much sense if you examine the logic. Ooops again. Now this is the second time this has happened to me in the last three months (I had also realised the premise of Winter made no sense either - yes, Jez, you did say that. What can I say? I can be thick as a brick.)

So, as I crunched through snow this evening I figured out how to make it make sense, which then allowed me to have the original scenes and the new scenes. Script writing can be very satisfying.

Which brings me to my last point, for now.

Writers often say that they must write. It's a curious thing to me, as if it's some obsession, because I look at myself and I think "I'm not like that". I have no compulsion to write, I enjoy it but I don't mind stopping. Failing to write does not hurt.

But my recent failure in the Channel 4 mentoring scheme made me wonder whether I should bother writing at all. I fell to imagining not writing - thing is, I couldn't. I am incapable of imagining myself not writing. So while I have less compulsion - the creativity is there and it just isn't going away any time soon whether my work gets picked up by a film or TV company or not.

Funny that.

What's on the turntable? "All I want" by Joni Mitchell from "Blue"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rumours of my demise

The day job has been very busy - I'm responsible for the redesign, rebuild and relaunch of a major UK website, next Thursday.

Lots of writing things have been going on in the background which I am not in a position to discuss at present. As with much writing stuff it may not even happen.

There have been some personal events which have been damned inconvenient.

But one maintains a jovial outlook and provides a rock for all others to cling to. (A pompous way of saying I don't let the bastards grind me down.)

The Boy is gearing up for Christmas - as a member of a brass band he's got lots of gigs. The Daughter is finishing her first term at Uni - there have been highs and lows. And The Teacher soldiers on - anyone who thinks it's easy being a teacher is living in cloud-cuckoo land. If only I could tell you what she tells me...

And if anyone thinks Amazon Studios is a good idea - try reading the small print. They make a big fuss about how bad Hollywood is, but they are a hundred times worse and are tied in the Warner Brothers anyway, so duh? If you believe your script is worth something, don't sign it away forever, which is what you will be doing by merely uploading it to Amazon Studios. And I do mean forever.

EDIT: Okay, not forever. But 18 months, during which time you get nothing.

You can't crowdsource creativity.

What's on the turntable? "Rhayader goes to Town" by Camel from "The Snow Goose"

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bill does it again

Bill Martell on theme...

What's on the turntable? "Jeux d'enfants" by Laurent Garnier from "The Cloud Making Machine"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #3


Wake. Pack. Check out. And carry heavy bags to the college. Hide heavy bags under a table, then discuss with Event staff person about storing them, and she says she'll move them to the cloakroom.

Today I am travelling light, just the one fairly light bag.

Eat a hearty breakfast when they finally let us in - 15mins ahead of when they should. I didn't quite such a hearty breakfast as things were not ready. Oh well.

None of the morning sessions impressed me, so I just hung out in the refectory and drank a lot of coffee. And then some people started returning from the sessions. It seems a shame to say this but two sessions of that morning had people walking out because they weren't very good. Hopefully the persons concerned will put this on their feedback form.

Anyway I went to the "Actors" session with casting directors and they'd managed to find an actor (Will Kemp). I was interested to learn what actors are trained to do with scripts.

The first thing we were asked to do was twin up with someone sitting beside us and each to give the other some line - any line - and then that person had to say it. This was to give the idea of what it's like to be given a line to say by someone else.

I love this sort of thing. I was sitting with William Gallagher again. I gave him "There's no way I'm doing that" and he gave me "Family's just people you can't be yourself with". We went round the class and I got the point (I think): Given that line to say I was figuring out who would say it and how it should be said. (I've done a fair amount of acting and improvisational stuff.)

Interesting stuff: In the US actor's agents won't even read a script unless the project is already financed. That's it. (Though of course if you have a personal contact with a major actor that's a different matter.)

But in the UK they will.

So what does an actor look for? A part with meaning, with emotion, with a journey, subtextual rather than expository. In fact precisely the things that we're supposed to put in anyway.

There was much discussion of the casting directors role, auditions, screen tests and chemistry tests (not heard that one before).

And what do they do if the dialogue is rubbish? The best they can.

I used my negative approach to choosing the first afternoon session, namely what don't I want to see? And as a result went to see the main man himself Chris Jones talking about "Winning Your First Oscar".

Here's the thing: Anyone can make an Oscar-winning short. It's the one Oscar category that's completely open, and you, as a writer, can get up on that stage and get your little gold man.

That's what he set out to do (for very specific reasons) and he was one place away from an Oscar nomination with his short film "Gone Fishing".

You have to be deadly serious about it - but if you are you can get the finance you need just by asking, and then asking again, and then asking again.

Not that he was suggesting it was easy. It takes real hard work, there are certain things you have to do and festivals you have to win in order to get into the long list. But it can be done. You can win an Oscar.

Chris has an online seminar on his site, and he did a detailed blog about the whole process when he did it at

My final session was about writing Crime Drama. A panel discussion chaired by Barbara Machin who created Waking the Dead. There isn't really a whole lot to say about this, beyond the fact that both Cops and Docs are good because they have drama built-in and can be used to tell human stories. And that's why they are so popular and successful.

But they still have to be character-driven.

Following this was the only informal scriptchat that I attended, with the panellists. This went on for another 45 minutes or so and allowed us to get close to and get to know these big players in the business.

The event wrap part was going on at this point but contacts are more important than drinkies.

After this I chatted with a few peeps, said long goodbyes and headed back to my parents where I stay during the week while working in that Fancy London.

This event was as good as the Cheltenham events, and in one very specific way, better. At Cheltenham the guest speakers had been isolated from us writing hoi-polloi (Ancient Greek for "The Many"). But here I had already had deep conversations with a couple of the speakers (with no clue as to who they were), just sitting in the Refectory - because they mucked in with the rest of us and were enjoying the event themselves.

I can only apologise to Julie Gribble for completely failing to find time to talk to her.

Roll on next year.

What's on the turntable? "The Cloud-Making machine, Part 1" by Laurent Garnier from "The Cloud-Making machine"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #2

I was out like a light last night. Seven hours later I was awake.

Something I hadn't done the previous evening was prepare my attack on the speed-pitching. Sorting out which pitches I was going to deliver to which of my victims. Stapling the one-sheets to my writing CVs and business cards. (Yes, I am that sad/prepared, I brought a stapler and sellotape, though I have no idea what I might use sellotape for.)

The hotel booking didn't include breakfast and they are not cheap at this hotel, but the refectory was open at the college. I checked Google Maps for a quicker route through Regent's Park and set off. It was quicker.

There was breakfast. A nice big cooked breakfast - I like nice big cooked breakfasts and I can get away with it because I do a lot of walking. (In fact I am losing weight.) Chatting to other delegates, ones I knew and ones who I came to know.

I was terrible, I kept complaining how I hadn't got any of the sort of people I wanted for the speed-pitching. Everybody who I told (and who didn't I tell?) was sympathetic. Poor me.

Anyway one of my speed-pitchees (the agent) was in a session in the morning so I, calculatedly, went to that session in order to research him further. So Katy Williams and Gary Wild talking about being agents and what agent do, and what they don't do.

the most important thing when trying to get an agent: Try not to sound crazy. Just be professional. Make sure the little things are right - in other words, don't give anyone an excuse to reject you. And what they want in a client is someone who is personally active in promoting his/her own career. An agent doesn't do it all.

