Category Archives: Writing

Blog posts that have to do with my playwriting, Community Theatre or freelance writing interests.

5 reasons I didn’t make it.

Stop me if you’ve heard this already.

I’ve been writing with intent to earn since 1998. Been dreaming of being an author for another two decades before that. I have written and published something like ten e-books, over eighty plays, several short stories and some non-fiction articles. I’ve written a couple of screenplays that have gone nowhere, and I’m still not rich or famous.

July sixth 1975

To be clear, I do comparatively well from my play writing. When there’s not a global pandemic shutting down every public gathering, I get a monthly payment for my scripts that’s very nice, especially considering there’s no heavy lifting involved. Some even won awards, like this nice medal.

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But no matter what, I’m not topping the bestseller charts with my books. Look:

Amazon top 100

All the way up to number 73! Inside the top 100 of a very, very narrow category! Anyway, my point here is not just to whine about not being an NYT bestseller, but to explain why I’m not. I mean, sure, there are LOTS of reasons, but here are the top 5 I can think of. You can add more in the comments if you would like to be hurtful.

1. Writing is rewriting.

Stephen King says the first draft is you telling yourself the story*. That’s all well and good, but you should get to the end, then (after going and doing something else for a while) go back and look at the story you’ve got. You should maybe think about theme, and how to emphasize it. Look at the characters you have, and see if there are any you’re hanging on to for sentimental reasons. Do they all serve the story? Look at the different scenes you have. Are THEY all important? Is there one there that you don’t need, but you just think it’s funny? Is that a problem?

See, rewriting can be hard. people say “Stick your draft away for a few months and it reads like someone else wrote it.” and that’s good advice, because they’re right. But the big test is whether you can take that story you built, word by word, and break it down, then reassemble it as a different version. I can’t. Even when I have had brilliant people like Lucy V Hay showing me the parts that need fixing, I can’t do the work. I’ve done it with plays – rewriting, restructuring, changing the endings. But not short stories or novels. So what I end up with is a first draft. Maybe proofread, maybe spellchecked, but not fundamentally different to the first version that fell out of my head, and I think people can tell that.

2. Bang the drum.

Nobody thinks to themselves “I love selling things! I think I’ll write a novel!” And no one says “Hey, I’m a novellist, but my favourite part is doing the publicity!” If you’ve chosen to devote huge chunks of your time to sitting alone, building imaginary worlds and people out of words, then you are unlikely to be the kind of outgoing gladhander who can sell product to everyone.

And yet, if you want to jump from writer to published author, you have to learn to sell yourself and your book. Even if you think you’re going to get an agent and get picked up by the Big Six and they’ll do the publicity, you have to sell yourself to that agent. You have to believe your work is good, believe you have more in you, and you have to be able to communicate that belief to someone who’s never met you.

I once rang a publisher when I had finished a first draft of a novel. I don’t know what I was thinking, but the poor guy actually answered the phone. I told him I’d just written a book, and he asked me to describe it. Right then I knew that I wasn’t going to make it. I stuttered and stammered and I credit that unknown phone-answerer with tremendous kindness. I don’t remember him sneering at me (as he should), nor slamming down the phone in disgust (also warranted.) He taught me a valuable lesson, which is that you have to have a pitch at your fingertips, and you have to make your story sound good. I did not.

3. Pick a lane.

This is maybe a little more controversial, but I think it applies to us enthusiastic amateurs. I mentioned I have ten e-books out there, but only two are novels. One’s a zombie novel, the other a vaguely YA book about a musician. I have four collections of short stories. One is Sci-Fi, two are coffee-break stories (warm, minor-twist endings, no bloodshed or graphic stuff), and one is… other stuff. I have a book of poetry. I have a non-fiction book about my family’s first year emigrating to Canada, and three non-fiction books about my hobby of building prop helmets. The point is, if you like one of my books, there’s no guarantee you’re going to like any of the others. And if I wanted to approach a regular publisher or agent, I could show them my dazzling sales stats (“Look! This month there were three sales! Three! In the same month!”), but would have to acknowledge that they are spread out amongst different genres. No big, pre-built audience waiting there for my next zombie novel.

When people talk about e-publishing, they often mention having a tail. Publish two or three books before you expect to pick up a serious readership. They may be right, but I bet it helps if you stick within your genre. I have a couple of friends who have written sequential books – Rick Wayne and Lisa Cohen, for example. Their earlier books were written on faith, and their readership grew as the series progressed. The clamour that people made on social media for the next book interested new readers. Don’t be a butterfly author.

