Thursday, September 27, 2007

Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, brother.

Got perhaps the most mentalist travel itinerary over the next three days. Tomorrow morning I get up before 5 am to drive to Edinburgh to get a six o'clock train south. Get off that at 9 for a six hour meeting. Get on another train for another three hour journey, this time to London. Spent about nine hours overnight visiting friends in London and trying to get a modicum of sleep.

Saturday: get up at 5 am to get a train to Heathrow. Get a flight to Oslo. Get another flight from Oslo to Bergen. I think both places are in Norway, but right now I can't honestly remember. Go to the Raptus Comics Festival. Find the hotel where I'm staying in Norway [right now, I've no idea where that is - the hotel I mean, not Norway] and collapse as a gibbering heap in the corner.

Sunday: a sleep in would be nice, and probably obligatory by this point. Spend the day at the Raptus Comics Festival. Get from Bergen to the airport. Get a flight to Amsterdam. Get a flight from Amsterdam to Edinburgh. Drive or get driven back from Edinburgh to Biggar, where I live. Fall over and don't wake up for a week.

By my estimate the next three days involves a minimum of three train trips, four flights, and an unknown number of car trips - so a full set of planes, trains and automobiles. I'll be visiting four different countries, two different time zones and meeting thousands of strangers. The good news is I've found my passport. The bad news is I haven't started packing yet. Yikes.

As you can guess from this madcap weekend of hilarious consequences, I've no idea when I'll blogging next. But you guys know the drill by now, right? Talk amongst yourselves, try not to spill anything and everybody play nice with the other kids. Don't make me come back in here and separate you, hear?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Feel the chutzpah: River City turns five

BBC Scotland has its own soap opera, River City, which is broadcast predominantly to Scottish audiences. [People outside Scotland can find it on the BBC Scotland feed if they have access to that via digital, cable or satellite. It's also available via Sky.] The show celebrated its fifth anniversary over the past week with a classic soap storyline: a villain gets his comeuppance from the characters he's been tormenting over weeks, months, even years. The villain here was Archie Buchanan, corrupt lawyer, womaniser and smarmy git.

On last Friday's episode he was going to fake his own suicide and escape to South America with his bit on the side. But his plans went awry, culminating in Archie throttling his longsuffering wife Gina close to death. Archie's mum Liz intervened, smashing an urn containing her own husband's ashes over Archie's head. Down went the big man, cracking his head on the fireplace hearth. That was the big cliffhanger on Friday night - Archie dead, his tearful family contemplating a corpse.

Last night the story spiralled onwards into new heights of delight. Any sane person would have called the police, claimed self defence and pulled out all the evidence they had to back that up. Not Gina. She decided to make good use of Archie's pre-written suicide note. Enlisting the aid of her sister and a reluctant Liz, Gina transported Archie's corpse [in a rather fetching duvet] to a nearby clifftop. Gina pushed the body off the cliff on to the surf-tossed rocks below.

Goodbye Archie. Good riddance to bad rubbish. But no, wait! As the episode ends, the camera panned down to the bloody, sodden corpse on the rocks below. At this point I was expecting a final shot of Archie's dead face, a lingering farewell to the character everybody's loved to hate all these months. And then he moved!

If that isn't the best cliffhanger ever on River City, it's got to be in the top five. Utterly unexpected, teetering on the precipice of unbelievability [I mean, he got sconed in the head, cracked his skull on the hearth, was smothered with a duvet in a car boot for at least an hour, fell nearly a hundred feet off a cliff on to rocks and surf, before somehow getting himself to shore?] and utterly brilliant.

Say what you like of River City, you've got to admire its chutzpah.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One damn, two bloodys and a pair of ****s

I'm one of those incurious people when it comes to technology and software. If something works, it works - I don't need to know how. I don't read manuals and I don't bother to explore the full extent of any software I buy. So it took an entry on the BBC writersroom blog to tell me about the Profanity counter in Final Draft. You discover something new everyday.

By hunting around in script reports on that program, you can find out exactly how much swearing appears in your screenplay and who says what. For example, the title of this blog entry was inspired by the five cases of profanity in Hopes and Fears, the script I submitted for the TAPS continuing drama showcase. [Don't worry, the missing word rhymes with thruppeny bits, not Gene Hunt.] You can also get a ratio of dialogue to action, and discover how characters are grouped together. Fascinating stuff.

Final Draft also has a facility for having your script read aloud, so you can listen for bad writing, errors and other issues. You can assign different voices to different characters, even alter the pitch and tone of those voices. Sounds great, right? Well, yes, if all the voices were merely variations upon the mechanical tones of Stephen Hawking. Helpful if you're writing for the Daleks, less useful the rest of the time. So I don't tend to bother with robotic read throughs.

I'm in rehearsals for a play at the moment, Jake's Women by Neil Simon. 100 pages of script and I'm on stage for all of it - bar one sequence where I leave the stage and nobody else talks until I return. At a guess I'd say the character I'm playing, Jake, says between 40% of all the dialogue, if not more. But because he's on stage effectively the whole time, anyone playing Jake has to learn the entire text. And be able to recall it, in order, upon command.

My acting is strictly amateur dramatic standards, but it's been a help to my writing. There's nothing like having to act bad dialogue - illogical, out of character or simply lame - to make you realise how important dialogue is to characterisation. As Harrison Ford is famously supposed to have said to director George Lucas on the set of Star Wars, "You can type this shit, George, but we can't say it." Oops. Better make that one two bloodys and a trio of ****s.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Which is harder to get - first job or the second?

I'm trying to break into TV drama writing by various routes. I've been applying for jobs as a storyliner or script editor on soaps, as they're a good place to learn more about the craft of TV writing, and can be a stepping stone to getting commissions as a writer. I'm seeking representation as having an agent will get you meetings you could never secure otherwise.

For example, Life on Mars makers Kudos say they will meet with writers without any previous TV credits, if those writers have an agent and credits in another writing medium like radio, novels or theatre. I'm entering competitions, I'm networking like crazy, I'm trying for schemes like the TAPS continuing drama workshop and showcase.

If any one of those methods works, I need to be ready when the call comes. Craft skills in place, plus at least two different original calling card scripts that demonstrate talent, my unique voice as a writer and my versatility as a writer. But the truth is there's no shortage of other would-be TV writers out there who could boast all the same things and more. Getting first commission is tough.

Sometimes I think I've left it too late, that I'd have been better off pursuing this when I was still in my 20s [or, better still, a teenager]. There's an obsession in TV drama at the moment in chasing the youth demographic, as if teenagers want to spend their time at home watching TV when they'd rather be out living [translation: drinking, smoking, dancing, shagging, etc]. But I can't change my age, so worrying about that is a pointless exercise. Better to concentrate on what I can affect.

