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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


I’m obsessed with this topic. Two observations. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lights Out

We’re allowed to talk for ten minutes

about what has happened during the day,

then we have to go to sleep.

It doesn’t matter what we dream about.

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

Look for Hugo Williams ‘Collected Poems’.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote for me!

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the thought food, anyway.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Hi There,

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

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

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

(PS: Yes I have! See below)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And only yesterday this fascinating article was in the Guardian –


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

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

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


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

The next newsletter will be on Friday October 4th,

All the best





Sept 20th 2019


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

Hi There,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday September 20th

All the best






Sept 6th 2019


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

Hi There,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIGH TIDE THEATRE FESTIVAL Aldeburgh, Suffolk Sept 10-15

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

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

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

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

All the best





Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

July 26th 2019


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

Hi There,

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

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

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

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

BBC Writers Room Scottish Writers Festival, May 31st

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 26th.

All the best





July 12th 2019


Posted by admin  /   June 27, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – TIM ATACK

Hi There,

This week the first of the responses to my TEN SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – answered by the excellent TIM ATACK.

Tim was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015. He is a brilliantly original writer. He wrote the environmental thriller FOREST 404 for BBC Sounds and is part of a team adapting the sci-fi series HUMANS for Chinese TV. His play HEARTWORM won the 2017 Bruntwood Prize for playwriting and he’s currently developing TV projects with Echo Lake in the US and Bryncoed in the UK.

Over to Tim…

1 Why do you write?

You hope to find a door in the room that no-one’s noticed before. I’m also a musician and the motivation’s kind of the same there: to transport people somewhere new, to show different possible worlds, variations on what we could be.

I never thought I’d end up writing for screen because the collaborative act is so profound, and I’m an awkward bastard when making music. But I was surprised to discover I can work really well as a problem-solving writer in a way that just doesn’t interest me when I’m composing. So there’s an act of balance, too.

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

THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS, a novel by Michel Faber about a Christian missionary who travels to an alien world – a human colony – to preach to the dominant non-human native species. It’s a luminous and deeply moving story about grief for things still living, about distance between lovers. It was adapted as a pilot for Amazon a couple of years back and I got very excited, imagining a great existential TV sci-fi with echoes of UNDER THE SKIN or INTERSTELLAR – but the production changed one fundamental aspect of the book’s proposition that meant it told a totally different story to the novel…

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

Joint 1st place films – ROMA and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, which sounds like I’m being ‘woah, look at my range’. But thinking about it, they had loads in common. As soon as both began I thought “This is going to annoy me” then was proved wrong pretty much instantly. And I think they’re both about finding out who you are in situations where it looks like you don’t have much of a choice.

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

debbie tucker green, for the heart and depth and sheer electric potential of her writing.

And I can’t stop going back to THE WIRE, time after time. I think I’m on the 7th or 8th viewing of the entire series. The 5th time I could see that a huge amount of the structure simply involves showing a scene where one group of people are dealing with something, then following it with a scene of the equivalent problem happening to their adversaries. I’ve been mercilessly nicking that technique ever since.

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

I’ve started using Workflowy to organise my thoughts around future projects. It’s served me really, really well – a kind of responsive organic list I can chop and change and re-frame whenever I need to. I use it pretty much exclusively for pitches at the moment, and tap through it before any meetings I have, to get my brain in gear.

7 What are the best books for screenwriters?

THE WRITER’S TALE by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook (showrunning, dealing with pressure, redrafting, staying true to a vision vs pragmatic realism.)

HOPE IN THE DARK by Rebecca Solnit (not about writing per se, but deeply wonderful on how new ideas take hold – and on how to feel empowered in the margins, especially when you’re despairing at ever being ‘successful’.)

HAUNTED WEATHER by David Toop (full of brilliant tangential ideas on how to describe sound and hearing.)

8,9 2 pieces of advice for writers

Know your lines in the sand. What might you be asked to alter in your script that would instantly change its heart and soul? Saying it clearly to yourself makes compromise so much easier. Knowing the non-negotiable implies you also know what you can negotiate if it becomes really important to your collaborators.

