How to self-publish your book

on Thursday, 18 October 2012 10:51. Posted in Books and Poetry

Screenwriter and first-time novelist Ølivier Nilsson-Julien on what he learned from The Guardian Self-Publishing Masterclass

olivier-nilssonForty-eight participants arrived at The Guardian HQ in North London on a Saturday morning in June. Rebecca Swift from The Literary Consultancy started proceedings by asking about our backgrounds and it appeared that most of us had tried a traditional publishing route before turning to self-publishing: a published crime writer wanted to break with the pre-formatted crime books being churned out; an established author of self-help books had decided to publish independently for increased royalties; a serial novelist was fed up with the lack of control in publishing – essential information had been taken out of her last novel by the publisher without her consent, and the cover was horrible. It was obvious from talking to fellow writers that a wide range of genres and interests were represented. There seemed to be extensive industry experience and most participants had some degree of professional writing background.

Paperbooks tanking, ebooks taking off

The quality of the participants seemed to reflect the competitive nature of publishing. In fact, Swift told us that publishers usually rely on one or two bestselling authors to fund their whole business, which is why taking on a new title isn’t done lightly. During her session on ‘Evaluating and pitching your book’, Kate Roden of Guardian Books gave us some humbling figures. According to Nielsen Book Scan, only 76 print books sold more than 100,000 copies in 2011; 106 between 50,000 and 100,000; 465 between 10,000 and 50,000; 389 between 5,000 and 10,000; 2,000 between 1,000 and 5,000; 1,000 between 500 and 1,000; and 1,700 up to 500 copies.

‘Paperbacks are tanking and being replaced by ebooks,’ according to Roden. Confirming this trend, publisher and marketing specialist Edward Pettitt predicted that by 2015 e-books will represent 50% of book sales. To give an indication of the growth of self-publishing, he added that since 2009 there are more self-published than traditionally published books in the US. In 2010 there wasn’t a single self-published book in the Kindle top 100. In 2011, there were 18.

Arts are a lottery for Tories

on Friday, 12 October 2012 14:43. Posted in General

Jayne Kirkham reports from the Conservative Party Conference 2012

Three conferences in three weeks and I’ve reached the point where I feel like writing, ‘Tories, Birmingham: went’. Partly because I’m tired but mostly because there really isn’t an awful lot to write about. I arranged my stay around any Culture, Media and Sport speeches and activities both within the main conference agenda and the fringe. They were, however, far and few between and then mainly concerned with the OIympics Legacy with celebratory cheering scheduled as a warm up for the Prime Minister’s speech.

It was all rousing stuff: I cried. However, I think the tears were justified when, having told us that jobs, influence and investment are the real legacy of the Olympics and rolling out two wide-eyed medallists to prove the point, sports minister Hugh Robinson said, ‘The message is clear: please go out and buy your lottery tickets.’ It was a stark reminder that no matter how much culture, media and sport bring communities together, or enrich our understanding of who we are or who we can be; there is no real government support. Lord Coe may highlight the “nourishing and sustaining role of laughter”, but we have to pay for it ourselves through the Lottery. We could spend hours in the pub debating the merits of the Lottery but here, all I’m saying is Mr Robinson neatly summed up how the Conservatives view themselves as the party that helps people who help themselves.

Most over used word of the conference? ‘Strivers.’ I think everyone had been schooled to use it, including the barista in the coffee bar. Although, blessings upon him: he used it with delicious amounts of froth and irony.

Rethinking mental illness on TV

on Monday, 08 October 2012 18:48. Posted in TV

Ming Ho reports from the Time to Change ‘Meet the Media’ Event

Mental health: does TV perpetuate negative stereotypes? That was the question posed by Time to Change, an anti-stigma programme run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, at an event for television drama professionals held on 1 October at the Hospital Club in London.