This handy little fact helped enormously when I saw Gary in the speed-pitch - because I was able to tell him all the stuff I did to push myself and try to get gigs, as well as producing my own material.

Katy broke an agent's job down into four areas: Sales; Lawyer; Script editor; and Counsellor.

The proportions change depending on the client.

They said a lot more besides but that's some of the important stuff.

Then I went to see Phil Parker. I'd gone to Phil's sessions at the previous Cheltenham festival and found them to be fairly important, talking as he was about writers creating entire universes in which to tell their stories - and having multiple creatives building multiple stories, images, games or whatever in those universes - while the original creator still maintains control.

His thrust this year was rather different: Film and TV are buggered (he didn't use that word). Though independents will still continue to be able to self-finance and make stuff.

Meanwhile entire web series (once the new hope) have sunk without trace and millions have been lost - but that's because the stories have been rubbish - really stunk. There was a vampire series (costing $5m to make) that was sub-Buffy without achieving even Eclipse quality (and whatever you may like or dislike about Eclipse it's made money).

But mobile has exploded.

On an income-per-minute basis the 90 second "Angry Kid" animations by Aardman have made more money than Wallace and Gromit. New delivery platforms have different narrative requirements but it's Phil's view that as writers we can cash in.

If we can write a structured character-driven 90 seconds (max of three minutes) story we can be miles ahead.

Whether you agree or disagree with Phil you can't ignore him. He's always thinking about the future and never about the status quo.

Curiously enough it is part of our world domination plan to release short bits of material as we develop our steampunk projects. Taking Phil's comments into consideration we just need to make them structured.

And then I had lunch. People were nice and wished me luck and broken legs.

And then I did the speedpitching. Considering I've never done it before I think it went reasonably well.

We got 5 minutes for each pitch with 40 seconds to change seats, which was plenty. And got 3 people to pitch to, we knew in advance who we were getting so could research them and (hopefully) pitch the right thing.

I made sure I took control, in a nice way, by shaking hands, introducing myself and asking how they were holding up :-) I'm so naughty.

Thing is, at the MetFilm School evenings Justin Trefgarne said that good pitches turn into conversations. So my view was: make it a conversation first and you're already winning.

First I had an agent - and I watched as his eyes glaze over when I said "science fiction" (apparently they'd also glazed over when someone said "period piece").

So I finished that pitch off pretty quick and he asked what else I'd done. Knowing that he's interested in someone who is pro-active in advancing their career, I pushed all those aspects of what I do and ended with my UK private eye series (something you don't get much). At which point he brightened up. So I'll be contacting him later.

Then I got a European film producer and pitched my (atypical for me) script "Une Nuit a Paris", to which he said "it seems like TV" so I admitted that I prefer writing TV. I presented him with my one-sheet leave-behind (with CV and card stapled on). Which he skimmed and went "how's it different from The Hangover?" so I said and he became interested.

Then I got the US film producer and pitched the same film (she noticed I'd taken control and was a bit miffed, so I let her have it back) and she said "So, how's it different from The Hangover?" So I looked surprised and slightly put-out. "I'm British" I said. She laughed "That's good, you keep that!" "I've got a one-sheet", I said. "I can accept that." So she got the sheet, CV and card as well. We'd finished early so I asked her what she was working on :-)

And that was that.

I hadn't heavily rehearsed my pitches, just reminded myself of the key points, because I knew it wouldn't go according to any plan I had in my head, I just told them enough so they got the idea.
In the end they're just people.

The final session of the day for me was the one on writing for kids. Well I already have a script and it was a semi-finalist in the CBBC/Writersroom competition last year. But it was interesting listening to everything that was said by the four panellists.

I didn't make any notes during this, partly because I was sitting on the floor for a lot of it (no room) and partly because by this time my head had turned to mush. But it turns out that a number of countries (like Canada and some in the Far East, and even the Middle East) are desperate for British writers. And that the kids market is very open, fewer writers seem to think this is a lucrative area - but it is. Very. Kids shows get repeated endlessly - and the writer gets paid every time.

I got some food in the bar, had a long chat with William Gallagher, (name check).

I met up with many many other people today and we did lots of exchanging of cards :-)

Last day tomorrow and I need to meet several people specifically.

What's on the turntable? Elton John on the TV

Friday, October 29, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #1

I am very tired. End of Day #1 at the LSF. I'm going to try and crack through this fairly quickly because I need my sleepy-byes, but once I start writing I tend to just keep going.

Wednesday evening I prepared one-sheets for Monsters and Une Nuit in Paris, because these were most likely to be the things I pitch - oh and my writing CV. It had to be Wednesday because Thursday daytime was the only opportunity to do any printing.

Thursday I got the stuff printed and headed back to my place of residence. Late again because the day job is getting to need "working late" because a deadline is looming.

I packed my gear, as I'm staying in a hotel near the event. Packed all my stuff and realised I had rather a lot to carry - only two bags but really heavy. Normally I book into hotels the evening before an event but London is far too expensive for that.

Then horror hits. I'm entering the Shine Pictures competition which has a deadline on Friday so I'm uploading my entry, and the form refuses to accept that my PDFs are actually PDFs. I get very annoyed. I waste two hours creating PDFs in different ways trying to force the site to recognise my files. Eventually it dawns on me: I change to Internet Explorer and it works. (I am professionally disgusted - it takes work to make a site fail like that.)

Dawn's Friday morning. I'm up at the usual time, well slightly earlier really. Finish packing, dress, breakfast, lift to station, train to Farringdon, Circle Line to Baker Street. And I'm there.

I can't go to the hotel as I can't check-in yet, so I have to lug my bags around.

The event is at Regent's College which is located in Regents Park. And it's very nice in very pleasant surroundings. I encounter a co-attendee of the MetFilm School course, and rescue her from a garrulous member of the College. She is grateful.

So we arrive together. I get registered (Hina registered the previous evening), prove I am me (who else would I be). Make our way to the Refectory and grab some food while the MetFilm Yobs collect around us. And Jez Freedman. I tell everyone who'll listen that Jez is excellent as a script reader and doesn't charge enough. (I always say this, because it's true.) Jez points out that he deliberately keeps his prices low because he wants to offer a service that he didn't have when he was starting out.

Jez is one of the good guys.

It heads towards 9am and the MetFilm Yobs move as an amorphous blob to the introductory session in a large hall and fill up a row.

This is a very well-appointed college, the seats in the main hall are extremely comfortable. It has it's own cinema. Various food shops around the refectory, two bars, a very nice restaurant as well as the various classrooms.

The Introduction has David Chamberlain and Chris Jones doing a double-act. Chris takes a photo of the audience from the stage. There are announcements.

Then we get a long interview with Tim Bevan one of the founders of Working Title. He explained the genesis and working philosophy of the company - so unlike the horrors of Hollywood.

Generally speaking the original author of a script stays with it throughout its development, though other writers may be brought in for their views, a script is not put into production (usually) until it's ready. They want good stories with great characters and emotion.

His description just made me think of Pixar, which operates on a similar philosophy. And both companies produce successful films more often than not.

There was lots more but time is getting on...

The next for me was a chat with Ben Stephenson (Head of BBC commissioning) and Gub Neal who had been commissioner for ITV (during its 90s heyday) and Channel 4, but now runs the Artists Studio.

