Tag Archives: James Moran

Meeting your heroes

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met - Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met – Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

When I first began to really read, I devoured the books of two authors in particular – Douglas Adams and Harry Harrison. I loved their books, read them until the paperbacks fell to pieces and could’ve won trivia contests on obscure plot points.

I didn’t know a thing about the authors themselves. Much later, I got to read articles about, and interviews with, Douglas Adams. I have a copy of “The Salmon of Doubt”, a book put together after his tragically early death, with interviews, articles and unfinished stories. That fills out a little more of the man that I didn’t know.

But this is the 21st Century. This week, I have had the works of John Scalzi almost exclusively playing on my audio books playlist – he’s releasing his new book “The Human Division” chapter by chapter, and I’m buying the audio versions through Audible.com. I stumbled across his blog/website “Whatever” when googling something else, and as a result of becoming a reader of his posts, I bought one of his books. Then several more. This is proof that blogging can lead to book sales. But as well as learning I liked his work, I learned a lot about Mr Scalzi too (though, having not met him, it seems rude to call him “John”). I know the names of his immediate family and have seen pictures of them (that he released in specific circumstances, not because I’ve broken into his house with a flashlight and a stocking mask…) I know about his lawn-mowing habits and ukulele playing desires. I’ve even seen him fall on his ass while singing the theme tune to one of his novels.

The point of all this is that authors have now really got the option of stepping out of the shadow of their books. One of the things I have always loved about Stephen King’s short story collections is his habit of explaining a little something of them either before or afterwards. He talks about the genesis of the idea, or how the story was changed, or where a character came from. Now he has a website, there’s the chance that a direct query might be answered in person, that those things you might otherwise have wondered about til your dying day could be sorted out in an email.

Much as I liked the image of a Salinger-like hermit, locked away from the world, dropping pearls of books to adoring but distant readers, this idea of accessible authors is much more exciting. I’m sure they’re occasionally ticked off with the number of wannabes who press them for the secret of their success, or where they get their ideas from, but they also get the positive feedback, the letters and emails that say how much their work is admired. Today, anyone can write a book and get it published. You can have your own work available for sale through Amazon, the most popular method of book purchasing in the modern world. This being the case, publishing your work isn’t the prize it once was. What’s more important to a lot of writers (and I know this is true of myself) is hearing that other people have been affected by the stories, that they have been touched by the tale in the same way the author was. That they’re glad it was written down and sent out into the world.

Writers write because they have to, because the stories demand to be told. But we publish because we want to share those stories.*

So take advantage of this amazing new world we live in. Reach out and meet the authors you admire. And not in a “Here’s my underwear, please sign it and send me some of yours” kind of way. Read their blogs, add your review of their books to Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. Link to their blogs from yours so other people can find them too.

I know, from what other people have said, that meeting Douglas Adams could be a joyous thing, and I’m sorry I never had the chance. But I have had reply tweets and emails from Neil Gaiman, from James Moran, and John Scalzi, and Chuck Wendig. People whose words have moved me, have changed the way I see the world. People who, ten years ago, would have been as distant to me as the stars they write about.

Which authors have you contacted and heard back from? Which blogs do you recommend? Which author (living or dead) would you most like to converse with? Bearing in mind the dead ones won’t be much for conversation…..

 

 

* receiving a large sum of money in return is often looked upon as a bonus, however.

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When is writing right?

Recently I’ve been receiving some inspirational blog posts through my email. They’re from a writer who takes a very hard line about the business. I’m not going to quote this person directly, or make reference to their website, but the upshot is that they believe that being a writer, if you’re doing it properly, is the centre of your life. That anything else needs to take second place to putting your words down on…well, paper, screen, whatever you use.

From a certain point of view, I can agree with that. If you’re using your skill as a storyteller to write fiction for sale, or your ability to create interesting features to generate income from magazines, then yes, it’s a business. Like any business, you need to take it seriously and put in the effort it deserves. If you do the washing and ironing, then clear away the dishes and do the grocery shopping before you can start the day’s writing, you’re already behind. I get that.

Where it gets problematical (although I think that’s a made-up word) is that not everybody is in that position. I’m inspired by the example of James Moran, who wrote the feature films “Severance” and ‘Cockneys vs Zombies”. He held down a full-time job, but still wrote over twenty drafts of his first script because getting it exactly right and as good as he could was essential to realising his dream of being a screenwriter. He mentions in his blog that he would come in from work and start writing, he would write at weekends and at night because this was what he wanted.

