Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Things I Learned in 2010

When you've got a two year old, a four month old, and you and your partner are both trying to work full-time, it's really really difficult to keep on top of working, cleaning, cooking and keep the blog going. Hopefully things'll pick up again in 2011.

(a couple of people have asked if I've 'knocked the blog on the head', which FAIR BROKE MY HEART)

Anyway, things that happened, but I didn't have time to blog about:

1. I was warned by a film producer to 'be very wary of Keira Knightley', who apparently can be 'very manipulative'. I wasn't working on a project with her or anything, the producer just said this out of the blue. To date, despite my constant vigilance, I have not been manipulated by Keira Knightley.

2. whilst pushing The Boy One to Falmouth in his pram, a tile slid off a roof and crashed to the pavement behind me exactly where we had been standing only a few seconds ago. I had been thinking about God at the time (not in that way, I was writing an outline for a series about angels WITH GUNS). So the things that occurred to me after I shouted 'Meep!' and jumped about a foot in the air were:

a) That could have killeded us!
b) But I had been thinking about God.
c) God tried to kill me!
d) And failed! In your face God, I AM IMMORTAL

However I suspect this was only applicable for 2010. I wish I'd done more now.

3. I can't think of anything else. The blog probably didn't miss out really.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Or maybe he's some sort of... 'Crime Traveller'

Currently working on a one-page outline for a possible crime series. After the first draft, about an ex-cop father turned private detective and his teenage daughter working together to solve crime, I realise I've just outlined 'Veronica Mars'. Which was perfectly good when it existed as 'Veronica Mars'.

In the second draft I make the detective an ex-fireman, and add a slightly gormless male sidekick, then realise I've just written an outline for Boon

Still, the new draft, about a clumsy cyborg cop and his genius niece called Penny looks a bit more OH BOLLOCKS I DONE IT AGAIN.

Friday, November 19, 2010

EPISODES with Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig

And some American bloke.

In which S. Mangan and T. Greig play gorgeous and successful British comedy writers ALMOST* CERTAINLY BASED ON THE WRITERS OF GREEN WING.

* the given value of the word 'almost' in this instance is variable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I'm up in London for a ton of meetings. At my hotel, it turns out it's slightly too early to check in to my room, but much too early for my first meeting, so I bimble back to Paddington station to get a coffee.

On the way, a lady gives me a card advertising a thing of some kind. I put the card in my pocket, and as I do so, feel my wedding ring fall off my finger.

Hmm. I put my ring back on, and it falls off again. Hurrah, I have lost weight! I put the ring in my wallet to keep it safe, and three seconds later I am struck by a TERRIBLE FEAR and phone Patroclus.

ME: Hello hello, you know how every time I go to London I have some sort of exciting battle against ninjas, or my building gets taken over by terrorists like in Die Hard, or I'm very nearly taken out by snipers BECAUSE I KNOW TOO MUCH (the unlikeliest scenario), but each time I just make it back in one piece?
ME: Well if I don't make it back this time, and the authorities find my wedding ring in my wallet, I didn't take it off because I was having an affair or owt, it's just that it kept sliding off of its own accord, so I've put it in my wallet for safe keeping.

Patrocus is reassured by my explanation, and does a very good impression of someone to whom the possibility of her sexy and newly-svelte husband even having an affair had never even occurred (I wrote that last sentence three times and it still looks wrong). Anyway, to some, this could sound like DANGEROUS COMPLACENCY, especially considering my photographic recall of various editions of the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, that shiz is like catnip for sexy London ladies, don't pretend it isn't. But nevermind, I have set Patroclus's mind at rest, I know how she worries. Or would worry if I ended up as the mysterious corpse in a CSI-style slightly rubbish show, being poked about by handsome forensic scientists who need to put all the pieces together (not my pieces, it's too late for that).

After the call I put my hand back in my pocket and remember the card, Taking it out, it turns out to be an advert for some sort of Tantric Sex facility, located only five minutes from Paddington Station.


I won't give out the exact address of the Tantric Sex place, as some of my blog readers may not have the impressive powers of self-control that I do (it was lovely font, I really wanted to go and ask them about it), or the ability to recite monsters from the Monster Manual until all the Tantric Sex ladies stop bothering me and just answer my font questions.

Maybe I didn't lose weight though. Maybe it's just a bit cold, and my fingers have gone a bit withery, like a lich's (MM1 4th ed. p176).

Later I have my first meeting, at which I display my customary high levels of energy, lighting up the room. Afterwards:

PRODUCER: You seem a bit tired, do you want a lie down? Also you look gaunt.

'GAUNT'! I HAVE LOST WEIGHT! I bet they have scales in that Tantric Sex place, I did think of going and asking, but I worried I might run into Sting, so have chosen not to, the end.

* a 'wight' (MM 4th ed p.262) is a kind of undead monster, akin to, but not exactly the same as, the lich.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

'Why Writers Need To Blog'

As part of a talk to the Professional Writing M.A. course at University College Falmouth, I had a chat with Sophie Cowles about blogging and professional writing, a recording of which is up here:

'Why Writers Need To Blog'

At the time I was recovering from a chest infection, and suffering from lack of sleep brought on by having an eight-week-old baby yelling all over the shop, so I have no idea if I made any sense at all. If you've listened to it and I didn't, why not shout at me about it in the comments section?

UPDATE: actually, if I had picked the headline myself, I would have called it 'Why Writers Should Definitely Try Blogging, But If They Find It's Not For Them, Fine, At Least They Gave It A Go'. But it's not as snappy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In which I post an idea given to me by my daughter, in the style of The Apprentice

I don't watch The Apprentice, although Patroclus does occasionally, because she enjoys the enormous disparity between its vision of Business World, and her own experience of it. I usually go and have a bath when it's on, and try and read an RPG rulebook or something, but I can still hear it in the background, even when I'm actively trying to drown myself to avoid it.

The worst part is, of course, the bit where they have to go and pitch something, which is the only point where The Apprentice crosses over with my own life experience, apart from the bit when they they sing the theme from Superman to Alan Sugar, although this may not actually have happened, I was trying to drown myself, and sometimes you hear voices.

I occasionally have to pitch ideas to producers, which is only fun if you actually know and get on with the producers, in which case you're essentially just having a pleasant chat about stuff you're enthusiastic about, with the possibility of someone agreeing to give you money at the end, which is always nice. If you're pitching to someone you've never met before, it's a horrible experience, which is why I've decided next time I'm in London and have to pitch summat, I will take ideas given to me by my daughter, and pitch them in the style of a contestant from The Apprentice.


I kick the door in.

ME: This is a one-time offer, it expires in ONE MINUTE'S TIME, and if you don't go for it, you are LITERALLY MAD.
PRODUCER TWO: Pitch me. Pitch me now and pitch me hard.

I glare around the room, establishing dominance until the producers are sweating and farting, audibly parping with fear.

I look down at the notes from my story conference with my daughter.

ME: There is a duck. And a poo. And (whispers dramatically)... a bear.
PRODUCER ONE: (nervous) Is there a location?
ME: Did you not hear 'bear' and 'poo'?
PRODUCER TWO: You're talking 'Ext' 'Woods'.
ME: I am 'Ext'ing all over the 'Woods'. Like a great Exting bear.
PRODUCER TWO: (urgent) Can we get an owl in? It's just that owls are so in right now.
ME: I don't see an owl, it's not that kind of show.
PRODUCER ONE: Could we compromise on a pellet?
ME: 'Compromising on a pellet' is LITERALLY my middle name.
PRODUCER TWO: I think we're in business.

Freezeframe on everyone laughing. That is how television is LITERALLY made.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm clearly doing something very very wrong.

From this this guardian article:

"I'm a self-employed television script writer, sharing the care of two children and grossing about £300k."

*jaw drops to floor*

I am also a self-employed television script writer, sharing the care of two children. However the most I've ever made in a year is about a fifth of that, and more usually I make around twenty to twenty-five thousand a year. So not bad compared to my old job working in a bookshop, but not swanning about in a glass carriage money by any means. I suspect 'WireDuck' works in continuing drama (soaps), where the hunger for new scripts is insatiable, and being able to turn in decent scripts to tight deadlines is (rightly) highly rated.

