Posted by admin  /   September 06, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

Hi There,

I hope you’ve all had a great summer. I spent two weeks on the Suffolk coast, as far away as possible from all scripts – and my batteries are now fully re-charged!

I have a lot to look forward to this autumn –


I’m gearing up once again for the 2018 version of the course. The window for script entries is open for a relatively short three weeks – from Monday Sept 11th to Sunday Oct 1st – so don’t miss it! I’m very proud of the role-call of writers who’ve done this course – such an array of writing talent – and both writers and script editors from the course (which has been running since 2011) now make up a significant and growing sub-set of the creative TV drama industry. It may be a bit unfair to pick out individuals from the 85 writers who have done the course over the last 7 years but…

We’ve had the writers of two award-strewn BBC shows from the same strand – Murdered By My Boyfriend written by REGINA MORIARTY and Murdered By My Father by VINAY PATEL; ANNA SYMON, fresh from writing episodes on both series of INDIAN SUMMERS has had her own, authored serial, THE WILSONS, green-lit by the BBC; the script MILLY THOMAS wrote on the course last year formed the basis of her excellent, award-winning one woman show, the brilliant DUST, at this year’s Edinburgh fringe; NATHANIEL PRICE’s outstanding course script, HOUND, has just been optioned by one of the UK’s leading drama-producing indies; THERESA IKOKO’s course script (from 2016) was given a brilliant reading by Sky / Bandit Television and is in active development with Bandit; and most outstandingly, CHARLIE COVELL, after her excellent feature film debut, BURN BURN BURN (give yourself a treat and watch it on UK Netflix), 2 episodes of E4’s BANANA, and episodes of both HUMANS and GAP YEAR, has now written her own E4 series, THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD….I could go on – there are many more success stories from the course.

There is a less well-known script-editor training element to the course, which has also produced its own success stories. Two of the trainee / shadow script editors from previous years of the course have gone onto be, respectively, head of development at leading indie, Eleven Film; and BBC drama commissioning editor for Northern Ireland.

What do we look for in the scripts? – Above all, we are looking for distinctive, exciting, original writing voices – writers who have something to say, and say it in an original, exciting, engaging way. We are open to scripts from all media – screenplays (whether for TV or film), theatre and radio scripts. Every year, the 12 selected writers are a mix of writers who are diverse in every way – whether they are BAME, from one of the UK’s nations or regions, whatever gender, sexuality or class. But the important thing is that they are all chosen for their ability to tell a compelling story in a unique way – whether that’s in the form of a TV cop series pilot episode or a theatre monologue.

It’s important to be bold and original, and to really believe in what you’re writing. But at the same time, you should be philosophical if not selected. The long and the short of it is that we can only choose 12 writers from an expected 1400 submitted scripts. Frustratingly we always have to turn down very many highly talented writers. You should also console yourself with the fact that assessing which scripts are deserving of our attention – hard as we try to make the process as objective as possible – ultimately comes down to the choice of a few individuals, all of whom have different tastes. I’m constantly surprised by the huge range of responses to the same script – how one person can love it and someone else can be utterly unmoved by it. Every year I have some huge differences of opinion with my script readers – and there’s no right or wrong!

It may be helpful to tell you about a few of the successful submitted scripts from a year ago – a feature film script about a socially-dysfunctional piano-playing protégé, that stood out mainly for the characterisation of the wonderfully flawed and magnetic central character; a stage play about a middle-class parents’ decision to hire a prostitute to give their learning-disabled 25 year old son his first sexual experience – and the inter-personal social and sexual politics that ensue; a one hour film script that follows a week in the life of an aging couple after their son commits suicide; a hugely engaging, character-driven stage play about the issue of female genital mutilation. All of these scripts had a big idea at its heart – but were also accessible, character-driven, engaging and had humour and humanity.


‘Turn your drama pilot script into a global hit.’

Continuing the theme of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, I’d also like to point you in the direction of the C21 drama comp, now accepting entries, until Oct 10th. Unlike the free-to-enter C4 comp, this costs money to enter – the upside being that there will therefore be far fewer entries – and the reward for being one of the finalists is significant.


This year’s festival is running from Sept 15 – 17, and I’m running a Script Lab on drama series on the Sunday Sept 17th. I hope to also be there on the Friday. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there!


Running over the weekend of Oct 7-8, this sold out within a couple of days of going on sale. Designed as a mini-writers festival, with three brilliant guest speakers – aforementioned writer ANNA SYMON, CAT JONES, another star of the C4 screenwriting course, and top literary agent JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, from The Agency.

I am planning to run another of these courses in Feb or March next year – and I already have a lengthy waiting list for the October course so, if you’re interested, I suggest you keep checking the website / newsletter – I won’t be announcing the new course until after I’ve run the October version.


I’m running 2 x one day courses at the ITF in Hoxton this autumn – SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS on Sept 21st and STORY, CHARACTER AND IDEAS Masterclass on Oct 10th.



If you’re based in London and interested in screenwriting, don’t miss this year’s LFF – there is always a host of exciting new feature films – many of which won’t have a UK distribution deal, so this may be your only chance to see some of them.


This is an outstanding festival for new theatre writing. I have a particular bias towards it because so many writers from 4screenwriting have had shows at High Tide – this year alone, there are new plays by 4screenwriting alumni Nessah Muthy, Theresa Ikoko, Melanie Spencer and Tallulah Brown. And because it takes place in the lovely Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh, from where I’ve just returned.

My Holiday Reading + Culture

I wanted to mention a book I (re)read on holiday – the wonderful A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh. Published in 1934, this still feels fresh, modern and relevant. The characters come off the page so vividly, and there is such moral complexity to the characters and the story. There is also one of the most shocking, eye-popping scenes you’ll find in any story.

I was first alerted to the book by a brilliant Shared Experience Theatre adaptation of the play, many years ago, in which this moment from the book drew a collective gasp / intake of breath from the audience. I defy you to read the book and not be stunned by this moment.

What I particularly love and admire about the book is how everything is dramatised, nothing explained. It’s a model of narrative concision. The characters play out their roles, and at no point does Waugh make it easy for the reader to interpret or explain the action of the story. And we’ll all take away something different from the story. I followed this book by reading a much-acclaimed new hardback novel which is a perfectly pleasant read but for the first 100 pages I couldn’t get my head round the huge gap between the plodding, uneconomical quality of the writing of this book and the genius of A HANDFUL OF DUST.

Strangely there is also one of these theatrical gasp-out-loud moments in Loudon Wainwright’s wonderful SURVIVING TWIN show, when he reads / performs his father’s columns form LIFE magazine, interspersing them with thematically-connected songs. (Happily for me, LW, one of my musical heroes, was performing at Snape Maltings while I was on holiday in Suffolk). I’ve seen this one particular reading live three times already (it still retains its emotive punch) and it was wonderful to be able to anticipate that moment of shock that induced a collective, involuntary gasp – the ultimate successful story-telling pay-off. Therein lies the secret to good story-telling!

One more thing before I go – I’m afraid I have a policy of not entering into email correspondence with entrants into the C4 course. The entry FAQ’s have been honed and developed over several years – so if there’s something that isn’t entirely clear to you, you just need to use your own initiative. I’ve learnt from experience that if we don’t take this approach, we are overwhelmed by email enquiries – and our time is far better spent reading the scripts.

As ever, I’m hugely excited by the prospect of starting the reading process and of finding the gems I know I’ll find. Thank you in advance for entering and GOOD LUCK!

The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 22nd

All the best




Sept 8th 2017



Posted by admin  /   July 27, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on NEW SCREENWRITING COURSE LONDON Oct 7-8

Hi There,


I’m delighted to announce that I’m going to be running a brand new 2 day SCREENWRITING COURSE in London over the weekend of Oct 7 & 8. Like the course I ran with Phil Gladwin, this course will concentrate on the CRAFT OF SCREENWRITING on day 1 and THE BUSINESS OF GETTING WORK on day 2.

Running these courses and the CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE for the last few years, and working with so many talented writers, I’ve learnt that it’s not enough to be a talented, technically-gifted screenwriter – you also have to be adept at treating your work like a business and running your career smartly, sensibly and with ambition and determination.

One of the positives to come out of the courses I have run over the years has been the ongoing creative relationships with writers I’ve met on my courses – which I hope can be mutually beneficial. This is the reason I keep numbers to a max of 20 – and to make the courses truly inter-active. It also enables all the writers to get to know and learn from each other over the course of the weekend.

