Happy New Year! I hope you had a relaxing / productive
break and are creatively fired up for 2020.
There are still places available on my 3 courses for
Feb & March (although only 4 places left on the WRITING A SHORT FILM SCRIPT
Plans for the 1 DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING course
have been ongoing since my December newsletter – and we now have development
executives / script editors from BBC/Holby City, Silverprint Pictures, Leopard
Drama, Mammoth Screen, Two Tables TV, Silver Reel, a junior literary agent from
The Agency and two experienced BBC continuing series writers all confirmed for
the networking event (5.15 – 8.30pm) – all there to give you invaluable
screenwriting industry & craft advice in an informal setting.
The course itself (10-5) has two brilliant guest
speakers in TIM FYWELL and ARCHIE MADDOCKS. Tim is one of the UK’s leading TV and
film directors, with credits on great shows like HAPPY VALLEY and CRACKER. He has
worked with many of the best screenwriters in the UK over the last 20 years and
in his session he will break down / analyse one of his favourite scripts.
ARCHIE MADDOCKS will talk about his experiences as a
screenwriter, with tips about both career and the craft of dramatic
story-telling. Archie has a double life as a stand-up as well as a dramatic
writer and he is always great value. Even if I say so myself, this course is ridiculously
good value at only £95!
You can find all the details – including testimonials
from the first time I ran it in May last year – about this course (and the CREATIVITY
FOR SCRIPTWRITERS and WRITING A SHORT FILM SCRIPT courses) on my website.
BEST DRAMA OF 2019
A little late – but here’s my very unscientific and subjective
look back at the scripts I enjoyed most (in no particular order) in 2019 –
EUPHORIA written (and directed) by SAM LEVINSON – the series
as a whole was outstanding. But the ep 8 finale is a masterclass in how to
structure film narrative – brilliantly multi-layered, visual, stylised
story-telling that uses its style to great emotional effect. Story-telling that
has huge flair, is sometimes very hard to watch – but it’s incredibly honest, challenging
and provocative and feels like it really
has something important to say about what it means to be young today (a show my
17 year old daughter forced me to watch and I’m glad she did!).
SUCCESSION series 2. Not much to add to what has
already been said about this except that the ability of the show to make us
care about so many objectively appalling human beings is some feat. A wonderful
combination of the highly dramatic and brilliantly comic, with so many
memorable, perfectly judged set-piece moments. It’s also really exciting that
an HBO/US-set show has been largely created by a team of British writers – hats
off to Jesse Armstrong, Lucy Prebble, Anna Jordan, Tony Roche, Georgia
Pritchett, Jon Brown, Alice Birch et al – a wonderful demonstration of the
creative power of the writers room.
BACK TO LIFE written by DAISY HAGGARD & LAURA
SOLON – the sort of show that we do really well in the UK (other outstanding
examples from 2019 – THIS WAY UP, DON’T FORGET THE DRIVER, MUM) – small-scale,
reflective, humane, distinctive comedy drama of real edge and character). Back To
Life was my favourite in this genre in 2019. Charming, funny and poignant with
a clear, inherently dramatic narrative premise (and script-edited by
4screenwriting script reader Amy Chappellhow!).
THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD S2 written by
(4screenwriting alumna) CHARLIE COVELL. I actually enjoyed this even more than
S1. Released from the original source material, this became an even more
distinctively Charlie Covell show. Funny, unpredictable, edgy, with an undercurrent
of violence but also humanity – the story-telling (both writing and direction)
had a real flair – the sort of flair that we associate with US shows like
EUPHORIA and very rarely find in UK shows.
THE VIRTUES written by SHANE MEADOWS and JACK THORNE.
One of the most intense, agonising shows I’ve ever seen on TV. Some absolutely
brilliantly-realised scenes and sequences (for example Joseph’s bender in ep
1). Shane Meadows is a wonderful writer and director – and I thought this was
his best ever show.