They said a lot. Too much to go into now. But I suppose the highlights were Ben's response to a question about trying to follow trends: "No, trends are rubbish." And Gub's comment about how successful writers are usually disinterested in what the audience want - they write what they want.

Does foreign money affect the writing? Gub: Yes.

How much UK output is bought by the US? Ben: None. (The only slight exception now being the US-made Torchwood.)

Then I went off to get checked-in at the hotel and missed the beginning of the afternoon sessions. So sat around and chatted to people.

I went to see what Paul Ashton of the BBC's Writersroom had to say for himself - he talked about the imponderable issue of the Writer's Voice. It's very important and people know when a writer's "got it", but nobody knows what it is. It wasn't terribly enlightening and I'm not sure it's a good choice of subject for the many new writers who could disappear up their own confusions trying to think about it.

He also said that 85% of scripts sent to the Writersroom failed the 10 page test and were sent back without comment.

I was seriously beginning to flag by this time. I tried to go to the networking session but it was packed out. I ended up in the cinema watching shorts for a bit. then went to the bar for the 8pm SF writers get together.

The bar was packed.

I gave up. And came back to the hotel.

And now I'm going to sleep. Good night.

What's on the turntable? Something modern and cool on BBC Radio 3

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Adrian Mead's Edinburgh Adventure

I haven't written a word on this because I made no notes. However David Bishop made copious notes and has started to post them here:

What's on the turntable? Nuffink

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Well, there it is.

Two weeks ago someone who taught me a lot about writing passed away, he'd had a good innings and, in his own way, he was a great man.

This week a cousin of mine died at the age of 37 - for no apparent reason. We weren't particularly close but it's bad to go so young and he was married with kids.

And today I learned that someone with whom I had fought goblins and demons* has also gone though I hadn't seen him in many years.

So that's three.

I don't happen to believe that death is the end of things so I don't mourn the dead. But my heart breaks for those left behind because it hurts so much.

When my sister died of pancreatic cancer (one of the incurables that kills fast and is excruciatingly painful) a few years ago I had the opportunity to say goodbye but could not be at her funeral. So instead I wrote a poem which was read out:

A Gap in Life
Before you were gone
We remember how you filled
Your space and ours,
With a zest that blazed
And a love that burned
With gentle fire.

At first we could not accept
The gap that you once filled.
It seemed you remained
And we were shocked each time
We came across that gap in life
Where we expected you to be
And you were not.

There may come a time
That the hole that was you
Will slowly fill
And the rest of the world
Will seep into the void
That you left
When you went away.

And the pain of the memory
Of that gap you left,
Will only be a memory.

But now, there is a gap in life
That once you filled.
And until the world seeps in
We will remember how
You brightly filled
Your gap in life, and ours.

So there we go.

Enjoy life because otherwise there is no point.

*With rubber swords.

What's on the turntable? "Key to the Highway" by Derek & The Dominoes from "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs"

Monday, October 18, 2010

That's interesting

You may have gathered from my recent posts that I've been thinking about Story a lot. This may or may not be a good thing, but I usually do it while walking so I'm not wasting valuable writing time.

I've been trying to get back to basics, down to the quantum level you might say (though I think that's (a) pretentious and (b) probably inaccurate). Anyway I thought I'd run a bit of it by you so you can say "that's stating the bloody obvious, mate".

Whenever I pretend to know something about writing I claim that Rule #1 is "don't bore the audience". This is not original though I don't know who said it first. Note that I'm using audience in the sense of "one or more individuals that perceive the work".

Why create something? Well unless it's a form of self-gratification, we create things so other people can look at them. But there's no point in them looking if there is nothing of interest.

So what we create has to be interesting. There, I told you it was obvious.

But that leads us to another meatier question: What makes something interesting?

Now I'm sure armchair philosophers could spend hours discussing this, but the only reason I even ask these questions is to get a practical and useful answer. Philosophising without a point is, well, pointless.

The trouble is that "What makes something interesting?" is the sort of subjective question that gets you nowhere. As is often the case it's better to ask the reverse: What makes something boring?

This is much easier and we can get a useful answer: lack of change.

This is easy to imagine in music: just keep repeating the same thing without any variation, it's boring. (How soon it becomes boring depends on personal taste, but it will get boring eventually.)

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider how this may (or may not) apply to writing.

What's on the turntable? "Definition of a Dog" by the Esbjörn Svensson Trio from "E.s.t. Live in Hamburg", 18 minutes of Jazz gorgeousness

Friday, October 15, 2010

A question of stakes

Not talking about fencing today though we may discuss Tae-Kwon Do. (I'm feeling in a frivolously twisted mood.)

The other day I was thinking about stakes - you know, why it's important the protagonist succeeds in their goal. There are things that have to be true about the stakes - we have to believe in them. That's the most important thing, believe that they really are important. Otherwise there's no point.

And then I thought about that utterly frivolous* film "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" - which I love, can't deny it, it's on my list of films that I will watch again, and again, and again (etc).

So what about the stakes? The future of the world. Doesn't get much bigger. And yes it's a silly film, but within its own framework the stakes make perfect sense. Bill and Ted must pass their History presentation because without the music of Wyld Stallyns the world is doomed.

What about one of my other fave films? The Fugitive. Stakes? Protagonist accused of a crime he didn't commit - but it's all to do with a pharmaceutical company faking results from their drug trials, so the result would have a huge impact on society. (On a serious note let me draw your attention to this: .)

Of course the stakes aren't always global but if there are any bad consequences to the protagonist's failure make them as big as you can.

In other news

The Daughter is firmly ensconced at University and loving it. She says the lectures are good too. She's a Jujitus black belt but had also had some fun with TKD in the past, but the teacher wasn't very good. She's joined a TKD dojo at University and finds the teacher is part of the England squad and very good. Wouldn't surprise me if she's wondering whether she can qualify for 2012... she's not competitive, oh no, not at all.

The Boy has started his GCSE work at school, he's taken Music as an option and is getting the kind of teaching I wish I'd had: How to play Blues - you could just melt into that sax playing.

* Two frivoli in one blog. Lucky you.

What's on the turntable? "Morph the Cat" by Steely Dan (Donald Fagen) from Morph the Cat

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Writer's Life

I could be writing about the Adrian Mead-fest I attended in Edinburgh yesterday - but I won;t because I just read Roger Ellory's latest blog - and I think you should too

What's on the turntable? Nada.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What my mother never said

I went to the "Made in Dagenham" Q&A with writer William Ivory on Wednesday and I had written a blog on it. But I just deleted it because of what my mother never said: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".

It's not that he's a bad person or a bad writer (clearly not that) or that the interview was uninteresting, it's just I don't think he had anything to say worth repeating.

Damn. Just had to justify myself, didn't I, and see what happened?

Anyway I've been thinking about the science and technology of story. When I say technology I don't mean computers or software, or typewriters, or pens, or paper, or bits of stick with clay tablets.

Technology means techniques that can be applied to achieve a result. Anybody can be taught a technology of how to do something. Like the technology of plastering a wall. Doesn't mean they'll be a great wall plasterer but it means they could achieve a result that's not appalling (assuming they've practised the techniques as well).