I have kept in touch with so many of the screenwriters who have been on our 2 PHILS course and my 1 day CREATIVITY course – and getting to know the writers is one of the enjoyable parts of the course.

5 writers from the 2 Phils or my CREATIVITY courses have since gone onto the C4 screenwriting course – and the success stories from writers who have done one of these 2 courses and have gone onto prestigious, paid TV or film work are numerous.

ABOUT ME – I have run the C4 screenwriting course for the last 7 years and will be running it again in 2018. Alongside this, I am one of the 10 ‘masters’ of the teaching of dramatic writing at the new MA Dramatic Writing at Central St Martins / University of the Arts London (about to enter its 5th year). I ran the BBC’s in-house script editing courses for 10 years. This year I have run 2 courses for the team at BBC writers room (in London & Belfast). I have recently run a one day session with a delegation of writers, directors and script editors from the Chinese TV industry. And I teach regular courses at the Indie Training Fund.

On top of this I run one of the most successful script consultancies in the UK, working with many different writers, and work as freelance script editor for various indies and broadcasters (most recently script-editing a series for BBC radio).

Last December I ran an industry showcase for the pick of the writers from my script consultancy in 2016; and I will be doing the same again in 2017. The 2016 event was 100% full, packed with potential employers from many of the best broadcasters, drama-producing indies and literary agents, and there have been some notable successes from the event.

I have always hugely enjoyed working with screenwriters and helping them find their place in the industry. Earlier this year I produced and launched the podcasts series, which has acted as a great showcase for several new, exciting dramatic writers. This is another initiative I will be reprising later this year.


So what is NEW about this course?

The course will be like a mini-writers festival as we will have THREE different GUEST SPEAKER sessions over the two days –

On Day One, ANNA SYMON (Channel 4 Screenwriting course 2013, with credits on 2 series of INDIAN SUMMERS for C4, and a new commission for her own original BBC TV 4 part serial THE WILSONS in the pipeline) will talk about her approach to the art and craft of writing a screenplay – from initial idea all the way through to shooting script.

On Day Two –

Literary agent, JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, The Agency, will talk about how you get an agent, what an agent can do for you as a writer, what agents look for in screenwriters, and more generally about the TV and film industries, and where the work is for both new and more experienced writers.

And finally CAT JONES (Channel 4 screenwriting course 2012, credits on HARLOTS, WATERLOO ROAD, YOUNGERS, DOCTORS, EASTENDERS etc) will talk more broadly about both craft and career – about how she creates story and screenplays, about the writing jobs she has done, and lessons to be learnt from her experience.

And there will be time for a Q&A with all the guest speakers at the end of the 3 sessions so you can get answers to the particular questions you want to ask.


 DAY 1

Introduction to the Course & What it can do for you.

Creative Exercises – a series of creative exercises that will help you in creating and generating new story and character ideas.

ANNA SYMON – Crafting A Screenplay.

Supplementing ANNA SYMON’s CRAFT session, I will also do my own sessions on –

STORY – the elements that go into creating effective, exciting, dynamic story-telling on screen.

CHARACTER- the key to writing memorable, resonant characters. Including an interactive exercise in creating CHARACTERS, and genuinely character-driven stories.

DIALOGUE – what are the elements that make for effective screen dialogue? And…

TV SERIES. The keys to developing what every single drama-producing indie is looking for – an original, compelling, returnable one hour series.



Will cover…

PITCHING – with an interactive pitching exercise.

TREATMENTS, OUTLINES, WRITTEN PITCHES – looking at all these important pre-script documents – when you need them and how to write them.

JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, literary agent, THE AGENCY – talking about how you get an agent, what you should expect of an agent, and how to forge a career as a screenwriter.


Lessons to be learnt from successful screenwriters’ career paths.


What I’ve learnt from my experience of running the C4 course for the last 7 years – and what this means for you as professional writers.

CAT JONES – Cat will discuss her career – the writing work she has done across TV, theatre, radio, etc. She will discuss both the craft of dramatic writing, and give you tips on how to run your career.

CONCLUSION – Final session about what to take away from the course, and discuss where you go from here.

Places Are Strictly Limited at 20!

I have a strict limit on the number of delegates, because I want to make sure these are personal, in-depth seminars where you can get your questions answered and find out what you need to know without the sense of getting lost in the crowd.

If you want to come I strongly recommend you book your place now to make sure you don’t miss out.

Ten days before the course, I’ll send you full details of the course and membership of a special private Screenwriters Studio Facebook group that will continue indefinitely.

There is a FREE, recommended screenwriting book for the first 10 to sign up AND a bumper pack of invaluable HANDOUTS for all delegates on the course.


For the two days of the course, the cost is a very reasonable £175. Based on some of the successes and feedback of previous attendees of my courses, I’m happy to say I think this is excellent value for money, and I know this course can act as a powerful weapon in your aims to fulfil your potential as a professional screenwriter.

NB The last few courses I’ve run have sold out well in advance. If you’re interested in doing this course, early booking is recommended!

You can book on my website, and get more in-depth information (especially about the three guest speakers) –


Saturday + Sunday October 7th + 8th 2017, 10.00- 5.00, Central London – at Birkbeck College, the University of London, in Malet St, London WC1E 7HX. And I’ll be available on both days in a nearby pub afterwards to carry on the conversation! (One of the most important parts of the course IMO!)

NB The newsletter is now taking a well-earned summer break – my next newsletter will be on FRIDAY SEPT 8th. Have a great summer. Thank you for reading / subscribing – and for all the brilliant feedback you give me – it’s very much appreciated and I look forward to continuing the dialogue!

All the best



July 28th 2017


Posted by admin  /   July 13, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on TREATMENTS + OUTLINES – THE WRITER’S RESPONSE!

Hi There,

Two weeks ago my newsletter was about TREATMENTS, OUTLINES & WRITTEN PITCHES – and it also went out as a BBC writers room blog a couple of days later.

This week – the writer’s response! A massive thank you to KITTY PERCY, a wonderful screenwriter who was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015, and who has since had a number of very exciting script commissions for both film & TV – and who has had many meetings, and written many treatments & pitch documents – so she really knows what she’s talking about!

‘Dear Philip

Thanks for the article about writing treatments, a technique that remains the most important thing I never learned during two years of a screenwriting MA.

In fact, the year after I finished 4Screenwriting I spent writing nothing but pitches, outlines, treatments, series bibles, synopses, concept documents – everything and anything but scripts. And you’re depressingly correct in that if you approach the writing of your document with fear and loathing, you can bet that whoever’s reading it will smell your F&L as though you’d perfumed the page with it.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of the treatment-writing advice I’ve been given along the way by various producers and development folk, both indie and BBC etc:

“I never want to see a list of characters at the front of the document. If they’re properly conceived, the characters should come alive as the story develops, without the need to spoonfeed personal information.”

“Character is plot. A treatment or outline is incomplete without a list of characters on page one, with a couple of pithy lines or a short paragraph about who they are and what makes them tick.”

“The simplest and most effective way to convey the tone and style of your project is to refer to existing films or TV shows. This doesn’t need to be crass pitch-speak, e.g “it’s SAW meets LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX” but if you can define your show as having the ‘complex family dilemmas of X’, or ‘the gross-out humour of Y,’ it all helps in communicating your idea.”

“Never compare your project to other films or TV programmes in a treatment. It’s too risky – not only is there a chance that whoever you’re pitching to might hate the thing you’ve referenced, but it might have been a ratings  or box office disaster, or have any number of negative industry associations that you can’t know about.”

“Make the document strong and attention-grabbing. Carefully placed images, or a picture on the title page, can impart a ton of useful information about the tone and style of your project.” 

“Never add pictures or fancy fonts to a treatment. If the idea can’t hold its own by simple text alone, there’s something amiss in the writing.” 

Noticing a pattern?

If there’s anything to be gleaned, it’s that – as you said – definition is everything. Nowadays, if I’m asked by a production company to write a pitch / treatment / outline / postcard / whatever, I request an example of one they’ve commissioned, and use it as a guide. 

If you’re lucky they’ll send several, because it’s true; ‘real’ outlines are hard to come by, especially those that were greenlit into actual films or telly. (The sample outlines and treatments, written by notable 9 O’clock Writers, that we were given during 4Screenwriting have a hallowed place in my filing cabinet. Documents like these get shared and traded between writers like Levi’s in Communist Russia.) 

