Learning, Shows, TV, Writing

A Song & Dance for your details…

A much-loved but unproduced theatre script,  A Bit of a Song & Dance, made the BBC Drama Script Room long-list! They had a record number of entries, and a phenomenal amount to read, so I’m especially pleased – and grateful! As all writers out there know, there’s subjectivity in all of this, too, so I’m well aware that there’s a decent degree of good fortune in getting this far.

Writersroom is a phenomenal doorway for writers; a great deal of the talent that reaches your screen passes through this system, and I know many who have been coached and nurtured by it (and by others, of course): it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s this kind of thing that gives hope, ambition, support and professional education to me and THOUSANDS of would-be broadcast writers.  The recent comedy script room has had 2,629 entries and as you can see below, Drama had almost 4,000.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 09.50.39.pngThis is the best any of my scripts have done with the BBC and it is a script I love (with characters I care about – but then, I always do). As one of the longlist, the BBC will give me a script report, which is invaluable – because without audience feedback, a script is nothing. Its life is in the imaginations of others….

And on that slightly strange final note, I’ve been looking for a wordpress GDPR thing and can’t find one. Some of you have signed up to get blog posts by email. If you are one of them and no longer want to, obviously do unsubscribe! Otherwise, let’s carry on! (As I try to capture your imaginations!)

 

Learning, Life balance, opportunities, Writing

Writing Without Whips

Writers need focus. And kindness. Lots of kindness. I wrote yonks ago here about the myth of artistic poverty – how a lack of money (and, related, time) absolutely stymied my work.

It leads to me chasing my tail, rather than having confidence enough to focus on a single project.  It leads to me running up and down my projects, my contacts, the competition deadlines, watering them all, hoping one – just one – will bear me a fruit.

Of course, this is mad.

If studying the lives – and work – of great writers I admire tells me anything, it is that they sat with their work. One work. They listened. They thought.  They paid attention to the task in hand.

Of course, they had to go to the post office. Of course, they had to shop, meet, talk, hustle, eat, drink, recover etc. But they treated their work with more respect than I have been showing mine. And that’s something I resolve to change.

Seeing as you’re here, you might be like me. You read posts about writing. I stumbled over one the other day that was so fresh, so generous in its tone, that it reminded me of Stephen King’s On Writing, or Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. What was so fresh was that it did not tell me I was doing everything wrong. It did not tell me that I could learn what 10 terrible mistakes I was making with every script. It did not tell me that if I would only be a better something [insert noun that’s simultaneously a carrot and a cat-o-nine-tails: “human”, perhaps], then I would be gobbled up eagerly by agents/producers – and not in a necessarily harrassmenty kind of way.

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This was not the kind of “whip” I was looking for in the image library.

It was this. A post that says, “you can find a champion for your work”. That says, “yes there are hurdles, but you can get over them.” That nudges you gently out of the nest so you can fly, instead of screaming, “Jump, you tosser!” from the ground.  So thank you, Hayley Mackenzie of Script Angel. It’s that kind of thoughtfulness – along with the likes of Philip Shelley‘s thorough confidence – that gives the industry a good name.

I don’t believe that making people feel bad, or in competition with their peers, works. Scriptwriting professionals like Hayley and Philip (they’re not the only ones, of course) remind me that I choose who I listen to. This is utterly personal of course, but the gentle encouragement of guys like this, and so many other writers, is one of the things that keeps me in the game.

It’s a privileged place to be, with words in your mind, in your hand, on a screen or page. The last thing you need is a beating. Just find some focus, do some listening and get those words out.

[skips off, distributing sunflowers, into a nuclear horizon…]

😉

 

Learning, opportunities, theatre, TV, Writing

The Stuff I Do (yippee)

Wonderful week last week, with lots of goodies coming at once.

On Tuesday, I reviewed Michael Boyd (former RSC Artistic Director)’s new show, The Open House, for Bristol 24/7. You can read the review here.

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The Open House, Theatre Royal Bath – photo by Simon Annand

Then I popped on a train, feeling all intercontinentally high-flyin’, wrote my review on the tracks & when I woke up (some sleep happened somewhere), I was in King’s Cross on  my way to the C21/Script Angel WritersRoom, which ran as part of the International Drama Summit at Content London 2017.

Very merrily, my latest TV pilot spec script – written in a 10-day deadline frenzy in September – was highly placed in the C21/Script Angel Drama Series Script Competition. And this is how I won a place on this full and excellent day.  In three groups, we developed a new show from concept to pitch. Each worked closely with an experienced show-runner: Versailles’ David Wolstencraft; Follow The Money’s Jeppe Gjervig Gram; False Flag’s Maria Feldman and Shades of Blue’s Adi Hasak.

The 9-6 day seemed like it was eaten whole in one big bite: Have we finished? Where did it all go?! 

