I was delighted to see that ANN HAWKER came 2nd in Phil Gladwin’s 2018 screenwriting goldmine awards.
I worked with Ann on this script through my script consultancy as one of my 6 month script mentees. It was a process I really enjoyed, and I was so delighted with the script Ann wrote. I’d like to tell you a bit about the process because I think it might be of interest. I’d known Ann for a while and read a few of her scripts and, while I had always admired and enjoyed her writing, I’d have to say I’d never really engaged with any of her scripts on a really emotional level. For me there was always something about them that felt like she was trying to write what she thought the industry wanted, that she thought had commercial potential, rather than projects that really told me enough about her as a writer (and a person). I admired the competence of her scripts without being excited about them. So our first meeting was in all honesty a slightly awkward, difficult one in which I very nosily quizzed her about her personal life, and tried to get her to talk about the things that really meant something to her on a deep, personal level – the sort of things that didn’t just interest her, but bothered, moved, angered or thrilled her. The thing Ann spoke about with the most passion was her own mother’s recent diagnosis with Alzheimers. So between us we decided that she should write a film (very loosely) based on her own emotional experience. From the first outline this story came off the page brilliantly – it had such rich emotional texture, and the finished script is the same – an outstanding example of Ann’s ability as a writer and a script that is deeply moving and committed.
I’m not saying that every script you write has to be based on your own emotional life, or that every story you write has to be taken from your own personal experience. But I do think everything you write needs to be rooted in something you feel strongly about. Your passion and the intensity of your feelings needs to come across in your writing. You always need to be asking yourself – why am I the best writer to be telling this story? And I think one of the reasons AN AUSTRIAN HOLIDAY works brilliantly is because at that time Ann was the very best person to be telling that particular story.
Ann’s response – ‘It’s very interesting, but it made me think quite hard about my writing and motivation. While I agree with you that my writing became so much better as I wrote from a more personal point of view, I have a slightly different perspective on what was going on.
I know you felt that in my previous scripts I was trying to write what the industry wanted. That wasn’t my motivation. I certainly never consciously tried to write what I felt the industry wanted. In fact, as far as I was able, I was trying to do the opposite and seek out original, untold stories that interested me. However, your sense of a lack of originality in those scripts came I think, because on some level I wasn’t completely emotionally engaged with the story. I have been trying to unpick why. I certainly felt I was totally involved with my characters as I was writing, but clearly for you as a reader something was not clicking in place. Perhaps some of this was due to my background as a documentary maker and I was unknowingly constrained by a distanced, observational approach to my characters and situations? On top of that I was probably not willing to really lay myself emotionally on the line. It is a little exposing to say the least! I am not sure of the exact combination of reasons, but I think this, for me, is a really important thing to unpick. because it relates to how I continue to write. Have I found a way to unlock my stories to make them feel as if they are utterly mine? I don’t know yet is the answer. The next script might tell. Finding a true level of emotional engagement with what you are writing is not always as easy as some writers might think. It can be quite easy to kid yourself into thinking “I’m really in the moment with this story,” when in fact the emotional core of has still not been reached.
I’m also intrigued that you found the meeting we had uncomfortable. Strangely, my memory of the meeting was that I quite enjoyed being probed about what was going on in my life, maybe because it was necessary.’
And here is a lovely piece of writing by one of my favourite writers, crime novelist David Armstrong (not only a brilliant writer but father of the equally excellent Jesse!). I can highly recommend all of his novels; and he’s written a really good book about the craft and business of writing – ‘How Not To Write A Novel.’
‘David taught English for nearly twenty years before his first novel was taken by HarperCollins. He’s since had published a further eight crime novels as well as the non-fiction guide to the miseries (and occasional joys) of being a midlist writer, How Not to Write a Novel. He’s also written poetry, journalism and a couple of stage plays; he was a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society at Aston University for three years and has tutored several Arvon Foundation courses. His books are all on Amazon and Kindle. If you would like a signed copy of any of them contact him directly at:
49, Hampton Rd, Oswestry, Shropshire SY11 1SW
March 23rd 1994
I think we may not make our first anniversary. I blame Andrew Motion. And the Four Fountains Greek restaurant on Muswell Hill.
Last week, calling in at Prospero’s Books, I saw that Motion and Jeremy Treglowan were giving a reading there tonight. This is what I had always hoped – and even imagined – that being in London might, ideally, be like.
The talk is good. It’s better than good. These writers, talking respectively about their newly published biographical subjects, Philip Larkin and Roald Dahl, are the goods.
Motion keeps it short – fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. Plenty of good, amusing, anecdotal stuff. He knew Larkin well, and the two men obviously liked one another.
He is attractive, colloquial and erudite. He’s wearing black jeans, a deep blue shirt over a black tee shirt and a black short-sleeved cardigan.
Treglowan has a hard act to follow, but his subject is so interesting – the Norwegian monster, a children’s writer who seems to dislike children – that he copes well, speaks interestingly and keeps it to twenty minutes.
I’m in heaven; Jacqueline is close to Morpheus, but looks very pretty in her slumbers.
The question and answer session is always tricky, with the mandatory nutcase off the street, (an Australian woman on this occasion,) and the obligatory show-off who wants to be a writer or critic, but is probably a schoolteacher, and uses words like ‘rebarbative’.
There’s some points-scoring between this particular show-off and the biographer, but it’s no contest: after all, it’s Motion who has the pile of books in front of him. And, as always, the audience, whilst relieved that someone is saying something, is actually innately hostile to anyone who has the effrontery to ask anything.
Jacqueline buys me a copy of the paperback Larkin.
Motion inscribes it, and we have the few mandatory stilted words before shuffling off into the night.
We don’t want Chinese. We don’t want Indian. I fancy Italian. We peer in at a Greek. It is inauspicious with red-plush booths and very bad paintings of ‘Greek’ scenes. Three dispirited couples are eating.
We order the twenty ‘mezes’ for nine pounds-fifty, as per ‘special menu’ on the window. Jacqueline’s ‘domestica’ is deep yellow, and she says it tastes like sherry. The waiter brings a new bottle.
We pick our way through sad saucers of chopped beetroot, taramasolata, tsatziki, hummus, potato salad and cucumbers.
Some incubus makes me introduce a bit of prickly nonsense about the previous evening’s row, when Jacqueline had spent two hours cleaning the kitchen floor and I sat upstairs watching the Oscars on TV.
She says that my ‘conscience’ is my problem. I get bullish. She does her hands on forehead number, headache, stressed out etc. I get more bullish. She starts to shout.
The calamari arrives. It is tough; the sardines stale. I look at her, feel no affection, and make no effort to disguise it.
The other diners have ceased their desultory chat; the old man who is murdering the food behind the hatch – eight or ten dishes of which are still due – has come out and taken a seat in the adjacent booth to feign cigarette smoking whilst he listens to the English couple rowing.
A final platter arrives: halloumi; chicken legs; pork steaks and skewered lamb. The argument flickers in and out of life, punctuated by Jacqueline’s asking repeatedly whether I really love her.
I leave the table to wash my hands. When I return, she has paid the bill and is standing. We have a few minutes’ very awkward silence while we wait for the minicab. The other couples have given up any pretence of conversation and simply observe our discomfiture in silence.
Back at the house, in the kitchen, over tea (Jac) and whisky (me), there is a deal more scratchy fighting. I know only one thing: I have had this row with other women before (or something very like it), and that it is me who is wholly culpable.’
Thank you so much to DAVID ARMSTORNG and ANN HAWKER for their brilliant contributions to this newsletter.
The next newsletter will be on Friday April 6th.
All the best
March 23rd 2018