But don’t despair: I saw the brilliant Paula Milne interviewed once, and she said she’s never written a treatment. Instead she insists on pitching in the room, face to face, all guns blazing, and wins the day with passion, craft and a strong idea.

So try that.

(NB: You might have to be Paula Milne to pull it off. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…)’

Thank you so much Kitty.


As ever, there have been so many brilliant scripts to catch up with recently – in film, TV and theatre.

The stand-out for me has been Jimmy McGovern’s BROKEN, which I binged on BBC i-player in a few days.

Jimmy McGovern is a master story-teller. He puts his characters under such pressure – each of his lead characters is caught on the horns of an awful dilemma. At times his writing comes close to melodrama – but he always seems to manage to pull it off – because there is such conviction, passion and rage behind his writing. He so clearly has something that he needs to say – and it’s this powerful personal agenda that makes his writing so compelling.

Father Michael’s ‘righteous anger’ speech in the final episode was a tour de force.

He’s also not afraid to be sentimental – I defy you not to watch the last 5 minutes of the last episode without being emotionally affected (alright – crying!). ‘Sentimental’ as a word has taken a bad rap. ‘Sentimental’ seems to be used as a pejorative word normally – sentimental almost always means ‘over-sentimental’. But actually isn’t sentiment something that we should strive for in our writing? Looking it up, the word is defined as ‘having or arousing feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia…’ Isn’t this often what good writing strives to achieve? Anyway – that last 5 minutes worked for me – just a lovely, life-affirming piece of writing that absolutely paid off the bleakness of the 6 hour series. As far as I’m concerned, BROKEN was a master-class in screenwriting.

I’ve also seen three outstanding theatre plays –

PUNTS by Sarah Page at Theatre 503. (which I discussed in a previous newsletter).

ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE at the Royal Court is also outstanding. As the title suggests, this tackles issues of mental health – and suicide – in three generations of the same family – with the three stories being told in parallel and simultaneously in three different parts of the stage. Sounds a bit confusing doesn’t it? But in fact the staging was both original and highly effective. The play isn’t a bundle of laughs by any means – it’s intense almost to the point of being traumatic. And incredibly powerful. Brilliantly directed by Katie Mitchell, some wonderful writing by Alice Birch and outstanding acting – particularly by the magnetic Kate O’Flynn.

SEA CHANGE by Emily White. A play reading as part of this year’s RADA Festival 2017 – an annual event that features a lot of excellent new dramatic writing. This was a play that I read as a 4screenwriting 2017 submission and loved, and which got Emily short-listed for interview for the 2017 course.

The reading featured a new, improved draft – and the play really sung off the page. Again, this was thematically rich, funny and very thought-provoking. 90+ minutes without an interval on uncomfortable seats in a hot theatre at lunchtime flew by in an instant because the play was so captivating and entrancing. A real treat.

What do these plays have in common? Well annoyingly their runs have all finished (sorry!) but secondly they’re all by female writers. Nearly every year we have more female writers on the C4 screenwriting course than male – the wealth of female dramatic writing talent in the UK really is extraordinary.

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 27th.

All the very best




July 14th 2017




Posted by admin  /   June 29, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on TREATMENTS, OUTLINES & PITCHES

Hi There,

This week, I’ve written about treatments, outlines, written pitches etc. This article should be appearing on the BBC writers room website blog in the next few weeks – so consider this a sneak preview for the subscribers to my newsletter!



Treatments, pitches, outlines, beat-sheets, etc etc. All of these documents are points on the journey to writing a script – and are guaranteed to make even the steeliest writer’s heart sink a little. But as writers, you need to learn to embrace them, even if you can’t quite get to love them! If you can enjoy writing these documents, and the process of creating them, it will be an enormous help to your success (and creative enjoyment) as a screenwriter.

One issue is definition. There are so many variations of these documents – both in what they get called – and in their function. And the various names seem to mean different things to different people.

It is really important that you know why you’re writing these documents, and who you’re writing them for. Every single drama producing indie will have a different brief, a different agenda, often a slightly different approach. Make sure you know what you’re being asked for. Once you’ve convinced a producer or script editor that your idea is worth pursuing, you need to know what they’re looking for in every draft you write.

You need to distinguish between selling documents (written pitches, treatments), written to convince potential employers of the power of an idea; and development documents (outlines, beat-sheets, etc) ie documents that you write, once a producer has committed to an idea, developing it on the path towards first draft script commission. These are mainly for your benefit as a writer, in planning the story, structure, tone and content of your script; but they’re also for your producer / script editor to track how the story is developing, and help you with their input and suggestions.


Once, as a screenwriter, you’ve written one or more cracking ‘spec’ screenplays that have started to get you noticed, and potential employers and literary agents have read the scripts and want to meet you, these shorthand documents (everything that isn’t a script) are of vital importance to you building and sustaining a career.

Working with so many writers on the Channel 4 course, I have grown to appreciate the value of these documents. From a professional POV, it’s really important for the writers on the course to get their heads round the idea that they need to nail the skill of writing these pre-script documents – they are the gateway to script commissions and an income!

And from my point of view as a script editor, and for producers and development executives working with writers on new ideas, they serve to provide evidence that very limited development bucks are going to be well-spent on a script commission. Paying for a script is often a big financial shot-in-the-dark for small, cash-strapped indies. So as writers you need to be able to provide your producer with as much evidence as possible that the story will be brilliant before you’re given the go-ahead on a first draft script.

I have come to realise over the last few years – working with so many wonderful writers – how good these documents can be at their best. There have been several outlines that 4screenwriting writers have written that I have enjoyed almost as much as a brilliant script. At their best, outlines can be gripping, exciting, emotive pieces of visual story-telling that give a clear indication that the script that follows is going to be equally wonderful. I haven’t yet read an exciting, excellent outline that doesn’t become an exciting, excellent script.

Written pitches, on the other hand, aren’t pieces of structured story-telling in the same way as outlines and scene-by-scenes are. And one of the issues is that writing a pitch is a very different skill to writing a screenplay. There are some wonderful screenwriters who are not good at writing pitches. And vice versa.



The bottom line is that producers and script editors want from you the shortest document possible to convince them of the strength and viability of your idea. Initially, if you can distil your brilliant idea down into a single page that is going to excite producers, your idea is much more likely to get read and taken seriously than a speculative 20 page document.

These are hard because you have to leave so much out while at the same time including everything that is important and integral to the idea.


With one page pitches and treatments, it’s really important to start off with some sort of overview that expresses the idea as succinctly and persuasively as possible, and that states your agenda as a writer for pursuing this project, and something about the story’s themes – what it’s about.

The hardest pitches to read are those that are pure plot with no sense of tone, context or writer’s approach. The plot and characters – the meat of the story – will be far more accessible if we read them knowing why you as a writer are telling this story, what you bring to it, and why it’s a story you NEED to write. It’s all about context. And remember – you’re not just pitching an idea, you’re also pitching yourself as a writer to some extent – justify why you are THE writer to tell this story.


It’s always important to really deliver on the story front – to demonstrate through story events and character action just how exciting, moving, emotive etc this is going to be (rather than just writing, ‘this is going to be the ultimate emotional rollercoaster – exciting, moving and emotive…’). Deliver – don’t tease. And if your story has the most wonderful narrative twist / reveal – tell us what it is. This isn’t the place to hold back.

The less good pitches deal in empty promises. It’s a good idea to convey your sense of excitement as a writer in a project – but it needs to be backed up by hard evidence.

So, if you’re pitching a comedy, your one-page has to be funny – and that’s tough.



For me, the important principles of writing effective outlines are to write visually and explain nothing. The outline has to work in the same way as the script will do. It needs to dramatise the story, and leave interpretation of the story action up to the reader – in the same way as the best scripts / films.


When writers fill outlines with explanation of character motive, it gets in the way of the story action, and defeats the purpose of the document – which is to show how the story is going to be dramatised.


…is a problem because really great examples of these documents are very hard to come by. Unlike screenplays they don’t seem to very often make their way onto the internet for public consumption.

I’m not exactly sure why this is – except for the fact they’re so very hard to get right! And because, even more than screenplays, they’re just seen as a step towards something else – (script, film). Not being an art form in their own right, there don’t seem to be many examples in the public domain of how to write these documents.

And they’re so damned hard to get right. Condensing an idea to its shortest possible form while also trying to do it full justice is almost asking the impossible.