CHERNOBYL written by CRAIG MAZIN. Like nothing you’ve
ever seen on TV before. Powerful, disturbing story-telling – and a story that
needed to be told. And apparently there’s a fascinating podcast about the
series too. (Craig Mazin also co-hosts with John August the wonderful
GENTLEMAN JACK by SALLY WAINWRIGHT. Apparently not to
everyone’s taste but I thought this was period story-telling that had a really
modern, energized sensibility and at the heart of the show the characterisation
of Ann Lister was memorably complicated and larger-than-life.
FLEABAG S2 by PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE. Another series
(like TEOTFW) that was even more successfully realised in its 2nd
series than its first. From the wonderful restaurant sequence in ep 1 to the
will they / won’t they Fleabag / Hot Priest relationship, this was utterly
distinctive, memorable and very, very funny.
RUSSIAN DOLL. Written and created by NATASHA LYONNE, AMY POEHLER & LESLYE
HEADLAND, this was another wonderfully original and distinctive piece of
story-telling. Bonkers but compelling.
ITV Drama (mainly in the person of JEFF POPE) have
specialised recently in some brilliant factual drama / crime serials – shows
like A CONFESSION that was a brilliant star vehicle for two outstanding actors
– Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton; and MANHUNT – another great starring vehicle, this time for
Martin Clunes, with a brilliant script
by ED WHITMORE.
FINDING NEVERLAND – the DAN REED-directed Michael
Jackson / abuse documentary. To me, the evidence seemed compelling. But whatever
way you look at it, this was brilliantly structured and realised, compelling
PRINCE ANDREW NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW – The most
fascinating character study of the year. An extraordinary example of the
massive gap between a character’s self-image and how they actually come across.
Genuinely jaw-dropping to see someone misjudge a situation so spectacularly in
the public eye. A deeply flawed character – without any of the redeeming
humanity you’d normally look for in ficton!
ANNA X by JOSEPH CHARLTON at the Vaults festival. Excellent
dramatization / re-imagination of a true story.
MOUTHPIECE by KIERAN HURLEY at the Soho Theatre. About
the intense, strange and ultimately destructive relationship between a writer
and her subject. Wonderful writing of characters – but also a hugely perceptive
study of the power of story itself.
A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON by LUCY PREBBLE (See
SUCCESSION). A playful, imaginative, stylised, entertaining – and disturbing – examination
of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.
SMALL WORLD – adapted for the stage by HELEN EDMUNDSON
from the novel by ANDREA LEVY. Epic story-telling that built in intensity and emotional
impact over its always-compelling three hours.
BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON written and directed by PAUL DOWNS COLAIZZO – in its way very
generic – but a lovely combination of the generic and utterly specific. A brilliant
example of story-telling through the prism of a wounded character battling her
demons. Ultimately life-affirming and very touching. This film reminded me how
some of the best stories are so simple when told through the emotional prism of
the central character. Often the best story is about a character’s relationship
WILD ROSE – another film like B.R.A.M. – that I missed
in the cinema but caught up with on Amazon – and another film that in its way
is generic and familiar – but again there is enough of a twist on the genre, a
really strong specificity to setting and lead character; and the use of country
music adds a dimension to it. A slow burn that by the end had a strong
emotional grip. NICOLE TAYLOR’s range from THREE GIRLS to this is highly
MARRIAGE STORY written and directed by NOAH BAUMBACH –
which I have mentioned before and will be returning to, as I think it’s a
screenplay that rewards repeated viewing – there’s so much in the screenplay to
inspire and learn from.
CLEMENCY, written and directed by CHINONYE CHUKWU. One
of the standouts from the London Film Festival. A harrowing exploration of the
death penalty from the POV of a female prison governor.
ONE DAY CRICKET WORLD CUP FINAL – the most brilliantly-constructed,
compelling dramatic story-telling of the year. No writer could have pre-planned
or imagined any sporting event to be this tense, unexpected and exciting.
SO – what do you think? What shows have I
unaccountably left out? What shows should I have included? I’d love to hear your
The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 24th.