Our favourite excuse, as writers, for NOT writing is : “I don’t have time”. Very few of the many, many writers in the world have writing as a full-time employment – by which I mean, the only thing they have to do during their work day. I’m luckier than a lot of people – my wife has a good job, and I only have to get the kids to school, then keep the house clean and running until they get back. The rest of my time can be spent writing. Except that the writing doesn’t directly add to the household income, so I actively pursue work that isn’t writing during the time I have FOR writing so that I can earn enough to allow me to remain at home and….not…write. Which brings me back to those emails.

There’s enough guilt in my life, thanks. I feel guilty that I can’t spend more time with my children. They have volunteer readers in their classes, they have adult volunteers on their field trips. I’m rarely involved with any of that. My house could do with more care and attention, but that would take some research and skills that take time to develop. My dog should have two walks every day, not just some days. My friends back in the UK should hear from me when things are ok, as well as when I’m grumpy, and my parents would probably like an actual letter to go with the emails. Maybe my family would appreciate me learning another meal to add to the seven I know how to cook. So, while I agree with the thrust of these emails – “If you’re a writer, then you should be WRITING! Writing is the most important thing in your day, don’t be ashamed of it!” I will still put family first. I know that means I probably won’t rise to the top of my profession, that I won’t outsell J.K. Rowling (and, given that I’m a playwright, that’s not surprising) but that’s a choice I’m making.

The sour grapes side of me wants to point out that the individual sending me these emails doesn’t have kids, and is “returning to the writing business”. They make their living as a writer by telling other people how to be a writer and working as a “Social Media Writer” for a large company. I don’t know what a Social Media Writer is. It might be a person who writes about Social Media, or it might be a person who writes about that large company ON social media. I don’t know. Either way, it’s not my place to judge their worth in telling ME how to be a better writer. Like I said, the core of their message is fair enough. Whether I want to take that advice to heart is up to me.

So here’s what I say about when to write. Write what you want to write, when you want to write. Write stuff you love writing, stuff you like to read. Write the stories that unroll in your head and drive you to your desk because they won’t lie still till they’re pinned to the page. Write because you have to.

You’ll be a writer because you write. If you want to be a rich writer, or to earn any money from writing, well…Then you need the discipline, the time and probably the guilt so that you FIND the time, no matter what else is going on in your life.

Disclaimer: Despite this appearing on the internet and probably leaving enough clues for a determined researcher, this post is not an attack on the person who is sending out the emails mentioned. They are entirely entitled to do what they’re doing, and I admire their standpoint even if I’m not standing there myself. If I really get upset by the emails, I have the option to remove myself from the mailing list and will do so if it becomes necessary. If anyone wishes to rush to the defence of this individual, please do so with courtesy and good spelling. If the individual feels persecuted and wishes me to retract any or all of the above post, I’d be happy to discuss it via email.

Is it the writing, or the having written?

Do you love the process..........or the finished product?

Some days it seems that everyone loves writing. Certainly a glance at the numbers for “Freshly Pressed” (The best of 337,656 bloggers, 327,229 new posts, 327,146 comments, & 79,537,749 words posted today on WordPress.com, as of this morning) suggest that there are a LOT of wordsmiths out there.
But what is it we love? Statistics will tell you that the number of writers out there who can point to their novel on the bookshelf is very small, and the number who can point to it on sale in the shops is even smaller. Does that mean that the bulk of writers do it for the love of the craft? Do we love the writing, the rush as the words drop into place on the page or screen, or is it the feeling of accomplishment, the sigh of satisfaction as we type “The End”? Is it the writing or the having written?

The beauty of the internet age, as Kristen Lamb will tell you, is that authors are now available to their readers in a way they never have been before. Ok, so you may not be able to drop JK Rowling an email to say how much you admire her work, but most savvy authors have a website, or a blog, or a Facebook page, or a Twitter account or all of the above. Because of this, when pondering the question above, it was possible to approach successful writers and put the question to them. They didn’t have to respond, of course, but here’s what the ones who did have to say:

Jane Espenson (Writer for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Torchwood and many others) : I love both. But I hate the starting-writing.

James Moran (Writer for Doctor Who, Torchwood, the feature films “Severance” and ‘Cockneys Vs Zombies” and many more projects) :Both. I love writing, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s great fun. And I like the sense of achievement when I finish something.