On the whole writers hate writing these sorts of documents. Because they’re so hard to write. Because they’re considered not creative in the same way as writing the screenplay. And because often you don’t get paid for them. And even when you do, the money you receive is often an inadequate reflection of the work you have to put in to get them right.

Particularly when you get onto the advanced structure stage of these documents (detailed outlines, beat-sheets, scene-by-scenes) often writers are doing 75% of the writing / creation process for only 10% of their script fee.

But here are some examples of these documents, and how they can work at their best –

  1. In this case, (in a one page pitch) in expressing the themes, the writer’s agenda

SPOILED is about generational responsibility – should we leave the world a little better than we found it, should we do everything we can to ensure our children have a better future than we had? Should parents give up their savings, or even their dreams, to help their kids succeed? But what if they then, in turn, do the same for their children?

A clear, economical expression of something that seems to be quite zeitgeisty – but also universal. And the story itself – about a father trying to protect his son, after the son has been responsible for killing a pedestrian in a road accident – clearly dramatises those themes.

  1. A writer articulating her agenda for telling a story –

THE CONTRACT is about the takeover of the British state by multinationals such as G4S and Serco. Although entirely fictional, it is inspired by real stories and the result of intensive research.

Between them, G4S and Serco not only provide a vast swathe of the UK’s security services (running prisons, immigration, Olympics security etc) they are also increasingly involved in health and care provision. As the state is slowly run down, the government will become increasingly subservient to the corporations.  Quite simply, one day soon, the country will not be able to run without them.

These multinationals have tentacles that stretch into all of our lives. Who are they accountable to? If things go wrong, where does that leave us, the users of these services?  It’s certainly in the interest of these global providers to keep any ‘blunders’ under wraps. Running old people’s homes and hospitals is big business; providers seem to be willing to go to almost any length to keep their contracts.  Are these companies, like the banks, now simply too big to fail? Will they – with the government’s help – do anything to continue to serve us?

I think the writer passionately and articulately expresses her reasons for writing this thriller. There is a strong political agenda and a clear sense of moral indignation – which instantly made me buy into this story.

  1. And finally, an excerpt from a story outline, a project at a more advanced stage. This is from a 6 page outline for the first 1 hour (46mins) of a C4 3-part serial, ie the final story document by the writer before she wrote the 1st draft script –

Laurie and George sit in the headmistress’s office. They have three black eyes in a row. Laurie looks totally numb. They listen to a recording George made of a group of boys shouting ferocious abuse at him. The headmistress shifts uncomfortably in her seat.  She tries to turn the recording off but can’t.  The abuse escalates. She pushes at the buttons trying to turn it off. The volume increases. George turns it off.

The flustered headmistress says it’s not acceptable to record other pupils without their knowledge. She talks about procedures, protocols and counselling. She says that she thought Laurie was ‘on the same page’ as the school on this matter and is frankly surprised that they would jeopardise the mediation process in this way. 

As they leave, Raymond Raisin, who is the size of a man, is sitting outside the headmistress’s office. He makes a gun gesture at George’s head as they pass and mouths ‘snitch’.

Laurie and George drive home in silence.’

I like many things about this outline – it is a shining example of how these story documents can work at their best. When I first read this, I was hooked – I was immediately engaged by the two lead characters, Laurie and George, and I wanted to know what would happen next. Even this short section gives a clear example of the slightly heightened tone – drama with a hint of dark comedy, but all rooted in a recognisable reality.

This section shows how the story will cut from scene to scene – and these cuts energise the story-telling effectively eg the cut from Raymond Raisin’s threat, to the silent car journey.

The headmistress’s office scene shows a strong sense of original, comic, visual story-telling (the three black eyes in a row) and an appreciation of character dynamics within a scene (the headmistress ‘shifts uncomfortably in her seat’, can’t turn off the tape recorder). There’s a pleasing irony to the way the child George has the status,  controls this scene. And the characters’ emotional states are dramatised rather than explained

A big thank you to writers SARAH PAGE, ANNA SYMON and REGINA MORIARTY for allowing me to share their work.


The next newsletter will be on Friday July 14th.

Until then,

All the best




June 30th 2017



4screenwriting, Ken Loach + Your Questions please

Posted by admin  /   June 16, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 4screenwriting, Ken Loach + Your Questions please

SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS. One day course this coming Thursday June 22nd at the Indie Training Fund in Hoxton – still 2 places available.


Hi There.

The last couple of weeks have been mainly taken up for me by the 2nd weekend of the 2017 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE, culminating in the drinks evening at C4 that took place on Tuesday, at which we introduce the 12 course writers to potential employers (and agents) from the industry.

The 2nd weekend of the C4 course consists of a day of 15 minute readings by actors from the 12 course scripts, followed by a day of feedback for the writers from 4 guest script editors.

Here are a few thoughts from this final weekend of 2017 4screenwriting events –

 As ever, the positive energy flowing between actors and writers was powerful and invigorating; and it’s interesting to note the differences in perception between reading the script on the page and hearing it read – how you pick up on different things. This reminds of how difficult screenplays are to read (and consequently write!). Reading a script is hard – so you need to do all you can to make it sing off the page, make it easy to read, enable the reader to play it as a movie in their mind’s eye. Don’t have anything come between the story and the reader.

Being a writer can be very exciting but also very tough. We try our best to put the writers at their ease – but at the same time they’re under a lot of pressure on the course. 5 months is not long to create a brand new series or serial, and it’s testament to the quality of the course writers that they achieve it so excitingly. The range and quality of scripts this year was remarkable – from a story about a female boxing club (with a Jehovahs Witness sub-plot!) and a ‘western’ set in deepest rural Wales; to a story of a father and son covering up a dreadful accident in which the son is involved; and 2 scripts set slightly in the future, with different – but equally striking – portrayals of how the future will look. (Not good!)

At the drinks evening on Tuesday, the 12 course writers are in the room to be met by about 200 eminent industry people – it’s nerve-racking! Because there is so much to be gained by these writers, there’s a lot at stake for them. It’s great to also see at this event writers from previous years who can now come back to this drinks evening in a slightly more relaxed frame of mind and who are able to enjoy it more while also connecting with industry people who they now know and like, as well as meeting new people, and trading experiences with the writers from this year’s course.

When we choose the 12 writers from 1400 scripts, we unequivocally love those 12 scripts – we’re so spoilt for choice – so we know that we have 12 hugely talented writers every year. But one of the things the course teaches us each year is that there is more to becoming successful in the industry than being a good screenwriter (although that is clearly the most important thing). Aside from the demands and mysteries of the craft of dramatic story-telling, being successful as a screenwriter is like being successful in any other career – in other words being focused, ambitious, strategic and smart in the way you run your career. An example from this week’s drinks evening – I was talking to one of the best and most successful writers from the 7 years of the course, the one who for me most epitomises an attitude of focused professionalism. She (very politely) broke off her conversation with me because the new C4 head of drama was hovering nearby and this writer wanted to talk to her, so she went over and started up a conversation. As far as I’m concerned, this is the sort of determination and initiative you need as a writer to be successful. Once when I was at a BAFTA screening with the same writer, soon after she’d finished the C4 course, she went up to Olivia Coleman in the BAFTA bar to ask if she’d like to read her course script because the lead part was just right for her (and it was). Ultimately nothing came off this – but it’s another great example of what you need to do to be successful. Importantly this writer is always charming, courteous, respectful, sensitive to the social situation and modest – but she has an admirably steely determination and inner confidence, which, combined with her talents as a screenwriter have brought her richly-deserved success.

In fact, modesty and humility (combined with an inner self-confidence) are qualities that all the successful C4 course writers have in common. They all have that necessary self-doubt, introspection and sensitivity you need to be a successful dramatic writer – alongside a tough persistence and passion for their craft.

As one of my (quite drunk) fellow course script editors said to me at the drinks evening, ‘This is the best night of your life!’ I wouldn’t go that far but this drinks evening is definitely always one of the highlights of my year – a celebration of the year’s 12 course writers, a chance to catch up with writers from previous years of the course; and the course feels so vindicated by the presence at the evening of representatives of pretty much all the big players in the world of UK drama producing indies and top literary agencies. It’s also a great chance for me to catch up with friends and former colleagues – there were 6 or 7 ex-colleagues from the Carlton TV drama department. It was great to catch up with all of them, and for them to catch up with each other.