In a lot of careers, one job leads to another. Do well at one workplace and you can trade to another; maybe a bigger company, maybe a higher position with more money [and usually more responsibility]. Writing is a strange career in that you're often only as good as your last job, unless you've attained some kind of A list status. The truth is that writers start each new job with an empty computer screen in front them, facing the tyranny of the blank page.

Can I start? Do I still have what it takes? When I am going to be found out? It's amazing how many writers torment themselves with those questions. For some, the more experience they have, the worse those worries get. All the commissions, all the acclaim, all the success are just things that happened. There's always that lingering fear of going back to the well of creativity within themselves to find it's gone dry. There's nothing left. They're burnt out, past it, a has-been.

Not a problem I'm facing right now. You've got to have been something to be past it. But here's another thing to think about. I honestly believe everybody's got one great story inside them. Often it's their own life story, but that's still a tale often worth telling. Maybe they don't have the skills or craft to bring it out, to tell that story, but it's still buried away inside them. It's not telling [and selling] that first story which makes you a writer. It's coming up with the second story.

Just as bands can put out a great first album, full of verve and joy and invention, as writers can produce a great first story. They've had their whole lives to prepare for this moment. But they can produce the goods time after time, have their got the grit and determination and sheer bloodymindedness necessary to grind it a result even when the bucket's bouncing on the bottom of the well, bringing up dregs. Can they still do the business when they're tired or cranky or ill or suffering?

To me, that's the mark of a real writer. Switching off all the other sounds and troubles and conflicts and worries, and focusing on that single voice inside your head, telling you what to type next, letting that storytelling instinct guide you out of the woods. Finding that voice, befriending that voice, learning to trust that voice will be there when you need it - that's the hard part. Amongst others.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Talking about 2000 AD

BBC Radio 4 yesterday broadcast a half hour programme marking the thirtieth anniversary of iconic comic 2000 AD. Among those to be heard talking are me, billed as a 2000 AD historian. I think of myself as a former editor, but I have written a massive book detailing the history of 2000 AD [THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, available to buy now!] so I guess the label has some justification.

Thanks to the BBC's wonderful Listen Again facility, the whole programme's available to be heard online until next Saturday, September 29th. Hear the dulcet tones of publisher John Sanders, launch editor Pat Mills and many others. A thoroughly absorbing half hour, if you're into 2000 AD.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The heat is on [thank grud]

Back in January the heat went off. The problem proved to be nothing to do with the boiler, but the tiny control unit beneath it that regulates when the heating goes on and off. Got that fixed, everything was hunky dory. Earlier this week we had the first genuinely cold morning of the autumn. Frost on the car, breath misting the air, the works. So the new control unit on the boiler packed up. Arsebiscuits. So the last three days have been akin to living in an ice box.

Don't ask me how, but when the house gets cold it actually feels chillier indoors than it does outside. No doubt it's a psychosomatic effect born of knowing the heating's on the fritz, but that doesn't stop you feeling cold. Anyways, I'm happy to report the control unit's been replaced - again - and the house is warming up nicely. Just as well, as I've got no shortage of deadlines to meet in the coming week.

Next weekend I'm travelling to Norway for the Raptus Comics Festival. Vicious Imagery readers with long memories may recall I flew over to rain-drenched Bergen in March as guest speaker for a comics making workshop. Now the results of that workshop are being published in a graphic novel that gets launched at the festival. Should be a riotous weekend of crazed comics carousing, or somesuch. So I need to get my deadlines met before I go.

The first week of October's likely to vanish under the stress of performances for the play I'm acting in. I'll get some work done, but nothing much worth talking about. Also need to start doing some serious prep work for the Christmas pantomime, as auditons and rehearsals for that start immediately after Jake's Women clears the stage. From there it's a helter skelter run into Christmas. Where did the year go? I'm sure 2007 was round here somewhere.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Absolutely cream crackered

Pure dead mental busy of late. Got a fistful of deadlines to meet over the next two weeks, off to Norway for the Raptus comics festival, opening night looms for a play I'm acting in and the device that controls the boiler has packed up, so the house is stone bloody cold. Gack. Still, enough of the self-pitying crap. Busy is good, money will be great when it finally arrives and hopefully the boiler problem will be resolved today or tomorrow. The way things are panning out, I figure I should be able to relax sometime after Sunday, December 16th. Which will be nice.

Spent yesterday scrambling to get my 23-minute script ready for the TAPS continuing drama workshop. I'd somehow gotten it into my head that I had until midday today to post the hard copy and email the electronic file. Just after ten yesterday morning I got confirmation both hard copy and pdf had to be at Shepperton by midday today. Since our local post office shuts at one on Wednesdays, that made for a frenzy of rewriting. Big thanks to all those people who gave feedback, and those who offered. Much appreciated.

Still, at least the TAPS script is now off my plate. From the 25 writers who attended the Nations workshop in Cardiff earlier this month, ten will have their 23-minute scripts selected for further development, with the chosen scribes named on Monday October 8th. They'll get feedback from a professional TV script editor before writing a new draft in about ten days. From those two will be chosen [along with two from the Regions workshop held in Leeds last weekend] for filming as showcase pieces with professional actors and crew on Emmerdale sets in November.

By the law of averages, that means my effort has a 2 in 5 chance of making it through to the next stage of development. Me, I'm happy to have gotten this far. More than 400 people applied for the 50 places available on the two workshops, so that's a good start. I think my 23-minute script's got some good stuff in it [one reader said the ending moved them to tears of joy], but a few more drafts and further development would be a huge benefit. Fingers crossed it gets that chance with TAPS.

Having hit those deadlines, I went to Edinburgh for a presentation by MEDIA, the European Union funding agency. More than half its budget goes to distribution initiatives, helping European films get seen, but there's also money available for training and development. I was the only writer there, everybody else was producers. I met an animation start-up team with some exciting aspirations, and others doing some interesting work in both film and TV. A nice outing from the office. Now I need to do some work to pay for my afternoon of [relative] leisure. Onward.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

UK drama 'Eleventh Hour' gets Bruckheimer deal

Variety reports a huge, big bucks deal's been done between Hollywood honcho Jerry Bruckheimer and US TV network CBS for an adaptation of the recent British thriller series Eleventh Hour, created by Stephen Gallagher. Numbers being bandied about include $4 million to make the pilot, and a guaranteed run of at least 13 episodes costing nearly $2 million a piece.

