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



Posted by admin  /   March 24, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on STORIES & SONGS

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



Hi There,

It’s been another busy couple of weeks since my last newsletter –


This is an excellent annual film festival for student film-makers from all round the world. I was on a panel giving feedback to the 2 winners of a short film script competition on Sunday March 12th. These two writers were brave enough to submit themselves to script notes in front of an audience of about 70. The two winning scripts were imaginative, original and very promising – and the two writers receptive, smart and impressively articulate in a high-pressure situation!

The session took place in a beautiful room with amazing views in St Johns College – the culture shock of walking into the world of Cambridge academia from suburban North London was striking.


And then the following Thursday I had an equally enjoyable day running two courses for the newly established Belfast section of BBC Writers Room. An all day course with 10 selected Northern Irish screenwriters, and then a one hour talk to a larger group of writers.

Northern Ireland has a thriving screenwriters’ community and it’s great to see that the BBC Writers Room is already starting a number of new initiatives to try and help these writers get their work out there.


A one hour play at the Dorfman, National Theatre. 5 actors in their 70’s and 80’s, with no previous improvising experience, being put through their improvisation paces. Some of the scenes and stories that came out of the evening were completely captivating – moving, magical and at times very funny. There was something about actors of this age improvising (really successfully) for the first time in their long careers, that was particularly powerful and poignant.

Can I ask you to indulge me this week? What I’d like to write about isn’t directly about screenwriting although I do think there are all sorts of applications in terms of stories and careers.

The weekend before last I went to two of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’m normally into hyperbole (?) but these two shows really were wonderful. Neither were about scripts as such – they were two music shows. On Friday March 10th SURVIVING TWIN, a 90’ show about fathers and sons by Loudon Wainwright III, one of my favourite singer-songwriters. His songs, mostly on this subject, interspersed with his readings / performances of his father’s writing – articles that Loudon Wainwright II wrote in LIFE magazine from the 60’s to the 80’s – when magazines like LIFE  and TIME  were at the cutting edge of journalism and US society, and LWII was a well-known name.

Some of the articles by LWII are about his relationship with his own father (the original Loudon!) – and then Loudon III sings about his relationship with his son and grandchildren – so many generations of the Wainwright family are covered! The show is a tribute to his father, re-introducing his father’s writing to a new audience – and the chosen articles, for instance, about the death of a beloved family dog, about buying a suit in a London tailor’s, about the birth of his son (Loudon III) – are wonderful, thoughtful, moving and funny pieces of writing – in fact they share many of the same qualities of LWIII’s songs – funny and wonderfully well-observed slices of life.

If families didn’t break apart, I suppose there’d be no need for art’ As one of his lyrics goes – and so many of his songs are about the pain of relationships – usually with the women in his life but also with his family – children, parents.

The readings and the songs connect wonderfully – and the show is a reflection on the joys and difficulties of the father / son relationship. I watched it with my son, and spent the evening dabbing my eyes, laughing, ending in a spontaneous standing ovation.

If you don’t know LWIII’s music, here are a few songs you could try on youtube (or wherever). Now in his early 70’s LWIII has written literally hundreds of songs. And the vast majority of them are wonderful – he writes about all the staples of popular song but with such humour and complexity.

2 nights later my elder son (who happily for me shares much of my musical taste) went to the last ever concert by Stornoway. The band existed for 10 years until last Sunday and hail from Oxford. My son and I first became aware of them at the time (8 or so years ago) when he was just off to uni in Oxford. I first heard them (as one of the few unsigned bands ever) on Jools Holland’s LATER, playing the wonderful ZORBING and FUEL UP. ZORBING starts with the lyrics, ‘Conkers shining on the ground, The air is cooler, And I feel like I just started uni.’ Stornoway’s songs are wonderful – they’re also a strong reminder for all of my family of a particular time in our lives. For my son, they bring back his days at uni, for the rest of us, they bring back the days when he first went to uni and we missed him. And they also bring back to us the road trip we did in the US, driving from New Mexico to California, when Stornoway’s first album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, was the only CD we listened to for two weeks in the car.

The band are a huge talent, they have written so many wonderful songs but have decided to go their separate ways. Enjoying their songs and the intense emotion of the evening, it seemed scarcely credible to Jake and I that such a hugely talented group of musicians could be giving this up.

The evening was made more poignant for my son meeting up with several old uni friends who he hadn’t seen since uni, including one who had travelled from Boston USA especially for the show!

It made me think about the power of art – and the different perceptions of it. Clearly, among the audience there was a feeling that this music was the soundtrack to our lives, of real emotional importance. Stornoway’s split made me question whether the band realise how rarely gifted they are!