4. Maintain your platform.

Everyone knows that authors these days have to have a social media presence, but that’s getting harder and harder to define. Let’s start with where I went wrong: I loved G+, built up a group of friends there, and gradually slid off the public face of G+ into more private group areas. It was more fun for me, but less useful for selling my books. I have a Twitter presence, but find I’m resistant to the Twitter style of trumpet blowing – posting pictures of your book cover fourteen times a day with pull quotes from other people saying how much they loved the book. Worse are the ones that try to give a sample of the book’s dialogue without running out of characters. Still, that’s more than I do. I can’t publicise my books on social media without deprecating them, even though I have devoted a lot of time to each one, and they’re sooooo cheap! But I don’t have a plan, I don’t have a schedule, and I lurk on Twitter rather than dividing my time more usefully amongst other sites too, like Goodreads, and Instagram and whatever else the kids are into these days. Somewhere online, there’s a group of people to whom your book will appeal. Finding them can be a big challenge, or maybe even a part time job. But if you choose not to do it, like me, then you can’t complain about book sales. Well, you CAN, but no one will listen.

5. Don’t drop the ball.

So, you write your novel. You re-write your novel. You get it edited (always a good plan). You maybe re-write it one more time. Then you go out to sell it. Maybe it sells, maybe it doesn’t. You sit down to write novel number two. The thing is, don’t completely abandon your first novel, especially if you’re self publishing. It may feel like last week’s laundry, but there will always be people out there who haven’t heard about it. People join and leave social media sites all the time. If you’re maintaining your platform, your number of new followers (or whatever) should be rising, and those new people need to know about your first efforts as well as your latest blockbuster. Yes, there’s a balance between ‘I didn’t know you’d written that!” and “Dear god, are you STILL banging on about that old thing?”, but you can find that balance. Look at what others do. Work out your own strategy for new versus old. It may be that, like Seanan Mcguire or Delilah S Dawson, you’ll want to split your genres out under different names, but whatever you decide, remember to cheer for your early efforts too. Any one of them could be the way a new reader finds their way to you.

So, Dim, does all this negativity mean you’re done with writing e-books?

I don’t know. The pandemic hasn’t been good for my confidence, or my creativity, like a lot of people. And there’s that stupid feedback loop, where I don’t make any money from e-books, so I don’t invest any time in them, but they’re not going to sell if I don’t invest the time (see three of the points above) and right now I should have time but I still can’t muster time and energy to do all the things I have to, let alone the things I think I want to.

Well, that got dark quickly. Are you still writing plays?

Yes. Sllllloooooooooooowwwwwllllllyyyyy. But yes. And tomorrow I may laugh again, because me and my writing partners at TLC Creative are still working on The Hound of Music.

Thanks.

 

 

*He says other stuff too, I expect, like “Pass the potatoes.” and “Who elected this clown?”, but I thought I should stick with the relevant stuff.

Talking a good game

My next book

Publicity is a tricky thing. A lot of social media is people carefully trying to sell you their stuff, without looking like they’re trying to sell you anything at all. Influencers call this “your brand”, or your “author platform”, and some people are better at it than others, like most things in life.

My own experience with selling my stuff (ie, plays, ebooks and whatnot) online is that I am not good at talking myself up. I like the things I have written, am often quite proud of them, but it just doesn’t feel right to shout “My stuff is great! Buy it!” without at least adding “Of course, you may disagree, and there’s lots of other great stuff out there which may suit your needs better, I would perfectly understand if you want some time to compare and contrast and make an informed decision…”

This is NOT a great advertising strategy.

The trouble is, if you’re going to build a brand online, you need to be consistent. If you’re going to be consistent, you have two choices. The first is to invent the person you’re going to be, and stick rigidly to that persona whenever you post ANYTHING AT ALL. The second is to be yourself, and admit that sometimes that might not be great for everybody. This is why we see actors or authors get slammed for having political opinions online. We think we want to get to know the real person, but often there are doors we don’t want opened, or illusions we want to keep intact.

Part of who I am is the self-deprecating, anxious, uncertain person who feels it’s wrong to brashly boast of your brilliance. Certainly you won’t find me quoting reviews of my stuff on Twitter where I refer to myself in the third person (I have seen authors do this, and it looks weird.)

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying, when I finally got “Even More Cosplay Disasters” fixed for the third time and published for the second time, I was all out of enthusiasm for doing any publicity at all. I’d done a little for the first publication, and luckily it had fallen flat, because the book had NOT been properly published, and anyone who bought it would only have been able to download the cover.

I thought I might try and interest the local papers, but writing a press release is really just talking about yourself in the third person again, so instead I wrote directly to the reporter for the local paper (Janis Cleugh of the Tri City News) and asked if she might be interested in the story of a playwright who builds strange helmets and props with his daughter. She was, and she came round to interview me and my Eldest Weasel, as well as taking a very nice picture. She was kind enough to mention the books, as well as being very thorough in her questioning (best of all, she didn’t ask “Why the hell do you bother with all this tosh?”, which is Mrs Dim’s favourite question.)