Posted by admin / December 12, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES FOR 2020
NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES FOR 2020
Just in time for Christmas I’m very happy to tell you
about three courses I will be running in the first few months of the New Year.
ONE DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING London Saturday Feb 8th
This will be the 2nd time I have run this
course and the first version in May of this year went very well (there are
testimonials on the right-hand column of the course page).
This is designed for people looking to dip a toe into
the world of screenwriting but it is also suitable for more experienced
screenwriters for whom it will hopefully be refreshing, reenergising and
We will analyse and celebrate the best screenwriting
as well as looking at the nuts and bolts of how to write a screenplay – and how
to tell a story most powerfully in this medium.
We will be screening and discussing a number of clips
from films and TV shows.
We will have two guest speakers – eminent TV and film
director TIM FYWELL will focus on a film / TV show of his choosing – analysing
the screenplay and the process of translating script to screen, focusing on
particular scenes and sequences.
He will also talk about some of the brilliant films
and shows he has worked on and talk about working with writers. Tim is the
ultimate writer’s director and has worked with some of the top screenwriting
talent in the UK over the last 25 years. He will talk about the work and
processes of some of these writers – to name a few – Sally Wainwright, Abi
Morgan, Jimmy McGovern, Paul Abbott, and most recently Julian Fellowes.
The 2nd guest speaker is screenwriter,
playwright and stand-up comedian ARCHIE MADDOCKS. Archie was one of the writers
on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2018 and his screenwriting career has
since gone from strength to strength. He has written an episode in the new,
soon-to-be-released Sky Atlantic series, INTERGALACTIC; and has TV projects in
development with Warp Film & TV, Wall To Wall, Working Title TV and Tiger Aspect
among others. He is also a successful playwright – with a new play on at the
Park Theatre in June 2020. Archie will talk about his working process as a
screenwriter and give insights into storytelling on screen and how to build a
career as a screenwriter.
Both the guests and myself will give the course
delegates the chance to ask questions as part of each session.
The course will run from 10-5 and will be followed by
a more informal NETWORKING EVENING in a nearby pub (where we will book a
private room dedicated to the event). We will invite a number of industry
guests to this event – experienced screenwriters and script editors /
development executives from production companies – all of whom will be there to
meet you and answer any questions you may have about screenwriting (whether
it’s about craft or career).
At the May 2019 event we had 4 writers, all very
successful 4screenwriting alumni and development executives from companies such
as BBC Studios, Tiger Aspect, Firebird Pictures, Little Dot Studios, Bryncoed
Productions, Shiny Button Productions, BBC Films, Neal Street Productions etc.
Once you’re booked on the course, we will send you a
list of the industry people attending the drinks evening about a week in
advance so that you can research them and plan who you’d like to talk to.
This informal networking event also gives you the
invaluable opportunity to talk to your fellow writers (the other course
delegates) and share information and experiences. Writers often find that this
is the most valuable part of the course – building up your network of
screenwriting allies. Writing is a solitary business – and we all need as much
peer support as possible to help sustain a career.
The cost of this one-day two-part course is £95 –
which is remarkably good value!
CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPT WRITERS 1 DAY COURSE Sunday March 8th 2019
A more interactive one day course focusing exclusively
on the creative aspects of dramatic writing.
This is a course I have now run several times (I also
run a version of it semi-regularly for SCREENSKILLS). I always have a really
enjoyable time running it and the course has received some very nice feedback
from the writers who’ve done it. (See the testimonials on the website course
This is a course designed for dramatic writers and
story-tellers in any genre – TV, Film, Theatre, Radio – even novelists (and of
any level of experience – from beginner to veteran).
The purpose of the course is to give your writing that
spark of energy, inspiration and creativity that we all need to rediscover from
time to time.
It’s a highly inter-active day, designed to be intensive
but fun, getting you as writers to think on your feet, and to tap into your
instincts more than your intellect.
Here are some of the elements the day will contain:-
• Story ideas – looking into the big
ideas that will form the basis of a really strong logline/central narrative
idea to your work.
• Character – exercises that will engender the creation of
unique and memorable characters, characters who will drive your stories.
• Idea-generating techniques – we will explore in depth the
sort of techniques you need to develop, the techniques that you need to be
using endlessly as professional writers to kick-start new projects and to
awaken your creative instincts.
• Other Media – we will be looking at how you can use other
media and unlikely areas of everyday life to access and consider universal
• Writing exercises – we will be doing instant writing
exercises to unlock your creativity.
• Inspirational Guest speaker ANDERS LUSTGARTEN – will talk
about how he generates his ideas, and where his dramatic inspiration comes
ANDERS is a brilliant playwright and screenwriter (I
worked with him on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2012) who is also a
committed political activist. Anders will talk about where his inspirations as
a writer come from.
Anders has talked on this course before, and there is
so much to learn from him in terms of how to energise, and put the necessary
passion into, your writing.
This is a one-day course in Central London at what I
think (again) is an extremely reasonable £95. AND places are limited to the
FIRST 20 APPLICANTS.
The course is designed to give everyone on it a real
chance to explore their creativity, so I have to limit numbers to 20.
You can find all the details at
WRITING A SHORT FILM SCRIPT
A brand-new course that I have created in response to
some of the delegates from my recent two-day screenwriting courses who have
asked for a course that specifically focuses on the writing of a script. This
is a course that will run over three consecutive Monday evenings in February
and March 2020 (Feb 24, March 2, March 9) from 6-9pm.
I will ask delegates to come to the course with three
ideas for a short film and you will come away from the course 2+ weeks later
with a completed short film script.
The course will be fairly demanding in terms of
writing work – so if you’re interested, I suggest you go into the course fully
committed to finding the time not only to attend but to put in a fair few
writing hours in between the sessions. There will also be some reading work
involved. I will ask each writer to read two of the other course writers’
outline and script – and come to the sessions prepared to give constructive
feedback to the two other writers in their mini-group within the larger group
of 12 writers. I will oversee all of the feedback sessions and give my own
feedback on every stage of every project.
Over the last few years I think short film scripts
have become an ever-more valuable part of a screenwriter’s portfolio. The best
short film scripts can have real impact and alert producers to writing talent –
and whet industry appetites so that potential employers want to then read
further work by you.
For instance, with the recent 4screenwriting interview
shortlist, a few of the writers had also written short films – and as a complement
to their longer scripts, these added significantly to their credibility as
An obvious thing to say – but they’re also easier to
make – and a produced short film is often a great addition to your writing
portfolio. Short films are relatively easy to distribute / circulate online and
the word-of-mouth a good short film can generate can have a powerful, positive
impact on your standing as a screenwriter – this is something I have seen
specific examples of and can talk about on the course.
The course is limited to a maximum of 12 delegates and
costs £350 – for which you get not only the three x three hour sessions with me
and the other 11 writers – but also the full benefit of my script-editing
experience and ongoing feedback on your short film outline and script.
In the last few years ALL of my independent courses
have sold out – sometimes within a few days. SO if you’re interested, I suggest
early booking. I hope these courses may also make for good Christmas presents
for the writer in your life!
EDINBURGH TV FESTIVAL – NEW VOICE AWARDS 2020
The New Voice Awards celebrate new and emerging
screenwriters, directors and presenters.
The List of
Awards are as follows:
Victor Adebodun Debut Director Award
The Debut Director Award is named in honour of the late Victor Adebodun. Victor
was an alumnus of the Festival’s Ones to Watch Scheme and presented the 2018
Debut Director Award. Victor was a talented director, creative leader and
managing director of Purple Geko, an award-winning production company. This
award is for directors who have received their first professional TV credit in
2019. Episodes must have been first transmitted in 2019 on broadcast TV or made
available on a major streaming service or web broadcaster available in the UK.
Entrants must be credited as the director.
Debut Writer Award For writers who have received their first professional TV credit in 2019.
Episodes must have been first transmitted in 2019 on broadcast TV or made
available on a major streaming service or web broadcaster available in the UK.
Entrants must be credited as the writer.
Debut Presenter Award
For presenters who have received their first professional TV credit in 2019.
Episodes/ segments must have been first transmitted in 2019 on broadcast TV or
made available on a major streaming service or web broadcaster available in the
Test Card Pilot Award
Awarded to an individual or team for an un-commissioned, non-TX pilot completed
in 2019. Submissions can be scripted or unscripted.
All3Media New Drama Script Award
Awarded to a TV drama script by an unproduced, unrepresented writer.
All3Media New Comedy Script Award
Awarded to a TV comedy script by an unproduced, unrepresented writer.
Stage to Screen Award
Awarded to a stage production with rich potential for TV adaptation.
Submissions must have been performed in the UK on more than four occasions in
Future Presenter Award
Awarded to an aspiring presenter with strong potential. Entrants should already
have some presenting experience e.g a YouTube channel, student or community TV
This is a very prestigious industry-recognised scheme
– and definitely worth entering.
I will be giving myself a Christmas break from the
newsletter – the next newsletter will be on Friday January 10th. I
wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year and thank you so much for all the
kind feedback you have given me over the last year; and the replies to some of
my questions and opinions – I wouldn’t keep writing this newsletter if I didn’t
receive so many brilliant responses from you the readers / writers – so thank
you very much!
Posted by admin / November 27, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE SCRIPT FEEDBACK Part 2
CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020
We have now
short-listed and informed the 37 writers for interview and I will be emailing
everyone else who applied in the next day or two.
THE BRIT LIST 2019
The 24 scripts on
this year’s TV BRIT LIST were announced last week. This is the list of the best
unproduced scripts, as voted for by TV production companies. I was delighted
that 6 of the 24 scripts were written by alumni of the Channel 4 screenwriting
course and that another script that I
helped to develop through my script consultancy also made it onto the list. I
was particularly pleased that the script that got BY FAR the most votes – the
wonderful FLED by Karen Cogan – was actually written on the 2019 C4
screenwriting course (script-edited by the excellent Rebecca Holdsworth and
If you’re interested
in seeing what sort of stories stand out for drama indies, it’s very
instructive to read the pitches / loglines / summaries for the 24 successful
it’s even more about the realization of these one-line pitches into scripts.
POSITIVE COMMON ELEMENTS IN 4SW SHORTLIST
Two weeks ago, I
wrote about some of the things I thought were missing from the scripts
submitted for 4screenwriting. This week, some thoughts about the positive
qualities that stood out in scripts, often taken directly from the notes I made
as I was reading the scripts.
story-telling is a hard element to define – but it is one of the key reasons
that some of the scripts stand out – sophisticated, multi-layered, fast-moving,
surprising narratives within a story world that feels authentic and
Many of these stories
use structure playfully and imaginatively, often not telling their story in a
linear way but cutting between different timeframes, withholding key story
information in ways that maximize the dramatic tension and intrigue in a story.
Many of the best
scripts stand out because they feel like they are stories that are unique to
that writer – think about telling stories that only you can tell.
The best scripts are
clearly about something – and often something that taps into the current social
/ political climate.
truth in story world, characterisation and emotional connections between
characters (this is one of the many things I respond to in Noah Baumbach’s THE
MEYEROWITZ STORIES and MARRIAGE STORY – the scripts for both films are
masterclasses in screenwriting IMO).
Directly taken from
my or the readers’ notes about the scripts we responded to positively –
Feels fresh, original, distinctive. Stylistically
inventive and playful – lots of fantasy, pastiche, stylised moments. I warmed
to the characters and central relationship.
A story that I can
easily pitch, a compelling, emotive, character-driven story that is also about
a big, controversial historical conflict and its ripples into the present day.
Non-linear structure, cutting artfully between past and present.
A little baffling and cryptic – but at the same time
there is such assurance and clarity to the writing that it is strangely
compelling. Strong visual story-telling, some powerful moments and images.