But both shows also made me think about the mystery of mass appeal and audience response. Because, while Loudon Wainwright and Stornoway are two of my favourite artists – in any area (music, films, books, TV etc) – neither are household names.

Why aren’t Loudon Wainwright (and Randy Newman) as big as Springsteen? Is it because their songs are more complicated, darker and more introspective? Why was the small Leicester Square theatre only 2/3 full for Loudon on Friday night, when in the summer I’d been part of an 80,000 crowd at Bruce Springsteen’s Wembley show? It’s a mystery to me.

It also made me think about both the positive – and negative – influences of the internet. Clearly musicians and bands no longer make even a fraction of the money they used to make pre-internet. Album sales are a thing of the past. The only real money to be made is by playing live – and, wonderful though that must be in many ways, it must also make life difficult when you’re constantly travelling, parading yourself in public. The lead singer of Stornoway, Brian Briggs, is that rare, contradictory creature (a great basis for a screenplay character!) – the reluctant rock star.

We need to consider the possibility that TV and films may go the same way as music. On the one hand, the reach of the internet is wonderfully liberating. But making a living out of your art is a whole lot harder when music, writing and film is so instantly accessible to all (so much new work – especially feature films – is now illegally downloaded). For so many in the world of writing, this is such a huge, tricky issue – particularly, for instance, in journalism and poetry.

A few Stornoway highlights –

Thank you for indulging me – in two weeks time I’ll be focusing on something more akin to screenwriting!

All the best




March 24th 2017




Posted by admin  /   March 10, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on STORIES, EVENTS, PLACES…

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



Hi There,

This week an account of the some of my script-related activity over what has been a hectic but very enjoyable couple of weeks.

A big word of thanks to everyone who has listened and so generously spread the word about my TRIBUTE PODCASTS. We have received so much positive feedback about them which is really gratifying. For instance this week, Laura Boswell at 4Talent said, ‘they are wonderful’ and tweeted about them to 4Talent’s 65k+ twitter followers; the London Book Fair will be tweeting about them today; I’ve written an article about them for Phil Gladwin’s excellent OPEN DOOR monthly screenwriting newsletter and several of my favourite writers and script editors have got in touch to say nice things about them – so thank you!

This week I ran my final session of 8 with the MA dramatic writing students at Central St Martins / University of the Arts, London in the lovely Granary Square building at Kings Cross. They have been working recently on team-written drama series pilot episodes. It’s great to see how much of a creative spark they get from bouncing ideas off each other and collaborating, how working together enhances and improves the quality of the ideas.

I’d also like to flag up a book that has come out of this course, a chapter of which I wrote – each chapter is a from a talk about an aspect of dramatic writing that we gave a couple of years ago. Discounting my contribution (!) there is some great advice in there from people like John Yorke, Kate Rowland, Stephen Jeffreys, Nina Steiger, Ola Animashawun and more.

I’ll be writing more about this book in a future newsletter.

I spent an enjoyable evening at the packed-out Le Cafe Parisien in Portsmouth, oraganised by New Writing South, talking to the Portsmouth Writers Hub about screenwriting.

I was on the BAFTA Rocliffe TV drama forum reading panel – which involved another fun evening sitting round the BAFTA boardroom table with industry peers (various writers, producers, agents, script editors) reading the first ten pages and then discussing and comparing the scripts. This was a lot of fun – particularly the discussion of the scripts, comparing our responses – and (again) realising, however well and constructively we all try to articulate our responses, how incredibly subjective the response to any script is!

On Sunday I’m on a panel at the Watersprite Film Festival in Cambridge – if you’re there, please come and say hello.

Yesterday I ran a STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass at the Indie Training Fund in London. This is always a fun day at which I get the delegates, through various exercises, to create stories and characters. As ever I was blown away by the quality of the ideas that came out of the day. Some examples – a brilliant 30’ series idea, an anthology series of relationship stories, all of which are incited by technology / apps (fitbit, grindr, etc). This was co-developed by script editors from two different indie drama companies, whom I suspect may now be competing against each other to get this idea away with a broadcaster! A love story set against the backdrop of an iphone factory in China, a feature film about an alcoholic Nascar driver, and his troubled relationship with both father and son, set on the Gold Coast of Australia. And many more – the oddness and specificity of the ideas that came out of the day was very exciting.