Lack of technology is a bad thing when you're trying to achieve something, though occasionally you have to work it out for yourself. And sometimes there's bad technology which, if you try using it, will just end you up in trouble - and then you'll think "I can't do it" when the truth is: you don't know how, in fact worse, you think you know and you don't.

But let's do the science bit first.

I think you can divide "Story science" into two types, I have no idea what to call them but I know how to describe them, they are the Biology and the Physics of Story.

Originally (and still to a large extent) Biology is about classification. People looked at living things and began to classify them: Birds (feathers and fly), fish (live underwater) and so on.

Then there's Physics, about looking at things, suggesting rules to describe a situation, testing those rules to see if they work and if they work 100% of the time you've got a Law.

What's the Biology of Story? Campbell's Monomyth is an example of classification. So are Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations. Vogler's work is based on the Monomyth so that's classification too.

But, and I think this is important, sometimes you find something which does not fit the current classification. Does that mean it's not a living thing? Well, some people will say "yes, that is exactly what it means", like the man who, coming face to face with a giraffe, exclaimed "there ain't no such animal". Or the so-called doctor who proclaimed "I would rather err with Galen than accept Harvey's truth." - Galen stated blood moved like tides in the body, Harvey proved blood was pumped by the heart. Proof is not enough for some people.

The Monomyth is a classification. It does not mean that all stories have to contain those elements. They may but it cannot be stated as Truth.

What about the Physics of Story? Aristotle's Poetics, is the only one I can think of. Physics is different to Biology, Physics always applies. (I've probably pulled this metaphor a bit further than it should go, it's going to break any moment.)

Aristotle analysed plays that entertained and plays that failed to entertain (even though they were the same format and on the same subject) and came up with a set of principles which can be used to analyse any story to determine the degree to which it will succeed or fail.

(You have to understand that I write these blogs off the top of my head mostly - once they've had a chance to ferment a bit. This is not wine that's been laid down for years, more like a Beaujolais Nouveau.).

Then there's Story Technology - it's engineering. Engineering is about application of techniques (using tools) to produce the desired result - like a bridge. The bridge may not be perfect but as long as it does what it's supposed to do, then it's a good bridge.

Story technology is that. It's a form of engineering which may not produce a perfect story but as long as it does what it's supposed to do, then you've got a good story. (A bridge may be so well made that it's used as an example - so could a story, of course.)

So do we have story tools? Well, you can create a story that fits the Monomyth classification but that doesn't guarantee success. This happens all the time. Or you can apply Aristotle's principles and you will end up with something dramatic.

Of course a person's ability to apply these is dependent on their understanding and talent. So there's no guarantee it would be a great story. But it would work.

There are what you might call "lesser" tools, these are purely mechanical and designed to help you think through the story (index cards, for example). You can hammer a nail by hand, but it's easier and quicker to use a nail gun.

There are little bits of technology that can be used in specific areas, like dialogue: "Keep cutting out words until it stops meaning what it's supposed to mean - even if that means cutting the whole speech" (a little gem from Russell T Davies).

There are lots of tools to help you write well, whether and how you use them is up to you.

What about McKee? He comes under classification and "lesser" tools, that's not intended as an insult, it's just where he fits in this analysis.

What's on the turntable? "Time has told me" by Nick Drake from "Five Leaves Left"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ooooh, that was good

The fourth of the MetFilm school evenings, once again with Justin Trefgarne.

We started with a viewing of "La jetée", an unusual and highly influential French short-ish film (about 30 minutes with no dialogue just voice-over and almost exclusively black and white stills instead of moving pictures) - it was the basis of Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys among others. Without going into detail let's just say opinions on the film were divided but nobody was injured. I liked it a lot.

But that wasn't the point of the exercise - Justin then split us into groups of three (luckily there were 21 people in the class) and had us pitch the film to the rest of the class. We had 20 minutes or so to prepare the pitch as "writer", "director" and "producer".

This was a mean trick to play on those who hadn't liked it but the evening was actually about some training in how to pitch - very handy for me as I've never done it and I have signed up for the pitching at the Festival which is now only a month away.

I was teamed up with Jean and Julia, and they liked the film too. We were all experienced in talking to groups, Jean is a photographer while Julia is a copy writer with a good understanding of marketing. I pretended to be the Writer, Jean was Director and Julia was Producer. It was a good combination and undoubtedly had an influence on the end result, modesty* forbids me to say more and it wasn't a competition.

So the pitching began and after each Justin asked for comments and gave suggestions on what could be improved (he's very diplomatic). A clear statement of who we were, the story's genre, a brief description of the story (a teaser), sufficient understanding of the story that you can answer questions, and passion. After all, if you don't believe in it, who else will?

An important thing to understand about pitching is that it will change into a conversation with your "audience" and it's important that it should. So rather than being exhaustive in your pitch, leave gaps in the story so questions can be asked. And when you reach the end: Stop. If you allow there to be silence, the people you're pitching to will fill it.

This really couldn't have come at a better time for me, as mentioned I will be doing it "for real" in a few weeks. I enjoyed it and have a much better understanding which means it's far less scary.

I wonder what Justin's going to do to us next time...

*Modesty is my best quality.

What's on the turntable? "The Henry Suite" by Rick Wakeman from "The Grand Piano Tour" (a version of his "Six Wives of Henry VIII" album)

Monday, September 20, 2010


This is the next instalment of my reports on the London Screenwriters Festival short MetFilm evening class course ... phew. There was a two week break between the second and third evening, and I've been a bit busy the last week hence the delay.

New speaker Justin Trefgarne a writer-director. He is a man with strong views, but a very gentle way of putting them. He has experience not only as a writer and director, but as a script reader and script editor of many years, so he knows what he's talking about.

As with Claire Moorsom he asked everybody to say who they were, what they'd written and their favourite film. As usual there was a wide variety which he noted with interest - since when he does this with students the choices tend to be limited to Pulp Fiction.

His first bold statement was that all writers should direct - at least once. Possibly one or two in the audience had while a few more of us had had something produced. His reason for this is his viewpoint on scripts: A script is just a manual for the director and the actors, and a writer needs to know how that works.

Then we got into his fundamental view of what a film is: A set of questions and answers. The concept of the central dramatic question is well known, but in his view a good film goes further than that, it is a constant posing and resolving of questions - sometimes questions are resolved immediately, sometimes partially, sometimes not until the end (occasionally never). The hard questions to answer are the real dramatic questions, others are simply "practical" questions.

The more dramatic questions a film poses, and the way it answers them, is what makes it good.

He then demonstrated by asking us to watch the first 15 minutes of Michael Clayton, it wasn't a huge hit when it was released and that was probably to do with the title. But, as it turns out, the title is fundamental to the central dramatic question of the film: "Who (really) is Michael Clayton?"

It was a very interesting exercise, one that I'd recommend. After we'd watched the fifteen minutes we spent the rest of time going through it slowly and looking at the interplay of the questions and answers. With occasional running off at a tangent, except they were always very useful tangents: explore a character by what other people say about him/her; close-ups make the audience worry because they can't see what's around the character (used a lot in horror) but in Michael Clayton the camera is on him a lot of time even when other people are talking.

Quick report ... now it's back to work.

What's on the turntable? "Catwalk Blues" by Gordon Giltrap from "The River Sessions"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Coming over all Victorian

I (and those around me) have been having a very Victorian weekend.