Variety stresses all of this is hearsay, but Bruckheimer's got considerable clout in TV thanks to his involvement with smash hit series like the CSI franchise, plus Cold Case and Without a Trace. CSI director and executive producer Danny Cannon [yes, the man who directed the Judge Dredd film twelve years ago] is involved as well, giving the US version of Eleventh Hour considerable clout. Variety speculates nearly $30 million could already be committed to the new series, seen as a post-millennium X-Files.
Eleventh Hour was launched on ITV last year, starring Patrick Stewart as Professor Hood, a man battling science-based threats to humanity. His bodyguard and sidekick was played by Extras star Ashley Jensen, now making a name for herself across the Atlantic in Ugly Betty. Alas, the show didn't connect with the ITV audience at the time, probably arriving a year or two ahead of the cuvse for ITV.

There's been a lot of blog talk among North American TV writers about a wave of nostalgia for The X-Files among network executives, wishng they had a show that hit many of the same marks but with a fresh twist. Looks like Eleventh Hour is definitely being lined up as the natural successor to Mulder and Scully. British comedies and light entertainment shows have been hitting big in the US lately. Now UK dramas are following them across the Atlantic. Wild at Heart and Viva Blackpool are both reborn as US versions this autumn, with the American Life on Mars to follow. Looks like Eleventh Hour is next.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Power of 3 call-out [24 hour deadline]

Evening all. Just finished a 23-page script, and need a kindly volunteer to help with a quick read and feedback. Usual caveats apply: be as brutal as you want, but best if you send questions rather than suggestions e.g. what you didn't you understand? What didn't you like? What didn't work for you? Crucially, I need the feedback by end of play Wednesday. If you're ready and willing, please email me here: david AT davidbishop DOT co DOT uk

UPDATE: Got a full house of helpful folk offering feedback, so no more required. Many, many thanks to the people being so generous with their time and all those who kindly offered. Much appreciated!

"Watch the power lines."

Back to reality. Check.

Odd kind of day yesterday. Floods of congratulatory emails and messages about the success of DANNY'S TOYS, which was lovely. Trying to capitalise on first prize, turn it into some traction for my medium and long term career goals. At the same time, I've got a short term deadline that's punting my posterior. And I had a funeral to attend, saying goodbye to a neighbour who's been a good friend over the past seven years. Standing in the rain by the graveside, watching the casket be lowered into the ground, you can't help but contemplate your own life choices. Our time round here is all too short, so let's make the most of it. Onwards.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Still laying in the afterglow

Spent yesterday enjoying the sensation of having won something for my writing. Let's face, as a writer you will face rejection and disappointment far more often than you'll be accepted, let alone be declared a winner. So I might as well enjoy the feeling while it lasts. Thank you to all the people who've sent me congratulations via email, facebook or comments on this blog - it's much appreciated.

Lots of people have asked what now for my prize-winning script, DANNY'S TOYS? In my head it's an animated short, so I'll be pitching my story to a few animation houses, see if there's any interest. Frankly, the script's elements make animation the only realistic medium: a clockwork bumblebee that flies, children aged eight at the start and seventeen when it ends, Holocaust allusions...

My hopes aren't high DANNY'S TOYS will ever appear on a screen either small or silver, but there could be another life for it, as a graphic novel. The visual-led storytelling style and gothic fairytale content would lend themselves well to a graphic novel. Plus, I have some slight experience of working in comics [twelve years in editoral split between 2000 AD and the Megazine], so that's a possibility.

My main goal is to use my 2007 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards win in Los Angeles as a way of getting attention from agents. More than anything else now I need representation. You never know, somebody might want to read DANNY'S TOYS or even option it. I've registered the script but negotiating option deals is beyond my ken. Having an agent would prevent naive errors of judgement.

In the meantime, I've got a friend's funeral to attend this afternoon and my standalone script for the TAPS continuing drama workshop is due on Thursday. It's going to be a busy and emotional week, no matter which you slice it. Onwards.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's official: Danny's Toys is a winner!

Nine o'clock last night I came upstairs and checked my computer, as I had been doing all day, waiting for news about the 2007 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in Los Angeles. The news was in and the news was good: my script DANNY'S TOYS won first place in the Short Film Category! It was given the gold prize, ahead of GROWING PAINS by Virginia Desmond and WINGNUT by Joseph Costa. More than 3400 scripts were entered in the overall contest, and these were winnowed down to the top ten in ten categories. To my complete surprise, DANNY'S TOYS has won its category.

So that was nice.

What do I get for winning, beside a smile you'll need a jackhammer to get off my face? Apparently the gold prize winners get $1,000 cash, promotional services with Script Marketplace, The InkTip Database and Players Marketplace Magazine, and gift certificates from The Writers Store, Office Depot and Amazon. Not sure how much use most of that will be, but a thousand bucks wouldn't go unloved, even at the current exchange rate. Beyond that? Bragging rights for a year, though I don't want to be a skite about it. [Skite - what a wonderful Kiwi word that is.]

It'd be great if somebody wanted to option DANNY'S TOYS, but I can't see my script ever being made. In my head it's a Tim Burton-esque stop motion animated film, like a shorter version of Corpse Bride or The Nightmare Before Christmas. There's not much of a market for those, not unless they run 80 minutes, have Tim Burton attached and Johnny Depp involved. But my win might help me secure representation and it'll look good on my writing CV.

There's a few people I need to thank for the success of DANNY'S TOYS. My screenwriting tutor James Mavor was a big help, questioning my choices and forcing me to examine my storytelling with rigour and smarts. The other second year part-time students on my screenwriting MA course, all of whom had comments and suggestions about the treatment when we workshopped it in class. Everyone else who read the script and offered feedback, particularly Danny Stack, Lucy, and Lianne. [Proof that paying professional script readers to assess your work does bring dividends.]

That's enough self congratulations and back slapping. I've got to write the synopsis for a Phantom comic script, learn four or five more pages of the play I'm rehearsaing at the moment and my 23 minute TAPS drama showcase script needs to be finished before the deadline of midday on Thursday. There's work to be done. Ron Shelton's wonderful script for Bull Durham says it best.
I was great, eh?

Your fastball was up and your curveball was hanging--in the Show they woulda ripped you.

Can't you let me enjoy the moment?

The moment's over.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Here endeth the lessons

Final session at Screen Academy Scotland yesterday. Guest speakers were Kate Croft [head of drama development for indie prodco IWC], Gaynor Holmes [executive producer for drama at BBC Scotland] and indie film producer Peter Broughan. They talked about the way forward for graduating MA screenwriting students, the tough realities of the marketplace and possible routes into TV and film. Some fascinating and often starkly candid comments were made but it was a private session, so I won't get into them here.

