Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My report card for 2010 - part 1

After a frenzy of deadlines, marking and life-related stuff, the year's now winding down for me and I've got a chance to think. So it's about time for my annual report card, and some thoughts about the way forward in 2011. Feel free to move on if there's nothing for you to see here. This is me, thinking out loud [via the medium of typing, natch].

Last December I was making progress on several fronts. I'd completed my first TV drama commission, writing an episode of Doctors for broadcast in February 2010. I was having fruitful discussions with an agent who was interested in my work. And I'd had some positive feedback about my writing from a significant person within BBC Drama.

So I set myself the following key objectives for 2010: 1) Write a feature screenplay. 2) Get another TV drama commission. 3) Secure representation. 4) More radio drama. Let's see how reality played out in comparison to my goals for this year, shall we?

1) Write a feature screenplay. Epic fail here, I'm afraid. I've got two projects I'm developing as potential features. Well, when I say developing, I think about them a lot and talk about them sometimes. Words on paper or pixels on screen? Not so much. [Sorry, Lucy at Bang2write!] Let's call this one a rollover for 2011, okay?

2) Get another TV drama commission. Win! A double win, in fact. Not only was my first ep of Doctors watched by two million people in February this year, I was commissioned to write two more eps. My second effort was broadcast last month, and my third will tx in March 2011. That proved a lot to me, and has given me a lot of confidence.

Make no mistake, the more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. My craft skills can only improve and the best path to achieving that is experience. I don't have any more stories banked with Doctors, so I need to keep pushing there. Sitting back and basking in what I've achieved isn't an option. More work required.

3) Secure representation. Another win! The agent who was liking my work at the end of 2009 was still liking it at the start of 2010. Katie Williams at Blake Friedmann took me on as a client and has already done some significant work on my behalf. Having an agent doesn't get you work - good writing does that - but it opens many doors.

4) More radio drama. Win, but bit of a pyrrhic victory. The last three years I failed to build on my only success in this field, a 15-minute play for Radio 4. But 2010 changed that as myself and Louise Ironside wrote a two-part conspiracy thriller called Legacy for BBC7 [and an online audio adventure game that complemented the radio play].

I wasn't 100% happy with my efforts. I could blame a lot of external factors, but the simple fact is I didn't pull it off. I learned an immense amount from the experience, particularly about how visual my writing has become. I was seeing the radio play in my head as I wrote it, when I needed to be hearing it - a significant disconnect.

I'm not ready to give up on radio drama yet, but next time - if there is a next time - I need to get my head in the correct writing space. I would like to do more radio drama, but it deserves and requires more commitment than I've been able to give it. I suspect finding the time could be an issue during the first half of 2011.

So, not a bad report card in terms of my major objectives for 2010. But what else have I been doing this year? Teaching part-time on the MA Creative Writing course at Edinburgh Napier University. This takes up 2.5 days a week, a significant chunk of time and energy and creativity. But it can be immensely rewarding and illuminating.

We're now into our second year of teaching the course, armed with the experience gleaned from our first year. Things are running far smoother, we know much more what to expect and the current students are raising the bar above the levels achieved by our first cohort. Hard to believe I've been in the job two years already.

What else? Wrote what proved to be my final script report as a reader for Scottish Screen. I hated the project so much that my report got rejected, and Scottish Screen stopped asking me to read. [Soon after they got folded into Creative Scotland.] It was an interesting sideline for me, but bit of a time-suck so I don't mourn the loss.

Ran quite a few workshops and seminars in festivals, schools and libraries, ranging from 100 adults in Greenock to a dozen 5-year-olds in Bonnyrigg. [If you ever need a current film to cite as an example of story structure, I recommend Shrek - almost everybody over 4 and under 54 has seen it.] Burbled on radio a few times as well.

What else? Got back into computer games writing after several years' absence. First there was dialoguing the Legacy game for the BBC. Then I won the job of writing text for the strategy game Fate of the World. That's an ongoing project which will run into 2011. Few writers make their living from games, but it's a fun medium to visit.

My epic quest to get a writing gig on BBC Scotland continuing drama River City came back to life this year. After past heartbreaks I'd pretty much given up, but that changed in November 2009. BBC Scotland's Head of Drama Anne Mensah read my Red Planet Prize finalist script and urged me to contact RC series producer Morag Bain.

I watched the show for the next three months, so I'd have a better sense of where it was now, before contacting Morag. She was positive and put me in touch with one of her producers. And then River City underwent regime change for the second or third time in recent years, and I was back to square one again. Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

But I've kept plugging away at the show and watching it faithfully. Having an agent and my ability to secure commissions with Doctors makes me a more credible candidate, should the chance of a trial script ever arise. I'm keeping in touch with people who work on the show. One day this will happen. Let's put it on the list for 2011.

[An aside: there was a great TED lecture a few years back by a guy with a terminal illness. He said lots of life affirming things, and I wrote a few on them on post-it notes that stay in plain sight near my computer. Whenever I despair of cracking a show like River City, I have a look at those notes to remind myself why I keep going.

Note #1: luck is where preparation meets opportunity. This is so true. Plenty of times I've have opportunities and blown them because I wasn't ready, I wasn't prepared. Note #2: brick walls let us prove how badly we want things. Also true. If you really want something, you'll find a way - no matter how many brick walls stand in your way.]

What else? I've discovered the joys of TV writing for children. CBeebies Scotland and the Scottish Book Trust ran a lab over several weeks in May and June this year, giving more than a dozen writers based north of the border a chance to learn about creating shows for pre-schoolers. I was lucky enough to be selected for the lab [win!].

It was challenging, exciting and plenty of hard work - especially since it happen simultaneously with writing my second ep of Doctors, plus the Legacy radio play and game projects. But I discovered the joy of creating material for a younger audience and it's definitely an area I'll be exploring more during the year to come.

No doubt there are other things, but I need to get on. In part 2 of my report card I'll look at the areas I didn't venture into during 2010, and set myself some goals for 2011. In the meantime, keep warm. Onwards!

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