Thursday, December 21, 2006

My report card for 2006: May-August

When you're self-employed, there's nobody around to give you an annual review, so I'm doing my own. Here's part two, covering the long hot summer of 2006 that never quite seemed to end.

Six months having elapsed since I originally wrote the first two episodes for my Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad strip for the Megazine, I had to go back and re-read Anthony Beevor’s key reference book on the subject. It’s amazing how much research you can do for a project and how little of it actually appears in print. All too often, research is simply another form of delaying writing, creative procrastination at its finest. I guess the other side of the coin is writers who, having done their exhaustive research, feel object to exhaust the audience with all that background too – hopefully I’m not like that. Anyways, I scripted part four this month and promised myself I’d write the story to a finish soon, to prevent the need for another trawl through Beevor. By this time artist Colin MacNeil was already hard at work on the strip and the first episode had been published, so the meter was running.

Went to a second one-day seminar given by writer-director Adrian Mead in Edinburgh, this time on the art of pitching for TV drama gigs. Another massively informative and entertaining day. Later that month I read about a scheme funded via the Scottish Book Trust’s words@work scheme, whereby writers at different stages of the career could apply to be mentored for nine months on a specific project. I was feeling frustrated with my MA screenwriting course, knowing that once trimester two finished the first-year part-timers would be cast adrift for four and a half months until our second year began; plus I didn’t feel there’d been much weight given to writing for TV drama. So, I applied to be mentored on a TV drama project of my own devising and suggested Adrian as my ideal mentor.

The interview to get on the course was fun, in its own way. I arrived thirty minutes late by mistake, walked in to discover an old acquaintance was half the interviewing panel and then was flummoxed when the panel asked what was the one project I wanted to develop that I needed a mentor to help me achieve it. I bluffed like crazy, inventing a story on the spot and managed to spin it into something that sounded both timely and dramatic. One day I might even go back to that idea and use it!

College rattled to the end of trimester two in May, so I had to prepare and present an audio-visual show-and-tell about my interactive entertainment project. I did a computer racing game and made not a bad job of the presentation, especially since I only allowed 48 hours to pull it all together using a piece of software I’d never tried before, Keynote for the Mac. Got a D2 distinction on the module, probably more than I deserved. The other module was Script Development for which I wrote a 10-minute script. I adapted the play I’d been writing for Radio 4 and found myself writing two different versions of the same story at the same time. Both versions informed the others, but I wouldn’t recommend adapting a property of your own that isn’t finished yet into another medium. Anyway, my 10-minute script earned me a D1, keeping up my run of distinction marks.

Meanwhile, my radio play went into the studio with the BBC. Went along to the recording day and learned a lot, discovering just how much you can cut from any script when time is pressing. Ironically, I had to leave after a single take of one scene from my script as I had an opening night to attend elsewhere.

Got my first broadcast drama credit when Island Blue: Ronald was broadcast on Woman’s Hour, and repeated that evening. Lots of people got in touch to say nice things about it, which was nice. No college this month, so that freed up at least one day a week. Wrote the final four scripts for Fiends: Stalingrad and was quite happy with the result of my labours. Signed a contract with Games Workshop’s Black Flame imprint to write a 95,000 word novel in the autumn. Started work revising, updating and expanding my articles on the history of iconic weekly 2000 AD into a big, fat hardcover to be published next year, when the comic celebrates its 30th anniversary. Went on holiday, a week in a rented cottage in France – the only holiday I’d have all year, as it turned out.

When you’re freelance, taking holidays is a strange sensation. You desperately need the time off to wind down and give your creative headspace a chance to relax. Constant work and deadlines are great for the career and the bank balance, but the pressure builds and builds and builds – you got to give yourself a chance to let some steam off. Not having children, I don’t have the imposed pressure of school holidays that forces other freelancers to take time off, so I have to remember to take them.

The downside of holidays when you’re freelance is that not only are there no paid holidays [unless you’re a travel writer, I guess, and even that’s a busman’s holiday], but you’re spending money instead of earning money. It’s a double-whammy to your finances and, sadly, I haven’t been earning as much as I used to when I was in full-on hack-mode, churning work-for-hire at high speed and enjoying the benefits. Having decided to go to college to enhance my craft and improve my networking skills, I’m paying the price – literally. Three grand to do the MA as direct costs and no bursary for me, because I am Foreign Scum ®. Plus my earnings are down ten grand a year because of all the work I’ve turned down to do the course. Still, it was my choice and hopefully I’ll see my benefit in years to come. My writing’s gotten better as a result, so that’s something.

Had a day trip to Durham where I was filmed for a documentary about Inspector Morse, part of a series called Super Sleuths. Of course, it was one of the year;s hottest days, so I was sweating like a pig by the end. The results have already been on ITV3 and may well make it on to ITV1 early in the new year. Wrote a piece for the Megazine about comics legend John Wagner and found it one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, critiquing the work of someone I’ve known and respected for 16 years. Not my bag at all. Signed contracts to write a novel for Games Workshop’s Black Library imprint. A Murder in Marienburg is out next May and, essentially, is a police procedural set in a fantasy universe, complete with halflings, elves, chaos cultists and the like. But the bulk of July was devoting to working on my 2000 AD history tome, Thrill-Power Overload (TPO).

Finished work on TPO. That was pretty much the whole month, as the book turned into 120,000 word monster. Got accepted into the mentoring programme with Adrian as my mentor, and attended the induction day at Edinburgh. Most the mentors are working with a single scribe, but Adrian’s agreed to take on three would-be TV drama writers. Went to a Q&A session at the Edinburgh Film Festival that was billed as Writing for the BBC. It proved to be mostly about writing for the BBC Scotland soap River City, which suited me as I’d submitted material to the show back in early April and was still waiting on a response. Talked to executive producer Sandra MacIver and, fired up with fresh enthusiasm, went home and wrote an updated submission. With a bit of luck, that might be good enough to get me to the next step on a long road towards writing for TV.

No comments: