This week’s newsletter is a recently-released CHANNEL 4 press release about this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course (apologies for this but today Friday July 23rd my daughter is getting married so it’s been hard to find the time to write something new and original!).
This press release marks the conclusion of this year’s 4screenwriting. NB We will be open for entries for the 2022 Channel 4 screenwriting course between Sept 14th and Oct 1st.
I would also like to point out that, unlike entries for 2021, for 2022 you will NOT be able to enter a script that you have previously submitted (this includes new drafts or re-titled versions of scripts you have previously entered). The script you submit needs to be a script that you have never previously submitted.
As you’ll see from the list of writer names at the end of this press release, as well as the 12 writers on the course, we also ran a mentoring scheme for a further 31 writers. These short-listed writers were mentored by a combination of producers, script editors, development executives, literary agents, and writers – to whom I’m enormously grateful for their time and generosity.
We hope to be able to run this mentoring scheme again alongside 4screenwriting 2022.
To the industry subscribers to this newsletter – please feel free to get back to me with enquiries about any of these 31 mentored writers as well as the 12 course writers.
CHANNEL 4 DRAMA 4SCREENWRITING ANNOUNCES 2021 WRITERS
Channel 4 today announces the 12 writers who won coveted places on this year’s Channel 4 Drama Screenwriting course, 4Screenwriting.
Over the last 11 years 4Screenwriting has been an invaluable course within the industry, creating the right conditions for new talent to flourish. The course reflects the channel’s commitment to finding and nurturing new voices and is a hothouse for writers to discover their own paths to making great television.
Since 2011, 4Screenwriting has scouted and worked with over 130 new writers, many of whom have gone on to enjoy notable screenwriting success. The list of alumni includes screenwriters such as; Charlie Covell (The End of the Fucking World, Banana); Anna Symon (Indian Summers, Mrs Wilson, The Essex Serpent), Theresa Ikoko (Rocks), Nathaniel Price (Noughts & Crosses, Tin Star, The Offenders) Adam Usden (Zero Chill), Namsi Khan (His Dark Materials, Humans), Chandni Lakhani (The Dublin Murders, Vigil).
Recent success stories include 4Screenwriting alumni writing on C4 drama shows including Hollyoaks, Ackley Bridge, On The Edge, and the forthcoming Screw; several of the course projects are going into active development with Channel 4 Drama; writers with their own, authored shows, on established series going into production or in writers rooms with ITV, BBC, Channel 5, Sky, Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, etc.
From almost 4,000 applications, the 12 writers that were selected and completed the 2021 course are: Jeffrey Aidoo, Lisa Carroll, Laurence Clark, Patricia Cumper, Thara Popoola, Martha Reed, Owen Richards, Emilie Robson, Hannah Shury-Smith, Amy Trigg, Will Truefitt and Jingan Young.
The writers received motivational, creative and practical advice to kick-start their careers with talks from high-profile writers, producers, directors and members of the Channel 4 commissioning team. These included Russell T Davies (It’s A Sin, Doctor Who), Theresa Ikoko (Rocks, Snatches: Moments from Women’s Lives), Anna Symon (Deep Water, Mrs Wilson), Sarah Brown (Creative Director of Drama, STV), David Davis (Executive Producer, Bad Wolf Productions), Lynsey Miller (Deadwater Fell, The Boy With The Top Knot), Hilary Norrish (Top Boy, Little Birds), Kate Leys (Churchill, Benjamin) and from the Channel 4 Drama team; Gemma Boswell (Head of Development) and Rebecca Holdsworth (Drama Commissioning Executive).
In addition, the writers received the expertise and guidance of their own script editors whilst developing their own original one-hour drama or drama serial. Once completed, the scripts were assigned to actors to read sections, followed by discussion and analysis.
Head of Channel 4 Drama, Caroline Hollick said: “4Screenwriting is an integral part of Channel 4 Drama’s commitment to finding, nurturing, and developing new talent. With the stellar support of Philip Shelley, the scheme has consistently found original and distinctive voices and this year is no exception. The team and I are excited to support these exceptional writers on the next steps of their career and see them flourish in the industry.”
Writer Charlie Covell said: “4Screenwriting is one of the best things I’ve done — I learnt a huge amount and received amazing support and guidance. I think it really helped me find my voice as a writer, and the practical advice in terms of navigating the industry was invaluable.”
The 4Screenwriting course is open to applicants without a screenwriting credit and gives the opportunity to work with a dedicated script editor to write an original script. The course will be running again for 2022. Entries for 2022 will be accepted from mid-September for 3 weeks and details for this will be updated on www.careers.channel4.com/4skills/talent-schemes/4screenwriting in the coming weeks.
Notes to Editors:
The course is run for Channel 4 by Philip Shelley who runs his own Script Consultancy Service. Philip works with individual writers, producers, and production companies.
During the 2021 intake and for the first time in 4Screenwriting history, the programme ran a mentoring scheme for an additional 31 writers – more details about these writers can be found on Philip Shelley’s website https://script-consultant.co.uk/
THE 4SCREENWRITING MENTORED WRITERS 2021
Here is the list of the 31 writers who have been mentored over the last 6 months by experienced industry practitioners (producers, script editors, development executives, literary agents, screenwriters) –
This week’s newsletter is written by 4screenwriting 2020 alumnus ABRAHAM ADEYEMI –
When Philip asked me to write this, I was delighted. Not to blow smoke up his arse, but I’ve long been a fan of Philip’s newsletter – way before I ever participated in 4Screenwriting and I still read them today. Whenever there’d be a guest writer on the newsletter, I’d be excited and – since becoming acquainted with Philip – I hoped one day he’d ask me!
You would think, therefore, that when that day finally came I would know exactly what I would be writing, right? Wrong.
I of course welcome Philip’s invitation with warmth. His email includes prompts which I skim over but pretty much ignore because I’m sure I’ll figure out something totally unique to write about.
Well, hopefully after this point I’m hoping I’m going to figure that out but, up until this point, I’ve simply been writing for writing’s sake. Flexing the muscles. Reminding myself that this thing isn’t as overwhelming as I’m making it out to be and that sometimes you just have to get the juices flowing. But I’ve been thinking whilst writing. Thinking about how – today particularly – I find myself in a moment that is unrecognisable to myself and would be unrecognisable to anybody who knows me or has worked with me. I find myself demotivated. We’re in a global pandemic and I’d – of course – be forgiven for letting it take its toll on me. But even throughout this, I have been – true to form – resilient.
I’m going to digress now, not because of toxic masculinity traits that has me not wanting to talk about my feelings but because I think I’ve figured out what I want to write about. That’s actually how my brain tends to work, actually. A sudden spark just comes. In conversation. In writing. In living. And I have to follow it and catch it in that very moment, and use it because I have the brain of a goldfish.
I’m going to talk about a couple of things I am asked very often. The answers I have do not tend to be the magical formula people hope for, but I do always hope they are helpful.
Walking to the beat of your own drum: A Brief History of Abe.
1991 – 2011. Black Brit/Nigerian. Born and raised in S. London. Working class and single parent home on the most part. Wanted to be a lawyer.
2011 – dropped out of an International Politics Degree to start a part time, 4-year creative writing degree whilst spending the majority of my time outside of that drowning myself in my craft.
2012 – 2x summer jobs; a theatre usher, summer school pastoral mentor (seasonal role until 2019). 24 hours a week at a phone shop.
2014 – Quit phone shop, to focus on writing because after my degree I am, of course, going to make it.
2015 – Finish degree. Made homeless less than a month later. Sofa-surfing, get a full time job, not kept beyond probation, unemployed by Christmas.
2016 – Job Seekers Allowance. Still sofa surfing. Eventually get a job in telephone customer service, night shifts. Become unsustainable to balance with writing. Quit. Do my summer schools. Start working in secondary schools as a cover supervisor.
2017 – Finally have some stability, rent a room. Get a second job, admin assistant to a social worker. Get a third job, theatre bar staff.
2020 – Global pandemic happens and all my jobs disappear. By some great fortune, once the mini panic is over, it seems like this has perfectly happened around the same time that I am able to write for a living, full time.
Present day – still writing full time.
I don’t think people are transparent enough about how they manage to pay their bills/rent/survive whilst chasing their dreams. I think it’s important to find what works for you. I had zero interest in working in/around film/TV whilst trying to get in. I did not think that would serve me. The most important thing to me was having flexibility (so a full-time job was out of the question) so that I could always give time to writing when I needed to. The chaos I’ve outlined above definitely will not work for everyone. But it worked for me.
No More Wings
In 2019, I made a short film called No More Wings. It was my directorial debut and through some unpredictable magical fortune, it has been a tremendous success, most notably it winning best narrative short at Tribeca Film Festival, subsequently qualifying for both BAFTA and Oscar consideration, and opened up a million doors for me. I need to stress that this was totally unpredictable. I did not go to film school. I have never wanted to direct. I do not know anything about film festivals nor what makes a successful festival film (as proven by the fact that we’ve been rejected by 30-40 festivals). No More Wings was a story I’d had in my mind to write since around 2017. I didn’t write it, but I was thinking about it a lot and kept telling anybody who would listen about it. Nobody could understand my excitement about this pretty simple idea: two childhood friends sitting at a chicken shop, catching up, whilst one reveals that he’s moving away from the neighbourhood they grew up in.
I’ve since realised a couple things as a result of this. Firstly, I had to be the person to direct No More Wings (I’ve continued directing btw); when nobody else can see what you can see, it’s probably a good idea to find a way to do it yourself (easier said than done, I know).
