Tag Archives: writer

Sexism – Opening the can of worms

Some time ago, I was asked to be in a magazine article about men taking on the role of Mum (Mom, to you North Americans). Because Mrs Dim had a proper job, no, a CAREER, and I was just playing at being a writer, I was labelled a Househusband and asked my opinions on all sorts of things. Oh, and they wanted some photographs: Would I mind just putting on this apron and holding a duster…?

The picture was really nice. It was of Eldest Weasel sitting next to me at the piano, neither of us in an apron. I heard the photographer sulked for three whole days, but really, I wasn’t going to put up with that. So I have strong views on sexism and equality.

Obviously, not the picture I was talking about....

I used to get irked, as a neophyte writer, when I saw competitions that were restricted to female writers, like the Orange Prize for fiction. There are none, that I know of, that are restricted to men. The reason for this is the perception that men dominate the writing industry, and they don’t need any help to succeed. Since I found my niche writing plays, got published and began to earn some money, my bitterness has faded somewhat (In the early days I even considered entering competitions disguised as Damina, my most common typing error, but it hasn’t happened…yet.) But this week my good friend and Star Script Reader Lucy V Hay posted notice of a women only Screenwriting competition: http://networkedblogs.com/79hge and I dropped a snide little note on her Facebook page, demanding the end to sexist writing competitions. That’s lead to a fairly long string of comment and counter-comment and I wondered if the blogosphere has anything to add. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • There is no doubt that men are the majority in screenwriting success. More films written by men get made, more succeed at the box office, and women screenwriters seem limited to cuddly rom coms like Norah Ephron writes (Which aren’t bad in themselves: I’m a big fan of “Sleepless in Seattle” and am irrationally attached to ‘Music and Lyrics”, but this is not the be-all and end-all of female writing.)

 

  • Faced with a dearth of decent scripts by female writers, the incomparable Zahra has asked for women to submit scripts. Only women. Plot lead, not character lead. This is not going to be “Eat, Pray, Love” on a shoestring, folks.

 

  • Lucy encourages her friends on Facebook to stretch themselves and come up with something suitable. If your window onto the world of screenwriting was Lucy’s Facebook page, you’d believe that it’s a fifty-fifty split between men and women. Lucy herself is no slouch behind the keyboard, having written and produced “Slash” which is NOT a Romcom.

 

  • I point out that excluding men just because they’re men is sexist.

 

  • Lucy asks if it would be considered racist to hold a competition for black screenwriters (who are also under-represented). I have to say “yes.” Isn’t it? Excluding white writers because they’re white isn’t “better” than excluding black writers. You’re discriminating on grounds of skin colour, and that’s racism.

The problem comes when you say “Ok, we won’t use positive discrimination, smartarse, so how ARE we going to get more women screenwriters?” I don’t know the answer to that one. I’m tempted to say “It doesn’t matter”, partly because I know that’ll wind people up, but also partly because I think then you get the really passionate ones rising to the top DESPITE the prejudice. Yes, they have to be 100% BETTER than the male opposition, but that leads to better films and the men having to raise their game. In an industry accused of dumbing down and looking for the lowest common denominator (Michael Bay, I’m looking at YOU), I’m all for raising the bar. Kathryn Bigelow made ‘The Hurt Locker” and that was pretty good. A lot of people started saying “Hey women can direct, can’t they? Why aren’t there more women Directors?” I don’t think anyone held the door open for Kathryn, she didn’t make “The Hurt Locker” (Or her previous films, let’s not forget those) on a “Give her a leg up, she’s only a woman” programme. Oh boy, I’m going to be in SOOOO much trouble for that one.

I’m a regular reader of Scriptshadow where I learn a lot about writing scripts and reading them, and one of the things I have learned from there is that GOOD scripts are hard to find, even from established writers. It shouldn’t matter the sex, height, hair colour or favourite muppet of any writer, as long as their scripts are good. I can’t believe that the first thing readers in studios check is the gender of the writer. What’s more likely the problem (and this is something that Zahra mentions) is that the execswho greenlight the various projects are looking at returns and betting on a particular demographic, which determines which types of movies get made, and those are, for whatever reason, not the ones usually written by women.