But one of the things this day of trying to tap into creativity always reminds me is how much there is to be learnt about dramatic narrative from all areas of life – and, in my life, the world of sport so often stands out for the way it illustrates the best and worst of human behaviour –

I was reminded of the Anthony Minghella quote I included two weeks ago about the narrative ‘shape’ of football matches by Tuesday evening’s game under the floodlights at picturesque Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames with its listed Archibald Leitch frontage on the Stevenage Road (if you only visit one football ground, this should be it – I am biased though). It was a crunch match against fellow promotion rivals and former giants Leeds United, who brought a whopping 7,000 supporters with them which made for a cracking atmosphere. Fulham gifted Leeds the most bizarre own goal with not a Leeds player in sight in the 4th minute (very Fulham-ish) then proceeded to relentlessly batter the Leeds defence for the next 90 minutes. Leeds fulfilled the role of pantomime villains / antagonists with some shameless time-wasting and a sending-off – before Fulham equalised with the proverbial ‘worldie’ in the 95th minute – literally the last 10 seconds of the game. The emotional outpouring was spontaneous – and the narrative structure, although bounded by the most predictable, rigid parameters (two teams, two halves, 90 minutes) once again demonstrated its ability to produce the unexpected, and moments of high emotional intensity (an understatement for my response to that last minute goal).  For a few brief minutes the match caused me to pretty much lose it – how many works of drama do the same? Not many!

This was brought home to me even more vividly by an ill-judged trip yesterday evening to the very posh Curzon Mayfair to watch VICEROY’S HOUSE. I have to admit I only saw about 45 minutes before leaving, some of which I slept through (!) but this seemed to be the most reactionary, narratively unsophisticated British film I’ve seen for a very long time. Loads of creaky expositional dialogue about the politics of the time, with the posh Brits as the big, important characters, and the Indians as the the secondary, comic relief. I found this almost embarrassingly reactionary / imperialist. A dinosaur of a film. Have you seen it? Am I being unfair??

The other stories that are really interesting me this week, and which I think are absolutely fascinating in terms of character and personal politics are the ongoing, simmering scandals surrounding Team Sky / British Cycling and Mo Farah’s coach Alberto Salazar. Both stories, it seems to me, reflect the apparent need we have to create national sporting heroes (are you aware of just how many athletics medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics have since been stripped of their medals for drugs offences?) – it seems increasingly clear that these successes are built on very shaky foundations. Both these stories shine a light on some fascinating, flawed and contradictory characters and relationships (Dave Brailsford, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome) and both stories have a lot further to run. And they have such interesting application for dramatic story-telling. Have a watch of the parliamentary sub-committee interviews with Brailsford, Shane Sutton and British Cycling fall-guy Simon Cope – and think about the sub-text of the conversations! They are so rich with unstated meaning (and dishonesty – a staple of the best dramatic stories!).

The next newsletter will be on March 24th.

All the best




March 10th 2017


Posted by admin  /   February 24, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on STORY NOTES 24-2-17


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


Hi There,

First off can I say a big thank you to all of you who have got in touch with me about the Tribute podcasts. We’ve had some really nice responses, and I hope that the word of mouth will continue to be good, and that we’ll manage to get these listened to by significant numbers. I’m very hopeful that I’ll be doing a 2nd series – watch this space!

As part of the marketing drive, we’ve decided to feature one of these monologues per week on social media etc for the next 13 weeks. The first one to be featured is Katy Walker’s wonderful VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING. As one BBC producer expressed it in an email to me this week,

Valediction Forbidding Mourning is a terrifying mystery, answered.  The release of information and the development of the sense of loss are both beautifully judged.  The writing is of a very high standard indeed…. What an original range of writing.  It’s odd listening to them so closely together as it’s a really profound meditation on death from tons of perspectives.

Thank you Steve – I couldn’t have expressed it better myself!

VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING also features a wonderful performance by FINTY WILLIAMS. Finty was a force of nature when she came into the studio for the recording, and myself, Katy and Will Mount (writer, actor, musician, studio producer!) were all blown away by her performance in the room – and it comes across even better in the recording. Will and I were both embarrassedly dabbing our eyes, hoping neither had noticed, every time we listened to it.

Can I also recommend Robin Bell’s brilliant interview with Katy Walker about the script for her monoloogue.


I’ve seen a lot of films recently, which have made me think about what works in story. One of my recent favourites was 20TH CENTURY WOMEN. It had a classic US indie sensibility – whimsical and very light on significant plot. But the characterisation was great – it was so eccentrically specific that it felt true. And it reminded me that, if you get the characters right, if you really know your characters, then, to some extent, the story will look after itself. This was about a group of characters at a very particular point in time (1979), the dynamics of their relationships, with a voiceover that told you what happened to the characters later in their lives. There was something poignant, sad and satisfyingly omniscient about this future perspective. A film that makes you look back over your own life, and think about the changes that happen (or don’t).