The second suggestion is a blood-pressure one: never get angry or frustrated if partners and collaborators don’t seem to have as open an imagination as you for what something could be. Because it’s your job to have that scope, that reach. Making a clear case for what I really, really want to write has made me a better writer… I hope…

10 When and where do you write?

Pretty much anywhere. I’ve had to, in recent years, for all kinds of reasons, and found I’m particularly fond of writing on trains. But I’m also really lucky: I’ve got a desk at home in an office shared with my partner, and space at a studio in Bristol surrounded by people doing amazing things in the world of creative tech. The rules are you have to be interruptible and interact whenever you’re able to… and, against instinct, it’s put my productivity through the roof. Writing doesn’t feel like a solitary pursuit at all.

But when I have a looming deadline I usually lock myself away at home…

Thank you very much Tim – I will be sharing more of these excellent writer interviews in the coming months. Can I say a big thank you to everyone who has contributed – and to all of you writers out there, if you would like to submit your answers, it’s not too late.

Tim also writes brilliantly about writing on his blog – http://www.timatack.co.uk/

…and elsewhere – https://www.writeaplay.co.uk/meettxatack/


Sadly the 2019 course is now over. I’m immensely proud of the 12 writers we had on the course this year and it’s very gratifying to see the positive response that the writers are already receiving from people in the industry. I’m now planning for the 2020 course and we’ve decided that there will be one notable difference in script submission rules. For 2020 we will not be accepting the same script that you have submitted in the past. Ie if you enter for 2020 it will need to be with a script that you have not entered before. I wanted to flag this up ASAP. We will be open for submissions via my website for two weeks from mid-September. I will confirm all of the dates in the next few weeks.

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 12th.

All the best






June 28th 2019


Posted by admin  /   June 13, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on THE POWER OF STORY

Hi There,

The following story was put out on twitter last week by @sixthformpoet and quickly went viral – it’s even made its way onto The Sun website! I have to confess I knew nothing about @sixthformpoet before last week but she/he seems to be a rather wonderful story-teller.

I read the following story thread on twitter during the lunch break on my two day screenwriting course at the weekend and then read it aloud to the 20 writers on my course and it got the engaged, animated response I expected. Here it is –

‘My dad died. Classic start to a funny story. He was buried in a small village in Sussex. I was really close to my dad so I visited his grave a lot. I still do. [DON’T WORRY, IT GETS FUNNIER.]

I always took flowers and my mum visited a lot and she always took flowers and my grandparents were still alive then and they always took flowers. My dad’s grave frequently resembled a solid third place at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Nice but I felt bad for the guy buried next to my dad. He NEVER had flowers. Died on Christmas Day aged 37, no one left him flowers and now there’s a pop-up florist in the grave next door. So I started buying him flowers. I STARTED BUYING FLOWERS FOR A DECEASED MAN I’D NEVER MET.

I did this for quite some time, but I never mentioned it to anyone. It was a little private joke with myself, I was making the world a better place one bunch of flowers at a time. I know it sounds weird but I came to think of him as a friend.

I wondered if there was a hidden connection between us, something secretly drawing me to him. Maybe we went to the same school, played for the same football club or whatever. So I googled his name, and ten seconds later I found him.

His wife didn’t leave him flowers BECAUSE HE’D MURDERED HER. ON CHRISTMAS DAY. After he murdered his wife, he murdered her parents too. And after that he jumped in front of the only train going through Balcombe tunnel that Christmas night.

THAT was why no one ever left him flowers. No one except me, of course. I left him flowers. I left him flowers every couple of weeks. Every couple of weeks FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS.

I felt terrible for his wife and her parents. Now, I wasn’t going to leave them flowers every couple of weeks for two and a half years but I did feel like I owed them some sort of apology.

 I found out where they were buried, bought flowers and drove to the cemetery. As I was standing at their graves mumbling apologies, a woman appeared behind me. She wanted to know who I was and why I was leaving flowers for her aunt and grandparents. AWKWARD.

I explained and she said ok that’s weird but quite sweet. I said thanks, yes it is a bit weird and oh god I ASKED HER OUT FOR A DRINK. Incredibly, she said yes. Two years later she said yes again when I asked her to marry me because that is how I met my wife. [END]’

What is your response to this story? What is it that makes this a brilliant piece of storytelling?

‘Every scene needs to change the story’ is something I’m often banging on about. And in this story almost every sentence seems to send it in a different, unexpected direction.