Secondly, and hopefully more usefully, is that I think it’s really important to write what you want to write even if it makes sense to nobody else. If it really excites you, sets your soul on fire, you should write it. I’m currently developing a TV project and it’s the most difficult thing to articulate. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure that something I’m working on would be great, in a similar way to how I thought of No More Wings. On paper, No More Wings is mundane. This series, on paper, is totally chaotic and like nothing that I’ve seen before. All the more reason to write it.
I want to remind us of clichés that are true.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. When I considered the theme ‘time’ I thought that short film about a chicken shop I’ve wanted to write for ages would be a good idea. When I got onto 4Screenwriting, I wrote the script that I’ve wanted to write since 2012.
Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. When your “time/moment” comes, you’ll either be prepared for it or you won’t. Most assume that if you’re not prepared for it, automatically failure is to be expected. This is incorrect. You fail if you do not rise to the challenge.
There’s no such thing as an overnight success. There is, actually, but overnight successes seldom ever sustain long careers. Those who have worked patiently in the shadows, preparing, sharpening their tools usually do, though.
Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness. I vividly remember calculating when I decided to embark on my writing journey what 10,000 hours would look like. I’ve just done a calculation and – whilst I don’t think I’ve reached greatness yet – 10,000 hours across ten years is about 3.82 hours a day if you take out weekends. I didn’t expect it to take me ten years to get to where I am now. I was very incorrect. You must do your ten thousand hours. And then some.
Lastly, I’m going to address some of Philip’s prompts. And I’m going to address them with 1-2 sentence answers. As someone who consistently struggles to utilise brevity, the following is an achievement.
The way you work and tricks to help writers be productive. I have a short attention span and, as such, on days when I sometimes achieve 18 pages worth of script, it is likely that I’ve written in several bursts of 10-15 minute periods of focus throughout the day, with plenty of procrastination (read: social media) in between. Find what works for you.
The value of writing groups. If nothing else, they’ll teach you how to take and utilise critique – hopefully for the betterment of your writing. Critique isn’t always right, but it is criminal to disregard it without first considering it.
Your experiences of the industry eg agents, meetings, script notes, writers rooms, rejection and how to cope with it. I spent years trying to get an agent, get into certain rooms etc. with no avail and then – when I wasn’t trying at all – it all came. That’s not me saying don’t try (definitely do); what I’m saying here is keep writing so that you’re always prepared when it’s your moment.
Things you have watched that have made an impression on you. I watched Malcolm & Marie over the weekend and – as someone who loves riveting dialogue – I almost orgasmed.
Thoughts on script editing. Any and all of my successful works are 100x better than they would have been, if not for the script editors involved. Embrace them.
The importance of diverse voices. I watched a fantastic series recently, which I almost stopped watching minutes in because they massacred my mother tongue (Yoruba) in the opening minutes. Without diverse voices, we cannot reflect and represent the world in which we exist with true authenticity and if that is a disservice to one of us, it is a disservice to all of us.
What you’ve missed this year in the global pandemic. Talking about things that have nothing to do with what we’re actually supposed to be talking about or doing, as every single conversation I have right now feels so intentional. Seeing and speaking to someone unexpectedly. And airports (yes, I know that was three sentences. Fuck off.).
What you’re looking forward to doing when we can all be in a room together again. Interrupting people, being interrupted and talking over each other. Not this polite bollocks we’re all doing on Zoom, that just isn’t how real conversations work (and – as mentioned above – sudden sparks, immediacy, goldfish memory).
Now that I think about it, I wish I had just written a paragraph response to each prompt. That would have been fun. Maybe Philip will be so kind as to ask me to guest again. Until then…
Thank you so much Abe for this inspiring piece (and if you haven’t yet seen NO MORE WINGS, seek it out!)
The Channel 4 screenwriting course has come to an end for another year and I’d like to reflect on a few things I have taken away from the course this year.
Every year there comes a moment when I get to read the 9 scripts I haven’t been script-editing and it’s always a moment of excitement and joy. I was blown away by the quality, variety and range of the stories the writers are telling.
These few days of intense reading remind me how inspiring good writing can be. One of the guest script editors said, in response to one of the scripts I had edited when beginning her feedback session, ‘Well this wouldn’t be something I can imagine seeing on TV.’ Now this may seem perverse but that statement really pleased me. Because I have almost come to see the scripts written on the course as a challenge to the TV industry, to the people who commission shows. The scripts on the course are saying – I don’t see shows like this on TV and I would like to. These are the sorts of shows you should be making.
I don’t think what I’m saying is that the scripts that come off the course are better than what is currently on TV (certainly not when I’ve recently been watching wonderful shows like TIME and MARE OF EASTTOWN) – but at their best they offer an alternative vision of what TV drama can be, what it can do.
For instance, this year’s scripts included – the story of a female Jamaican student at Cambridge uni in the 1970’s and the challenges she faces. A comedy drama exploring the clash of religion and education from the perspective of a young working-class woman in a Welsh valley community. A complex human drama on the frontline of social care in Britain today, also set in Wales! A pitch-black comedy drama set in the North East about two female friends who lose the urn of ashes of their dead friend. A ghost story about a high-flying black female lawyer, haunted and interrogated by her recently-dead grandmother. A story about the disabled daughter of a ‘Kardashian’-like reality TV show family. A comedy drama about the upheaval in a traditional East London Chinese family business.
As you can see from this sample, the range and variety of stories and voices is mind-boggling.
The first day of the 2nd weekend of the course consists of a group of 10 (excellent) actors doing readings from each of the 12 scripts. The feedback from the actors is invaluable – the first interface between the writers and people coming to these scripts fresh. What the actors so often say is a vindication, a confirmation that what we all hoped was on the page, is. It’s so exciting when we that the scripts work in the ways we hoped they would (but also reveal aspects that we didn’t anticipate!). It renews your faith in the creativity and generosity of so many actors.
It was also great to hear how keen the writers were to express their gratitude to their script editors and to be reminded how creatively valuable the writer / script editor relationship can be at its best. The course is very lucky to be working with scripts editors as outstanding as Izzy De Rosario, Ravneet Minhas, Ray McBride Mike Bryher, Tamar Saphra, Lucy Haig and Maria Odufuye..
The drinks evening, where we invite people from the industry, potential employers for these writers, such an important part of the course, has had to be delayed for a few months as the world, hopefully, begins to get back to a different form of normality. In the meantime, we organised a picnic in Regents Park for the writers and script editors from both this year and last. After running half of last year’s and all of this year’s course on zoom, it was strange and wonderful to meet people in the flesh whom I feel I have got to know quite well through the medium of zoom over the last few months but have never seen in more than 2 dimensions.
Zoom is great and has given opportunities to writers and script editors, made things easier for many, but there is still undoubtedly something missing on zoom, something you don’t get compared to meeting people IRL. I got a stronger sense of the identity of people in real life that I’d never met before, even those people who I exchanged just a few words with.
It was also great to be able to introduce the 12 2021 writers to their 2020 counterparts – all of whom have gone through the phenomenon of multiple industry meetings on zoom since the end of the 2020 course. I was with 3 x 2020 writers discussing general meetings, how they were still trying to work out what they were for and how to get the best out of them. I asked them to pause until I had introduced them to 3 x 2021 writers, just about to go through this mysterious process, before they carried on the conversation.
I had a phone call with a writer via my script consultancy last week. She contacted me by email with a slightly vague request that I work with her as she developed a new TV idea (this is a writer with a theatre background). She was hesitant about the project and I tried to ask her more about it. But the call had started with her spontaneously, almost involuntarily, telling me about her day job, about working in education and having to lay off employees and how tough this had been. By the end of the phone call I think she (and I) had realised that her hesitancy about her new TV project was caused by a fundamental lack of belief, almost interest, in it; that she had started to develop it because it seemed to her like a viable, plausible idea for TV, something that might appeal to producers. But what she suddenly realised she was passionate about writing was what she had talked about at the start of the call – the cultural brutality of the current government, the closing-off that’s going on in education, the threat to the arts.
It was a great reminder to me (already initiated by the 4screenwriting scripts) of where powerful stories comes from – your personal passions, your fury, from a combination of the personal and the political, stories that come from your guts not second-guessing what you think is viable for TV.
This week, some random thoughts on screenwriting and storytelling for the screen that have occurred to me recently, from the scripts I’ve been reading and the shows I’ve been watching.
The thorny issue of how not to have your characters act as functions of exposition is an issue that comes up in so many scripts that I read.
Avoid exposition. IMO it’s better that your audience is momentarily confused than having them recognise the purpose of a scene, an exchange between characters, as primarily expositional. There is little more dramatically deadening to a scene than the sense that two characters are neutrally exchanging information for the benefit of the audience. Characters conveying information is dramatically deadly – unless you can find an unexpected way to dramatise and disguise this – an argument, a joke, a lie, an unexpected context, location, etc.
An important corollary to this – your default should be that any scene is about what is happening in the moment of that scene between the characters, rather than about something that has happened elsewhere, off-screen.
And if you do need to have your characters convey information / exposition, don’t repeat it between different characters and in different contexts – the audience only needs to hear it once.
If you need to hint at or convey exposition, try to make it sub-textual rather than ‘on the nose’.
If in doubt, make dialogue inarticulate rather than articulate.
Having characters accurately and dispassionately articulate their emotional state is another aspect of exposition that, in general, is death to drama and dynamism. You need to recognise that for all of us, our internalised / idealised self-image is often quite far removed from the external, objective reality that other people see! You can use this disconnect dramatically and comically – but this is a reality (isn’t it?!). There is nothing more stultifying to dramatic narrative than the character who can articulate their internal problems clearly.