That’s in no small measure due to a cracking task-led structure, but also a bally marvellous working group. So often,  writers work in holy isolation but here we had to listen, respond, respect and hit a deadline with a goodie. (What do you mean, “did we?” Of course we did!).

Anyway, it was yet another of those weeks where I stand, grin and kalloo-kallay my lucky stars to be able to do the stuff I do. I saw and reviewed great & thought-provoking theatre (heading to London in the new year, I believe) and worked with a great international group of merry writers and producers. And we all learnt from our group’s ace showrunners, Jeppe Gjervig Gram & Adi Hasak, with the sharp and steady Hayley MacKenzie of Script Angel’s hand on the tiller.

What a cracking week.

 

Learning, Stories, Writing

No new stories? Then you’re never alone!

Way, way back, many moons ago, I spent a disproportionate amount of my degree studying fairy tale, folk lore, myth and language. A very lucky soul, I was.

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Morgan Le Fay, Frederick Sandys, 1863/4, Birmingham Museums & Gallery

I ended up examining  the evolution of one character in particular – Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s half-sister. A powerful woman in every version of the tale, she morphed from pre-Christian tri-partite fertility goddess (Celtic Morrigan), to an evil, conniving force of darkness. Over the centuries, society’s attitudes to women changed, as Christianity spread, and as things like the Marian Cult of the Virgin Mary took hold in scriptoriums (remember, back in the day, the monks were the publishing houses!).

And so, as Christian men took over, the earth-mother became a demoness. The other significant woman in Arthurian legend, Guinevere, herself changes during the story from sweet virgin to unfaithful wife.

As my own tale morphs and grows, and I constantly learn about the importance of story-making and -telling, I’m reminded again and again how, fundamentally, stories are universal.  No matter the surface differences between Peppa Pig, Greta Expectations and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a closer look will find the parallels: regardless of age or culture, we all want and need our story medicine – we just take it from different bottles.

So if there’s nothing new under the sun, that should remind us: our tribe is always out there.

  • As a writer, that might goad you to keep writing. You’re not doing it for you – it’s for the people who need that story.
  • As a reader/viewer, remember to try some new stuff, regularly and not just on the screen. Just as your own tale keeps growing, so others are sharing theirs for you to enjoy.

And as the changing depiction of Morgan showed how “society” (the story writers and publishers, reflecting an increasingly male-led world) viewed women who had power, so our stories reflect the way we want our world to be, and how it is. Which means, ultimately, that if we don’t say it, publish it, produce it, watch or read it, it canot be heard. 

For those who like delving deeper in such things, both TV Tropes and the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Fable Index can lose you several hours down the rabbit holes of linking themes, motifs, lessons and characters….Just remember to come back!

 

Learning, Life balance, Writing

Tales From The Midden

I’m doing The Artist’s Way all over again, straight after completing the 1st go-round.

And now, just reading The Artist’s Way for Parents, I’ve had an inspiration.

JK Rowling said she only got Harry Potter writ because she did no housework. One of the many reasons she has my huge respect.

My inner police-people are too uptight for that, though. I can’t focus in a midden. So I’m going to adapt that and do something lots of others who work at home / write / create might have thoughts on-  ZERO small chores are allowed to interrupt my day.

At some dedicated point – with my 6-year old helping – it will be “maid time”, when the “maids” come in (us) & we do the jobs that olden-day “staff” would have done. Until they come, it doesn’t happen. We play, make, create, talk, mess things up.

That way, the niggling guilt can stop AND a wee man gets to contribute to making his home a place that we make nice together. Wish me luck…!

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Learning

9 1/2 weeks. OK, 12. But I couldn’t resist.

If you were born after maybe 1975, you might not get it. But if you’re roughly my age (a grand forty-four and a half) you might now be hearing a dodgy John Taylor* theme tune and getting memory-whiffs of a tousled, sweaty Kim Basinger staring in a confused fashion at all the identical rows of white shirts & black suits in Mickey Rourke’s wardrobe and well, watching things on a projector. 9 1/2 Weeks was basically the forerunner to both 50 Shades… and Sleeping with the Enemy. But I digress.

What I meant to say was that between Mother’s Day & Father’s Day, I’ve done 12 weeks of The Artist’s Way. And jotting it down because the last post was helpful to some people I like. And doing it all has been so helpful to me that I’m starting all over again. pexels-photo-127968.jpeg

If you are interested in this for yourself (it’s basically a refresher / CPD / spring clean for any one, no matter who creative they want they are / want to be),  you don’t need or want a list of my “achievements”, or some wondrous “before & after”s. They’re my things, and while you might kindly say, “oooo, ahhhh”, that’s no good for you!

