Roger Williams: what the Writers' Guild means to me

on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 07:35. Posted in General

Extracts from the speech given by the new Writers' Guild Chair, Roger Williams, at the AGM last week

Roger WilliamsI've been trying to remember of late when exactly I became a member of the Writers' Guild. I think it was 15 years ago. I was 22 years old and an early starter. Longstanding Guild member Sion Eirian was at a performance of one of my plays. Sion had his recruitment patter down to a fine art. He started by telling me how great my play was before sweeping in for the kill and asking me to join up. Flattery, in my case, really will get you anywhere.

The Wales branch met at that time in the back room of a rugby club in Cardiff on the third Wednesday of each month except August, when members would be at the National Eisteddfod, and December, when everyone would meet for a curry. It was at these committee meetings that I learnt about the business of being a writer. Contracts, negotiation, attendance fees, and the industry gossip. Individuals - often in competition with each other - coming together with the shared interest of helping one another.

This is fundamentally what the Guild is to me. Writers working together to get a better deal, to defend our rights and to campaign on issues that unite us.

I graduated from the smoky rugby club to being a representative on the Guild's Executive Council . Terrifying at first. I don't think I spoke for a year, but with time I found my feet and you'll be relieved to learn, I'm starting to get the hang of it.

So, I take over as Chair. Not an easy job when you remember whom I'm taking over from. Robert Taylor has done a tremendous amount for the Guild. He's overseen - with Bernie Corbett and the staff - a series of initiatives that have prepared our union for the future. The new BBC agreement, the establishment of Writers Digital Payments and the Writers Guild Foundation.

Thanks should also be paid to Rupert Creed, the outgoing treasurer, for his commitment to the Guild. I know the Guild is in a better shape now thanks to the work of these two men.

I lo ok forward to working with new treasurer Andy Walsh, new deputy chairs Ming Ho and Antony Pickthall and the. I also look forward to working with you because we ARE doing this together.

You've shown your commitment to the Guild by coming here today to the AGM and I encourage you to continue supporting our union in whatever way you can.

If you give a talk about your work, mention the Guild. Join Twitter and retweet the Guild's news stories. Persuade your colleagues to sign up. If you aren't on a Guild committee, join one. If you are on a committee, join another.

It is through dialogue and co-operation that the Guild is where it is today and long may it continue.

(Photo of Roger Williams by Warren Orchard Photography)

Picture this

on Friday, 15 June 2012 08:02. Posted in Books and Poetry

Myles McLeod on self-publishing a picture e-book, Caroline’s World

On my brother’s 30th birthday I presented him with a poster of his rock family tree. It had all the bands he had drummed for to date. On my thirtieth birthday my brother presented me with an animation based on a character I drew as a child, The M Man. You can watch it on YouTube if you like. We’re not only brothers but business partners in the aptly named duo The Brothers McLeod. He does the pictures. I do the words.

On our sister’s 30th birthday we hit upon the idea of making her a book. Having two older brothers can’t have been easy for Caroline growing up. That might be why she invented Caroline’s World. When we made things difficult, or told her something wasn’t how we wanted it, she would respond with, ‘It’s not like that in Caroline’s World!’ It was the perfect comeback. It’s also what provided the inspiration for her book… a picture book that her child self could have called her own. So we wrote it, illustrated it and then worked our way around the self-publishing site We printed a few copies and gave them to her on her birthday. She loved it. She wasn’t the only one. We sent it to a few publishers too. They read the book and wanted to see us! Great! They also loved it. They passed it round the office. Everyone in their offices loved it! So, did they want to publish it?


So that means one of two things. Either they didn’t really love it after all, or it was good, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t right for their limited list of picture books. So what next? The obvious next step was to look at self-publishing. was good, but the print version of the large hardback book was forty pounds just to produce. Not very commercial! Instead I started to try and get my head around the Amazon based Kindle market – e-books. Kindle isn’t just the hand held device, it’s also an App you can download to any computer, iPhone of Android phone. I spent a lot of time reading how to format the book, with the added complication that ours was really just a series of pictures that had to be formatted to the correct size and resolution. Then I had to fiddle around with the HTML of the file. Fortunately I did some website development a few years back. I have to say it’s not quite as simple as I hoped, but I got there in the end.

During this time I also went to a very useful and informative talk by Andy Conway who self-published a number of books last year. He’s much further ahead of the game than I am and also self publishes printed books. You can find him and his blog online at His talk helped confirm I had been doing all the right things and wasn’t about to publish a load of gobbledegook.

Finally I published the e-book on Amazon. It was now available to buy in the USA, UK and some other European countries. Initially, only a few friends bought one in the UK. We had no USA sales at all until I enrolled the book in the KDP Select programme and gave the book away for free for a few days. Yes, for free. Over 2,000 people downloaded it. Strangely I wasn’t annoyed. I was pleased. I liked the idea that the story was out there, being read and shared. However, after the free period ended we had a few US sales as well. It had basically worked like a promotion.