Here’s the online copy of the article:

https://www.tricitynews.com/entertainment/sci-fi-superfans-build-costume-props-1.23852723

Sales of the books have not gone through the roof, so as an advertising stunt, it hasn’t achieved its aim. On the other hand, I did take a positive step towards marketing, and it was a different one to the ones I’ve done before. We got a nice picture out of it, if nothing else, and the article seems to have spurred Eldest Weasel on to fixing up Derek the Dalek for the next Fan Expo.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe Re-watch

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Mrs Dim found a graphic very much like the one above soon after we saw the brilliant “Captain Marvel” at the cinema. Since, like everyone else, we were waiting for “Endgame” to end the misery following “Infinity War”. it seemed like a good idea to work our way through the movies again, following this sequence.

Captain America:

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We always liked the original Captain America movie, with Haley Attwell giving a star performance, and Tommy Lee Jones underplaying it brilliantly. Another family favourite is JJ Field, who the Weasels have loved since “Northanger Abbey”. I’m still amazed by the weedy young Steve Rogers, and while I know it was done with CGI, it hurts my head.

Iron Man:

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Like Captain America, time doesn’t seem to have affected this movie overmuch. Mrs Dim pointed out how much of a jerk Tony Stark really is in the movie, how unlikeable. His transformative event, the inciting incident of his storyline, really is traumatic and shapes his character for the upcoming movies as well as this one.

Iron Man 2:

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It seemed wrong to watch this movie next, with so many different characters to get through. Still, that’s what the instructions said, and we follow the instructions, no matter what.

There’s a lot of relevant parts to this movie, though I understand the criticisms levelled at it: At times the story meanders a little, and the logic of Tony discovering the element in a coded message from his father is…a reach, to be fair. Still, it underlines that Tony’s ego is unblunted, and causing trouble, something that gets dealt with in later films.

Thor:

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Thor always seemed an unlikely choice for a superhero, and I wasn’t that enthusiastic about seeing the movie. Chris Hemsworth is a great performer, though, and the movie is surprisingly funny at times. My family can’t get over Loki, of course. It’s fun, and it still looks good.

The Incredible Hulk:

I admit, we skipped this one. Mrs Dim wasn’t interested in watching it (I don’t know why) and I had seen it quite recently. I liked Ed Norton’s performance, I have a weakness for Liv Tyler and Tim Roth is always great value.

The Avengers:

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This is one of my favourites of the whole bunch. Whatever his failings as a person, I really like what Joss Whedon did with the challenge of bringing all these characters together and putting them through the wringer.

Iron Man 3:

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Tony’s journey is really the most interesting so far. This movie shows how dependent he’s become on his armour, the PTSD of his captivity compounded by the battle of New York. In trying to protect the ones he loves, he puts them in greater danger, and he has to rediscover the truth that he later tells Peter Parker “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve the suit.”

Thor Dark World:

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One of the positive things about this sequel is that Jane Foster is at least an active participant in the proceedings. We’re introduced to the unlikliest Infinity Stone and get a bundle more comedy lines and the twistiest twist ending of all.

Captain America, Winter Soldier:

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The most memorable part of this movie is that it reveals Hydra infiltrated SHIELD years ago, and upsets the apple cart in a big way. We meet new allies, like Agent Carter’s niece Sharon, and discover that Bucky didn’t die after all. We also get our first hint that Cap\s personal view on right and wrong might lead him into confrontation with authority figures.

Guardians of the Galaxy:

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I still love the first Guardians movie, though I have heard the soundtrack way too much and loathe every single song on it. Thanks for that, James Gunn! It’s still a fun ride, with the bonus of underlining the whole Infinity Stones ultimate power plot.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

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Again, it was weird to be watching the sequel instead of bouncing off to a different group of characters, but it was nice to get a swift answer to that “Hey your father was a mysterious ancient being” line that is dropped casually at the end of the first movie. In terms of the greater arc, the only thing this movie does is add Mantis to the team and grant Nebula a step on her redemption arc. Also, I hate this soundtrack too. Really, the nostalgia for the music of the 80’s is overrated.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Tony builds on his “causing problems by trying to save the world” theme of Iron Man 3, and we get a brief introduction to Wakanda here. There are the first signs of fractures in the team,  and the addition of a couple of new recruits. My favourite part of this movie will always be Hawkeye NOT dying, despite the fact that he promised his wife he would come back to finish the renos. There was actually a groan in the cinema as he said it, and we were all wrong.

AntMan:

After the “world in peril” stakes of Ultron, AntMan feels like a real downshift. Sure, the Yellowjacket super-soldier could be a threat to world peace and whatnot, but really we’re concerned with Scott getting through the day without being sent back to jail. It FEELS like an origin story, and it feels late int he series to be introducing someone.

Avengers: Civil War

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This is the payoff for Cap’s conflict over Bucky and the fracture lines we saw beginning in “Age of Ultron”. We also get to meet Black Panther.

What’s interesting about this is understanding both sides of the argument – Tony wants some oversight, to try and prevent the guilt he feels over the innocent who suffer. Cap wants the freedom to do what he believes is right, what he’s “meant’ to do, since he has these strengths. I like that we get to hear just a small section of the story of those who are affected by the actions of the superheroes – not those rescued by them, or defeated by them, but the collateral damage. Every fight we have seen in the movies to this point has included massive structural damage, and it’s good to know that the writers think of the small people in their stories too.

