Weekend course London May 16 – 17.

A course for screenwriters of all levels of experience. Run by PHIL SHELLEY and PHIL GLADWIN. With special guest speaker literary agent MATTHEW BATES (Sayle Screen). How to write a successful screenplay – and how to attract industry interest in your scripts.



Hi There,


Part 2 of my notes from this excellent master-class at Bloomsbury Publishing on March 2nd

‘I took a long time to find out what sort of writer I am – one that tries to ignore the words ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’. One of my favourite writers is Graham Greene who very successfully steered that path. He never compromised his intelligence but tells stories that people want to read.

Screenwriting has been very good for my novel writing. It’s like the jujitsu or martial arts of writing. Novels can be baggy monsters, screenplays need to be no more than 120 pages. This forces you to bring discipline to your writing.

Research – err on the side of the story / art rather than accuracy.

Redemption can be beautiful if well done but it can be a cliché / overdone.

Sometimes it can be a good idea to combine two characters into one character with a more interesting internal conflict.

I don’t think it’s more difficult to write a character of the opposite gender to you – most of what we do and know is human rather than gender-specific. This isn’t the biggest challenge in writing characters.

I find it easier to write characters that are somehow removed from me (eg in The Humans the lead character is an alien – even if I share many characteristics with him, and much of what I was writing about in him is a metaphor for depression).

You have to try and write your first draft like a final draft. You have to believe it’s as good as it can be even though you know you will do more drafts.

I can’t look at stuff I wrote ten years ago. A novel is always to an extent unfinished. I love my first novel – lots of positive memories – but I’d write that story in a very different way now. It’s got good bits in it but it’s a bit embarrassing.

Even if you’re writing about something totally fictional, it’s autobiographical.

The joy of writing is finding things out about yourself that you didn’t know. It’s rare to be in that zone.

‘Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans & Other Animals’ by John Gray shaped my philosophy on life. It’s one of a handful of books that I dip into to re-fire my imagination for writing.

When you start out you’ll always be influenced by other things. It’s a long process to find your own voice. You just have to write and keep writing. I wouldn’t say that I’ve yet found where I’m going to end up as a writer.

There are no rules in novel writing – but you have to follow the rules you have set for yourself within your story. VOX by Nicholson Barker is one of my favourite novels – a novel that only consists of dialogue. As a writer I don’t ever want to feel boxed-in. I’ve determined not to put my eggs in one basket – to keep trying new, different things.

When I’m writing a bad character, I never write a bad character who thinks they’re bad.

It’s interesting to put two different world views next to each other.

In real life things happen that reveal your character. In stories create these ‘best’ moments.’

And finally, here is Matt Haig’s INTERVIEW WITH YOUR CHARACTER, a list of questions to ask your character, that should be an invaluable tool in helping you create rich, three-dimensional, idiosyncratic characters, whatever medium you’re writing in.

I particularly like some of the smaller questions like ‘What items do you have on your person?’, ‘What word or phrase do you most over-use?’ and bigger ones like ‘What was the saddest day of your life?’ and ‘Describe your relationship with your parents in less than ten words.’ (NB He thought he’d set an impossible task with this last one!)

‘You need to ask many questions of your character, about who they are – but allow them to answer as themselves (back to the idea that you know more about your character than they know about themselves).’


It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and thinks’ William Faulkner.

What is your name?

When and where were you born?

What is your favourite memory?

Did you go to school? Where? Did you enjoy it?

What is your job? Do you like it?

What was the saddest day of your life?

Have you ever been in love? If so, who with?

Describe your relationship with your parents in less than ten words.

What is your favourite place in the world, and why?

Describe your political viewpoint/do you vote?/what did you vote in the last election?

What is your favourite song and why?

Do you hate anyone? Who? Why?

What word or phrase do you most over-use?

What are you scared of?

Do you believe in good and evil?

If you were an animal, what animal would you be? Why?

What items do you have on your person?

Everyone has secrets. What is your biggest?

What is your biggest wish or desire?

What is your biggest flaw?

Are you the person you want to be? / Is anything missing from your life?


Until next week,

All the best




March 13th 2015