Another moment from the course weekend that struck me – which made me think about ‘What does good screenwriting look like?’ Here’s a scene that does it for me from one of this year’s 12 4screenwriting scripts. This scene was part of the 15 minute actor readings last Saturday. I’d already read and hugely enjoyed this extremely impressive piece of story-telling. But during the actors’ reading, this scene in particular thrilled me – it leapt off the page as a beautifully nuanced piece of characterful, sub-textual writing, laden with deep, suppressed feeling.


ROB returns home. He enters the house and JAN comes down the stairs.


Where have you been?



JAN isn’t convinced.


What’s happened?


Nothing. Go back to bed.

It doesn’t look like much on the page does it? Part of its power is in its simplicity, in what isn’t said, in how inarticulate it is. It’s impossible to get a full sense of the power of this one short scene without reading the whole script – but let me assure you – this is what good screenwriting looks like.

It’s about tension, sub-text, clear but complex characterisation, and a sense of mystery; and, as with so many of the best scripts, characters that find it impossible to articulate their feelings. Good screenwriting doesn’t need to be flashy – just truthful.

Quotes from the KEN LOACH interview at Wednesday’s London Screenwriters Festival launch –

About the election result – ‘This is the most encouraging political development in my lifetime.’

Asked about Hollywood blockbusters – ‘What I find interesting is not what the industry finds interesting….The sub-text is shaped by the people who provide the money. And that subtext is – a man with a gun can solve your problems. It’s about the intentional use of money and violence to get what you want….It’s reflective of US foreign policy. Multiplex films are about commodification – and about fetishising bodies – what you should look like – but they forget what it means to be human.’

What makes good writing – ‘You need to look for a spark in the dialogue. The idea of structure has been elevated way beyond its importance.’

He discussed some of the writers who he had worked with time after time – Neville Smith, Bill Jesse, Barry Hines, Jim Allen and Paul Laverty.

He discussed how all the writers he’s worked with have a sense of comedy – comedy being about what makes people idiosyncratic, odd, unique, special. And good writing is about these people – how they relate to each other, their social background.

‘Most of the screenwriters I’ve worked with aren’t rich.’

Finally, thank you so much for the SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS you’ve sent me. Some really fascinating questions that I’m looking forward to answering in a future newsletter – but pleased keep them coming. It would be great to have several more so that I can fill a whole newsletter with this Q&A session.

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 30th,

All the best




June 16th 2017


Posted by admin  /   June 02, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on LONDON WRITERS WEEK 2017

Hi There,

Two events that I’m part of in the next couple of months –


This takes place over the week of July 3 – 9 at the lovely Granary Building in Kings Cross (campus for Central St Martins, University of the Arts London & Drama Centre London).

Here is some information about it –

‘The 2017 line up for London Writers’ Week, the week-long celebration of new writing across all platforms in the UK, has been announced.

The initiative, which takes place at Central Saint Martins, brings together a host of partners to explore new writing for aspiring and established writers in the UK.

Events, debates and talks will be available to writers for theatre, film, television, radio and digital media as well as teachers.

This year London Writers’ Week takes place between 3 and 9 July and will involve contributions from Oscar and BAFTA-nominated writer and president of The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Olivia Hetreed, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation John Kampfner and Australian Academy Award nominee David Evan Giles.

WhatsOnStage, who is partnering with London Writers’ Week, will be hosting an exclusive event with Royal Court literary manager Chris Campbell. WhatsOnStage critic Matt Trueman will hold an hour-long discussion with Campbell on new writing submissions, the Court’s new writers’ groups and top tips for scripts.

Writers will also have access to advice from the BBC, Tamasha Theatre Company, Boundless Theatre, writer Al Smith, Philip Shelley – head of Channel 4’s screenwriting course – Playwrights Studio, Scotland, The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, BBC Writersroom, and the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre.

Director of London Writers’ Week Jennifer Tuckett said: “We hope this year’s theme of Digital Media and Cross Platform work will provide access to and showcase some of the best new ideas going on in digital media in the UK.

“With BBC Three moving online, The Space, and projects like the Royal Court Theatre’s collaboration with The Guardian and podcast series and cross-platform work, it is increasingly important writers consider digital media as a possible area to write for and with.’

With the focus of the week being on story-telling in digital media, I’m involved in a session on Saturday July 8th, looking at my series of dramatic monologues, focusing on how the project was initiated and developed, how it showcases new writers; and looking at the lessons we learnt from making the podcasts, and how you as writers can empower yourselves through digital media projects.

Here’s a link to my session,

but there are a load of really interesting sessions over the week by some excellent people, in a great location at a very reasonable price! As well as the above-mentioned, there are also sessions involving the BBC Writers Room, John Yorke, the Bush Theatre and Fin Kennedy from Tamasha Theatre.

I hope to see you there.


And on Thursday June 22nd I’m running this one day introduction to script-editing course at the Indie Training Fund in Hoxton.



I went to see this at picturehouse central last week. It’s a very good movie in its own right – a largely autobiographical film, written by, directed by and starring Woody Harrelson about a very bizarre and eventful night he spent in London some years ago. It’s very funny – with some great cameos, particularly by Owen Wilson as himself. But what is remarkable about it is that it was the first ever feature film that was screened live, ie as it was being shot it was shown across several screens in London and around the world. It’s also shot in a single take. I was in awe of the logistical achievement – the film involves several car / taxi trips across London, a packed night club sequence, fight scenes and several more huge set-ups, with a huge cast. To have shot this in a single take – knowing this was a once-only chance (I believe they shot 3 versions of VICTORIA, the other single-take movie!) – and for it to have been screened live is mind-boggling. And Woody Harrelson, playing a version of himself, is in the entire movie and has a huge number of lines. His performance is remarkable considering the pressure he must have felt – with only one minor line fluff that I noticed. A pretty extraordinary achievement, that seems to have rather gone under the radar.



A new play by writer SARAH PAGE, that has just opened at Theatre 503 in Battersea, London. This is the script that got Sarah onto this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course, and it’s an excellent piece of writing. Funny, clever and thematically rich, I highly recommend it. Now booking!


If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter you will know that every now and again I mention football, and occasionally attempt to draw analogies between football matches and story-telling. Many thanks to TOM MAXTED for pointing me in the direction of this excellent article by writer SARAH KANE. (Sarah sadly died in 1999 – she was a remarkable writer, who made a huge impact in the theatre in the ‘90’s with some of the darkest, bleakest, but most powerful plays – plays that are still widely produced).

Sarah was a big Manchester United supporter and this piece from The Guardian is entitled ‘Why can’t theatre be as gripping as footie?’!

And here’s a link to another more recent, and very interesting, Guardian article about the links between sport and dramatic story-telling



Do you have any questions about SCREENWRITING or SCRIPT-EDITING that you’d like me to answer? I’ll be dedicating a future edition of the newsletter to answering your questions – so please FIRE AWAY! (You can email them to me –

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 16th

All the best




June 2nd 2017



Posted by admin  /   May 19, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on TV DRAMA, PODCASTS, LONDON SUNDANCE

A one day SCRIPT EDITING course that I’m running at the Indie Training Fund in London, June 22nd.



Hi There,


For the last few months we’ve been featuring and publicising one of these 13 dramatic monologues each week on social media. We’ve now finished this publicity drive and myself and the other writers are feeling a little bereft without this excuse to keep talking to each other about the monologues. We’re all very proud of them. I suppose one of the great things about the internet is that (as long as I keep paying the annual fee for the website!) they will be out there for the foreseeable future for anyone to discover. We have had so much pleasing positive feedback.

And one of the best things to come out of the project has been the weekly interviews that one of the writers, the excellent ROBIN BELL, has taken on himself to do with the writers of each of the monologues. Robin asked each of the writers some really smart, searching questions about the stories they’ve told and more generally about their writing. And the result is 13 really outstanding writer interviews. They go into the podcasts’ subject matter – examinations of life and death, and into each of the writer’s approach to the craft of writing these monologues. I’ve really enjoyed reading every single one of these interviews. I think they’re a great companion piece to the monologues. If you enjoy the monologues, the interviews will give you a further insight into them. You can find them all at –



London Sundance seems to be a very well-kept secret – they don’t seem to be much good at marketing themselves. I’d heard nothing about this until recently – but the 2017 edition is on from June 1-4 at London’s picturehouse central. Sundance is a mark of quality – you can guarantee that pretty much all of the films will be really interesting. And there’s a good chance that some of these excellent films won’t get a UK distribution deal beyond Sundance – so this may be your only chance to see some very good films.


