Sunday, 30 March 2008

Write On

OK a naff title. But it gives me the chance to use my favourite insult. Naff. It's an age thing.

So I got my head down and did some serious writing. OK re-writing. OK in a couple of cases rip into tiny pieces and stitch together again. Lucy made sure I used the machette judiciously.

Today I'll be sending out shorts to BSSC, Supershorts and Page. Then on to longer stuff.

I've a sitcom that has sat there for 18months. Time to dig it out and give it a critical read. I suspect I will keep the underlying idea and the plan for each episode but bin the rest. If you hear any piteous screeches it will be me, horrified by on the nose dialogue, direction to actors, and a multitude of other crimes I committed back then.

Hopefully it will be redeamable enough for the BBC Comedy College. I'm not sure if I have time to write something from scratch.

I hope to also get an idea in for C4 Coming Up. But only if an idea grabs me.

All this means I need to keep writing hard. Hence I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front and expect it will be a weekly entry next week too. I am reading you all though. After all I need a sanity check.

Oh and Robin did a link to this for a checklist on how to keep that writing going.

Keep your pencils sharp.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Procrastinating in Bookshops

Well I've not got much writing done this week. My Alter Ego, Aunty Ethel, was flat out trying to clear her desk before the holiday. Still ended up having to work remotely to finish it off so too knackered in the evenings.

However I've procrastinated enough. I did a check on deadlines and it scared me rigid. Can't keep finding pencils to sharpen and cupboards to clean. OK, I don't do the cleaning cupboards thing. I've been known to dump stuffing out of a box and wonder in passing when they'd added extra sage to the recipe. But honestly, bread mould is just another form of penicillin isn't it? And no-one actually died.

So what deadlines are brewing?

26th March Wed: Hotbed <30min Stageplay
28th March Fri: BSSC Early Deadline
31st March Mon: Supershort Late Deadline
04th April Fri: C4 Coming Up 30min Deadline
07th April Mon: Supershort Without A Box
11th April Fri: Harper Bazaar Short Story Competition
14th April Mon: Deadline for College of Comedy Application
15th April Tue: every1sacritic 15min play
15th April Tue: Page Feature and Short Competition Late Deadline
01st May Thu: Nicoll Fellowship Application
13th June Fri: Bruntwood Playwriting Competition
28th June Sat: BSSC Late Deadline

Doubt I'll make them all but if I fail on one I can use some of it for the next.

(Update: Lianne has just issued her latest deadline list. Always worth checking out.)

I've also set myself a deadline for my feature treatment. To chuck it Lucy's way before the end of the week. She's got some free time so send your stuff in. Really good value and very comprehensive notes.

I am also a bit depressed after a visit to the local bookshop. Usually it makes me feel a lot lighter in spirit (and pocket too). Don't need booze to feel better, just to wonder round a bookshop. However I overheard a couple of conversations. OK they spoke so loudly you probably heard them yourselves.

Conversation 1 between two 13yr-ish girls.

Girl1: What's this?
Girl2: A bookshop.
Girl1: So they sell books?
Girl2: Guess so.
They swagger over to the comic book section.
Girl1: Eugh. Seen what these girls are wearing?
Girl2: Gross.
Both look the store over.
Girl1: This stuff is so boooring.
Girl2: They've got booky-wook?
Girl1: Nah. There's nothing here.
They strut out.

Conversation 2 between designer mum and 8yr-ish daughter.

Girl: Can I get this?
Mum: What's the point, you're wasting your token?
Girl: But I really want it and it says 2 for 1.
Mum: But it costs more than your token. You can get a book with your token.
Girl: It's only 6.99
Mum: How much? What a waste of money. Come on. Debenhams has a sale on.
Mum dumps book back on shelf and drags daughter out.

I bought my kids their first books before they were born. I read The Hobbit to them when they reached four. With all the voices. (Tip, don't start with a different voice for each dwarf. You can't keep track but they can.) My youngest will voluntarily go to bed early if it means a bedtime story. And they traipsed round Hay on Wye without protest, buying as many books as I do.

I feel sad that they may become a minority. All those children missing the chance to make their own films in their heads.