Tonally it’s very distinctive – in particular, there’s a very clear sense of humour / humanity to the story. It’s essentially a serious, highly dramatic story but it’s lit up by brilliant shafts of humour. Much of it is genuinely funny.

Point of View – you get a clear sense of the personality / sensibility of the person telling the story. Their surprise / shock becomes our surprise / shock.

The story hits the ground running. You’re immediately hooked into the story by the unlikely, wry juxtaposition of the first two sentences.

And sentence 3, 4 & 5 cause you to engage with the narrator and feel you are in the hands of an accomplished, confident story-teller.

Rhythm – the rhythm of the story is distinctive – short, snappy sentences that give this a dynamic feel, the sense of a rapidly-developing, escalating story. And the use of capitals adds to the nuances of the story-telling. I’ve broken the story up into paragraphs as it appeared as separate tweets in a thread. This structure also helps to make it more enthralling and digestible as a story.

I have no idea whether nor not this has any basis in truth – but the important thing is that it feels real. Details like the Balcombe tunnel lend it an air of authenticity.

It’s got a great twist at the end. The last sentence brings the story to a brilliantly unexpected and resolved conclusion.


Two quotes from a Q&A with Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones that appeared in a recent Guardian supplement –

Whose TV writing do you admire?

Charlie Brooker: Recently, anyone and everyone who hammered out words for Succession, Catastrophe, Inside No 9, Fleabag, Better Call Saul, Russian Doll, I Think You Should Leave, Derry Girls, Back To Life, Blood, A Vewry English Scandal … I mean I could go on. I bet Years and Years is really good too; I’ll probably be too jealous to watch it.

Annabel Jones: I’d add Mum to that list. The writing is small, beautiful, funny and painfully poignant.

PS: A reminder of the screenwriting riches on TV at the moment and recently.

What do you think is most important to think about when writing and developing a character?

CB: I honestly don’t know. You just kind of picture someone and start imagining what they’d do. This sounds unbelievably trite, but coming up with a name is an important first step. Somehow, the moment I’d thought of the names “Yorkie” or “Colin Ritman”, I had a sense of who they were. I really can’t explain why. Get a name that fits and you start hearing how they might speak. Then you cast an actor in your mind’s eye and start describing the film you’re imagining they’re in. And don’t just write dialogue – spend a lot of time describing what they’re looking at, how they’re reacting non-verbally to things.

PS: I really like this. And I think the same is often true of titles. Get a brilliantly memorable, quirky title and sometimes it will spark an equally quirky, interesting story.


SCRIPTNOTES podcast – Please can I draw your attention to ep.399 which is all about the tricky business of NOTES – mainly from the POV of writers receiving notes, what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s also really helpful for those who give notes to writers. One of the best, most useful episodes.


The next newsletter will be on Friday June 28th

All the best





TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

June 14th 2019


Posted by admin  /   May 29, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHARACTERISATION

Hi There,

With the various scripts I have been reading / working on / watching recently, I have been thinking a lot about what makes for successful, compelling characterisations. There is so much wonderful stuff on TV at the moment and three of the characters that have stood out for me in my viewing over the last few weeks have been – Suranne Jones as Ann Lister in Gentleman Jack by Sally Wainwright; Daisy Haggard as Miri in Back To Life by Daisy Haggard & Laura Solon; and Stephen Graham as Joseph in The Virtues by Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne. All three characters feel unique, charismatic, hugely conflicted and absolutely compelling.

Here is the description of a character who came out of a ‘Creativity’ course I ran recently – created out of an observation of a real person in the concourse of Euston station!

‘Isaac – an orthodox Jewish man in his mid-40’s. Dresses in traditional Jewish clothes. On the day in question he was walking around carrying more boxes than he could manage, in a sweaty, anxious state. Isaac works in his father’s longstanding, traditional hat shop in Golders Green and hates it. His father looks down on him and has always chipped away at Isaac’s self-esteem. Isaac is not good at the job and has no real interest in it. Isaac is single and very private. He is not happy. But what Isaac is good at it is gambling. He is obsessed with gambling and has a real flair for it. It is an addiction but it’s one he is in control of – and over the last few years he has made a very decent income from his secret gambling that has supplemented the paltry income he makes in his father’s milliners.’

I’m very interested in this character too – his secrets and inner conflicts are instantly engaging.