Black Panther:

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Introduced in Civil War, Black Panther doesn’t need an origin story, though in the opening of the movie we do get a potted history of Wakanda and the people who live there. Like many, many people, I loved the colours and sounds of Wakanda, and though I have to agree with my kids (why didn’t he just tell Killmonger that he had been treated badly and accept him as part of the family?) I enjoyed the film immensely and have rewatched it several times.

Spiderman Homecoming:

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Spidey also got a cameo in Civil War, and one of the fun parts of this movie is how those events were shown from Peter’s point of view. There’s also a more realistic look at the problems of being a superhero : how do you find crimes to stop? How do you tell the guy locked out of his own car from the professional car thief? And, obviously, what do you do when you find out your prom date’s father is a supervillain? (I admit, I don’t know if prom and homecoming are different things, and have no interest in finding out…). Despite the struggles, the film is fun and bears many rewatches.

Ant Man and the Wasp

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This was the first sequel where I found myself telling other people “Yeah, you maybe should watch a few of the other Marvel movies to get the most out of this one.” You don’t HAVE to, but it does make more sense if you do.

I like this movie particularly because Evangeline Lily actually gets to do stuff, and it features Hannah John-Kamen, who is awesome (I’m a big “Killjoys” fan). From the trailers we’ve seen for Endgame, there’s a lot of significance in the plot of “Ant Man and the Wasp” with regard to the Quantum realm and time manipulation and stuff. Unless that’s all a red herring.

Doctor Strange:

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There’s a recurring theme with me and these Marvel movies: Characters I’m not interested in get movies, and I enjoy them way more than I thought I would. It happened with Thor, Black Panther, Ant Man and then Doctor Strange. Again, there was a sense of “Wait, we have to learn about ANOTHER new character?” but of course he’s tied to another one of the Infinity Stones, so we have to learn who he is and how he became the master of the mystic arts. I found the film enjoyable, despite the American accent Benedict Cumberbatch had to put on, though I wish Rachel McAdam had more to do in the movie.

Thor Ragnarok:

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This is THE family favourite. If there’s a three-way tie for the Friday night movie, we can always compromise with Ragnarok. The look of the film, the lines, the characters, and the story all work well for us. The only stain on the movie is knowing what comes next.

Avengers: Infinity War

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Which brings us up to date. One of the things I admire most about this movie is that it allows the heroes to succeed in every way but the vital one – they defeat the minor henchmen, they stay alive against the odds, they drive off threats, and yet even when they band together and Thor produces his special weapon, Thanos (spoiler alert!) gets all the stones and clicks his fingers. It’s a tough job to do: write a story where both the villains and heroes are capable, and the heroes don’t win by default, and the villains don’t win because of an unlikely error.

We’re hoping to go and see Endgame in the first week it’s out. I don’t doubt there will be spoilers galore, and I’ll do what I can to avoid them, but I spend a lot of time online, and some people delight in ruining these things. A few days before I was going to see “The Force Awakens”, someone posted a picture of Han being skewered by Kylo Ren. No words, just the photo, dropped into a timeline where people would not have a choice about whether or not they would see it. Because I knew it was coming, I spent a lot of the movie in a permanent cringe. These things matter. Don’t be a spoiler.

I enjoyed rewatching all these movies, and I think we’ll do it again another time. They’re all still good, despite the fact that it’s been a decade or more that they’ve been being released. It was a bold strategy, and I’m glad it paid off, but I hope it doesn’t become the accepted norm. Not everything needs an interconnected universe to tell a story, and it’s telling the story that’s the important part of every movie.

 

Why do you have unfinished or unpublished projects?

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You work hard on your manuscript. You produce anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words, right? That’s a LOT.

So why, why on earth would you NOT submit that completed manuscript to a publisher? And if you haven’t reached the end, but you know the story and you have the drive, why not FINISH the story?

A lot of authors who have made it (a term that covers so much ground it’s pointless trying to define it) will tell you they have complete manuscripts in their desk drawers (sometimes virtual desk drawers) that will never see the light of day. It can be an infuriating thought. Imagine, another Stephen King novel, or a Delilah S Dawson book that you can never read! Why would they do that? If a story is worth investing enough time and energy to type to completion, it’s worth reading, right?

The sad answer is no. Like Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself”. Until that first draft is down, you have no idea, really, what the story is going to look or sound like to anyone else. And sometimes, you look at what you’ve got and you say “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, that’s what I wanted to say, but it’s not good enough. It’s not right.” Sometimes that means draft two will come at the same story from a different direction. Sometimes it means you explore the same theme with a different story. Some of those drafts just go into the drawer.