Don’t tell the audience. Trust them. Let them find their own place in the story. Your story is a gift to the audience. Let it go, let them interpret it as they wish. We crave story but we don’t want to be told how to respond to story, and it isn’t your place as writer to try to control an individual response.
I don’t know about you but I have met very few people who are truly, consistently, repeatedly bad, who thrive on doing destructive things and hurting people. The one person I do know like this was also thoroughly personable, likeable and plausible on a superficial social level. One of the reasons this man is appalling is because he’s also superficially plausible. Those who have been tricked, ripped off and hurt by him have only been so because before he hurt them, they had liked him, had made a wrong judgement about him. So not only do they feel betrayed, they feel stupid. This is true also I think of other ‘real’ antagonists – Lance Armstrong, Jimmy Saville, Boris Johnson – all had / have a side to them that was / is persuasive, charming and personable.
So give everyone – especially your antagonists – convincing, plausible aspects and arguments.
I love a road movie – it’s such an inherently cinematic, narratively rich genre – the latest examples – the wonderful NOMADLAND; and YOUTH IN OREGON on Amazon Prime. It’s great when an internal character journey and their external journey run in parallel lines (and road movies have such rich potential visually and in the characters who our heroes meet along the way).
Watching the excellent I AM SAM recently, my daughter said, ‘It’s a bit of a tricky situation, isn’t it?’
‘Tricky situations’ are the bedrock of dramatic story.
View each scene as a complete story unit in itself. Each scene needs its own narrative arc of change. Each scene should change the status quo of your story in some way. And don’t feel that you need to achieve this in dialogue. Tell your story as dynamically as possible but with as little dialogue as possible.
On a recent BAFTA zoom discussion, I was fascinated to hear the brilliant Lucy Prebble observe that some of her best writing is done when on the move, travelling, eg on a train or plane. This struck a chord with me. In the olden, pre-pandemic days, several of my blogs were written on my phone when travelling on the tube, up the Northern Line. We all need external stimuli to invoke creativity.
I think this mirrors the idea that story itself at its best is often about movement (eg road movies) – every scene needs to move the story forward; dynamic story depends on movement within a scene (and I’m not only talking here about narrative movement / progression but about physical movement too).
‘A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.’ From ‘ANNIE HALL.’
THROW STONES AT YOUR CHARACTERS
Sometimes writers have so much affection for and investment in the characters they have created that they are reluctant to hurt them. But story is about putting pressure on your characters, asking difficult questions of them, poking their weak spots – and seeing how they respond. In order for us to care about characters, we need to see them suffer, which leads onto the question –
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
This question is a script editor’s cliché – but it is so for good reasons. What does your character have to lose by taking certain actions? Characters need to take risks. In fact I would go so far as to say that you need to have your lead characters making bad decisions, making mistakes.
DEUS EX MACHINA
A storytelling trope to be avoided – a random event dropped into your story that changes the status quo of your story but doesn’t feel properly set up or earned. Resist, for instance, the car crash that explodes your character’s life. There is a danger that your carefully constructed character arc and audience investment will be undermined by this random moment of ill-luck. So often ‘deus ex machina’ moments seem to contradict and weaken the story rules and parameters you have set up.
Whiplash – the duel between the two central characters – both deeply flawed and compelling. Andrew’s car crash is an exception to the above – one of those drama car crashes that is completely to do with character – not a random deus ex machina event. This car crash is very much an articulate dramatization of who he is as a character at that particular point of the story.
TIME – Jimmy McGovern
Since writing this, I have binged all three episodes of this new show on BBC iplayer. Jimmy McGovern has been telling consistently brilliant, compelling, politically-committed but above all entertaining TV drama stories for almost 40 years.
There is such conspicuous craft and skill to his storytelling. In fact, everything I’ve written about above is illustrated brilliantly in TIME. You know you’re in the hands of a master when everything that is set up is later paid off (eg the busted rear light on Stephen Graham’s car). There is an economy and circularity to the writing that is so impressive. And one of the things that he does most notably is make his characters suffer. But the more these (good) people suffer, the more bad decisions they make, the more we the audience care about them and about their eventual outcomes.
Despite the darkness of the story, there is a humanity (and therefore believability) to every single character.
Virtually every single scene feels like a set-piece, like a mini-drama in its own right; and at the same time, every single scene advances or changes the story significantly.
Vital exposition is withheld so that our curiosity and thirst to have answers to vital story questions is piqued. Even by the end of the story there are certain quite big story questions that are left unanswered – but what JM doesn’t tell us is judged brilliantly. There are exposition gaps that he trusts the audience to fill in for themselves.
This week I’m delighted to share with you some thoughts from screenwriter and former development executive, CAT MOULTON. As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence, Cat has a unique insight into the process of both giving and receiving notes.
Cat worked in drama development and production before she became a screenwriter. Her credits as a development exec include The Good Karma Hospital and Peaky Blinders. She was on the 2019 4Screenwriting course and she has written an episode of Baptiste series two. She is currently writing an episode of a new show for Sky One.
The Dark Art of Giving and Receiving Script Notes by Cat Moulton
Eighteen months ago, I left my job as a development executive to become a writer. I spent seventeen years giving notes to writers and now I’m offering up my own work for criticism.
My first script meetings as a writer were meta, out-of-body experiences. I was attempting to respond to notes and simultaneously giving myself notes on how I was reacting to the notes. Was I that awkward, defensive writer I sometimes encountered as a development exec? The one I wished would understand I was trying to help them make their script better?
There’s no doubt receiving notes on your work can be an uncomfortable experience. I’m lucky to be working with producers who are very good at giving notes and it’s given me a renewed appreciation for the job I used to do.
When I decided to make the move into writing I wrote a weird horror script. I gave it to a few people whose opinions I respected and I braced myself for their reactions. It turned out that my script was very marmitey. Some people really liked it and others didn’t get it at all. But even among the people who liked it, there were a wide range of opinions about how to make it better. Some people loved certain sequences, others earmarked the exact same sequences as cuts. If I’d taken on board all the notes I was given the script would be a mess. So how do you work out what to take from notes?
Writers are often told to trust their gut when working out what’s the right choice for their script. Which is great advice if your gut is a responsible adult, but I’ve learned from experience that my gut is often telling me it doesn’t want to do a note because it would unpick things that took ages to write and it feels like hard work. Or that it doesn’t know how to address the note and it feels scary.
Giving and receiving notes is definitely an art and not a science. There’s no one right way to do it. But for me, the two most important attributes on both sides of the note-giving process are clarity and vulnerability. Every good experience I’ve had, on either side of the table, had these qualities.
We’ve all heard about the “note behind the note” and, to my mind, this is the note that should be given first. One of the most important skills of note-giving is to identify the often vague feelings you have when reading a script. Here’s something I noticed when I read your script that I think needs attention. And then here’s a SUGGESTION for how you might address it. But scripts are complex things and the note-behind-the-note isn’t always easy to put your finger on. Often something feels wrong and you won’t know why.
Writing a script often feels like trying to build a house without any plans. You and your producer have agreed you’re going to build a house. But even if it feels like you have the same house in mind, if it’s a new idea it’s likely that neither of you will know how it will turn out. The best note-givers are able to interpret those often vague feelings about where the construction is going wrong and to steer you towards the best possible version of your idea.
On the writer’s side, clarity is about understanding and articulating what’s important to you. I usually start out with a few things I know I want to hold onto. Sometimes it’s a tone – what I want people to feel when they read, or hopefully, watch my work. Often it’s a character and how their dilemma expresses a theme I want to explore. Those things become the yardstick I can measure notes against. Does this note bring me closer to or take me further away from the things that are important to me?
It’s just as important and, also, just as hard to achieve.
Let’s take it as a given that most writers are inwardly nervous wrecks, some are outwardly too. And it’s not surprising given we have to balance the arrogance needed to have a “voice” and “vision” for a TV show / film / play we feel really needs to be out in the world, with the humility to really listen to criticism of our work.
Resist the temptation to see notes as an argument you need to win! Hopefully this is obvious, but I came across this attitude as a script exec and, as a writer, I often have to squash the urge to try to cleverly wriggle my way out of notes.
If I’m reacting to a note I ask myself why (trying not to listen to my work-shy gut). The notes that provoke the biggest reaction are often the things I most need to hear. Everyone has areas they’re naturally good at and other things they need to work at. I try to steel myself to listen carefully to the notes on the areas I find hardest. The note is not always going to be the right one, but if several people are telling me there’s a problem with my script, there’s definitely somethingthat needs attention. My job is to find a way to fix it that works for me and my script.
You might find you disagree with a note and this time you’re utterly convinced it’s the wrong thing to do. That’s the time to start fighting. But I try to choose carefully the things I’m prepared to die in a ditch for. I find I get a lot further when it really matters if I don’t prickle at every note.
On the note giving side, vulnerability is about setting a tone that allows the work to be the focus. I like direct notes. I don’t want anyone to tiptoe around me. Writing is a job and we’re talking about how to make the work better, even if it does sometimes feel like it’s your soul that’s being critiqued. It helps to have an appreciation for what IS working (this is the house we want to build and here’s where the workmanship is good, or maybe even beautiful). It’s all too easy to gloss over the good stuff and go straight in with what isn’t working.
Script problems are often hard to solve. And as a note-giver you need to have the confidence to say you don’t know the answer. Talk around the issue for a bit. Maybe float mad ideas that don’t end up going anywhere, but the diversion you go on might end up leading you to a much more interesting idea. The best relationships I have are with producers who are prepared to explore and to push me out of my comfort zone.
For writers it’s also about having the confidence to ask for clarity. Can you talk a bit more about why you’re suggesting that? Are you saying you feel X is the problem? Or is it more about Y? It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to feel steamrollered when a producer is confidently giving you a suggestion instead of a note and saying, just do this. It will work.
