Yesterday I finished the first draft of a project that's been consuming all my time for weeks. Trust me, writing a third of a novel the week before Christmas is not recommended, but that's still better than writing a novel on Christmas Day to meet a deadline. Severeal times in the past week I haven't been able to remember what day it is, so cast adrift have I been from reality. But now I can wind down, sleep in and generally take things a bit easier - thank grud. Before I head off to college today - yes, one of our tutors has us coming in for a session three days before Christmas - here's the final part of my report card for 2006.
Started the month by getting invited to write half an episode’s worth of sample scenes for the BBC Scotland soap River city. This is step two along the long road towards writing for the show. A whole bunch of writers, including several of my acquaintance, were asked to do their try-out exercise. Unfortunately, the show was double-banking for months afterwards and as 2006 winds to a close, there’s been no official feedback on these yet. I’ve had my fingers crossed for so long people ask me whether I’m double-jointed. No, not really, but you know I mean.
What else? Wrote a piece for Comics International’s 200th issue – for which Dez Skinn still hasn’t paid me. Apparently he’s sold the magazine, so I guess I’ll never see my money now. Come on, Dez, it’s only seventy-five quid! Put your hand in your pocket, why don’t you? Spent most of the month writing my first novel set in the Warhammer fantasy universe. It’s called A Murder in Marienburg and is due out May 2007. A right rollicking read, with death, monsters and unseemly jokes about dumplings. And I wrote another Phantom script from somebody else’s plot. By the time I’d finished the script, it had about 30% of the original plot left and the rest was new material.
Went to London for an event at BAFTA HQ about writing for interactive entertainment that proved something of a damp squib. Still, nice to get out the house for a change. Had the first mentoring meeting and choose entirely the whole project to develop. Twit.
Finished my Warhammer novel – think Hill St Blues collides with Lord of the Rings. But without poetry, thank grud. Got more than a hundred pounds in royalties for one of the worst novels I’ve ever written. Doctor Who: The Domino Effect sucks like a black hole, but it keeps making me money. Better still, got a nice fat royalty cheque for the second edition of my Inspector Morse tome, a book I’m actually proud of. That felt good. Wrote a feature for the Judge Dredd Megazine about TV crime drama, but that needed a couple of passes to get write.
Started year two of my part-time MA screenwriting course at Screen Academy Scotland. The new screenwriting tutor James is full of bonhomie. Less than impressed by the work of Robert Bresson when we watch L’Argent in our other module, From Script to Screen. This is an academic module rather than a vocational one, so I struggle to get the most out of it some weeks.
Am fortunate enough to be invited on a six-day radio drama writer’s lab with seven unfeasibly talented scribes. This came at just the right time for me, as I realised the TV project I was developing under the mentorship of Adrian Mead and the film script I’d been developing at college had gone breasts vertical simultaneously. Happily, the lab reminded me why I enjoy writing and reignited my creativity when things were at a low, low ebb. On the minus side, it meant I missed three Fridays in a row at college. Feel like I’ve hardly been there this trimester, an irksome fact, especially when I’m paying more than £500 a trimester for the privilege. Arsebiscuits.
First pieces of assessed work for the trimester were due round on the cusp between November and December. Wrote 2000 words comparing the diner sequences from the original graphic novel A History of Violence and David Cronenberg’s film adaptation. For the script development module, I went back to the idea I pitched to get on the MA course and turned that into a treatment for a 25-minute animated film. I’m no illusions it will ever get made, but the story is touching and quirky and people respond to the way I tell it, so Danny’s Toys might make a good calling card script for life after college.
Started my 18th novel in November but didn’t make much progress, thanks to the radio lab, college and other distractions – so that slid over into December. Did write a Phantom script and that was all my own work, so I got the whole fee. Best of all, it turned up in my bank account today, just in time to pay for Christmas.
Started the month by ditching another Friday at college to fly south to London for the TAPS script editing course. Two fascinating days where I learnt a lot and meet some interesting people. Made some progress on my new project that Adrian is mentoring, got more work to do on that in January before it’s time to start scripting that. Bulk of the month was devoted to finishing my 18th novel, another 100,000 word monster (as was A Murder In Marienburg, novel #17). Typed THE END on the first draft yesterday and have officially given myself the next four days off work – the closed thing I’ve had to a holiday since June. Need to cut and polish the draft for Black Flame before the end of the year i.e. next week, but that’s next week job – along with proofing my Marienburg tome.
So, what conclusions can I draw from all of this? Hmm, good question. Financially, it’s been a wash, my worst year for gross earnings since 2003 when I spent most of my time writing non-fiction books and articles. I always knew going to college would knock a hole in my earning, but I’m down seven and a half grand from 2006. But it’s an investment in my future – I wasn’t happy doing hackwork, I wanted to push myself as a writer and so much of what I’ve done this year has stemmed from that decision.
Starting the MA led to the one-day course with Adrian Mead, and that in turn led to him agreeing to mentor me on a TV project. My hope is that script and the scripts I’m developing at Screen Academy Scotland will get me an agent and maybe some meetings. Opportunities like the radio drama lab and the script editing workshop open other doors, other possibilities. I might not be making much money, but I can see new ways forward becoming clearer and more realistic.
Jobs for January? I need to write first and second drafts of Danny’s Toys for college, plus there’s a 3000-word essay about an imaginary remark of a pre-1980 film of my choice. Need to finish my treatment for the mentoring project. Got a couple of Phantom stories to plot and script, they’re my bread and butter jobs for January. Need to arrange meetings with a producer at BBC Radio and a script editor at BBC Scotland’s TV drama department. And the River City wannabe writers’ workshop is supposed to happen in January, before the show goes back into production, so if all that finger-crossing pays off the workshop will take precedence over everything else.
When the call comes, you’ve got to be ready. You only get so many chances, right?