Apart from the alternate Victorian timeline I've been working on for the world domination project, a friend had a Victorian role-play evening to mark his 50th birthday, which was jolly fun. Met lots of people I hadn't seen in years too, which was nice. My, how they've grown.

It is the Teacher's birthday today, and she received a ton of stuff for the Victoriana role-playing game (quite incidentally co-authored by someone I know). And I received a copy of Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel through the post.

Boilerplate is a steampunk movie project that J J Abrams has in the pipeline. Although to call it steampunk is a little disingenuous. Boilerplate is a robot from history. It is not a comic book, nor is it a major deviation from history, it's just a single robot in history. Boilerplate started as a website with the robot being beautifully photoshopped into old photographs. It details Boilerplate's presence at historical events from 1893 onwards.

However what I find particularly interesting is the book's educational value: apart from the addition of Boilerplate, it provides an accurate description of US-related historical events. More accurate than you usually find in places like ... oh, Wikipedia, say.

It would not be revealing too much to say that Nikola Tesla is a major player in the alternative history that I have been working on - and the inventor of Boilerplate meets up with Tesla in about 1893...

What's on the turntable? "Sogg" by Amiina from "Kurr" (I'm coming over all Icelandic again)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Red Planet result

Well, I'm out with Mara (otherwise known as Tec), but I'm in good company.

Onwards and upwards.

(When I was young I used to whistle on my way home from school - very often I would improvise on the tune Sweet Georgia Brown, currently playing in my ears.)

What's on the turntable? "Sweet Georgia Brown" played by Coleman Hawkins from the very best of...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

It isn't real, y'know

I was doing the ironing, which is something I seem to do a lot of when I get home at weekends, and watching a film - we have a TV conveniently located in the room where the ironing is done. The film in question was the new Sherlock Holmes which is a fun film and good for passing the time when you're ironing.

The next bit is spoilery if you haven't seen it, but not seriously since I'm focussing on a very specific sequence near the beginning. And you actually know the result of the sequence before you see the process.

Holmes is in the process of disguising himself while on the move; he adds a false nose as the first step, then borrows Watson's coat. There is a circus setting up in one of the London squares he passes through and here he picks up most of his disguise. And the disguise works perfectly.

So far so good, what's my point?

It's a circus. Why is it a circus?

Look at it this way: he could have had all the pieces of his disguise in his rooms. But that's a bit boring, the fact that he has to pick things up en route makes it more interesting (also demonstrates his abilities as a thief, which is relevant, as is his skill at disguise). Then again he could have grabbed these items from any unsuspecting person he found along the way, perhaps some people playing cards.

But no, we do have lots of people he could have stolen from, but he has to go through a circus.

Because this is the biggest and most outrageous place he could come across in London. It's spectacle, it's exciting. And feasible.

When we write a story with a theme - something that's actually going to mean something to someone - it's not real. But it does have to be interesting and as the writer you are within your rights to make it as interesting as possible, more than a right, it's your duty.

The writer and blogger Alexandra Sokoloff wrote recently about the different rewrite passes you should do for your script (whether novel or screenplay) and that's what you need. It is possible that in the first draft of Sherlock Holmes the character did put together his disguise in his room. Or in a later draft, from people along the way. But a circus is better.

Stories are artificial constructs that have to appear completely real. The characters and the plot are a vehicle for the theme and, as such, they cannot be anything but artificial. But being artificial does not detract from the story, on the contrary, it's what makes the story.

But ironing is very real - perhaps I should spice it up with some extreme ironing.

What's on the turntable? "Piano improvisations" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer from "Welcome back, my friends..."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

World Domination - the preliminaries

Oooh, aren't I the bloggy one all of a sudden.

As Chris the Director said, over here, we had a meeting at the weekend. You know, like a business meeting. When I say "like" a business meeting I mean it, because we were sitting in the middle of the Cheshire countryside talking while wives and children were having fun.

This is not to say that we weren't having fun - talking about potential futures is always fun. And in this case we were discussing a new buzzword: transmedia stuff (you can look it up here).

It's all Chris's fault. We first met when he contacted me and asked if I'd read a script of his - he had read my scripts on Shooting People and particularly liked Air because it was possibly the only script on the entire 'verse that represents Live Action Role Playing accurately. Which is not surprising considering my history.

So I gave him some notes on his script and after chatting a bit we decided to film some of my script Monsters, the results of which is here. We got on well so decided we should do a web series and I wrote the first version of Winter. It was okay and would probably have been fine.

Then we talked more. Chris had been working on a Steampunk feature script and we both agreed it would be really cool if I re-wrote Winter in his Steampunk universe. So I did. And this confused a lot of people (including Jez. Hi Jez!). But with this came other problems, apart from the script, we don't have a lot of money and if Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow took $30M (knocking off $10M for distribution and promotion) to make and ours is a third the length but also has a completely digital backlot...

So we kind of hit the doldrums a bit. We knew it was possible to do but could we do it?

Of course we could. We just needed a plan. And that's what we did at the weekend, we made a plan. We started at the end - Winter filmed and released - and worked our way to the beginning. And then I wrote it up so it almost looked like a business plan.

So now we have a plan, and we also now have a name for the whole enterprise - Chris had actually been using the word all through our discussions, and the original conception is his so it seems only fair to use his word.

But I'm not telling you what it is yet. That will have to wait for the official launch of the project. And there are a couple of steps ahead of "official launch" which have to be achieved first.

So what's this got to do with world domination? Well, Winter is only the beginning.

So if you know (or are) an artist or illustrator who might like to do some piccies for a Steampunk project that's going places, get in touch.

What's on the turntable? "Take a Pebble" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer from "Emerson, Lake & Palmer"

One to read

From Roger Ellory's blog:

"As I have commented before, this writing business is a strange one. Seems you spend half your life alone, sat in some room somewhere, hammering away at the keyboard creating your latest work, and the other half of the year in new and far-flung places explaining yourself to strangers."

What's on the turntable? "Somehow ... Someday" by Yes from "Open Your Eyes"

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Met Film School - Part 2

So ... last night was the second night of the free screenwriting course as part of my London Screenwriters Festival ticket, once again with Claire Moorsom.

It's kind of tricky, we have a huge range of writers on the course from people who've barely put finger to keyboard to create a screenplay, to those who are pretty competent and experienced. Which means that not everything is either going to be new, or of interest, but this week was a good one for me.

Again it's not necessarily a matter of anything being new (little here was "new" to me), it's both the environment, and the difference of viewpoint - particularly when it's the viewpoint of someone who's worked with writers for a long time.

So we were looking at character, what is that makes a character in a story effective? Where effective means: the audience experiences an emotional reaction to the character (doesn't matter so much what that emotion is, as long is it was intended by the writer).

(Why do we call those who write screenplays "writers" and those who write novels "authors"?)

One of the key elements put forward was "contradiction but not inconsistency" which is to say people are full of contradictions but those are the person's character; while a contradiction is the behaviour of a person that does not fit their character.

A character has values - things they care about - which inform their behaviour, they have commitment, drive, complexity and depth. And characters in stories have to be like this - after all, who's interested in someone who wanders through life doing nothing?

These motivations lead to conflict with the environment and characters around them, which in turn reveal more about their character.

One useful item which I had not come across before was the emphasis on Choices and Decisions. I mean, it's pretty obvious that a character makes decisions as they proceed through their story. What's not so obvious is that the depth of a story increases with the number of decisions the characters can make and how they affect the plot.

I want to discuss the artificiality of stories in another blog entry, but it comes out here: We have characters whose decisions create a plot line (or plot lines) , but as the writer we generally know where we're going with the plot. So the characters are pre-destined to make certain decisions ... and yet the depth of the story is affected by the choices available.

The point is: the audience does not know where the plot is going, and do not know what decisions the characters will make. The less predictable you can make those decisions the better the audience will like it - as long as it is not contradictory behaviour.

Claire commented that it's common for writers to play it safe with their characters. For whatever reason they don't put enough pressure on them - and it is absolutely essential to make the decisions hard, and make your characters really suffer. The audience will love you for it.

A final point (well, for me, unfortunately I have to leave a little before the end because I have a long way to go, so it might not actually have been the final point) was about a character's transformation in regard to the narrative spine of the story. Identifying the change of your main character (we did discuss the stories where the protagonist does not change, as I did here) and isolating three key scenes at the beginning, the middle and the end gives you the narrative spine of your story.

Now that's a useful technique.

(There was more, of course, discussions and so forth - and there'll be stuff like this at LSWF and much more besides. You know it makes sense.)

What's on the turntable? "The Diary of Horace Wimp" by ELO from "Discovery"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Battle of Britain

Watched the movie Battle of Britain (1969, script by James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex) yesterday. I haven't seen it since well before I started getting into the whole scriptwriting thing so I was watching with my brand-new "screenwriting head" on.

How is it that this film actually works at all? And pretty well at that. Who is the protagonist? Who's the antagonist? Does this film break all the rules and still work?

Well, of course they're really guidelines and not rules* but they work as rules, and when people try to break them it usually fails miserably. So what's going on with this film? After all what we get are lots of air battles interspersed with fragments from the lives of half a dozen people.

How does it work?

This isn't an in-depth analysis, no time for that, but an overview.

The protagonist is the RAF and the antagonist is the Luftwaffe. When you recognise that the rest falls into place, the goals are well-known and obvious: The Luftwaffe must destroy the RAF so that the German invasion of Britain can take place.

The relative strengths are important - the Luftwaffe is a massive force, the RAF are the few.

But you cannot have a concept as a protagonist, nor antagonist, hence the snippets of the lives of people involved on both sides - and time is spent emphasising how similar the people on both sides are, apart from the German High Command (being the source of badness).

What happens in those snippets mirrors the events in the overall scheme, thereby fulfilling a fundamental requirement in screenwriting - events must be things that we can empathise with, we may not be able to empathise with the problems of the Air Vice Marshall in the darkest hour - but when Sgt Pilot Andy's wife and children are killed in the related sequence, we can get that.

Once you have a grip on the protagonist and antagonist the plot develops in a standard three Act sequence (including a mid-point reversal). The film works through to an Aristotleian** crisis: the point where there are no more reserve pilots or planes; shown by the almost dialogue and sound-effect free battle sequence followed by the incredibly tense point where suddenly nothing is happening (it's worth noting how tense "nothing" can be after so much action).

And the final resolution, for the audience, when we see (again no dialogue) the German invasion force moving away from the coast.

Interestingly Churchill does not appear in the film (though Hitler does, just once at a rally, with a specific plot purpose), in fact not even Churchill's name is used - he is referred to as the "Prime Minister" just once. I believe this to be an important and wise decision on the part of the writers. Churchill personified the struggle against the Axis powers and has become (justifiably) a colossus that straddles the war. If he had been included it would have robbed the film of its ability to represent the stages of the battle through the lives of those directly affected - it would have had to have been done solely through Churchill himself.

This is a masterclass in the screenwriting of something that should not work on the Big Screen - but does.

* The "they're more guidelines than rules" joke is not a Pirates of the Caribbean original, Terry Pratchett used it in his 1995 Discworld book Soul Music. I know 'cos I just read it and he uses it three times in the book. (I don't see this as a criticism of Pirates, it's a good joke and probably a tribute.)

**From Aristotle's "The Poetics".

What's on the turntable? "Machine Messiah" by Yes from "Drama"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First impressions

As part of my ticket for the London Screenwriter's Festival I and a few other attendees get a short course on screenwriting. The course is based in the Met Film School building at Ealing Studios which, for me, is a bit of a trek from the place I'm staying, or is on the way back but you can't get enough education.

The first evening was introduced by the one and only Chris Jones who then passed us over to Claire Moorsom.

It was interesting evening as she endeavoured to shoe-horn what I guess was a full day's course into under three hours.

While much of the material was, for me, already quite familiar the group setting gives you the opportunity for different viewpoints and no choice when it comes to practical exercises - you know how it is if you're reading a book with exercises? Do you do them? Usually not (okay, you might but I don't).

But here there are no excuses and no escape - not that I minded.

Claire passed out some pictures and got us to get down and creative with the ideas they sparked for us. She said we could choose the picture from the pile, but I and several others just grabbed one at random - a better experiment, I thought. Interestingly I came up with something completely unlike my usual stories, a social drama set in Spain.

Then we paired up and interviewed each other about personal life events that might be worthy as a starting point for a bit of screenplay action.

In the second half we discussed what makes a strong premise using Spielberg's "25 words or less" concept. Lot's of the usual examples. If you have an interest in this I can recommend the "How to write a logline" resource in the side bar. However Claire had a number of other insights into this area that were certainly worth the journey.

All good stuff, next time we'll be going into more detail on conflict with Claire; and different speakers in the weeks to come after that right up to the festival itself.

What's on the turntable? "Running Hard" by Renaissance from "Turn of the Card"

Friday, August 20, 2010

In other news

I finished rewriting my entry, renamed from Tec to Mara, for the Red Planet prize a couple of weeks ago, have been having a pleasant holiday and then back to work - this time in the Fancy London.

One might think that working for NBC/Universal might give me some sort of a leg up - well, it's a big organisation and I'm not in that bit. I just do websites.

I am living with my parents for the first time in 30 years. It's not too bad, and it's better than digs because I get meals made and washing done. I'm definitely not complaining. It's a mile walk to the station and that gives me an opportunity to think and get exercise.

I've been getting additional feedback on the Winter script and doing a lot of thinking about it - thinking about scripts is possibly the most important part. Hopefully I'll be giving this script a good working over in the next few weeks.

The Teacher did jury duty over the last two weeks and sat in on two cases. The first was apparently very unpleasant we won't be discussing it; the second was a waste of time and (our) money because the Crown Prosecution Service could have made a lesser charge stick, but had no evidence for the "higher valued" charge they went for (but could have had the evidence if they had interviewed just one person).

So, I have signed up for the London Screenwriters Festival at the end of October and I'm doing Adrian Mead's thing at the beginning of October in Edinburgh. But in addition, for zero pence, I also get to do a course with the MetFilm School as part of my LSF ticket - which is nice. Starts this Tuesday, I'll let you know how it goes.

Anyway, the train will be reaching it's final stop quite soon so I must pack everything away.

What's on the turntable? All quiet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It all started when... How I got into screenwriting

I have been remiss. It was almost two weeks ago that Michelle tagged me for a meme, for "that moment where you decided that this was something you could/should/would do".

I did write a lot about this back here - nearly two years ago. Gosh. (You could also click the inspirations tag to see everything related.)

