Jamie Rhodes on his latest work, tips for new writers and why he is a Guild member
“I first realised I wanted to become a writer when I was 11. I went to a fairly rough comprehensive in Bradford and hated music lessons. So I used to sit at the back of the class and read a book. The teacher let me do it as I think he was just happy with one less pupil being disruptive. One day he said to me, ‘Jamie, what happens when you’ve read all the books in the world?’ to which I replied, ‘I will write my own.’
I was lucky in that, even though it wasn't a great school, I had good English teachers who nurtured and supported me. In fact, I have dedicated my first short story collection, Dead Men’s Teeth & Other Stories from Voices Past, to them: Ghislaine Anderton, Terry Binns and Joanna Cowie.
The idea for the collection came about after I started following the British Library’s Untold Lives blog, which features snippets from their vast archives.
I applied for Arts Council funding earlier this year, and was successful. This meant I could devote myself to intensive research and writing for six months. I applied for a British Library reader’s pass (which gives you access to their archives) and spent hours wading through old documents, some of them hundreds of years old.
One of the stories I came across was that of a ship’s surgeon, quarantined for three weeks aboard an indenture vessel stricken with cholera in the 19th century, outside Suriname. I did a degree in philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University, and in my writing like to explore broader facets of the human condition. So on the surface this is a dark and interesting tale of a man trapped on a ship. On another level it is about the lack of understanding we feel about why we are here, not sure if we are ever going to reach our destination, wherever that is.
I also find inspiration in observing people. One tip I would give emerging writers is get yourself a part-time job that is public-facing in some way. Working in a bar might not be glamorous, but it is a good way to support yourself financially in the early days, and there are lots of opportunities to watch people and notice their mannerisms.
Another tip would be to be open-minded about opportunities that come your way, even if they aren’t what you ultimately want to do. It will gain you experience, and also show agents/publishers that you are serious about your career. My first professional credit was as a screenwriter, on a public service information film. I have also written radio plays, taught screenwriting in schools, worked as a journalist, run career-strategy workshops for writers, and founded the Homeless Film Festival.
I’m passionate about ensuring that marginalised groups are able to benefit from creativity and the arts. Human beings have a unique capacity not only to create, but to appreciate art, and I think everyone should have access to that, whoever they are. It is part of enjoying and exploring the full spectrum of experiences available to us.
Every writer should join the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, whatever stage they are at in their career. It is the writers' trade union. I joined as soon as I got my first professional credit in 2010, and have been active in the East Midlands and London regions. I’ve been on committees and helped organise events. It’s a great way of meeting other writers, and also the more you put in, the more you get back. And you definitely get taken more seriously by agents and publishers if you are a member.
The London & South East branch of the Guild was with me every step of the way on Dead Men’s Teeth & Other Stories from Voices Past, giving me a letter of support for my application for Arts Council funding, and setting me up with a mentor, writer Caz Moran. She has been fantastic and a huge benefit to my professional development. This really helped me make the leap from writing in script form to writing short stories. It was a big jump but by the end of six months I was producing an average of 8,000 words per week.
The Guild has also helped me promote my short story collection, alongside the British Library, which is keen to show how its archives are far from stuffy. For me, they were a mine of endless fascinating stories, and a seed for my creativity.”
Find out more
Dead Men’s Teeth’s & Other Stories from Voices Past is published by Mardibooks. The collection is published in collaboration with the British Library and is funded as part of an Arts Council programme to support emerging writers.
To book tickets for the launch event at the British Library on 20 October, where there will be readings and dramatic performances, visit the British Library website.
Writers' Guild members are automatically entitled to a British Library reader's pass.
Jamie Rhodes has produced a video on career strategy for writers:
What people are saying about the book
“Jamie Rhodes has mined and minted gold from the British Library Archives. Inspired by sources as various as a ship's surgeon's log, verbatim interviews, diaries or even advertisements for false teeth, Rhodes gives us glimpses into unexpected places, the forgotten corners of history, in stories told with the authentic weirdness of truth; touching, quirky and humane.”
Olivia Hetreed, President of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain
“We are delighted that our Untold Lives blog inspired this set of short stories created from the ‘small but beautiful details of real lives’ in the British Library Archive Collections.”
Margaret Makepeace, British Library Curator, India Office Records
Book cover design above by Christa Leask
Writers’ Guild member Mike Leigh’s much-anticipated Mr. Turner receives a gala screening at the 58th BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 8-19 October 2014.
The portrait of the artist JMW Turner is played by Timothy Spall, who won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for the role. The film focuses on the last 25 years of Turner’s life when his painting moved towards the Impressionist style for which he became remembered. It also probes the colourful life of a character who famously strapped himself to the mast of a ship so he could paint a snow storm.
Writer/director Mike Leigh has described Turner as "a great artist: a radical, revolutionary painter… I felt there was scope for a film examining the tension between this very mortal, flawed individual, and the epic work, the spiritual way he had of distilling the world."
The UK release date is set for 31 October 2014.
The BFI London Film Festival will bring 248 films to 17 venues across the capital over 12 days. It will feature screenings on themes including love, family, treasures, cult and thrill; and competitions, including the Best Film Award and First Feature Competition.
Other Writers’ Guild members whose work is being shown at the Festival include Gregory Burke ('71), Joe Fisher (Electricity), Leslie Stewart (Moomins on the Riviera) and Jack Thorne (War Book).
The full programme, including bookings, can be viewed here.
The close association between the Birmingham Literature Festival and the Writers’ Guild continues for this annual event, which runs from 2-11 October 2014.
The Festival, organised by Writing West Midlands, has been a staple of the city’s autumn calendar for 15 years.
