Tag Archives: TLC Creative

Taking my own advice

It’s an old cliche that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. It was one of the reasons I was nervous about handing out advice about writing plays. I knew how I wrote plays, but did that entitle me to tell other people? Fortunately, reading plays for Lazy Bee Scripts was a logical step, since I was just helping out administratively. Then I began to notice that there were some common errors in the scripts being rejected, things that seemed basic and obvious to me. If I could mention these things to the authors, they could make their plays better….

I bring up this ancient history because in this last week, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take some advice that I hand out regularly. One of the best ways to find out if a play works is to take the draft script along to your local drama club and get it read. Note: A complete draft, folks. Make sure the story has a beginning, middle and end. I know there are playwrights out there, probably some great ones, who closet themselves with a tame theatre group and workshop a storyline, in some cases for years. That’s all well and good, but to my mind the result is a group effort, and if that playwright has any conscience at all, theirs won’t be the only name in the author position on the play cover. No, if this is YOUR idea, YOUR story, then get it written down, THEN take it to the drama club. Their job will be to tell you if the story hangs together, if the characters are real or cardboard, if it’s even interesting at all.

That last point was my greatest fear. My full length play that I began way back in January, has stalled and been re-ignited several times. I threw away the first ten pages and started again with a different central character. The basic idea remained, however, and I made it over the word count that I use to judge length in Script Apppraisals.

SMP Dramatic Society are a local group who welcomed Steve, David and myself to watch their rehearsals of Fawlty Towers back in September. They’ve performed a couple of our pantomimes, and they were eager to meet us. When I asked if they could help with a read-through, they readily accepted and so last Sunday I was welcomed to a member’s house, offered a warming drink and settled in to hear the play read.

It’s an odd feeling, because it’s rare the words are voiced as you heard them in your head, but the reading was very well done, with feeling, enthusiasm and a good deal of laughter. They pronounced the script workable, but had a list of suggestions which were all positive and worthwhile. As I’ve mentioned before, rewriting is a chore I haven’t enjoyed, but this process has made that easier, and I intend to have the new draft completed by New Year’s Day – from concept to complete inside a year!

I’m writing this entry on Christmas Eve morning – our friends in Australia have already begun to Celebrate Christmas Day, our friends in the UK are gearing up for The Night Before Christmas and our weasels are thinking about going skiing before the afternoon Nativity Play in Church. Wherever you are, whenever you’re reading this, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Hello, my name is Dim….

I was trying to remember earlier today if I’ve ever been called for a second interview for anything. I don’t think I have. My first few jobs were pretty much cut and dried in the first interview. One job I got seems a tremendous fluke now – the interviewer asked me where I saw myself in five years time. I said I wanted to be a novelist. Probably not the answer they were hoping for from someone interviewing for a post in their photocopy and archives room. Still, I held the job for nearly two years. The trouble is, you’ll have to take my word for that, since I don’t actually have a very good work record.

My first job was at the TVS (Television South) studios in Southampton. I worked there as Receptionist for the Programmes Department, and also delivered mail to and from the Programmes Dept. and the studios. Just as my year’s contract came to an end (and I was hoping to transfer to become assistant to the Assistant Floor Manager in the Studio) TVS lost their ITV franchise. The company split up and I was looking for work again. I spent time working in an off-licence (liquor store for you North Americans) but that was seasonal work. I found a job in a Solicitor’s office (the above-mentioned photocopy and archive clerk job). I stayed there for two years before going back to college for a year. Sadly, the office went on to electronic staff records in the late ’90s and my record was not one of those transferred. So, no reference from TVS, no reference from the solicitors. I spent a happy year at Portsmouth College of Art and Design, came out with a useless bit of paper and had to get another job. I took a temporary position as bar manager/receptionist at The Bell Hotel in Alresford. It lasted for two more years, during which time I got married. When I found myself a “proper” job with the Civil Service, I resigned from The Bell. I went away for the weekend, with a week’s time still to work, and when I came home I found the place had burned down. No reference from The Bell, then. Working for the Civil Service (joke: How many people work in the Civil Service? About half of them!) was great, since it meant I could be close to Mrs Dim as she guarded the peace-loving nations of the world from aggressive types, but Civil Servants work with the military, who are posted in and out of jobs, and by the time I gave up work to look after Eldest Weasel (then just a tiny weasel herself) I had already lost track of my first couple of bosses. Within a year, there was no hope of a personal reference from the Civil Service.

