Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writers' Academy, Inspector Morse, other stuff

The good news is I'm on the longlist for this year's BBC Writers' Academy. From the 495 applicants, 156 made the longlist. These are selected after reading the first ten pages of every single applicants' writing samples. The bad news? There's a long way and many flaming hoops to get through before eight are chosen for this year's intake.

I wasn't expected an email about this yesterday. Without wishing to sound too cocky, I was pretty sure my first ten pages were good enough to get past the first hurdle. I knew those who didn't make the cut could expect a 'Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: You' email by the end of this week. I didn't know the longlist got a good news email.

So when the message turned up in my inbox, it created a few moments of oh shit angst. With a templated email getting fired off to so many people simultaneously, there's nowt to indicate whether the contents are good news or ill. I clicked through, heart in my mouth a little bit, and got the good news - I was on the longlist. Huzzah.

Several other people I know also made the cut - my fellow Doctors writers Denise Watson and Martin Day, along with a classmate from Screen Academy Scotland, Ronnie Macintosh. At this stage, I'd expect all of us to sail through, unless someone had a bad day or submitted a sample that didn't prove its worth in the first ten pages.

Now the hard work really begins for those selecting this year's applicants, as all 156 scripts get complete reads. You can write a brilliant first ten pages, but that's no guarantee the rest of your script will deliver on the promises made by that opening. The first ten pages need to set up the world, and pose the big dramatic question.

You expect them to introduce all the main characters, establish the tone and suggest the script's narrative position. If it's the pilot for a series, those first ten pages should also get the format locked down. The reader won't know everything yet, far from it, but they should have a sense the writer knows where this is all headed.

The rest of the script determines whether or not you can chew what you've bitten off in those first ten pages. Does the dialogue continue to spark and zing? Are the characters consistent and well observed? Does the ending pay off the inciting incident? Is it moral, or ironic? Central characters - do they change or learn?

Are the stakes big enough? Does the structure work? Does the writer have something to say? Is their script purposeful? Are they able to create a thematic structure that resonates through the whole narrative? Why should a reader care about anything that happens in the story? Do you want to know what happens next? Is it worth reading?

The Academy team now ploughs through all 156 writing samples from the longlist. From that somewhere between 20 and 30 people usually get invited to one-day workshops in London. After lots of collaborative and writing exercises, the shortlist is cut to between 12 and 16 people for the final interviews. From them, eight are chosen.

I last applied for the Academy in 2008. I made the longlist and was later told my writing sample was liked, but too soapy and not bold enough. [It was the pilot for a continuing drama about two families on a single street in Glasgow during the Second World War. Definitely soapy, and over-stuffed with characters. Live and learn.]

I'd love to go one better and be invited to the workshop day. Having written three eps of Doctors, I've learned an awful lot since 2008 and would like to believe that's reflected in my writing sample this time round. It's not perfect - there are some structural issues that need sorting - but still an improvement on my last sample.

Now the longlist of 156 has been announced, all goes quiet. We won't hear until late June at the earliest about workshop invites. So the best thing to do is forget about the Academy and press on with other writing projects. The next step is in the hands of others, nothing more I can do to influence its outcome. Shrug and move on.

Today's target is finishing my text for the fifth edition of The Complete Inspector Morse. The new version is with a new publisher, Titan Books, who took over the list of previous publisher Reynolds and Hearn. Happily, this edition offers me the chance to pull a lot of gaps I'd spotted in past volumes and bring it right up to date.

I wasn't very happy with the fourth edition, which sort of stumbled out after some miscommunications with the publisher. It included some new text, but only a fraction of all the material I had intended to add, amend or update. Happily, this new edition offers a chance to correct that and create was planned as the definitive Morse guide.

Well, it would have been. But the news that Colin Dexter and ITV are in discussions about a one-off, young Morse drama set during the character's time as an undergraduate at Oxford has opened the door for further updates. It remains to be seen if the proposed project happens. For a dead character, Morse does keep making comebacks.

One thing this new edition of The Complete Inspector Morse won't cover is the Lewis spin-off TV series, aside from the 2006 pilot. The adventures of Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway have now filled twenty episodes. There will soon be enough material for a standalone volume - The Complete Inspector Lewis, perhaps? Time will tell.

So today is about finishing off Morse. Then I need to be looking forwards. I've been neglecting several projects to concentrate on my Academy script and the Morse tome. After today I'll be able to shift focus to new areas. Plus I've got a holiday coming up, assuming volcanic ash clouds let me leave the country. Onwards!

1 comment:

claireduffy said...

Good luck! I made the short list last year and was invited to a workshop. Great first experience, but I could tell that my sample Eastenders pages (the assignment from the workshop) weren't zinging so wasn't stunned when I didn't go any further. Am working on a pilot today, so your notes on what a pilot needs to do are timeful reminders - thanks!