The evening began with a new training film presented by broadcaster Alistair Stewart, which aims to promote good practice in the portrayal of mental illness, and includes interviews with writers and directors involved in high-profile stories such as the bipolar disorder of Jean and Stacey Slater in EastEnders and the breakdown of Dr Ruth Winters in Casualty.

Kate Rowland, BBC Creative Director of New Writing, then chaired a panel discussion with writers Danny Brocklehurst (Exile; Accused), Dana Fainaru (Casualty), and Bill Lyons (Emmerdale), and mental health nurse, Lol Butterfield, who had advised on Emmerdale’s Zak Dingle storyline.

Research into a three-month sample of TV drama, led by the Glasgow Media Group, revealed that 74 programmes contained storylines on mental health issues – and these featured 33 instances of violence toward others and 53 examples of self-harm. While almost half were deemed to be sympathetic portrayals, the characters tended to be shown as tragic victims; and 63% of references to mental health were thought to be ‘pejorative, flippant, or unsympathetic’. How can we, as writers, redress this disproportionate image of a link between mental illness and violence and dispel the fear that it engenders?

Entertainment and writing for games

on Wednesday, 03 October 2012 20:29. Posted in Video Games

A keynote speech by Steve Ince for the 11th International Conference on Entertainment Computing 2012 in Bremen

Steve_InceWhenever I prepare for an event of this nature I’m reminded of the huge diversity of gaming in particular and computer related entertainment in general. It’s bewildering in its range and scope and simply keeping abreast of the constant assault of news and developments is somewhat daunting.

But this broad scope also gives such incredible creative freedom to those of us who want to explore new ways of delivering entertainment to a worldwide audience. This talk, then, is me scratching the surface of writing for games and how the whole idea of entertainment can affect how writers approach the task.


David Cage, the creative mind behind the game, Heavy Rain, recently said this about players: ‘I am not interested in giving them “fun”, I want to give them meaning.’ Many of us might think that one of the main points of games is that they should be fun, but I understand why Cage would make a statement like that. The word ‘fun’ has a certain amount of baggage that could trivialise the emphasis of the product. Super Mario is fun, for instance, and Cage may feel he needs to distance his games from this kind of association. If we substitute ‘fun’ with ‘entertainment’, surely Cage would want his games to be meaningful and entertaining? If they are not, why would we want to play them? And if we want games to be entertainment, we must see them as such throughout the development process.

Child's play with the Opposition

on Thursday, 04 October 2012 18:13. Posted in General

Jayne Kirkham, Chair of the Guild's Children's Committee, reports from the Labour Party Conference in Manchester

Yep, like the Lib-Dems in Brighton last week, the Labour Conference in Manchester was another gathering of the clan. But Labour’s conference is bigger and redder. You would hope so, wouldn’t you? Although actually, I thought the branding was rather blue – blue lighting, blue Union flags: a bit Stella McCartney really. And I was surprised to still be tripping over ice buckets in the Midland Hotel lobby; despite us being one nation under a groove, there’s still quite a lot of champagne socialism around.

Oh, you will have read the reports of the speeches and press releases and know that we’re half way between elections so there were no exciting policies or lines being drawn in the sand in the conference hall. I came in half way through one debate and didn’t realise the speakers were on the other side of the stage. I spent quite a long time watching five purple cushions on a sofa. With a head full of kids’ television, I thought soft furnishings that talk were normal. Although I did remark to my neighbour that their argument was somewhat fabricated. He tutted and said something about cloth ears. Likewise the fringe was not what you’d call dynamic. Walking round the exhibition hall the most exciting and thought provoking thing was a display by some guide dogs. Although I did see Alistair Campbell on a kayak ergometer machine. That was more distracting than anything: I was having a useful conversation about select committee process at the time and there he was, paddling like Goldie Hasler himself on the Boating Alliance’s stand.