We’re rapidly approaching the 2nd weekend of this year’s course at which the 12 writers come together to hear readings from each of their scripts, and then get feedback on their scripts. It’s always really exciting to see how these 12 exciting new projects have come together since the first weekend back in January, and to hear them brought to life by some wonderful actors.

There have been some notable successes by writers from previous years of the course recently – and it’s exciting to anticipate similar successes for writers on this year’s course.

VINAY PATEL (2015)  won the RTS Best Single Drama Award for Murdered By My Father. JAMES FRITZ (2015) won the 2017 Tinniswood award for BBC audio drama (and TIMOTHY X ATACK (2015) was one of the other two nominated writers). JON BRITTAIN (2012) won an Olivier award for his play Rotterdam. ANNA SYMON (2013), having written several series episodes, gained a BBC TV commission for her original serial, THE WILSONS. BEN LEWIS (2015)’s outstanding THE LOUNGE has been nominated for an OffWestEnd theatre award. NAMSI KHAN (2016) is writing an episode of HUMANS (series 3). And CHARLIE COVELL (2014) has had her original series The End Of The F***ing World green-lit by E4 / Netflix.


There has been a lot of excellent, inspiring TV drama to watch recently. I’ve been particularly enjoying the culture shock double on Monday evenings of LITTLE BOY BLUE 9pm Monday evenings on ITV, followed by LOADED on C4 at 10pm. Tonally you couldn’t find two such different shows – but in their different ways they’re both great.

The clarity and simplicity of the story-telling in LITTLE BOY BLUE was so impressive. It had enormous emotional power in the way it told quite a simple story with such truth and dignity. The quality of the writing of the characterisations was reflected in the wonderful performances (particularly by Stephen Graham, Sinead Keenan and Brian F. O’Byrne).

Hats off to ITV for showing something this bleak and difficult in their BROADCHURCH slot. The writing by Jeff Pope is outstanding, as are Jon Brown’s scripts for LOADED –  which as well as being laugh-out-loud funny is also quite a profound examination of the value of money, what it means to these 4 boys.

Some observations from LITTLE BOY BLUE – it was the detail that was so telling – the big stick DCI ‘Ned’ Kelly brandishes around the office is such a great character note; the scene of the dad returning to work in Tesco’s after the death of his son, the family sitting together in their dead son’s Everton-adorned bedroom – it’s all of these little visual details that added up to make this so moving and powerful.

And reminded me of something that came out of the first weekend of the C4 course, courtesy of an inspiring talk by C4 commissioning editor Liz Lewin (from writer Jack Lothian)  –

‘The Statuette. A basic guide to giving objects emotional value. The classic problem of show don’t tell. Trying to show a character’s emotional state rather than have the character come out and say it.

A husband and her wife. It’s her birthday and he buys her a horrible gaudy statuette. He’s convinced she’s going to love it – she hates it. So already we’re giving the object value – it’s a symbol of their failing marriage and how he doesn’t understand his wife at all after all these years.

The wife chucks it in a drawer.

Then the husband is in a car accident. Bam! In a coma (or whatever). Doctor says he doesn’t know if the guy will make it. At the end of the episode the wife takes the statuette out of the drawer and puts it on the mantelpiece, pride of place. And we know in that moment that she still loves him and cares about him – it’s become a symbol of their relationship.

Obviously you can replace the statuette with any object or even a phrase or a place.’

I think this is great – such an effective, clear and simple illustration of how to give objects emotional value in a story.

The show I’m enjoying most at the moment – as I do with every series – is the wonderful BETTER CALL SAUL. The intricacy and cleverness of the plotting combines with the depth and complexity of the characterisations.

One of the things I love about the show is the economy, craft and circularity of the story-telling. Series 3 episode 5 opened with an initially quite baffling scene – Jimmy, brother Chuck and Chuck’s ex-wife having dinner together in Chuck’s house. But you know that if you stick with it, if you trust the story, everything connects and pays off. And so it was with this scene. By the end of this episode, the purpose of this scene was abundantly and brilliantly clear. And it’s even more satisfying when you have baffling scenes that are only paid off several episodes down the line.

You know that you’re in the safest of safe hands with BCS – you can just sit back and wallow in the flair, imagination and confidence of the story-telling.

A tweet from BCS writer / producer Gennifer Hutchison – ‘Remember, it’s unnecessary to have a character say exactly how they feel about something for the audience to get it. Be brave with subtext.’

Until the next newsletter on Friday June 2nd,

All the best




May 19th 2017

Notes from Radio Times TV Festival Jack Thorne Interview

Posted by admin  /   May 05, 2017  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on Notes from Radio Times TV Festival Jack Thorne Interview


Hi There,

This week – notes from an interview with screenwriter JACK THORNE from last month’s Radio Times TV festival at the BFI –

Started in theatre.

Instinctively a lieutenant not a captain. Try to give power to others so that I’m not responsible.

In theatre, pressure on the 1st draft – not quite the same in TV.

‘Cursed Child’ very producer-led. For somewhere like the Bush Theatre, the pressure is much less intense.

In TV don’t tend to start with such a blank page. In theatre often if a world ‘sounds interesting’, the content of the 1st draft left open to you.

With Shane Meadows (THIS IS ENGLAND) we sit in a hotel room in Nottingham, and talk about it all. Jack will write a first draft, Shane rewrites it. Every time we learn different ways to do it, every time we re-invent how to do it. Shane has profoundly changed me as a writer and a human being. Shane – our duty is to be 20% better than the people who preceded us. I feel very lucky to have him in my life.

I like to cede power to people. Authorship can be shared eg working with Marc Munden on NATIONAL TREASURE – he’s an artist. He had a sense of how he wanted it to look. We kept talking.  Authorship is constantly a process of sharing. The death of drama is when you think only you can hold the pen.

There are a lot of very strong voices coming through in television at the moment eg Mike Bartlett, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Dennis Kelly – theatre writers who have then come through in TV. Dennis would disagree with everything I’ve said about shared authorship – but it takes lots of different attitudes.

CAST-OFFS was made for £600k – £100k per ep – which is tiny in today’s terms. BBC3 going online producing lots of work by writers new to TV – CLIQUE, THIRTEEN, THIS COUNTRY. BBC3 thriving with new writers.

Politics – the politics of disability in particular – is very important to me. Disability is one issue that is left out of the diversity debate.

I felt at home at Graeae Theatre company when I didn’t feel at home anywhere else. ‘Don’t take My Baby’ (made thru BBC documentaries). Based on a number of different, real cases. Sometimes disabled drama can simplify the issues – in this film, they weren’t particularly great parents. But the state investigates cases unfairly – the film was trying to tell a truth, but that truth is quite complicated. So it’s real and interesting.

How does TV serve a younger audience? There’s an under-served age gap between shows like WOOLFBLOOD and CLIQUE – the trouble is none of this age group watch TV.

Hard being a young person – what you’re exposed to on the internet – porn – got to find a way to tell their stories – so they know they’re talked about, so that they feel important. What’s on TV, what is talked about in TV drama, is important.

Genre – Damilola Taylor TV drama, OUR LOVED BOY, only got an audience of 1.6m. We have to find ways for the industry to support stories like this.

I always try to write about people. That’s all. I have no plan. I’m trying to get a plan now but it’s eluding me.

I’m always telling the same sort of story, whatever the genre. Always being led by the characters. Eg, NATIONAL TREASURE, at its heart, was about doubt. So you build a story that explains that. What’s the theme and how do the characters best interrogate that?

TV is in a golden age because of DOWNTON ABBEY and BROADCHURCH. (not because of Netflix etc). These two shows became the shows that branded ITV- rather than reality shows ie progress towards TV’s ‘golden age’ was writer-led.

But if everything is a co-production, then shows like THIS IS ENGLAND and NATIONAL TREASURE won’t get made. Big international shows work as co-productions. DOWNTON ABBEY, THE CROWN – but more working-class shows wouldn’t get made eg THE BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF – greatest TV show ever made – might not get made in this ‘golden age’ because it’s so specifically English.

THE LAST PANTHERS –  I’d never had an experience like it. We were dealing with so many execs, that they almost cancelled each other out – the writer and producer were the strong voices on the show.

NATIONAL TREASURE – George Faber said this is the moment to tell this story. We researched the hell out of it, tried to fathom a story from that. Marc Munden was on the project before me. I knew I had to write something that Marc believed in. Very long scenes and a very slow pace. We got very lucky with casting – the script got amazing responses – that gave us confidence. We shared authorship, and then shared nerve. We felt it important that the audience felt like a jury – what would they know? And in historical sex abuse cases, they know nothing. Really hard to make these crimes stick – it felt important to reflect that.