Afterwards we repaired to the Filmhouse bar and then the Traverse Theatre bar to toast the end of the our coursework. Marks for our major projects won't be available for another week or two, and the final grade for the MA - fail, pass or pass with distinction - comes later still. Graduation ceremony is November 15. Assuming I pass, do I want to spend grud knows how much so I can walk across a platform in a daft gown and hat to shake some bloke's hand and get a piece of paper? Probably. If nothing else, the pish-up should be epic.

In other news, the English rugby team got the ever lovin' stomm kicked out of it last night by South Africa at the World Cup. Today the All Blacks take on the might of Portugal, so expect something of a cricket score in that match. Wrote and submitted by script reader's trial report to Scottish Screen, but won't know for a while if it's fit for purpose and whether they're willing to add me to their list of readers.

Last but not least, the winners of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards are announced in Los Angeles today. My script DANNY'S TOYS has found its way into the finalist of the Short Film category. More than 3400 scripts were entered for the contest, and now it's down to the last 100 - the top ten in each of the ten categories. Can't imagine it will win one of the top three category, but it's been a thrill having gotten this far. A little moment of glory. Nice.

Friday, September 14, 2007

And now, the end is near...

Feel like I've been saying this for a while, but the end really is nigh for my screenwriting MA course. We've got a final in-class session this afternoon, and could well get the marks for our final pieces of coursework today. Those who graduate will have the chance to collect their piece of paper come November, while wearing a daft hat and ill-fitting gown of unbecoming colours. [Can I just say one thing about Joseph's amazing technicolour dreamcoat? It's fuck ugly. Phew, glad to get that off my chest. Moving on...] And that's it. Student life is over. Except I'm still paying for my tuition, with the last £263 coming out of my bank account next month.

Before I started the MA I was making a comfortable living writing licensed genre tie-in novels and audio dramas, comic books and some journalism. Two years I'm making half what I was, and much of the work I had in 2005 has dried up. Partly that's due to neglect, as I've been focused on the MA and other learning opportunities. Partly it's the inevitable ebb and flow of available work. When you're fully focused on a freelance career, you nurture existing clients and constantly search for fresh opportunities to replace jobs that come to the end of their lifecycle.

Haven't had much time for nurturing and even less for finding fresh opportunities, but that was my choice. The financial consequences haven't been pretty, and will probably take several years to recover. I haven't paid a penny into my pension scheme these past two years, but I'd like to believe all the time, money and effort I've invested in the MA and related activities have been a different kind of investment in my future. Of course, that could well be self delusion, time will tell.

Leaving aside money-related stresses [not easy, but necessary to remain sane], I've done what I set out to do two years ago. Barring some disaster on my final project, I'll have gotten an MA. I've pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone as a writer, forcing myself to try new things. I've fallen flat on my face plenty of times and had no end of rejections [finally got my thanks but no thanks letter from River City this week], but I've also made some breakthroughs.

Most importantly of all, I'm a better writer than I was two years ago. No longer am I content to shit something out that's simply fit for purpose. There are times when I tie myself in knots fretting about themes and subtext and all that stuff, when such considerations actively impede my ability to do what I do best: tell stories. But learning about more about these elements and how they can enrich the stories I tell is still a positive step. If nothing else, the MA has sharpened my writing tools. And for that I'm grateful.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My top 5 strengths [be afraid, be very afraid]

Overheard someone talking about this at an airport recently. It's an American business fad for discovering people's strengths. The theory goes that too many people focus on fixing their shortcomings instead of playing to, well, their strengths. Pollsters Gallup developed a test to identify individual strengths, as a tool for helping managers and their staff get the best from each other. I'm a sucker for these things, so sent off to the US and completed the online test yesterday.

The questions identify your top 5 strengths from 34 categories. These include the likes of adaptability, communication, empathy, includer, learner, restorative and the intriguingly named woo. Sadly, I don't have woo in my top 5, which was a bit of a disappointment. So according to these online test, what are my five strongest traits? Achiever, strategic, learner, competition and focus.

Achievers have a constant need for - unsurprisingly - achievement. They must do something tangible every day to feel good about themselves. They've an internal drive to always do more. Relentless, and probably never content.

Strategic people find the best route through a cluttered task. They have a unique perspective ont he world, can see patterns amid complexity. They will cull whatever stands in the way of the goal. They ask what if, choose a target and pursue it.

[Stop me if you see a pattern emerging here...]

Learners are energized by gaining knowledge, adding skills and making new discoveries. Often the process of learning is more exciting than the results or the content. This enables learneres to thrive in projects that involve cramming new material.

Competition is all about comparison, judging performance against that of others. Achievement alone is not enough, these people need to outperform others. They compete to win, not to play the game. They prefer contests with a definite winner.

Focus is all about setting goals. Focus people need to know where they're going, they determine priorities and efficiently filter out impediments. Focus people get impatient with delays, obstacles and tangents. Progress is essential.

In summary: I set goals, get pleasure from winning and yet always want to achieve and discover more. But anyone who gets in my way or impedes my progress is liable to get cast aside. Yikes. I think there's one word that sums all this up: driven.

But I've long since recognised this tendency in myself. Hell, when things got too easy for me as a comics editor I would deliberately sabotage the status quo in order to create a fresh challenge.

It's why I need deadlines, why I struggle to write material on spec without a clear goal or end point. That's not to say I don't have other strengths, but this test certainly hit a few nails on the head.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The 5th lamest fight scene ever, apparently

Stumbled across this wonderful clip from some Australian film whic has deemed the 5th lamest fight scene ever. Me, I can't believe there are four fights lamer [and dafter] than this! Enjoy.

Extraversion iNtuition Thinking Judging

I developed a taste for profiling years ago after attending a creative management course where everyone underwent the Myers-Briggs test to determine their natural psychological tendencies. There's plenty of debate about the accuracy of the Myers-Briggs test, but the result is always the same every time I take it: I'm ENTJ. What does that mean? E stands for an attitude of extraversion [this doesn't mean the same as extroverted, hence the different spelling]. People who tend towards extraversion draw energy from action, people and things. The other end of the spectrum is introversion, people who reflect before taking action.