I am very pleased that I went, though. Labour aren’t just the lot that lost: they are Her Maj’s Loyal Opposition and while last week I pompously spouted that it was my job to hold the likes of David Laws to account, it isn’t. That job belongs to the likes of Stephen Twigg. So I had arranged meetings and picked out useful fringe events, on the look out for more political allies and friends for the Guild and the Children’s Media Foundation. I didn’t have to search too hard. At least not when I talked about the issues around children’s media and arts. With the Communications Green Paper having been kicked into touch, there was little obvious interest in wider issues such as intellectual property. But it’s a bit like picking raspberries: there will always be some more on the canes.

As I said last week, whether all this has been successful will become clear with time when (not if) policies and laws change. In the meantime, forgive me for not saying too much publicly. What I will tell you is that one senior politician still had the dry cleaning ticket pinned to his suit, Film Four will be screening a movie about the Rochdale Pioneers in early November and that one purple cushion whispered to its comrade, ‘How long do we have to stay before it’s not rude to leave?’

A most curious detour

on Thursday, 04 October 2012 09:14. Posted in Theatre

Alistair Rutherford (pictured) on adapting a biography for the stage, with support from the Stroke Association

In 2005 Edinburgh-born Stuart Hepburn suffered an extensive brain stem stroke which left him with virtually no movement and no speech. Ever since he has lived with ‘locked-in syndrome’. Over time, he regained limited control over his right hand and arm and in 2008 he began writing his biography, A Most Curious Detour. It was published in 2010 and it was around that time I was asked by a mutual friend, Ian Gilmour, to read Curious Detour to see if it had potential for a stage play. Ian thought that Stuart’s story was important and through drama could reach another, more diverse audience. The potential was certainly there, so Ian then contacted the Stroke Association UK (SAUK) to see if it would be interested in such a project.

SAUK’s Director in Scotland, Maddy Halliday, already knew Stuart and agreed to look at our proposal to adapt and stage his story. The SAUK officially backed the proposal in January 2011.

Funding was always going to be key to doing full justice to Stuart’s story and SAUK set out to raise the budget to commission the adaptation and to mount a professional stage production. I took on the role of producer and asked a director and actor I’d worked with before to join the project’s creative team.

Stuart’s book begins just before the onset of his strokes and chronicles the time he spent thereafter in different hospitals and rehabilitation centres before eventually moving into a new flat. Given the nature of his strokes, he freely admits his recollections in the book are not wholly accurate, particularly as he suffered vivid and sometimes terrifying hallucinations that he didn’t recognise as such at the time. I knew it would be a challenging adaptation, especially as Curious Detour contains a lot of detailed information covering the many months he spent in hospital, and I had to ensure the drama of his story wasn’t lost in those details.

From March 2011 onwards we held regular meetings, usually in Stuart’s house, to discuss progress and also to let Stuart and the rest of the team meet the ever-increasing number of people I brought on to the project.

We developed an awareness-raising strategy that could help in our fundraising efforts and decided to do a short script ‘taster’ as a performed reading in November 2011 in Edinburgh. We secured an excellent venue, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and I began planning a 30-minute monologue for November.

Out of the blue we were invited to present this ‘taster’ at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace in Edinburgh in August 2011. It was too good a chance to turn down so I quickly wrote the script and our director and actor started their work. That event in August sold out and got very favourable responses from the audience. We ran a Q&A session afterwards and it was clear from the health professionals in the audience that Stuart’s story was throwing a spotlight on sensitive and little-explored areas. SAUK’s main aim of raising awareness of stroke issues, even in this early version of the play, was definitely being achieved.

Fundraising efforts began to bear fruit in September 2011 when we received a grant from Awards For All. We then repeated our 30-minute performance and Q&A sessions in November 2011 to even more enthusiastic and informed audiences.

It was becoming clear in late 2011 that we would not make our target funding level for the main show so we trimmed our budget and everyone’s fees were reduced. We scaled back our run of nine or 10 performances to two. I started work on the full-length script in early 2012 for a June production.