It seems to me that we can never do enough thinking about our characters and how we define them. I have compiled two slightly different lists below – of questions you can ask about your characters. In the first list, none of these qualities are absolute – but I hope all are useful in helping you assess the particular proclivities and qualities of the characters you’re creating. Above all, it seems to me that the really compelling characters are often those who are going through the knottiest internal (and external) struggles. So if your character is an introvert, force them to make an important public speech; if they’re rich, force them into a world of poverty; if they’re urban, transport them to the countryside! Etc etc


Introvert – extrovert 

Active – passive 

Gentle – aggressive

Covetous / bitter – philosophical/ accepting

Open / secretive

Rich /poor

Materialistic / thrifty

Honest / dishonest

Cruel / kind

Solitary / gregarious 

Indulgent/ self-denying

Knowledgeable / ignorant

Scared / bold

Urban / rural

Articulate / tongue-tied

Snob / person of the people

Anxious / relaxed

Self-assured / full of doubt

Religious / sceptical 

Carnivore / vegan

Drinker / teetotaller 

Fashionable / dowdy

Graceful / clumsy

Athletic / out of shape

Beautiful / ugly

Humorous / serious 

Funny / no sense of humour

Conservative / socialist

Patriot / internationalist

Royalist / republican

Sporty / studious 

Old / young

Greedy / charitable 

Fast / slow (mentally & physically)

Loving / hateful 

Animal lover / animal hater

Neat / a mess

Superficial / deep

Sly / open

Conventional / unconventional 

Slim / obese

Tall / short

Smiley / grim-faced

Short fuse / calm

Over-sexed / asexual 

Heterosexual / gay

High-status / low status

Hirsute / bald

Penetrating stare / avoids eye contact 

Energetic / sloth- like

Ambitious / unambitious 

Bully / victim

Employer / employed

Employed / unemployed 

Corporate / freelance

Brazen / discreet

Wind-up merchant / tactful 

Superstitious / rational

Challenging / conciliatory 

Meticulous / spontaneous 

Organised / chaotic

Sociable / unfriendly 

Academic / pragmatic 

Predictable / mercurial 

Ordinary / eccentric 

Vain / unselfish-conscious 

Healthy / ill

Carer / cared for

Patient / impatient

Tolerant / intolerant 

Original / derivative 

Happy / sad

Arrogant / humble


Where are they from?

Where do they live?

House/ flat / caravan / barge etc  + details of their home

Is their house cluttered or minimalist?

What is their job?

What is their height/size?

Who do they live with?

Who do they love?

Who do they hate?

Do they have pet/s?

Do they vote? Who for?

What do they eat/drink?

Where do they shop?

What newspaper do they read?

What is their sexual orientation / proclivities?

What do they wear?

What colours do they wear?

What shoes do they wear?

How do they wear their hair?

Who are they close to?

Who are their friends?

What are their interests/hobbies?

What / Who are they afraid of?

What makes them laugh?

What makes them happy / sad?

What do they watch on TV?

What mode of transport do they use?

Do they have a car? What sort?

What is their religion?

What is their ethnicity?

What public figures do they most admire / hate?

Who would be their 4 dream dinner party guests?

What are their secrets?

What secret habits do they have? Who do they tell their secrets to?

What accent do they have?

What is their significant family history?

TRIBUTE Series 2

I’m still working my way through the many excellent scripts – sorry it’s taking me longer than I expected but I haven’t forgotten about this and will get back to you once I’ve finished all the scripts – which won’t be for a few more weeks, I’m afraid.

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 14th,

All the best





Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 31st 2019


Posted by admin  /   May 16, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on ROBIN BELL

Hi There,

This week, very sadly, the blog is dedicated to the life of writer ROBIN BELL. Robin was writer of one of the 13 ‘Tribute’ dramatic monologues. He was a brilliant writer, as you can hear for yourself, from his ‘Tribute’ monologue. He was passionate about film and story-telling and was hugely generous with his time. He died at the horribly young age of 37. To remember Robin, this week’s blog is the interview Katy Walker did with him about his TRIBUTE podcast, BOOKMARK. Robin himself interviewed the other 12 writers and the interviews are a testament to his perceptiveness and generosity. Robin asked all of us other 12 writers searching, thoughtful questions that made us think about our work and the process and purpose of dramatic writing. They are a brilliant companion piece to the monologues and a mark of Robin as a person. They were his idea and they are an act of kindness and intelligence.

