Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014: rediscovering my writing mojo

I like to write an end of year report for myself, to assess how I've done over the past twelve months [the freelancer's personal review, if you like]. Looking back at the equivalent post I wrote at the end of 2013 is remarkably downbeat. I was not enjoying writing, had little to no motivation, and was uncertain of the way forward. My goal for 2014 was simple: rediscover my writing mojo.

Well, this year is all over bar the tinsel, so how did I get on?

Comics: I wrote my 45th script for Fantomen - and it's likely to be my last for a while [perhaps permanently], due to editorial changes. I always have fun crafting adventures for Ghost Who Walks and it'd be great to reach 50 issues But that's out of my hands, so I have to call that an aim rather than a goal. [I also spent a couple of days on a one-off book-to-comic adaptation for a transmedia project, an intriguing challenge.]

Computer Games: I've had an off/on relationship with this narrative medium over the years [mostly off]. But I finally got to work with Simon Meek at The Secret Experiment on two projects, after years of chatting and wanting to collaborate. Both projects were challenging and exciting - and that's all I can say about them. I'd like to do more games work, but again that's mostly out of my hands so it's an aim for 2015 rather than a goal.

Books: I wrote a new introduction for Amorality Tale, an old Doctor Who novel of mine that's being reprinted by BBC Books early in 2015. It was fun revisiting the story, and reminded how much I used to enjoy writing prose fiction. I gave up novels for screenwriting in 2008, after hacking out a few too many potboilers to pay the bills. I can feel the itch for prose fiction slowly returning, but right now I'd say it's unlikely to be one of my goals for 2015.

Radio: I adapted one of my old calling card TV scripts for the BBC Writer's Prize. [I won through more than 1200 entries to be one of the final 10 drama scripts in the 2013 contest.] My entry didn't progress this time, probably because I wasn't anywhere bold enough and failed to make the project fully inhabit the strengths of radio drama as a storytelling medium. But it kept me writing, so still served a purpose.

Screenwriting: After a fallow period in 2013, I did indeed rediscover my screenwriting mojo. I've been writing a feature film off and on this year, and enjoying the process enormously. It's a romantic comedy, which is so far beyond my normal genre range as to beggar belief [people who know my work laugh when I tell them I'm writing a rom-com]. It's done on spec with no deadline, so finishing this is a definite goal for 2015.

My other screenwriting project of the year was TEALEAF, the pilot script for a returning pre-teen drama series. I've had the idea for it since 2009 but the BBC writersroom had a call for children's TV scripts this summer [called Script Room 7 - SR7 for short] and that provided a deadline to focus my energies and efforts. I got a polished first draft done in time for submission, sent it in and tried to forget all about TEALEAF - but I couldn't.

Those characters and their world really chimed with me, so I kept working on the script. I sought out feedback from writers, a writer/director and a showrunner/script editor I know. They all had great, challenging notes that forced to me dig deeper [thanks Debbie, Chris, Adrian & Rachel]. The result is a fourth draft script and pitch document that's out being read by various independent production companies. It's an exciting time.

Realistically, the chances of TEALEAF going into production are extremely slim, but I'm still proud of the work. Even if TEALEAF never finds a wider audience, the script still serves as a calling card for writing opportunities on CBBC audience shows. TEALEAF was inspired by series like Debbie Moon's Wolfblood, thematically rich dramas full of heart and smarts. Getting to write for such series is a definite aim for 2015.

You'd never know I used to be a journalist because I have absolutely buried the lead here. My biggest success in 2014 came thanks to TEALEAF. My entry to SR7 got through to the final 3% from 600+ entries. Better still, it secured a meeting with the CBBC development team in 2015. Obviously that meeting comes with no guarantees but I'm already preparing for it. Working up two new series ideas for CBBC is a key 2015 goal.

This year was about rediscovering my mojo, and it was a success. I'm enjoying writing much more than last year, eager to crack on with current and fresh projects. My biggest challenge is finding time to do those projects justice, but I'm not letting a busy schedule be an easy excuse anymore. I may not have had anything new on TV in 2014, but it still feels like a turning point. Coming soon: my three main writing goals for 2015. Onwards!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

New edition of Doctor Who: Amorality Tale out soon

One of my Doctor Who novels is getting a new edition from BBC Books in February 2015. Amorality Tale is part of the The History Collection, a range of eight historical adventures that includes beloved Who novels such as Paul Cornell's Human Nature [which he adapted for David Tennant's Doctor on TV], The Witch Hunters by Steve Lyons, The Stone Rose by Jac Rayner, and The English Way of Death by Gareth Roberts [quite how my page turner snuck on to the list I don't know, but consider me chuffed nonetheless]. Alongside new paperback editions with lovely new covers, the novels will also all issued as eBooks for the first time.

Amorality Tale was originally published in 2002, and marked my return to long form prose fiction after a six year break. It was my first Who novel for the BBC Books, so I poured a lot of care and attention into that book. I meticulously researched the setting [London's East End in December, 1952], got a big gang of beta-readers to give me feedback on the manuscript, and undertook considerable rewrites to finesse the final draft. The result is a dark story that rips along at a fair pace - anyone seeking prize-winning literary fiction is better off looking elsewhere - but still has some humour amidst the sturm and drang.

I stopped writing prose fiction in 2008 to focus on screenwriting, having burnt myself out by producing too many potboilers too close together. I wrote nine novels in 27 months at one point, with 600,000 words published across various media one year followed by another half million the next. But my hands still twitch to create prose fiction sometimes and I have no shortage of ideas. [I'd still love to write more Doctor Who - my last trip in the TARDIS was the audio drama Enemy of the Daleks, back in 2009.] One day I shall come back to prose. Yes, I shall come back...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Apply now for two-day Screen Lab 2015 - it's free!

Screen Lab 2015 is an intensive, two-day course on breaking into screenwriting - and it's free! Organised by the inestimable Scottish Book Trust, the lab will be run by award-winning writer/director Adrian Mead in Edinburgh next February.

The applicants lucky enough to get selected will learn from Adrian and guests about realities of the script development process, and how to break in. This is a priceless opportunity to discover what happens in the industry, from a working writer/director.

Having been mentored by Adrian, I can testify to the wit and wisdom he offers - indeed, we have him as a regular guest speaker on the Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University. Rarely do you have access to such expertise for free, so apply now.

Full details can be found here on the Scottish Book Trust website. The deadline for applications is January 7th, 2015, but I strongly suggest applying now rather than waiting until the last minute. If you still need convincing, check out the clip of Adrian in action.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rehearsal pics from 'The Cripple of Inishmaan'

Johnnypateenmike [George Gilliland] gossips to Aunt Kate [Julie Devine]
I'm in a production of Martin McDonagh's play The Cripple of Inishmaan, being staged Oct. 15-18th at the Corn Exchange in Biggar [tickets available here]. It's a hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking and politically incorrect comedy-drama by the creator of In Bruges, one of my favourite films. Director Leah Moorhouse is doing a stellar job with this, aided and abetted by a great crew - it'll be a blast.

Johnnypateenmike and his Mammy [Judy Jordan]
Cripple Billy [James Boyd] and his Aunt Kate
Johnnypateenmike spreading more gossip
Aunt Kate, fretting