N stands for intuition, suggesting I trust information that is abstract and theoretical. The other end of the spectrum is sensing, preferring facts gleaned from your five senses. T stands for thinking, an indication of my decision making function. Thinkers will assess a situation from a detached point of view, while the other end of spectrum is feeling, those who empathise first. Finally, J stands for Judging, a lifestyle choice. That's about having clear timelines and plans, whereas the other side of the coin is termed perceiving, people who are happy to be more flexible, leaving things open and relaxed.

An ENTJ are sometimes known as fieldmarshals. These rational creatures tend to lead and dominate - sometimes with charm and finesse, sometimes with less insensitivity. ENTJs often plan creatively and make those plans reality. They frequently perform well in business, but their visionary tendencies to original ideas don't make them suited to working their way up a corporate ladder.

Here's an extract from an ENTJ personality profile I found online: ENTJs are natural born leaders. They live in a world of possibilities where they see all sorts challenges to be surmounted, and they want to be the ones responsible for surmounting them. They have a drive for leadership, which is well-served by their quickness to grasp complexities, their ability to absorb a large amount of impersonal information, and their quick and decisive judgments.

And now the bad news: There is not much room for error in the world of the ENTJ. They dislike to see mistakes repeated, and have no patience with inefficiency. They may become quite harsh when their patience is tried in these respects, because they are not naturally tuned in to people's feelings, and more than likely don't believe that they should tailor their judgments in consideration for people's feelings. ENTJs, like many types, have difficulty seeing things from outside their own perspective.

Finally, a warning: The ENTJ has a tremendous amount of personal power and presence which will work for them as a force towards achieving their goals. However, this personal power is also an agent of alienation and self-aggrandizement, which the ENTJ would do well to avoid. So, at least you know what you're dealing with now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Swash that buckle, me French hearties! Arrrrrr!

The mediaguardian website reports new dramas about pirates and the Three Musketeers are being developed to fill the gap when Doctor Who has a gap year in 2009. The time travelling adventurer has been a ratings winner for the BBC over the last three years, but will take a rest from production next summer, autumn and winter. Three specials will be made for broadcast in 2009, but that still leaves a yawning gap in the BBC's Saturday night schedule, especially as Doctor Who is appointment family viewing.

According to mediaguardian [registration required], the BBC itself is developing a family drama series based on the Dumas novel about swashbuckling adventurers in France, while top indie prodco Kudos is working on a show about pirates. [ITV is also looking to jump on the same Jolly Rodger, apparently.] The question is which show will make it to air [if any], and which will be made to walk the plank?

Twice in recent years the BBC has tried to craft a Saturday night drama from the Arthurian legends about Merlin the wizard, with nothing making it to screen. Tackling pirates is always going to be a challenge, as filming on water is notoriously difficult. Still, Kudos could do worse than look at a series called The Red Seas in 2000 AD - cracking good pirate fun with a supernatural twist. Juicy.

Fiends of the Rising Sun gets a glowing review

My 18th novel, FIENDS OF THE RISING SUN, gets a glowing appraisal on the 2000 AD Review website. As the reviewer noted, the book introduction characters and concepts for a planned trilogy of novels based around the notion of samurai vampires fighting for the Pacific during the Second World War.

Alas, it looks like the Black Flame imprint that published Fiends is being wound down by Games Workshop, so the publishing arm can concentrate on its other lines, Solaris and Black Library. It's a shame as I had all sorts of stories planned for tragic but honorable Zenji Hitori and his cadre of blood sucking battle veterans, not to mention the plucky band of American pilots, soldiers and sailors who would have fought the undead peril. Oh, well. FIENDS OF THE RISING SUN is a cracking read in its own right, so give it a go.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Look away now if you don't like sports

The Rugby World Cup has started, which is a kind of heaven for someone like me who was raised in New Zealand where rugby union is effectively the national religion. Friday kicked off the tournament with a shocking performance by host nation France against their bete noire team, Argentina. Even subbing on man mountain Chabal couldn't pull the French team out of their funk. [That's funk as in torpor, not as in James Brown.]

Missed the entire All Blacks versus Italy due to circumstances beyond my control, but the NZ team were reportedly full of zip. Australia put Japan to the sword after shaking off some rust, while England were not great against America. The current world champions won't be struggling under the burden of that title much longer, on the evidence of that showing. Saw some of Scotland versus Portugal yesterday, but little else - no cable, no digital and no satellite.

Fortunately for me, most of the games are being played at the weekend, otherwise my efforts to write anything of value during the week would come to nought. I don't watch much sport on TV, but it can have a mesmeric effect on me. Alas, I'm not one of these people who can watch one thing while simultaneously doing something else creative. Not much of a multi-tasker. I need to focus on one thing at a time, give it my full attention. That's what comes of being a bear of very little brain.

Watched Hot Fuzz on DVD last night, having singularly failed to see it at the cinema. My snap reaction? Meh. I've no doubt it would have been a blast to see the movie in a crowded multiplex chock full of Shaun of the Dead fans, up for a good time. Sat alone in my front room, Hot Fuzz raised a few smiles but little else. At least ten minutes too long, a hard to like protagonist and too many visual tricks recycled from Shaun of the Dead. [Like I could do better!] You've got to wonder what Pegg, Wright and Frost will collaborate on next, having skewered zombie films and buddy cop movies.

Let's hope it's not another sports spoof movie. Enough already. Yes, Will Ferrell, I'm talking to you. Just leave it.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Flashback: why pursue script editing and MA?

Not much report from real life yesterday, and no time to write my usual ramblings today, so here's a blast from the past [specifically September 2006] with some new, added comments.

Got an email last night from someone who reads the blog [hi Tony!] and asked me some interesting questions. Being the shameless recycler of material that I am, here are edited version of the questions, and my typically verbose and self-regarding answers. For those who don't read this outpouring of opinions and observations regularly, I've just applied for the TAPS short course on TV script editing, but I'm also halfway through a screenwriting MA at Screen Academy Scotland in Edinburgh...

Q: Given that you’re already on an MA I just wondered why you felt it was worth the extra time and expense to take an additional short course in script editing. Doesn’t the MA give you enough background or information as to what a script editor does or how to assess story and structure? I was rather surprised to read that you wanted to take the TAPS course to be honest, and it makes me wonder about the virtue of doing an MA…

A: I suspect no two MA courses are alike. The tutors are different, the emphasis on what to teach is different, the intake of students brings their own dynamic to the course. For example, one of our tutors is a producer and documentary maker, so we had a module on the business of screen project development with a lot of examples and emphasis placed upon documentaries. Personally, I don’t get that jazzed by docs, but others found that emphasis fascinating – each to their own. Certainly, I did learn a lot about the business side of film and TV making.

