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Posted by admin  /   November 14, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE SCRIPTS – A RESPONSE

Hi There,

This week, a few thoughts about / responses to the scripts I’ve been reading for the last few weeks for the C4 screenwriting course. As ever, it’s been a fascinating, mentally stimulating, exciting and exhausting process. A huge thank you to all of you who have submitted. I appreciate the huge amount of sweat and time that has gone into these scripts and it’s an absolute privilege to be able to read so many new, exciting, original scripts – and frustrating that we are only able to offer 12 places on the 2020 course.

I’m going to write further about this in the coming weeks – in particular about the qualities that stand out in the scripts we short-list for writer interviews. But before that, this week I’m focusing on some broader observations, mainly on some of the pitfalls to avoid – so apologies if this comes across as a little negative – my further thoughts will be more positive!

One of the things that has struck me is just how few of the submitted scripts are based on real stories – especially compared to what is made, and the shows / films I’ve seen in the past few weeks. And not just scripts based on true stories, but scripts directly focusing on specific societal and political issues in contemporary British life. As I spend the last few weeks reading the scripts I also have an eye on the news – eg the committee questioning Mark Zuckerberg, on Brexit in all its lies and underlying political agendas, on the death of 39 people in a lorry container and the circumstances that enable this to happen – and on the anger, frustration, dismay I feel about all these events – over 1m. people congregating in central London to convey their feelings about Brexit, Greta Thunburg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the challenges of the climate emergency and the ever-widening scale of global inequality. Compared to films and plays I’ve enjoyed recently, there are very few scripts that directly address these sorts of contemporary issues and stories. For instance, one of the best stage plays I have seen recently is A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON – about the state-sponsored murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London; and I’m greatly looking forward to the BBC / Dancing Ledge productions 3 part serial, SALISBURY, about the circumstances surrounding the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. It seems to me that these are not only stories that have real ‘public interest’ – but they are also extraordinary and inherently dramatic. Other shows I’ve enjoyed recently that that have been inspired by real events – OFFICIAL SECRETS – or simply just tap into the zeitgeist  – The POLITICIAN, GREED. So many of the submitted stories are about lower-key domestic situations and relationships. However well written, with too many of these I don’t know what they’re ultimately about, why the writer thinks they will be important or resonant for an audience.

One of your aims as new writers should be to tell stories that are going to make a splash, stand out, challenge the status quo and accepted wisdoms and provoke debate and controversy. And now at the start of your career when you’re not writing under commission, when you’re not having to predict broadcaster taste is when you can be doing it. Embrace the freedom of being able to write whatever you want to and aim high. Think big, tell that story that is going to mark you out as brave, different and original. The best stories resonate with contemporary issues, tap into what is important and scary today.

Some other thoughts / observations –

Find a clear, simple, personal, emotional connection to your own work

There aren’t enough scripts that I start reading and think – wow, what a great, fascinating, dramatic idea. Too many of the ideas feel too small.

You have to hook the reader straight into your story ON PAGE 1. Your page one has to be brilliant. The aim of your first page is to make an impact, to grab the attention of the reader. You need to pull us into your story instantly.

The sequence in which people wake up in the morning and we see them go through their waking up / showering / breakfast / leaving the house routine becomes over-familiar when you read a lot of scripts. Think very hard about the dramatic and narrative purpose of these scenes – and whether you are bringing something unique and subversive to them. If you’re not, cut them and come into your story later.

The trope of starting your story with a ‘teaser’ that is dramatic and attention-grabbing but that is plucked from later in the story, then going back to days / hours / weeks before this event – is another very over-familiar trope. It is so for a reason – it can often work very effectively. BUT think long and hard before doing this – and make sure you’re not just doing it to compensate for a lack of drama in the real opening of your story.

Placing stories in a fictional, dystopian future sometimes takes the edge and urgency out of the story. If you want to tell a story about a compelling issue of today – set it in the recognisable present unless you have a really strong story-telling reason for not doing so. Near-future dystopias are another over-familiar story-telling trope; and feel too often like a way to dramatize the problems in the real world that detracts from the friction and immediacy you need.

Structure is about how stories escalate in intensity, about how every single scene advances the story – not enough of the scripts pay attention to these essential elements of story-telling. Story is about change. The story has to keep changing and moving forward – story is dynamic.

Something that is missing from too many scripts – believable warmth & affection between characters – we need this to enable us to empathise / engage with the characters and to help us understand what they have to lose.

The balance between directions and dialogue. Directions need to be written economically and dynamically. They need to convey visual action and movement. Don’t over-burden the reader with unnecessary information – just the information that really serves the story. Huge screeds of direction can be daunting for the reader. Don’t start directions with ‘We see…’ Directions should be active and economical. ‘We see’ is superfluous and weakens the dramatic force of the actions described.

Clarity of story-telling and writing is so important. OWN your story. Hold the reader’s hand through the story. Consider your audience / reader in the way you write / present your story.

Your story needs to be dramatic – ie it needs to have conflict, friction, be tense, intriguing, mysterious, intense, heightened… tackling big, emotive issues head-on

‘Interesting, even ‘fascinating’ are fine – but what we all really want from a story is ‘moving’ and ‘hilarious’. The response that counts is visceral not intellectual. There aren’t enough scripts that confront the emotion of life head-on, not enough scripts that risk sentimentality – and sentiment is part of life, part of story.

There is an emotional clarity and a simplicity to good writing.

What is the logline / one-line pitch of your project? It is vital that you keep thinking about and eventually – know – what this is – and that this single sentence is distinctive, compelling, dramatic and immediately engaging.

Story that shines a light on unfamiliar, unexpected worlds that are new to us stand out, ie aim to make your stories original and distinctive not generic or derivative

The most important decisions are made before you write anything down; and before you start writing the script. The subject matter – what this is about – is all-important.

I hope this is helpful. In a later newsletter I will look at the other side of the coin – the qualities that myself and the script readers found compelling in the short-listed scripts.

We should be getting in touch with those short-listed writers in the next week or so.

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 29th,

All the best




November 15th 2019


Posted by admin  /   October 31, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on SCREENWRITING STRATEGY

Hi There,

This week I’d like to share with you a very excellent thread that I came across on twitter by US screenwriter CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE (The Usual Suspects, Mission Impossible, The Tourist, etc). As I am working my way through the 1454 scripts we received for the 2020 Channel 4 screenwriting course (with the help of 7 script readers), knowing that however good the scripts are, we can only take on 12 writers, this advice seemed particularly relevant. It’s a brilliant piece of writing about how to empower yourself as a screenwriter.

‘I’m receiving a lot of questions from writers asking where to submit scripts or how to sell them. Others ask how to sign an agent, attach directors or producers, etc. You won’t like the answer, but here it is: You’re asking the wrong questions.

I spent seven years – AFTER winning an academy award – asking the same questions. My career stalled (and I still have scripts that no one will make despite subsequent commercial successes). In that time, I never stopped to realize that my own career didn’t start by blindly submitting scripts, nor did the careers of any of my writer friends. This is not to say it can’t happen, but the ODDS of just submitting your script and having it made are extremely slim.

It’s also empowering others to determine whether or not you’ll have a career. And while I would never discourage you from playing the lottery, I would strongly advise you not to make it your sole source of income.

“How do I sell my screenplay” is a question at the heart of the screenwriter’s mindset and is the essence of why writers are treated the way they are. We are trained to think that way. The system depends on our dependency.

The subtext of that question is “where do I go for permission to sign away my dream?” It also asks “what is the shortest route to my career?”

After twenty five years in the craft, I’ve learned the secret to making movies is making movies – starting with little movies no one will ever see. The secret to knowledge is doing and failing – often and painfully – and letting everyone see.

The secret to success is doing what you love, whether or not you’re being paid. The secret to a rewarding career in film (and many other fields) is focusing entirely on execution and not on result.

There are countless valid arguments against everything I have just said. They don’t change the fact that the lottery is a lottery.

One will say “I can’t direct.” There are only three answers: 1. Neither could I. Now I do. 2. Find a friend who can. 3. Keep playing the lottery.

One will say: “This is easy all for you to say. You have an established career.” There are only two replies: 1. This is how my career began. 2. Keep playing the lottery.

One will say: My script is too expensive to make on my own. There is only one reply: If this is your only idea, this may not be the right career for you. In any case, good luck playing the lottery.

Some will say: I can‘t find a friend who will direct and I don’t WANT to direct. I have news for all of you writers who like to say writing is where the process of filmmaking begins: Understanding the process of filmmaking is where real screenwriting begins. Why wait?

Some questions you should be asking: How do I gain experience making films? How do I become an invaluable part of the process? How do I learn to walk before I fly? And the answer is: make a film – alone or with friends – share your work – then do it again.