Decided to tell the story of a person who’s accused, and see the evidence presented from their perspective, rather than evidence from the POV of the victim, the complainant.

I don’t have a process – everything is different.

Characters – I like to write a lot of dialogue, discover characters that way.  Plunge in – this is what they sound like. But this means I have to be prepared to throw a lot away.

A writer like Laura Wade (Posh) is the opposite – she has to work everything out about the character before she starts writing.

JT’s favourite TV dramas –

Boys From The Blackstuff

Holding On by Tony Marchant – best written TV drama of the last 30 years.

Shameless – the early series – the architecture of ep.1 is shatteringly good.

State Of Play – also by Paul Abbott

Clocking Off – another Paul Abbott show.

Queer As Folk by Russell T Davies – the first 2 series. So interesting to see why Russell made the story decisions he did in series 2.

JT work coming up – adaptation of Philip K Dick short story for C4 – ‘The Commuter’. A chance to write something about his grandfather. This has now wrapped.


I want to recommend two outstanding theatre shows that I’ve seen recently –


From ‘Inspector Sands’ theatre company, the show is co-written and co-directed by 4Screenwriting alumnus Ben Lewis. Set in the lounge of a care home, it’s an examination of the care of old people in the UK – but if this makes it sound a bit dry and worthy, that’s absolutely not the case. The show is funny, wry, touching and brilliantly produced, staged and performed by the three actors, two of whom play multiple roles. It’s at the Soho Theatre until May 20th.


David Baddiel’s one man / stand-up at the Playhouse in London, in which he talks about his parents – his recently deceased mother, and his father who has a very particular form of dementia. Again, this may sound a bit bleak – but I haven’t laughed as much in the theatre for a long time. It’s also in paces deeply moving and it’s really thought-provoking. If you’ve been enjoying the tribute podcast series, you will definitely enjoy this!

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 19th,

All the best




May 5th 2017


Posted by admin  /   April 20, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on THE SPEC SCRIPT + COLIN DEXTER

Hi There,

This week –

A piece I’ve written that is also going out today via the BBC Writers Room about the spec script & the writer’s voice.

And a tribute to one of our great crime writers, COLIN DEXTER, who sadly died recently, written by DAVID BISHOP, who knows everything there is to know about Colin Dexter, and the whole Morse, Lewis, Endeavour oeuvre. I was lucky enough to script edit the last two INSPECTOR MORSE films, THE WENCH IS DEAD and THE REMORSEFUL DAY, so I experienced at first hand Colin Dexter’s brilliance. A huge thank you to David for writing this tribute.




The initial idea behind the script is all-important. As one of the writers on this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course put it, ‘I try to focus on what’s bothering me.’ If you’re writing a spec script that you hope is going to open doors for you, try not to be too influenced by perceptions of the industry and what’s fashionable at that moment. You can be sure that by the time you finish the script and want to send it out into the world 6 months later that what was so fashionable then, is old hat now.

Ideally, the spec script you write should be a script that only YOU could write. Think about what areas of life particularly excite you, where your passions lie, and also what things you know a lot about. We’re all different and we all have our own obsessions. It’s so often these strange specifics that are unique to you that will make you stand out from the crowd.

The writer’s agenda is so important. So much of the best work is predicated on a writer’s passion, fury or enthusiasms. Make sure you believe in what you write, and find ways to express that belief through your story.

What I want when I’m reading a spec script is to be emotionally engaged – I want your script to stir my emotions. So you need to tell a story that you know is going to stir YOUR emotions.

This isn’t to say you have to always ‘write what you know’ – but you do need to ‘know what you write’ – research is such a key element of good writing. Immerse yourself in the world you’re writing about, and make sure you’re bringing a perspective and a knowledge to the subject that is revealing and honest.


So much of the best story-telling is incomplete – encourage the audience to fill in story gaps for themselves. The best stories ask us (the audience) to do much of the work, providing our own imaginative answers to the spaces in the story. One of the narrative virtues of film is the cuts between the scenes. Take us on a journey but don’t show the driver unlocking her car, doing up her seat-belt, setting up her sat-nav, checking the mirrors…you get the picture. Show the driver getting into the car, then CUT TO the accident, the pick-up, the road rage (or whatever). Story is about the choices you make, the moments you choose to show, and – crucially – the moments you choose to leave out.


So often it’s the specific visual detail / action that reveals a character or a relationship. In the best stories, we see moments that are so strangely specific, that they feel honest and true – and therefore recognisable. Conversely, the familiar moments often feel familiar because we’ve seen them in other films, TV shows – and we resist them.

So many of the best dramatic moments come from a simple, specific visual – in a way that pages of dialogue often fail to achieve. If in doubt tell your story in visuals and actions rather than dialogue.


Don’t invent story – steal and adapt it from real life. Take your earphones out when you’re in town, walking, travelling on public transport, in any public space – and OBSERVE. Identify the people, places and things that pique your interest, and take notes. And think about what it is about the interesting people that makes them interesting to you. Take a person you’ve observed, and create a life for them, suggested by their manner, the way they dress, the things you overhear them say on their mobile phones – and imagine the rest of their lives.


But steering away from the too obviously commercial, making sure your idea doesn’t feel too ‘second-guess-y’ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also immerse yourself in the craft and culture of screenwriting and other dramatic writing. So – if you’re writing a rom-com, it can sometimes be enormously helpful to minutely study the genre – watch and read as many rom-coms as you can manage, think about what works about the best ones, what doesn’t work about the worst ones, and apply the lessons you’ve learnt to your own story.


The big thing that script editors, producers, literary agents seem to agree on about what they DON’T want in a ‘spec’ script is familiarity, something that feels derivative, as if the writer is second-guessing what they think the industry wants, writing something self-consciously ‘commercial.’

What we’re all looking for is something that expresses your unique ‘voice’ as a writer – the qualities that express who you are as a writer, that articulates your passions, and plays to your specific strengths. So – above all – please yourself. Write something that you’re excited to write, something that you need to write, a script that you’re prepared to get behind, a script that you can pitch with passion and excitement. Trust that if it excites you, it will excite your reader.



‘A tribute to a dead author may seem an incongruous inclusion in a newsletter about scriptwriting, but the recent loss of Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter deserves more than a passing mention. His characters changed the face of British TV drama – for the better, and forever, as Mark Lawson wrote in a piece for the Guardian newspaper.

When the curmudgeonly Oxford police detective first appeared on screen in January 1987, it revolutionised how crime fictions were being made and broadcast. Until then only dead authors like Conan Doyle and Christie were regularly given the deluxe treatment – contemporary crime dramas were original series like Taggart or Bergerac.

ITV set aside two hours for each Morse episode, telling a complete story as if each was a film with high production values, an original music score and extensive location work. A few in broadcasting thought it reckless, but the series won critical accolades, BAFTA awards and huge audiences (peaking at close to 19 million in 1991). At one stage Morse was so popular and so universal that episodes were being repeated both by ITV, and by rival Channel 4 – an unimaginable situation in our fractured, multi-channel world today.

The show attracted affluent viewer beloved by advertisers, which did wonders for ITV’s profile. It sold to 200 countries worldwide with an estimated total audience of a billion.

In his Guardian piece, Mark Lawson argued that only the serialised storytelling of Charles Dickens matched Dexter’s impact on television drama, as the Morse franchise had helped position detective fiction at the heart of mainstream British schedules.

“The lessons it taught about place and pace have never been forgotten,” Lawson added. “In the leisurely, immersive experience it offered, Inspector Morse was box-set television long before the concept existed.”

Some might consider Dexter an author who simply got lucky – the ever humble man himself certainly did – but his Morse novels were already winning prestigious awards from readers and his fellow crime writers long before anyone considered adapting them.

Unlike many authors, Dexter remained actively involved with the TV series. Ten of his novels were directly adapted for the screen, while the other three were all used as source material for the series. Dexter also wrote several lengthy original treatments for the show, provided story ideas and approved all the scripts personally. His frequent Hitchcockian cameo appearances on screen helped underline his importance to the series.

The series concluded with its 33rd episode in 2000, adapting Dexter’s 13th and final novel The Remorseful Day, with the chief inspector solving his last mystery. Morse died, but his sidekick Lewis was elevated to lead in 2006 for a series of new mysteries. That show never attained the critical acclaim given its progenitor but Lewis still attracted large audiences while it solved another 33 mysteries over the course of ten years.