Characters immediately come off the page vividly –
good dysfunctional, recognisable family set-up. Very good comic dialogue…flair
and individuality to the writing.
Great dialogue, interesting, flawed characters and it
feels strongly contemporary – finger on the pulse in terms of young metropolitan
characters. Inventive, comic subtitles– it’s really about something, feels like
it taps into the zeitgeist.
Very well-written and the two characters believable,
textured, distinct. Shocking story told with restraint.
It builds in intensity and there is an intelligence to
the writing of the characters, dialogue and story. It’s increasingly intriguing
and I like its ambition, and that it seems to be about something.
He writes excellent dialogue. The characters and
relationship come off the page strongly – this is powerful, subtle, moving. The
way it’s written, it’s easy to picture the staging, very good use of music.
Real spirit and distinctiveness to the characters, the
story world. Fun, comic family dynamics. Well-observed.
Good clarity to the writing – and it’s clearly about
something. Emotive and interesting. It’s very issue-centric – but it’s
instructive and an issue that needs airing. There are some really powerful
scenes. The story-telling is straightforward. But there’s such power and
conviction to it that it doesn’t need stylistic flourishes. One of the scripts
that has really had an emotional impact.
It’s raw but feels real and there are some very funny
moments. Definitely a distinctive voice. I really connected with the central
I liked the premise. It’s bonkers but there’s
something excellent about it too. Tasteless, unexpected, some very funny lines.
And very much about something – sharp satire
Dark, atmospheric, powerful, convincing. Very good
Nice character dynamics, good dialogue. It has charm
Good comic dialogue – feels authentic and accessible,
well-observed even if story is very low stakes (but it’s a comedy and I warm to
the characters, smile at the dialogue).
Really excellent, takes you into authentic, unfamiliar
story world. Characterisations subtle and engaging. Some really stand out
moments and such a strong, individual agenda.
One of the few genuinely funny scripts. A little
slight but successful on its own terms and very enjoyable, also visually
inventive, lots of smart story telling ideas
Great subject matter, excellent structure /
story-telling and good characterisations. At times feels a little rushed – but
this is powerful; and above all great story material – important, specific but
universal; about the aftermath of a huge conflict and a microcosm of its
Here are some very perceptive and insightful responses to the scripts
they read from two of this year’s 4screenwriting script readers, Danny Moran
and Holly Boyden –
Top tips for guaranteed writing success*
Check your spelling
This is an obvious
one but make sure your script doesn’t have any spelling mistakes. This is the
writing equivalent of showering before going on a first date. If I read a
script with spelling mistakes it instantly makes me lose confidence in the
writer. Check it, check it again and get everyone you know to check it.
Make sure it looks right
There are lots of
useful websites such as BBC Writersroom that have PDFs of professional scripts,
read as many of them as you can. Make sure your script is properly formatted
but also study how the seasoned pros lay out their scenes. The vast majority of
scripts I read this year used far too much description. If your scene is set in
a character’s bedroom you don’t need paragraphs and paragraphs telling the
audience the colour of the carpet and the pattern of the wallpaper, just say
“Int. Bedroom – Day” and get to the action.
The story should start before your script does
Too many scripts
start like this: the main character wakes up, they shower, they make breakfast,
they check their phone, they’ve got a message from their mate asking if they
fancy a drink later, they send a text back – this is boring, do not do this.
Make sure your script is never the unnecessary backstory to the actual story.
The audience is smart, throw them into the story and let them catch up.
Action is character – Make sure your protagonist has
One of the most
common mistakes you see are scripts with passive protagonists who are at the
mercy of factors beyond their control. This is very understandable because in
well-written stories, particularly comedies, it does feel this way but look
closer and the main characters are always driving the plot. Even in a film like
I, Daniel Blake which is all about
how peoples’ lives are dictated by a flawed system they have no control over,
the main character (I forget his name) is never passive, he’s constantly
fighting the system – his actions dictate the plot. Audiences engage with
active characters, they can only sympathise with passive ones.