These days we’re told a lot that the internet is a great leveller. It can raise public awareness and the wrath of the many against what used to be impregnable corporations. It allows the little guy to produce his own web series and distribute it, bypassing the big studios and riding the word of mouth wave to financial success (or at least, infamy). Can the internet beat the masculo-centric viewpoint of the movie studios, or are they right in their assessment of the movie markets? Sure, I like films where things blow up, but I haven’t been to see ‘The Expendables” yet, and I won’t go until I’ve seen ‘Toy Story 3″. Probably not even then. The two screenplays I’ve written that I’m happiest with are character pieces where nothing blows up. I grew up with “Star Wars” and have a deep abiding passion for Sci-Fi but I have NEVER written anything with spaceships in. In eighty-odd plays, only three could be considered to have any Sci-Fi connection. One is a Star Trek spoof sketch (“Strange New Worlds”). One is a time-travel comedy (“Fight the future”) , and the other is a deep thought play about a 1950’s “Flash Gordon”-style film cast, stuck when their leading man is injured in a car wreck (“Waiting for Twist Stiffly”). I don’t believe I write like a man, or like a woman, or like a small, furry creature from Alpha Centuri. I write like me, and if I entered a competition for screenwriting, I’d enter it as me, not as a man.

I believe that good female writers should have as much success as good male writers. If women only screenwriting competitions will get us there, then ok, I’ll back off and cheer ’em on. But if you have a better idea, I’d love to hear about it.

The anti-social life of a writer

 

Sometime during this last week (look, I’m sorry, but things have been busy, and it’s the Summer Holidays. Don’t expect me to remember which day is which…) I went along to the latest PWAC social evening. PWAC, as you regular readers will know, is the Professional Writers Association of Canada , and I’m a member of the Vancouver Chapter, which makes us sound more like Hell’s Angels. Anyway, we meet in the salubrious surroundings of the False Creek Yacht club:

A nice way to network with other writers

With the weather the way it is, and the view being so good…:

Sunset over False Creek

……it’s hard to be maudlin about the struggles of life as a writer. Especially with the company on hand.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m in an interesting position at PWAC – I’m the only playwright (or at least, the only playwright who’s attended the meetings I’ve been to) and the others have different skills and niches in the writing world. Two meetings ago I sat with a group who were mostly Technical Writers, something I’d heard about but never investigated. Technical writing is hard work, by the sound of things, but it could be just the thing to suit you if you are good at immersing yourself in new subjects, enjoy interviewing people and are dedicated enough to produce top quality copy to a deadline. What baffled me, as a butterfly writer (I do some of this, drift about a bit and do some of that…projects get finished and started in no particular order…) was the notion of diving into an entirely new subject, learning and absorbing huge quantities of information which is then repackaged for an instruction manual, a policy document, that sort of thing, and then moving on to an entirely different job. One lady spoke of her exciting time writing policy for a casino group, despite having previously had no interest in gambling, and then moving on to a firm that built helicopters. In that situation, I thought, you have to love the process, have to get all your satisfaction from the way you work. I also spoke extensively with Steve Bain, who’s written eleven books (and had them published) but was less enthusiastic about the process than you might think: “It can take years for the books to begin to make money..” he said, ‘and the production process is months of hard work and deadlines.” He wasn’t complaining, just explaining, but it again highlighted a point I hadn’t thought about before – even writing a non-fiction book can be a slog, and it doesn’t guarantee an instant return.

Last week I arrived a little late, missing a big portion of the social side, but I did get to speak to the brilliant and brave Jackie Wong who’s recently gone freelance. There’s no doubting her talent and enthusiasm, so I’m hoping she can find the writing jobs she deserves.

So what’s the point of this socialising? Is it to get away from the lonely life of the writer, plugging away behind the desk, staring out the window and only communicating with real people via email and phone? Well, partly, yes. Claire Sowerbutt said that she’d been working all through the week up till 11.30pm every night, and this was the one evening she allowed herself a break. Freelancing, whatever your field, means you have to work hard on finding work even when you’re already working. Every day I wake up and thank God I’m a playwright. So we get together, sit in the sun and talk about jobs we’ve had, cheques we’ve chased, stories we’ll write one day when a: someone will pay us for them or b: the people involved are dead or unable to litigate. For me, every social evening is a kick in the butt, a reminder of how hard these REAL writers are working to find work, to publicise themselves, to get paid for doing the thing they love. It shows me that despite my decade of writing success, I’m still a dilettante, still only playing at writing for a living. I can’t say for sure what it is the others get from it, but there’s certainly a feeling that it’s a relief to find others in the same situation – to spend time with people who understand how frustrating it is to have to chase payment for work already done, people that understand love of writing doesn’t mean accepting ten cents a word but holding out for serious recompense. That even though you are building castles in the air at your lonely desk, it’s a job. And sometimes, it’s a vocation.

Book, book, book…..

It's the book what I wrote...So, only….er….five months after the initial idea, and I now have a published e-book to add to my credits. Actually, that’s not strictly true, as this is a document in pdf format, rather than an actual e-book, but you get the point.

Back in January, as I may have mentioned, I went along to a Writer’s symposium, hosted by the Travel Writer’s Association of Canada (TWAC. I was there as part of PWAC. Acronyms are silly things.) One of the speakers talked about the need to build up your webpresence and your own brand for your writing, which lead me to rediscover this blog, for one thing, and to begin writing the book. She’d said that everyone is an expert in something, expert enough to write a book. And while your book might not be compelling enough to attract a major publisher in the paper and ink industry, the glory of the internet is that you can publish without the stunning overheads and publicise your product yourself.