I get the impression that many screenwriting MAs focus more on films and short films than on TV. Doing the first year of the course has made me think I want to write for TV much more than for film. Writers in TV get more respect and more control, especially if they pursue the executive producer/showrunner paradigm. Film writers might get paid first, but unless they also direct payment seems to be the only category where they come first. I could resort to a crude sexual metaphor at this point, but I’ll let you fill in the blanks – so to speak.

The Napier screenwriting MA is trying to cover a number of bases, including film, TV and writing for interactive. This is problematic, because there’s always the danger of not devoting sufficient time to all three different areas. Yes, there’s a lot of blurring between film and TV, whereas writing for interactive requires another bunch of skills and mental presets. I think if Napier offered a TV screenwriting MA, I would have chosen that ahead of the more generic MA I’m doing. Alas, it didn’t. The course I have started hasn't spent any time on script editing skills yet, so I’m looking to TAPS to plug that gap. I enjoy working with other writers and helping them make their scripts better. I did a lot of that when I was a comics editing.

Hell, on 2000 AD I was editing up to 1600 pages of script a year. I was commissioning the writers, choosing the artists and other craftsmen to bring those scripts to life. I was rewriting the scripts t achieve a 2000 AD house style where necessary. If I wasn’t getting the stories I wanted, I would create characters and plot before farming these out to writers. Looking back at it, the job was a lot like that of a showrunner, but with less emphasis on my writing. I hadn’t created 2000 AD or most of the characters inside it, I was merely the latest in a long line of editors, so I didn’t have the total possession of the core concepts that Pat Mills had on the early days of 2000 AD, or someone like J Michael Straczynski had on Babylon 5.

Another element of working on 2000 AD I enjoyed was finding and nurturing new writers. That’s part of the job of script editors on some TV shows, and it’s something I miss from my time as a comics editors. No doubt my mother’s teacher genes are rising to the surface, but I get a sense of pride and achievement from seeing writers [and artists] I helped break into the comics industry going on to do outstanding work and building a career from their creative talents.

2007 A: Having now all but finished the MA, I'm certain my decision to supplement the course with other learning opportunities such as workshop, courses and mentoring schemes was the right one. In total I've learned a lot more by stretching myself further than I would have done by merely doing the MA. The storylining for continuing drama workshop I did at the Script Factory informed my final MA project, for example.

Q: I’m currently comparing the TAPS course with the Script Factory’s Script Reading course. Have you seen this? In many ways the Script Reading course appeal to me more as it seems to be much more hands on – you have to work at home prior to each course day. The two days are a few weeks apart to give you time to prepare a report which will then be discussed in class. You might be interested in the details. It seems to be more devoted to assessing script and story than covering the relationships between script editor and producer etc.

A: I’ve looked at a lot of courses online. I’m not that interested in becoming a script reader. I think it’s a valuable role, and something which I’ve done in other fields [such as vetting submissions to novel publishers] – but there’s a limit how far you can go with reading and writing reports. I guess it’s good for pointing up problems in your own writing and establishing industry contacts – there are several script readers who blog that are also making their way as writers. But the emphasis is again more on film than TV, though that may merely be my impression of the situation, rather than reality.

The TAPS course more specifically targets an area I’d like to pursue. It’s also only two days, as against the two years I’m devoting to doing a screenwriting MA part-time. If I get on the TAPS [that could be a big if for all I know] and discover it’s not for me, I’ll only have spent a few days and a few hundred quid doing so. My MA is more than £3000 in course fees. Then there’s the books I’ve bought for it [several hundred pounds], transport costs for the 60 miles round trip to college [between £600 and £1000 over the two years at a minimum] and the lost earnings. During my first nine months on the MA course my earnings were £11,000 less than during the preceding nine months. Put simply, it’s costing me an arm and a leg, and I’m not certain the expense is worth it thus far. Perhaps my attitude will have changed by this time next year – perhaps not.

But the MA course is not simply about money. It’s get a greater value for me, providing validation as a working writer, my first experience of university life, numerous networking opportunities and other intangible benefits. Best of all, it’s made me get serous about my writing and focus on building a career, not simply drifting from one piece of hackwork to the next. The fact I am spending so much time, energy and cold, hard cash on the course requires me to make it worth my while as much as I can, even if the course itself isn’t achieving what I want it to do.

2007 A: I'm not sure I directly answered any of Tony's question. Perhaps a career in politics beckons. No, I didn't compare the TAPS script editing course with the Script Factory's Reading course. Perhaps if I'd grasped that reading scripts is often a path to editing scripts, I'd have seized that opportunity sooner. A year later, I've just been on my first script reading workshop. You never stop learning.

Q: I’m still balancing the virtues of doing a series of targeted short writing courses against doing a two year masters. An MA is very expensive so it’s got to deliver, yet all of them seem to be lacking in some way! What do you think of the Napier course now? I remember you posted some rather negative views on it a while back.

A: It sounds to me like you might be better off pursuing short courses in the meantime, to get a flavour of what’s out there. An MA is a much better commitment than I realised going in and, given the choice again, I might well do things differently now. My attitude to the Napier course hasn’t changed much since May, simply because I haven’t been doing the course over the past four months. The part-timers got sent away for 19 weeks while the full-timers did their major module. Aside from a single one-on-one tutorial, that’s pretty much been the extent of my contact with Napier since May. I’ve got a couple of weeks until it all starts again. Hopefully some of the teething troubles from the first year have been ironed out.

2007 A: And so they were. More tutors, more focus, far better facilities, more cross-course collaboration - though not nearly enough as some students would have liked. There are times when the MA has frustrated, but that's true of most learning experiences. I certainly don't regret doing the MA, as its led me to so many other opportunities [as has my own drive to acquire all knowledge in the world ever]. I've even contemplated taking the MA in TV writing at Leicester, but how many MAs does one person need?

I'd be better off focusing my efforts on networking, getting an agent and writing further calling card scripts. At some point you have to shift your main endeavours from learning to doing, putting yourself out and about in the big, bad world and risking rejection in search of success. The time is now, for me.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Yesterday I learned how to Read

Not books, but scripts and screenplays. I went to a briefing day for Readers at Scottish Screen in Glasgow. Most people there had been reading for a while, I was the only newbie in the room, so I felt like an imposter. Still, that didn't seem to matter too much for the purposes of yesterday. Scottish Screen's development execs went through the background to what they do and how Readers fit into that process. There was a fascinating guest speaker, Stephen Cleary from Arista, who talked through his script reading and analysis process. Finally, we talked through the current set of criteria used by readers to report on scripts and screenplays for Scottish Screen. All in all, a fascinating day out and I learned a lot. Aces.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wrestling with an octopus

Trying to turn my one-page pitch for a 23-minute standalone drama into a scene by scene breakdown is proving elusive. I've got six characters and am using two sets. By definition, it means I can only cut from one interior to the other, or back again - there's nowhere else to go. That's fine, I choose to restrict myself to two sets as I wanted to use the limited number of settings to my advantage. The difficulty stems from the way I've interlinked all the storylines.