This guarantees NOTHING. But it’s what I know. And it’s better odds than the lottery. And there’s no waiting for permission. You are, in fact, living the dream. And if you think the dream relies on bigger budgets and a paycheck, brace yourself for profound unhappiness.

Of course, none of this stops you from still playing the lottery. Let’s say you do. And you win. Congratulations. What did winning teach you about your craft? How did you grow? How did it make you invaluable to the process? What foundation for a future did it provide?

What power did winning the lottery give you? Other than the power to play the lottery again?

Some will say: I’ve already made that movie. How do I take the next step? How do I find an agent? How do I get a studio to read my material? You won’t like the answer but here it is:

Do it again. Agents came to me when my friends and I had done all of the above. And they helped me more effectively when I helped them – by giving them something they could sell. And it’s infinitely harder to sell a screenplay than it is to sell one’s proven abilities.

Stop thinking about the business as something to “break into” and starting thinking of yourself as a business to be acquired. Your job is to create, improve and demonstrate your value. Ask yourself if the lottery is the best way to do this.

Your greatest cinematic heroes, whoever they are, all made their own luck. They were also never satisfied, they all suspected their peers had it better and were better, they never felt fulfilled or fully understood. At some point they all failed spectacularly.

And your heroes never, ever fully realized their dream. That is why they kept dreaming. That’s the best it’s ever going to be. And there is no place else to start except at the beginning.

I never set out to be a director. I certainly never set out to be an action director. I never expected to be where I am and EVERY critical choice I made to get here was counter-intuitive. I also still keep playing the lottery. And the lottery has still given me nothing.

This is my truth – learned the hard way. It may not be yours. I was asked and I have answered with what I know. Those of you with arguments and acrimony are wasting valuable time that could be spent on your future.

For those insisting solely on playing the lottery, I wish you all the luck in the world. For those of you ready to make their own luck, I wish you all the success you deserve.’

The second piece of advice I’d like to share with you this week is from another very successful and excellent US screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, taken from his BAFTA speech –

‘They’re selling you something and the world is built on this now…We’re starving, all of us and we’re killing each other and hating each other…because it’s all become marketing and we want to win, we’re lead to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning. So what’s to be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work, tell someone out there who is lost, who is not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time, it can’t help but be. But more importantly if you’re honest about who you are you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them help and it’s done so for me…give that to the world rather than selling something to the world. Try not to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do.’

And there is much more that is of real value in his speech –

Sharing these two screenwriters’ advice is a response to reading so many scripts in the last few weeks – and focusing my mind on what makes particular writers and their work stand out.

I (and this year’s script readers) will write more about this in the next few weeks.

Finally I want to share with you another excellent piece of writing – Guardian journalist Eva Wiseman’s article about the healing powers of a solo visit to a weekday cinema matinee – which reinforces for me the power and value of story and screenwriting. (Eva herself is a very talented screenwriter who was on the 2016 Channel 4 screenwriting course).

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 15th

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

November 1st 2019


Posted by admin  /   October 17, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2019 HIGHLIGHTS

Hi There,

Over the last couple of weeks I have been making my annual visit to the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL and have seen many extremely good films.

From a story telling POV it was quite inspiring to reflect on how different the 9 films I saw were in tone and subject matter; and it’s been a real education watching so many good films at the same time as reading so many scripts for the C4 course – seeing so many excellent, inspiring films has been a touchstone for the quality and originality we’re looking for in the 4screenwriting scripts.

On the way out of one of the films, CLEMENCY, I happened to be exiting next to Mike Leigh. Weirdly I’d walked into the TV room at home the evening before to find my wife watching NUTS IN MAY which she’d chanced upon on BBC iplayer. I wasn’t intending to watch but after a minute I was once again hooked and stayed for the rest of the film. Even though I’d seen it when it was first transmitted (a very long time ago!) and a few times since, I was still absolutely engrossed by its brilliantly uncomfortable comedy and by the wonderfully vivid characters played by Roger Sloman and Alison Steadman. It’s barely conceivable that Abigail in Abigail’s Party and Candace-Marie in Nuts In May are played by the same actor – they seem to have an entirely different physicality.

What really brings NUTS IN MAY to life is the colour of the characterisations – and the wonderful dynamics of the relationships.

It felt too much like fate for me not to button-hole Mike Leigh and come on like a slightly crazed fan-boy, tell him that I’d watched NUTS IN MAY the night before and on original TX and loved it just as much both times. ‘Oh that’s an old chestnut’ he said self-deprecatingly and in an effort to rid himself of this odd stranger.

But back to the LFF – CLEMENCY is a really powerful film about the black, female warden of a US prison who has to oversee state executions – and about the personal cost for her. The story is told simply but effectively and the film’s power is undeniable. There are a couple of sequences, seen from the POV of this lead character, that are almost unbearably intense.

GREED, written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, and starring Steve Coogan (leading a brilliant ensemble cast) is big, brash, vulgar and simplistic – and I absolutely loved it. It’s the film that at this particular time, I needed to see – a satirical critique of much that is sick about contemporary capitalist society. It’s thought-provoking, shocking – but also very funny – and has real flair as a piece of film-making and story-telling.

OFFICIAL SECRETS. Based on a true story, this is a detailed, minutely-observed and engrossing story about one woman’s act of conscience – and the ripples it causes (I’m trying to avoid spoilers so please excuse the vagueness!) Suffice to say, it’s an extraordinary story told with real skill and integrity.

One of the common themes of the Q&A’s that followed some of these films (one of the real pluses of seeing films at the LFF) was the difficulty in trying to raise funding for lower / mid-range budget films like GREED, OUR GIRLS, OFFICIAL SECRETS, HOPE GAP, etc. Both William Nicholson (writer/director of HOPE GAP) and OFFICIAL SECRETS producer Ged Doherty stressed how hard it is getting mid-range budget films like this made in the current market.

As Gavin Hood, director of OFFICIAL SECRETS said, ‘Audiences worldwide are going through a massive transformation’.

As an illustration of this – one of my favourite films this year was Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY. The film works brilliantly on the big screen – it feels cinematic but, like Baumbach’s previous and equally excellent film, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES, MARRIAGE STORY is a Netflix film.

And it seems extraordinary that Martin Scorsese’s already very well-received epic three hour film THE IRISHMAN is also a Netflix film.

One thing that stands out about the good films is the strength of the idea / premise/ story / agenda underlying them. When as a writer you’re thinking about developing new ideas, one of the things you absolutely have to do is really cut through, make a statement with your idea. There are so many producers and writers out there battling for commissions and funding, that the most basic requirement is that you believe passionately in your idea and can articulate that passion. Another of the striking things about the Q&A’s I’ve been to is how long some of these projects have been in development – ‘Our Ladies’ writer / director Michael Caton-Jones had the option on the book for 20 years before finally getting it made. Guardian journalist Martin Bright had been trying to get a film of Catherine Gun’s story (OFFICIAL SECRETS) made for ten years.

Another thing that struck me anew was just how many of the best projects come from another source – a true story, a novel, a newspaper article etc. The brilliant realisation of a true story was there to see in OFFICIAL SECRETS AND Jack Thorne’s THE AERONAUTS.

And other films – like CLEMENCY, GREED, MARRIAGE STORY, HOPE GAP – the latter two both apparently using very particular autobiographical elements – tapped into the zeitgeist or used true stories as an inspiration for their fictionalised versions.

OFFICIAL SECRETS is in many ways a straightforward political thriller. But like all of the best of these films, it has real assurance and consistency of tone. You know exactly where you are with it but it has real tension, momentum and an admirable attention to detail that gives you a real confidence in the story’s integrity (reinforced by what director Gavin Hood said in the Q&A afterwards about the level of research they did).

So many of the best films are under-pinned by a compelling, specific, but universal question that the audience asks of the story eg OFFICAL SECRETS – would I have had the courage to do what Catherine Gun did? A simple compelling dramatic question that is at the heart of your story.

MARRIAGE STORY. Perhaps my favourite of the 9 films I saw. Quite a familiar cinema story – it has many narrative similarities to KRAMER VS KRAMER – but it was nonetheless a delight. I loved the confidence and flair of the story telling, also the way it played with form / genre – from the brilliant extended voiceover montage sequence at the start that pulls you straight into the story – to the two Company / Sondheim songs at the end – when the film suddenly almost becomes a musical. I loved the unexpected detail of the story – the little, weird, surprising  details that made this feel real. I loved the messy lack of resolution to the story. And there were so many wonderful standout scenes – not least the long, climactic argument scene. This was an argument that felt real – painful and hurtful. I loved the emotional use of objects to elevate the story, eg the couples’ written positive statements about each other for their first meeting with a mediator, that popped up at key moments of the story. For my money Noah Baumbach gets better and better as screenwriter / director. MARRIAGE STORY comes to Netflix in December alongside THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. It’s really worth watching both several times to enjoy the screenwriting craft.