There is alchemy at work in all good writer / producer relationships. If you find a producer who shares your taste, gets your voice and can give you notes in a way that allows you to do your best work, then hold onto them. When the notes process works well it’s often genuinely fun. And those are the days I feel lucky I get to do this as a job.
A huge thank you to Cat for taking the time and care to write so helpfully and insightfully about the every-tricky issue of notes and rewrites.
This week, more notes and quotes from the 1st weekend of this year’s CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 1st weekend discussions from back in January, all about literary agents, both from writers’ and agents’ POVs.
There are a lot of different ideas here, not all of which will be applicable to you – but I hope you will find the range of ideas about how to get a literary agent and what they can do for you, helpful.
FROM THE WRITER’S POV
Make your own judgements about agents within an agency – some agents within big agencies might be great, and others less so.
One writer got really conflicting advice about agents – some said agents will do nothing for you, you have to hustle yourself. Others suggested the agent is who can really get you your meetings.
Ideal situation is to have a shared responsibility for your work – you do need to hustle. Your agent is not your friend, it’s about whether that agent has contacts, do they respond to your work…etc.
Decide what you want to do (eg more comedy or drama?), what contacts an agent has and how they can help you.
Don’t take the first person, you can absolutely make them wait.
Say to all of them I’m meeting as many as possible, and this can only work in your favour. Play hard to get. They work for you, you don’t work for them.
Don’t be scared to meet lots of agents and find the right one. They understand, they won’t care, they know how it works.
It’s also okay to disagree with your agent on work. Keep that negotiation going. There will be times when this will happen, they’re not always right, but always do listen to them.
Don’t worry about chasing after a big name agent.
Newer agents will have more time for you and be more invested.
Newer agents in the more established agents
There’s also a need to build up a better ecosystem of agents outside of London
FROM THE AGENT’S POV –
A lot of it for an agent is about negotiating, business, getting your client the best deal.
An agent should be somewhere that’s a good conduit for the incoming jobs. 50% of the agent’s job is producers coming in, and agent will suggest you.
Agents have to be able to assure a client that if there’s a job going, agent will know about it. Keeping that continual dialogue is important.
Part of agent’s job is to troubleshoot problems along the way, be a mediator, try and find a solution, generally strategise a bit: why is the client taking or not taking a job, what are their needs over the next few years etc.
Find out within agencies which agents are still building lists. eg younger agents, wanting to build up their client list. Find out who they are and write to them personally.
Look at PMA website (thepma.com). Any reputable agency is on there, that’ll give you a list of the big agents.
Inviting people to things like readings is useful.
Where do writers get their first breaks?
Often they get good producers who want to start to develop original work with a writer. It may not get green-lit, but writers then form a relationship.
Often producers want very particular experience from a writer, and so agents can recommend them for a room – e.g a writer with experience of being in Paris.
Theatre is a great place to get seen as a writer.
How important is it, when approaching agents, to already have a large portfolio of work to show them?
It varies. Typically an agent wants to see a few scripts and see if the writer might have something in development already.
But, there are people with smaller lists who may well sign someone with just one script, especially if you’ve been on something like the C4 course.
Do you think it is important to be in London?
No. Many agents represent writers from all over the place. Lots in Scotland, Ireland, in the North…etc.
If / when life goes back to normal, it’s useful to be able to get to London to do face to face meetings. Same with sending clients to LA. Bonding face to face with people feels really important.
Zoom has democratised this even more.
Where is the place where an agent makes the most difference?
If you’re entering into an agreement for TV, for example, the basic writers guild contracts do not cover rewarding the writers for other possibilities – i.e if it spins into another series, someone else wants to take it and turn it into a movie, gets another series, sells elsewhere etc. Big things need to be negotiated by an agent, to protect writers.
At an early stage, you need an agent even more because you need someone to negotiate terms of contracts even though the money is small. You need an agent who can be careful and make sure you’re protected because you don’t want to be taken advantage of
eg if you have a break-out hit, you don’t want to have sold everything to someone for very little.
Writer’s guild contracts will only deal with repeats and residual payments, they don’t give you any of the producers profit part. So this is a big part of agent negotiations.
Other things: if a company wants to bring someone else on, if they don’t like what you’re doing, what’s your fee on eps you don’t write? All that stuff needs negotiating. TV contracts are very cumbersome and really important.
Film ones are a little easier, but there’s always a lot to think about here. More so than with directors, for example.
Can you contact an agent for advice on a contract if you’re not signed with them?
Some agents might do this, others probably won’t. Either you’re in a relationship or you’re not. Doing a one-off deal wouldn’t necessarily fit in.
You could hire an entertainment lawyer, but it’s very expensive. They charge hourly.
In the states, lawyers charge a percentage if they need to be involved, but they wouldn’t do smaller contracts.
Writer’s Guild is useful here. Whilst contracts don’t cover all of the things referenced above, it doesn’t mean they won’t give you advice on those things.
Having a deal also might help you get the attention of agents.
What do you need to know from a writer to know if it’s going to be a relationship you want to form?
What kinds of things are your writing about?
Know who you’re sending it to, and that it might be to their taste, make it personal and send to a person not ‘dear sir/madam’.
Where do you want to work? TV? Theatre? Film?
Let them know about your relationships with other industry people, and what they’ve said when it’s positive.
Understand that agents can’t respond to everyone. Don’t get angry if you don’t get a response, it’s not useful. But persevere nonetheless.
Talent, hard-work, and a bit of luck is what you need.
Don’t get put off by rejection.
How to approach an agent if you don’t have a specialty in terms of genre?
Every agent is different but many value versatility. Makes their job easier if clients can turn their hand to lots of things.
Industry at the moment doesn’t want to pigeonhole people. Those walls are coming down. Commissioning is going that way – some of the great hits now might have been really ‘noted’ to death in the past. Now, people have more confidence to let writing be a bit freer and less pigeonholed in terms of genre.
Tone can be more fluid, writing is less boxed-in.
The bar has also gone really high now that we have such international focus. So, a real celebration of how can we make this really inventive and a bit different. Playing safe isn’t necessarily the road to success.
Do agents give writing notes to their clients? How does this work?
Again, really varies.
Agents with new writers needs clarity. Usually it’s this (i.e I don’t understand where this is going) or it’s them telling you what else is going on in the industry and how that might affect what you’re working on.
More experienced writers may just want to talk about an idea with an agent once it’s already in with a producer.
Agents need to know all the themes, ideas, things you’re interested in so that when they’re talking about work with producers they can pitch you and talk about the work you’re going to write, not just what you’ve already written.
This fortnight I’m delighted to share with you a piece by screenwriter CELIA MORGAN, who was on the 2020 Channel 4 screenwriting course.
Celia said, ‘I first felt the need to explain who I am and how I got here. So I ended up just doing that – with tips and advice based on my experience smattered in along the way. I’ve found that people really enjoy hearing that I made a career change later in life (I didn’t think mid thirties counted as later in life – thought I was still young – but apparently it does) and especially to hear that it actually worked out. So I’ve just written about what happened and how. Hope it’s ok.’
As you’ll see, it’s very much more than OK – it’s an incredibly helpful, interesting insight into how she navigated her way to becoming a professional screenwriter.
‘At the time that I’m writing this, I’m an agented writer with six script commissions and two development deals under my belt. That all happened over the last 18 months, but has been 15 years in the making. There is no single route to becoming a career TV writer, but I thought it might be useful to tell you about how it happened for me. Not as a guide, but maybe as inspiration to keep striving toward what you love, even if the path is long and bumpy.
At the time that I applied for the 4Screenwriting 2020 course, I had completed a Masters in Writing for Stage & Broadcast in 2006, then worked a few years writing content for dating websites, moved on to create TV subtitles for four years, catalogued BBC News content for about two years, spent a short stint as a runner on Newsnight, planned continuity links for a broadcaster for a couple more years, then got a coordinator role in development at the BBC. After a long slog of moving around the giant machine of television, in varied and often low paying jobs, I decided to leave London, find affordable rent and pack it all in, firm in the knowledge that just being a part of the industry was never going to give me any special access to a career in writing for TV.
One thing that remained true throughout that journey was that writing competitions have always been a great way for new writers to gain recognition in the industry. So I wrote a few terrible plays (having never wanted to be a playwright, but knowing it was the primary route into TV when I started out) that, rightly, made no headway on the theatre submission circuit. I eventually started getting long and shortlisted for competitions, but ran out of steam and stopped writing entirely (unless you count a weird blog of poetry and tuba playing – but let’s not count the blog).
I never really stopped being a writer though, despite giving up on trying to make a career out of it, because I loved telling stories. I loved entertaining friends with tales of the latest stupidness situations that I’d gotten myself into. I love to make people laugh and I’ve always found that I make the most meaningful relationships when I’m conveying emotion in a pure and sensitive way. I knew that if I applied this to my writing and started to put myself on the page – not just what I thought the industry was looking for – then I’d be able to write a decent script.
The next step, after quitting my job, was to take a short course at the NFTS Scotland in pilot writing. I initially rejected the idea of this course because I simply could not afford it and hated the fact that my economic status ruled me out of access to something that could be so useful to my career. There were, however, bursaries available and I was encouraged to apply by the warm and lovely team there, and gained a place. The course was incredibly useful for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest was the access to peer critique. Each day we read out new pages of our scripts and discussed them immediately after. If you are unable to do such a course, but have access to a peer group of writers, I would highly recommend doing this as it enables you to quickly hone your craft. First of all, you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of your peers so you try to impress with every page, second of all, the ability to instantly see how your words connect (or don’t connect) in the way that you intend saves you a lot of time on redrafts.
