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I’m really happy with my New Year’s resolutions. Really, really happy.  What differentiates this year’s set from all the previous ones is that they’re prescriptive rather than proscriptive, “thou shalts” rather than “thou shalt nots” and, as such, leave one with a feeling of achievement, rather than a fear of failure.

Probably the most successful resolutions are those relating to the timetabling of my day.  For years I’ve been a believer in getting down to work early and carrying on through the day.  That, at least, was the theory.  In fact what I’ve believed in is sitting in front of my computer early, then finding as many ways to distract myself from working as possible (oh Wikipedia!  how you tempt me with your “Random article” link) until it gets to 10.30 and I can slope off to a coffee shop for a shot of caffeine and a bun, before returning to my computer hours later only to realise that (a) calories have left my brain lethargic and (b) actually, my VAT return is probably more important than the next few pages of script.

Having a set beginning and end to the “main project” part of my writing day, with afternoons left aside for all those irritating bits of admin and, er, paying jobs,  has been a massive improvement.  Obviously, kicking the various distractions into the long grass of the afternoon helps productivity during the morning but, more than this, ending the main project at noon and not starting it again until 8.30/9ish the next day gives plenty of time to ponder what those next 3ish hours of writing will involve.  A lot of the time one chooses to distract oneself when writing because one doesn’t really know what’s coming next.  It’s much easier to surf the net/go for a bun/play-17-hours-of-LittleBigPlanet-and-still-get-stuck-on-that-sodding-wheel-of-death than it is to sit down and come up with the answer to “what happens next”.  Under the new regime, I (and my subconscious) get 21 hours to work on that problem, with the result that, when I start in anew on the film script each day, I know pretty much exactly what I want to happen and how I’m going to get there.  It’s hugely liberating.   Now why didn’t I think of it 10 years ago?

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The thing about audiences, whether they be readers or cinemagoers or even just people slumped in front of the box is that they’re clever.  Obviously, as individuals they’ll range across the whole spectrum of intelligence (unless your book/film/TV script is called something like  “The Ineluctable Modality of Fate” or “Janet and John and Pat the Dog” in which case the range of available IQs is likely to be rather more limited) but, taken together, they will have a vast amount of knowledge (this, by the way, is why it’s always best to save “Ask the Audience” for the really tricky question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire).  Audiences really will pick up any small clues you choose to seed your manuscript with, they don’t need to be prepared for any plot twist with a long explanation in words of one syllable.

Irritatingly, I appear to have forgotten this while wrestling with “the great script”.  I’ve been trying to hint at the twist  coming up in my film script with a few well-chosen bits of scene-dressing earlier on.  Re-reading what I’ve put together so far, I now realise I’ve put something in every other scene.  I may have wanted to send out a few little clouds, presaging the coming storm but instead I’ve knocked up something akin to the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz.

Ah well, looks like I can start tomorrow with more than a few revisions.

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rose1Shakespeare claimed that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but, as JBS Haldane pointed out in My Friend Mr Leakey no one would think of the rose in the same way if it were called the Lesser Stinkwort. As Mr Leakey himself said, “Names matter more than you think.”

The point came up on Charlie Brooker’s excellent Screenwipe Special on writers a month or so ago. Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Black Books &c) was saying one of the things he missed most about working with Father Ted co-writer Arthur Matthews was his ability instantly to come up with the name for a character. As an illustration he gave the randy, larger-than-life postman featured in the episode Speed 3. His name? “Pat Mustard”. As soon as you hear that name you know what the character is going to deliver. It works absolutely perfectly.

I spent more time than I should today trying to name the heroine in my film. I’d got her down in my outline first as “Louise” and then as “Ellie” but when I came to place her into the script for the first time, neither seemed right. Matters were made more complicated by the fact that my default setting is to give my female characters one of those names posh families give their daughters and then shorten to boys’ names – Harriet/Harry, Charlotte/Charlie &c. Why this default? Well, to me those names always conjure up someone frighteningly clever, funny and independent and, as far as I’m concerned, those three words are the definition of a sexy heroine.

Unfortunately for me, the female lead in my current script needs to be (at least when we first meet her) someone badly damaged by life. Somehow I can’t imagine one of my Harrys (Harries?) or Charlies in that role. In the end I plumped for Kate, one of those iceberg names: seemingly plain but concealing something far more impressive. Don’t believe me? Then I pray in aid Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Kathryn “Kate” Hepburn. See?

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There are (at least) two schools of thought on how you should get through a first draft of a script.  One school says you should work your way through from beginning to end, never looking back (possibly for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt/having your wife forever trapped in the underworld).  The other suggests that you work through the script from the beginning each day, revising as you go.

In the past I’ve generally stuck to method one, if only because method one is quicker.  With the film script, however, I’m switching to method two.  It does take a lot longer, with the first half of the writing day taken up by what went before but it is a great opportunity to add in those little tweaks/big changes that only leap into your mind in the middle of the night, as well as helping to give some consistency to the tone.  At least, that’s my excuse for only getting 3 pages of new material written today.

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Resolutions

So, other than reviving this blog, what are my writing-related resolutions?