Uniquely, Dexter’s characters have inspired a third TV series: Endeavour. Devised and written solely by Russell Lewis, it focuses on Morse as a young police detective during the 1960s in Oxford. Seventeen stories have already been broadcast and ITV recently commissioned six more for the fifth series – the largest ever run for a Morse-related show.

For mystery writers and readers, the loss of Colin Dexter marks the end of an era. British crime fiction became more than a little becalmed after the Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s. But the emergence of writers like Dexter, PD James, Ruth Rendell and Reginald Hill pushed the British crime novel into bold new areas, creating space and possibilities for those who came after them like Val McDermid and Ian Rankin.

Indeed, McDermid provided a glowing tribute to Dexter in the Guardian, arguing that his Inspector Morse novels were as “intricately plotted as anything from the Golden Age of crime writing, but … set very firmly in the here and now.”

Morse’s creator is gone, but his stories endure on the page and the characters created by Colin Dexter will remain on our screens for a long time to come.’

David Bishop, author of Endeavour: The Complete Inspector Morse


A message from Deirdre O’Halloran from the Soho Theatre about the prestigious VERITY BARGATE AWARD 2017 –

‘We recently launched the Verity Bargate Award 2017. In the run-up to our submissions window opening 31st May-5th July, we have an exciting workshop series here at Soho Theatre, and are travelling the country to deliver free information sessions about the award also.’


And finally, can I point you in the direction of ROBIN BELL’s writer interviews for the dramatic monologue series.

These writer interviews are fascinating – both about the writing process, and insights into the scripts and why the writers have tackled the subjects they have. They are a great companion piece to the monologues themselves.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 5th

Until then,

All the best




April 21st 2017


Posted by admin  /   April 06, 2017  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on DAVID ARMSTRONG

A series of 13 dramatic monologues about life and death. Please listen, enjoy and spread the word!

A one day SCRIPT EDITING course that I’m running at the Indie Training Fund in London on April 27th (and June 22nd)


Hi There,

This week, a guest blog by writer DAVID ARMSTRONG. Prompted by the tribute podcasts, David has sent me a couple of pages he wrote about his own father in 1993. I thought this was a lovely piece of writing and very much worth sharing with you.

It also serves as an introduction to, in my opinion, one the best and certainly most under-rated  crime novelists in the UK. David has written an outstanding series of crime novels which I spent many years, frustratingly and unsuccessfully, trying to persuade ITV to commission. Incidentally, he is also father of Jesse Armstrong, novelist and screenwriter (mainly in partnership with Sam Bain) who has written one of my favourite TV screenplays of recent years, ‘The Entire History Of You’ in Black Mirror, series 1. Talented family!

Here is a link to David’s Amazon author page –

Among his book highlights are SMALL VICES – for me, his best crime novel (although UNTIL DAWN TOMORROW is the first in the ‘Frank Kavanagh’ series). The personal / relationship side of the story has real complexity, humanity and humour, and the crime story is compelling. NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS is a wonderful stand-alone period crime novel; and HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL is a really insightful guide for writers in any genre (including screenwriters).

‘November 1993, Birmingham.

 Dad tells me there was recently a fight at The Sons of Rest.

It sounds like a funeral parlour, but it’s actually a social club for men of retirement age. Dad spends a lot of his time up there.  Mum reckons it’s ‘saved’ their marriage.  I’m not sure how much there was to save.

They say the worst thing you can have is a happy childhood: you spend your adult life trying to recreate that happy time. My adult life has invariably felt better than my childhood.

Anyway, The Sons of Rest is a big wooden shed in the middle of Lightwoods Park, and it has a snooker table, and the guys make some tea there, and there’s a committee, to see how things should be conducted. In a way, it’s like real life and a bit like the rest of the world, except I don’t think they talk much about Third World debt relief.

I suppose they talk about why the fuck everything’s down the tubes these days, just the same as everyone else does.

Dad’s on the committee.  He’s a big man, and in spite of all the little very complex bets he always places, and buying the Sun every day, he exudes a certain gravitas.

When he was twenty-five, he came to work in Birmingham and lodged at my mum’s mum’s house.  Maybe they had a relationship beyond paying-guest and landlady’s daughter?  In any event, in 1940, right in the middle of the Second World War, they got married.

Mum looks pretty in her gingham dress, perched on a boulder by Dad’s side one Sunday up on the Malvern Hills.  Dad has a kindly face, big trousers and lovely hair, and maybe they had some happiness in one another’s arms that day.  I’d like to think so.

But in my childhood, it seemed that they were arguing all the time.  And if they weren’t arguing with one another, they often argued with the people next door.  We children were given to understand that our immediate neighbours, the Freemans, were strange, difficult people, but I always suspected they were very ordinary people and it was us who were odd, because there were either tense atmospheres in our house and unpleasant rows, or loads of kids playing in the garden and going on expeditions to the river Severn at Bewdley, or the Lickey Hills or Red House park.  There weren’t many quiet, in-between times, which is what the Freemans seemed to have the whole time.

Anyway, nowadays, Dad spends a lot of time up at The Sons of Rest, except when he’s in the bookies or in the greenhouse that Mum had made for him for his seventieth birthday.

According to Mum, one day Dad said that he wanted to grow some vegetables, (I just don’t hear him saying this, somehow,) so Mum ‘gave’ him a little bit of the garden which she tends to think of as her own.  It’s a bit at the end, up against the neighbour’s hedge.  It’s very much in the shade, and there’s an apple sapling there, but it’s better than nothing, and Mum says, ‘It’s a start.’

I’m not so sure about this, ‘It’s a start,’ theory.  I reckon that at the start you probably need all the help you can get, so you should be given some fine tilth and plenty of light, not some dank spot at the far end of the garden under the hedge where the snails lurk and all.

Anyway, Dad has this place about five-feet by eight, and he put a few beans in, and a few potatoes and some radish and a little row of peas.  The few plants that germinated in the sunless chill were pretty spindly as they struggled up for the light.

And the peas that the slugs didn’t eat were more like pips than peas, really; the potatoes were small and had wireworm, so they were inedible.

Anyway, as a birthday gift and to give him the encouragement that he clearly needed in his late-blossoming horticultural career, Mum had one of the several men she knows who do jobs for her, make Dad a greenhouse.  Then he could be at the Sons of Rest or the bookies or in his greenhouse near the bottom of the garden.

Dad is six-foot-two and a half.  When we were kids, he was the only person in Great Barr who had a twenty-eight-inch wheel on his bike. He’d never learned to drive, but he knew that, compared with folk in the south, Birmingham drivers were slow-witted and would never survive driving in London.

So, we didn’t have a Ford Consul or a snazzy Vauxhall Cresta, but Dad did have a 28 inch Raleigh cycle, of which we could be – sort of – proud.

There was only his small patch of earth to put the greenhouse on and, Dad being tall, Mum decreed that the greenhouse be made high and narrow instead of the more conventional longitudinal shape.

The only problem Dad has with this vertical greenhouse is that, since the outhouse has been given over to the children’s tractors and trikes (used by the kids whom Mum, in her mid-Seventies, still child-minds,) Dad has to park his current bike (no longer a 28” wheel model) in the greenhouse along with his tomato plants and seed trays.

The cycle has its rear wheel on the ground, while the handlebars and front wheel are up in the air. It looks as if it’s peering out, waiting for Dad to come down and do some potting.

So, these guys had a fight.  Dad’s told me about the one man before.  His name’s Eric, and he’s always putting Dad off his snooker shot, just as he’s going to take it, by telling him what an easy shot it is.

One day, Eric said something equally irritating to another bloke, and this bloke clocked him one.

The guy who hit Eric was only little, but he gave a good account of himself according to Dad, ‘especially as he’s only got one leg’. (I hadn’t time to enquire how anyone can play snooker with only one leg,) before Dad added, ‘He’d have been alright if it hadn’t been for his heart.’

‘His heart?’ I ask.

‘He’d had a triple-by-pass,’ says Dad.

Eric was banned for a year (which, at that sort of age amounts to a lifetime ban, I imagine).  And it transpired that he’d already been banned from a club in the next parish.  The man’s a seventy-eight-year-old tearaway who’s picking fights with triple-by-pass amputees.’

A huge thank you to David Armstrong – and I hope this will make you want to check out his excellent novels.

The next newsletter will be on Friday April 21st.

All the best




April 7th 2017