Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Darling ones,

it's been my gory pleasure to read many short stories entered for the Twisted50 initiative over at Create50. You can submit up to three drafts of your bone-chilling/disgusting/spooky/sick story and redraft according to your peers' feedback on your glorious prose. But hurry - Cristina and I are soon to draw up a shortlist with which to entice a publisher!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Thumbs of Fire!

Darling ones,

not long ago I had the pleasure of attending Lucy V Hay's two-day course on script reading. Myself and the very lovely Michelle Goode live-tweeted the whole shebang. You can read what we tweeted here. And it got me to thinking that I'd like to do some more of that. So, if you have a film or writing event that you'd like live-tweeted, get in touch. No charge, just get me a ticket.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Review: Writing and Selling Drama Screenplays by Lucy V Hay

If, like me, you have the good fortune to know Lucy personally, or you’ve had the sense to check out her excellent Bang2Write blog, you’ll know that she’ll have no truck with jargon or unnecessary mystification of the dark art of screenwriting. This book cuts - as ever - to the chase, decoding the elusive drama film. I must confess I’m more of a genre freak than I realised! I haven’t actually seen that many drama films, shying away perhaps from the emphasis on emotion and internal conflict.
Lucy lays out the difference between dramas and other genres in a friendly humorous way that doesn’t make your eyes bleed. I think her exhortation to make a character’s life challenging rather than full of unmitigated misery is the thing that stands out for me. Also the way in which she identifies the various types of drama story and how to write good, believable characters without resorting to clichéd stereotypes.
I particularly enjoyed the case studies, some of which I’d seen and some not. I watched ‘Hours’ and ‘Blue Valentine’ with Lucy’s words very much fresh in my mind. I also admired the unflinching way in which she acknowledges that it is difficult to write a great drama script that producers will want to make, but she is also endlessly encouraging to the writer. Like I said earlier, she demystifies the process.
In keeping with the other titles in the Creative Essentials series, this is a book for writers at every stage of their development and is a must-read for anyone finding their way through the financial maze of production. I think film students will find it very approachable, due to its common sense. Lucy writes about drama as though she’s sitting in the room talking to you about it, and you can’t get better than that.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

REVIEW: Writing and Selling Romantic Comedy by Helen Jacey and Craig Batty

Darling ones,

this just in: cynical reviewer likes excellent book about writing romantic comedies. I know! Le shock, right? Please observe that I said 'like' not 'lurve'. I have a platonic friendship with it, we're not engaged or anything. I was familiar with Helen Jacey's writing, having devoured her book on female heroes and taken part in a workshop of hers at LSWF.

In keeping with Kamera Books' other titles, this tome does not disappoint. I particularly liked its no-nonsense approach to the vexed subject of romcoms. I've always felt that it was slightly sneered at as a genre, yet, when well-written, it's so marketable. The book is informed by the authors' love of their subject (pun intended) and their keenness for the aspiring romcom writer to identify with the emotions that their characters experience. Where else would you find an exercise that requires you to go on an 'conventionally romantic experience on your own'? The idea being to record all your sensations and examine how being with another person would improve it. What struck me about the exercises was how therapeutic they might be to the writer who has experienced heartache (which is just about everybody).

Loads of films are referenced. I watched 'Her' as a result of reading the book. I liked the sci-fi angle but wasn't convinced about the emotional story. That probably says more about me than it does the film, mind. I think anyone trying to write a romcom as a purely technical exercise wouldn't succeed; you do really have to love it as a genre. There are lots of insider insights, top tips and every sub-genre is discussed, exhaustively. I was delighted to see the reference 'sorocom' as opposed to the derogatory 'chick-flick'. In terms of female representation, romcom has the power to be subversive, using the genre to depict the complexities of female friendship. The book cites 'The Heat' as an example of this, and has an extensive list of films for the writer to check out in the index. There's a useful section on finding funding (which seems to change every day), with the advent of Kickstarter et al.