Soaps aside, this isn't a great job for financial stability. One friend of mine made eighty grand one year, and eight the next, despite working equally hard on scripts both years. And the tax system isn't really set up to deal with that sort of fluctuation, so you always need as big an amount as you can manage put aside for scary bills from the year you were doing well, which always arrive in the year you're not doing so well.

Christ though. £300k!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bear in mind I don't go out much.

Also that the most 'dressing up to go out' people get up to in Falmouth/Penryn is putting on a reasonably clean fleece.

I'm at a two day Aardman workshop, which involves staying at a hotel in Bristol. Some of the other writers and I meet up in the foyer for a drink. Also in the foyer are a group of young ladies in dresses that can only be described as 'short' and 'flimsy'.


RICHARD: Erm, I think it's just a group of young women going for a night out.

ME: Oh.

A (more sensibly dressed) young woman sitting across the foyer gives me a funny look.

Later I realise my flies are undone.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I think work might actually be bad for you.

As if deliberately adding to the list of embarrassing things she likes to shout out in public my daughter has a new catchall word for food in the biscuit/cake/muffin arena. It is this:


And then the increasingly intense "TITS! TITS!"

So we haven't been to Caffe Nero for a bit. Still, meeting other dads on the way to nursery is fun, as we're now moving beyond going 'cuh' at each other, and I got into a conversation with one dad today during which it turned out he used to be a Soho-based director (not like that), which lead to a discussion on how you balance a self-employed creative type job with having a small child. OH YES PENRYN IS THE NEW CHISWICK.

DAD: You must be like me, spend a lot of time working until three in the morning just to get some peace.
ME: Oh god yes.

Two minutes later, after we have said our goodbyes.

ME: (quietly, to self) I don't even work past three in the afternoon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More 'Cabinet of Curiosities' stuff

This like one of those 'unboxing' videos, where someone gets a new X-box or something, only TEN TIMES more exciting because it's MY BOOK (purchase details over on the right there). The actual unpacking was done by Bureauista only for it to be snatched from her hands by a young person of impeccable taste.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Penryn, WHERE I RESIDE has a motherflipping robot factory.

Engineered Arts, in Penryn, will supply one of its Robothespians to welcome visitors to the Kennedy Space Centre this autumn.

The £79,500 ($122,000) robot is being developed by the seven-strong team to converse with visitors to the Florida centre.

Nasa chose the 5ft 9in tall Robothespian after seeing it in operation at a trade show.

Wait, they're only 5ft 9in? I COULD TAKE THEM. Problem resolved.

In other news, Blue Kitten has a mahusive eppy yesterday in Caffe Nero, due to expecting a toffee muffin, but getting only a lemon muffin. I showed her pictures of starving children in Africa etc, to no avail. She is only two (her birthday today!)

Back in Caffe Nero today (this isn't product placement, I like their coffee a lot and the staff are really lovely) I apologised/explained the previous day's descent into the arena of the Yellbeast. Caffe Nero Manager's eyes opened wide.

CNM: You know they're stopping making the toffee muffins?

*plays 'Disaster!' song from Zingzillas*

(the above post is due to lack of sleep and oxygen to the brain from constant coughing)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

And out he did indeed pop.

A boy, William Peter, born at 7.24am this morning in Helston, weighing 8lb 3oz, hurrah! Patroclus got to have peanut M&M's for breakfast (there were some left over from the Scott Pilgrim viewing) and we got home before they closed our road for Penryn Fair Day, which we intend to tell Will is entirely in his honour.

He has maintained this expression pretty much throughout. I can't really blame him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My laptop done gone

UPDATE: just discovered Patroclus' knackered old laptop from downstairs is also missing. Now narrowed it down to sometime in the last two weeks, which makes me wonder if 1) one of the previous occcupants' lodgers still has a key, and 2) they took advantage of everyone in Falmouth and Penryn going into town to see the Red Arrows the other day. Hmm, lock-changing time, I think.

Just realised that the laptop in my downstairs office, which I use mostly for accounts rather than exciting creative thing, has gone missing sometime in the last two weeks. I was clinging to the hope that I'd just moved it somewhere and forgotten, but now I'm running out of places to look.

Thing is, Patroclus and the Blue Kitten and I are home, or at least two out of the three of us are, almost all the time, so if someone did come in and nick it, they must have done so at night. Eurgh, it's horrible to think about, and most un-Cornish-like. Anyway, people have been kind enough to retweet my mention of this already, but if a white Powerbook (without power lead) has been hawked about at carboots or dodgy pubs in the Falmouth/Penryn/West Cornwall area in general, it may well be mine.

*feels rather vexed and let down in general*

In baby news, there is currently no baby news, as child 2 appears to be taking his own sweet time to arrive and we must respect this, and not let any irritation show until he is about fifteen, when we can suddenly ban him from going to that really important party for apparently no reason. REVENGE.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A quick 'ahem' and out he will pop.

Not much blogging for the next couple of weeks or so, as Child 2 (AKA 'the boy one') is already overdue, and soon the sitting around waiting and going 'tch' will turn into OH GOD WHERE ARE THE NAPPIES WHY WON'T HE GO TO SLEEP OH HE'S GONE TO SLEEP I CAN'T STOP SHOUTING.

So in the meantime, lookie, my childrens' book is now available on Kindle!

'The Cabinet of Curiosities - Kindle edition'

For the grand price of £3.63 (I set it as $4.99 in US dollars, which of course then transferred to a rather odd-sounding amount in stout english pounds). Of course there is still a completely free version on pdf

... and finally a rather lovely actual physically pick-up and read in the bath 'book' style book available from lulu, if you click on the piccy below:

While I'm sticking stuff up that might hang around for a while, here are the various interviews I've done with people working in different bits of the TV industry. Got some more lined up, but if there are any job titles which mystify you, put them in the comments section (this is not the time for amusing 'best boy' jokes thank you) and I'll see what I can do.


BBC script editor - Joe Donaldson

Agent - Matt Connell

Childrens' Television writer and fantasy novelist - Alex Williams

Composer - Garry Judd

Monday, August 16, 2010

The correct answer is, of course, 'a card stand'.

In many ways, Chez Blue Cat/Patroclus is like a literary salon of the olden days, where they had big hats and gas lights. Consider the following conversation.


ME: ... although I never liked the Sherlock Holmes books that much to be honest, there were always umpty-tum reasons people might have a bit of pale mud on their turnups or summat, didn't automatically mean their sister was having an affair with a interior decorator just back from the Crimean or whatevs, anyway I always preferred Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin, who totes preceeded Holmes and invented the whole 'deductive reasoning' thing, although he called it 'ratiocination', 'The Adventure of the Purloined Letter' is great, someone hides a letter in the last place you'd expect, completely the last place, where do you think the last place anyone would look for a letter is, where do you think he hid it?

A shocked silence ensues. Finally:

ME: Well!

(I think it's a letter rack, it was ages since I read it)

Monday, August 09, 2010


After a year and a half of development, and positive reactions all the way up the BBC Drama food chain (well, right up until it got the Really Big Desk) Cornish Cop project for BBC Drama has been turned down for a series commission. Early indications suggest the tone of it just didn't click with the last person who had to make the decision. Which is gutting, obviously, but there we are, can't be helped.

It's not the end of the line - the script's now going over to Comedy to see if it's something that would sit better over there - but even if they embrace it with open arms, it's very unlikely to be picked up unchanged, and the procedural element (it's a proper cop show, with crime plots, and investigations) is likely to have to go. Which would be a great shame - the show was a direct attempt to have something with a real dramatic base, but a bit more wit and fun up top than you tend to get in that 9pm slot - and more to the point, I was loving working with Sarah the producer and Joe the script editor (with whom I developed my similarly fated teen drama pilot) and was thinking this was finally going to be the time we all got to take something right into a series.

I was just starting dare to compile a little list of other writers I would have loved to get in to write episodes, and working up a spreadsheet of plot arcs, and all that. As I said, 'Gah'.