In those blogs back then I traced my writing career from rubbish SF novels through poetry but didn't quite get to the screenwriting. So here it is, with contributory factors included to add impressive wordage.

When Blake's 7 had it's final episode I wrote a synopsis of a follow-up story that would "wrap it all up", which was the closest I got to writing a script but I didn't really conceive the actual "writing of a script" in that, it was just "writing a proper ending" to me.

It was 1992 (I think) that I started my epic fantasy novel. On and off it took me ten years to finish, I was not slaving over it day in day out. I didn't suffer at all. But that year also saw the birth of The Daughter. At some point in that time she decided that she wanted to be an actress, I think it had something to do with Buffy and the fact she began Jujitsu at age 5 - she wanted to be an action star (and still does).

But somewhere around 2004 (I think) I was feeling pressure to write something - something we could actually shoot, a short Buffy-esque story to suit her talents. I believe I wrote it on a Word processor and studied websites to get the right format.

So I wrote it. We shot, edited and packaged it with the assistance of family (brother-in-law did most of it). It is never seeing the light of day.

And that was the beginning of the beginning, but not the end of the beginning.

That was also the time that Buffy ceased it's UK broadcast, it was over. And I thought to myself, you know, what if I created Buffy for the UK? Which is where Monsters began, initially just a series bible, the basic concepts, I thought that would be enough - like my Blake's 7 synopsis. And I left it at that, wrote no script for a couple of years.

Until one day I realised that it should be written. It was a part the Daughter could play so I researched screenwriting in detail, found Celtx and began in earnest.

If you want to read the first 10 pages of Monsters as it is now, you can here (click "My work and credits"). And the Daughter did get to play the part, at least in the scenes we shot, which you can watch here.

For me becoming a screenwriter was a process that took 30 years, from rubbish novels through successful poetry, magazine writing and editing, and better novel writing.

Now comes the hard part, who to tag for the meme: Piers, Jason, and Phil.

What's on the turntable? Not a sausage.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Pete Dwan... hard. Seriously hard. He grew up and still lives in (I think) a place most of us would not want to drive through even at 100mph.

And he is one of the most decent people you could meet. This link is him reading the first chapter of a novella he recently completed.

It may be that he's not the greatest writer in the world, but there's an authenticity you can't argue with (and if you did he'd come round to your place and punch you into next Tuesday - well he would, if he wasn't such a nice bloke).

I had the honour of reading some of his early work a few years back and advising him, though I hadn't seen this and in a way I'm glad, because it was fresh.

What's on the turntable? Pete's story

Friday, July 30, 2010

It's a lie!

You know the saying "If you want something done, give it to a busy person to do"?

That's a lie - just because someone is apparently busy means nothing, lots of people run around at high speed making a lot of noise and doing almost nothing.

It should be: "If you want something donw give it to a productive person to do".

I thank you.

What's on the turntable? The sounds of suburbia waking up.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Brilliant. Mostly.

If it hadn't been Moffat and Gatiss I probably wouldn't have even bothered watching (considering the recent TV output).

But this was good. Impressively maintaining the feel of the original stories in a modern setting - I really didn't think it could be done but they managed it.

It wasn't perfect, the "what sort of person could it be committing these crimes" was insultingly obvious, and the idea that Sherlock didn't see it instantly is ridiculous.

But I'll forgive that because the rest was so good.

Let's hope the remainder of the series can maintain the good bits and fix the bad bits.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Strange Hinterland

I'm at home, yesterday I was in London.

It's all the fault of the Government - well, isn't everything?[1]

I won't bore you with the insanity of Michael Gove (this is not a political comment, it's a technical fact, he's what we call in the business "a nutter"), but from the start of the election all Government departments go into purdah. I shall avoid obvious jokes[2]. Essentially no further promotion can occur of almost any sort because it could be deemed an attempt to influence voting by the incumbent party. This applies to websites. I build websites. I was building government websites when the purdah thing happened.

Sounds of twiddling thumbs.

I was still getting paid - still am getting paid - but not doing much. So now I'm at home, effectively on retainer. But the contract was finishing soon anyway and I've been applying for other jobs.

So I was in London yesterday attending two interviews, one with a big digital agency and one with one of the Hollywood big five (oh yes). Plus I have a telephone interview today with another company, although I was offered one of the London jobs - almost before I got out of the building.

It's nice to be wanted. It will be a challenge, as I'm moving up in the world from simple programmer, to project architect which means that if it doesn't work, it's my fault.

So, if I'm away from home, my blogging rate may go up again, and I should get a lot more writing done. But it's been nice living at home with my family for the past year, rather than just seeing them weekends. But it's really interfered with my writing. Oh well.

On the writing front I'm a bit buggered with my Red Planet entry; it being a detective series which really isn't panning out right. I've had some feedback on the first 10 pages including from the inestimable Jez - the main problem being I can't quite get my ideas to fit the genre.

The genre can't be wrong (it's just a genre) - it's me. So either the idea is fundamentally flawed and can never work, or I'm a genius and nobody recognises it. Or perhaps I haven't done enough research.

Time will tell.

At the weekend, on Sunday, we spent a few hours at the Dr Who Pub Convention Vworp! (at the Lass o'Gowrie in Manchester) and I think it was the interview with Rob Shearman where he was talking about "editing as you watch". At which point the Teacher nudged the Daughter (the whole family attended) and said "That was your father last night - watching "V for Vendetta". I'm in tears and he's saying 'I'd've taken an axe to the dialogue'."

True story.

In other news...

The Daughter has an audition for a roller-skating pantomime but she can't roller-skate (apparently it's not a pre-requisite); the Boy is getting the hang of riding a bike which is important because he's going to be spending a day riding when he's in France in a couple of weeks.

Oh and for those who care, in the blog entry where I printed the advice I'd given someone about writing, I also printed his response to my advice in the comments because I was dead chuffed (for my non-UK readers that is the same as "chuffed as a buttie", i.e. "happy as a sandwich" but in this case is "as happy as a zombie").


I have been instructed, by powers so much more powerful than I, that my List of Films I'd Watch Again ... and Again should be a meme. Soooo...

1. Provide a non-exhaustive list of films you'll happily watch again and again;
2. There is no rule 2.[3]
3. Reprint the rules.
4. Tag three other peeps.

And I hereby tag Sir Jon of Peacey, Duke Rob of Stickles and the utterly translucent Piers of Beckley.

That'll learn ya.

[1] No, not really.
[2] In fact I wrote an obvious joke ... but it wasn't funny so I deleted it.
[3] That is a lie.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink, I'm saving bandwidth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Films I'll watch again

There are some films I can watch only once (such as Mercury Rising, or The Birds) not because I think they're bad films, I may really liked them but ... never again.

Then there are films I could watch again and again - and do. These are not necessarily deep films - in fact, terrible writing fraud that I am, I really don't care about "deep" and "important" films.

So here's a non-exhaustive list of films I will happily watch any number of times:

Blazing Saddles
Young Frankenstein
High Anxiety
The Incredibles
Wayne's World
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
National Treasure
The Princess Bride
This is Spinal Tap
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Forrest Gump
The Bourne Identity
The Fifth Element
True Lies
Never Say Never Again
Monster Inc
Toy Story
Toy Story 2
Finding Nemo
Short Circuit
Lord of The Rings
Pirates of the Caribbean (the trilogy)

The significant prevailing element? Humour and character.