With this completed script, I started submitting to competitions and became a joint winner on the Triforce Writerslam and gained a place on the 4Screenwriting 2020 Course. When I think about this script, compared to the previously longlisted/shortlisted scripts earlier in my career, I believe that this one resonated with readers so much more because it was the first time I put my authentic self on the page. I know this sounds cheesy, and I hated hearing writers say things like this when I was sat there not cutting through in competitions, but this was the first time I stopped writing what I thought I was supposed to write and instead wrote about what passionately meant something to me. I can say, honestly, that it wasn’t the most technically refined script you’ll ever read, but it told the reader exactly who I am and what I care about, and there’s only one me, so it felt fresh and unique (so I’ve been told).
The next part of my journey was getting an agent. This felt relatively easy because I was now on their radar, but in truth, my agent was the only agent that spoke to me at the competition finale event. There were others there, but they weren’t interested in me, even after being announced a winner, so it was a quick lesson in the fact that winning offers no guarantees. After doing some research on the agency and a meeting with the agent that was interested, I was fortunate to find that we were a great fit. The relationship between client and agent is a personal one, so even if all of those in the room that night had wanted to speak to me, I believe I still would have signed with my current agent. From hearing my work and requesting further samples, he knew that we had a shared vision of the type of work we want to put out in the industry and he knew that he had the right contacts to benefit my career progression. So it worked. If you are in the position of looking for/getting an agent, I would strongly recommend finding a personal match to your needs, not just someone you’ve heard is good, or your friend signed with, or has a higher profile than others. Take the time to ensure you are suited to each other.
The 4Screenwriting course itself was a brilliantly warm and nurturing experience. Here, I had the opportunity to push the boundaries and write a much more ambitious script than my first one. It was scary, but this was the perfect environment to take that risk as you have people by your side (and on your side) every step of the way. As a result, I had my second spec script ready to showcase a broader range of what I am capable of in my writing. Off the back of this I have had meetings with execs from some of the biggest indies in the business, more still are being requested, and I’ve had expressions of interest about rooms on a variety of projects and shows coming up in the pipeline.
I’ll finish with a little bit about those commissions that I mentioned at the top and how they came about. My first two commissions happened off the back of both networking and the competition wins. Someone that I had previously connected with heard about the wins and put me in contact with script editors looking for new writers – I interviewed, got invited to story conferences, contributed ideas, then gained a commission on the two shows.
The third and fourth commissions came directly through my agent. The companies contacted him looking for new writers, requested my sample scripts, and then requested to meet/interview me. One interview actually didn’t go well for the project originally intended, but they really liked me and felt that I would be a good fit for something else they were working on and commissioned me for that instead. The other interview landed me the chance to write a shadow script on a continuing drama. That went well, so I was next invited to contribute to short-term and long-term story conferences, pitch storylines, and now I am working on my episode commission.
The fifth and sixth commissions came off the back of recommendations from the second and third. I had proven my ability on those projects and got offered more work as a result – with those offers all coming through and being negotiated by my agent.
My agent receives many requests to read my work, sometimes for consideration onto new writing schemes, other times for consideration to write in rooms on existing or upcoming shows. Many times I’ll meet with execs and they’ll decide that, actually, I’m not what they are looking for, or they’ll simply read my sample and decide not to meet with me at all. Rejection is a huge part of the process, but if you keep learning through every project and stay passionate about the stories you tell, something else always tends to come along.
I wasn’t sure that I’d ever be sat here speaking as a full time television writer, and I’ve had some major blows to my confidence along the way, but I always wanted to keep learning and keep telling stories, so I did. There will never be any guarantee that you’ll get work or make a long-term career, but if it’s important to you, and you are able to, then you owe it to yourself to try.
My Quick Tips: Watch lots of TV and film. Listen to podcasts. Know what’s popular on TV. Read books. Network. Go outside and meet non-industry people. Listen to people. Visit places. Have hobbies. Have an open mind. Be a nice person.’
A huge thank you to Celia for her generosity in taking the time to write this and for allowing me to share it with you. (Celia is @paperpartybag on Twitter).
This week the 2nd and final selection from your wonderful, fascinating responses to my newsletter of March 19th on a year of living with the pandemic –
‘I hope you’re well. I’ve only just got round to reading this newsletter and must admit it made me tear up a little.
I too have to pinch myself as a reminder of what’s happened. At times I’ve even forgotten and somehow believed that all the offices and meeting rooms and exciting things are all still going on out there (without me) and have to remind myself that we’re all stuck in the same wretched boat, drifting towards a vague horizon of hope.
I’ve actually really enjoyed the general meetings and scripts chats I’ve had over Zoom. I get sucked into the moment, and even though (as you just made me realise) I’ve never seen these people standing up (!) it somehow feels intimate and sparky, like a really good chat when you lose sense of everything else going around you.
The worst bit for me is when you close the window and the silence hits, and you realise it’s just been you all along, sitting alone in your smart top and slippers, gurning at a screen for an hour.
Things that have made a pandemic bearable:
My parents’ reincarnation from covid-denying rebels into antibac wipe-wielding lockdown sticklers.
My husband. Turns out I chose really well.
My children, and seeing them tackle distance learning and not seeing their friends with such bravery and resilience.
My sister and my new lockdown niece (who turns one next month and has never seen another baby!)
My darling, brainless dog and our miserable cat who hates everything.
Work. I’m really lucky that lockdown has been the busiest time of my fledgling career. With the business has come every +/- emotion under the sun, but it’s never been boring.
Charity work. I’ve sat on interview panels, helped write EOIs and project funding applications for millions of pounds, and spent hours and hours and hours in virtual ‘town hall’ meetings, and learnt so much about other people and myself. Good and bad!
From the absurd (Tiger King) to the bonkers (Schitts Creek), via overseas fabulousness (Call My Agent) and homegrown brilliance (Ghosts), to the Disney+ onslaught of shmaltz and kids’ movies, all the way through to guiltless re-watching of the full series of The American Office sandwiched between the grey-faced doomongering of the daily government briefings, television has been my lifeboat.
KATE TRAILL PRICE
Hope you and your family are all well.
It’s really a blessing to see one’s grandchildren. My Dad, who died at 56, never got to see my kids and my mum only got to see one of them – my daughter.
This time last year my daughter was on the verge of taking her GCSES. She was at a very low ebb to the point where she was suicidal! (This last bit was unknown to me till only a few weeks ago). She wasn’t revising and would bunk off school. She wouldn’t/couldn’t talk to us. It was terrible. We didn’t know what to do.
Guess what saved her and us? Lockdown! Somehow just being locked away from all the madness she was going through did wonders for her mental health.
Now, she’s in college doing her A levels, managed to get herself a weekend job and is enjoying life.
I can honestly say Phil that if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would be writing a different kind of email or perhaps not writing at all.
Many people have suffered and lost loved ones over these past 12 months and I really feel for them. But sometimes, when I’m alone at night and I do feel guilty for saying this, I say thank God for lockdown!
Take care and keep safe.’
‘Thanks for the opportunity to share experiences from a weird year. The mood music had been playing louder and louder in the run up to Johnson’s announcement but it was still a shock. Lockdown. Our younger daughter, after a hurried consultation, decided to move in with her boyfriend. We waved her off, into that dark night, the unknown. I found I enjoyed this time with my husband; the house to ourselves, no travelling for work, day time walks, shared coffee breaks. It was only on trips to the supermarket that the zombie movie quality of the times crept in. It felt like the ideal time to get on with some writing. I watched more film and TV, guilt free and stumbled upon excellent on line courses, feeling part of a supportive community with shared interests. And, I have been able to virtually attend shows and events that just would not have been possible from East Yorkshire. Rejection isn’t great but there is an excitement, a sense of achievement to getting a piece ready for submission. I hope persistence will pay off and that I’ve learnt from my daughter it’s worth taking a risk.’
‘The first lockdown honestly came at the perfect time for me: a few weeks into a new job I loved, off the back of a year of great networking and opportunities, and following two years of what I would best describe as a non-stop work-hard-play-hard lifestyle. The first lockdown gave me time to rest, recalibrate, and collaborate. Also, interestingly, I had started journaling in January 2020, which meant I captured this eventful year in real time, and has been amazing processing my thoughts through the tougher moments. I personally haven’t felt inspired to dwell too much on the pandemic in my writing work, so it’s nice to have a separate body of writing that reflects this period. Such divine timing!
Despite all this, I must admit I am very much ready to go back to a life of commutes to work in central London, meeting new people, going to concerts, and actually networking in real life. Despite my love of storytelling through the written word, my networking skills are strengthened through face to face exchanges. This pandemic has taught us that a lot can be achieved virtually, but for many reasons, I crave freedom more than ever.
It can be draining that my main access to other humans right now is through social media. Social media can be great, however, particularly over the past year, the shocking polarity on things like #BLM and #NotAllMen, has the power to lead to more anxiety going back out into the world than the pandemic itself, for black women like me. Yet, before the pandemic, when I would consistently cross paths with a diverse range of people in real life, I was easily reminded of the many good people out there, and felt happy and confident navigating the world. This has such an impact on my writing, as well as my productivity. I guess because, in a sense, right now my lens of the world has been reduced to the conversations on social media, rather than my own experiences.
I gain so much inspiration for my writing through experience, which is a reason why I live life so fully and honestly enjoy a fast-paced lifestyle. One of the impulsive holidays I went on in 2019, led to the premise of a film pitch competition I won a few months ago! I’m constantly inspired by the people I meet and the places I go, so I’m excited for the privilege of great experiences again when we’re free. I can’t wait to get back into the world and regain a stronger sense of agency.