Still, after having a weekend to get over it, I can laugh Rejection in his fat stupid face, and without wanting to sound too Pollyannaish, here are some reasons why:

1. Dude, I still totally got paid moneys for writing wordses, and they're never getting that back NEVER.
2. The script got an incredibly positive response from the senior BBC development bods, who I know are just as gutted as I am it didn't make it all the way to the top.
3. I now have a really strong hour long crime drama (okay, with comedy bits) script that my agent can show around, which might open a few new doors.
4. The comedy department person who's looking at it has a very good track record with comedy dramas, so even if Bandit Country (that was its name, sigh) isn't right for her, that's still someone who hasn't read my stuff before, so, you know, new contact.
5. While I was waiting to hear back on Bandit Country, I finished the first draft of the US superhero pilot script AND IT WAS GOOD (which, of course, you always feel about the first draft, the idea of the script editor ever coming back with anything other than 'OMG this is the bestest thing I have ever read you are AMAZUNG!' is laughable, but still).
6. If you aren't laughing Rejection in his fat stupid face at least once a month YOU ARE NOT A PROPER RITER.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Blyth Report: Starcraft 2

Thought this was funny, and very well put-together (particularly the Facebook bit). Also WARNING CONTAINS RUDIES:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Well it is.

Sitting in local coffee shop with tiny daughture, now nearly two years old, reflecting on the pleasantness of the weather, the fact that the last draft of my cornish crime drama thing has now made its (possibly) final voyage to BBC Commissioning Chap, and generally feeling well-disposed and peaceful towards the world in general.


Slight pause.

ME: Hmm?

Coffee shop manager looks over in an amused-but-also-slightly-concerned sort of way.

ME: I think she's actually saying 'EGGS' or something, and it just sounds like 'DEATH'.


Another pause.

ME: Well, it's probably time we went to the supermarket.

In the supermarket:


Cashier looks at me.

ME: (weakly) It's her favourite number.

IN OTHER NEWS: Orbyn has kindly put up my contribution to her Curious blog

Thursday, July 08, 2010

My Struggles With Sex Addiction (not like that)

I had a call from a large broadcasting company last week (the following conversations are approximate, but thematically accurate).

PRODUCER: We've had an idea for a series, and we think you'd be the perfect person to write for it. We are REALLY excited!
ME: Now I am excited too! What's the idea?
PRODUCER: It's about sex addiction.
ME: Erm.


AGENT MATT: I mean, they have met you, haven't they?
ME: Yes.
AGENT MATT: I still don't understand.
ME: Well, I'm going up for some meetings anyway, so I may as well talk to them about it.

In fact, the more I think about it, the whole sex addiction thing is a really good hook to get a load of different characters together. It might work. I do a few pages on it.

At the meeting before the sex addiction meeting (not like that) I am talking to a different producer.

DIFFERENT PRODUCER: ... they have met you, though?
ME: I know!
DIFFERENT PRODUCER: Who's the producer?
ME: (the name)
DIFFERENT PRODUCER: Wait, isn't she the one with whom you told me you acted out eighteenth century sex against a wall having?

I think about it.

ME: Oh.
ME: Hmm.
DIFFERENT PRODUCER: By the way, I like your new look. Sort of tweedy.

(I am wearing a proper actual shirt and suit jacket, and my hair has sort of gone a bit short and spiky with gel these days, although it's flopped a bit at the front, so the sides are the spikiest bits, shut up it's a look.

ME: Thank you! I was going for a Doctor Who sort of vibe.
DIFFERENT PRODUCER: Yes, I see that. Kind of... crossed with an owl.

Later I have a meeting with the sex addiction Producer (not like that). We talk for a while about the concept, and try and figure out how it could work as a series, how you'd go in and out of the different characters' stories. And it's all really working quite well.

PRODUCER: This is really coming together! Why don't you talk with script editor over the next couple of weeks and we'll see about moving this on?
ME: Yes!
PRODUCER: And don't be afraid of making it quite edgy and graphic.
ME: (immediately) Okay, wait, I'm not the right person for this.
ME: Mmm.
PRODUCER: You have had sex? I thought you said you had a second child due in six weeks.
ME: Yes. But I'm not actually very good at writing about it. I go all silly.
PRODUCER: Okay, no problem - the other thing I'm doing at the moment is trying to develop some science fiction concepts.

All of which goes to show.

Different Producer, by the way, TOTALLY commissioned a pilot script about superheroes for an american channel. On the train on the way back I was all like 'oh hey sorry, I think I got a bit of awesome on you when I brushed past just then, sorry about that' and later when I had to walk down the corridor to get a thing, I was all 'tch, sorry, bit of awesome might have drifted onto your paper just then, not to worry, I have a lot of awesome to spare, what with being LITERALLY covered in awesome right now'. And I haven't even mentioned the Aardman meeting by the way, about which I should say: AMAZING.

However, I always find it a bit annoying when writers blog boring about how INCREDIBLE and COOL their new projects are, but can't say any details other than the INCREDIBLENESS and the COOLNESS, so I'll leave it there.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Night chat show surely beckons

Because I am never afraid to tread in the footsteps of those just slightly ahead of me on the career curve, I have taken Boz's advice and enlisted the Blue Kitten (age: 22 months) to embark upon a Offspring vs Parent interview challenge, a la Moffat vs Moffat. I carefully wrote out a quick ten-page fact sheet for BK, including interesting quotes, career highs (not all Bob The Builder based) and some prompt questions, what I'd take out of a burning house sort of thing (rpg books, lego, family, obviously, if there was time). LET THE INTERVIEW BEGIN!

ME: It's a banana.
ME: It's a plastic cow.
ME: It's me, your dad.
ME: It's a shoe.
ME: It's your mum.
ME: It's your mum again.
ME: It's a Spot book.
ME: It's the cat.

Long and somewhat thoughtful pause. I quickly take the opportunity to run through some of the difficult and life-changes decisions I have had to make for my career (basically saying 'yes' whenever someone asked if I felt like writing something for money). Finally:

ME: (wearily) It's a pooble.
BK: Yes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

"it is important to keep one's owl comfortable"



How this came about then, first of all, Patroclus discovered that quite a lovely vintage boutique shop (these are the sort of words I use all the time) here in Falmouth called "Two Little Birds" is about to appear in a "Twenty Five Vintage Boutiques" list in the August edition of Vogue.

Which reminded me that I had bought this very cushion here as a present for Patroclus a month or so ago:

owl cushion

Oh yes, I frequently patronise vintage boutiques in Falmouth what are soon to feature in 'Top 25 Vintage Boutiques' lists in Vogue. Although if you are thinking the right button eye of the owl cushion is looking a bit wonky, this is because the Blue Kitten almost immediately pulled it off and I had to sew it back on myself, and I am by no means a reliable sewist.

Which led to a conversation on Twitter about owl cushions, culminating in this tweet here:

Then I woke up this morning to find AMAZINGLY that there people out there who like to illustrate random tweets, and they are called Irkafirka.

This is the sort of thing that makes me very happy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ke$ha/Star Trek

This should not work. And yet it does. From

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ew gross

Originally uploaded by
Anyone know what this grub is, other than an ENORMO-GRUB? Found on my mum's allotment while digging up some potatoes, which were yum by the way, thanks for asking.
UPDATE: My mum suggested it might be a Cockchafer grub, which indeed looks quite likely. Also, haha, rude. Other suggestions have included June Bug, or, suggested by Father in Law: "more likely Rose Chafer or ssp Cetonia cuprea or C. aeruginosa. We've got just the same in our compost - Sign of a healthy, well-composted soil. Quite harmless, to be encouraged. Do not eat" Hurrah! Also, okay then, I will not eat.

ANOTHER UPDATE: much prettier grub found on allotment:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Screenwriting Vs Blogging

Questions from Eleanor Ball, at

Hi James, I'm a (very new) scriptwriter with a blog (you posted on it once!), I'll be keeping a professional one throughout August, and I've read so much about how useful and brilliant the damn things are; but what I'd really like to know is how to sieve the content of personal blogs.

So, have you ever censored your blog?

Hmm, after blogging for a couple of years, I did go back and remove the names of a couple of television executives who'd appeared in blog posts, mainly because I'd been a bit cross with them when writing the posts, but wasn't that bothered any more. It wasn't so much I was worried about my career (they'd both been demoted rather promoted since I'd written the posts, so I don't think I was the only person who felt that way), but I felt a bit bad about my posts being on the second or third page when you googled their names. And it was a bit unprofessional.

I did used to use the blog to vent, a lot more so than I do now, although I wasn't saying anything I wouldn't have said to those peoples' faces (well, if we were having an argument, it would be a bit weird if we just met on the train or something). But then it all felt much rawer back when I started the blog; these days if I get let down by someone professionally, I just *roll eyes* and don't work with them again if I can possibly help it.