So here is the interview Katy did with Robin –

‘How weird is this? I’m being interviewed on my own blog. I’ll hand over to Katy Walker who interviewed me straight away so we don’t get too bogged down in the oddness.

This week the tables are turned, as the featured Tribute writer is Robin himself, with the intriguing and evocative ‘Bookmark’, voiced by Broadchurch’s own Joe Sims. He could hardly interview himself, could he (well, maybe – he’d probably do a very good job of it, but I volunteered, with a few excellent questions from Will Mount). Here’s what we learned.

 What inspired you to write Bookmark?

I thought Tribute was a great idea. One of my all-time favourite TV shows was Six Feet Under, I loved how it faced death head on. I instantly knew who I would like to pay Tribute to. It was my Nan, who died 10 years ago. I have a note on my phone when this idea was coming together which has words to signify the stories I wanted to tell. It reads “Salad, flying rat, Gifts, long walks, fancying Darren Gough.” I didn’t find room for the last two.
I knew it was becoming a good fit when I felt my idea started exploring what a Tribute actually is, what memories are and the importance of them remaining in the past.

It seems rooted in a bygone era – of deckchairs, ‘salads’ and people called Beryl. And your description of the cat that brings ‘gifts’ is very relatable. How much is this based on your own memories of childhood?

A lot of it is based on my childhood and I wanted it to feel like a memory of childhood, so it has a storybook type feel to it. I’m sure my childhood wasn’t all deckchairs, Beryls and feasts but they are the elements which form lasting memories. I guess you highlight the elements of the past which don’t feel part of the present more because it’s distinctive to that time. The ‘gifts’ part was bigger in the first draft and had a slapstick comedy scene of a rabbit running around a bedroom, but it had to go to stay on plot.

The grandmother ignites in her grandson a great love of reading. How much of Bookmark is a tribute to books/the written word?

I’m not sure if it’s a direct tribute to books and the written word, but that element is in there to highlight how memories are the stories we tell ourselves about our lives – like the salad story that goes from disappointment to greatness or the flying rat punchline. I wanted to make that link between memories and stories. I also wanted the childhood remembered in the Tribute to be heightened and feel like it’s from a book. Kids’ books often feel like an idealised version of what childhood was like. Roald Dahl books often do this, before he throws the darkness in.

Have you ever used a peperami as a bookmark?! What else do you use?

Unfortunately, even though I’ve banged on about the truthful aspects of the Tribute, the peperami is complete comedic artifice. Can you imagine what it’d do to the pages of the book – grease stains, meat smells, urgh shudder, it doesn’t bear thinking about. I have used envelopes and football stickers as mentioned in the Tribute, also cinema ticket stubs, leaflets, bits of fallen plaster and a sock. I’d rather go with what is to hand rather than fold a corner.

Food seems to be a great comfort in this piece. Was this an intentional ‘device’? 

I wouldn’t say it was an intentional device, it was one of the true story elements I started with. I wrote the description of it before I had the story actually, and the structure it eventually gave me the answer and the ending to the piece. I love the initial disappointment of being served a salad as a kid, and then it building up to become a veritable feast. I absolutely love the verve and excitement Joe injects as he describes the food, it’s paced perfectly and really gives that moment great character.

The changes of tone and viewpoint are beautifully done. You switch between reminiscence, philosophy and eulogy and we don’t notice the joins – how conscious was this subtle movement through these transitions?

Thank you for saying that. Having written it I think you’re always more aware of the joins, but I think a lot of the reason they’re covered is in Joe’s performance. He paces the story so well, modulating his performance perfectly to deliver maximum emotion and carry the listener through at the right pace during every step of the way. I was blown away when I first heard it. From a writing point of view, the transitions weren’t something I focused on – with Twisted Showcase we move from domestic to uncanny within a heartbeat, even adding layers of ridiculous comedy on top sometimes so hopefully it is something I am used to.

Your protagonist’s invention is a fascinating idea. How did that come about?