A key part of Stuart’s story is that the strokes have not affected him intellectually and mentally but he is ‘locked-in’. When he lay in hospital beds he was fully aware of everything happening around him but couldn’t interact with it. It’s essential that the audience knows his feelings and thoughts at those times. I therefore decided to have three ‘Stuarts’ in the play, all played by one actor. One was him before the strokes, the second after, and the third was the internal, fully aware Stuart.

Stuart communicates using a ‘Lightwriter’, a keyboard-based text-to-speech device so we used PowerPoint to project his dialogue on to a screen for the audience. Slightly risky if the cast made a mistake and got out of sync with Stuart’s pre-programmed replies but, happily, this didn’t happen.

Stuart spends most of the play in a hospital bed as he gradually goes through all the difficult stages of his slow and laborious recovery. At the times when I wanted the internal Stuart to ‘speak’, he simply changed from being incapable of speech or movement to actively vocalising his inner thoughts as per normal.

As Stuart’s book is written solely from his perspective there’s only limited information about other people but there was more than enough to build a drama that would keep an audience engaged for close to two hours. Key to that was his wife, Pam, and the role she played in his recovery. Stuart doesn’t hold back in his comments on his bad experiences deep within the NHS hospital system and Pam became a crucial advocate for him when he couldn’t speak for himself.

The first ‘gala’ performance of the full-length A Most Curious Detour was in June 2012, again at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. We sold out quickly, the box office had to disappoint many and we knew the play’s subject matter was connecting with a lot of people. The show was a great success. You always know when an audience is truly captivated by moments of almost total silence and there were many. I balanced the intensity of Stuart’s story with some humour to ease the tension. Everyone involved in the production did a fantastic job. Stuart and Pam were in the front row and I let out a great sigh of relief when they told me afterwards that they were very happy.

What happens next? We have funds to perform the play once more in Glasgow later this year. Playwrights normally retain copyright in their scripts, but I will soon transfer script ownership to SAUK. It will be SAUK’s asset to explore and use as it wishes. It wants this play to be seen by as many people as possible. All royalties will also be theirs and I hope it will be a source of income towards their valuable work.

I know, too, from my own BBC radio drama and screenwriting experience that Stuart’s story would work well in those media.

Maddy Halliday also indicated another route for a shortened, tailored version of the drama to be used within teaching hospitals and medical colleges. In other words, let the next generation of nurses, physios and doctors experience this powerful depiction of a genuine stroke survivor’s story.

When Stuart began picking out letters one by one on a computer screen and slowly but surely wrote his story he had no idea where it would end up. It’s an important story, it’s heart-warming, challenging and life-affirming and adapting Stuart’s book for the stage has been a fascinating and rewarding experience.

A Most Curious Detour, by Stuart Hepburn, is available on Amazon. As Ian Gilmour says, we can be ‘…thankful that we do not need to pick up every piece of human experience first hand to glean some crucial learning from it…’

Photo of Alistair Rutherford by Jon Davey Photography

The Stroke Association

By Maddy Halliday, Stroke Association UK Director in Scotland

The Stroke Association is committed to working with others to create a world where there are fewer strokes and all those touched by stroke get the help they need. To achieve this vision we need to significantly increase public and political awareness and engagement in the stroke cause as currently this is too low. The most recent stroke awareness figures show that only 62% of people in Scotland know what a stroke is, contrasting with much higher public awareness of heart disease and cancer.

The Stroke Association supports a range of awareness activities including media coverage and campaigning, but until our involvement in A Most Curious Detour we had not used drama as a way of promoting stroke awareness. The Stroke Association is an enthusiastic supporter of the “Curious Detour” project because we believe that the combination of personal testimony and drama is a powerful way of engaging others in the stroke cause.

The gala performance of A Most Curious Detour in Edinburgh in June 2012 was a success and we look forward to our second performance in Glasgow in autumn 2012. Thereafter we plan to encourage performance of the play through community and student dramatic societies - across Scotland and hopefully UK wide. We also hope to raise funds to use excerpts from the play, combined with discussion, to support improved understanding of a person's experience of stroke amongst health and social care professionals.”