I've always found the producers I most enjoy working with couldn't give a toss what writers put on their blogs - I think probably because they're perfectly secure about the work they do. The good ones to work with aren't going to be swayed either way. The work is (or should be) what counts.

Are you ever purposefully sycophantic on your blog in the knowledge/hope that someone you need might read it?

Ha, no, I hope I across as genuinely enthusiastic about other people's work rather than sycophantic! I have been a bit embarrassed when I found out a couple of well-known writers had read something a bit gushing I'd written about their work (they'd been pointed towards it by other people, they weren't googling themselves, for the record), but it was a genuine reaction as a televison viewer, rather than an attempt to ingratiate myself, as it never occurred to me they'd read it in the first place.

These days I do tend to assume if I put someone's name in, they'll come across it eventually, which has made me a bit more careful either way.

Do you also have a more private blog elsewhere?

I don't have the time.

Have you ever felt like you've compromised integrity/quality for the sake of phrases like "many thanks to" and "the kind people at"?

Nooo, I do think so. Not sure I've ever used those phrases, but either way, I wouldn't use them if I didn't mean them. Readers (and particularly other writers) are perfectly capable of reading between the lines.

Have you ever been frustrated that you "can't" write negatively on your public blog about something you feel negatively about?

Regularly. There are certainly plenty of instances where you hear producers or commissioners, or, to be fair, other writers, say something that immediately makes you *roll eyes*. But I wouldn't like every stupid thing I've said reported behind my back on the internet, so it's common courtesy not to do it to others. And sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, you realize you were wrong and they were right, or there was some important piece of information you weren't privy to, so that's always worth bearing in mind.

And I can write negatively about something, as long as I'm prepared to accept the consequences. But I'm generally a fairly positive person, I think. And reading blogs that are nothing more than extended rants about other peoples' work are fairly dull reading.

And how do you resist?! It's your blog, after all; can you distance yourself?

It's my job, I suppose. You have to bear in mind blogging is a public activity, after all. And private bitching sessions via email or down the pub is what binds writers together.

I've researched a number of writer's blogs and have yet to come across one that's professionally itchy (as in... professionally uncomfortable. Makes you think twice before you post it, because you worry it might get in the way of potential employment, pleasing your boss, networking etc.). I don't know if there's a method to that, or if I'm just looking at it the wrong way.

I think you just have to find the balance yourself, which you can only do by writing, and then reading carefully before you post. If you're prepared to admit your mistakes, the internet can be a surprisingly forgiving place, I think.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

JonnyB has written a book!

This is a picture of its cover here, but don't click on it to order a copy, which you will definitely be wanting to do when you've read this review, oh yes, it's a pretty impressive review, click on this link instead:

"Sex & Bowls & Rock & Roll"

For this book, JonnyB has taken on the pseudonym 'Alex Marsh', which is fair enough.

The most important fact about this book is that I was the first person in the entire world to receive a review copy, which (disclaimer) warmed me to it enormously before I even cracked open its cover, six months later. The crisp five pound note that slipped out when I did so and fluttered to the floor warmed me to it even more, as did the note from his agent that said 'seriously, just read the first few pages or so, that'll all professional reviewers do. If you're really pressed for time, you can just do a search and replace on another review and put JonnyB's name in instead, everyone does it, seriously don't worry about it'.

And so I can reveal that after the first sentence "Are you sure that we're meant to be here?", the book deviates, not into a sweetly funny exploration of what happens when a chap decides to abandon his dreams to be a rock star and takes up life as a househusband in rural Norfolk, as you'd expect from the back cover, but instead covers the years from JonnyB's birth in 1880 until America's entry into World War II in 1941. JonnyB, the son of a Medal of Honor winning Union officer during the Civil War, is himself a brilliant, egotistical, vainglorious man who is his father's equal as a military leader. After graduating first in his class from West Point, he rises from relative obscurity in the Army during the years before World War I. During the "war to end wars" (1917-18), JonnyB proves himself a brilliant strategist and tactician, and an uncommonly brave field officer. He is promoted from Captain to Major General during the war, and wins several decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross.

Between the World Wars, JonnyB continues his steady rise in rank. By 1941, when he is 61 years old, JonnyB has retired from the Army and has decided to remain in the Philippines, where he has served for several years as America's military governor. On the eve of America's entry into World War II, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor having already been completed, JonnyB is found impatiently awaiting the expected attack on Manila.

Alex Marsh, the author of this masterful three one-volume "Sex & Bowls & Rock & Roll," is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the life of this brilliant and controversial army general. These volumes are well researched and written and highly readable, although they lack the narrative flair of William Manchester's "American Caesar."

(obviously all the above is nonsense, and I did read the book, which I liked a lot, and I should say that despite being given a free copy, I have pre-ordered another one from Amazon so I can give it as a birthday pressie, so there, I did really like it, that is evidence, the end).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Steven Moffat interview

Includes minor product placement. Also, hair. And a cat.

I do love the way kids always ask 'guiness book of records' type questions about writing. I heard an interview with Andy McNabb once, where the first question the child interviewer asked him was 'How many people have you killed?' Which, to be honest, is probably what we're all thinking.

I was once at a literary festival where Will Self was doing a Q&A, and complaining that people always asked him stupid questions like 'what's the longest word you've ever used'. When it came round to questions from the audience, my hand shot up and the microphone slowly came my way.

ME: So, what is the longest word you've ever used?
SELF: (sulkily) 'God'
ME: *rolls eyes*

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Brian's Novel

I can't stop watching this.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Writers Room - US/UK

Cor, really interesting article (if you're a writer, or want to be a writer, or just care how good TV shows are put together) from on the writers room (AKA making sh*t up for money).
Amy Berg: The difference between a baby writer and a showrunner is enormous with regards to both responsibilities and expectations. The only real job of a baby writer is to take the episode they've been given and make the most out of it. There aren't high expectations for them in the room because of their lack of experience. But if they give you something extra — if they work their asses off by doing research and constantly generating story ideas — they will work their way up the ladder very quickly. A showrunner is the overseer. They're responsible for supervising every aspect of the production. Story breaking, script writing/rewriting, casting, editing, you name it. It's a massive undertaking, both time-consuming and pressure-filled. A show's success or failure is often placed squarely on the showrunner's shoulders. Which is why they need a talented and supportive staff to back them up.

I always find it fascinating how much more egalitarian the system seems to be in the US than in the UK (and bear in mind the shows I've worked on have about a tenth the article's show's budget and rating).

Things are certainly changing here: writers like RTD and Steven Moffat are becoming showrunners (writer/producers in charge of a number of writers) in a way that didn't seem to happen in the past, but on the whole, UK writers, script editors and producers seem to be sharply defined roles that rarely blur into one another (anyone with experience in this area, feel free to correct me).

My experience of writers rooms here, which tend to be for comedy or kids' television, are that stories rarely get 'broken' at the pace they do over in the States - it tends to be a much more fragmented process of 'producer gets a number of the writers together, puts coffee in front of them, nods while they burble, lets them know decisions a couple of weeks down the line', which has its own problems. And to be honest, arguing your corner the way they seem to in this article can often come across in the UK as 'bad form' - you can sometimes be left with the idea that the producer knows what he wants and is waiting for you to come up with the right shapes to slot into the holes he's already made, which can be pretty unfulfilling, although to be fair, sometimes you see the end result and go 'oh I seeeeeeeeeeeee'. But sometimes the only way to show what you want to write in the script is to just... go away and write the script.

UPDATE: Tim Footman asks:
Surely the role of the script editor by definition blurs into that of the writer, to a greater or lesser degree?

Helpfully, they do and they don't - in comedy, a script editor is usually another writer who's been brought in to 'punch up' (add jokes) to a script. In drama, a script editor is a different role: often a sort of assistant producer who points out where they might be weaknesses or inconsistencies in the script, and works with the writer to resolve those issues - although in my experience they very rarely make direct alterations to the script itself, apart from maybe correcting typos, before the script goes off to a commisssioner.