OK. So what am I going to do to beat this funk. Read, write and watch some films. With a bit of chocolate on the side of course. After all it is Easter.

Happy Easter everyone. No slaughtering the Easter Bunnie.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Anthony Minghella

Just heard the terrible news on the drive home. His work could make me laugh and cry with subtlety. He was the first writer who's career I was aware of. Especially as he came from near my home town.

An awful shock and a sad loss. My thoughts and wishes are with his family.

Sunday, 16 March 2008


So how much people watching did I get done while away? Not as much as I'd planned.

There was the bloke who put a DVD on for his product then hid behind the plasma screen for 3 days. Each time we looked he was wading through a 8" high stack of paper, carefully turning each page. So we decided he was a novelist dragged out of his garret.

We did consider sneaking over and replacing the manufacturing process DVD with a Life on Mars one. But then his stand would get more attention than ours. So in future we might make an animation of Sam being hit by a car using our software. After all our animation of a boyscout sliding down an aerial-runway always gets a big response. Especially when he flies off the end and bounces along the ground.

We had the manic nose drillers. How can you walk around in a crowd with a digit shoved up your nasal passage? Doesn't it make breathing tricky? There were the bosses hiding out from their own stands. Juggling, playing rugby, how old are they? I met one panicking kiosk staffer who hadn't had a chance for her double caffeine fix and the queue was building. I made them wait so she could get human.

And there was the usual waltz around at the stall edges. It's like hunting.

1) They stand in the middle of the corridor and watch."I'm just looking, Come near me and I'll run." If you approach they'll go all flustered. They may take some details but only to dump in the bogs later. Conference centre cubicles are full of dumped brochures. Best you can hope is a smile will tempt them in. You let the lure lie still at their feet. Don't even touch the string.
2) They make eye contact and step forward. "OK I'll let you approach but be gentle with me." A reassuring voice can work here but carefully. They could still bolt. Tug the string a little so the lure twitches, ever so slightly.
3) They hover on the edge of the stand. "I'd like to talk but you seem scary". A chance to rest their feet while you show them some pretty pictures usually works. You slowly draw the string in, moving the lure closer.
4) They step onto the stand. "Ready for business?" Yank the lure home. You've got them.

OK. I'm not as ruthless as that. I just love to chat and if we get a sale in the process then all the better. But I don't worry if they walk away. It killed some time. I'm just not a salesman and to prove it:-

......ME and COLLEAGUE on a stand. ME chats to a visitor, LAMB.
Me: Why don't you sit down and I'll show you the software.
Lamb: I can tell your a salesman.
Me: Are you kidding? I'm completely undiplomatic. I once went to a meeting with a client and
slagged off their software, forgetting they wrote it. This is the only sales thing they risk
sending me on.
.....Lamb sits.
Me: So what part of America do you come from?
Lamb: Australia.
Me: See, I can put my foot in my mouth anywhere.
....Colleague collapses in corner, head in hands.

Still the bloke stayed and is looking to buy so maybe ditsy is a legitimate sales technique. I also asked the same question of a Canadian. Annoying thing is the brain was telling me where they were from but the gob carried on regardless. I've got to slow down talking and give my brain a chance to step in sometimes.

A few of you may have noticed I have the same problem typing. I touch type as fast as I think (or faster sometimes) so there's no editing as I go and I can't fight that little devil that whispers "Press Post. Go on. What can it hurt? Go on...Go on...Go on...Go on..." . Ooops.

And before the testosterone brigade ask, no the grunts seem to have finally lost at this show and all women were thankfully suitably clothed.

I also got some decent meals this trip. Traditional Chinese (so lots of veggie options), Caribbean (Yeeees. I can't get decent plantains and okra round here) and my first trip to Wagamama.

That was my baby sister and an old student buddie. They wanted to see my face when people started scribbling on the tablecloth. They weren't so sure when we struggled to find it and I just walked up to a stranger and asked. In the middle of a city. A big city. Where they think you're nuts if you even make eyecontact. Can't see what all the fuss is about. I asked. They answered. Problem solved. City folk huh.

