In a neglected bookshelf at home, I found this book that I had first read a long time ago and hadn’t looked at for the last decade or two. I bought this book when I was still a struggling actor with plummeting self-esteem and little idea about what I wanted to do next with my life – but with a strong interest in TV, film, theatre and dramatic writing in general. This book was published in 1990 in conjunction with a BBC TV new writers scheme in which 8 x 15 minute screenplays by new writers were chosen for production and then broadcast on BBC2.
As you can see from the cover, one of the editors was Phillippa Giles. And the scheme’s script editor, the person responsible for overseeing the reading and selection of the 3500 submitted scripts, was Hilary Salmon. I’ve worked with both since, and both are longstanding and brilliant champions of writers and good writing in UK drama – both at the BBC and subsequently in their own independent production companies. (In fact I’ve also worked with Phillippa’s son, another champion of new writers).
The book was published pre-internet and as such would have been, for people like me, in fact, specifically for me, really valuable in enlightening me about new screenwriting, about what real professionals were looking for in new writing. The book publishes the 8 chosen scripts that were also produced and broadcast. There is also a brilliant section with chapters from many different dramatic writers with tips about how to write for the screen – there is so much great advice and insight in the book.
The book is long since out of print but still available via second-hand booksellers via amazon, with just the one review, which helpfully tells us, ‘Everything was alright’ (which presumably refers to the purchase rather than the book itself!).
In my working life, the book was very much more than alright – it was a nugget of knowledge and encouragement on the path to becoming a script editor and working with new TV writers myself. And I’m enormously grateful to the BBC for running schemes like this (and continuing to do so through both the BBC writers room and the BBC Studios writers academy). Obviously this would have been an enormous help to the chosen writers at the time; but the scheme, the shows on TV and in particular the book were such a help to me in pointing me down a particular fork in the road.
And as I was flicking through the book, reading sections, a postcard, which I’d used to mark the page, fell out.
The postcard was from my mother (and father), both now dead. It’s from a holiday in Syria, the picture is of Damascus. A quick internet search confirms that Damascus sadly no longer looks anything like this. My mother writes, ‘…it was a shock to wake up to a couple of inches of snow…first time for 20 years so lots of shopkeepers and one or two ancient monuments were unstaffed – lots of snowballing…’
I found this combination of this unexpected experiencing of my mother’s voice, the glimpse into less troubled times in this part of the world, and this book that was one of the things that led me down this particular path in my life, unexpectedly poignant.
Such a weird and somehow meaningful confluence of different glimpses of the past.
I hope you all have an enjoyable, creative and relaxing long weekend. Thank you for reading my newsletters. The next one will be on Friday April 21st,
April 7th 2023