The self-publishing dream is of course to make enough money by directly selling your books to punters that you don’t have to do anything else. Of course, the reality is more prosaic. I’m led to believe most successful e-book authors do a lot of blogging, tweeting, guest blogging on other people’s sites, online forum discussions, and that sort of thing. They obviously also use the KDP Select programme to promote themselves as well. The other main factor in success is the number of titles you publish. The more you have, the more they help to promote each other.

So far we might have made enough money to buy a couple of pints of beer. To be fair it’s only been online for about a month. Also we’ve only published one book. Added to that our book is full colour which doesn’t look so great on a black and white Kindle device (though not as bad as you might think). In the USA they have the Kindle Fire which is a full colour tablet. It should be out here eventually. The funny thing is I’m just happy that it’s out there and that we’re in the market. It seems to me it’s only going to get bigger and bigger over the next ten years and our book is there ready to be purchased, and more importantly enjoyed, and hopefully yes, even loved.


Each film is a life

on Friday, 08 June 2012 13:24. Posted in Film

Screenwriter Lindsay Shapero talks to Oscar-winning film editor Jim Clark about his remarkable career and the insights he has for writers
Jim Clark
You can listen to Lindsay's interview with Jim Clark in our podcast

‘If you’re handed a boring load of old tosh, it’s rather difficult to weave it into a masterpiece, but often a fine film can be carved out of confusing footage.’

On meeting film editor Jim Clark, you can see why he’s always been in such demand – he displays brutal honesty and total dedication, wrapped up in old school charm. He’s very entertaining company and it’s what makes his memoirs such a rewarding read – he doesn’t spare the blushes of the super egos.

A film editor is the ultimate back-room presence. The one with the golden eyes. The one who knows everybody’s secrets, the actors’ and director’s brilliance and flaws. Expected to be magicians and alchemists, film editors lead us into a story through a sleight of hand, turning base metal into gold.

It’s a career for lone wolves, the work commencing once the cast and crew are finished. Jim’s long-time collaboration with the notoriously mercurial but brilliant film director John Schlesinger was one of the lynchpins of his career. ‘John trusted me when he didn’t trust anybody,’ Jim says. ‘Very generously, he said I’d saved his arse a lot of times.’

They made seven films together, including classics such as Midnight Cowboy (screenplay by Waldo Salt) and Marathon Man (screenplay by William Goldman). Jim was the only one Schlesinger felt he could leave with his rushes – rightly so, as Darling, their first film together, won Oscars for its writer Frederic Raphael and star Julie Christie. It helped put both director and editor on the map.

The status of the author

on Friday, 08 June 2012 09:56. Posted in Books and Poetry

Nick Yapp
A talk given by Nick Yapp for the European Writers' Council 2012 Authors' Rights Conference

I’ll start with a confession. To my shame, only after 32 years as a writer have I finally read the UNESCO Recommendations on the Status of the Artist. Reading them, I thought for one moment that I must have died at my laptop and passed on to the authors’ Land of Dreams, for the Recommendations not only affirm that there is a need to improve the 'social security, labour and tax conditions of the artist, whether employed or self-employed', but also that member states should provide both 'assistance' and 'material and moral support' for authors. This goes hand in hand with the process of education to create a public 'capable of appreciating the work of the author'. And, crucially, the Recommendations recognised the right of trade unions and professional associations of artists to defend the work of their members.

The Recommendations were drawn up following a conference in Belgrade in the autumn of 1980. The term ‘Artist’ was taken to mean any person 'who creates… or contributes to the development of art and culture and who asks to be recognised as an artist'. The Recommendations were to apply to everyone from ballet dancers to puppeteers, from actors to circus performers, 'irrespective of race, colour, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status or birth' – so I guess that must include every one of us here… or does anyone feel left out?

In preparing this paper, I have substituted the word ‘author’ for ‘artist’, in the hope that this will make it easier for us to focus on the issues we’re dealing with – it might complicate matters if you have puppeteers in mind all the time. And beyond mentioning this now, I shall plead no special case for the fact that authors (with poets and painters) are the most solitary of creative artists. One other small point - the website version of the UNESCO Recommendation has been poorly proof-read – but we authors are used to this.

As for ‘status’, well, there is a whole section on this. 'The word signifies on the one hand, the regard accorded to authors in a society, on the basis of the importance attributed to the part they are called upon to play therein and, on the other hand, recognition of the liberties and rights, including moral, economic and social rights, with particular reference to income and social security, which authors should enjoy.'

So far, so wonderful. But many changes have taken place in the world of authors since 1980. Indeed, the reality is that we are not only living through the greatest revolution in writing since the invention of the printing press, but also in the greatest ever revolution in the dissemination of ideas. Put an idea on the Internet, and it can reach millions of people around the world in a matter of minutes. The speed and irresistible power of this process makes you wonder why and how any regime can still think it worthwhile to operate a policy of censorship.

How not to disappear completely

on Wednesday, 06 June 2012 07:16. Posted in Theatre

Playwrights should take amateur theatre more seriously, says Fin Kennedy

(photo of Fin Kennedy by Sarah Lee)

This spring, my best-known play, How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found, opened on both sides of the Atlantic, in London and in Washington DC. Later this year you can also catch it in Greenwich, Northampton, and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Other performances have just closed in York, Warwick and Belfast. Last season you could have seen it in Bristol, Bournemouth, Dunfermline, Guildford and Edinburgh (again). No, this isn’t a set of professional tour dates. Not one of these productions will be reviewed by the national press. The truth is that I have a play that is popular with – whisper it – amateurs.