What might encourage you, though, are these things:

  • I don’t crave “success” for what I do. While I still very much want an audience for my work, I know it’s unequivocally because I want to engage with people, move them, make them feel less alone. Not because a large audience / exposure is a success. It ain’t necessarily so, as the wonderful Ella & Louis sang (go on, have a listen while you read on).
  • I’m just excited & inspired by others’ successes & by great work – and I’m 100% envy-free. When I see any good work in any form (music, theatre, TV), or hear anyone I know do well, my reactions are “clean” – like a happy kid. I want to applaud, cheer, halloo – and there’s not an atom of envy. Yep, with a foot-shuffling blush, I know there used to be. A bit of a “gah, I wish I could…”, nothing nasty, nothing against the bod or the work, but there was a “what about me? when will I…?” And now it’s gone, which is bloody lovely.  Instead, now, I cheer it all, and am just excited to be in the same game, playing in my corner, too.
  • I’m excited by creative risk, after years of keeping my head below the parapet. That’s probably not uncommon for anyone, artist or not, after domestic abuse – as in my case – but it might also be the case for anyone who’s been shamed / mocked / belittled/ blacklisted for creative risks – or just felt like they crashed & burned! That could be from a teacher years back, or your agent never returning your calls. Confidence can be fragile, but creativity depends on confident splash-splash-splosh! I know in my heart that playing safe isn’t playing at all.  It’s just people-pleasing and boring and really not me!
  • I’m kinder, lighter, and excited about the future. I’m working with a wide range of new collaborators on early-days ideas, working out what we might like to plant in the ground. Some of that’s theatre, some film or TV. Some is community, and some is business. But they are all connected, with no false divides.

I hope – if you’ve heard about The Artist’s Way, and wound up here, this is helpful. Or if you’ve never heard of it, your curiosity is piqued. For some, it’s about removing “blocks”, for others, it’s about getting out of a rut, that old rut. Some feel like it’s a spring clean to bring back their lost playfulness. Others, that it’s peaceful self-care, meditation and self-strengthening. Here, it’s all of that (and yes, stuff has happened. Big stuff has happened, and more is happening. But that, dear friends, is another story).

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*YES! Exactly! That John Taylor, from Duran Duran, going solo for what was basically a soft-porno. And ye gods, sorry, Mr T, it was not a great song. I still have the 7″.

Really? Oh, ok. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – it’s a bit 1980s rude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5OBXJ2AxSA

Learning, Shows, TV, Writing

Fingery-Pokery – The Artist’s Way

scan0056I heard about it.

I saw it in a friend’s vast personal library.

He said “Here, take it.”

It sat on my shelf for a year.

I started it.

Wow.

I’m reading / doing / taking / following The Artist’s Way. It’s a course in a book. I’m fed up of feeling my work is stale, fed up of the negative pixies who get to party when I get  statistically likely “thanks, but not today” emails, and I’m fed up of the whispering mists of pessimism and poverty.  And that’s enough indulgence in evocative eurghhhiness.

Because this 12-week thing (I’m reaching the end of week 5) is great! Jolly! Freeing! Happy-making! OH, MY GOD. I’m the Me I that adult me thinks I was when I was 7! (Creating for creativity’s sake, full of curiosity, mischief, devil-may-care fingery-pokery).

Talking of “God”, it/s/he crops up a fair amount in this book, but don’t be put off. While author Julia Cameron has a strong faith, she encourages readers to think about their own “god” – whether that’s the “creative force”, a muse, or a deity.

So much good shit is going down – as they say here in the streets of Bath all the time – and it’s not all about improving The Writing at all. But WHAT a relief to….

  • LIKE my drafts the next day
  • not to be put off by a roughly sketched scene, but see its glimmer
  • have optimism and glee
  • feel not a twinge at others’ hard-won successes (yes, shameful – it was only ever tiny, but ouch, I wanted that Jellytot!)

It’s a bonkers example, but I applauded – actually clapped at – the telly at the end of this week’s Line of Duty. See what I mean? I’m so proud to be loosely in the same profession as Jed Mercurio, how could I not? Ditto the finale of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch. Hats off to them and the creative teams around them.

Anyway, I’m also …

  • taking action, instead of putting up with repeated promises that turn to bog-all
  • bolder with my dreams, such as going for “front of camera talent” instead of “director” as my role at Channel4’s Bristol PopUp last week (yep; I presented, and I loved it).

So – is this intriguing you? Be warned. There’s a crocodile. Week 4 is “reading deprivation” – no TV, films, books, papers, voice radio, mags, emails, social media…

It is hard.

It is great.

  • I went to bed when I was tired
  • My bum wasn’t glued to the sofa
  • I did some great piano playing
  • I did some brilliant (of course!)  writing.
  • And now, I carefully choose what to watch at night (1 hour; maximum 2 if it’s quality drama or comedy), like picking a quality chocolate or drink. I pay attention, rather than lever open my ears and eyes to have shit poured in.

Which is nice.

😉

Alex