Another very interesting film – LION. I thought the first (Indian) half of the film was a master-class in clear, simple, affecting story-telling that was all about character action and so little about dialogue. In comparison the 2nd (Australian) half felt to me unconvincing, predictable – and verbose.


Sad to note that FRENCH’S THEATRE BOOKSHOP will be closing down in April, and that the brilliant SOHO CREATE media festival will not be going ahead this year. In these straitened times, we need to keep fighting and making a noise for places and events like this…so many good things disappear for bad, profit-centric reasons, never to reappear. In particular, so many wonderful specialist bookshops have closed down in the last 10 or so years (eg OffStage Theatre bookshop in Chalk Farm, Sportspages in the Charing Cross Rd, etc) I’m reading Alan Bennett’s wonderful KEEPING ON KEEPING ON at the moment, and there’s a furious sub-text (and text) that runs through his diaries about the barbaric closing-down of libraries and other organisations and buildings that have meaning – but aren’t obvious money-spinners, and how wrong this is.


I’ve now got a raft of writers doing my 6 month script mentorships. It’s very exciting working with writers for an extended period, rather than just giving them feedback on a single draft of a script. It’s been particularly gratifying working with writers at the ideas stage, making sure they’re building their stories on solid foundations.

For me, the biggest thing to make sure of at this initial stage is that the idea you’re pursuing as a writer has real emotional meaning for you and isn’t just your attempt to second-guess the industry. Perversely, there’s sometimes something off-putting about a polished, commercial pitch from new writers (certainly this is true if the idea feels too familiar). One of the things I think potential employers want from a calling card script by new writers is something that only that writer could write, that is unique to that writer.

Two of the more exciting projects that have arisen out of discussion with writers recently have been an epic story about an IRA informant for the British army in Belfast in the 1980’s; and a story about a daughter’s relationship with her mother, and how this relationship is changed when the mother is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Both ideas arose out of quite difficult, intense meetings, in which I challenged the writers to go beyond their more familiar, ‘commercial’ ideas – both ideas feel unique to these two writers, and I have high hope for the projects.


The best thing I’ve seen on TV in the last few weeks – a wonderful documentary about the relationship between David Baddiel and his father, who suffers from a rare form of dementia – moving, strange, thoughtful and, surprisingly, very funny – this was inspiring from a character / story-telling POV. If you missed it, you can still catch it on All 4

 I’ve also been listening to Liz Warner’s inspiring BAFTA speech about creativity and the state of TV today –

I found this talk really energising and thought-provoking. It made me think about the different ways in which we can all produce content, the different platforms now available. I recommend you download it and listen at your leisure (along with the tribute podcasts!).

Finally, in the week that non-league Lincoln City made it into the last 8 of the FA Cup, a rather brilliant quote from the late, great Anthony Minghella –

‘Football has high drama, but in the most rigid of forms. In football there is unity of time, place and action, as Aristotle recommended for drama. Very few outcomes are possible – it’s rare for more than four or five goals to be scored in a game – yet moment by moment it is very exciting. That is a real lesson to writers. I wish every film had as exciting a shape as most football matches.’

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 10th

All the best




Feb 24th 2017

Posted by admin  /   February 08, 2017  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on


Hi There,

This week I’m very excited to launch my TRIBUTE PODCASTS dramatic monologue project.

The website is now up and running at and you can also access and download the recordings via itunes.

These are 13 dramatic monologues – about life and death. Each of the short monologues (they’re between 7 and 13 minutes in length) are tributes / eulogies / reflections on a recently deceased (fictional character) by someone close to them.

Over the last year or so, I have become increasingly obsessed with podcasts – there are so many brilliant podcasts available now on such a huge range of topics, but, as far as I could see, very few drama monologues. I knew these were the sort of stories I’d like to hear on my ipod when commuting, walking the dog, driving, etc.

I am delighted with the 13 finished podcasts, I have enjoyed listening to them over the last few weeks, and I hope you will too.

One of the inspirations for this project – if that’s the right word – was the series of deaths at the start of 2016 – my mother, principally, but also David Bowie, Victoria Wood, etc. And in September 2015, one of my son’s best friends, 20 years old, had died in a boating accident in New Zealand. He’d died saving someone else’s life when him and a group of 10 friends got into trouble kayaking on a lake. It was only James and one other American boy who died, the rest survived. And James may have survived if he hadn’t swum back into the lake to try and save a friend. James was the nicest young guy you could ever meet. Gentle, kind, with a smile that lit up a room, his death at such a young age has really rocked his local community and of course devastated his family – his parents and two younger brothers.