I’m optimistic for what the near future holds, and I feel that busy lifestyles will find their place much sooner than we all think – it’s easy to get mentally trapped in our current experience, but the only thing guaranteed is change. Thanks!’
‘I have to say so far we have been untouched and have even flourished in many ways with the slowing down. More time for reading, poetry, slow dinners and walks with family. Something that our externally driven schedules didn’t allow for before.
I must admit in some ways it was the pause we personally needed and only wish that every single person had not suffered or at least got to experience some of the beauty. Such is life. A great mystery.
Today on my 6 am walk I saw five women in their fifties/sixties paddle boarding and chatting on the flattest sea we’ve had in weeks. I just thought wow, what a choice to make! Life continues and if we are blessed to be able to choose how to fill our day we are very rich indeed!
‘This has certainly been a year we‘ll never forget – when everything was turned upside down and inside out. It’s been a time of enforced change and adjustment, loss, pain and fear. It’s something none of us would have chosen but has taught us so much about ourselves and our society, what matters, what’s irrelevant, what’s bullshit. It’s been a time of re-evaluation and reassessment.
Six months before lockdown, I had left a highly pressurised intensive job – and my employer of 24 years – to become a fulltime writer. This was an enormous adjustment but one I’ve embraced with a full heart. I’ve learnt to apply discipline and structure to days now owned by me. Days are devoted to learning, reading, writing, walking, talking, cooking, dividing my time between commercial, academic and creative writing. There are no more wasted days or hours and even though I’m in my mid-fifties with two whole professional careers behind me, I’m starting all over again and am energised by the possibilities of story-telling in all its forms.
Time is one of the most valuable gifts we can have as writers; time to observe, dream, create; time to listen to birds, look at plants or the bark of trees, to watch and listen to people, to learn about buildings, read and think, watch stuff, be with those we love, to think what if? and ask why not? And the daily breath of our lived time, has become even more precious when set against the desperate toll of those whose time has been cut short.
Watching a film in my local independent cinema, going to a theatre, swimming at the local pool, going on a train ride or taking a flight to somewhere else are inspirational activities I really look forward to – but in all honesty, I feel a great fondness for locked down life because it’s the time I was able to climb back into my skin and ‘became’ a writer in a holistic and integral way. I appreciate this is a privileged position but the last year has illustrated how fleeting life is and that we must make the most of what talent & time we have. What is life for? What matters?
Weirdly enough, the last play I saw was also a matinee of Leopoldstadt! It seems like years ago. I really hope a renewed sense of appreciation will enhance all the many things we may have become complacent about. Life is full of riches but hopefully we can now sus out the precious gems from the fool’s gold.
Thanks for the conversation!’
‘My eldest son has left the nest (well, gone to Uni) which has affected us deeply and has got us thinking more about what may be around the corner for him and his brother (especially regarding relationships and family).
I have been in London throughout the pandemic and have been lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of the cleaner air and emptier streets and the small growing sense of community that I’ve seen in our part of town, without the anxiety of not knowing where our next meal was coming from, or if we would still a roof over our heads.
The thing I have missed the most is theatre. Books and TV have been life-savers but what I really want is to be transported by real living people, in the same room, taking me into another world. I’d even go and see the second half of Leopoldstadt!’
‘You asked for responses about how lockdown has impacted us. Since I’ve been pregnant for three months and then on maternity leave in the various lockdowns, it’s been both an emotional struggle and a (mixed) blessing.
The rosy idea I had of swanning around in the sun with the pram, drinking tea in cute cafes with mum friends and finally finding time to write outside of my day job as a journalist – that did not go as planned. And suffice to say about the birth, I feel lucky to have had my husband with me for it, and grateful it was just the one night I had to spend alone at hospital with the baby. Running out of snacks in a boiling hot ward when you’re bawling your eyes out from the hormones was the least of it!
The blessings have been there though – lots of time to focus on our baby, and to work out how to parent without the pressure of carting him around for everyone to see.
And though it was delusional to think I’d spend so much time writing, actually the lockdown HAS left time to write during baby’s naps (like now!) or when he’s gone to bed at night. And, perhaps more crucially, the mental space to allow so many ideas to pour out. The 30 day script challenge during LSF helped get past the feeling that writing has to be perfect first time. And no way could I have attended a whole festival in person with a baby.
I hope your daughter is getting lots of rest and that you’re able to spend plenty of time with her and your granddaughter – that really was tough in lockdown 1.0, the first baby cuddle with grandparents was outside in the cold for just a few minutes.’
‘Oh What A Lovely Lockdown
For those of us on the slightly bashful spectrum – the natural introverts, the would-be-hermits who find the demands of a regular life somewhat brusque and harsh, who find leaving the house for any reason takes a herculean expenditure of courage and energy, the ‘Pros’ list is easy: I have loved every moment of Lockdown; every calm, quiet, carefree, dolly-daydream, delicious moment. I have taken to it like a cold, old lady takes to a warm blanket and a cuppa soup. Lockdown to me has felt like one long, fireside hug on a dank November evening; the premium, super-deluxe, five-star, mother of all hibernations. I feel rested, nurtured, restored.
Being, amongst other things, a shy, warty-chinned, barren spinster of this parish, I have worked full-time for thirty years and never experienced a maternity leave, raised a family, been a kept woman, or experienced any kind of stay-at-home pause in proceedings. I have been gifted a year of time. I have come alive in Lockdown. I have un-cowered, gotten braver. This enforced hiatus in an otherwise speeding whirlwind of existence has afforded me such pleasure in simple things. Over the last year, I have organised my drawers, cupboards, bookshelves, and entire kitchen to a level of ergonomic perfection I hardly knew existed. I’ve had time to catch-up with friends and family, albeit via one technological portal or other. I have had time to write and read and paint and smooth my feathers. I finally got round to watching The Joker – The Sopranos is next. I’ve even successfully grown an actual water-sucking, life-affirming, room oxygenating gosh-darn plant, a feat never before achieved. I have chlorophyll in my living room. And yes, I bloody well talk to it.
I have luxuriated in a whole year of not commuting to work wedged halfway up somebody’s armpit in an airless freight pipe. I have wallowed in a whole year of not having to wear any kind of pinching, wired support garment (I live in the earnest hope that pyjama bottoms will become an acceptable item of office-wear when we return). I have had twelve months of not having to spend my hard-earned time in the company of takers or grabbers, or anyone who has completely disappeared up their own asshole.
I have had the time to cook every evening, I sleep better, have more energy, I hum and sing to myself again, I have better thoughts, better daydreams, better daylight, less anxiety, less biting my tongue, less behaving.
I have loved every one of my daily permitted Shawshank-Redemption-esque outdoor exercises. I go for walks. I must have walked every residential street in the borough of Wandsworth by now, inspecting front gardens, deciding which dream house I’ll move into next week, and, joy of all joys, looking through people’s windows and imagining what goes on beyond the pane, and of course, smugly judging the state of their bookshelves.
The Commons soon became a Mecca for even bigger swarms of kamikaze joggers, so I packed up my teepee and moved on. I have discovered Wandsworth Cemetery; a beautiful haven of quietude and history where I can spend an hour or two dawdling up and down its winding paths, wondering who Violet and Florence and Maud and Authur were and what they witnessed, marvelling at its huge green field of human grief, where nothing grows out of the ground but love, each stone etched in words like ‘only goodnight beloved, not farewell’, each tree standing sentry marking time through its branches, each bird carrying secret messages.
The ‘Cons’ list is something I try not to dwell on, but the things I have found tough, like everyone, are not seeing my family, not seeing my dearest friends around their huge any-Waltons-episode dining table, not seeing art (living without Pieter de Hooch and all of the Bruegels has been spirit-sapping), realising I can’t hear anyone properly if I can’t lipread what they’re saying behind their masks, wearing masks, smiling at people and realising they can’t see it behind my mask, forgetting how to keep a coherent thought in my head, forgetting words, forgetting what day it is, drifting, doing everything on-line, not being cuddled, not sharing a meal, not wrapping my arms around my nephew or my godchildren, and the keenest of all deprivation – not going to the theatre, ugh! Woe is me and my culture-famished heart! I was however lucky enough to see the always-divine Ralph Fiennes in David Hare’s ‘Beat the Devil’ at the Bridge last summer when a few brave theatres momentarily re-opened; a timely production about his own battle with the virus which was both moving and sobering in equal measure. Plus, a David Hare rant is always wonderfully cathartic; he has a searingly insightful way of saying all the words I want to put on a sandwich board and parade up and down Downing Street. This brief, precious, vivifying contact with the musings of Messers Hare and Fiennes has had to sustain me through the long, dark months since. I have of course snapped up all the wonderful virtual theatre, but it’s not the same as being holed up in a dark room with a troupe of throbbing corporeal creatives burning to tell you a story so intimately that your heart melts, your brain purrs, and your very essence takes flight.
Also on the ‘Cons’ list are the video WhatsApp calls with the top of my 74-year old mum’s head, or worse, her living room ceiling. She can’t quite seem to grasp the fact that the camera on her phone needs to be pointed at her face in order to properly nail the shared experience.
I won’t miss: queuing three miles around the block to buy groceries or having to get up at the break of day to search the empty shelves of ten or more supermarkets and corner shops before finding the last pack of over-priced loo roll that no-one else wants.
Turning 50 with a whimper rather than a long-planned-once-in-a-lifetime-something-or-other. Watching a goddaughter turn 18 on a Zoom call rather than at a party with a herd of her beer-cheering friends to baptise her. Sending a video message to my godmother when she turned 70 in isolation.