What's on the turntable? "Running Hard" by Renaissance from "Turn of the Card"

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Novel advice

A friend of mine has written a novel. It's his first - and he finished it, which is an achievement in its own right. Knowing that I have some experience with both writing and editing (I have edited novels for money) he asked if I would have a look at the first two chapters.

Like most beginning writers he was very nervous about the whole thing, and feeling vulnerable. Yup, been there. Anyway I thought I'd post my response to him here:

There were two things I had a problem with between your first and second chapter, although the first chapter is really a prologue. But they are related.

The ch.1 is not terribly interesting, it's all quite vague and in generalities, lots of "the greatest" this and "the best" that, plus the whole chapter is "telling the reader stuff" and "telling the reader stuff" and "telling the reader stuff". Way over the top. But ch.2 is very precise, it's about something happening to somebody.

Readers need someone to focus on and identify with, that's not possible in ch.1. To achieve that the reader has to become part of the creation process in the writing, you need to let them figure stuff out, let them wonder, make them think "what's going on?". Readers (viewers, whatever the medium) are not mere spectators (not even in music) - at least not if it's good. If it's good they join in. That's why ch.1 is tedious.

But look at ch.2, the reader knows nothing about what's going on. We're introduced to this character who is young and apparently a slave. And something's going on with something in his leg ... wow, weird, interesting, different. I immediately start thinking up possible scenarios about what's going on.

At least I would except...

Having read ch.1 and ch.2, I know the plot. It's obvious - okay I may not know the details, but I know the general trajectory. Ch.1 gives it all away.

It's good for you to know the backstory - in fact it's vital - but not the reader. The story needs unravel, ideally in an unexpected but logical way - the more unexpected (but still logical) the story is the better the reader will like it.

Anyway, now you've done that you need to read this:

I know it says screenwriting, but the stuff about novel writing starts halfway down.

And to any any other budding novel writers out there: No, I will not read it.


What's on the turntable? Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow" by Jethro Tull from "Broadsword and the Beast"

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

More than chance

I had to smile. Watching an episode of The Mentalist recently where someone expressed the opinion that behaviour "did not have to make sense", and the lead character Patrick Jane says "yes, it does".

Which mirrored almost to the word a piece of dialogue I had written the day before in Tec, my Red Planet submission.

Of course it's not entirely unsurprising, the lead characters share similar Holmesian characteristics - though my lead is not a "mentalist", she's a geek.

But it was worth a smile.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, by heaven!

Sunday, July 04, 2010


I've been thinking about story. And have come to some conclusions which I know (or, at least, imagine, or hope) most professional writers of story already know. (Either that, or I've got it completely wrong.)

In almost any subject you may know the basic principles "intellectually" but there comes a point where you really know them. I don't think it tends to happen in one fell swoop, it's something that happens over time, bit by bit.

So I'm just going to write some stuff - to get it out of my head and into the world so it stops bothering me.

Story is fundamentally artificial, it's a representation of a reality - in the same way that a painting isn't the thing that it represents.

The upshot of this is that while inspiration plays a role in story, the real truth is that a writer is a craftsman who takes his raw materials, and the principles of the subject, then constructs a story. And a writer with a professional viewpoint is someone who knows this, and constructs his stories to effectively communicate the story's theme. (And theme is the fundamental communication of a story.)

Part of this, for me, revelation came because I listen to BBC Radio 3 a lot. They play classical music (and some jazz) but the evening drive show always has guests - musicians - who chat about their work, their gigs (yes, classical musicians call them "gigs" as well), the composers and so forth.

One time they were talking to a composer and discussing how much work he put into his composing, the way all the big composers do and always did. Yes, he might get the inspiration for a sequence of notes that sound good - sound right - but from that point it's the work of a craftsman putting that theme into a context, building the rest of the composition around it.

There is one corollary to this: the audience should not notice the craftsmanship. There is no point complaining that the general public don't notice how cleverly a story has been put together (say, all the brilliant set-ups and pay-offs in Back to the Future or the wondrous sparkling dialogue in The Biederbecke Tapes). Because if they notice, you as a craftsman, have failed. Only someone with an understanding of the subject would notice - your peers.

If a person comes away from a story having been moved by it (meaning, in this sense, having felt the emotions the writer tried to convey) then the writer has succeeded.

What's on the turntable? "Lady" by Supertramp from "Crime of the Century"

Friday, June 25, 2010

Belies the point

So, Jimmy McGovern felt it acceptable to attack playwrights as being useless at writing stories for TV or film?

Well, no, actually he didn't. As one comes to expect nowadays he was misquoted. He didn't say all playwrights don't know how to write stories, he said some. And he'd be right. Just like some people can't tell the difference between "all" and "some".

And then Alan Plater died. Playwright, scriptwriter for TV and Film. Successful at both.

I don't generally get upset when people I don't know personally die. But I cried when John Peel died; and when it's someone who has made me laugh as much as Alan Plater did - I am saddened. It is a loss.

But I doubt he'd want anyone to be maudlin, so if you've never seen The Biederbecke Affair go out and buy it now, and learn how real dialogue is written. While laughing a lot.

As a side note, the Daughter appeared in episode 1.3 of Jimmy McGovern's The Street for about 3 seconds in extreme closeup, her script name was "Smelly Girl".

What's on the turntable? "O.O.B.E" by The Orb from "U.F. Orb" (You'd never catch me in a club [assuming they'd let me in] but I do like a bit of ambient house.)

Monday, June 21, 2010


Over the past couple of weeks I've been working my way through the version of my TV detective story Tec (Draft 4) which I'll be submitting to Red Planet. I'd got feedback about a year ago but I've been distracted by other writing so only just got back to it. (I do have an aborted Draft 3 but I decided to start again rather than continue that one because of new ideas.)

And I've just been reading Alexandra Sokoloff on Plans. She knows her stuff. Interestingly this has always been something I do (or it became what I always do after I learned the important lesson that the antagonist is the most important character in a story).

And, you know, much as I enjoyed Wall-E (and I really did) I felt there was a fundamental story problem which nobody else seems to have commented on: the protagonist does not solve the problem at the end. He is not the one that defeats the antagonist. He's not even there.

Say what? Are those two paragraphs even relevant to one another?


I was thinking about the characters' plans in Tec and how at the end my plan was to let the police step in and save the protagonist from being killed by the antagonist who is much bigger and stronger than she is - and seriously motivated to murder. Her plan is to prove the bad guy did it, his (revised) plan is to kill her and get away with it.

But she's the protagonist, she needs to be the one that beats the bad guy: not just by being very clever in figuring out the bad guy's plan but then needing help at the end to deal with the physical threat. But she needs to beat the physical threat as well - by being very clever.

One thing I love about writing action scenes and sequences is the good news/bad news aspect and putting the protagonist in an impossible position - then figuring out how they can get out of it, and ultimately win.

So I thought, she needs to beat the bad guy. How? And I realised I had the perfect set-up in the first 10 minutes - in an early scene she defeats the bad guy in a confrontation over office security, and with that set-up I could bring in a great pay-off right at the end. Lovely.

Of course, I can't actually say what it is, you'll just have to believe me - it's great.

What's on the turntable? "Watch her ride" by Jefferson Airplane (Spotify)