Interview with Joseph Donaldson (BBC script editor on a couple of my projects, as well as Lark Rise To Candleford and Survivors

Friday, June 04, 2010

Waiting To Hear Back From People

Whenever I get asked what's happening in my work life at the moment, I almost inevitably answer 'I'm waiting to hear back on a few things', because I almost inevitably am. I've even upgraded my little 'waiting to hear back from' spreadsheet, so it now includes name, production company and whatever project I'm waiting to hear back from them about. However, if I was honest, I would take that spreadsheet and throw it into the sea (I suppose it would have to be a virtual sea, maybe one of the ones in Warcraft or something), because 'waiting to hear back from people' is THE BIGGEST WASTE OF TIME IN THE WRITING WORLD.

Or it is if you're actually counting it as, you know, an activity. Because the annoying truth is, when you're talking about the early stages of a script at least, outlines and concepts, hardly anyone gets back to you about them ever.

When you start out scriptwriting, 'waiting to hear back from people' counts as activity in itself. You get back from a meeting with an (inevitably) really pleasant, enthusiastic development exec, you send them some one-paragraph ideas, chase them up about three minutes later to make sure they actually got them (they always actually did), and then you clear the decks, unbook that holiday, turn down all future work and wait for the inevitable GLORY AND RICHES THAT WILL BE YOURS.

*cue tumbleweeds*

That this doesn't really work as a strategy isn't because all development execs are cruel heartless monsters who like nothing more than to toy with poor writers' dreams. Incredibly, most development people actively want to get projects off the ground! Tragically, however, most development people have not been gifted with enormous pots of gold into which they can dip for anyone who sends an email along the lines of 'something like Gossip Girl, but more space stationy'. Even if they do think one of the ideas I send them isn't actively stupid, they have to wait until the next big meeting to pitch it, and then the person above them has to wait for their next big meeting, and so on. It takes forever. And development execs really don't like to say 'no', because a) you might take the idea somewhere else and make ONE KERJILLION POUNDS FOR ANOTHER COMPANY and b) they're naturally quite nurturing, supportive types, so they hate saying no. And the whole thing drags on without every seeming to go anywhere, and slowly your enthusiasm for the idea, even if it was only a couple of lines, slowly dies.

In fact, writers don't mind hearing 'no' as much as people think. You know where you are with a 'no'. Especially with comedy, where someone actually saying 'I'm sorry, I just didn't find it funny' is exactly one million times more preferable to people putting their heads on one side and saying 'I LOVED it, I really did, but something about the tone didn't work for me'.

So anyway, if this post had a point, and it doesn't, it would be to say to earlier in his career me: learn to Fire And Forget - write those outlines and concepts and spec scripts, by all means, then get on with writing something else: ideally more Actual Writing, rather than, say, sighing and staring out of windows, although these are important activities that do have an important creative role that is often underlooked. And if Development Exec A hasn't got back to you, it's not because they're Actively Evil, it's because they have a squillion projects on the go, and limited time, budget and more powerful execs to go and pitch your idea to.

Also, if you're getting really pissed off, get your agent to ring them up, he's probably looking for an excuse to shout at someone.


Here is an example of a rejection email (for a spec script, rather than an outline), that starting writers (me, ten years ago) would probably weep for a week over, but yer more experienced typists would, if not rejoice in it, at least be happy that someone has treated them like a professional.

"Dear James,
Firstly, many apologies for being such an age coming back to you about this – it caught us at a really busy time. I am afraid that this didn’t really catch our enthusiasm, and it needs more comedy in it I think so I am sorry to send a disappointing reply after all the wait.
(Producer X) is on location, but sends you her best. As you know, she likes you as a writer, but this one doesn’t hit the spot.
All the best

(Development Person X)"

So they didn't actually find it funny (a downside in a comedy script), but they generally like my stuff and would be happy to see future material, so no harm done, door is left open for future submissions, and a bit of closure. REJECTION IS NOT TO BE FEARED.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

No more Last Of The Summer WIne

I was always quite fond of Last Of The Summer Wine, particularly the one where Compo saw a poodle and said 'By 'eck, someone's made a right bog-up of shearing that sheep!' which may have been the first and last time my dad and I have laughed at the same joke.

When I entered the sitcom-writing competition in 1999 that got me into the crazy business of show (sorry), a proper actual sitcom writer gave us a bit of a pep talk about how writers are treated within television. Once the great cloud of depression had lifted, she did perk us up a bit by telling us that once a year, the BBC had to write a cheque so large, the only person authorized to sign it was the Director General of the BBC himself. And that cheque went to Roy Clarke, the writer of Last of The Summer Wine.

I still have no idea if this was true or not, but it make you think.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Awww, Cornwall

The main road between Falmouth and Penryn ground to a complete halt earlier, as one man slowly ushered some ducks across the tarmac, up onto the safety of the path. A whole line of traffic waiting patiently behind him, queued back to the roundabout and no-one beeped.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cabinet of Curiosities parts 2, 3 and 4. And, er, 1.

Yes, well, what I meant to do was put a further quarter of the Cabinet out as a free pdf each Monday. But I forgot that I'd put the entirety of the pdf on lulu for free, so that seems rather pointless now. So here's the whole thing in one easy-to-click book cover-style button that takes you to the lulu free download page:

Remember if you do want to buy the paper copy, the link's over there on the right. Thanks for all the lovely comments from those who've read it so far (pdf or paper), it's much appreciated, and I'm delighted to see sales in double figures. How far into double figures I'm not saying, but it's more than ten, oh yes. Slightly more than ten.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Down dang dangde dowwwwww

Last night I had a very pleasant pint with (EDIT: THE MYSTERIOUS MAN BEHIND) the Eighty Waves blog, as he surfs his way around Britain. And then a very pleasant second pint, which I haven't actually drunk more than a small glass of wine for two years now, plastered a stupid smile on my face, and caused me to walk home singing aloud to Timo Mass's 'To Get Down', which was on repeat on my mp3 player, which may have annoyed a lot of people on that long stretch of road between Falmouth and Penryn, apologies.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cabinet of Curiosities 1/4

Right, yes, what happened was, I wrote this children's novel, in the nine to twelve age range, although adults of all ages &c &c, about a girl who stumbles into a weird museum, containing items from stories, although perhaps in this world they're a little more than stories, and then finds out more about her own story than she ever would have worked out on her own. The first three chapters got me a literary agent (woo!) and then I wrote the rest of it, and she stayed my literary agent, and we got some interest from some quite well-known publishers, and I did some rewrites (a lot of rewrites), and... it never quite got published.

Two things I learned from this process:

1. Publishers are no longer prepared to spend time and money on editors knocking a new writer's first work into shape. Literary agents are now having to do a lot of the work editors used to. My agent worked with me on five full drafts of the book, with various tweaks and nudges taking the number of drafts to eleven in total. So if I actually start making money off this thing, I'll have to find out what her percentage would have been and start handing that over. But I do feel the rewrite process made this a much better book, so I'm more than happy to do that, obv'sly.

2. Having experience as a scriptwriter is useful, but by no means a guarantee that you'll get published. Scriptwriters tend to be more proficient with dialogue and structure than first-time writers, and probably better at pacing too. All of which is a step in the right direction, but still only a step.

So, after eleven drafts, there came a point where I felt I'd pared the book back as far as I could, or at least as far as I could without it becoming something else and any further expenditure would probably be better spent writing an entirely new book. Or a script, which might actually contribute towards paying for the mortgage I seemed to have picked up since I started the first draft. In the old days, this would have been the end of the line. These days, however, you can get a copy printed up on lulu, so suddenly, this thing you were writing exists as an actual physical object, and as a scriptwriter, that's a feeling you really don't get very often.

So the book arrived, and it was great that it was a book, and I could hold it, but I hadn't done the layout very well, and it wasn't a cover so much as some words on a background, and before I knew it I was talking to my brother in law about making it look just a little bit more professional. So he sorted out the layout, and did a great cover, and suddenly it looked like something that wouldn't look entirely out of place amongst other, you know, bookish type things.

However, it still didn't feel right putting it up for sale when all people had to go on was the blurb, and then, by a strange coincidence, just as I was about to start writing this post, I saw Cory Doctorow's article in the Observer: "My Bright Idea" in which he says:

"I give away all of my books. [The publisher] Tim O'Reilly once said that the problem for artists isn't piracy – it's obscurity. I think that's true. A lot of people have commented: "You can't eat page views, so how does being well-known help you earn a living as a writer?" It's true; however, it's very hard to monetise fame, but impossible to monetise obscurity. It doesn't really matter how great your work is; if no one's ever heard of it, you'll never make any money from it. That's not to say that if everyone's heard of it, you'll make a fortune, but it is a necessary precursor that your work be well-known to earn you a living. As far as I can tell, these themes apply very widely, across all media."