Wondering why so many people don’t think the rules apply to them.
Not ever seeing again the people once in my life now lost to this stampeding plague. Not being able to console in person, with a hug and a cup of tea, my friends and relations who have endured so much more than me.
During each long day of this last year, I have counted my huge, huge blessings, every single one of them. I have not had to home school wall-bouncing children. I have not been furloughed and have loved every hour of the privilege of being able to work from home. I have not lost a business I had loved or grown with my own two bare, red-raw hands. I have not had so much as a cold. I have had my first jab. I live in a country with a free national health service. I live in a country where I don’t have to walk seven miles for a bucket of water every day. I live in a decade that has electricity every hour of every day. Buying books on the internet. I have kept warm and dry and fed and a roof over my head. I have not had sick or ageing relatives in a care home who I haven’t been able to visit. I have not had to arrange a funeral or tried to decide which fifteen people can come. I have not had to postpone my wedding. I have not had to work in PPE. I have not had to risk my life because my job tells me I must.
On balance and all in all, I have had a lovely lockdown, and I wish it had been so for everyone else. But even I, queen of the hermit people am now looking forward to re-entry, in all its post-Covid, brusque, technicolour, liberating, Boris-bashing glory. What will that be like?
Once again, thank you so much to all of you who took the time to send me your brilliant responses to my piece of a month ago. I have enjoyed reading this so much and I hope you have too.
I’ve been blown away by the responses I got to my last newsletter about the year of lockdown we’ve just gone through. So many brilliant, thought-provoking, powerful pieces of writing. SO this week and April 16th’s newsletters are 2 bumper editions with some of these responses!
A massive thank you to all of you who took the time to respond and to those of you whose pieces I haven’t been able include – apologies.
‘I wanted to say thanks on two accounts –
Firstly for your ever-insightful newsletter. I always really enjoy reading them!
Secondly, for the pitching sessions you delivered to the BBC Comedy Writersroom group a couple of weeks back. I know I speak for the whole group when I say that your expertise on the topic was incredibly useful and very much appreciated.
I thought I’d take your PS seriously and get back to you with how the pandemic has affected my life. It almost seems perverse to talk about any positive impact of such a crisis year, especially since so many people have struggled so much, but I can’t deny that for me, the global shutdown has had significant upsides.
I’ve been freelance in the film industry for several years now, working as a floor runner / director’s assistant. Being on set is a great way to experience first-hand how stuff actually gets made…plus I get to live and breathe film and television, which I really enjoy! The downside is that you’re usually working such long hours as a runner that any hopes/thoughts of actually writing scripts tend to remain as pipe-dreams.
At the end of February 2020 I was looking for my next role on set, after taking a winter break. Cue COVID outbreak. Pandemic. Global lockdown. The world explodes. Like so many freelancers, I missed out on any government financial support (don’t get me started on this!!) and found myself stuck at home, jobless and unable to see my partner, who works on the other side of the country.
I realised I couldn’t do much at all with my time…apart from write.
I submitted a TV pilot to the BBC Comedy Room in April 2020, mainly because I’d run out of excuses not to. I wrote my first, full-length play whilst the theatre industry was in shutdown to avoid spending the whole day staring at the mould on my window frame. I actually felt a bizarre sense of urgency in those early months of the pandemic – as soon as the film industry restarted I knew (or at least hoped!) to be back out there working, so this period of focussing on my own on my work felt like a strangely precious time.
Four months later, I got an email saying I’d got an interview with the Writersroom development team…and then a place in the Comedy Room. As an ‘aspiring writer’, I’ve always felt a duty to apply to these schemes but never actually believed I could get on, so I can’t really articulate how it felt to get that email, apart from ‘!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’.. This was off the back of a script I would never have got round to writing, had 2020 been like any other year.
Now, in March 2021, the film industry has started to open up again (with all the necessary COVID measures in place). I’m back at work as an Exec/Writer’s Assistant on Ted Lasso 2, and developing another pilot with the Comedy Room at the same time. Seeing myself as a writer, rather than just someone who aspires to write, has made it much easier to juggle work commitments with my own projects and for this reason (and so many others!) I am incredibly grateful to the Writersroom team.
I know I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in 2020, and my heart goes out to everyone who has found the past twelve months to be wholly bleak and uninspiring, but I wanted to share my small ‘good-news’ pandemic story along with the most important lesson I learnt this year: BACK YOURSELF.
In a way, I cheated. The pandemic forced me to write…and keep writing, since there was literallynothing else going on. But my advice anyone in a similar position to me one year ago would be:
Step 1 – Believe that you can do it (or pretend to, for however long it takes to complete…)
Step 2 – Write that script.
I have to apologise for sending you such a lengthy ramble (it’s been a quiet day at the office). But thanks again for giving up your time and wisdom, it’s really appreciated.
All the best,
Philip: So refreshing to hear a pandemic success story!
‘Thanks for the open and honest newsletter – it has been a tough 12 months for sure! And we do still have ways to go. I think for me the shift away from London is going to be the most interesting change, personally and creatively. We already know that writers feel a pressure to live in London so they are nearer opportunities and can be part of a network etc, but this has also been true of those who work in script development. Before this happened, I was trying to imagine how I might keep my career but leave London. I knew there were opportunities in Manchester but this felt too far from friends and family and truth be told I wasn’t all that keen on moving to Cardiff. I had been talking to execs who live and work in Bristol hoping I myself might one day find a way to move back home to Bristol or Bath but there were really only a couple of production companies based there. Yet now I have proven that I can do my job completely remotely (read-throughs aside) and I wonder what this means for me. That said London property prices are dropping so this means I actually might be able to afford a lifestyle here that I never thought possible – either way there are more opportunities and I do feel like the whole industry has been given a shake-up. However, I also miss the buzz of central London desperately and I now realise how much I got from being with other creative people most of the time. In the last few weeks, I’ve realised how much I miss fringe and new theatre and how my knowledge of new writers is now lagging behind. I also miss the slightly more personal relationships I used to develop with my writers – the social element has completely disappeared and zoom meetings are kept short and efficient. I have started a new job during the pandemic and barely know my co-workers – will the close bonds I used to have with those I work with be something of the past?
I am interested to see how far our industry has changed, and where we will all be living, in a few years’ time.’
Philip: So many interesting questions there about whether the industry will embrace the positive changes of the last year, particularly the increased opportunities of doing everything online for those who live outside London.
‘Like you, I haven’t been to London since last February/March and I wonder when I’ll be able to start going back again. Whether or not I even want to start going back again (it was bloody expensive). I wonder if the industry will ever go back to ‘normal’ (why pay for office space when we’ve seen how effective zoom meetings can be?) I wonder how long it’ll be until we can film things without all the crazy, but necessary, COVID protocols… I’m pleased that they are now starting to talk about the importance of filming shows outside of London but I wonder if all this talk of championing Northern writers is just talk… Or maybe they’re going to finally realise that diversity applies to writers from all around England.
Like you I’ve retreated into a lot of imaginary worlds over the last year, reading a lot more, and revisiting books from my childhood. As well as working on my screenwriting, I’ve written two children’s/YA novels during lockdown, something I’ve not done since I was a kid. It’s been immensely therapeutic, and it’s helped me while I’ve gone through a few medical issues. Writing has always been something I’ve turned to when I’ve been unwell or feeling low and this time more than ever I feel it’s got me through the uncertainty of the pandemic. I wouldn’t have believed last year that I would have written a novel (let alone two) but now I’m in the process of trying to find an agent for my novel.
I’m also working with a filmmaker in Manchester who I met online during the pandemic, have become good friends with him, and we’re shooting our first short film next month (we haven’t even met in person yet). I’m grateful that during all this I’ve had my girlfriend (who’s a nurse and has had a million times harder year than me) and my new cat, Nuala, who’s become a welcome companion while writing. As much as I want things to return to some level of normal, I have really enjoyed being able to write full time whilst being on furlough. It feels strange to say, but I think I might miss lockdown… Just a bit.’
‘My personal reflections on this year is that it started on a weird note. I didn’t know how to respond to the pandemic as, like everyone else, I feared it but couldn’t believe that me (or my family) would be affected by COVID 19 in anyway despite how quickly it was spreading.
I feel a bit bad about admitting this but when I was told we had to work from home for those first few months, I was excited by the prospect of writing and reading whilst exploring more creative outlets. I also enjoyed spending more time with my wife and discovering picturesque areas of Staines, which despite being tainted by Ali G, is actually prettier and indeed, MASSIVE! So overall, I tried to look at it in a positive light, probably still blinded by the fact that Covid 19 couldn’t and wouldn’t affect me.
As I saw the infection and death rates go up in our area, I naturally was scared for my wife and my family catching it. My parents are approaching mid 70s and my wife is asthmatic. But I still continued writing scripts, plays and even started a children’s book to keep my mind occupied whilst still remaining positive and enjoying my time at home.
My wife was then made redundant from her early-years teaching role. That was the first hit of reality. The second was a few months later when my wife and I caught Covid. All I’ll say is, we’re lucky it was mild but even in its mildest form it was truly unpleasant and distressing. Thirdly, my job is now at risk of redundancy (I have yet to hear the outcome). I was anxious before but probably feel worse now due to the certainty of my future. My wife and I were hoping to buy our first house and start a family but that may have to be put on hold. So, the reality of Covid has definitely dawned on me and I kick myself for being selfish and foolish to think it would never affect my life in anyway, or the people around me.