Last weekend saw the latest of my semi-regular 2 day London weekend screenwriting courses. These courses are limited to a maximum of 20 writers. It’s a very packed, quite intensive two days – but it’s always a delight for me to meet 20 fired-up, passionate dramatic writers and to hear their wonderful ideas – so many of the ideas they pitched are still reverberating in my brain. The mix of people I have on the courses is mind-boggling – on this particular course we had three lawyers, a female police officer from Newcastle, an actress based in LA, a Scottish historian, a hypnotherapist, a documentary film-maker, a TV drama development executive etc etc – and one of the things I try to engineer / encourage is that the writers spend a lot of time talking to and bouncing ideas off each other. Writing is difficult because it’s so solitary and I hope one of the things these courses do is encourage the writers who come on them to make new writing contacts that last – and to keep encouraging and motivating each other in the years that follow. (There are already plans initiated by the writers on this course to start a new writing group).

I’m now looking forward to the next of these courses in mid-November (already fully booked I’m afraid). And I will be organising more of these courses for early in 2020.

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 1st.

All the best




October 18th 2019


Posted by admin  /   October 03, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – KATE TRAILL

Hi There,

This week a massive thank you to excellent screenwriter KATE TRAILL for her wonderfully entertaining and insightful answers to my 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS.

But before that, I would like to thank you for the wonderful and overwhelming response to what Kat Roberts and I wrote in the last newsletter. I have never received so many emails in reply to one of my newsletters and especially so many heartfelt and brilliantly articulated replies. So many in fact that they presented me with something of a dilemma because there was enough in the responses for about 5 newsletters. So what I have done is written them up as a 2nd newsletter for this week for you to read if you’d like at your leisure – I’m always wary of over-burdening you with too much material! But if the subject of boarding schools, private education and the dysfunction and inequalities that it causes in the UK interests you, then there is definitely something for you here!

Former journalist Kate Traill is a Screenwriting MA graduate of LCC and is represented by Julie Press at Kitson Press Associates. She has a Young Adult drama series in development at Bryncoed Productions and is currently developing several TV drama scripts. 

 1. Why do you write?

I write because it quiets the stories in my head, momentarily at least! I write because it’s something I’ve always done – for joy as a child, for money as a journalist and now for hope and passion as a screenwriter (… and money again, I hope – she adds quickly).

I love stories. I love telling stories, I love re-hashing and re-working stories and I love the reactions I get from stories. On the flip side I hate writing crap, which I often do – I always think I can and should and must write better. When I write something really good I can almost taste it. I grew up as the family storyteller and it’s a part of my identity – I write because it’s me.

2. A book you’ve enjoyed that you’d like to tell us about.

Most of the books I love have already been adapted for film or TV, so I’ll choose one from my childhood that I’d love to see re-imagined for the screen (written by me, of course 😉 !)

WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech is the story of a young girl – Salamanca Tree Hiddle (ace name) – making a road trip across America with her grandparents to try and make sense of the disappearance of her depressed, runaway mother. It’s a coming-of-age mystery story that deals with raw, delicate family issues and death, and is incredibly moving.

It was the first book that really captured me as a tween, and I can see it re-imagined as an adapted screenplay for modern day, set in the UK with a struggling, breadline family.

I also fell in love with IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD by Genki Kawamura. A beautiful, modern-day fairytale/horror about a dying man’s pact with the Devil and what it really means to lose the things we love.

3. The best TV / film (screenplay) of the last year and why.

Fleabag, Fleabag, Fleabag. Forever and ever, amen. If she’s off the table, then I loved DERRY GIRLS – specifically the final episode of Series One and its unexpected tear-jerker of an ending. The language, references and music also chimed with my teenage years (The Cranberries!) so it made you feel like one of the gang. Not as nuanced and cleverly intertwined as Fleabag but re-watch-worthy nonetheless. I also really enjoyed PURE and THE BISEXUAL. Again, little shows with kooky characters that either tapped into universal experiences or laced humanity into the unfamiliar. Film-wise, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME crept into my thoughts for months afterwards. Watching it felt like witnessing something truly special. US streaming TV-wise, HANNA had me gripped from the off.

4, 5. Which (2) writers / scripts inspire you and why?

Not a screenwriter but author DBC Pierre. I fell in love with VERNON GOD LITTLE fifteen years ago and have re-read it countless times. His world-building is phenomenal and his characters – though so extreme and grotesque almost to the point of caricature – feel alive and vital, if tragic. His subsequent novels never quite achieved the level of success of VGL but I still think about LIGHTS OUT IN WONDERLAND every now and again, so it obviously planted something in my brain. Both would make amazing film/limited series adaptations.

The most freeing, beautiful and joyful script that fills me with inspiration and drive to write from the heart is Richard O’Brien’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. It’s one of those bizarre, magical and ridiculous concepts that you could never explain to anyone in a pitch or as an idea… it just had to be written in order to exist, without censor or inhibition.

Phoebe-Waller Bridge is just incredible – re-watching FLEABAG S2 you notice that every tragic or comedic beat had already been planted in earlier eps (Clare’s hair, the fox, the Priest’s history with alcohol) – it was all there, quietly quilting itself together and leading up to the inevitable conclusion. Utterly brilliant.

6. What are the best internet resources / podcasts for writers?

I have just received my copy of Stephen Jeffreys’ book so I look forward to reading that. I feel rather lost in giving advice on podcasts and internet resources so I will be mining recommendations from others!

7. What are the best books for screenwriters?

CREATING THE SERIES and its predecessor WRITING THE PILOT by William Rabkin. Both are quite flimsy, and oddly formatted to the point of looking self-published, but boy are they brilliant for getting into the nooks and crannies of what it is you’re trying to create with a project and why. They also reference many fantastic and successful shows and look at how they grabbed their audiences the way they did. Can’t recommend these enough.

RELEASE THE BATS: WRITING YOUR WAY OUT OF IT by DBC Pierre is part biography/part guide to fiction writing (novels but can also apply to screenwriting). It’s kooky and funny and filled with lessons that Pierre has learnt the hard way – honest and inspirational.

8,9. 2 pieces of advice for writers

You are not your first draft! Get it out, get it messy, get it over with.

Go for long walks and runs. By doing something else and something active I find plot solutions, gorgeous dialogue and entire scenes will simply wander into my head, whereas sitting in front of screen sends me blank.

10. When and where do you write?

I type it all out on a laptop either on the sofa or in bed during the day (the shame! Never at the desk I insisted I absolutely must have), but really I write on the go – walking the dog, driving the kids to school, in the bath. Write in your head, then type it out.

Very disappointingly, I’ve discovered without doubt that I cannot write whilst drunk.

The next newsletter will be on Friday October 18th,

All the best



Oct 4th 2019


Posted by admin  /   October 03, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on POSH! – YOUR RESPONSES


This is an addition to my Oct 4th 2019 newsletter – the pick of the responses to my POSH! Newsletter about boarding schools, private education etc of Sept 20th 2019.

So many fascinating, thoughtful, disarmingly truthful and constructive responses here to what is clearly a subject that means a lot to a lot of people. Thank you all very much for your generosity in responding and for allowing me to share your responses…

This is great, thanks. Nice to have you veering off topic – and sorry to hear about your experiences at Boarding School.

 I went at 15, a shock to the system to suddenly be with all these kids who had been away since 7… It was like they were speaking a language I did not understand – utterly bewildering. I never understood it.

 Thanks also for the tip about Stiff Upper Lip – I will read it. Alex Renton is an interesting commentator. I read Wounded Leaders years ago – it’s very interesting.

There seems to be something bubbling away in all of this thinking – something like hope, so here’s hoping that Boris is the comic villain ending. You know what they say about studios if they start satirising a genre…

That said, my day a week job is with people who send their kids away to school as soon as possible. One of them was delighted as he could go to the Maldives outside of his holiday, but of course I am told the schools are “lovely and caring now, nothing like he had to go through” when he was sent away to school. The children are still the “lucky” ones…


I find it hard to be sympathetic to anyone whose school listing instantly puts their CV to the top of most piles, and whose old school chums networking rank solely in the professional class A. I understand the down, even the dark side of being sent away to school, but having a fucked-up psyche is a damn sight easier to deal with, with those kind of privileges, than without. Or is it? There’s a screenplay in this?!!


I’m obsessed with this topic. Two observations. 

One. I’m Irish. I’ve been living in London for about 14 years. My first rented room was in Balham (before it was as gentrified as it is now). I was renting in an ex-council flat, on an estate that was still overwhelming council owned. It had a lot of problems that were very visible. But right across the road were lovely 4-5 bedroom detached houses owned by division two footballers and the like. What I could not – and can not to this day – understand was that the lads causing havoc on my side of the road would never, ever cross over to the other side of the road. There was an invisible marker down the centre of the street and everyone policed themselves. That internalising of class values is extraordinary. And very British. Mostly people don’t need to be told to stay in their lane.  