Which is pretty much what I was going to say about putting the book "The Cabinet of Curiosities" up as a free pdf. Or rather, four pdfs - what I thought I'd do is split it into four parts, give each a blog post and allow anyone who was interested to read it for free. Then if they like it, they can follow the link to the right and order a physical copy. I'll putting up the next bit each Monday.

Here's part the first:
The Cabinet of Curiosities 1/4 (pdf)

Friday, May 21, 2010

I done a book (short version)

Looky over there to the right - a picture of a book cover that is also magically a link to a place where you can buy a copy of that exact book!

What happened was, I wrote a children's book, in that 9-12 sort of age range (but there's lots for adults to get as well - in fact the idea is kids reading it will get one sort of book and adults reading it will get another sort of book but I'll explain that later) and got a proper literary agent and everything, and it got very close to being picked up by a couple of quite large proper respectable publishers... then everything ground to a halt. So I thought sod it, I'll have a copy made up on so just for once in my life something I wrote actually has a real, physical existence in the world and I can read it to my tiny daughture and everything, and then I ended up roping in brother in law to do a proper layout and cover (seriously, I could not have asked for a better cover) and suddenly it had turned into a proper book! No-one was more surprised than me.

So what's happening is, the link on the right will take you to lulu, where you could IF YOU SO CHOSE buy a copy - but what I'm going to do next week is put a pdf on the blog where you can read it for free. Probably broken into four parts over four posts, but totally free. The hope being that if people like it enough to want a copy they could actually hold in their hand, or read in the bath, or roll up and swat things with, they could do that too.

Anyway, proper blog posts about it next week, but in the meantime, look over there - a link to a book!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Running Wilde"

New thing from Will Arnett and our very own Peter Serafinowicz. It looks strange. And good. And strange.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Temper Trap - 'Love Lost"

Great song, and one those lovely videos that starts well, then just builds and builds. Doesn't quite go as far as an OK Go type vid, but I think better for being slightly rougher around the edges.

Friday, May 14, 2010

In London, I punched a man in the balls.

What it was was, I have these new trainers, which were cheap, but apparently of slightly different sizes, and halfway up Charing Cross Road my right foot wobbled, and I shouted 'Woo!' and my left hand went to steady myself in an 'ooh, I can't walk in flats' sort of way, and I accidentally punched a bloke who was slightly behind and to the left of me, the Clegg to my Cameron, right in the Boswells.

I froze, and said, gosh, and I'm terribly sorry, but he instantly straightened up and said cuh, and not to worry and continued on his way. LONDON MAN I SALUTE YOU.

Then later, after a nice lemony drink with my agent, I was asked for direction by THREE sets of female persons, first a trio of Eastern European teenagers, who wanted a big Primark, which I didn't know about, but when I pointed the way to the big Oxford Street TopShop they all jumped up and down shouting ''TOPSHOP! TOPSHOP!' so I think that was fine. Next were two quite posh french girls who wanted to know the way to'a Underground', and finally one more female type person who allowed me to utter that sentence most chaps spend their whole lives dreaming about uttering: 'Young lady, I will help you find the modelling agency for which you have an important interview'.

And there were meetings, which were great, but frankly the street-based was just as much fun AND TO THINK I NEARLY CUT MY HAIR EARLIER THIS WEEK. In the end I did not, and it was the right choice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

They had me at "Digital Puppetry"

Not played the first "Little Big Planet" (nor do I have a PS3), but does LBP3 really allow you to create digital landscapes and characters for animation rather than solely for gameplay? Could be interesting...

Music is 'Sleepyhead' by Passion Pit.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

How scriptwriters get paid

Patroclus is in the process of moving our mortgage, which led to a phone call from the new bank, after they received a copy of my accounts for the past three years.

BANK: Hi, we'd just like to know what exactly your employment is? And why it is your income seems sort of... erratic.
ME: I'm a scriptwriter. Which also explains the second part.
BANK: So is that a full-time occupation, or...

I decide that if you add two full hours a day sighing to another two hours staring out windows (rather than counting them as the same activity) that counts towards a full days work.

ME: Yes.
BANK: But you seem to get weird amounts at weird times.
ME: Yes. What happens is, when you get commissioned to write a script, you get paid half the amount up front, then the other half when you've finished.
BANK: Oh. So does it take different amounts of time to write scripts then?
ME: Well, usually a half hour script takes two weeks to write, an hour long script takes a month to write.
BANK: So you get half the money first, then two weeks, or a month later, you get the other half of the money?
ME: Ah, it's not up to me to say it's finished - it's up to the producer, and even then, they usually have to get the say so from the commissioner, the person above them. So I might spend a month writing it, then the commissioner decides it needs some changes, which often takes a week or so.
BANK: And then you get paid.
ME: And then they usually decide some more changes are needed. Then, if they're happy with it, they pass it to the person above them, which usually takes another month or so for them to read, and they usually want some changes. So you do the changes, then you wait for the commissioner to read it, then often they want some more changes.
BANK: Oh. So it can take quite a lot of time.
ME: Indeed it can. Which is why it's best to have a lot of projects on the go at any one time.
BANK: Your job is strange.
ME: Well, at least I didn't nearly bring about THE END OF THE WORLD.

I didn't say that bit. But paymentwise it is strange. And the big gaps while you wait for people to read things can be frustrating, and can make it really hard to keep momentum going with scripts, remember what the main characters are called, and so on. This can be more of an issue with the BBC, where there's a huge inverted pyramid of writers and producers, all working up to the two or three people who have the power to get your series made. On the other hand, Channel 4, whose comedy department seemed to consist at one point of two temps and a man who worked in Jimmy Carr's suit shop once, seemed to have a habit of nodding enthusiastically at one's script then wandering off never to be seen again. So at least with the Beeb, there's a system.

In fact, having projects hang around for ages can have advantages as well. A bit of a distance from a project often means you stop hanging onto that scene that isn't really working, but you've always been attached to for some reason. Or, just when your crime drama was about to go to big BBC Drama commissioning man, it can come back for a (quite minor) rewrite, and you think aaaargh - only to discover big BBC Drama commissioning man had just read five other crime dramas that week, so was probably a bit crimed out, to be honest, in which case you think phew.

On the plus side, having to ask my agent for an advance always makes me feel like a character from an Edwardian play, so that's nice.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Level up your humour with Microsoft

Via the always-interesting Alice, it appears Microsoft have added 'Humour' (or rather 'humor') to their set of professional development competencies

Rather worryingly, I'm not sure I even qualify for a 'Basic' level of 'humor' ("Is conscientious about timing and setting for humor"? Erm, define 'conscientious'....) Certainly the 'Overdoing Humor' section is worryingly familiar:

Overdoing Humor
May disrupt group process with untimely or inappropriate humor.
Yes. We call those 'script meetings'

May use humor to deflect real issues and problems
But if we addressed real issues and problems, there would be deaths, or worse: raised voices.

May use humor to criticize others and veil an attack.
Well you can't go criticizing people openly, they might notice.

May use humor to deliver sarcasm or cynicism.

May be perceived as immature or lacking in appropriate seriousness.

His/her humor may be misinterpreted.
Actually this does happen.

So in conclusion: er, 'pissflaps' again.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ben Stephenson Interview

Writers Room has an interesting interview with BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, Ben Stephenson, which is worth a read if you have anything heading in that direction at the moment, or are hoping to in the future.

Some interesting stuff about how iPlayer has affected viewing figures (short answer: not as much as you'd think):

The iPlayer's an amazing invention, but the majority of television is still watched live. Something like 89% of television is watched live. If you get 200,000 on iPlayer - which is still a lot and can add to the overnight - it's a relatively minor amount overall. Particularly for mainstream... It's different for Being Human, which got about a million on the overnight and then we added about 500,000 through repeats and iPlayer.

