February 2009


Didn’t get much writing done this week, truth to tell, what with real life intervening. 

First, young son managed to pick up an ear-infection which has had him off school for part of the week with yours truly, and howling all through the night. Everyone’s nerves are a touch frayed from a lack of sleep.

Midweek, the doctor diagnosed some kind of outer-ear virus and an earspray, but since then  his condition, if anything, has worsened. A  child’s screams of pain are like a jackhammer to the soul – and there’s only so much Calpol and Ibuprofen you can give a small one.

Another doctor told us today that he had some kind of infection in the inner-ear – a totally different kettle of fish, apparently – and we can now give him antibiotics which’ll hopefully help him, and us, through the night.

In a more cheery development, the world of  regular work beckons once more for yours truly. I’d kind of swore off non-writing work but I’ve been given the opportunity to work a contained couple of days a week, so it won’t bite into the writing too much.

It’s really an opportunity too good to turn down and although part of me hesitates to lose writing time, one of the days I’ll be working is a Saturday – no, it’s not down Sainsbury’s – on which I probably only write for an hour or two, anyway.

Hopefully, it’ll help me focus much more across the rest of the week, it’ll get me out of the house and into the big, bad media world again – no bad thing – doing something at which I know I’m pretty good. And I’ll be able to contribute, just a little, to the upkeep of the household, which is good for the soul.  

Who would have thunk it.

Kinda liked Watchmen. Kinda.

In the same way I remember reading the comic – please, let’s not use the high-falutin’ phrase graphic novels – and thinking, I kinda like the Dave Gibbons artwork. Kinda.

It was long, very long, and very literal and there was some lovely stuff in there. Jackie Earle Haley walked away with the show as Rorschach, as well he should, but nothing in the movie blew my socks off. The action-sequences in particular were workmanlike, rather stiff.

Truth was, I looked at my watch more than once and wondered how West Ham were getting on – not very well, by all accounts. Would have looked at the time on my phone but these days there’re aisle-Nazis who make sure you don’t take ’em in.

I’ve no doubt that its already long running-time will bloat considerably whenthe  straight-to-DVD cartoon of Tales of the Black Freighter, and other material, is incorporated into it.

But it looked a dream and I loved the attention to detail – here, at last, is a movie set in the 80s that actually looked like it was the 80s. Top soundtrack, too.

Blood thirsty though, I had quite forgotten how violent the comic book was, which kind of makes you wonder how it’s going to earn its hefty budget back. 

But if you like your superheroes serious and anguished and nekkid, and thought The Dark Knight woz robbed at the Oscars, you’ll love it. Me, I still have a soft spot for V For Vendetta.

Can anyone recommend a good book about organisation? Because I think I’m struggling here.

There’s no doubt about it, my organisation stinks to high heaven  – always has, to be honest – and I need to do something about it. In my old life at work my desk was a fucking mess but, thanks to experience and instinct, everything managed to work out just fine.  

But left to my own devices – the best Pet Shop Boys song by a mile, n’est pas? – I’m struggling to find a method to help me move swiftly between writing projects.

The preparation, that vital process that allows you to plunge into a new project swiftly and efficiently, is missing in action.

So I’ve got files and papers galore, millions of notebooks with single, perplexing notes in each of them, I’ve got multiple writing areas and two  computers and innumerable flash drives that get lost on a regular basis. I’ve got no deadlines, and no forward plan, and no routine to speak of except for a fixed block of time every day. 

So what happens is, I come to the end of one project, and I get down because the building blocks for the next are not in place.

The creativity is there, the methodology is somewhat lacking.So I need a method. Perhaps some Amazon-minded guru has written a book for the feeble-minded like myself. 

Perhaps like me you are not the most-organised ladies and gentlemen in the world, but maybe you found a way to move forward. Maybe you got a time-and-motion fellow in, or found a tome. Maybe you had a eureka-moment, or possibly it took you many years to hit your stride.

Tell me your secret to creative productivity. What are the processes I should be building into my work-day?

As I say, I’m interested.

There appears to be no great entertainment story of any note to cover this morning – but congratulations, Danny! Congratulations, Kate! – so let me instead turn my attentions forthwith to rewriting a story of unpleasant friendships – really the only kind worth writing about.

But let me  leave you with this link, which proves once and for all that censorship comes in many forms. And remember, what happens over there will eventually happen over here.

Many congratulations to Laura at Miss Read, who is chuntering relentlessly through the first draft of her children’s novel.

