Monday, December 19, 2011

My report card for 2011: Part One

Freelance writers don't tend to have personal development reviews or appraisals. In lieu of that, each year I like to look back over my progress, identify where things were awry [in the hope of learning from my personal history], and set out some goals for the twelve months to come. Feel free to move on if this doesn't interest you.

Let's start with what I have achieved during 2011. After two years away, I wrote my 41st issue of costumed hero the Phantom for Egmont Sweden's Fantomen comic. That was fun and I wouldn't mind doing some more, but other things have kept me busy.

Completed work on Fate of the World, an award-winning strategy game published by Red Redemption. I'm an occasional visitor to the world of computer games writing. The money can be great, but I wouldn't that to be my only creative outlet.

Had a short film script optioned, but it didn't get made. The story was logistically ambitious [a.k.a. a nightmare for the director], so I wasn't that surprised when it didn't come to pass. Such is life.

I was among ten scribes chosen for the Write Foot Forward coaching scheme, led by the irrepressible Jo Calam. This proved an invaluable punt up the posterior and helped me identify a particular weakness in my writing. If you need the help, I heartily recommend Jo as an enthusiastic coach for creative talents.

Wrote five episodes of Nina and the Neurons: Brilliant Bodies, a science show for pre-schoolers on CBeebies. That was an education in writing to tight constraints, and an exciting new challenge. I've had nibbles of other opportunities in this field and it's an area I'd like to explore further during 2012.

My agent Katie Williams shifted this year and took me along to The Agency. She's done me proud in the time we've been working together, so I was happy to move with her. I know it's just a quirk of the alphabet, but having my name appear on the same page as Alan Bleasdale and Peter Bowker is a moment to cherish. [Daft, I know.]

Been teaching 2.5 days a week on the MA Creative Writing course at Edinburgh Napier University. Now on to our third cohort, the course is building a strong reputation for its love of genre fiction and the unique writing graphic fiction module. Plus we banned workshops, challenging an orthodoxy that's stifled such courses for decades.

What else? I ventured back to non-fiction prose with a 5th edition of The Complete Inspector Morse, published in October by Titan. Hopefully it sells enough to justify The Complete Inspector Lewis, which I'm eager to tackle. Can't wait to see the young Morse special Endeavour, due on ITV in January to mark 25 years on Morse on TV.

After five and a half years of trying, I finally got commissioned to write for the BBC Scotland drama series River City. Unfortunately, I couldn't nail the tone and characterisation wanted, so that experience didn't end well. Such is life.

After not applying for several years, in 2011 I added my name to the hundreds who wish to join the BBC Writers' Academy. I made it through to the very long list but didn't get selected for the workshop shortlist. I might apply once more in 2012, but I'm probably getting a bit long in the tooth for the Academy now. We'll see.

On a happier note, I've just been contracted to write my fourth episode of the BBC1 drama series Doctors. The script is far from locked, so I won't say much more beyond the fact it's called Fragile Strength and is scheduled for broadcast May 8th, 2012.

So, that's a look back over what's been keeping me busy this year. Also managed to squeeze in a three week trip home to see my family in New Zealand; went to Milan for 48 hours in September to experience Fashion Week; Carnoustie to teach teenagers about writing for comics; and Stirling for the 360 Narratives weekend event.

In part two, I'll compare my achievements to my state goals for 2011; plot a course for the year ahead; and set specific goals I want to achieve during 2012. Onwards!


John said...

Why did you ban workshops on your writing course?!


Why did we ban workshops on the Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University? Well, there's a long, well reasoned answer to that question - but I'll opt for a bunch of short, less well reasoned replies.

Because workshops suck. Asking a student to pay a four figure sum to learn about writing and then handing the class over to the ill-informed opinions of their classmates seems, well, dumb.

Because you need to give writers a vocabulary to discuss their work before inviting them to dissect the writing of others.

Because the blind criticizing the blind does not equal great learning.

Because making a student listen to every other student take a whack at their writing like it's a piñata isn't that useful.

Because the workshop is a lazy ass teaching methodology that's been around 80 years.

Because the workshop in no way replicates the experience of writers in the real world. Do novelists turn up at their publisher and sit in a room with at least half a dozen other novelists who all critique the novel for them? No.

We've replaced the workshop with professional editorial feedback offered masterclass style, in front of the whole class. That way every student should be able to find something useful and relevant from the feedback to apply to their own work. Masterclass style feedback is used in other creative arts teaching - why not in writing?

Rant over!

Anonymous said...

Good work on your achievements this year David. Plenty there to be proud of.

John said...

Thanks for the rant. Very interesting. I'm just about to leave some feedback on my creative writing poetry class, and what you say articulates my dissatisfaction. Though in our group it was the opposite of being pulled apart, more like being love bombed.


Besides banning workshops, poetry is not an option on our MA Creative Writing course.

Why? For a start, there are some brilliant poets who teach on other creative writing MAs in Scotland.

Then there's the fact neither myself nor my colleague Sam Kelly [an ex-agent and ex-editor] are poets - so why fake it?

Plus I've yet to enjoy a class that mixes poetry and genre fiction writing - the two don't blend!