Years ago, I wrote a complete screenplay. I used some bespoke software that doesn’t even exist anymore, I worked hard, and I got from “fade in” to “fade out”, and I was really pleased with myself. Pleased enough that I sent it off for some feedback.

What came back was a stack of notes. I began to re-work the screenplay from the notes, but it quickly became clear that the resultant story was not the one I’d written, and it wasn’t engaging me. If I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to do a great job writing it. I still loved the original story, I was glad I’d told it to myself, but it went into the drawer.

Not every story you tell will be for everyone else. Sometimes, we are the only audience we need for our stories.

Start as you mean to go on…

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The start of a new year is a great time for new beginnings. We make resolutions, renew memberships, draw up lists. We pledge on social media to be better, to be more consistent, more productive. In the post Christmas calm, when work has shut down and we bask in the warmth of good food, gift-giving, family and friends, a new start seems almost inevitable.

Neil deGrasse Tyson upset some people on Twitter by pointing out that January the first is only significant in the Gregorian Calendar.

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I understand why people were annoyed, but I think he’s right. If we’re only prepared to make a new start one day a year, what good is that? The day before the new year began, I tried to load up the file for my latest book, but it had corrupted, and all the work I had done up to that point was lost. One day it worked, the next day it didn’t. So, here’s the new year, and I’m preparing to make a new start on a project I was a third of the way through. And once that’s done, there are plays to write, sketches to produce, DIY and craft projects to take on. Each one will require a new start.

Every day is a new beginning. Enjoy the next 365 fresh starts.

As You Like It

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Let’s see – I’ve had a birthday, we’ve been camping, but school hasn’t started yet… It must be time for Bard on the Beach!

Every year we try to go (some years more successfully than others) and every year I am driven to blog about the experience because the productions are so good. Bard don’t need the publicity, I think, they’re doing just fine on sales. Tonight’s tent was sold out, and every seat occupied by an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

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With no visitors, it was only Mrs Dim, myself and all the Weasels, settling into our seats for a performance of “As You Like It”, a play that none of us were familiar with. Well, that’s to say, none of us had seen a full production, but it’s the play that contains the “All the world’s a stage..” speech, and one of the scenes was used in the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” Shakespearean Special ‘Pick Up Bard’ game.

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What really put the icing on the cultural cake for us this year, however, was a staggering coincidence. All this summer, Tiny Weasel has been obsessed with the Beatles. OBSESSED. She’s watched their films, documentaries, recited interviews and even purchased a cd! A Child of the Millennium, buying physical media! And this year’s production of As You Like It was going to feature 25 songs…by The Beatles!

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It was a toe-tapping extravaganza, with audience singalongs and plenty of sight gags, alongside the snappy dialogue. Mrs Dim’s favourite moment was

“She’s coming. Hide!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Shakespeare!

Bard on the Beach must work very hard to make this all look so effortless. It proves there’s life in the old plays yet, as there were people of all ages in the audience, and they had no trouble following the plot or the language. I’m already looking forward to next year.

The Play I didn’t write

First Lesson: Write what you know.

It’s advice handed out almost as soon as you begin, and it’s misunderstood, misapplied and misinterpreted over and over. It doesn’t mean write about the life you live, because if everyone did that there’d be no science fiction, no Steampunk, no historical romances, no pirate adventures, no Narnia or Hogwarts… It’s the emotions we know that matter, it’s writing the truth of how we are affected by events. CS Lewis was never offered Turkish Delight by a woman on a sleigh, but he did know what it was like to be a young boy, to be jealous, to want more. Because he knew, we understand why Edmund betrays his siblings, even if we don’t like him for it. It feels true.

Second Lesson: The only limit is your imagination.

You can write about anything. You can put Victorians on the moon, you can have the American lose the War of Independence, you can say there’s a nice Pot Noodle flavour…Anything can be written about. Anyone can write anything.

And yet. There’s that Jurassic Park warning, isn’t there?

Stop to think

When it comes to honing your craft, all writing is good. You have an idea, write it down. Try to express it as clearly as you can. Try different genres, different formats. Some things will click for you straightaway, some will take real effort, and what you want to do might not be the one that comes easily.

But if your goal is to put your stories out for other people to read, I think it’s worth considering if that story is yours to tell.

Recently the Chesil Theatre in Winchester announced their latest 10×10 competition. This is a great contest to find 10 ten-minute plays on a theme. Last year’s theme was David Bowie, and I had a chance to read through the winners of the competition and they were all excellent. Very different, in tone and style and even in inspiration, but all fitting the theme and all worth the audience’s time. I was keen to enter this year, and the theme of Hidden Worlds sounded great.

Almost immediately, I had an idea and started to sketch it out. And almost as quickly, I realised it wasn’t going to work. I’m a middle-aged white guy from the middle classes of the UK. I wanted to write a play about  a young black woman confronting her boss at work to try and make him see the world as she had experienced it, a world that was entirely hidden from him by the privilege he didn’t even understand he had. I’m sure I could’ve written a ten minute play along those lines. I’m sure some of the dialogue would’ve been quite compelling, and the point would have been made. I think the subject is important and is something that is finally drawing attention. But I’m not the person to write that story.