So the tribute podcasts project is dedicated to the memory of JAMES MURPHY.

While all 13 of these podcasts have a death as their starting point, I hope you’ll find them uplifting rather than depressing. I hope they’ll make you think about the value of each and every life, how every single person’s life is extraordinary and unique in some way.

Most of these mini-dramas are about the legacy of love we leave behind.

As readers of this newsletter, can I ask you a favour? First, I hope you will find the time to listen to the podcasts and read the supporting text about each of them on the website. Second, if you enjoy them could I please ask you to spread the word via social media referencing the website or using #tributepodcasts.

In advance – thank you very much!

I have many people to thank – first and foremost all of the writers and actors involved. As you may remember, I put out a call in May last year for these scripts and the response was wonderful.  I received about 60 scripts and the quality was so good. And these 12 scripts are the pick of the bunch (although it was incredibly hard to choose). They show off some really exciting writing talent. The 13th script is one I snuck in there – producer’s privilege.

Some of these scripts are more biographical than others but they’re all distinctive and written with passion and humanity.

Secondly I need to thank the actors who all did this basically for free. Every single one of them turned up on the day having done thorough preparation work and without exception brought even more to the script than I’d ever seen in them.

I’d like to name-check all the writers and actors here.

All of these actors you will have seen or heard before and I was so excited that the quality of the scripts attracted this calibre of actors – Patrick Brennan, Neil Caple, Paul Chapman, Samuel Crane, Sam Hazeldine, Will Mount, Sally Orrock, Carl Prekopp, Laura Rogers, Joe Sims, Sarah Thom, Jessica Turner, Finty Williams.

And the writers (and I hope this project acts as an effective showcase for their outstanding talents) – Robin Bell, Daniel Brierley, Tony Clare, Carol Cooper, Marilyn Court-Lewis, David Hendon, Will Mount, Sarah Penrose, Liz Taylor, Katy Walker, Louise Vale, Ben Weiner.

Finally I particularly need to thank WILL MOUNT and PATRICK BRENNAN.

Patrick has cast the actors for our day of script readings on the last 6 years of the Channel 4 Screenwriting course. As well as being an excellent actor, he is an outstanding casting director. As ever, he persuaded so many really brilliant actors to take part in this project, but as always with Patrick’s suggestions, all who turned up on the day had put some serious thought into their characters, and their performances were brave and absolutely committed to the scripts. Nearly all of the writers attended the recordings, and it was a real treat for all of them to see their scripts brought to life.

As well as doing a brilliant job of casting and persuading some very busy, very talented actors to take part, Patrick gives a wonderful performance in Louise Vale’s REX.

Will Mount is one of the writers (of the excellent AN IRRESISTIBLE FORCE) and, luckily for me, happens to run a recording studio in Whitechapel. Will – incredibly generously – gave me 5 (long) days of his time to record and edit the monologues, and then spent much of the next couple of weeks after that fine-tuning each recording.

But not only that – he also acted my piece – and, I’m sure you’ll agree – did a brilliant job – AND wrote the musical theme for the series. Truly a master of all trades and the nicest, most patient guy, to whom I am massively indebted. Thank you Will!


Finally this week – a link to a blog I’ve written – THREE STEPS TO SCRIPT EDITING SUCCESS – for the BBC Writers Room

All the best




Feb 10th 2017


Posted by admin  /   January 27, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 1st WEEKEND

Indie Training Fund – Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass London March 9th



Hi There,

We’ve just had the first weekend of this year’s C4 screenwriting course and it was a really exciting, thought-provoking couple of days.

Some observations from the weekend that I hope may be helpful to screenwriters –

I’ve been thinking about what the scripts by the 12 writers on this year’s course (selected from 1400 script submissions) had in common.

They were nearly all about big subjects, challenging ideas – female genital mutilation, a trans-gender character, racism, gender politics. If this makes the scripts sound a bit dull and worthy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As well as mainly tackling big, important, controversial topics, all of the scripts were exciting, entertaining and compelling.

Others that didn’t necessarily tackle big subjects stood out in other ways – for instance – scripts on more familiar subjects that were brilliant examples of that genre – that demonstrated outstanding story-telling ability within a familiar area, and were fresh, original takes on familiar genres and stories.

The best of the scripts created wonderfully rich, engaging and original characters, and put them in challenging, provocative and difficult situations – that forced the characters into drastic action that revealed other sides to them.

Of the writers chosen for the course this year, 6 wrote screenplays, 6 wrote stage plays. Usually the balance is more heavily weighted on the side of screenplays. But this is perhaps a reflection of the thriving new writing culture in UK theatre – a culture that doesn’t exist in the same way in screenwriting in the UK. (A topic for another newsletter!)