Jason Arnopp :Writer/exec of @Stormhouse_film, Doctor Who/Sarah Jane plays, Friday The 13th novel, TAPS film Ghost Writer.   Hi! I love those special times when the writing almost feels like it’s handling itself. Everything else feels hard work

For a wider cross section of writers, here are some of the responses to the question posted on Twitter:

@AKyleWilliamsAmanda Kyle Williams

The process is excruciating. Finishing a draft,revising-that’s when the magic happens 4 me – & getting an accepted manuscript.

@bjsmithB.J. Smith

I’d have to say both: the writing and the having written. Both have their own rewards

@JessicaThomasIN Jessica Thomas

I like having written better than the process of writing. Would rather be editing than writing.

@Tiffany_A_WhiteTiffany White

To me, there’s nothing greater than the feeling of accomplishment. It keeps me putting my fingers to the keyboard

@Claire_KintonClaire Kinton

think I love the editing best, great satisfaction getting the story out but polishing it up is best 4 me x

@PattiYagerPatricia Yager

Definitely the writing. Being in the zone is awesome.

@Julie_GloverJulie Glover

I love most the process of writing; everything outside the page disappears. It’s hard but engaging work.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that we all have different answers, or maybe we should be surprised how similar some answers are. The question seems to show that writing is more than the physical act of committing the words to the page or screen – it’s the evolution of drafts, the crafting of a final manuscript.

And we love it.

Feel free to pitch in with YOUR response to the question if you didn’t pick it up on Twitter. And which famous author, living or dead, would you love to trade Tweets with? The best answer gets a free copy of my e-book “Writing a play for  Community Theatre”.

Don’t tell me about it….

Firstly, an apology. This entry will sound arrogant and dismissive. Sorry.

Nearly two years ago I started writing this blog because I wanted to have a record of the emigration I was making with my family. Don’t tell me I should’ve kept a diary, because I know I wouldn’t have. Tried that, didn’t work. Blogging involves the computer (score!) and the chance to regularly appeal for other people’s attention (score!) as well as the opportunity to check statistics and combine endless hope with depressing reality (score!).

Along the way, it’s naturally evolved to take into account my writing efforts. I’ve talked about the production of my e-book, my occasional frustration with projects that haven’t worked out well, and of course, having to give up full-time writing to go and get a proper job. I like to think that these are as much part of the emigration process as buying a house and learning about the school system – a change of life we’ve made as a result of coming to Canada. But, because I blog about writing, I’ve been reading OTHER blogs about writing. Many, like the previously mentioned Mr James Moran, or Jane Espenson, or Lucy V Hay, are fantastically good. Not just because they are ‘proper’ writers, but because they write their blogs well. They are interesting. The ones that make me groan are the ones that say “I am writing my first novel, and am going to use this blog to chronicle my progress.”

Now, by all means, write your first novel. Please. Writing is wonderful, and your first novel may turn out to be THE book of the decade. By all means, write a blog. It’s useful to have a place to vent your feelings, and an idea is never fully realised until it is expressed. But before you combine the two, please think carefully. What is it, exactly, that you will be chronicling? If you are not careful, you’ll end up sounding like Ernie Macmillan from “Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix”, boring everyone with his recitation of how many hours of revision he has done each day. When you’re writing a novel, word count per day is important to you, obviously. You want to feel you’re making progress, that the number of pages to go are getting fewer. But would you want to read a blog that goes “Wrote another fifteen thousand words today! Started just after breakfast, had a break around ten thirty when I walked the dog, but then got straight back into it and reached a real cliffhanger moment just as I broke off for lunch!” Who, honestly, will care?

What your readers would like to know is what’s going on in the story. Yes, if you’re writing your novel, it would be more interesting to tell us about the developments in the plot as you go along, but you know what? No one ever will because then by the time the blog is complete, who needs to read the novel? We’ve been spoon-fed the whole thing! And what about re-writes? Assuming you get someone reading your blog, aren’t they going to use the comments section to tell you exactly where you’re going wrong?

I think these are the reasons that the blogs I’ve read seem to peter out shortly after they begin. Writing doesn’t seem to be something you can blog about. A writer’s life may be, but only if you have something to say about that: Being a single mum who’s working on a novel – if you have time to blog about that and still be writing the novel then I not only take off my hat to you, but I’ll comb my hair and bow too.