To be fair, the London production, by final-year acting students at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) is about as professional an amateur production as you’re likely to get, while the Washington DC version is actually the latest small scale professional theatre to produce the play in the States. But the fact remains that, five years on from its world premiere at Sheffield Crucible, my play seems to have entered the theatrical bloodstream both here and in the US, and is having the most extraordinary and unexpected afterlife.

The play first achieved some notoriety as the surprise winner of the 2006 John Whiting Award. It was the first time in the award’s history that an unproduced play had won. The irony was that the script had been doing the rounds of literary departments for more than 18 months, and had been rejected by almost every theatre in London. There was a time when it seemed as if the play’s title was an ominous reference to its fate, not to mention that of my own career. (I had actually abandoned playwriting to retrain as a teacher when the script scooped the award. I used the prize money to give up the PGCE and return to writing.) How To Disappear seems to have gone from the play that no one wanted to one that, in the amateur sector at least, is rarely not on somewhere.

All right, I’ll stop showing off. No one was more surprised than me by the play’s unlikely change in fortunes. But I’m rather proud that it seems to have gone on to appeal to so many grassroots performance groups around the country. Its popularity, particularly among university drama societies, has led to regular correspondence with a whole range of people, and interviews with amateur sector media such as Amateur Stage Magazine and Stage Talk TV. It’s a sector that’s off the radar for most professional theatre-makers. In fact, shamefully in my opinion, we have tended to be rather sniffy about it. But for playwrights in particular, as state funding for professional theatres contracts and commissions dry up, amateurs are an increasingly important marketplace for our work. They’re also a wonderful example of an entirely spontaneous and self-funding movement of ordinary citizens so in love with our art form that they want to get involved. We should be taking them more seriously. After all, weren't we all amateurs once?

Guild signs ground-breaking agreements with BBC

on Friday, 01 June 2012 11:52. Posted in TV

Changes safeguard writers in the age of online viewing

BBC negotiations

(Photo: Success at last! The Writers’ Guild negotiating team celebrates the end of four years’ hard negotiations. From left: Ming Ho, Gail Renard, Bernie Corbett, J.C. Wilsher, Robert Taylor, Anne Hogben)

Major new agreements between the Writers’ Guild, the BBC and the agents’ trade body were signed yesterday (Thursday 31 May 2012), bringing the contractual terms for TV writers fully into the digital age.

The signing ceremony took place in the brand new rebuilt Broadcasting House in central London – the culmination of more than four years’ negotiations that started before the builders even moved in.

Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'This is a hugely significant day for writers, safeguarding their interests – and their incomes – whether future viewers stick with broadcast systems or increasingly use online on-demand services. And it gives the BBC the ability to commit fully to an online future, continually increasing the ways in which both current and archive programming can be made available. These negotiations have been an incredibly long-haul, and I congratulate Guild Chair Robert Taylor, whose vision and clarity throughout his three-year term of office have been a major factor in bringing these talks to a successful conclusion.'

The agreements, as foreshadowed at the Guild AGMs in 2010 and 2011, introduce a completely new system to pay writers for the use of their work on the iPlayer online system. A new company called Writers' Digital Payments, jointly controlled by the Guild and the Personal Managers’ Association, will organise payments in proportion to the number of viewers who click to watch each individual programme. The same system can be extended in future to cover payments for possible online archive projects.

In addition the new agreements massively extend the programming covered by collective bargaining, bringing in for the first time drama and comedy commissions below 15 minutes, dramatic material in documentaries, and reforming the way sketch material is commissioned and re-used. In another important change, programmes repeated on secondary channels such as BBC3/4 and the children’s channels will earn residual fees based on a percentage of the original fee, instead of the much-criticised standard fees paid up to now.

To pay for these improvements most writers will lose the 15% additional fee paid upfront for a five-year iPlayer and secondary channels licence. The new agreements mean that this money will now find its way much more accurately to the writers of the most-downloaded and most-repeated shows. Another important change is a reduction in repeat fees, which it is hoped will enable the BBC to repeat many more shows, thus spreading the payments to a wider range of writers. But to avoid a disproportionate pay cut, current EastEnders writers have their fees system ring-fenced and there will be a two-year transition period for writers already working on other long-running series.

The new system will come into force on 1 July 2012 for new commissions, and all programmes commissioned since November 2002 will automatically switch to the new terms as and when they are repeated and/or made available online. Writers of material commissioned before November 2002 will have the option of switching to the new system – as recommended by the Guild and the other parties to the agreements – or remaining on their original terms.

More details about the new agreements and how they will affect writers in practice will be issued within the next few weeks, including a special website with answers to frequently-asked questions and other information. Almost 11,000 writers (or their estates) who have worked for the BBC over its entire history will be contacted by post with an explanation of the new agreements and an invitation to sign up. Look out for more information on the Guild website.