Is this wrong? Is this self-censorship? Well, I don’t think so. Years and years ago, I read “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole“, like thousands of other people in the UK. It was funny and touching and terrifyingly true, but I remember being just a little perturbed by the fact it had been written by an adult woman. “Who is she,” I thought to myself, “to tell us how a thirteen year old boy thinks?” The fact that she was so right just made it worse. So here I am, among the most privileged demographic of all, and I’m piqued by someone writing a character who’s like me, when SHE’S NOT. How much worse must it be to have someone who doesn’t look like you, who has no real concept of the life you’ve lived, the life your family has lived for the last…what? Couple of centuries? More? What if they write a story about you and your life?

As a child I got to see myself on the movie screen over and over again. Luke Skywalker, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller, Bugsy Malone, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Indiana Jones… They were all people I could imagine being, because they looked, more or less, like I did. Representation matters. I can only imagine how it feels for kids in Oakland to see Black Panther. How it feels to see a vision of an African country that wears its culture with pride and stands tall. To see young black women who are masters of technology, who hold positions of responsibility and power. To see them leading. And if representation matters, it matters even more that the stories we tell are as true as we can make them. I would be telling them second or third-hand, and that’s not good enough.

I will keep writing plays and stories, and some of them will be from the viewpoint of characters who are not me. That’s inevitable. But I will also consider how the stories I write will sound to those who have been negatively affected by my privilege. They have voices, and they can tell their stories with more truth that I ever could. Getting out of the way to let them speak is the best thing I can do.

The Bold Viking Quest

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It was Tiny Weasel’s birthday this week, and she had very specific plans for her celebration. We would get together on Family Day, dress as Vikings and hike through the woods playing a specially created D&D adventure. And then have a picnic.

We’re fairly new to D&D, having picked up the Starter Set at Christmas, so the campaign I wrote is very basic. It doesn’t actually follow the path we took through the woods of Belcarra to Jugg Island, so you could use it on any walk from about 30 mins to an hour and a half.

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Dressing as Vikings is essential, however. We had a bard, three fighters and a Cleric, but we couldn’t get the cleric to give up her battleaxe.

Since we are beginners, we played a very simple version of the combat rules, taking along a D20 and a D8. Since we were also outside in the woods, we carried each die in a tin with a clear lid, so you could “roll” the dice without losing them. (And, it turned out, you could jiggle the tin until you got the number you were looking for…)

The Bard suffered terribly, being attacked by Vampire bats almost immediately, and trying to fend them off (unsuccessfully) with her Kazoo. Later she remembered her magical arrow which would have been great against the bats, but was pretty useless against Skeletons.

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The cupcakes were as important as the combat….

Since it was Family Day, we were not the only people on the trail, so there was a fair amount of explaining to do as we went along, but this is Canada. No one minded at all that we were having fun.

After defeating several horrific monsters, falling into pit traps and solving fiendish riddles (only one of which I stole from “Labyrinth”), the weary questers reached the beach and opened the treasure chest of Captain Mica (Flint having been taken, you see…)

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Even the plain clothes DM got in on this picture!

I’m sure regular D&D players could make more of the campaign, but it’s also simple enough for noobs like me to run it without too much trouble. I’ve uploaded the text to this Google Drive location as a Word Document so anyone can have a go.

We wish you happy questing, adventurers.

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Eighteen years of TLC Creative

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Linked In isn’t tremendously useful. Well, it hasn’t been so far. But this week it sent me a reminder that it’s been eighteen years since the formation of TLC Creative. Our writing partnership is old enough to drink in a pub and vote.

Nearly twenty years ago, writing was a very different experience:

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As a new Dad, I was still struggling with the challenges of domestic management, and I was trying to build a writing career in the cracks in between. It was a great relief when Steve and David contacted me with an offer to co-write a pantomime. Steve is an impeccable organiser, and David’s writing is inspirational (and he’s a champion fixer if you’re stuck for a punchline or a better joke). After months of trying to sell short stories and finish a novel (every first novel is bad. Every one.) writing the pantomime was fun, and collaboration was a joy.

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Over the years we have worked in many different ways – writing pieces individually, writing a scene each and collating, writing by dictation and having Steve try to type the nonsense we were spouting on the fly. As time has gone by, we’ve all accumulated more responsibilities, and me moving to a different continent has not improved the regularity of our meetings. But we stay in touch through email and Skype, and even manage the odd planning meeting online. Our joint productivity has slowed a but, but we’re still ready to take on new challenges, reheat old jokes and routines and try to breath life into neglected stories. But mostly the old jokes.