  1. Get back to some serious ashtangaMens sana in corpore sano and all that (insert depressing thought here, I doubt somehow that any of my work will be remembered as long as Juvenal’s).  Doing yoga helps me keep my brain in order.  Not to mention that I’d like to get back to being a bit more buff – I may be ugly but that doesn’t stop me being vain.  So, that’s half an hour first thing every morning and another three-quarter hour session when I can fit it in.
  2. Writing time is 9 -12 each day.  By this I mean “proper” writing time – sitting in front of a screen and working on a script, for me.  This should be a net-surfing/wandering-off-for-coffee-n-buns/computer-gaming/idly-staring-out-of-windows/&c-free period of the day.
  3. Afternoons are for other writing/admin/watching movies/reading/writing this blog/writing the satirical blog.
  4. Video games don’t get to impinge until after 6pm.  I always admire the example of Iain Banks, who ended up physically breaking the CD for Sid Meier’s Civilization (sic) III in order to get back to the business of writing.
  5. I will chase up producers more often.
  6. I will exploit my back catalogue
  7. I will get up in the middle of the night whenever I have a good idea, however attractive the idea of staying in bed seems.
  8. On the same point, I will not try to convince myself that “if I think about the idea really hard before going back to sleep, I’m bound to remember it in the morning”.
  9. I will say “yes” more – writing requires interesting experience and sitting at home is not that interesting.
  10. I will try and get the short stories published.
  11. I will have a film script (first draft) by the end of April.  Actually, even better if I can get it done by mid-March.  I’d like to get it out of the way before I hit forty.
  12. I will get off my arse and look for work.
  13. I will try to track down Russell T Davies so I can give him a manly handshake/huge hug/great big slobbery kiss.  Whether you like what he’s done with Dr Who or not, The Writer’s Tale is a wonderfully true, wonderfully inspiring book about writing and what it is to be a writer.  Thank you RTD.

And that, I reckon, is enough to be getting on with.

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It Lives!

It lives!

It lives!

No, honestly it does.  Three, two, one … I’m back in the room (NB outdated reference – could have got away with it a year ago, in fact I could still get away with it were I writing “topical satire”, but this is the sort of thing that should really be cut out before the rewrite).

Anyway, a year has almost passed since my last entry (in fact, there were more but I decided they needed deleting – I promise it won’t happen again) and I suddenly feel the need to get back to this thing.  The “blackmailing myself into writing” idea was a good one and I shouldn’t have abandoned it so early.

Back on 7 January 2008 I had two definite (ie paid-for) projects – a promo for an intertube TV channel and some sketches for a kids TV show.  I was also laying down plans for (a) a children’s fantasy novel, (b) a play, (c) a sitcom and (d) an internet drama.  So, what has happened in the intervening period?

Well, the intertube TV channel has died on its arse.  If you want an idea of why, just look back over some of my other entries from Jan ’08.  It was a good idea and had some great people involved but sadly the money man behind it all was a … now there’s a funny thing (good old Max Miller).

And the kids’  TV show?  All done and dusted.  Wrote some good sketches, got a nice little commission, looking forward to seeing the end result in the new year – especially as the final tranche of my fee will come in on broadcast.

As to the other projects.  The novel is still circling somewhere in a holding pattern, the sitcom has been written and (after a major strop on my part about who should get to write it) has been with a producer since the end of October, there is even half a chance that it may actually have been read. The play has been written.  Looking back at it, I reckon it’s got some potential but needs work.  I’ve got an actor interested and we’ll be meeting up soon to talk about re-writes.

And the internet drama?  Well, that’s an interesting one.  I knocked up the treatment early in the year, my agent sent it out and I got a couple of nibbles.  One in particular was really exciting, an offer not to produce my show but to get me in as head writer on a brand new internet drama (they actually called my writing “brilliant” … in an email, so it’s written down and I can wave it in front of people!).  Unfortunately, as so often in the comedy world, time drags by slowly and projects wither and die.  I’ve gone from being asked to clear the whole of my availability for the autumn to waiting around in the winter wondering if anything at all is going to come of the idea.  Ho hum.  We shall see.

The rest of the year has been spent watching this and assorted other projects rise and fall, cut down in the no-man’s-land that is the TV/radio commissioning process.  Watching my brave ideas fall in wave after wave has been pretty gutting.  At various times in the year I’ve been on the verge of (a) being the man behind an exciting, new, Saturday-night family drama based on King Arthur (and then Merlin finally got its green light), (b) co-creating an exciting, new reality-TV comedy (and then Peter Kay came up with his X-Factor thing) and (c) chucking myself off the nearest available tall building.

So, what have I got to be getting on with in the new year? Well, here goes …

  1. a possible 15-minute satirical series for Radio 4.  This is currently with the powers-that-be (in fact it has been since mid-October).  Apparently it’s “witty, clever and absolutely perfect”, whether this means it’ll happen is anyone’s guess.
  2. a possible 15-minute sketch show for Radio 4.  Exciting one this, there are three of us behind the idea and Radio Entertainment like the idea enough to have paid for a pilot.  Fingers crossed.
  3. short stories.  I think it’s time for me to try to get some of these ideas published.  If you know of any good outlets, do drop me a line.
  4. the film.  I’ve got a great idea for a film (inspired indirectly by a brilliant idea I had in a dream, the first time I’ve had a complete story just pop into my head, which turned out to be the plot of Roald Dahl’s The BFG).  I suspect I’ll be talking about this more in the future.  A lot more.
  5. adaptations.  I’ve got a few ideas here.  One definite pitch to R4 as a classic serial based on a novel by a favourite Czech author of mine.  Plus a couple of books to read up to see if they might fit the bill.  And how long has it been since anyone tried to do anything with Tarzan?
  6. the back catalogue.  Lots of projects get started and then sort of … … … tail off.  It’s time for me to have a look and see if any of them are worth reviving.  In fact there’s one idea, involving a barrister who ends up working for Death, that I really think might be worth doing something with.

There, that should be enough to be going on with, I reckon.

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Yes, happily for me the chap who is the centre of what I think is a one-man play keeps blethering on the moment I get in front of a keyboard.  In fact he’s doing so well that I can already map out a path to the end of the first draft.  I’ll even put a fiver on my being able to rest my typing fingers some time on Friday … before having to put them into action again on the first redraft.

Anyway, the result is I’m feeling rather typed out, so blog-wise this will have to do for today.  À bientôt.

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