Like many people, I’ve been stalled on the first few thousand words or so of mine. It’s a good few thousand words, but I’m caught in that endless loop of writing and rewriting that fragment.

It’s the age old story, really. I haven’t been able to let go and let the thing fly in the knowledge that the first draft will most probably sit there as a big mess before I can get to the satisfying bit – rewriting it, tidying it up.

But there’s another problem. The novel is a version of a script I’m currently working on – it occurred to me that this particular story would make a terrific, tight little crime novel.

But the story began to open out almost immediately. It  expanded in unexpected narrative and psychological directions. The characters began to expand and deepen, and as their back-stories emerged, they started to do things I didn’t want them to do.

The characters in the script all have very precise needs and wants, and their motivations are specific and controlled and dovetail nicely with the behaviour of the others. In the novel, I found myself going into far more psychological detail. 

Trouble is, that’s begun to blow back into my script and the versions of the characters in the novel began to conspire – behind my back – to liberate the ones in the script.

Throw off your shackles! they stated. Stand up for your rights as imaginary constructs! Be free!

My clear-thinking about the script has begun to muddy. All those clean lines of characterisation began to blur. And we can’t have that.

Something’s had to give, and while I’m writing the script, which’ll be for several more months yet, the novel will have to lay locked away. When the script is finished, I’ll let those characters live again, in a parallel universe.

So that’s one thing I’ve learned I can’t do:  write a script and a novel about the same story at the same time.

The script ideas for my MA are firming up nicely. 

A mixture of some ideas that have been knocking around my head for a goodly while and new projects, these half dozen or so concepts will then get whittled down to two scripts which I’ll write over the two years of the course.

They’re a pretty good estimation of what I’m about, I think, but there’s one ideain there  that both excites and terrifies me in equal measure: it’s a biopic.

The estimable D Stack suggests biopics may be a useful addition to a writer’s spec pile and I’ve been looking out for an interesting subject for a long while. Of course, as is the way of these things, the lady in question was sitting on my bookcase the whole time.

The person in question had an eventful life, there’s one terrific narrative which would propel her story, and a lot of vivid imagery which could be used. Plenty of opportunity, then, to tease out themes and meaning.

Trouble is, a biographical script is a complicated beast, even a young whippersnapper writer like myself can see that. The questions, should I eventually  pursue the project, would come up thick and fast.

Practical: How long would it take to research the subject? What kind of first-hand research would I have to do about this person –  there are few books about her. I’ve made plenty of documentaries about people, but they tend to concentrate on a small section of a creative life, and have a central spine of a story already. Plus, there are Estates and copyrights and all those things about which I know little.

Creative: What kind of creative license do I give myself when writing a biopic? As long as the basic facts are there, and the ‘truth’ of her life is told – as I see it, anyway – should I be approaching this as a fictionalised life, or a drama that just happens to be about someone who existed?

Am I over-reaching myself already? Maybe I should take this idea of the list and put it on the back-burner. After all, this lady’s life has unfurled already, her story will always be there for another day.

Part of me is thrilled by the possibilities. I can’t keep from thinking about it. It would be, in the words of Mr Capello, a “beautiful challenge.”

But if I wait a while, a few seconds perhaps, I’m sure I can muster me up a new favourite idea.

More news from ITV1 which doesn’t bode well for the future.

Following cutbacks that’ll see The Bill shrink from two episodes to one  a week, Wire In The Blood axed, and production on drama warhorses Heartbeat and The Royal halted – possibly indefinitely – the terrestrial network has now postponed the broadcast of various one-off dramas.

Apparently, the way these things work, a TV commission isn’t accounted for on a balance sheet until the programme is actually aired. I don’t quite understand how that works, considering the money has already been spent – but accounting isn’t, and never will be, the strongest card in my deck.

It goes without saying that the ITV network appears to be attempting to save money left, right and centre as the downturn bites and advertising budgets are slashed. I can’t imagine there will be too many further major commissions in the forseeable future, Doc Martin and Foyle’s War excepted.

ITV has ominously stated that it’s “scrapping for its life.” Let’s hope it – and other broadcasters – can find its way through the recession. 

Whatever happens, the television drama landscape is going to look very different over the next couple of years.

So not the best time, perhaps, for me to attempt to change careers.

But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m playing the long game, as I’m sure you are.

How do you see TV drama evolving over the next few years?

Where will the new opportunities be for writers?

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