To the course itself – we had a brilliant line-up of guest speakers. Starting off with script guru KATE LEYS, talking about story-telling for the screen. Kate has spent her working life thinking about how story works, and has worked with many of the very best writers mainly in feature films but also in TV. She had so many pearls of story-telling wisdom – invaluable for both writers and the script editors on the course. (We have 4 script editors working on the course, each of whom work with three writers, and who are also shadowed by 4 trainee script editors.) Kate addressed the absolute fundamentals of how story works in a way that is straightforward, jargon-free and highly insightful. If you ever get a chance to listen to her talk, or work with her, take it!

Next up was director MARC MUNDEN. Marc is one the top TV directors in the UK today, his most recent work being on C4’s 4-parter, NATIONAL TREASURE, and before that on the wonderful UTOPIA. Marc showed a clip of the brilliant opening sequence of UTOPIA S1 ep1 (mass murder in a shop – if you saw it, it will be imprinted on your memory!) and scenes from National Treasure. Both were master-classes in clear, dramatic and visual story-telling, and really instructive about his working relationships with writers (in these cases, Dennis Kelly and Jack Thorne). He talked about how important it was for writers to leave interpretive gaps in their work, and about creative collaboration at its best.

Finally on day one, 4Screenwriting alumna CHARLIE COVELL talked about her writing work since the 2014 course. (You may want to catch up and enjoy Charlie’s work – her outstanding feature film BURN BURN BURN  is now on UK Netflix; and her two brilliant episodes of BANANA are on All4 – Channel 4 catch-up). And on the Sunday, we had two other 4Screenwriting alumni do a talk together – CAT JONES (2012) and ANNA SYMON (2013).

All three have enjoyed significant screenwriting success since they did the course. They are all obviously, in their different ways, outstanding screenwriters. But in itself that’s not enough to achieve success. What they also have in common is a huge passion for writing and their craft, huge intelligence, great determination to succeed, and an ability to collaborate and get on with their co-collaborators – even when things get tough. And all three talked about the pitfalls as well as the successes – the bad notes you get, the projects that don’t get green-lit, the sheer intensity of the demands that are put on you. There is a fair level of stress involved, and while all three have been very successful, all three have also had their share of frustrations – and what is impressive about all three, is how they manage to rise above these difficulties and keep focused and determined – with the focus being on the continued quality of their work.

On Sunday we opened with Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and Marlon Smith talking about their Channel 4 serial RUN (another show to watch on Netflix). It was really interesting to hear about the pros of being a writing partnership (of which there are many) and of their work across TV and feature films. What strikes me about Dan and Marlon is that beneath their undoubted talent as writers, they are hugely determined and focused on developing their careers and the range of their industry connections. They have a number of very exciting projects in development. They also clearly enjoy passing on their experiences to the newer writers on the course – and I think this sort of generosity of spirit is something a lot of the successful writers have in common.

They were followed by Channel 4 drama commissioner Liz Lewin. Liz, also a hugely experienced producer and script editor, accompanied by writer Lisa McGee (London Irish), was a force of nature – giving off huge energy and enthusiasm for the work she does with writers. She had also (incredibly generously) done a massive email around her many industry friends and contacts the evening before to ask them for their tips for writers just starting out in the industry. The resulting 6 page document was a screenwriting master-class in its own right. And here are a few of the many insightful quotes from it –

‘Eavesdrop. I got a character today just by listening to a lad on the till at Waitrose boasting to a Saturday girl.’

‘If your characters don’t care about what’s going on, the audience won’t care.’

‘Agents like writers who as well as talented they feel are also hard working and proactive.’

‘You need to spend time thinking about how to work out what is unique about your voice.’

‘Don’t write a SINGLE line of dialogue until you have a COMPLETE, fully working outline!!!!’

‘Read as many scripts as you can. Read scripts every day.’

‘Once I’d given up the notion of trying to ‘please’ a reader, I was completely libertated. And that’s how I found my ‘voice’ as a writer.’

‘Write and write and write, and be your hardest critic, and don’t second guess, and don’t be afraid of failure.’

‘Don’t be precious. Don’t get despondent. Don’t waste all your time on twitter.’

…and so on. Six pages of this stuff from some of the most successful writers, producers and agents in the business. Absolute gold-dust for the writers and script editors on the course.

