When you're freelance, you don't get personal assessments or annual reviews imposed upon you. Unless you're the kind of person that develops a self-imposed business plan or has a grand, five-year strategic masterplan, it's easy just to bumble along, doing what you're doing and not looking much beyond paying the next set of bills and meeting your next deadlines. In an attempt to get some perpective on my working year, here's the first part of my report card for 2006.
Completed my ninth novel in 27 months for publisher Black Flame. Fiend of the Eastern Front: Twilight of the Dead was the last book of a trilogy, and I made the mistake of setting aside Christmas and the New Year to finish the story. By the time it was done I had stress ulcers in my mouth and felt like I’d napalmed the candle at both ends. Decided I needed a proper break from novel writing and deemed 2006 my year for non-fiction books.
Finished the first two modules of the MA Screenwriting course I started in 2005, earning distinctions for both. Got a D3 grade for Writing and Screen Project Development, and scraped a D1 for The Business of Screen Project Development. Found it frustrating that I’d spent four months schlepping in and out of Edinburgh every Thursday on a screenwriting course but hadn’t done any actual screenwriting.
Started work on my first radio play for the BBC, a 15-minute drama called Island Blue: Ronald. It take four drafts and several hiccups along the way, but the end result was my first broadcast credit later in the year – an important breakthrough for my career.
The rest of January was devoted to revising and updating The Complete Inspector Morse for a new edition to be published later in the year by Reynolds & Hearn. Morse’s sidekick Lewis returned to TV in a one-off special and attracted 11 million viewers, the biggest non-soap audience for a drama in years – proof there was still life in the franchise yet, even if Morse himself was dead.
Write two issues of The Phantom for Egmont Sweden. The first was part two of a two-parter, while the second was a script created from a supplied plotline. Was pretty happy with both efforts. The script-only effort was worth only 70% of my usual fee because somebody had written the plot, but I still put as much effort into getting it right as I would have done creating the whole story from scratch – such is life.
Interviewed comics artist Mark Harrison at length for a feature that ran in the Judge Dredd Megazine. Finished work on my Morse tome, but took no fee for that, preferring to have the book go straight to royalties when it went on sale in April. Flew to America for the Gallifrey Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles and had a wonderful time, but that and devoting so much time to Morse left me skint. Perhaps not the best confluence of circumstances, looking back.
Started the second trimester of my screenwriting MA, with modules on Script Development [at last, a chance to do some writing!] and Writing for Interactive Entertainment [a good idea for a module, but content proved lacking]. Attended a one-day seminar on writing TV drama given by Adrian Mead, who impressed when he spoke to students in my first trimester at college. Came away excited and enthused, always a good result. Also met writer Louise Ironside and got advice from her on how to approach BBC Scotland soap Rvier City as a would-be writer. Start watching the soap every week as the first step on a long road.
Plugging away at the MA. Got royalties from the BBC for one of the worst novels I’ve ever written, Doctor Who: The Domino Effect. More work on my radio play, final touches on the Morse tome. A month when I earned a grand total of £96.73. If I felt skint in February, I was certainly was skint in March.
After four years of hoping and pitching various publishers, finally signed a contract to turn my articles about the history of 2000 AD in a book to coincide with the comic’s 30th anniversary in 2007. It’ll be a big job, but would hopefully also be the capstone on five years of research and 17 years involvement with the comic.
Back in 2005 I’d started writing a six-part, 48-page serial for the Judge Dredd Megazine, based on an old 2000 AD strip about WWII vampires called Fiends of the Eastern Front [also the basis for the trilogy of novels I completed in January this year]. In April the new Megazine editor told me the strip would still be 48 pages, but now needed to be eight parts long. I had to cut the first two parts down by two pages each and write four new pages for part three – all for the love of it. So I did, but some hasty re-plotting followed!
The final draft of my radio play was accepted, an exciting moment especially since the previous draft had been deemed something of a disaster, going in all the wrong directions. I knew I’d gotten it right while I was writing it, as the script nearly had me in tears – not something my own work achieves that often.
The new edition of my Morse tome emerged and looked gorgeous. Hopefully it would sell and make me a few bob in royalties, especially after spending far too much time rewriting it and adding 10,000 words of new material.
Lastly, another script for The Phantom based on a supplied plot. This one never worked and, try as I might, I couldn’t fix the problems I saw in the plot. Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and let these things go.