That difficult second novel

on Thursday, 18 July 2013 10:50. Posted in Books and Poetry

Abigail Tarttelin explains how she found the space and the passion to write Golden Boy

Leigh Keily Abigail-Tarttelin

I have been told that second novels are the hardest to write. Perhaps it’s the expectation that you, the writer, will make huge leaps forward in ability. Perhaps it’s because you worry the genre and message of the new novel should complement the first. Perhaps you think: what do I want my oeuvre to say? Will my agent like it?

I came to writing from outside the literary world. In Grimsby, my hometown, I had never met anyone involved with the business of books. In fact, when I was first published, I felt foolish telling people what I did. Even to me, it sounded a bit unrealistic.

Writing has always been a compulsion for me rather than a passion. It has reared its head from time to time, between badly paid acting jobs, grueling night shifts in a Leicester Square casino and a short, greasy stint in a chippie. A voice would arrive in my brain; my fingers would act as conduit, and I would bang out the thoughts of an imaginary someone.

When I was 19, the voice of Flick, an angry, intelligent 15-year-old boy, arrived to rant, or amuse, or philosophise in my ear. Flick would describe scenes from his life, and sometimes they would be scenes from my life. Gradually, a story formed, and in it were themes that had been brewing in my mind for a long time: frustration at the lack of a decent education, first love, the selfishness of drug dependency.

Eventually I had over 20,000 words on my laptop. I wanted to finish it, but I didn’t consider myself a writer. I thought being a novelist was something you did when you were 50 and had useful knowledge to impart. Two years went by. Then one night, the compulsion returned. I suddenly knew how to structure the book. It would be in short, punchy chapters and would be aimed at contemporary teenagers, particularly boys; a group I felt was under-represented by current fiction. It would be realistic and not fantastical, with useful thoughts and advice for adolescent readers. I realized although I didn’t know much about the world, I knew more about being 15 than any 50-year-old could claim. I had a mission and because of that I felt I had a right to be a writer.

Turning the Page - Conference in Reading

on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 08:10. Posted in Events

Turning the Page: Creating New Writing (1945-2013) - discount for Guild members

Organised by the University of Reading and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London Friday 13th - Saturday 14th September 2013, Faculty of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading

In the last of three conferences organized by the AHRC-funded project, 'Giving Voice to the Nation: The Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre and Performance in Britain 1945 -1995', the University of Reading and Victoria and Albert Museum seek to chart and explore the peaks and troughs of New Writing since the advent of state subsidy to the arts. With a specific focus upon fostering dialogue across the decades, this conference brings together academics, practitioners, funders and policy-makers to share knowledge,perspectives and insights into the histories, practices and discourses of 'New Writing'.

Taking place at the University of Reading on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th September, the conference will host panel discussions and papers on a wide variety of topics such as The Arts Council and New Writing, Authors and Authorship, Dramaturgy and Playwriting and Text Based / Non Text Based Theatre. Over 25 papers will be delivered over the course of the conference, interspersed with keynote platforms from practitioners including Simon Stephens, Roy Williams, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Jonathan Petherbridge, Steven Atkinson, Dan Rebellato, Fin Kennedy, Michael Raab and Andy Smith.

Meet the directors: networking event with Directors UK

on Thursday, 04 July 2013 09:07. Posted in Events

An event for Full Members of the Writers' Guild

Following the success of previous networking events, the Writers’ Guild is organising a summer event with Directors UK from 6.30pm on 1st August in Covent Garden. Whether you are an experienced screenwriter or you looking for a director to direct a short you have written, we will try to match you up.

If you are interested in attending, simply fill in the form (Word doc), telling us about what you write and the kind of director you would like to meet and whether your project is for film or TV, what genre, budget etc. We’ll then match you up with a director or two whom we think may suit you.

Places are limited to ensure a balance of writers and directors. Drinks will be provided.

Book a place by completing an application form and emailing it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

This event is for Full Members of the Writers' Guild only.

From The Bill to Beverley Hills

on Tuesday, 02 July 2013 08:27. Posted in Film

Clive Dawson on finding favour in Hollywood with his feature film script Last Days On Mars


Liev Schreiber in Last Days On Mars, adapted by Clive Dawson from the book by Sydney J Bounds

If it’s something you aspire to, rest assured that no matter what stage you’re at in your career it’s never too late to have a crack at Hollywood. It goes without saying that you’ll need a little talent, preferably some kind of track record, and a great deal of good fortune. Above all else, you’ll need a good sample script. Getting through the doors in the first place is the hard part; the rest is relatively straightforward. There’s no set way to go about it, but here’s the approach that worked (more through luck than judgement) for me.

Until its cancellation I was a regular writer on TV series The Bill, and had been for many years. I enjoyed writing for the show, particularly in its earlier incarnation of half-hour, stand-alone single dramas, but towards the end it became clear to many of the writers that the show was unlikely to survive; ITV had tampered with the format to the point of destruction. I’d written for other shows over the years but had never found another ‘home’ and, despite constant submissions and occasional development deals here and there, my original series and single drama ideas never seemed to find favour with the network heads. In short, my screen credits were limited, and once The Bill was axed my prospects in TV didn’t look good.