Then we had HILARY NORRISH, one of the best script editor / producers working in the UK, with a wonderful CV of outstanding shows, talking about the writer / script editor working relationship. Hilary has spoken on every year of the C4 course – she is a brilliant public speaker, a natural comedian, and hugely perceptive about how writers and editors work together at their best (based on a career of working with people like Alan Bleasdale, Paula Milne, Guy Hibbert, Simon Block etc).

At the end of both the days, the course writers sit down with their script editors to pitch the ideas they’re interested in writing about in their course script. Over the years, we’ve found that finding a really exciting idea that the writer is burning to write but that is also suited to C4 / E4 is probably the hardest part of the process. Sometimes just finding the right idea can take several weeks – but once a writer has settled on the right idea, the process is very exciting. We tried to tackle that issue this year by having a briefing evening for the 12 chosen writers before Christmas at Channel 4, where C4 drama head of development Matthew Wilson and script editor Natasha Phillips talked to the writers about the sort of ideas C4 are interested in, what constitutes a C4 idea, and the sort of ideas currently in development and production, and why they stood out from the crowd.

And the rage of ideas pitched by the writers was very exciting. I’ll report back after the 2nd weekend in June about the writing process and the resulting scripts – but for all of us working on the course, it’s the start of an exciting adventure that we hope will end up for the 12 writers with the sort of success achieved so far by Charlie, Anna and Cat.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Feb 10th – with exciting news of the launch of my TRIBUTE podcasts!

All the best




Jan 27th 2017


Posted by admin  /   January 12, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on SCRIPT SHOWCASE

Hi There,

For the first time, in 2016, I ran what I am now committed to making an annual event –  a script showcase where, over a 1 hour lunchtime in December, I put on readings of 10 minute sections from the 5 best scripts to come through my website last year.

I ran it because I got to September and was struck by how many excellent scripts had come into my script consultancy service in 2016.

I was a little worried beforehand that maybe I’d built these scripts up in my head as being better than they were, but the event itself couldn’t have gone much better and I was relived as I sat listening to the readings that my assessment of the quality of the scripts felt vindicated.

I managed to get 6 really outstanding actors, who, with no rehearsal whatsoever, just a 30 minute meeting with the writers beforehand to ask any questions they had about the stories and characters, brought the scripts off the page with such life. For me, and for the writers, it was a real treat to hear the scripts performed by such outstanding actors.

I have to say as I sat listening to the readings, with a completely full theatre, sensing the audience’s attention and enjoyment, I felt a surge of pleasure. Any anxiety was forgotten because I was so thoroughly enjoying the readings.

The industry turnout was fantastic – we had representatives from BBC, ITV, Left Bank Pictures, Bandit Television, Vox Pictures, World Productions, Daybreak Pictures, New Pictures, Kudos, Euston Films, Tiger Aspect and many, many other production companies. With 4 of the writers unrepresented, we also had a very good turn-out of literary agents.

We had a table by the theatre exit piled with full versions of the writer’s scripts, and it was great to see the queue that formed at the end to get copies. And I got a load of emails straight after requesting electronic copies.

Three of the writers were kind enough to write up their own take on the event –

 Philip Shelley December 2016 Showcase – Jerry Hurley

 Philip read a feature script of mine and invited me for coffee to discuss it. He’d already told me he liked the script and so I hoped that during our meeting I could solicit his advice about all the ‘next steps’ I needed to take. Namely, getting an agent and getting the script into the hands of production companies that would either make it or give me work on other things. However, I came away from our meeting with an opportunity I couldn’t have imagined.

He asked if I’d be interested in having an extract of my script performed by professional actors in a lunchtime showcase event, attended by the professionals I was hoping to reach out to – and of course, my answer was a resounding YES! Finally, it felt like that thing I was working towards might just happen.

 And twelve weeks later I found myself in the front row of a West End theatre with six actors in front of me and a house packed with industry professionals behind.

 On the morning of the showcase, Philip, the actors and writers met to go through any last minute questions with the scripts. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing and the whole atmosphere was one of gentle excitement… I must say here, the actors were all fantastic, both in terms of their performances and generosity. All of them were successful and they were there, making this effort for us and helping us to launch our careers. How fantastic is that?

 The showcase went really well. The performances ranged from dark drama to light comedy and the reactions ranged from you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silence to group laughter. Piles of scripts and business cards were taken by many of the attendees, thanks were said and fingers were crossed that all the hard work would pay off. Only time will tell. But I am certain that every writer left the event feeling enormously positive and hopeful.

 The showcase was less than twenty four hours ago. Nine people took my script yesterday and several others requested it. This morning I received two further emails from production companies asking if they could read it. One even enquired if I’d be interested in coming in for coffee to discuss writing television drama… So, the early signs are good. People are reading my script and what’s more, I haven’t had to write one begging letter or twist a single arm! If there’s a lesson to be learned it’s this – if Philip Shelley invites you for a coffee, GO!