Highlights this year include Meera Syal giving a talk on her writing, Jackie Kay celebrating National Poetry Day, Roger McGough and Liz Berry bringing their poetry to life, an evening with South African director, actress and writer Janet Suzman, and a day of BBC Radio programme recordings including Poetry Please and With Great Pleasure.
The Writers’ Guild has a members’-only event at the Festival, and there are also discounts for members at other talks.
Steven Knight: Writing Peaky Blinders
2pm, 6 October 2014
Peaky Blinders was a criminal gang based in Birmingham in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the earliest examples of modern street sub-culture, they got their name from sewing razor blades into the peaks of their caps, and have been brought to life by Oscar-nominated writer/director Steven Knight in his BBC historical drama series of the same name. This special media industry event is exclusively for Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, BBC Drama Village and Royal Television Society members. Steven Knight will talk to Writers’ Guild deputy chair Tim Stimpson about how he created compelling drama from a previously little-known period of Birmingham’s social history.
There is also another public talk at 6-7.30pm on the same day. Guild Members are entitled to a concessionary rate of £6. Further details and bookings here.
Writing from the Home Front
5.30-6.30pm, 8 October 2014
BBC Radio 4 is marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War with Home Front, a landmark drama series produced in Birmingham. It tells the stories of fictional characters who keep the home fires burning over the course of four years of war. Unprecedented in scale, the series includes 500, 12-minute episodes, broadcast until 2018 in ‘real time’, with each day’s episode set exactly a century earlier.
The series is being celebrated at the Birmingham Literature Festival with a panel event made up of Home Front editor Jessica Dromgoole, writers Shaun McKenna and Fiona Joseph, and actor Bella Hamblin. It will be chaired by historical adviser Professor Maggie Andrews.
Writers’ Guild members are entitled to a concessionary rate of £6. Further details and bookings here.
6-7pm, 10 October 2014
Birmingham can rightfully lay claim to the title of ‘Soap City’, with The Archers, Doctors and Crossroads, among others, being produced, set or originally recorded here.
A panel of writers offer their insights on West Midlands’ connection with this genre, and share some of the particular challenges of writing for long-running series. Panellists include Guild members Mary Cutler (The Archers, Crossroads) and Tim Stimpson (The Archers/Ambridge Extra), Gregory Leadbetter (Silver Street) and Claire Bennett (Doctors).
Writers’ Guild members are entitled to a concessionary rate of £6. Further details and bookings here.
See the full Birmingham Literature Festival event calendar here.
Over 50,000 writers for film and TV were represented at the World Conference of Screenwriters (WCOS), which took place on 1-2 October 2014 in Warsaw.
A delegation from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain joined 29 other guilds and writers' organisations from 19 European countries, plus North America, New Zealand, Israel, Mexico, South Africa and India.
The conference, the third of its kind, took as its theme the ‘golden age of TV’ and explored issues affecting creators in the audio-visual sector. These included writing for an international market, independent cinema, episodic television and children and young audiences.
It also brought together authors of globally renowned film and TV productions, Oscar winners and holders of other prestigious awards, including Writers’ Guild member Andrew Davies (House of Cards) and Israeli film and TV writer Hagai Levi (In Treatment).
BAFTA-nominee and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain President Olivia Hetreed was among the delegates, and took part in panel discussions on the lack of representation of women writers and the pros and cons of co-production.
Writers’ Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett took part in panel discussions focusing on negotiation and copyright.
The international gathering of screenwriters' guilds, unions and associations brought together the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) and the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds (IAWG), of which the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is a member.
Previous World Conferences of Screenwriters have been held in Barcelona (2012) and Athens (2009). They built on successful joint initiatives including the European Screenwriters' Manifesto (2006) and an International Day of Solidarity in support of the Writers Guild of America high-profile strike in 2007/8.
Written Into the Picture, a report investigating screenwriters’ lack of visibility at film festivals, was published at the second conference in Barcelona in 2012 where it was resolved that the vital contribution of screenwriters needed to be more fully acknowledged.
“It is fantastic that writers and their guilds from many countries can gather to discuss the issues they face – and even better that WCOS is now genuinely global, with representatives from every continent,” said Writers’ Guild of Great Britain General Secretary Bernie Corbett. “TV, film and the other media are all now global – and we are also going global in our battle to preserve and improve writers’ pay, terms and rights. Power to us!”
You can read the two resolutions that were passed at the conference, plus closing remarks, here.
Nominations are now being accepted for the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards 2014.
The Awards will be presented by writer, presenter, comedian, actress and producer Sandi Toksvig at a ceremony in central London on 19 January 2015.
Writers will be honoured in the following categories: TV, Theatre, Film, Books, Radio, Games, Children’s (TV and theatre).
The eligibility period is from 1 June 2013 to 26 September 2014 and all entries must be received by 17 October 2014.
There used to be a cliché that what America did yesterday, Britain would do tomorrow. Let’s hope it no longer holds, because some pretty rotten things are happening to writers in the US right now.
Horror stories have been emerging over the summer about the exploitation of writers on US reality shows, including some shows produced by the American subsidiary of ITV. People working on these shows have been put at risk because of disregard for health and safety, have been forced to work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and if they complain they get sacked. They have no union protection, and without unionisation have no access to employer-provided health care.
Read this article in the Washington Post by the executive director of the Writers Guild of America East, Lowell Peterson. Also see the Gawker blog.
Two for the price of one
Unscrupulous drama and comedy producers have invented a loophole in standard practice to engage two writers as a “team” and pay them a single salary at the WGA minimum – or half each. Naturally, both writers are expected to commit themselves body and soul to the show. It is a clear and direct violation of the Guild’s rules. Read more