Anyway, winding up now. Tea to cook for sprogs now they'll let me out of their sight. I think they missed me. That or we've been having another earthquake and they've been clinging to my arms and legs to stop falling over. And yes, Dave missed me too.

Doom and Gloom

Well I got the dreaded email yesterday. I'm one of the 1490+ who crashed out of the Pitch in Time. Just what I wanted to come back to. So I've finished licking my wounds and stomping round the garden. Believe me that's not easy. We've got tigers in them there 6ft high brambles.

My commiserations to fellow jetsom - Elinor, Sheiky, Chip and the rest of you. We woz robbed.

On to the next challenge. Sheiky had a good one here and another was sitting in my in-box here. I've got an idea involving misunderstandings on sexual preference in a minisub for the next play. Maybe I should get it written. But first I've got my re-write to finish and pass over to Lucy for a check.

I did get some stuff done in the hotelroom, in between watching Life on Mars episodes and Sunshine.

Hope some of you out there hit lucky.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Conference Break

Don't know if I'll get any posts out over the next week. I'm off to a conference and you can never predict what Internet connections the hotel will have. Last trip the wireless was down and the socket fell out of the wall so I ended up balancing my laptop on my knee in a freezing lobby.

I've just got to sort out my survival kit. Memory stick of notes and scripts. Folder of DVDs. Bag of books. Some munchies. If I remember I might squeeze in some clothes too.

In theory I should have plenty of chance to write. No distractions in the evening. Doesn't seem to work out that way but I always go prepared. And the thought of heading out without at least 2 books to read. Horrors.

I'm running a stand on this one. This means 80% of the time with it empty, and me trying to look approachable. You have to be careful you don't overdo that one or you get the wrong sort of business proposition.

In theory I could spend the quiet time tapping away but someone grimacing at a screen can be a bit off-putting. Even worse if you are shout out "My mobile's covered in sh*t" because you've got carried away practicing dialogue. Though that wouldn't phase my regular clients.

Still it doesn't stop me people watching. There are the regulars:-

  • The doddery old bloke who still manages to dart onto the stand and grab any freebies. They then disappear into his shopping trolley and you follow his progress by the string of yelps. Each year I think it will be his last.
  • The ancient 4ft 5 director with his nubile 6ft 1 secretary clutching his arm. The most fun is watching the faces of the blokes as the pair stroll past.
  • The flotilla of wives following a Middle Eastern delegate. They look so bored and it only takes a smiling face to cheer them up.
  • The young girls hired to decorate stands and bored out of their minds. Pencil skirts and killer heels. Any salesman thinks that's a good combination should be made to wear them while on their feet for 9hrs solid handing out brochures. I'd enjoy watching that.
  • Though it is rarer these days you still see the odd ones expected to wear T-shirts and shorts in the freezing halls. You bump into them in the loos, trying to warm up and checking their forced smiles before going over the top. If might be fun if they were dealing with Gene Hunt but it'll just be some sad perv salesman. Rule of thumb. If they are selling their products with young girls its 'cos the products so bad it can't sell itself.
  • Then there're the new graduates. The "I've got a degree and know it all" brigade. Power suited and thinking Wall Street is a guide to success. For heaven sake they weren't even BORN when Wall Street came out.

We've had great fun with the graduates because they still leap to assumptions. So here's the scene. Short, dumpy me in comfy shirt and trousers, don't do formal. My male colleague in smart suit towering over me, lets call him Fred. Powersuited smart-alec marches to Fred so I have to dive out the way. He then turns his back to me and steps back so I have to move even further. Consider myself dismissed.

Smart Alec: I'm here to check you out for my boss. If you're good enough then he'll see you on our stand later. So does this stuff do Coupled Analysis?

Fred: Sorry you'll have to talk to our expert.

Fred spins the schmuck round to face me.

Me: And how is Bert (the boss) doing?

Oh the lovely look on his face when he realises what he's done. Magic. But I don't twist the knife, a chuckle is enough. I'm an old softee.

So have a good week. I'll pop by if I can.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Musings on Age and Gender

Don't know why but I've been pondering these two recently but they keep kickboxing round my head. If I must write what I know then can I only write about women who've just entered middle age? The ones who juggle family, work and time for themselves.

