Hi There,

Happy New Year. I had meant for this 1st newsletter of 2024 to be all your excellent and fascinating responses to my ‘Best of 2023’ lists – but I will hold that back for a fortnight because I feel like in this first 10 days of 2024 I have enjoyed so much brilliant writing – and I wanted to share my enthusiasm!

The Power Of Good Writing

Below are two of a vast number of similar tweets about the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

‘The fact that it took an itv drama to create enough public outrage to force the government to act re. the Post Office scandal tells you everything you need to know. Maybe they should make an itv drama about Grenfell, the Covid VIP lanes or Michelle Mone…’

‘The Post Office scandal shows the power of television and television drama in particular to channel injustice. If there are any TV writers looking for a subject that could do with the same treatment, the cladding/building safety scandal is just waiting for you…’

The impact of the ITV drama has been extraordinary. It should remind us all of the power of drama and storytelling to influence opinion, to change minds. There is nothing as persuasive as a well-told story.

On a much smaller scale, it made me think back to a sub-plot in the final episode of the excellent Boiling Point – about a character suffering from Crohn’s disease. For sufferers of conditions like this and ulcerative colitis, there can have been no better illustration of the insidiousness of these conditions (and how increasingly prevalent they seem to be). Hats off to writer James Cummings.

In a couple of days at the start of the New Year I have read  –

Lord Jim At Home by Dinah Brooke. I have only just started this but already it strikes me as an extraordinarily striking evocation of 20th century class-ridden society that strikes massive chords with me, about attitudes and prejudices that still survive in some of the worst dregs of the tories today. The class dysfunction at the root of so much that is wrong with the UK today – in this strange but brilliant book, expressed with humour, crudity (warning: it is genuinely obscene in places!) and utter originality. It’s a unique and brilliant piece of writing.

Two compelling articles in the New Statesman Christmas Special – ‘The Boyfriend Business’ by Stuart McGurk – a long read about the growing prevalence of online fraud, in particular ‘romance fraud’; and the way new AI and voice-replicating technology is making this so much easier for the fraudsters and so much harder for potential victims. The article focuses on a female police DC, Rebecca Mason, who seems to have dedicated herself to the fight against online fraud – and how she’s battling an overwhelming tide. This was fascinating but also frankly terrifying.

And an article by the always interesting Ed Smith about how, for sports teams to continue to maintain success, they need to be dismantled and rebuilt when they are at their peak, not when their decline has already begun, when it is too late to reverse this decline. But to dismantle a team when (you’re guessing) it’s reached its peak is so difficult and counter-intuitive. But this is what Alec Ferguson (for instance) was so good at in constantly refreshing his successful Man Utd teams.

As with so much of Ed Smith’s excellent writing, these ideas have so many interesting applications for other areas of life – and for writers – both in how you run and sustain a career, but also for how you tell stories, the arc of your character’s narrative and emotional journey.

On this same evening I had decided to rewatch The Godfather – for me it absolutely stands up to reviewing in 2024. It’s so well-crafted in every way – every scene, every shot is so beautifully composed, the story fits together and moves forward seamlessly and relentlessly; the characterisation particularly the family dynamics of the Corleone family are so well-observed; and thematically and dramatically this has the impact of Greek tragedy.

And this followed on from watching the first two episodes of Channel 4’s new drama, Truelove, the previous evening. Created by Charlie Covell & Ian Wetherby, this is such a classy piece of writing – chilly, a bit bleak, challenging – but brilliant, skilful storytelling with wonderfully flawed, relatable characters; and thematically this is asking the sort of uncomfortable, but ever-present questions that we will all have to face up to.

Two other writers who made a big impression on me over the Christmas / New Year break – there was no better accompaniment to a long solitary car journey than Lost Property by the wonderful Katie Hims. I discovered Katie through her BBC audio drama, Waterloo Station. Like that show, the three part series Lost Property also left my by the end a soggy, gulping mess. A wonderful epic piece of family history, beautiful storytelling.

And one other (random but wonderful) writer to mention – Noah Hawley – I binged my way through Fargo season 5. Fargo has a tone all of its own (how many drama pitches have I heard described as ‘Fargo-esque’?!) but this was so well-written and compelling, with a fantastic female character at its heart.

Another book recommendation –

Monstrous Longing – a weird and wonderful collection of short stories by excellent 4screenwriting alumna Abi Hynes (whose own audio dramas are available on Audible – Dark Harbour and an adaptation of Anne Of Green Gables). The book contains many brilliantly strange, disturbing, powerful and above all just really beautifully-written short stories. So many of those stories have really stayed with me – particularly THE SOMETHING (I want to see the screen version of this!), Phantasmagoria, Customer Reviews, Her Outer Self.

MONSTROUS LONGING is published by Dahlia Books.

You can order it here (or from most bookshops!):

And finally a slightly (!) biased recommendation. My 21 year old daughter Eliza’s 2023 film & TV recommendations in her new substack –

As you will see, there is quite a lot we don’t agree on (particularly The Godfather) but I still maintain this is a very entertaining and enjoyably opinionated read!.

Happy writing, reading & viewing to all,



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

Friday January 12th 2024