Still keeping positive, I found that whenever my head felt like it was swelling with negativity and I couldn’t stop talking to myself about upsetting things, writing really did save the day for me. It relieved the anxiety and took away all those negative thoughts – by the way, writing a children’s story really puts you in a safe-haven! But even writing something like a horror or thriller kept me happy and distracted. Thanks to that I was in the semi-finals for a few competitions and have had positive feedback from other professionals as I still continue my journey into becoming a full-time writer.
I guess what I’m saying is I’m still keeping positive but compared to the beginning I’m less naive to the bigger picture and definitely wearier. It may be a cliche amongst our writing circles but writing is still a greatest form of escapism, catharism and general well-being. It certainly kept going throughout this year.
From what I read in your newsletter, it sounds like writing has done the same for many others who have been inspired by the pandemic. It’s exciting and reassuring to know writing is a great motivator even at the bleakest of times.
Thanks as always for your newsletters.’
‘A lovely thoughtful and evocative newsletter, thank you.
For me lockdown has had a very significant impact on my career. I’d longed believed that my age was an issue – and this is something I’ve been making a lot of noise about recently because it’s wrong on so many levels – but I do think that not living in London is also a disadvantage for creatives. This year – largely because of lockdown and the networking opportunities zoom has given me – I now have a London producer for my latest play, I’ve been approached by an award-winning theatre company about the possibility of adapting one of the most important novels of our time to the London stage and I’ve been collaborating with Arts and Homelessness International on a project which – with AHI’s support – will employ people who are currently or who have recently been homeless. To that end, I’ve been able to take part in forums and meetings with homeless people from all over the world. This has been a privilege and pleasure and will inform and inspire the project which I’m sure will be a life changing experience. I’ve also been approached by a film producer who wants to work with me on a short film. I’m actually beginning to wonder if I might need an agent after all! But I’m in no rush for that as I’m doing just fine without one. Oh, and I still have a couple of radio ideas being considered for radio 4.’
Thank you so much to all – and there are more excellent responses in 2 weeks time.
I don’t know about you but I’m still in a low-level state of disbelief and shock about what we’ve been through over the last year. I keep thinking about the idea of someone in February 2020 predicting all of what has happened to us; and how absurd and incredible we would have thought it.
We are living through a sci-fi movie (albeit an extremely boring one). When I think about all of the people I know who are, like me, stuck at home, when I think of all the office blocks, of Channel 4 and the BBC, having stood empty for the last year, of the fact I haven’t been to central London since last March, I still have to metaphorically pinch myself that all this has happened.
My last encounter with the West End of London was in early March sitting in the front row of a matinee of Tom Stoppard’s ‘Leopoldstadt.’ I was sat next to a chatty, charming lady of about 85 who launched into a monologue about how she was going to ignore all the hysteria about coronavirus and carry on regardless, how she had limited time anyway and she certainly wasn’t going to waste it being scared of being out and about in the world. I wonder if she’s still alive. I do hope so. The theatre was packed out and I felt uncomfortable in that setting and left at the first interval (the play wasn’t great either!). I couldn’t have imagined that that would be the last time I was in central London, the last time I used the tube.
An overriding emotion alongside the disbelief has been anger. Anger at the knowledge that this was all avoidable, that people on the other side of the world dealt with this like the intelligent (female) adults they are; there is an alternative universe, where the story took a different, more positive turn. I need help turning this anger into positive action (or perhaps just staying away from Twitter?).
ZOOM – living & working online
The last year has involved discovering a new way of living and working – largely through zoom and its variants (‘Teams’, ‘Blue Jeans’, etc – it’s funny how Skype has faded out of the picture).
I remember when having first conversations about the idea of running a course on zoom rather than in person, referring to it as BOOM (I’d never heard of it before). How quickly life changes, and how quickly we have to learn to adapt.
I’m hugely impressed and inspired by writers’ ingenuity and creativity. There have been many conversations about the creative community’s response to the events of the last year, how to incorporate what has happened into the stories you tell.
I have read a number of brilliant scripts that tackled the issue head-on – a romantic comedy about an unlikely couple forcibly locked down together; a TV comedy drama about a mid-life crisis dramatized solely through the medium of zoom; a script that chronicles this year in the life of a family artificially brought together. Not only are these brilliant projects in their own right. They are works of art that will be really valuable in helping us remember what life has been like in the past year, helping us to process and make sense of what has happened; and when we view these stories with the perspective of time and distance I suspect they will be even more valuable. Some of these writers’ responses have brought home to me the primal importance of art and creativity.
During this last year of lockdown I have developed rich, enjoyable working relationships with people I’ve never met. I feel I know some of these people well; I have to remind myself that I’ve never met these people – including nearly everyone – writers and script editors – involved in the 2021 C4 screenwriting course. So many people I’ve never seen standing up!
The anticipation and excitement about meeting so many of these people – and meeting up again with so many other people who I haven’t seen for so long and have missed, is exciting and, frankly, a bit emotionally overwhelming. I hope it’s not all going to be a big anti-climax!
Alongside this excitement is a developing low-level anxiety at the prospect of going back to living how we did pre-pandemic – commuting, mixing in confined spaces with multiple strangers, just being really busy. Do I want that? I’m not sure I do.
This forced adaptation teaches us to value both the things we’re missing and the things we still have (on the one hand – theatre, live music, cinema on the big screen, live sport with a crowd of partisan, impassioned, noisy supporters, meeting new people face-to-face, the energy of busy city life; being in the same room as other people whose company you enjoy; my grown-up children; on the other hand – so many wonderful scripts that I’ve read, TV shows, films, the countryside, nature, walking by the sea, cycling through beautiful country lanes, the company of my wonderful wife. And above all, meeting my beautiful granddaughter, born on Feb 16th. Seeing my daughter’s joy and love for her new daughter.
And a discovery that – for me personally – living out of London has many more pros than cons. I’ve realised how my sub-conscious (unthinking really) bias that London was the centre of everything in the UK and the only place to live if you want to be at the cutting edge of life – was an extremely stupid opinion.
The peace and quiet in which I’ve been able to read and work, the lack of physical clutter, has made work and creativity easier. I’ve run so many enjoyable (for me at least!) online courses, met so many brilliant, interesting writers on these courses, been pitched so many great ideas.
It’s been a rare and valuable chance to take stock, to think about what’s important, what I want to do, a chance to focus on ambitions and aims – rather than just getting through the work I have in front of me day to day. It’s so important for all of us to stand back from the daily rush through life from time to time, to really consider our longer-term aims and ambitions, what we want to do that will be truly fulfilling. And then we need to work hard to make space for these priorities.
Thinking about how life will have changed when we come out of this – I hope it will be a big help for creatives who live outside of London – that will be a big plus for the industry as a whole. We are all looking for new voices, new stories. And stories that don’t come from London and the ‘Home Counites’ need to be much more prominent.
I recently had a minor (email) spat with a high-profile industry person who taught me this valuable lesson – assume the best unless you have very tangible reasons for not doing so – it’s a lot less tiring and disruptive. Before you wade in with criticism, put yourself in their shoes. Try and focus on the negative things they may be going through, the troubles they may be having before you start an argument or judge them. Everyone’s trying to do their best and we all fall short. If you want someone to do something differently and better, put yourselves in their shoes first and think about how to communicate this in a way that feels positive, affirmative and constructive rather than judgemental. Have empathy basically. Life has become much tougher for a lot of people in different ways and different walks of life.
…have been another real plus of the last year. Alongside the many hundreds of scripts I’ve read, I’ve read more books this year than ever before. I have loved escaping into some amazing story worlds. Some of the highlights, the stories with which I’ve really connected emotionally –
English Monsters by James Scudamore – if you were interested in what I wrote a year or two ago about public schools, privilege and dysfunction, this is a book that will speak to you.
Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel – Emily St John Mandel is a wonderful writer. The stories she tells are both epic and highly personal.
Just Like You by Nick Hornby – NH is not everyone’s cup of tea; but for me, the acuteness of his observations about North London metropolitan life, the excellence of his comic dialogue, his affection for his characters (and humanity in general) shine through this brilliantly told story.
Come On Tonbridge by Mark Hookway. (Volume 1 of 2). This is a book I can confidently say none of you will want to read! So why am I mentioning it? Because I love its passion. This 1st volume is 671 pages long (and Volume 2 that I haven’t read yet is the same sort of length.) It’s the diary of an athletics coach over 20 or so years, charting the rise in success of his club, Tonbridge AC as they start to win national competitions and produce international-class athletes. It’s an account of one man’s madly obsessive, self-sacrificing ambition for the athletes he coaches, the trials and tribulations he went through, the many times he felt like giving up, the shit he had to take from athletes who lose interest and young athletes’ parents who take him for granted, and the ultimate success he achieves – success largely for others rather than himself. The book was largely written during lockdown and is a testament to one man’s very particular niche interest, the way he has pursued it, and how much it has benefitted the lives of those he has coached (all, by the way, for free). The fact that it is self-published is also a lesson in initiative and the get-up-and-go we all need to make a success of our work.
The End Of Time by Gavin Extence – a wonderfully empathetic dramatization of the worldwide refugee crisis.
On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming – a beautiful, complex and very human family mystery story.
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford – like so many of the best works of fiction and drama, the thing that grabbed me about this book was the combination of story and form. I loved the way the structure of the book made it so rich and compelling
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld – a brilliant, alternative fiction about how things could have worked out very differently for Hilary (and Bill) Clinton, that has so much to say about modern US politics and human nature in general.
Finally, the title of this blog – Unhappy Anniversary – references (a brilliant) Loudon Wainwright iii song, Enjoy!
PS Please do get back to me with your own thoughts about the impact of the last pandemic year and how it has affected your (working) lives – I would love to do a follow-up blog of your own personal responses.