But please don’t think I stopped working just because I was now a full-time Weasel Wrangler. Oh no, I became a writer, and then an Editor. I edited the magazine of the RAF Families organisation, Airwaves. At first the magazine was called Corridors, but we changed the name when everyone finally agreed it was stupid. We changed it to “Airwaves”. Inspired or what? I took on more on behalf of the organisation, becoming an Airwaves Representative and Regional Manager. I went to meetings and wrote reports. Once I even went to the House of Lords and interviewed a Baroness. Oh yes. Can you guess what happens next? Well, there was a thing. All of a sudden all Airwaves Reps were told to stop doing anything. STOP! Someone hadn’t done something, or had done something they shouldn’t, and now there were legal ramifications of some awful extent, and the upshot was that Airwaves – the whole organisation – ceased to be. Shazam! Just like that. There is now the RAF Families Federation, but it’s run by a whole new group of people, none of whom know me. No reference from Airwaves.

Which pretty much brings me up to date. I joined the marvellous TLC Creative, working with Steve and David to Write the wrongs of society…heh heh heh! And I began doing some work for Lazy Bee Scripts, reading and reporting on script submissions. Both those businesses, I’m happy to say, are still around. Two references for me at least, and they must carry some weight because this Friday I shall be returning to the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer for a record THIRD interview, this time (I am assured) merely a formality, meeting the Store Manager. I’m sure you’re agog now. What position have I applied for that needs such a rigorous screening, so many searching interviews? Well, I’m going to be a Greeter. I will be standing by the door as you gracious folks enter the hallowed halls, and I’ll be happy to direct you to the aisle of your choice. Or choose one for you, if you’re up for a magical mystery tour of home hardware.

Hope to see you there.

A watched phone never boils…..

I really wanted to wait until I’d heard something from someone about employment, because I always think a blog without something positive is a whinge. But, there’s also the feeling I’ve  mentioned before, about an idea not being properly developed until it’s been expressed. Makes me wonder about “Think before you speak”.

So here I am, at Friday, a whole week into February and still with only the usual suspects of work. I spent yesterday in a fever of creativity, reviewing a play and writing two and half sketches. TLC have been asked to write a sketch evening on a specific theme and I decided it was time I tackled the sketches I’d volunteered for. If you asked me, I’d have said I don’t like working that way, that I prefer to wait until I get a great idea and then work that one out. I would have said I can’t write to order, or if I do it comes out as merely workmanlike. Modesty prevents me saying the two sketches I completed yesterday were good, but the better of the two made me laugh while I was writing it, and the second one made me laugh when David re-wrote the ending to make it funny. The third will have to wait to be written up, since I wrote it longhand while watching Eldest and Middle Weasel doing their Ice Skating lesson.

I don’t know what people think it’s like, writing for a living. I can tell you what it’s like for me.

I have the computer I work at set up in the Living Room. It’s not the ideal place during the evening, but with the Weasels out getting educated it makes as much sense as anywhere else. I have a coffee-making machine ten steps away, so I have to get up at least every five minutes. I have nowhere near enough food, which is a good thing. I don’t have reference books to hand, or manuals on writing. I read those at night (seriously – at the moment it’s  “How to Build a Great Screenplay”). There is clutter on the computer desk – story cds, game boxes (The kids leave them out and I never bother to put them away unless it’s time for the big clearout.) There’s a Dictaphone there today too, thanks to a rummage in the deep storage the other day. I found it and thought I might need it for something. I didn’t, but I’ve been using it as I walked the dog the last couple of days. I keep thinking it’ll be brilliant for capturing the bright thoughts I have when I’m out and about, but it’s rubbish. I should have remembered, because I once spent several months dictating a novel into that same machine, then typing up the copy. On a tiny machine like that, my voice is whiny and nasal, plus I huff and puff like an old man riding a Space Hopper down a cobble street. I finished the novel, a children’s book, and it was rubbish. (I liked some of it – the page numbers mostly. I may use them later in another book.) There’s usually a pad or blank paper for scribbling things on, but they tend to be lists of stuff I should be doing, or things that people have phoned up to tell me. I also have a hard copy of the e-book so far, because I was doing revisions on it the other day. I’m still clinging to the idea it’ll be finished by the middle of this month, but that may be just the copy written. I suspect the actual production ( there are diagrams to include, which I haven’t drawn, and the cover needs to be re-done by David) will take a bit longer. It’s still easier than trying to produce a real-world book, since the typesetting and design are completely under my control (in that I say “David, how do think the design and typesetting should go?” David’s a print and design professional you know. I can trust him on this stuff. Plus he makes my sketches funnier. AND he won the Dame Academy Panto Dame competition in Milton Keynes. Not someone to be messed with.)