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I’m confident that TLC Creative will still be scraping the barrel for the next eighteen years, adding to our publisher’s grey hairs with our eccentric formatting and occasional non-standard stage directions (Stage directions are for the ACTORS. You cannot dictate what the audience are going to do. Even if you use ALL CAPS). Yes, it’s past time to thank Stuart Ardern, our long-suffering publisher at www.lazybeescripts.co.uk for his help and encouragement (and the odd gentle admonition) over the past decade and a bit.

TLC Creative are still looking boldly to the future (though not able to focus brilliantly on deadlines) and we’d like to thank our friends and family for their help, support and understanding, and the many, many theatrical groups who have performed our plays*

You can find a full list of our current works HERE , all available to read online, and economical to download and produce.

 

 

*And the kind volunteers who helped them recover afterwards.

 

New Releases from lazy Bee Scripts Jan 2018

As I often do, I’ve clipped the “New Releases” section of the Lazy bee Scripts newsletter and re-posted it here so you can see the new plays on offer from my publisher. Since these days I run my social media from my lunchbreak, I haven’t got time to add links to all the plays (though I have taken a moment to link to mine : Sorry everyone else!) And here’s a little reminder that you can visit www.lazybeescripts.co.uk anytime and check out their “What’s New?” page.

One-Act Plays

As I’ve said before (following George Douglas Lee), all plays are in three acts, even one-act plays.  This category is based on length (something from 20 to 75 minutes), but the structures are three acts (situation, development, resolution).  In some cases, the author has made that structure more obvious, so Ryan Bultrowicz’s play is formally a one-act play in three acts.

  • Ryan Bultrowicz’s The Drowning Star (1M, 4F) is a poignant character study of a former child star who, after the death of her father, determines to make amends to the long list of people she has hurt.
  • Not enough robotics on this list for your liking?  Cyborg With Rosie (2M, 4F) by Troy Banyan will address that.  It features a reclusive cybernetics genius and her dog-man hybrid, as a visit from a journalist exposes many secrets.
  • Young runaway Poppy takes shelter in a student’s flat, only to encounter the ghostly presence of a former tenant, in Towards the Light (1M, 3F), a spooky supernatural drama by Judith Ezekiel.
  • From robots to ghosts to… Leeds Airport.  But as Richard Curtis fans know, airports are in fact the perfect place for love.  Actually, there’s also friendship, grief, disappointment, comedy and deceit to be found, in Liz Dobson’s Arrivals (1M, 5F).
  • If you’re short on actors, Beyond the White Noise (1M, 1F) by Steven A Shapiro is the play for you, focusing on two souls working out their issues as they sit in a therapist’s waiting room.
  • Paul Kalburgi took inspiration from Pinter when writing Almost the Birthday Party (2M), in which an eccentric couple are asked to recall details of an absurd first rehearsal – complete with cheesecake, vicar and taxidermied cat!
  • Pat Edwards’ Asking For Trouble (5M, 3F, 2 Either) explores some topical issues, as two girls narrowly escape serious assault.  As they recount this incident, the play questions whether it’s right to apportion blame to they were dressed.
  • Damian Woods’ Deadline (3M, 1F) features a playwright with a serious grudge to bear against a scathing reviewer.  Luckily, it’s good, so we’ll never have to find out if Damian would react in the same way.
  • Three suspects, all being questioned because of their political beliefs.  Three interrogation rooms.  Three points in time.  Those are just three of the triplets at play in Louise Wade’s Interrogation (here are some more – 3M, 3F).
  • If ‘convoluted black comedy inspired by Edward Albee’ sounds like your idea of a nice way to spend half an hour, you’ll want What’s The Time, Virginia Woolf? (2M, 2F) by Doc Watson.
  • Special Occasions (3M, 5F) by Roger Hodge, adapted from the middle act of his full-length Eating Out, peers into the lives of three very different couples eating at the same restaurant.
  • The revised edition of Paul Bovino’s Elephants (2M, 2F) was published in November.  In an oddly decorated (see title) New York apartment, a strange birthday party reveals hidden love…

 

Full-Length Plays

Again, we are confronted by the question of what is a full-length play.  We take the view that anything with a duration of over an hour could legitimately be staged as an evening’s entertainment.  On the other hand, something with a duration of less than an hour and fifteen minutes might easily be paired with a shorter piece.  Thus Damian Trasler’s 65-minute “Under the Hood” is presented here, but might just as easily fit into the One-act Play category.

  • Aliens in the Park (2M, 3F, 1 Either) by Louise Bramley is a sci-fi comedy in which aliens visit Earth to abduct a male human, in order to improve the gender ratio back home.  There are suggested video effects as backgrounds, if you’re feeling really ambitious.
  • Another comedy from Louise Bramley, Cardigan Coast (2M, 4F) follows the pilot of a reality TV show in which six elderly contestants share a house – and are determined to show the camera they’re up for anything.
  • The title character of Ragnhild (6M, 4F, 1 Either) was the daughter of a usurped Viking king who, despite her exile, schemed her way back into power.  It’s a fascinating historical tale, and Charles Eades tells it with a slice of brutality appropriate to the period.
  • Under the Hood (3M, 1F) by Damian Trasler sees actor Rose rehearsing the title role in a new psychological interpretation of Red Riding Hood, while her husband is torn between his dead-end job and his dreams.