Why should I blog about the failures of other blogs? Well, because this week has seen me wrestling with my rock musical screenplay again, and I’m conscious that the writing projects I talk about tend to be the ones that work, or the ones that fall flat. I don’t, as Felicia Day says so sweetly in “Commentary”, discuss my process. The reason I don’t is that it would be at best dull, at worst, incomprehensible. I talked about the mechanics of writing in the entry on collaboration, and even I struggled to stay awake during that one. So, today’s moral is this: Forge ahead with your writing, but forge a more interesting subject for your blog.

Rewriting and other things I hate…

Fake notes, but a real project...Shelved, for now.

Writing is the main part of the job, obviously. Without doing the writing bit, you don’t get any of the other parts of the glamourous life of being a writer. But reading the inspirational blog of Mr James Moran again the other day, I was reminded that rewriting is key to being a good writer. Mr Moran got his big break when his script “Severance” was made into a movie. (Actually, there were a number of things that he acheived before then, but I’m abbreviating. Read his blog FAQ’s for the full and fascinating story) But before it got accepted and filmed he wrote twenty drafts. Twenty. And bear in mind that, even if you’re economical with your words, a screenplay for a full length movie tops a hundred pages. Two thousand pages to produce one workable movie script? The longest Harry Potter novel was less than eight hundred pages.

Rewriting was not something I used to do. I began my playwriting with short plays and one acts, and they usually came out the way I wanted them. There were some where things didn’t sound right, or there were ideas I hadn’t managed to include, but going back over the text, I couldn’t see where to cut or insert anything. I think I was afraid that if I pulled at what I’d got, it would all unravel. Then I wrote a short play called “The Red Balloon” which is still one of my favourites. It started with the voices in my head, like a lot of them do, and very quickly became part of a nice idea – what if the stupid, pointless modern art piece at the beginning gave way to a piece of melodrama, then that gets refined, over and over until someone takes the process too far and we ended up with the stupid piece the play starts with? Sorry if I just wrecked it for you. Read it anyway, there are some laughs in it.

From the April 2008 performance by the Mexico Area Community Theatre

This was ambitious – I had never begun a play before with a specific end in mind, and I wasn’t sure how I would manipulate the characters to get the ending I wanted. I showed Mrs Dim the completed play and she hummed and hawed over it. It was, she said, OK. But wouldn’t it be better if this happened, and that, and then you could do this…? She was right, and since I liked the original idea so much, I was loathe to send the play off to the publisher when I knew it could be better. I took a deep breath and went back into the text. It was amazing, making small changes without the whole fabric changing too. Some small additions early on allowed the finale to be more logical, less of a leap, and still part of the overall gag. This is the only play of mine that I have seen performed without being involved in the production.

Last week I finished the first draft of my first ever full length play, currently going by the title of “Blank stage Blues”. It’s come out pretty well, everyone in it said the things I wanted them to, and the key transitional moment that first got me interested in the idea worked out fine. For the first time I have sent out the play to some friends and associates to get some feedback before I make final changes. I like the play, I think it’s fun and a good concept, but duh! I wrote it. Maybe it’s clever and witty but not worth performing. I’ve already had some responses that show I have to go back in and make some changes. But right now, the file is staying closed, and here’s why:

One of the most frequently offered pieces of advice about rewriting is to leave it. Don’t get to the end of your book, screenplay or play and then turn back to page one with your red pen. Put it in a drawer, back it up to the hard drive, nail it to the shed, whatever, and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I don’t mean repointing the chimney (though mine needs doing, if you’re keen…) I mean start a different writing project. Jump into that one with both feet and resist the urge to check on your previous baby until you’re done. Then you come back to your old story with fresh eyes. It’ll feel weird to read it, but it’ll be easier to spot the parts that need work, and easier to make those changes because you’re not as invested in the writing now.

So, I’ve dug out “Tribute”, a screenplay Steve is desperately trying to adapt for the stage and added some more pages to that. I’m aiming to have the whole thing done by the end of December and then I’m sending it off to Lucy Hay for her usual insightful analysis. When it’s winging it’s way through cyberspace, I’ll go back to Blank Stage Blues and the very first thing I’ll do is think of a decent title….