I listen to music while I write. I’d rather listen to stories, but the words get in the way. Strange, because the lyrics are my favourite part of most songs, but the singing slides straight past my ears and into my brain, so I don’t have to worry about it turning up on the page. I don’t pick specific music for different types of writing – I have a big file of my favourite tracks – seven hour’s worth, give or take a minute, and they wander out of the speakers on random play. Doesn’t make much difference to me, as I only HEAR it when I stop writing. I hate writing in silence, but I’ll do it if I have to. The best days, the days I dream of, are when whatever I’m writing is so interesting, so much fun that nothing else matters. The coffee goes cold and the music fades away, there’s nothing but the pictures in my head flowing down through the keyboard and onto the screen. When everything is going well, my hands can’t keep up and I can’t stop smiling. I think that’s something else people don’t get: Writing can be miserably hard work, it can make your head ache and slice your confidence to ribbons, but at the best moments it’s like flying. I am at my happiest when I’ve written something I’m pleased with. Doesn’t matter what. If I’ve got the idea down complete, I’m irrepressibly cheerful

So this week I’ve applied for a few more jobs and had some in depth discussions with some potential employers. I swapped quite a few e-mails with a Vancouver blog who wanted freelancers to interview Vancouver-based directors. They were willing to pay, so I volunteered my services. We talked about it, and then all of a sudden they said they were “going with other applicants.” I tried not to feel crushed, and concentrated on the online audio-book company that wanted a story re-written as a script. They also wanted some kind of adaptation done, which sounded like they wanted an additional narrative frame around the story to “put it in context”. I asked a couple of reasonable questions* and then sent them in my idea. Since they were also asking for voice actors, I pointed out that I had a fine English accent and would make a brilliant villain in one of their productions. They seemed to reply to both the e-mails out of sequence, but to be honest, neither reply made a lot of sense. The second e-mail said simply :” I concerned that people would get bored with the sequential nature of it.” I concerned. I concerned? I can forgive a typo (except when I’m proofreading) but the rest of the sentence was just as baffling. He’s worried about people getting bored with the sequential nature of the story, and he’s running a business selling audio books to people CHAPTER BY CHAPTER? Heavens, let’s avoid giving people anything of a sequential nature! We’ll keep ’em interested by starting with chapter five and then skipping ahead to seven, then three…. I may be just a little bitter.

My friend and neighbour across the way, Sue, is waiting for employment news too, but she’s been waiting six months. Actually, that’s not a fair thing to say. She’s been working very, very hard to find work for six months, and has been through more interviews than I’ve had coffees. I really wouldn’t mind if today’s her day instead of mine, because I haven’t tried nearly as hard as she has.

Following up on yesterday’s creative storm, I’ve finished my latest bunch of play reviews and now I’m going to pile into the domestic tasks. If there’s time later, I may go back to some other projects that have been a little neglected, but I also have to do the rounds of the job sites. If you’re curious about the writing process, e-mail me. If you have a script you think needs assessing, you could try the Lazy Bee appraisal service (Lazy Bee are my publishers, and they employ an experienced Script Reader to assess submissions for them. Ok, it’s me, but I’ve been a published playwright for over a decade, reading scripts and reporting for over three years, and I took a course on Script Reading with the Script Factory in London.)

*Including “What the hell are you talking about?”