I chosen two lovers as a joint protagonist, but maybe I need to look at them as individuals. They've got different dramatic needs, so I suspect I need to treat them as individuals, not as a pair. Especially as they spend the bulk of the story apart from one another. Yep, that's what I'll have to do. I already know what happens in terms of plot points. What I need to do is storyline each character's actions individually, to chart their emotional journeys over the 23 minutes.

Phew. That's a weight off my mind. Been battling with methodology for several days, deliberately choosing to do other things instead of the task in hand. That's my subconscious telling me I'm not ready, that I haven't figured out the right way forward. I'm learning to trust that jangling alarm bell at the back of my mind. Sometimes I procrastinate out of laziness or temptation, but mostly I put things off because I know I'm not properly prepared.

This script is a little like wrestling with an octopus. Just when you get one tentacles under control, several more start flapping around. But I may just have talked out a method for this madness. Right. Off to have a bath, before heading into Glasgow for a briefing at Scottish Screen about being a script reader. You want to be professional? Act like one and look like one. Fake it till you make it, baby!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Always with the drama

Preparations are well under way for life after my screenwriting MA course, now I've handed in my final piece of assessed work. Got my 19th novel to write this autumn, full of hammers and war. [Well, mostly war. And probably very few hammers. If any. Perhaps none.] Got a try-out as a script reader for a film agency. If that goes well, I might get added to their list of regular readers. The money is what it is, but my main reason for entering this field is reading scripts for agencies has become a recognised step along the path to script editing.

Earlier this year I set myself six goals for the future, knowing the MA would run its course by September. Number five on the list is getting some work experience in TV drama storylining or script editing departments. Got close with one show but that didn't pan out. So I'm pursuing the script reading route as another way into this area. I've been reading a lot of scripts for fellow bloggers and students on my MA course, so I might as well make a little money for my efforts in this field.

Goal number six is securing a place on a script workshop or mentoring scheme. Guess I put a tick next to that, having been one of 50 writers chosen from more than 400 applicants for the TAPS continuing drama workshops. Got my 23 mintue standalone script to write for that, followed by a wait and see if I get through to the next stage of that scheme. Also keeping an eye on the Lighthouse's Craft of Writing TV Drama workshop, hoping it'll be re-run this winter.

Goal number four was to develop and write two more TV pilots as spec scripts. The final project for my MA course turned into the first of these, and my TAPS showcase script could well serve as another, but I'd like to develop at least one more pilot a year. There's no point having just one gleaming, polished script and series bible in the portfolio. You'd be sunk the moment somebody says 'we're already developing something like that, what else have you got?'

Goal number three is getting my first TV drama credit. That's a biggie, I suspect that's going to take a while. For example, I was invited by the production team at BBC Scotland soap River City to write sample scenes for the show, based on scene by scene breakdowns they supplied. I wasn't alone, there were dozens of writers doing this tryout at the time. That was a year ago [it was the first anniversary last weekend, in fact] and I haven't had a formal yes or no yet. But that's the reality of TV production. The show has to come first, and developing potential new writers is nearer the bottom of the priority list. So, goal three could take a while.

Goal number two is far more attainable, in my humble opinion - getting another radio play commissioned. I've been in discussioned with a friendly producer at the BBC, got my plot in hand, just need to clear a week in my schedule to write some sample scenes to demonstrate the lead character's voice. A fuller synopsis showing how I would tell the story with a limited number of actors is also needed. Then it will be in the hand of others for a decision, as is the way of such things. But I've plenty of other ideas up my sleeve if this one doesn't fly.

My foremost goal for the next two years? Getting an agent. Securing representation is no guarantee of anything, except you'll see less than 100% of any future payments that go through their office. Agents don't get writers work, but they can open some doors that would otherwise be closed. What happens next is up to you, the quality of your writing and how you comport yourself. [Comport, what a wonderful word.]

Getting an agent will require an organised and methodical campaign, so that's a job I'm saving until after I've written my TAPS piece. Besides, I'll know them how Danny's Toys fared in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. It's in the finals already, that looks good on a letter or CV. If by some miracle it goes further, I'd like to have that information as ammunition for my efforts to get an agent.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

And now, the end is near...

Have now submitted my final piece of work for the MA screenwriting course, a self reflexive report upon the development process of my major project. Gave it a polish this morning, submitted the pdf electronically and drove two hard copies into Edinburgh. All that remains of the course is a final afternoon session on September 14th, getting my mark back for my major project and - hopefully - the graduation ceremony in November. Well, all that and the fact I'm still paying for the course. The last chunk of tuition fee should leave my bank account around October 12th, after which I'll have a little more spending money to my name.

Picked up the latest issue of Death Ray. It features a Deep Thought piece written by me appreciating the works of author John Wyndham, an overview of crazed HBO series John From Cincinatti and reviews of the first three episodes of SciFi channel series Eureka. Also got fresh supplies of printer paper and a metal cage to help me keep control of the many pens roaming my desk.

Winter draws on [I wish I'd worn mine]

Summer is gone. History. Over. On the plus side, that means the sun will soon get low enough on the horizon that it's not blinding me for several hours a day while I write. On the negative side, it means getting up in darkness and what feels like living in darkness for several months. Things are getting colder, too. Time to swap one set of slob shoes [Converse All-Stars] for another [Caterpillar Walking Machines]. Tou didn't think I wore winklepickers all year round, did you? Even my feet need a little variety in their cladding.

Sitemeter registered the 75,000th visitor to this blog yesterday. George W Bush has 500 [and change] days left in office. Those two facts are utterly unconnected, by the way. The new network TV season is almost upon America. I'm intrigued by new police procedural K-Ville [launching Septmber 17], but the juice starts following a week later. There's the triple header of Chuck, season two of Heroes and Journeyman on September 24 for all you genre freaks. Not so fussed by Reaper a day later, though it's gotten some buzz. Bionic Woman on September 26, and Moonlight two days later.