Two. I freelance as an advertising copywriter. And in all my years of working in advertising agencies I have never, ever met a copywriter who wasn’t white. Heavily favouring public school boys. Advertising is one of those sectors (like law, journalism, etc.) that is overwhelmingly ran by those from the private school system. It’s telling that when a group people who have self-selected themselves as the ‘brightest and best’ are asked to hire writers that they only higher a certain type. Because public school values have shaped what competency looks like, sounds like and behaves like. It’s a posh, ‘clever’, ‘literate’ white man. With the usual toxic ‘charming’, understated superiority. Invariably, advertising people see themselves as daring, creative, bold – people who challenge the status quo. Not people who ‘say in their lane’. And yet. 

I’d be amazed if the other groups of the ‘brightest and best’ that run theatre and TV don’t also have this archetype in their unconscious when they’re hiring writers. I’d be amazed if they don’t also stay in their lane. 


So much to say in response to your email and I’m sure others will feel the same.

First, congratulations on having managed to become an very empathetic person (as shown in your work) with a happy family despite your early experiences! I know others who were traumatised by their time at boarding school and there are survivors’ support groups.

I have a different perspective as a woman educated in state schools (grammar school then FE College) who went to Oxford. Of course I don’t fit the Oxbridge/Brideshead Revisited stereotype and people are often surprised that I went to Oxford, especially as I still have a bit of a northern accent. Needless to say I met a lot of former public schoolboys there (mainly men, one or two women) and am very familiar with the mindset. Two of my exes were from public schools though not boarders, which makes a big difference emotionally. Still, the mindset is the same. Class differences were, I think, a factor in our break-ups – our families were certainly not compatible. I wrote a poem about one break-up in which this features.

Your description of your car journey to school sounds like an opening scene. Just saying…

On the political front, the howling emotional void is apparent, as is the lack of understanding of ordinary people’s lives and how it feels to live on limited income. It concerns me that not only the politicians but also civil servants are drawn from this class, and I do feel that class divisions were a large factor in the Brexit vote.  We haven’t solved it yet. Here’s to some solutions, which may include more class-based drama to get the conversations going.

PS Do you know Hugo Williams’ poems about boarding school? He was at Eton. One of my favourites is this very short poem, Lights Out.

Lights Out

We’re allowed to talk for ten minutes

about what has happened during the day,

then we have to go to sleep.

It doesn’t matter what we dream about.

I have German friend who teaches English in Germany and she uses it as teaching material to explain to the children what schools are like in England.

Look for Hugo Williams ‘Collected Poems’.


Thanks for this, it was a brave move and one I think is entirely justified given that today is hopefully the largest protest yet against climate change. Everything is connected. Brexit will bring climate annihilation, death to the NHS, the end of workers’ rights. I’ve just finished reading Vivienne Westwood’s diaries (“Get a Life!”) in which she repeatedly spells out the message of the need for climate revolution, that politicians are criminals and that we can no longer be complacent and let them get away with it. Your examination of the public school mentality ties in with this, it’s simply not possible to vote for policies that are so anti-human, anti-environment, pro-corporation unless you are a deeply damaged individual, who considers profit and power to be the only worthwhile goals. Let’s not forget the disproportionate number of both millionaires and criminal records within the Houses of Parliament – hardly representative of the population at large! Someone with the level of privilege that Boris Johnson has been raised with has absolutely no awareness of what life is like for the majority of UK citizens, and how badly the cuts have affected everyone, but the most vulnerable in particular. I could rant on and on about disability rights, the horrendous things happening in schools, how the removal of Legal Aid is allowing abusers to use the Family Court system as a further tool of abuse… but I’m sure you know all this already. I’ve reached a level where I’m angry with anyone who votes Conservative, for the damage they’re causing to this country; you have to be spectacularly ignorant, or spectacularly selfish to continue to vote for them.

Interestingly Finland have outlawed private schools, and have one of the best education systems in the world. Since watching a short video about it on YouTube, I’ve often wondered whether such a thing would be possible in the UK, and how such a policy would transform our society. One of Westwood’s principles is the need for Culture rather than consumption – I also believe that as artists/writers we need to take responsibility as to whether the work we’re creating is helping/hindering the problems that society is facing, are we merely portraying sexism, racism, elitism, capitalism etc, or are we trying to transform and transcend them? 

Also, please don’t feel shame for your own education, you had no control over it. The important thing is to have questioned it and reached your own conclusions, and to have decided not to blindly continue with tradition. I’m a working class kid who went to private school (not boarding) through the now discontinued assisted place scheme, essentially a poor scholarship kid (seriously, even my underwear was secondhand!)  surrounded by the privileged. It’s meant I’ve seen both sides of the fence, and interestingly now find it difficult to fit in anywhere. I think Finland have the right idea.

I’ll shut up now, but again, thanks for having the honesty and bravery to put this out. I attended your London weekend course several years ago, sadly personal circumstances have since put my writing on hold for the past few years. I’m hoping to get back to it, but age seems to count against you in TV/film/theatre rather than bringing the bonus of wisdom and experience!


Like you I come from that life – private school not boarding school, though many of my friends/relations did the boarding school / Oxbridge route and much as I love them, I wouldn’t trust a country to them.

It’s a big issue which I think stories are key to illuminating. In my opinion they get away with it because of the weight of centuries of feudal rule, institutions and traditions which are well past their sell by date. And I think to overcome this, stories are the way forward to break the unspoken narrative with ideas that challenge it.

Anyway, my rant is over too now – but its heartening to find some agreement, and yes I’m very strongly in agreement.


Thanks for the newsletter. It made for very interesting reading, and indeed I’m responding more or less in a stream of consciousness, as my thoughts are very confused. All I can say is, thanks a bundle for distracting me from the musical I’m desperately trying to write. Couldn’t leave it alone, though – clearly a problem you share.

I feel a great deal of ambiguity on this subject, because on the one hand I think you and certain others are making vast sweeping generalisations about a group of people who, if they weren’t (predominantly) “posh” you wouldn’t dare speak of with such absence of qualification and nuance. Are ALL people who went to boarding school emotional cripples (my phrase, not yours, but I think it’s the point you’re making)? That surely can’t be so. You wouldn’t be pilloried for saying it to the world, though. The phrase “fish in a barrel” comes to mind.

And yet, I can’t help thinking that you’re not far wrong, either. In contrast to yourself, I was lucky enough just to be a dayboy at a boarding school, but that, requiring me to be there (at the “big school”, at least) for 12 hours a day, was more than enough. 

Without question I was unhappy, but maybe I’d’ve been equally unhappy at a state school – I’m pretty sure I’d’ve got more of  the shit kicked out of me. 

The point, of course, is that nobody should get any shit kicked out of them at any school, and that speaks to the need not just to rein in the automatic privilege afforded private school people (yes, and Oxbridge too, damn right), but also to raise state school standards in every respect. I’ve oft dreamed of a situation where state education had so much investment in terms of money, security (crucial) and support both from government and from parents that in time the private schools would wither on the vine and beg to be absorbed into the state system. Unfortunately there seems no chance of that happening soon – here in Brighton, the local toff school is expanding in every direction; they never stop building – a sign, I assume, that they’re on the up and up and up and up. The same is  true of Eastbourne College, where I served my time.

There seems, for all our mystification, to be no end to the aspiration for the services of these institutions – sigh – and indeed, I wonder, if in some fantasy world money was no object for anyone, whether the take-up would be limited to the aristocracy and the upper middle classes?

Your quote from Evelyn Waugh is very much on the money, and yet that bit about the “gay intimacy of the slums”,  I like to think that was meant ironically (it is after all a very funny book, and his humour was not designed for puritans). I’m pretty sure that there were plenty who would gladly have swapped the gay intimacy of the slums for boarding school (or even prison). There are those, as you will know, who’d complain that you and I seek to deny for others the advantages that we had as kids – though I would say in response (as per the para above) that, on the contrary, I want to see those privileges extended to every child in the country. 

Vote for me!

Coming back to the thing about Curtis and Johnson, another useful study is Stephen Fry. He noted in his autobiography that he was not at all bothered about being sent away to boarding school at a very young age – I’m paraphrasing from long-distance memory, but I do recall he made a point of saying that. Of course, he may have said a lot more since about whether he thinks that separation from his parents contributed to the severe mental health problems he’s endured in adulthood. I don’t know – though I do know that plenty of people without a boarding school background suffer mental health problems. And yet I also know that I think it a really bad idea, in principle, to send your kids away from home. I ponder why people bother having kids, if they can’t wait to get them off their hands. There again (key phrase here), I don’t think my dad was that bothered about being sent away from home; I think what bothered him to the end of his days was the emotional coldness that existed in his home long before that ever happened. Again the question: why did my grandparents bother having kids? Perhaps cos it was what you did if you got married – and, if you could afford it, what you did was put them in the hands of a nanny for several years and then send them off to boarding school. 