Script Showcase Review – Laurence Tratalos

When your work is performed there is always the worry that no one will laugh. For serious drama writers that would not be an issue, but as my script was a comedy I suffered from the usual chilling anxiety that my words would be met by stony silence and tumbleweed rolling past. Thankfully the audience laughed. Right from the start. I was surprised how some lines I hadn’t considered funny received big laughs whereas my favourite lines often got nothing more than a chuckle. For the most part though I was really pleased with the reception.

But the real credit must go to the cast, who were fantastic. They had read the scripts beforehand but not rehearsed. There wasn’t a single cock up, not a line dropped, and they all played multiple roles with ease. Flitting from Pakistani to Yorkshire accents, no easy feat. They call it ‘lifting the words off the page’ and it’s amazing how different your script becomes when you have a talented cast to bring it alive.

It’s to Philips’s immense credit that so many industry people were willing to spend their lunch break in a small theatre in central London. The theatre was full to the brim and the atmosphere was brilliant. Since the reading I have received positive emails from several agents and also production companies. All in all a great experience and I sincerely hope Philip has the time to do another showcase next year. No pressure there Philip!


Script Showcase – Helen Seymour

I sent my radio script ‘The Beginnings of My Life’ to Philip back in April 2016 via his script consultancy, with no idea what might happen. Part of me was expecting to be gently put out of my misery, a bit like during X-Factor auditions, with a polite but firm ‘writing is not for you’.  Luckily his response was fantastic – encouraging while also constructively critical, really drilling down into the script and pinpointing exactly what worked and what didn’t.  I was thrilled when he said he liked the play and thought it could find a home with the BBC.  Getting recognition from someone as knowledgeable as Philip was just the confidence boost I needed.

So that was that, for a while – then in September, I heard from Philip again who said he was organising a script showcase of the best five scripts received through his consultancy that year, and would I like to be part of it? I almost bit his hand off.  Philip organised the event at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London, which he filled with around sixty industry professionals – producers, agents and others.  The kind of people new writers would kill to get their work in front of!

I turned up on the day nervous but excited, having devoured the superb scripts of the other writers (Laurence Tratalos, Jerry Hurley, Brian Lynch and Kevin Di Biasio) and feeling suitably intimidated. I needn’t have though – everyone was incredibly nice.  The event comprised of a series of ten-minute excerpts performed from each script.  The actors were incredible, performing a dazzling array of characters in a short space of time with little time for preparation.  It was a huge privilege seeing them perform my script – if a little surreal! – and they were able to find nuances I’d never thought about when writing it.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.  It is too early to tell what the outcome will be for me as a writer, but I have been contacted by a few production companies – including NoHo Productions, Working Title TV and Conker Films – asking for my script and for more information about me as a writer.  It is also a great addition to my writing CV – a ‘stamp of approval’ from Philip is a huge credibility boost in the industry.  Who knows where it will lead, but it was certainly a wonderful end to 2016, and perhaps will lead to even better things in 2017.


Thank you so much to Jerry, Laurence and Helen for writing these accounts of the event. And, like these writers, I would like to say a particular thank you to the amazing cast we managed to get for the event  and who did such a great job – Nicholas Gleaves, Taj Atwal, Karla Crome, Will Howard, Gina Bramhill and Carl Prekopp.


Finally this week a word from screenwriter / script editor Phil Gladwin about his excellent SCREENWRITING GOLDMINE AWARDS –

‘We’re in the last couple of weeks of the entry period. Back in 2012 we started out with just eight people on the panel, but now there are 35.

I believe the Screenwriting Goldmine competition is one of the few independent script competitions with this diversity of reach in the British TV industry. The five finalist scripts do get strong access to senior people from many different production companies, broadcasters and agencies.

To get into that final five, well, don’t over analyse it, just write us a really good script. It can be any genre, TV drama, or feature film, and must be between 45 and 125 pages long. Scripts strong on character with a cracking narrative probably stand a better chance, but don’t get too hung up on what you think we’ll like, we are really looking for your own vision to hit us hard.

Basically there are no rules other than the Prime Directive of all dramatic writing: Be Entertaining!

If you’ve got a script ready to go then you can read more information at or feel free to email me direct with any queries at

Entries close on Jan 31st.

Good luck!

Phil Gladwin’

Thank you Phil – and I’d like to add my own personal stamp of approval to Phil’s course. Being one of the 5 winners is likely to be a huge boost to your screenwriting career.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 27th

All the best




Jan 13th 2017