Hold on. What's that last one again? Oh I remember, when I could stay up all night for four nights in a row and it was OK because I could curl up in bed and recover all weekend. Me.e.e.emoreees.

So do I write about that type of woman? Sometimes. But I write about lots of others too. So what makes me think I can understand what it's like being someone else?

I think I have to go back to that phrase "Write what you know." Do I really think I can't write about being 20yrs older? Well I can remember how I was at 20yrs younger and that hasn't changed much. A few corners knocked off and the casings a bit faded but I still feel the same.

And I think that's the key. Feelings. We've all run the gamut of them in our lives. Is it so hard to empathise with someone of any age feels walking into a crowded room to be ignored? Or when they receive praise after battling to achieve something?

There will be differences in how people respond to those emotions due to the society they were formed in (be it geographically different or in time). Also differences due to gender. But can't these be identified by observation or research?

Personally I love to people watch. I'm lucky that my alter-ego deals with people from all over the world so I get to see quite a range. And I love those differences.

I've chatted about hill farming and childhood on a train with an Indian lady who grew up under the British Raj. I've talked to naval cadets heading home from their first stint away and an actor who'd just finished his first time on a film set.

I've had my ear bent by an old man convinced Maggie Thatcher was trying to bump off the Royals and two blokes from Liverpool who'd had a dry flight back from the Middle East and just wanted to get to their local pub. I've also had gross out competitions with my son and his mates. I WIN.

But how successful have I been at getting into someone else's head? Well I've sold stuff with a younger woman, won stuff with older men, been shortlisted with young men to old women. A good mix.

I've also let people read my work from the groups I'm writing about and they haven't laughed me out the room, yet. One even wondered how I managed to get in a man's head so well. How could I not? There's so much room in there. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

I do choose not to get into some heads. I wrote a very dark piece once about an abusive relationship. I'd not been in one myself but let my characters run loose and didn't edit or censor it. Someone who had been in that type of relationship then read my piece. I was surprised when she said I'd captured the situation well but it was very disturbing to write and not something I particularly want to repeat.

So what am I trying to say? That maybe hiding away in the garret isn't so hot for your writing. Get down that pub. Go to that party. Get involved in things. Don't stick your earphones in when you're on a plane, bus or train. Talk instead.

Go on then. Stop reading this post and get out there.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Character Notes and Mother's Day

So update time.

You have hopefully noticed a few changes to the main page. If anyone can tell me how to match title background to main background then please feel free. I've tried the palatte in settings but that shade isn't there. Plus the editor refuses to accept any hexidecimal codes I type in. It's making me feel so #0000A0.

Still it isn't too bad and I really can't be bothered to change to a different template so it will just have to stay like that. If you are wondering, the smiley face is my bagpuss of a cat.

The character notes for my play are now heading out to possible actors. Ooops. Maybe I should have sent them to definite actors who will possibly appear in my play. The more experienced scribes wrote a paragraph on each character. Muggins here only had two characters so did a table comparing the two.

  • Jed lives alone. Col lives with his cat.
  • Jed never had a family. Col's family left him.
  • Jed was Cock of the School. Col was the Class Wimp.
  • Jed feels that if order is observed he is safe. Col feels that if moral right is observed he is safe.

There was a lot more like what they eat and their politics. Still I was told it was OK and it is now out there.

The writers in the group were all very friendly and helpful. Some were beginners but others have been working for years in TV, radio, stage and publishing. They were worried I'd be bored while they discussed the logistics and costs for rehearsals, staging and ticket sales but it was fascinating. All these things you don't consider while you tap away.

So I then made the long drive home through winding, empty country lanes. Orion twinkling though the branches above. Shimmering uplights from my headlights bouncing off puddles and reggae blasting out on the radio. The perfect start to a horror film.

I've just sent off 150 words to go into the programme. I think it sets the tone without giving away the punchlines.

Now to cook tea then tuck into Chocolate Cake. My Mother's Day present along with wooden tulips from my daughter. Now if I can just persuade his lordship to rub my feet I'll be sorted.