I do, for sure, think it sick and twisted to send your kids away – and, had I any of my own, I wouldn’t be wasting my money getting them out of my sight for years on end. But instead I’d probably devote myself to the middle-class sport of trying to gerrymander my kids into an upmarket state school. 

I do, in the final analysis, think that at the very least, IF you’re gonna send your kids away, you should be legally prohibited from doing it at primary school level. Whether it should be allowed at all is perhaps a bigger issue. 

In any case, I could go on about this all day. I won’t, cos I’ve got stuff to do and so have you.

Thanks for the thought food, anyway.


Hi Philip – hope you’re well. I too have long been interested in how public/private schools affect people, and how they then continue to act in life. I went to a fairly tough comprehensive, but my mum and dad stopped my pocket money at 13 as I was then legally able to work (that always sounds more brutal than it was!). I got a paper round, but also worked every weekend, and sometimes after school at Winchester College. I cleaned the boys’ dorms, took bread, Marmite etc. and hot drinks to them in their studies (bizarrely called ’toys’), laid tables, cleaned windows, swept the corridors, cleaned the loos, peeled vegetables for their dinner and served them from the dining hall hatch and in the dining hall.

It was quite a strange experience as I was the same age as most of them, yet I was serving them. This made for an odd relationship with the boys, who I mostly felt sorry for, despite them being in a more privileged position. Some of them were absolutely vile to deal with, and others seems to view me with something close to awe! (no idea why). It also gave me quite a chip on my shoulder that I carried around for many years – but now I can see (obviously) that the boys had no choice in whether they went there or not.

I remember the annual cricket match vs. Eton – I had to do extra cleaning, and was told in no uncertain terms to keep out of the way when the Eton boys and parents arrived as I wasn’t to be seen by anyone. I had to resist the urge to streak across the pitch.

It was always quite telling when the boys came into town on their afternoon of freedom. They were easy to spot, and used to wear an approximation of what me and my friends would wear as we hung around up to no good. We used to laugh at them – but all the girls went for them anyway (not that that bothered me).

I sometimes wish I’d gone to Winchester College like them as I think they were imbued with a confidence that meant they felt they could do anything in life. I think that’s such an amazing gift to give a child. I didn’t ever have that kind of encouragement, and I can see the effects in the time it took me to give myself ‘permission’ to write and the self-doubt I still have.

I still think that the public school boys currently running us are vile, but I think they have a choice in how they act, and for them I suspect it’s the easiest option for them to continue in life thinking they’re ’special’. 

The video of Crispin Odey guffawing away as he wanks on about ’the morning has gold in its mouth’ after making multi-millions from Brexit makes me want to projectile vomit.


This was a really interesting read. It’s so funny you raise the issue of boarding schools because they’re so alien to a person like me – in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union as a whole – boarding schools were not “a thing”. In fact the only rare instance in which a child would be sent to a “boarding school” or an “away from home school” is if that child was perhaps mentally handicapped or required special medical attention (even in such instance if you send your kid to a boarding school it was considered that you basically abandoned your child). I’m not arguing for or against boarding schools at all of course. It’s just something that is very culturally specific I think. But I do wonder why (as you put it) you’d voluntarily separate yourself from your kids. 

It’s so interesting that a boarding school is considered to be a superior form of education in some elite circles in the UK. I’m certain that’s why your parents probably sent you to Harrow – they were just doing the best they could for you and they thought it would give you a better start in life. 

Anyway v interesting and thanks for sharing! I thought this article was also quite informative


Thanks for your email – I always enjoy these updates but today’s made me stop in my tracks. 

I completely agree with your sentiments & have always found it such an odd peculiarity of the British upper classes – sanctioned child abuse dressed up as privilege. I recently wrote a project where the second episode is told from the point of view of a powerful man who abuses a younger woman. It was a stretch for me to fully inhabit the mindset of someone who feels so entitled that they can justify taking whatever they please from someone so much more vulnerable. I read a lot of books to help; including books by people who had abused. One piece of the jigsaw puzzle that really helped however, was understanding the trauma this character


  suffered from being sent away to boarding school age 7 and the necessity of learning to shut off emotion and empathy in those formative years that had since become an unconscious habit. Heartbreaking. 


Thanks so much for this, I found it really interesting to read and it’s a topic I’m most interested in. It reminded me to read stiff upper lip, which I bought a while ago and is on my ‘waiting to read’ list. 

In my family, my grandmother was sent to a kind of boarding school (it was actually an institution for children without fathers, after her father died in what must have been the 1930’s) This left a legacy which I’ve explored a lot in therapy – my grandmother just didn’t have any warmth or empathy and my mother became an alcoholic, I think as a direct result really of the terrible parenting, and in turn was a dreadful parent to me. 

When I had children I was determined to break the cycle and that was when I really started to look into and to try to understand what had happened in the past and learn a bit about child development. 

I feel very strongly that boarding school is a bad idea. My own children are teens now and need that daily opportunity to vent things and to be heard and also to have a hug. 


I just wanted to say thank you for writing this week’s newsletter, it’s a fascinating read and well worth going off topic for. I’ve long been of the opinion that the argument that private education is damaging to the privately educated themselves is the missing link in this discussion.

I only know a handful of privately educated people, having gone to state school myself, but there is a pattern I’ve noticed nevertheless that I think may well be true more widely. Of the four privately educated people I’ve known well (most of whom I met whilst doing my PhD) three of them are now in low-skilled, minimum wage work, and all three of them have a very low opinion about their usefulness to society and their chances of succeeding in more competitive fields.

I think they suffered a massive blow to their confidence when they left the private school bubble and discovered how much of what they’d been told wasn’t true: that they’re not necessarily smarter or better educated than the rest of the country, it’s just that they’d been given opportunities that most people won’t ever be given. I think the shock of finding that out damaged their self-esteem quite profoundly. The sad thing is that, in the case of my friends at least, they’re all wonderful, talented people with a lot to offer, but are now very sceptical and cynical about their talents.

I think giving vastly greater opportunities to a small number of kids at the expense of others is obviously bad for the kids who don’t get the opportunities. But for the kids who do manage to maintain their empathy through the experience, discovering that you’re one of the ones who has benefited unfairly would also be very damaging.

I was sorry to hear you feel “ashamed to admit” you went to boarding school. This might sound a bit trite coming from a complete stranger, but none of us are responsible for the choices our parents made for us. It was beyond your control and nothing to be ashamed of.  


Your usual newsletter was well worth interrupting for that fascinating piece on boarding school education. Unlike you, I didn’t experience the joys of boarding school but as the parent of a child with complex needs it got me thinking. Faced with the possibility of my child going into care, I have always resisted, and seeing your quote by Richard Curtis (“it may be the most important 10 minutes of their day”) I feel vindicated that whatever other struggles my child will continue to face, not being brought up in a loving family isn’t one of them. However you managed to shake off your ‘programming’ congratulations for having done so. From one parent to another, I certainly think you made the right decision in rejecting a system that may have damaged them had you not had the insight to see through it.


Like you I was at a public school from 8 to 18. I ran away once and was expelled twice.

At about sixteen, I was put in charge of the house play competition as a sort of punishment for being arty. I read all the 1950s one-acters in the school library and decided I could do better myself. I also realised that, for 30 minutes, the whole school and the staff would have to sit and listen to whatever we performed. I and two others wrote a piece that (we thought) passionately denounced the unfair system we were living under. I’m not sure it was very coherent, but the boys knew exactly what was going on, and roared their approval. I thought that at the end of it the headmaster would be phoning my parents to take me away, but in fact the old actor from the village who’d been asked to come in and judge the contest said we were brilliant and gave us the cup.

That audience included a future MP and a director of BP, as well as a well-known poet. But it also included several who not long afterwards were drug addicts and drop-outs. For every public school pupil that went on to have a successful public life, there is another who was utterly broken by that childhood. And very few us of came out of it without needing a lot of mending and relearning.


You are hereby indulged by going off-topic in the latest Newsletter! As you know education is for me, in many ways, a catalyst to explore the dramatic and the injustices which are fundamental in our society. The play I submitted for last year’s Channel 4 Competition, “On the Toolz”, portrayed a  privileged and privately educated young man, rejecting his parents’ values by signing up for an apprenticeship at the local HE College and refusing to follow the path for which they had so carefully planned for him from birth. The subsequent fallout, juxtaposed with the story of another young man of the same age and life stage, but from another social class, considers the real limits of social mobility and how no politician ever truly tackles the shocking fudge that is the education of young people in this country. It makes me furious to see the hypocrisy of those public figures who, on one hand, advocate equality, but then send their own for privileged schooling – smaller class sizes together with a carefully chosen curriculum being the reasons often given when challenged (never enough though in my world!). They want the best for their children they say, but then, who doesn’t? While the system exists in its current form there will never be a significant change.

