Hi There,


The BBC recently announced a whole raft of new drama shows to be made. To quote Charlotte Moore, Controller, BBC1 –

“I want to expand the range and ambition of new drama on BBC One, and challenge ourselves to be even more original and distinctive. BBC One has a greater range of drama than any other. I’m keen to explore new perspectives and subject matter – stories that feel relevant to our audience and reflect the world around us; contemporary and sometimes provocative drama that tackles the complexities of life and that speaks to all of us.

“There’s an appetite for real life stories told through drama – you only have to look at the BAFTAs and the Oscar nominations this weekend and I’d like BBC One to tap into this. In the coming years I’d like to champion more authored single drama on the channel. The C-Word is an adaptation of Lisa Lynch’s inspiring and ballsy book about her experience of living with cancer, starring Sheridan Smith; and Danny And The Human Zoo, Lenny Henry’s fictionalised teen memoir about life as a working-class teenager in a first generation Jamaican family.

“I’m very committed to broadening the range of diversity; whether that’s with more complex roles for women or greater representation across leading roles. There is more work to be done across the industry but today I’m thrilled to announce David Gyasi as the lead in The Interceptor; Aidan Turner as the lead in Poldark and Stellan Skarsgard as the lead in River. And, the new series Doctor Foster with a complex heroine at the centre, written by Mike Bartlett; and Mapp And Lucia, a new adaptation of EF Benson’s gloriously waspish and funny novels with two gossiping women at its heart.”

I was particularly interested in, ‘There’s an appetite for real life stories told through drama – you only have to look at the BAFTA and Oscar nominations this weekend and I’d like BBC One to tap into this.’

Real stories always account for a big proportion of new drama ideas – whether they’re faithful retellings of true events or fiction inspired by \ spun off from real events.

One of the key aspects of my CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS course (London June 21st ) is encouraging writers to find dramatic stories from real life – whether it’s in the tiny detail you observe of people in the street or in huge news stories. Encouraging people to look outside of themselves. In my recent experience, so many of the successful projects I’ve worked on with writers have been about really big, attention-grabbing ideas – but told through the personal prism of very particular, memorable characters.

 Hanif Kureishi has been making interesting, provocative – and ultimately rather contradictory – noises about the value of the teaching of creative writing. Kureishi was reported to have said that creative writing courses are a ‘waste of time’ – although this ‘quote’ was part of every single headline and not once quoted fully within any newspaper’s report – so I’m sceptical about whether he did in fact say this – at least as unequivocally as most of the press seem to be implying (not stating).

And in fact he had a lot of really interesting – and positive – things to say about the teaching of creative writing; his conclusions were a lot less black and white than the headlines lead you to believe initially.

Much of what he said seemed to SUPPORT  the teaching of creative writing – which you’d expect from someone who does himself teach creative writing at Kingston University. But such complexities clearly don’t make for such an attention-grabbing newspaper headline. The general newspaper slant was – ‘what is this hypocrite writer doing teaching creative writing classes while simultaneously slagging them off?’ The truth as ever was more complex and more interesting.

When asked if he would pay money to do a creative writing MA himself, he said, ‘No. I wouldn’t do it like that…I would find one teacher who I thought would be really good for me.’

He says that he works with his own students ‘for a long time’. ‘They really start to perk up after about three years. And after about five years they really realise something about writing. It’s a very slow thing.’

So, contrary to the headline, he was actually saying that he believes in the idea of writers working with a teacher \ mentor over an extended period of time.

But the headlines – and the mass of controversial \ contradictory Kureishi sound-bites did provoke a brilliantly written and passionate riposte from TIM CLARE in this blog post, where he talks about the teachers \ mentors who have inspired his creative writing down the years.

He says –

‘Listen. Authors have a massive vested interest in pretending that writing a novel is some nebulous, mystical process only available to the annointed few. That it is mysterious and unteachable. Bollocks. Story is teachable. Style is teachable. Tone is teachable. Theme is teachable.’

‘Creative writing can be taught. Is taught. Has always been taught. The question is not ‘can it?’ but ‘how well?’ I have been blessed with good schools, and good teachers. Mr Kureishi should try seeking some out, and asking their advice on how he can improve his own practice. Maybe he’ll learn something.’

And in last month’s Sight & Sound, an article by Charles Gant on the script for STARRED UP, a film written by JONATHAN ASSER, to be released in the UK next week – which is already generating a lot of positive feedback.

Asser refers to his original writing approach to his story as – ‘not one he would recommend to others. Or even himself. No treatment, outline, story arc or even list of characters. “I just plunged in…I started on page one and every time I went back to it, I’d start again at the beginning. I was just really getting to know the characters and letting them do what they wanted…’ (which seems to me a very healthy approach).

‘To learn how to become a screenwriter, Asser followed a path that had already served him well with his poetry: attending a series of creative writing courses run by the charitable Arvon Foundation…Arvon uses current industry practitioners to mentor the attendees, and after each course Asser maintained contact with the professionals he’d just encountered. “I certainly went every year…some years I’d do more than one. I didn’t go on holidays – my holidays were Arvon courses. You get to spend a week with these people, they read your material and you build a relationship…and that is absolutely invaluable…When you’re a writer doing your own thing on your own, at the foot of this mountain, having people like that take you seriously is worth a million dollars – it’s permission to take yourself seriously. Everyone needs role models and all those people have been role models to me in one way or another.’

This touches on a point that’s worth emphasising – creative writing courses aren’t just about what you learn in terms of the craft of writing – they’re also about the people you meet, the contacts you make.

Jonathan Asser’s original approach reminded me of a quote that I heard on the radio last week, JED MERCURIO saying in a Radio 4 interview about the wonderful LINE OF DUTY II – ‘I make it up as I go along’! Which surprised me!

I suppose the conclusion is – there’s no single right way of doing it – it’s whatever works for you – it’s just a question getting it done – and using all the support and encouragement you can find in what is a very difficult, often solitary pursuit.

De Montfort University Leicester TV Scriptwriting MA are holding their annual WRITERS DAY at the Actors Centre in London on Saturday May 10th. And JED MERCURIO is among the guest speakers – which is a great chance to find out more about the writing method of one of the best story-tellers working in UK TV today – I know I’ve banged on about it previously but IMO, LINE OF DUTY II continues to be one of the outstanding TV dramas in recent years. A chance to get an insight into how Jed Mercurio approaches the craft of screenwriting and telling stories as brilliantly as he does, will be immensely valuable to any screenwriter of ambition.

And he’s joined for the day by some other excellent speakers, particularly JOHN YORKE, author of the excellent INTO THE WOODS, former head of BBC and C4 drama, currently MD of the major drama indie Company Pictures.

I hope to see you there!

Until next week

All the best



Twitter: @philipshelley1

March 14th 2014