Pushing Daisies starts raising the dead on October 3, but is it too quirky for a mass market audience? And my favourite show of last season, the superlative Friday Night Lights, returns the first week of October. Can't wait. My DVD boxes set of the first season is on its way across the Atlantic now. 22 episodes for just $30, or only $20 if you order it from I can't stress how good this show is. Of course, that's no guarantee it'll be to your taste. But the pilot perfectly encapsulates everything that's great about FNL. If you don't like that, you won't like the rest. Me, I was hooked but good.

On the work front I'm delving into the backstories of my six characters for the TAPS showcase script. One lesson I learned from my MA course final project was getting to know my characters first, before imposing plot points and story beats on them. Try to find the voice of my characters, their dramatic needs, the essence of their personality in good times and when put under pressure.

For example, I've got a gay cafe owner called Malcolm. He's 45, so he was born in 1962. That means he was actively seeking a partner during the 1980s, when AIDS became a massive issue for gay men. What effect did that have upon him? How many of his friends did he see die from the disease? How easy does he find it to trust other people, especially his new lover Bryce?

By comparison, Bryce is only 27, born in 1980. He didn't become sexually active until the 1990s, when safe sex was the norm. So why is he living with a man old enough to be his father? What's the attraction for Bryce in an overweight, over the hill guy like Malcolm? [That's Malcolm's own description, not mine - the character's already talking in my head, making comments and asides.]

So I'm working on that, and finishing my absolute, final, last ever piece of coursework for my MA in screenwriting. It's a self reflective essay, looking back over the development and writing process of my major project. Some people may find this sort of thing problematic to write, but I had enough years as a journalist and feature writer to bibble away at a keyboard while thinking out loud. Should finish that today, leaving me a clear run at the TAPS script. Onwards.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

If Star Wars was more like The Simpsons...

Christopher Walken cooks chicken. With pears.

Write what you know = betrayal of imagination

I've probably ranted about this before, so you'll have to forgive me if seems like repetition, but one comment at the TAPS continuing drama workshop over the weekend is still rankling. One of the speakers suggested that emerging scribes should concentrate on writing what they know. That you shouldn't write a hostage story, for example, unless you've been held hostage. The speaker in question was trying to be helpful and in all other respects seemed an intelligent, passionate individual committed to making TV drama as good as it can be.

But I couldn't disagree with them more when it comes to only writing what you know. To me that's the ultimate betrayal of imagination, the worst kind of advice for people trying to find their way as creative individuals, to find their unique voice as writers. Let's face it, if you only write what you know, we would only ever read stories about the lives and experiences of writers. Surely we can be allowed to imagine? Yes, writing should have emotional truth at its heart.

But if you apply the write what you know philosophy, you straitjacket the writer. I've never been to space, so I can't write science fiction. I've never fired a gun, I've never murdered anyone, so that's crime gone as a genre. I've never had children, so I can never write about being a parent. I've never been a woman, or Jewish, or a soldier, or black, or Asian, or Oriental. I've never been to the future, I wasn't alive before the twentieth century.

I've never been to Japan or Pearl Harbour or San Francisco. I've never travelled through space and time, never beaten a person to death with my fists, never staked a vampire through the heart. If I'd only ever written when I knew, I wouldn't have a career. Wouldn't have 18 novels published, or a radio play broadcast.

So please, if somebody tells you only write what you know, ask them what they've written. Had they experienced everything they've written about? If so, they've lived one hell of a life or else they don't practise what they preach. Write what you know? No thanks. I'd like to use what talents and skills I've got to write something I didn't know I could. I like to imagine, as well as know.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Back from TAPS Continuing Drama Workshop

Spent Friday through Sunday in Cardiff for the TAPS [Training and Performence Showcase] continuing drama workshop. This was the Nations version, for emerging writers based in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but we had some English scribes as well, so it was an interesting mix of accents and voices. In advance of the workshop we had to write a one-page synopsis for a standalone 23-minute drama, featuring up to six characters. Sounds easy, right? Yes and no. All the scenes had to be interiors and had to be filmed on sets from the ITV soap Emmerdale.

Friday kicked off with registration, followed by a one-to-one session with a professional script editor, working through our synopsis. I was assigned to Alys Llywelyn-Hughes, who was extremely helpful. She felt I might be overloading my 23 minutes with material, and it wasn't clear whose story I was writing. We debated the merits of having one character as the protagonist, before settling on two other characters as a joint protagonist. Good stuff, and exactly the sort of feedback I was hoping to get from the workshop. A great start. Friday concluded with a panel session of the state of UK TV drama, particularly opportunities in Wales, followed by a welcome drink and handfuls of homework to read.

Saturday started with a session of the business of TV drama, hammering home a few truths. But the day was largely given over to sessions with veteran writer Bill Lyons, the self-proclaimed grumpy old man of soap. He took us through the complete life cycle of an Emmerdale episode he'd written. Then we were given an hour to write a 90 second scene for insertion into that episode. There were tight parameters on what sets and characters could be used, to simulate the experience of writers asked to provide fill-ins when an episode runs short. Finally, we were given more homework for Saturday night: material from the BBC daytime medical drama Doctors to read, and a 30-second pitch to prepare for the last day.

Sunday saw the 25 writers divided into two groups. My first 90 minutes were in the group with script editor Diane Culverhouse and Alys Llywelyn-Hughes, analysing a particular episode of Doctors and talking about the role of script editors. The rest of the morning was spent with Bill Lyons and Peter Edwards of ITV Wales supervising several actors playing out the scenes we'd written the previous night. Not all the scenes got acted, so I was happy to see mine up on its feet. It started well but ran out of gas towards the end. Still, a fascinating exercise in speed writing.

The afternoon was spent presenting pitches and fielding questions from Peter Edwards, Bill Lyons and TAPS executive director Jill Jame. Some were stunningly good, others not so much. Mine got an intentional laugh, so I took that as a good sign. I also got some telling questions from the panel about the tone of my piece, so that's something I'll have to keep an eye on when I write my script. All those on the workshop now have 17 days to write our 23-minute standalone dramas. The best ten will be chosen for mentoring by a script editor, before second drafts are written. Finally, the two best will be filmed by a professional in late November as showcase pieces with professional actors performing the scripts.

All in all, it was a fascinating weekend and I learned a lot. The exercises in speed writing and pitching pushed me out of my usual comfort zone, as will the September 20th deadline for submission of my standalone script. The workshop certainly hasn't dampened my urge to write continuing drama. A couple of people I spoke to felt it had pushed them the other way, but that's often just as useful. Better to discover in a weekend you don't want to do something than waste months chasing after a goal without realising you don't wish to attain it. Right, off to work on my five year plan and delve into my characters for the 23-minuter.