I think Skins and Shameless actually get more from their non-original Tx, although some of that is still linear repeats. But mainstream television certainly is, contrary to popular belief, still very much watched at 9 o'clock on the day it transmits. Catch up obviously is increasing, but if you get three million for a show on BBC1 at 9 o'clock, you're not suddenly going to find that you actually reach 6 million. And the pick up on iPlayer for Five Days is no more than it is for anything else, which I was quite surprised by. I thought it'd be way up.

We got six and a half million for Five Days, ten million for Doctor Who, sixteen million for EastEnders. ITV got nine million for Unforgiven. Mass audiences still want to watch TV live. They still want to find something as it happens, they still want to feel that sense of liveness and freshness. I'm sure it will continue to diversify and the figures will continue to get smaller but audiences still want to turn on.

Full Ben Stephenson interview

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stan Freberg: "Yellow Rose of Texas"

For no particular reason, other than I couldn't find my "Best of Stan Freberg" CD, so found this on YouTube, and then the CD turned up. It's not a great story, and there's no video, just the audio, but man I do still love this song.

"I feel like, volume-wise, it's just a little much, what you're doing there".

Monday, April 19, 2010

'Let's blame Rolf Harris'

I, and some of the Green wing writers, and two of the not-Green Wing writers, are maybe about two thirds of the way through writing Campus, which is the thing that was piloted last year. It's being written sort of in the Green Wing way, which is to say we have some very vague ideas for plots, then we all write quite sketchy sort of scenes that hopefully fill those plot gaps, but also are ideally funny in their own right. This method does have quite a high attrition rate for material, which combined with me writing in sketch mode rather than normal scene mode means I end up operating a sort of 'fire and forget' policy. Which leads to this kind of phone call:

PRODUCER: Just wondering if you explain the end of this scene to me.

I look up the scene. Two people are talking for a bit, and it ends with one of them saying 'Let's blame Rolf Harris'. Which doesn't really tie in with what they're talking about. At all.

ME: Um...
PRODUCER: (helpfully) I think perhaps you missed a couple of lines.

I stare at the scene again, trying to think of a couple of lines that link the penultimate line (something about a sexual vigilante called 'The Mucky Whale') to the line 'Let's blame Rolf Harris'.

ME: I'm not sure I did. I think... at the time, that seemed like a reasonable ending.
PRODUCER: (gently) Is it possible you're not re-reading these before you send them?
ME: That is certainly a possibility.
PRODUCER: Could you perhaps give that a go?
ME: (warily) I will try.

Later it occurs to me I don't even read them while I'm writing them.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Writer's Guild backs the D.E. Act

(just like they did product placement)

Really well-written post here by Nathaniel Tapley, expressing his disappointment at the Writer's Guild backing of the eye-rollingly poor Digital Economy Act.

Quote here:

"It is a crying shame that, in order to appear to robustly support the rights of creators, the WGGB feels the need to support measures which assume guilt rather than innocence, and are fundamentally flawed and unjust in the ways in which they are to be applied.

It is more of a shame that Mr Corbett (President of the WG) either does not understand, or pretends not to notice the difference between what the Bill does, and what he says it does: “introducing automatic penalties against people who use the internet to download music, films, books or whatever in breach of copyrights held by creators, publishers, producers, etc.”

Mr Corbett responds here.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Digital Economy Bill then.

Over at her work blog, Patroclus explains why, quite apart from its many other failings, the rushed-through Digital Economy bill is likely to spell disaster for local (in this case Cornish) buinesses such as B&B's or web cafes who thoughtlessly provide free wi fi for their customers.

One of the least-encouraging moments of the parliamentary debate: Labour MP Derek Wyatt, not appearing to know the difference between email and the internet. Still, at least he voted against the bill, unlike my Lib Dem MP, Julia Goldsworthy, who sent us a letter telling us of her concern about the bill, but failed to vote for or against it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sunday Night is Confusion Night. Or possibly Confucian Night,

I get to my hotel at half ten, and five minutes after checking in am in bed, because that's how I ROLL BEYATCHES &c, when there's a knock on the door, by someone introducing himself as being 'from reception'.

Cue five minutes blundering round in the dark trying to find a) my trousers and b) a lightswitch, during which I can hear the reception person sighing heavily. Finally I find both, and get the door open.

RECEPTION MAN: Hello, yes, I wanted to make sure your phone was working, as the reception desk was trying to call you.

I try the phone. I does work.

ME: Well yes, it's fine. Why were they trying to call me?

RECEPTION MAN: Sir, you will have to call the reception desk to find out.

He goes away. I call the reception desk.

RECEPTION DESK: Hello, I wanted to make sure you were in the right room. Are you in the right room?

Quite a long pause.

ME: I'll be honest, I have no idea.

RECEPTION DESK: What room are you in?

ME: I am in the room you told me to go to.


ME: ... which is presumably the room you're phoning now. Isn't it? I'm quite tired, I don't really know what's going on.

Another quite long pause. Very very slowly, I put the phone down. When I check out the next morning, I am fairly sure they give me a funny look. I still have no idea what was going on, and to be honest, am not entirely convinced the hotel in question fully deserves its four stars.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Yes it warrants caps. I'm currently re-reading the books (well, one to five), and have totally fallen in love with Bryan Lee O'Malley's world all over again. Supposedly the film diverges from the books at around volume three, which sounds sensible to me (I know Edgar Wright likes to consult this blog before each creative decision, it just saves time for everyone).

Mr Mamet writes a memo

Excellent find on Movieline: a memo written by David Mamet to his writing staff working on his action/drama series 'The Unit' (now cancelled)

Full text over at Movieline, but here's a choice bit (caps model's own):





I hear the bolded stuff a lot, though never from anyone involved in Green Wing, or (now) Campus. It's very specifically a drama thing rather than a comedy thing. To be fair, the development people I hear it from are usually very far from being dickheads, and rarely in suits. But I do hear it a lot.

Which is interesting, because something I've been wondering a lot lately, is if the writer's main job is to a) keep the audience guessing (as long as they're engaged enough to care), and b) make sure he or she is the only person who know everything about his characters (but give the audience enough that they're constantly wrong-footed rather than, say, left in the dark).


EDIT: actually, all that said, I have to remind myself I only actually like about a third of Mamet's stuff that I've seen, and a constant problem I have with his stuff is that I don't care about the characters that much. Nor do I really ever know what's going on, but I get that with pretty much anything above 'Shaun The Sheep' length.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Twestival Cornwall, Vertigo Bar, Truro - Thurs 25th March 2010

If you're even vaguely near Truro on Thursday, do order a ticket now for the Cornwall Twestival (I know, but that's what it's called). Patroclus is one of the organisers, and we'll both be there, along with lots of Cornwall social networky people and some good local bands.

Tickets cost £10, proceeds going to Concern Worldwide, available here

Video by Sideways Cornwall

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brought to you by the word 'um' and the phrase 'kind of'.

There's a bit* of my talk to the Falmouth Professional Writing course (with some people from Screenwriting and Broadcast in the audience as well) on the prof writing website here:

What was your big break

So there you are. Um. Kind of. *makes annoying lip smacking noise I didn't even know I did*

* It's the first eight minutes or something.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

the missing link between Neil Gaiman and AS Byatt, apparently

In the comments thread of this post over on Kotaku, about the difference between what counts as scariness in computer game, and what counts as actual horror someone said, in reference to some national public radio programme (anyone know what it might be?):

"Gaiman was talking about how his book Coraline is read by children as an exciting adventure story whereas adults tend to read it more as a horror story. It was most amusing to hear the extremely well educated and well spoken rather elderly lady that A.S. Byatt is now tell Gaiman something along the lines of "It scared the hell out of me".

Which made me look at it, and go 'buhhhhhhhh'.

Because when I worked at Waterstone's in Canterbury, one of the many fun jobs I had was running events. Twice a week I'd take some minions, we'd THEY"D move all the chairs upstairs in the coffee shop, put a little stage in, set up a microphone, and, when the author arrived, I'd greet them, we'd have a little chat, then I'd introduce them to the audience, sometimes deal with questions at the end, manage the queues for signing, then get the author to the taxi afterwards.