Fortunately, I’d never entirely given up on the hope of working in film. I’d had an original screenplay (a World War II psychological thriller entitled The Bunker) produced many years previously. Although I all but disowned the director’s turgid film version the screen credit itself was welcome and my screenplay continued to prove a well-received writing sample. Nevertheless a subsequent film project, funded by the UK Film Council, ended up in legal limbo due to the collapse of the production company, and my long-standing agent gradually seemed to lose interest in promoting me. Now, with my regular TV work gone, it was time to either sink or swim.

Against this backdrop, I decided to risk a little of my own money obtaining an option on a published short story, The Animators, by the prolific British author Sydney J Bounds. It’s an extremely creepy 11-page science-fiction thriller that I first read in an anthology many years ago, and I’d always felt it could form the basis of an effective film. A series of internet searches and emails to publishers finally led me to Philip Harbottle, the agent representing the estate of Syd Bounds. My initial query was polite and simple: were the rights to the story available, and if so, would it be possible to negotiate an option? To my amazement, the answer to both questions was yes. Phil was extremely accommodating and we eventually agreed an option for an initial sum, against a larger additional payment if the project went into fully-funded development.

The Guild at the Edinburgh Film Festival

on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 08:59. Posted in Film


At the Edinburgh Film Festival this weekend, Andrew Walsh, Treasurer of the Writers' Guild, spoke at a lively panel session on writing for multi-platform media - Thinking Outside the Page: Expanding Models of Storytelling (pictured, above).

Fellow panellists were Phil Parker, founder of the legendary MA Screenwriting at LCP, and now launching a website, where all kinds of creatives can meet and work together on a wide range of projects, and Olivia Hetreed, screenwriter and new President of the Guild. The panel was chaired by James Mavor, also a screenwriter and lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University.

The panellists discussed their own wide variety of working practices and range of experience from video games to television and feature films large and small and also explored with the audience the challenges and opportunities of new media and the practicalities of audience reach and financing such blue sky ventures.

Later, Olivia Hetreed was joined by Andrea Gibb, incoming co-Chair of the Film Committee and one of Scotland's most successful screenwriters, to present the findings of an international survey of film festivals, Written into the Picture. While many of the findings present a grim picture - 80% of surveyed festivals invited no or fewer than five writers as guests and over 60% do not have a Screenwriting Award - we also found that North American Festivals have a more positive attitude with two thirds inviting writers. While the statistics are shocking the survey also revealed the pressure festivals are under financially, from distributors and press and caused some festivals to reconsider their attitude to writers.

In an informal discussion with a large audience at the Traverse Bar, Andrea and Olivia considered the further action that can be taken by the Guild and by individual writers to improve the situation, including follow up surveys, awards for best practice - Edinburgh itself is one of the most writer-friendly festivals, with many events and a large number of writer delegates - with the aim of shifting perception among the festivals, press and public regarding the truth about the complex creation of a feature film.

The event was followed by a very popular networking drinks event where it was good to catch up with Guild members and especially Scottish Branch rep, Julie Ann Thomason. Scottish members should get in touch with Julie via the Guild to be part of future events.

More photos:

A tribute to Olwen Wymark

on Friday, 21 June 2013 06:25. Posted in Theatre

David James remembers writer Olwen Wymark who died last week

Olwen was extraordinary. Vibrantly alive and present, raffishly glamourous, fiercely intelligent, often maddening, and with great human fragility. She was a real dame (in the American sense) and the full deal.

Olwen loved writing and writers, and one of her greatest passions was championing writing as a viable profession that would pay the bills. On the Theatre Committee, we always spoke of the ‘career playwright’ and their need for support (she had little truck with funding initiatives aimed at the likes of ‘Mrs. Ding-dong’s Bell-ringing School’). Olwen was chair of the Theatre Committee from 1989 through 1999. She worked closely with David Edgar on drawing the Theatre Writers’ Union into the Guild, was tirelessly involved in endless Arts Council dialogs as a member of their now-gone Drama Panel and through meetings with New Writing officer Charles Hart. She deeply mourned – as did all of us on the Theatre Committee -- the losses over a decade ago of ring-fencing for new writing and of blue-sky bursaries, which gave writers the chance to freely explore new ideas and themes. Often together or with others like Neil Duffield, we trawled the regional ACE offices, talking to Drama Officers, some of whom, like Alison Gagen at West Midlands and Ian Tabron in Manchester were cherished allies, and some of whom felt like a total waste of space. But we kept at it. It was a time when regional new writing policy very much depended on the commitment of the officer in place. She was always in a dialog with SOMEBODY.

Olwen’s own writing was very precious to her. Although I can’t speak fully about her writing credits, her most prominent play was certainly Find Me (1977), which is still often a set text on UK school syllabi, and she would glow with pride when receiving a letter from a student, about how the play remained relevant. She approached every project, from the smallest to the biggest (which included a massive – and brilliant – adaptation of Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, with her old friend Paul Schofield) with equal commitment. She would go to the British Library day after day in her little car to write SOMETHING on a yellow pad in her great, scrawling hand; and – as for all of us – it pained her deeply how difficult it was to actually get something commissioned and produced. I remember a late reading at John Calder’s bookstore (John was another old friend) when she spoke so movingly about how she always struggled with her writing.