Bang bang bang of head on desk (originally posted July 6/09)

It’s been weird, all this time with Mrs Dim at home, yet no real time to ourselves. We play tag team sorting the tiny weasels a lot of the time, like this morning where she took Eldest Weasel off to her new Summer Camp and took Middle Weasel along for the ride and a shopping trip afterwards. I had Tiny Weasel at home with me, but she just slobbed in front of the Wii and then a dvd while I piled into the backlog of script reviews I had.

I’ve joined Twitter, amongst other things, since coming to Canada, and have noticed a strange thing. I believe I am friends with famous people. This is, no doubt, the appeal of both Twitter and other social networking things – Felicia Day sends me personal messages when she’s up to something. I get to hear about Penn Jillette’s day. Tv’s James Moran lets me know how things are progressing with his latest projects, and when I comment on his blog, he will often reply to my comments. There’s no other way , in the normal scheme of things, where I could exchange a few words with a writer who’s contributed episodes to Dr Who, Torchwood, Crusoe, Spooks and written the feature film Severance. Occasionally, I remember that he’s not my friend, that if we met on the street, he’d be hard pressed to recognise my name (especially since the Avatar that appears next to my comments post is a small dog…) but most of the time I think of him (and all those other famous types I’m following on Twitter) as people I can chat to. The more I think about this, the less healthy and more stalkery it seems.

Anyway, today the Twitter/Facebook/blog thing has let me down badly. It started with Lucy Vee posting that she hadn’t gotten into the BBC Writer Academy. I used Lucy’s Script reading service when I wrote a TV pilot a while back. Her comments were good, incisive and should have been inspiring. I should have jumped right back into that script, made the changes, redrafted and started submitting. But I didn’t, I pleaded the excuse that we were leaving the country, that the script needed time to sit, that I had other projects. And so, like my other two screenplays, I have completed the first draft, gotten good feedback and abandoned the project.

Next Lucy posted a good piece about what it takes to make it in the writing business. What she said could have been boiled down into “Don’t be like Dim”. Plug away, keep writing, work hard, don’t give up, make your own movies, enter competitions… All true, all right, and yet I don’t do any of that.

Should I? I’d love to be a screen writer. They make a hell of a lot more money than I do with my plays, and as James Moran has shown, if you get tapped by the right people, you can find yourself with more work than time (something I have right now, but not for the same happy reasons). But Lucy’s article made me stop and think about what I’m doing. Do I want to be a screen writer? Do I want to write for TV, and if I do, shouldn’t I get off my butt and do something about it? There’s always reasons not to write, always a day when I can’t get at the computer, or get a minute away from the kids. The blessed time when I have the day time to myself always seems to be just around the corner, and yet I can’t run any faster or make it there any quicker.

Most of my plays get written. I have an idea for the stage, and somehow it dribbles out onto a page somewhere. There are outstanding projects, sure, and I’ve never finished a full-length idea, though I’ve had…ooh..several.  I suppose the difference is having the publisher. If I complete a play, or a sketch or whatever, I send it through my partners at TLC to be checked over, and if they like it, it goes on to Lazy bee and gets published. I finished my first screenplay a decade ago, and people read it, gave me feedback and I started the rewrite…and it went nowhere. I can’t write the stories I want to write and stay within the more rigid rules of screenwriting. Like I found with the Women’s Magazine short story thing, there are rules and boundaries, and if your stories don’t fit them, you won’t get anywhere.

Obviously I’m suffering from an unnecessary dose of self-pity. Must be the hell of living in a beautiful country with an amazing family, cute puppy and crazy house. But it bothers me, so I’m bothering you with it.

You know, maybe the problem is that I haven’t been reading the blogs of any successful playwrights. I’ve read all about screen success and I think that must be what I want. I watched Dr Horrible and was sick with jealousy. I’ve almost finished watching both seasons of The Guild and not only thought how good it was, but how deceptively simple it seems – check out the the photos of filming and you’ll see it’s not all done on webcams and laptop editing packages – this is The Biz, done for the web but with standards so high it makes Channel Five look like a two-bit operation…Hmm, maybe that’s a bad simile. So maybe my note on the family Summer Wish List – Make a movie – will stay unticked this year. I don’t have an idea for a short I can film myself, and I really don’t want to make something that looks too tacky and cheap, not when I’ve seen how well it can be done. Should I resolve to stick with stage writing? Or push the envelope and see what I can acheive outside my comfort zone?