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Martin Day on nine years of writing for Doctors
I’ve been writing for Doctors, BBC One’s daytime serial-drama-not-soap-unless-we’re-up-for-the-UK-Soap-Awards, for a little over nine year. I’ve never been a contract writer, guaranteed a certain number of commissions, but even so have managed to write 13 episodes in that time. That’s about one every eight months (maths never was my strong point). Or, to put it another way, each one was like a baby in script form (neither was biology).
So it’s pretty obvious that there are far better writers than me out there, who have written more episodes of various soaps and dramas, much more quickly. Still, with the creative life being as precarious as it is, I remain grateful for these ports in the freelance storm. And, however you slice and dice it, nine years is quite a long time to devote to anything. I’ve watched pretty much every episode during that time. I’ve lived with the characters almost as much as I’ve shared time and insight with friends and family. I’m used to writing for it. Never confident, but I think I have some sort of understanding.
It’s got me thinking about what benefits can come from such a longstanding commitment to a single series. First off, let’s look at this selfishly, from my perspective as a jobbing writer. I think I’ve learned a bit about writing in general, and scriptwriting in particular. I’ve always considered myself a slow learner (you should read my first TV tie-in novel… On second thoughts, no, really, don’t – it’s like a black hole of compacted awfulness). So I can confidently state, hand on heart, that I’m better (or less bad) than I was. Usually less ‘on the nose’, often crisper. I’m better at getting to the point, and getting out again. I know when to do subtle, and when to state the bleedin’ obvious. (This is TV, not Chekhov.)
I’ve even reached that stage where sometimes I hear a script editorial voice at the back of my mind warning me of the heffalump trap I’m just about to blunder into. Much better to avoid said traps than to ignore the shouted warning and desperately reposition yourself on the map later.
The Guild will be giving a session on the same day at 3pm entitled “The Writers’ Guild: who we are, what we do, and why we do it”. The session includes a brief introduction on the general work of the Guild, explaining its function as a TUC-affiliated union for writers negotiating minimum contract terms with BBC, ITV, PACT, TMA, ITC and others, as well as its role in lobbying for writers in Westminster, Edinburgh and Brussels, advising and representing members over work issues, informing and communicating with the writing community.
This will be followed by an example of the Guild’s work with its current theatre campaign. Playwright and Guild member Fin Kennedy and Oxford PhD student Helen Campbell Pickford will host a talk and Q&A on their widely debated In Battalions report about how Arts Council cuts are affecting new play development in England. The authors will give an overview of the campaign so far, followed by an update on the latest development – a Delphi study, which aims to find solutions to the problem. This involves a voting process in which all theatre professionals can take part. More information on how to do so will be given on the day. Read more about it on Fin’s blog.
This event is an exciting insight into the benefits that Guild membership can bring, and the support and opportunities it can offer to proactive members.
The venue is: Fringe Central, Appleton Tower, University of Edinburgh, Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9LE
Tracy Brabin reports on the launch of the BFI Statistical Yearbook
Facts&Stats – the BFI launch the Statistical Yearbook 2013
Statistics, love them or hate them, they’re the only thing that gives any argument validity, but on a hot and muggy day it was with a heavy heart I entered the BFI. Will the room be full of statistical gonks and geeks? I needn’t have worried. After a couple of quips on the Royal Birth; ‘this baby (the report) weighs in at 205 pages after a 7 month labour,’ Sean Perkins got underway with the difficult job of translating his department’s analysis into easy to digest numbers for non-numerates like me.
Some figures were extremely positive. UK cinema admissions were the third highest of the last 40 years, up at 647 releases. Revenues were at an all time high with ‘Skyfall’ setting a new Box Office record at £103 million, followed by independent films ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ and ‘The Woman in Black’, all in a market worth £4billion.
UK writers also proved a draw to audiences; only 5% of films released during the year were adapted from UK story material but accounted for 23% of the total box office. These films were based on characters first written in 1937 (The Hobbit), 1958 (Bond) and 1983 (Woman in Black), a clear reminder of the enduring economic value of British cultural excellence.
We also discovered that the cinema-going audience is ageing and there was a rise of the over 45’s buying tickets, up from 14% in 1977 to 36% in 2012, with Simon Beaufoy’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ topping the viewing chart.
Abigail Tarttelin explains how she found the space and the passion to write Golden Boy
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: 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.
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.
This event is for Full Members of the Writers' Guild only.