So, a happy ending for this reviewer! Awww. Cue music as reviewer and book drift off into the sunset...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Sally Wainwright masterclass at BAFTA

Darling ones,

Sally Wainwright came across as a straight-talking exponent of her craft last night, not unlike the protagonists in her scripts. Marc Lawson interviewed her amid clips of drama old and new; from an episode of 'Coronation Street' to 'Happy Valley'. There might have been 17 years between them but Sarah Lancashire was in both. Interestingly, SW thought the Corrie clip was way too wordy and was grateful for the subtext she'd learned by the time the clip from Happy Valley was shown. SW loved working on Corrie because of their respect for writers. Other soaps she'd worked on used script editors to rewrite the scripts. Corrie allowed her to develop her own voice whereas other soaps felt homogenous by comparison. Interestingly, SW felt that the soaps' competitive ramping-up of incident detracted from the drama, which she felt was better evoked by the drama that comes from the humdrum. She believes that dialogue is innate in the writer. Once you have the story worked out, the dialogue should flow from the situation.
There was some discussion of the importance of backstory and how useful it is in forming character. In 'Unforgiven' SW was conscious of the fact that despite her protagonist's incarceration, her fifteen years away meant that much of her past remained unresolved and was waiting for her upon her release.
The violence of Happy Valley was debated. SW directed episode 4 (where Catherine rescues Ann), but felt that the violence was not at all gratuitous; on the contrary it was entirely realistic. The power of the scene lay in the two women rescuing each other. It was still novel to see a female police officer be attacked. The gritty dialogue included swearing, which to SW seemed like the normal rhythm of speech.
In terms of process, SW likes to write detailed scene breakdowns, including the thought processes of her characters. SW studied and read a lot of Ibsen when she was younger, from whom she learned that subtext is all. She said she couldn't watch her work if she felt it was badly directed. She was mentored by Kay Mellor, which SW said was invaluable, as KM was such a trailblazer with 'Band of Gold'.
SW writes a series bible as both a selling document and a blueprint for casting. She felt that every new scene should come from slightly left-field. She liked to write the third episode first and was always amenable to cutting the last line of any scene. She didn't care for being pigeonholed into 'nothern' drama as she felt her themes were universal and would be understood anywhere. It was a question of vernacular.
Current projects include a biopic of the Brontë sisters and another series of Happy Valley. This brought up the subject of doing your research. When reimagining 'The Wife of Bath' and 'The Taming of the Shrew'. SW really enjoyed having such a wealth of material with which to work. She agreed the Taming of The Shrew was a contentious subject for the modern age, with its empasis on female submission.
SW discussed showrunning with reference to 'Scott and Bailey'. She didn't like to rewrite other writers' work but would if that was what was required. 'Last Tango in Halifax' was more autobiographical, with its emphasis on the lives of older people. It was turned down until Danny Cohen (programming Director, BBC) was approached. He approved the idea and so it was made.
There were some very interesting questions from a well-informed and appreciative audience. SW liked Nurse Jackie, and Breaking Bad, though confessed to not watching a huge amount of TV. She didn't feel that screen action should be too prescriptive in the script. She felt that female writers bring a different sensibility to writing and actively preferred to write female characters as they are more emotionally articulate. She didn't do too much rewriting as she liked to build a script with a solid foundation, feeling that addressing those issues while drafting prevents too many drafts being written. She was conscious of, and keen to, address the lack of multicultural diversity in TV drama, feeling that to write a character with a different ethnicity required careful and thorough research.

Monday, 26 January 2015

REVIEW: The Art of Screenplays: A Writer's Guide by Robin Mukherjee

Darling ones,

what shines out of this excellent and inspirational book is Robin Mukherjee's sheer enthusiasm for screenplays. Not just the writing of them but all the processes that go into their production - particularly the mining of 'stuff' (the jottings, details and miscellanea that writers accrue in their Moleskines). In other words, the 'stuff' of life and how the writer makes use of them in their dramatic output. But this is no mere 'how to' book. RM puts the art and craft of modern screenwriting into an historical context. He certainly explains the Orphic Paradigm and vertical structure in ways that didn't make me want to scream or claw my eyes out. It's witty, funny, approachable and I'm willing to bet, representative of the author's voice when he's teaching.
More than anything this book is about the philosophy of writing. Why is it that we are so thirsty for stories about ourselves, no matter what culture or age we're born into? I bet RM's a great teacher. Despite many years in the business, there's not a hint of burn-out or cynicism in this book. There are some interesting exercises that root the student in reality (using the all-important 'stuff') in order to write material that should make their work vibrant and alive. That said, I do think it's a book more suited to a writer well grounded in the essentials of writing and who already has the habit of notebook and pen. I think it's also good for the film and creative writing student for the historical and psychological aspect of writing. I thought it was a fresh and innovative way of looking at writing and it reminded me powerfully of why I love to write. You can't say fairer than that. Available here.