Know your tone
Tone is a nebulous
thing which is hard to pin down but very evident when it is wrong. This isn’t
just a matter of genre. Peep Show and
The It Crowd are both comedies, if
Moss broke both his legs in an episode you wouldn’t question it if he was
completely recovered by the next one. However, if Mark Corrigan broke both his
legs it wouldn’t make sense if he wasn’t in physiotherapy for the rest of the
series. Tone is about establishing the rules of the world in which the story is
set and making sure those rules are consistent throughout your script. A lot of
scripts that are solid in theory don’t work because the writer hasn’t
successfully set up the tone of the story and as such the audience doesn’t know
how they should be processing it.
Write what you know…but also don’t
Draw from your own
experiences but don’t be afraid to use your creative license. Mad Men is probably one of the most
personal and emotionally honest shows ever made and none of the writing staff
were ad men in the 1960s. My point is that, whatever ideas your script is
exploring, choose the most interesting world to explore them in. Don’t
automatically opt for the one you’re most familiar with.
Be original – write something only you can write
I had at least 50
scripts which were about people in their twenties/early thirties all feeling
directionless (hey join the club!). There is nothing wrong with this concept
but you have to have a really fresh angle on it to stand out. It’s hard to make
an impression with a script which is just an inferior version of a show that
already exists. Write the new Fleabag
but don’t literally write new Fleabag.
There is no such thing as totally original but there
is originality and that’s what we’re looking for. Take the medium seriously,
think about the form and how it sits with the content. Find the human angle.
Get under the fingernails of your characters, go back and question everything
and don’t try and build big for the sake of it. You got this.
Over the weekend of
Nov 16-17 I held a 2 day screenwriting course. One of my guest speakers was
screenwriter / playwright / stand-up comedian Archie Maddocks (one of the
4screenwriting alumni on this year’s Brit List!). One of the things Archie said
that I thought was really interesting and which struck a chord with me was how
sometimes a good script is less about the quality of the writing than the story
and the way it’s told / structured. Often, it’s a good idea to worry less about
the writing, more about the story and how you’re telling it.
It looks like myself
and my fellow script mentors now have the capacity to take on one or two more
writers as mentees. All the details about how to apply can be found on my
The other three
mentors are writer KITTY PERCY and script editors JOE WILLIAMS and JAMIE HEWITT
– I am very proud to be working with all three; you can find their biogs on the
The next newsletter will be on Friday December 13th (which I
fear may be a very black Friday – USE YOUR VOTE!).
Posted by admin / November 14, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE SCRIPTS – A RESPONSE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Posted by admin / October 31, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on SCREENWRITING STRATEGY
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
‘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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Posted by admin / October 17, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2019 HIGHLIGHTS
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
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
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.
2 DAY SCREENWRITING COURSE October 12-13
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.
Posted by admin / October 03, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – KATE TRAILL
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
7. What are the best books for
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
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,
Posted by admin / October 03, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on POSH! – YOUR RESPONSES
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…
great, thanks. Nice to have you veering off topic – and sorry to hear about
your experiences at Boarding School.
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.
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
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…
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?!!
with this topic. Two observations.
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
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.
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.
to say in response to your email and I’m sure others will feel the same.
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’
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.
description of your car journey to school sounds like an opening scene. Just saying…
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
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.
allowed to talk for ten minutes
what has happened during the day,
have to go to sleep.
doesn’t matter what we dream about.
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.
Hugo Williams ‘Collected Poems’.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
my rant is over too now – but its heartening to find some agreement, and yes
I’m very strongly in agreement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
case, I could go on about this all day. I won’t, cos I’ve got stuff to do and
so have you.
for the thought food, anyway.
– 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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’.
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
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
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.
interesting and thanks for sharing! I thought this article was also quite
for your email – I always enjoy these updates but today’s made me stop in my
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was at a public school from 8 to 18. I ran away once and was expelled twice.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
(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 important10 minutes of their
(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
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
CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020
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,