After I had the parts which formed the memories I came up with the invention to tie the story together. As I thought of these memories it got me thinking about what memories really are, how much truth is in them, are they rose tinted, can they be corrupted, things like that. The more I thought about it, the more I began to think about where memories take place, they feel very real and powerful, but obviously, it’s all in your head. That’s when I had the idea of an invention which could take people back to their memories, and make what is in their head physically real. Once I had that idea I realised, if it existed, that there would be a high demand for that. Plenty of different uses as well, but for the purposes of the Tribute I thought I’d just focus on it being used to cope with bereavement. Basically, this is just a long-winded way of saying that I didn’t view the story as being about technology, the focus for me was it was more about memory.

The narrator doesn’t want to be transported back to the sacred memories which he describes? Would you if you could? What one memory would you choose?

After writing Bookmark I’d have to say memories should stay where they are and that I wouldn’t revisit them, but that is a boring answer. Also, I think we’d all love to go back and relive certain parts of our lives so we appreciate them more. I was just watching a Manic Street Preachers documentary on Sky Arts which follows them making the album Everything Must Go after the disappearance of Richey Edwards. It’s a great documentary, and it ends at their first stadium gig at what was then called the NYNEX, Manchester. I was there, and yes it was brilliant, but at the time I didn’t realise the importance and significance of that gig to the band and to their story. So maybe today I’d choose to go back to that gig, knowing more regarding the context with hindsight. But really memory is so powerful that we have the ability to take ourselves back: you can smell a certain fragrance which can take you back to childhood, or hear a certain song which takes you back to your early twenties etc. That’s what I wanted to explore in my Tribute.

You’re the brains behind the Twisted Showcase – is this Tribute a departure in terms of genre? 

If any people who have watched my Twisted Showcase episodes then listen to my Tribute they will probably see it as a departure. It shares the oddness in some respects, and it shares a twist in the tale in that it transpires this warm, cosy story about a bygone era is set in the future and based on an unbelievable piece of tech. Maybe it is more in line with my kids’ TV specs or an amalgamation of those two styles.

What’s your next project?

I’d love to have the clarity to answer this one succinctly. It always seems like I have too many plates spinning at any one time. I’ve been trying to write a feature this year but keep getting pulled in different directions with spec script rewrites on two kids’ TV scripts and an adult crime drama. I’m also working on a stage adaptation of Twisted Showcase, and a few new one page pitches. Finally, there’s a sitcom I’m co-writing with the co-creator of Twisted Showcase, Rhys Jones.

What have you learned from interviewing the other writers?

Oh wow, so much. From the many different ways that ideas come together, to how in control of what messages are told in different writers’ stories, and how they view their own work, and how different writers view the importance of death as a theme. It’s been enlightening.

Which of the other Tributes have stood out for you, and why?

They’re all great and really different from each other. Philip did a great job selecting this bunch to form the series. It’s really tough to select ones out, but I’ll be brutal and just chose one – Eulogy for Tricia Slater by Sarah Penrose. I loved how it extracted humour from the subject of death.

What would you want your tribute to be?

I’m not sure, but make sure there’s a cracking buffet afterwards that people talk about with the same glow Joe Sims gave that salad. Whenever I ask my Mum how a funeral she’s visited went she’ll always mention the buffet first – “They put on a great spread.” That’ll do me.


Thank you Katy and in particular, thank you Robin for the warmth and creativity you brought to so many people. RIP.

This should be a reminder to all of us – to write, write, write. Our time is finite and we all have a lot to say and limited time in which to say it.


This last link is to an article Robin wrote post-diagnosis about what his illness did to his perception and enjoyment of films – it’s a brilliant, profound piece of writing. about what films and stories mean to us on a personal, emotional level

As I was reading it took me back to distant memory of a film experience of my own – it was the last day of the school holidays. As usual I was dreading going back to my boarding school, counting down the holi-days at home. To treat / distract me my mother took me to see THE ALAMO a John Wayne film. I must have been 8 or 9, I remember little about the specifics of the film but a lot about the experience – the anticipation, the excitement that the film induced in me; something stirring and exotic about the scale and drama of the film and something about the whole experience of a trip to a big cinema in a big town (Canterbury I think). Also that it summons up (thanks to the thoughtful and honest trigger of Robin’s writing) a valuable affirming memory of my (now dead) mother’s love and kindness, the thoughtfulness of her act (and I think it was also a treat for her) and the deep emotional, communal power of story and the cinema experience.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 31st (when I will be at the BBC Writersroom Scottish Writers Festival in Glasgow – if you’re there, please say hello).

All the best





May 17th 2019