Some time ago I remember reading about a rather radical idea which seemed to me to make eminent sense: that every secondary school in the country (of all types) should be offered ONE place at an Oxbridge college. If you consider the ramifications of how that would affect social mobility, given that in every school, there will always be one child who is capable of benefiting from truly excellent learning (and of course it needn’t stop at Oxbridge either) the recruitment of undergraduates from the missing 3,000 secondary schools would be solved very swiftly…. The former education Minister, Andrew Adonis,  suggested that special Oxbridge colleges could be established for state school children to attend, an idea that seems rather misguided to me, given that inclusion should be at the heart of any educational reform.

I have no experience of Boarding Schools other than reading Enid Blyton as a child! I desperately wanted to go and begged my parents to send me to Malory Towers.  Deaf ears, and probably just as well. As a parent, I’m with Richard Curtis!


I had a reaction to reading this so wanted to respond / weigh-in. To pack a child off to boarding school at a formative age, and not think it will have an emotional effect, you’d have to be mad. I’ve met a few boarding school kids or grown-up ex-boarding school kids, and in the main, I think I could tell them apart from non-borders.

What I find a troubling trend nowadays is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s coming from an intention of too much parental attention and love. That is, giving the child everything it wants. I see many parents let their children dictate what food they eat, whether it has any nutrition content or not, to the point of many households being tantamount to restaurants come supper time. The same kids aren’t admonished when they’re anti-social with other kids (stealing another child’s toy, for example). At most they will be “reasoned with.”

It’s interesting that this upbringing also produces entitled adults, but for a different reason. Making them the centre of the universe didn’t teach them to be empathetic to other people. Or that we are all equal and equally valid. So too much love can deny this lesson of empathy, and, as you point out, not enough love can produce a defence mechanism that leads to lower than normal empathy.

Fictional character’s really come alive when they have flaws. It might be interesting to have two characters come head to head, both lacking empathy, but for different reasons, and everything else being equal — class, race, etc.


Thanks very much for your (& Kat Roberts) post last Friday about boarding schools. I felt compelled to write, as it’s a subject close to my heart. 

Like you, and others, I was sent away. In my case, at age 11. My brother, at age 8. One of the ironies is that my Dad’s company (the British Council) was willing to pay boarding fees but not day fees – even though we only lived a mile away from the  school. To this day, I still don’t know to what extent my parents coaxed my brother to go, to lessen the financial strain or if it was genuinely his choice, and he really wanted to go. 

I see a deep wounded-ness in my brother – who is very out of touch with taking care of his own emotional needs, and I also recognise it in myself to an extent. Again, another irony, as a writer, is that in those years at boarding school I lived a lot in my imagination, inventing worlds and living in them, because my reality was so unbearable. I was also quite depressed during that time, but I’m grateful that unlike the Boris Johnsons of this world, I did not shut down on my own vulnerability – even though the depression numbed me out of it to an extent. 

The experience of boarding and abandonment came back to me in my late 20s, when I had to get through a lot of anger towards my parents for their choice to send me away. I can’t undo that past, but I would never in a million years send my own kids to boarding school. 

One final irony. When I began making theatre shows in 2000, my Canadian director noted how the performer/writers she worked with who were most effective at following through on their own creative projects were those privately educated or at boarding school. I think Kat’ s right – it can lead to high-performing individuals. In my case, applying myself to write something is never really a problem. It’s learning how to live ‘outside prison’ – to have fun, connect deeply with others, relax… that I still struggle with. 

The theme there’s in The Storm – the script I’m submitting for C4 now – that I’ve worked on all this year. I suppose as part of searching for ‘my voice’ as a writer it was perhaps inevitable that I’d end up touching on those experiences in some way, albeit from a fictional perspective. 



Posted by admin  /   September 19, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on POSH!

Hi There,

Please indulge me this week as I go somewhat off-topic. And be assured that I will be back talking about dramatic writing in two weeks time! BUT the question of private education and the sort of leaders it’s producing is painfully relevant at the moment as we’re shamefully represented by the self-serving, mendacious cretin that is Boris Johnson.

Harking back to what I wrote about Boris Johnson and Richard Curtis in my newsletter of July 25th, I got a fascinating response from Kat Roberts –

‘With regards to your thoughts on Boris Johnson I was wondering if you have come across any of the more recent research into boarding school education and the neglectful aspects of being sent away from home at a young age? 

(PS: Yes I have! See below)

The theory is that children are given this extraordinary privilege by being sent to public school but that their most basic need for love from their primary carer is entirely removed. The children, essentially traumatised by the loss, are continuously reminded that they are privileged and so learn to behave as if they are not traumatised to avoid being shamed and bullied. They learn not to have needs and not to feel emotion in order to survive the experience and, therefore, never develop the empathy that a normal child would.

This ‘survival personality’ stays with them all the way into adulthood. They are damaged, high functioning, often very successful individuals who are hiding in plain sight and need help.

There is an interesting book on this called ‘Wounded Leaders’ by Nick Duffell. Also, a couple of interesting documentaries, ‘Leaving Home at 8’ and ‘The Making of Them’ explain this very well.

(PS: Both available on youtube and very much worth watching if this is a subject close to your heart)

The narrative of the ‘entitled’ is  not going anywhere anytime soon (and Boris certainly falls into this category) but I wonder, if we really want to transform education and the state of the nation, whether we need to look in more detail as to how these people end up the way they do? Are vulnerability, empathy, compassion perhaps dangerous emotions for these people to feel? 

The example of Richard Curtis and Boris Johnson is really interesting. I wonder if maybe one has just managed to figure this out for themselves, which allows them to be a vulnerable and decent human being. A quote from an article I read recently:

Allsopp said her neighbour, the film director Richard Curtis, vetoed boarding despite having been a head boy at Harrow. “I asked him, ‘Why are you not sending your kids to board?’ ” She said Curtis replied that, even if he saw his children for only 10 minutes a day, it might turn out to be “the most important 10 minutes of their day”.

(PS: And I would add – ‘of his / my day’!)

The alternative is that parents are so alarmed by the fact of their child’s needs/ innocence that they ship them off to the same fate trying to sustain the narrative they have been trained to comply with. To admit that their child should be at home means to admit that they were denied their own needs by their parents. This would be a betrayal of the institution.

Sorry to go on – I am very interested in this topic and hope to write something about it so wanted to share my thoughts.’

Thank you so much Kat for that really excellent piece of writing. This is something that is of great interest to me – and I hope to some of you too, dear subscribers!

I think what Kat has written here is spot-on. And is particularly pertinent at a time when the UK and its people are in a hazardous and very uncertain position because of the actions of a very few, very privileged men – nearly all of whom went through what Kat describes above – and seem to lack proper, rounded personalities and normal empathy.

I myself (and I have actually become more and more ashamed to admit this) went to boarding school from the age of 7 to 17 and, while I have some positive memories of those times, ever since I’ve had my own (4) children (my eldest daughter is 30), the idea of packing them off to boarding school for 8 months of the year is horrendous and unthinkable. My family are by some distance the most important thing in my life. The idea of voluntarily sending them away from such a young age seems insane. I don’t think my own relationship with both my parents (both now dead) ever completely recovered from the distance this absence created at such a young age.

One of my strongest childhood memories is of the first car journey from home to boarding school – a half hour journey that I wished would never end – and looking at everything out of the window with a new perspective – my last minutes of freedom! To quote Evelyn Waugh from the wonderful DECLINE AND FALL

‘…anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums, Paul learned, who find prison so soul destroying.’

Like Kat, I’ve read a few excellent books on the subject recently – in particular ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ by Alex Renton and ‘Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain’ by Robert Verkaik which I found quite stressful to read because it made me so angry. And the play POSH by Laura Wade is a brilliant examination of the territory.

And only yesterday this fascinating article was in the Guardian –

IMO the public school system in this country perpetuates so much that is wrong with our society. A tiny strata of the UK population are brainwashed from a very young, impressionable age into thinking that they are superior; and this self-belief is then accentuated by Oxbridge, the military and so many professions (law, medicine, politics, television – that’s a whole other newsletter – etc etc). The public school system widens the economic, social and racial divisions in a way that is deeply entrenched in UK society and will be incredibly hard to change – the education of entitlement.

I was actually at Harrow school at the same time as Richard Curtis. He is a little older than me and I didn’t know him – but I still remember the school production of ‘Erpingham Camp’ by Joe Orton that he directed, which was brilliant and hilarious – an eye-opener after the usual turgid Shakespeare school drama. I was also at school with the infamous Crispin Odey – of Odey Asset Management – one of the leeches who made vast profits betting on Brexit; and someone who sums up everything that is wrong with the class system in this country.