It was a brilliant job, and because Canterbury's only an hour and a half or so from London, you could get some pretty big name authors (Bernard Cornwell, writer of the Sharpe books, is perhaps the nicest man in the world - Michael Dibdin , creator of the Aurelio Zen crime series, was quite possibly the grumpiest, although he's dead now, which just goes to show). Neil Gaiman was quite easy to convince to come to Canterbury, because his long-time collaborator Dave McKean lives just a few miles away, so I got to do two events with him: one for American Gods, and one for Coraline. I'm a gert big Gaiman fan, and I'm pleased to report he's absolutely lovely in person, and didn't mind me telling him that both books were really, really good, as though I was some lone voice of sanity at a point where all he had encountered up until that point in his career had been apathy and neglect, and that my encouragement persuaded him not to jack it all in.

AS Byatt also has Canterbury connections, as her editor Jenny Uglow also lives in Canterbury. AS Byatt, you may, or may not, be surprised to hear, is a huge Terry Pratchett fan, but had never read Neil Gaiman. And as we had had a lovely chat about kid's books before she did her talk, it frankly felt wrong to let her go without running downstairs, buying a copy of Coraline (on staff discount, I'm not insane) and pushing it into her hands. because I'd just read her astonishingly creepy Little Black Book Of Stories, and something told me it might be her cup of tea.

That was at least six years ago now, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wondering every now and then if she'd ever got round to reading it, or had even got it all the way home without leaving it in a taxi or something. And I now I know she did read it.

Of course, there's always a chance she did lose it, or read some other copy somewhere, but this is a nice story about books, so I think I'm allowed to just write myself a tiny tiny footnote in literary connections.

I also once, out of sheer desperation, asked Will Self if he was a fan of The Good Life. I don't think that one went anywhere.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"in no way is this advertisers forcing something on poor old producers"

Thinkbox's lovely Tess Alps (who I should say I have know for years now, and has been incredibly generous in providing me with free dinners and the Blue Kitten with various toys, clothes etc) originally left this comment on the post but it's worth moving to a post of its own, I think.

A quick catch-up on my opinions on the introduction of product placement, or 'PP' available here, in an article I recently wrote for the Western Morning News

Tess says:

Hello everyone,

Too late I'm sure to catch people with a few comments, but what the heck.

James knows me very well but I should probably make it clear to you all that my job is to promote the benefits of TV advertising - on all platforms, linear and on-demand. I like my job in part because I like to think of myself helping to bring more money to TV to make better programmes - and to keep James in honest employment*.

Are advertisers moving away from TV? Depends what you mean. TV has actually increased its share of total advertising (including all forms of online& search etc) over the last two years, but sadly it's been at a time when total advertising has been hit very hard.

In 2008 total advertising declined by 4.9% and TV by 2.9%. In 2009 we think that total advertising declined by nearly 13% and TV declined by just under 10%. Traumatic for everyone in the TV industry but actually a dream compared to the print industry where declines of over 20% were the norm.

The question is will advertising bounce back? There is definitely a long-term structural trend away from display ads (eg online banners, TV spots, posters etc) towards techniques like email marketing where advertisers can just use their databases and disintermediate any professional medium on- or off-line.

However, so far this year TV advertising is increasing strongly, albeit from a very poor 2009 base, and we're seeing nearly 20% increases in April and May which would recoup all the losses of 2008 and 2009.

The real difficulty for programme budgets is that, while total linear TV viewing has never been as high, and about 35% more ads are being seen (at normal speed) compared to 10 years ago, it's spread across more channels.

ITV1, Channel 4 and Five have lower shares of both viewing (like BBC1 & 2) and money; they were the channels which commissioned the majority of UK original production in the commercial sector. However digital switchover is nearly complete and it's very likely that their shares will stabilise at that point.

My shareholders have diverse attitudes to product placement; ITV is the most enthusiastic simply because they make a lot of their own programmes. Others, like C4 and Sky are more equivocal about it. The people who are opposed to it include people like you, who object from a moral and aesthetic position. But there are also plenty of opponents who don't share your sensibilities but who believe that a) it won't generate much money from a lot of effort b) PP doesn't work anyway for brands c) it will just divert money from TV spot advertising so there will be no net gain. The body which represents British advertisers is opposed to paid PP, it might surprise you to learn (EDIT: my bolding, not Tess's), and the most enthusiastic champion is PACT which represents all the independent production companies. So in no way is this advertisers forcing something on poor old producers.

Sorry to have gone on at absurd length. If you want more facts about TV you might like to have a look at our website some time.

Tess does make some very good points - it's certainly worth pointing out that a lot of advertisers do seem to be rather puzzled at PP being brought in so enthusiastically by elements of the government and the television industry. Any enthusiasm they might have might have had has certainly lessened considerably since fast food, alcohol and gambling were taken out of the equation, undoubtedly a good thing, but makes the introduction of PP even more pointless and frustrating from the writers' point of view.

PP has already had an impact on my writing - a couple of scenes for various shows have already been rewritten because they mentioned specific brand names. They've now been changed to something more generic, because if viewers even had the slightest suspicion the brand had been mentioned because money had changed hands rather than, say, because something about the rhythm of the name of a particular chocolate bar, or high street clothing store or whatever, the joke would be ruined.

So yes, I am in no doubt that the responsibility for this lies far more with certain television producers than it does with advertisers. And I'm fairly sure this has far more to do with makers of reality television than, say, drama or comedy, but I'm willing to be corrected if this is not, in fact, the case.

Interesting footnote: the most successful brand on American television, far outstripping anyone else, don't pay a cent for product placement...

"Apple Gets a Big Slice Of Product-Placement Pie"

* Smack The Pony and Green Wing's biggest advertisers? Diet Coke, and tampons.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I would have linked to the official trailer, but Disney, in their wisdom, have made it non-embeddable.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Now I wish I'd asked for a pony.

I like it when real life presents you with dialogue (or rather 'dramatic beats' I suppose) no script editor would ever let you get away with in real life.


ME: Hello, I was coming up to London for a meeting, but that's just been cancelled, so I'd like to cancel my hotel reservation please. Just one night, for, erm, sixty quid,
LASTMINUTE PERSON: Okay, let me just check. (she wanders off for a bit) Right, the hotel has a 'within twenty four hours' cancellation policy, so there'll be no charge there.
ME: Marvellous.
LASTMINUTE PERSON: ... however, do charge twenty pounds admin fee for cancellation.
ME: (mildly) Tch, that seems a bit excessive.
LASTMINUTE PERSON: (immediately) Okay, we'll revoke that.
ME: Really?
LASTMINUTE PERSON: Yup, we'll refund the full amount.
ME: Er, right, great, brilliant.
Me: No thank you.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Bloody White Baron

Interesting interview here with James Palmer, writer of The Bloody White Baron, which ended up being the best non-fiction work I read last year.

Quick description of the book lifted from the interview:

"James Palmer, a British writer who lives in Beijing and has a fascination for all things Mongolian, has produced a captivating biography of Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, a Baltic nobleman who fought in the service of the Russian tsar in World War I. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Ungern led a ragtag White army to capture Mongolia, where he styled himself the human manifestation of a Buddhist god of war. Mongolia would never be the same again."

It's a period of history, and a part of the world, about which I know very little, but the book fills in the gaps very skillfully, without ever turning into a textbook, or skimming too lightly over the subject. But my favourite aspect of the book? Palmer is a regular at (which is where I first heard about it) so when he's talking about Ungern considering himself to be an avator of the Buddhist god of war, I can be can be fairly confident that he too is thinking 'ooh, what if he really was and start assigning hit points and weapons skills accordingly.

(For the norms among you however, be assured you could the entire book and never guess the author's dark and terrible secret, so don't let that put you off).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Profwriting site launch

Here are some types being interviewed for the launch of University College Falmouth's new Professional Writing site. Two of them play Dungeons and Dragons on a Tuesday night - OMG one of them is me!

Prof Writing Launch from Learning Space on Vimeo.

(the other one is Gareth)

Also, thanks to everyone who came to the guest lecture on Thursday and let me burble on, it was good fun, and, er, I hope I didn't actively put anyone off screenwriting. Especially the chap I was gleefully telling about the dumpster truck that takes thousands of rejected scripts from various studios every day and DESTROYS THE LOT. He did look a bit crushed afterwards. Still, if you want to be a scriptwriter, you're going to get crushed at some point, so you may as well get it out of the way early on. It's when you know just how difficult it is to get a film produced, let alone made, then write it anyway, that really sorts out the fish from the chips (insert better anology later).