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.