Thank you for indulging my rant and apologies for the lack of screenwriting content this week. I’d be very interested to hear back from anyone who feels strongly about this – whether in agreement or disagreement.


Finally a reminder that entries for the 2020 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRIITNG COURSE close this coming Friday Sept 27th at 5pm. PLEASE TRY TO SUBMIT YOUR SCRIPT BEFORE FRIDAY. In the last two years the website has crashed under the sheer weight of traffic and caused a lot of unnecessary stress. Please try to avoid this by submitting your entry as early as possible. And if you have entered or are going to, THANK YOU! I am very excited (along with my crack team of 7 readers) to get started on reading your scripts.

The next newsletter will be on Friday October 4th,

All the best



Sept 20th 2019


Posted by admin  /   September 04, 2019  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020

Hi There,


After a very enjoyable summer break I’m delighted to say that the 10th CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020 will be accepting script entries from Tuesday Sept 10th – up until Friday Sept 27th.

All the information you need about the course and submitting your entry can be found on my website –

But there are a few things I’d like to add –

There is one big change for this year – we will NOT be accepting the same script that you have submitted in previous years. If you have entered in the past, the script you submit this year needs to be entirely different.

The information / FAQs on the web page have been re-written and developed over the years – so I hope pretty much all potential enquiries will be covered if you read all of this information. Please only get in touch if you have a question that genuinely isn’t covered. I tend to receive a lot of questions / queries either via email or social media and if I answered all of them it would be prohibitively time-consuming. I’d far rather be reading your scripts than answering unnecessary questions. So (as stated in the information on the web page) I will not be answering any entry enquiries unless they are about something that is not covered in the information.

Please try to enter as early as possible during the entry period and PLEASE TRY TO AVOID SUBMITTING YOUR SCRIPT ON SEPT 27TH. In the past couple of years we have received more than 50% of the submitted scripts on the last entry day – and the website has crashed due to the weight of traffic. If you enter on the last day and the website crashes, the process will be stressful! (Both for you and me). We won’t be extending the entry deadline beyond 5pm on Sept 27th. SO I would please urge you to submit your entry as early as possible in the 17 day period.

As ever, we are looking for exciting, distinctive, original and ambitious writing voices. Passionate writers who have something to say – and are saying it in unexpected, striking ways. We are looking for as broad a range of voices as possible in our selected 12 – in terms of gender, age, class, regionality, ethnicity, sexuality, subject matter.

Good luck and, in advance, thank you for entering!


I have finally managed to read all of the 80+ scripts submitted for this project and have now responded to everyone who sent me a script. Many apologies for taking so much longer than I initially said to get through all of the scripts. Reading all of the scripts was a great pleasure. There was a mind-boggling range of stories and the standard was remarkably good. I decided to limit this 2nd series to a maximum of 8 scripts which made the final choice even harder. But I’m delighted with the 8 scripts that I’ve chosen and excited to start working with these 8 writers on their brilliant stories.


One of the books I read and very much enjoyed on my break was THE GOLDFINCH by DONNA TARTT. Reading it on my kindle, I was some way into it before I realised it was a whopping 784 pages! But I loved its scale and ambition – and it reminded me that two of my favourite recent stage plays were also big, international epics – SMALL ISLAND by Helen Edmundson, adapted from the book by Andrea Levy; and THE LEHMAN TRILOGY by Stefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power. Both weighed in at considerably over 3 hours – but in both the time flew by because the story-telling was so strong.

There is a lot to be said for really BIG, epic, ambitious stories.

The Goldfinch – epic story-telling is something more writers should aim for. The universal in the specific.

Seeing that there is shortly to be a Hollywood film adaptation of THE GOLDFINCH made me think about the differences between how you read a book and watch a film and why watching the film after you’ve read the book is so often disappointing. When reading the book, we fill in the pictures and gaps for ourselves, take possession of it in a way that’s not so easy with a film. But this idea of imaginative gaps and empowering the reader to fill them in for themselves is equally important in screenwriting. You need to trust and invest in the imagination and intelligence of your audience / reader.

First person narrative is another important element in the way the story is told in THE GOLDFINCH. The narrator’s perspective – how reliable / artful are they in what they give you? Lines in the book like ‘…and it would be a long long time before I heard anything from Boris again’ are few and far between but vital moments in piquing our intrigue and maintaining narrative tension.


Definitely the two TV viewing highlights for me over the last few weeks. SUCCESSION  maintains the brilliant levels of series 1 – it’s funny, shocking and the characters, although objectively hateful, are so engaging. EUPHORIA is not an easy watch – the way the story is told is challenging and disturbing but the characters and their stories grow on you with every episode; there is such visual flair and the series has some really important, difficult things to say about what it is to be a teenager growing up in our current over-saturated world of social media and sexualisation.

All writing is political – SUCCESSION and EUPHORIA in their different ways are brilliant examples of really politically-engaged, committed, impassioned writing. How is your writing political?

Other observations – there is so much narrative inspiration for your fictional work in the real world. For anyone into cricket, the last few hours of the Headingley Test Match were the most exquisite narrative roller-coaster (and another piece of epic story-telling – in that the tension was all the greater in that it had taken five days to build to that brilliant last hour).

And watching events unfold in the House of Commons on Tuesday was also brilliant theatre. There were so many compelling character moments – Theresa May very deliberately sat next to Ken Clarke, looking like an entirely different, more relaxed person than when she was prime minister; the arrogant, patronising verbal and body language of the vile Rees-Mogg, and the fury he generated; Rory Stewart finding out by text that he had been sacked by his own party while at the GQ awards to receive his prize as ‘politician of the year’! So many extraordinary, rich character moments. TV drama has a hard job in coming up with anything as compelling.

One final thought for this week – Indulge yourself. It’s so important to find that time to read, to plan, to dream, to strategise.

The next newsletter will be on Friday September 20th

All the best




Sept 6th 2019


Posted by admin  /   July 25, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES

Hi There,


I am very pleased to announce that I will be running my 2 DAY WEEKEND SCREENWRITING COURSE in London twice this autumn.

As before these two-day courses will focus on both craft and career and will each include three guest speakers.

On October 12-13 the three guest speakers are screenwriters NATHANIEL PRICE and ANNA SYMON and literary agent JULIA TYRRELL. Nathaniel and Anna are both alumni of the Channel 4 screenwriting course. Nathaniel has written on TIN STAR, the BBC’s forthcoming NOUGHTS & CROSSES and has loads of projects in development; Anna is another of the rising stars of UK TV drama screenwriting. She wrote the critically-acclaimed and BAFTA-nominated MRS WILSON and has her own series DEEP WATER debuting on ITV in August. Julia runs her own very excellent boutique literary agency, Julia Tyrrell Management, and will be able to offer an in-depth insight into the industry and where the opportunities are for screenwriters.

On November 16-17, the guest writers are also 4screenwriting alumni – ARCHIE MADDOCKS and CHANDNI LAKHANI. Archie is hugely in demand as both a stand-up comic as well as a screenwriter and theatre writer. He has written on Sky’s forthcoming sci-fi series, INTERGALCTIC and has a number of really interesting projects in development with some of the top UK production companies. Chandni has written on the forthcoming THE DUBLIN MURDERS (BBC/RTE) and formerly worked as script editor for Charlie Brooker’s company, House Of Tomorrow – where she worked on BLACK MIRROR. The agent for the November weekend is still TBC.

All the details about both courses are on my website, as well as testimonials from my previous 2-day course from June. This last course sold out within a day of the newsletter being sent out. I had a long waiting list from the June course so, as of 11am on Thursday, I had already sold 15 of the 40 places on these two courses. Each course is limited to a maximum of 20 people – so that the courses can be as inter-active as possible – so EARLY BOOKING is advised. Based on past form, these two courses will sell out very quickly.

I don’t normally wander into politics BUT – the horror and outpouring of collective grief on social media in the last few days has been hard to ignore. How the f**k did we as a country get to a point where we are represented by this public school charlatan? Troubled times. I refuse to believe that this is who we are as a country – but we have to do something about it because the horrific mess created by the Etonian scumbags should not be what this country is about. End of sermon.

Film and tv drama has a lot to live up to. I was lucky enough to be at the cricket World Cup final at Lords on July 14. The one thing all those around me agreed at the end was that there has never been another cricket match like it and there will never be. Not in the World Cup final, the ultimate high stakes game. The narrative development of the game was so well plotted. Brilliant tension that just kept ratcheting up. Several of the events in the last half hour of the game were beyond the imagination of the most fantastical script. One more example of the wonderful dramatic complexities of the narrative of sport.

I’ve been reading a lot of scripts recently trying to clear the decks for my summer break and wrestling with trying to help writers improve their work.