 

Sketches, Skits and Short Plays

Drama, comedy and satire.  In short, all life is here.

  • Gerald Murphy has adapted the O Henry short story After Twenty Years (3M, 0F), in which a wanted criminal meets up with an old friend… not knowing that he’s become a cop.
  • Live (3M, 1F) by Robin Fusco is a post-apocalyptic short play – but don’t worry if that sounds ambitious, as it’s all set in an underground bunker.
  • Olivia Arieti has Tramp Business (3M, 1F) for you to attend to… It’s a heartfelt and lightly comic sketch about the homeless inhabitants of an arrangement of park benches.
  • In The Little Cottage (5M, 4F), Gerald Murphy turns his attentions to Irish folklore.  The Doyle family have a perfect life, until Margaret’s parents move into their cottage.  Father Kelly’s advice only makes things worse.
  • Helen Bradley’s A Day at the Vets (3M, 2F) is exactly what it says in the title… well, a pretty bad day, truthfully, as the vet’s three least favourite customers – and their imaginary pets – all show up.
  • Love Is Blind by Andrew Bawn sees Gary and April meet on a blind date in a restaurant.  There is an age gap between them, and… well, you don’t expect it to go smoothly, do you?
  • Three middle-aged friends meet up for a coffee and a natter in Something To Talk About (3F) by Bob Hammond, but it turns out that they all have more exciting lives than each other thought.
  • The Vikings meet reality TV – and why not?  – in David Dean’s The Alf Factor.  They’re as vicious and bloodthirsty as ever – and that’s just the ones judging the cakes!
  • Who ever said fairy tales are old hat?  Three Billy Goats Cyber by Richard L Sanders is a politically satirical mix of the classic tale with today’s cyber technologies.
  • World War II-era Vienna is the setting for The Attic Room (3M, 3F) by Elizabeth Anne Wells, as a young Jewish girl hides from Nazi soldiers in the house of an Austrian family.

 

Pantomimes

At the time of writing, we have 359 pantomimes on our books.  (By the time of reading, this may well have changed).  We’re always looking for material to diversify the range.  This time Sherlock Holmes is given the panto treatment, not for the first time, whereas The Scarlet Pimpernel is given a first panto outing.  There’s a novel approach to the genre from Helen Spencer and Puss-in-Boots is rendered in rhyme.

  • The game is afoot in Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Pantomime (minimum of 5M, 2F, 11 Either) by Giles Black, which pits Conan Doyle’s great detective against Professor Moriarty in his most, well, goofy case yet.
  • The copyright on Baroness Orczy’s works expired in November, and we jumped straight onto that opportunity with Steven J Yeo’s take on The Scarlet Pimpernel (minimum of 3M, 3F, 4 Either).  Who knew France’s Reign of Terror had such potential for slapstick?
  • Another Cat, Another Hat (minimum of 3M, 3F, 4 Either) by Stuart Ardern is a one-act rhyming take on Puss-in-Boots, purrfect for a one-act production using minimal sets.
  • Panto goes meta in Helen Spencer’s Pantomime Academy (minimum of 9M, 16F, 10 Either), which follows poor Maurice, a regular panto actor doomed to always play the back end of the cow.

 

Plays for Schools and Youth Theatre

This category covers scripts written specifically for schools or youth groups.  On this occasion, we’ve made relatively few additions (despite our current catalogue of over 770 pieces for schools and youth productions), although there are probably pieces suitable in some of the other categories…

  • February 14th is fast approaching, and Olivia Arieti’s V For Valentine is perfect for teaching children about Valentine’s Day traditions.  Alternatively, reading it might keep you occupied if you don’t have a date.
  • Howard Does His Best (3M, 10 Either) by Geoff Parker is an offbeat comedy for high school ages.  As Howard tries to ask the most beautiful girl in the school for a dance, various parts of his body argue about how to co-ordinate themselves.
  • Dip into Pond Life, a one-act play (with a couple of optional songs) by Nettie Baskcomb Brown, populated with (a minimum of 9) ungendered roles of plants and pond creatures.

 

Murder Mysteries

The structure of whodunnits varies enormously.  Angela Lanyon’s approach is definitely along the lines of a play: it’s fully-scripted, with no interaction with the audience.  There is, however, the opportunity to put forward suspicions and accusations before the mystery is resolved by the performance of the second act.  (Unusually, as well as deciding who did the deed, this mystery requires the audience to work out who was murdered, although I suspect that this becomes obvious when the remainder of the cast assembles for act two.)

  • A group of friends make a cup of tea and settle in for a nice peaceful séance in Angela Lanyon’s Séance for Murder (3M, 4F).  And then there’s the murder, of course.