We all need inspiration and my inspiration came from the film YESTERDAY. Discussing the film with a group of budding script editors in a course this week at Fremantle we were forced to observe / acknowledge the defensiveness and reluctance with which people in the world of TV praise a Richard Curtis script. Lots of sentences beginning ‘Well I have to say….’ ‘I know it’s very silly but…’

But whatever you say about him (yes I’m doing it too) he is a brilliant story teller who has written several films which – despite what the critics might say – have become movie staples, modern classics, the sort of films we return to for viewing after viewing – 4 Weddings, Notting Hill, About Time – and now Yesterday. His films are funny, charming, sentimental (and I mean that very much as a compliment) and they have an underlying humanity and optimism which – in the current desperate political climate – is so welcome. But above all, they are beautifully-crafted examples of story-telling.

His films have life-affirming messages. Yesterday seemed to be saying that the world would be an infinitely poorer place without The Beatles and other great artists who are so deeply embedded in our daily lives that we take them for granted – which IMO is true of Richard Curtis. His back catalogue is deeply impressive and his TV shows and films (not to mention his charitable work through Comic Relief) are a brilliant achievement- but he tends to be looked down on because his films are comedies (and because he and his films are posh?). Richard Curtis and Boris Johnson represent the two very different ends of the scale on the spectrum of posh!

I was also lucky enough to get a ticket for Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Andrea Levy’s SMALL ISLAND at the National Theatre. At 3 hours 20 mins, this started slowly but grew and grew and by the end I was absolutely riveted. It was a beautiful, epic but intimate piece of story-telling that had a real resonance for today. The scenes in which the newly-arrived, optimistic immigrants arrive in London and are told by their work colleagues to fuck off back home were chilling – and doubly so in the light of recent events. (It was a story that inspired you to continue the fight against the racists and fascists.)

This and THE LEHMAN TRILOGY (another 3 hour+ National Theatre epic) are by some way my two favourite theatre show of the last few months. It’s strange how 3+ hours can pass in a flash whereas I’ve been to a few 90-minute plays in the last few months that have felt never-ending.

HIGH TIDE THEATRE FESTIVAL Aldeburgh, Suffolk Sept 10-15

I have once again booked to see a whole host of shows at the always excellent High Tide Theatre festival – a brilliant showcase for new theatre writing in the UK. The line-up for this year once again looks outstanding. BUT sadly Walthamstow Council pulled the plug on their part of the festival at very short notice so the week in Aldeburgh is the only chance to take in High Tide this year. I highly recommend it.

Vinay Patel – Patelograms. I have recently subscribed to Vinay’s weekly musings – and it’s always a cracking read. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, one of the things he talked about was the writing of treatments and outlines for TV – which was fascinating and really helpful.

This will be my last newsletter until Friday September 6th – I am giving myself a summer break and also cutting back on my script-reading until September. I hope you all have a relaxing summer and I’ll be back in September!

One of the things I am aiming to do over the next month is finish the TRIBUTE series 2 submissions. Apologies it’s taken me so long to read them but it’s been a very busy few months,

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

July 26th 2019


Posted by admin  /   July 11, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on SCREENWRITING CONNECTIONS

Hi There,

It’s been a busy and enjoyable last couple of working weeks. We finished this year’s CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE with the annual drinks evening at Channel 4 where we invite people from the industry – literary agents, producers, development executives, script editors – to meet the year’s 12 writers.

The following morning it was up to Manchester for Sky Drama’s 2nd Script Editor’s Forum – a chance to meet and swap notes with fellow script editors and listen to a load of excellent guest speakers. Along with their monthly table reads, this is another brilliant initiative from Sky Drama – and just the sort of thing that all the broadcasters and leading drama-producing indies should be doing to encourage new talent and get drama practitioners together to discuss how working practices, creativity and the quality of ideas hitting our screens can be improved.

With these two events straight after each other, it felt like about a year’s worth of networking was crammed into 36 hours!

It’s been very exciting seeing this year’s 4screenwriting alumni already starting to have some significant successes – the morning after the drinks evening one of the writers told me she’d got a gig in a writing room on a prestigious new Sky Atlantic Show; another has had her course script optioned by a leading drama indie and has also been asked to write an episode on one of their series. Several of the unrepresented writers have had offers from literary agents. The end of the course and the annual drinks evening reminds me every year just how hungry the TV drama industry is for new writing talent (even though it may not look like that from the outside!).

BBC Writers Room Scottish Writers Festival, May 31st

This was a really enjoyable day spent in Glasgow. There was a fantastic turnout – several hundred screenwriters. I did a talk and a filmed interview for BBC writers room (now available on their website!)

One of the things that we have discussed about the Channel 4 Screenwriting course is the need to try to work with more writers from outside of London – something we haven’t done very well on in the last few years, despite our best intentions. And the importance of doing so was brought home to me by the huge sea of faces that confronted me in Glasgow!

The TV drama industry in the UK has gone on an odd and circular, dysfunctional journey in this regard over the last few years. When I first started working at Granada TV drama, then at London Weekend Television and Carlton, there was at that time (late 90’s, early 2000’s) a relatively thriving diversity in terms of the regions and nations. When I joined Granada, all their drama was produced in and around Manchester – I worked on an excellent long-running medical drama series, MEDICS, on which many of the writers (eg Neil McKay, Paul Abbott) were based in the North. The show’s production office was in Manchester and that’s where the show was shot. The shot had a definite and distinctive Northern flavour. The same was true of other, more high-profile Granada / ITV shows of the time – CRACKER, PRIME SUSPECT, BAND OF GOLD.

And when I first joined Carlton, which had grown out of Central TV, it still clung onto a strong regional identity in the Midlands. Crossroads was revived and run out of Nottingham while I was at Carlton; and, for example, I was on the judging panel for the excellent annual Eileen Anderson award (long since defunct)  – a substantial prize for the writer of the best new play performed at a Midlands theatre, a prize that helped launch the career of writers like Lucy Gannon.

But once ITV had become one big company operating out of London, so much of the industry became centralised around London.

Things are slowly beginning to turn back in the other direction – it’s to the credit of the BBC writers rooms that they now have hubs and writer initiatives in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the North. There are now ever-growing production bases in Cardiff and Belfast. And Channel 4 has committed to moving much of their operation to Leeds, with other creative hubs in Bristol and Glasgow.

Distinctive regional and national voices need to be an important element in the increasing diversity of TV drama – as it was in the past.

I met up with legendary producer Ruth Caleb last week (If you don’t know about her, look her up – the quality of her work over 60 years is extraordinary – and she still has a hugely exciting list of projects in development). She was talking about how, with the increased budgets and enhanced production values of all TV drama now, there seem to be great opportunities (as ever) for the A-List writers – who are generally booked-up and busy for months / years ahead AND for the new, exciting writers breaking into the industry (and my experience with writers from the Channel 4 course reflects this). But where things are tricky for writers is with that 80% of writers who are not ‘star’ / A-List writers but who are also not brand new. At the moment there don’t seem to be the same opportunities for this large group of writers in the middle. There are fewer series like THE BILL, fewer mid-range, long-running series like NEW TRICKS or WAKING THE DEAD, where proven writers can tell their own stories within established formats, and make a decent living on episodes on other people’s shows while simultaneously developing their own distinctive, ‘passion’ projects. And this is particularly true for these mid-level writers who live out of London. The industry has become more and more London-centric over the last 20 years – but the tide does seem to be turning, slowly, back the other way.

Some other quotes / observations form the last couple of weeks –

The Sky script editor’s forum reminded me of just how important / helpful the energy a script editor brings into the room can be.

Whether you’re a writer or script editor, make sure you read for pleasure every day.

Ego is often the enemy of creativity – make sure it doesn’t get in the way.

The most important of the whole production process is what happens in the development of  the script ie tackle problems at script stage.

Producer Nicola Larder gave an excellent talk – and talked about how, whether we’re producers, script editors or writers – we are all trying to find a way to express ourselves through story telling. 

As mentioned above, Sky Drama has also been running, for the last couple of years, a series of monthly table reads of new screenplays by BAME writers, each reading organised by the production company backing and working with these particular writers. I have been to a few of them – and they have been without exception outstanding – and a brilliant opportunity for these writers to showcase their work to a wider audience, in the hope that this will eventually lead to production.

As writers, this sort of table read, whether it’s for a broader industry audience or if it’s just for you the writer and selected friends, getting a group of actors to come together to bring your script alive off the page, is enormously powerful and affirming – and it will also teach you a lot about what works in your script, what doesn’t and what work you need to do on the script.

The most exciting and enjoyable day on the Channel 4 screenwriting course is the day in June when we get a group of 10 actors together to perform / read 15 minute sections of each of the 12 course scripts. We get outstanding actors every year (largely thanks to the brilliant brains and connections of actors Joe Sims and Patrick Brennan). There is nothing more exciting and vindicating than hearing actors bring scripts alive and realising that what you thought was brilliant on the page is indeed brilliant in the flesh.

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 26th.

All the best



July 12th 2019