I realised that for over a decade I have been writing plays for the amateur stage – what the North Americans seem to call “Community Theatre” which sounds less patronising – and therefore I could legitimately say something about doing that. Plus, of course, I’ve spent the last few years as a script reader for Lazy Bee Scripts, reviewing new plays and handing out advice and judgements and assembling my own set of “What everybody gets wrong, or right” rules.

The speaker at the symposium made a lot of sense, saying that the book itself is not the major feature, but you can build on the sale of the book with lectures and classes. I didn’t want to get too overexcited about that, and decided to see if I could write a convincing book first. It’s taken longer than I thought, thanks mainly to the hard work of my friends and co-writers, ensuring I didn’t settle for the first draft, going that extra mile to produce a document that’s not only worth reading but enjoyable to look at. I’m painfully aware of the number of projects that languish at the “half-completed” stage, not because I’ve run out of enthusiasm for them, but because I’m scared I’ll wreck what I’ve got by pushing on. Two plays are stuck in that limbo right now. I was determined that the book would not go the same way, and this week the final draft (number three, I think…certainly the third version to make it to the pdf stage, anyway) has arrived and been hosted, both on the Lazy Bee Website (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk ) and on the TLC website (www.tlc-creative.co.uk) . We’re advertising the book on various websites, pushing out news of it through Facebook, and later this week I’ll be attending another PWAC event where I’ll finally get to tell the other members that I have acheived something they can actually see.

So, what’s the book about? It’s NOT a “How To” guide. I don’t lay out the best way to write your epic play, there aren’t any simple five-step programmes included that take you from your idea through to staging your masterwork. The book talks about the aspects of community theatre that make it ideal for first-time playwrights, the things that you should be aware of before you begin writing. It discusses the limitations of the local stages, and how you can get around them or work with them. It talks about the different types of writing you can do for the stage, it highlights common mistakes and other issues to avoid. Best of all, it has funny pictures with hilarious captions scattered throughout.

I’ve read it about half a dozen times now, and each time I feel it’s necessary to point out that I only supplied some of the words. The organisation, proofreading, graphical work, factchecking (and occasional buttkicking) have been done by my writing partners Steve and David at TLC and by Stuart at Lazy Bee. I hope other writers will find it useful. I really hope some people who might not have considered play writing will give it a go as a result, because I hadn’t thought of plays until I was asked to write one, and they really have changed my life for the better.

And if anyone’s interested, I am available for lecture tours…..

Smoke – a short story…

So, it seems unfair, somehow, to write about life out here with the In-Laws staying while they’re actually still here. Instead, I thought I’d raid my archives for my favourite short story. By that I mean one that I wrote and actually like. It’s been a long time since I wrote any short stories, but it’s something I like to think I’ll go back to when the right idea arrives. This one came out exactly as I wanted, and I think it was published somewhere in some format. One day I may try to find out what happened before or after.

Smoke

            And then he woke up and found it had all been a dream. The sunlight yellowed the aging curtains and flung arms of shadow across the cluttered floor. Lying unmoving, he struggled to retain the fractured, fleeing images. A bad way to begin the day, losing memories of joy.

            By the time the back door thudded shut behind him the sunlight had already slunk away. Grey skies stretched overhead now, promising rain. Nice to have a promise kept, he thought. His pace lengthened, though he had no real destination in mind. Since she’d gone his days had become time to be filled, an unwelcome interruption in his sleep pattern. The rain fell and he let it come down, wishing someone would see how it fell on him in particular, soaking into his clothes, washing down his face. But what’s the point of suffering in silence? Lights beckoned in the grey distance and he hastened on.

            It was a café. Plastic seats, badly written menus scrawled on painted blackboards advertising unremarkable specials. He bought a cup of coffee for the heat it offered, which was just as well since it seemed to have lost all flavour on the short walk to a seat. He watched the steam rise from the orange brown liquid and felt a similar steam lifting from his sodden trousers. The steam rose like the cigarette smoke from the next table and he felt a sudden unreasoning desire to smoke. He couldn’t remember when he’d last had a cigarette, couldn’t remember why he’d quit or even if he’d liked smoking, but he wanted one now. Wanted the occupation of unwrapping the pack, the anticipation of sliding out that smooth cylinder from nineteen identical brothers. A wonder of design, the brown filter actually a patchwork of tans, ochres, stone, taupe. He stared at the stream of smoke, licking his lips and remembering the lightheadedness that accompanied his first drag in days. What would that be like now? A year or more, surely, since his last one. His heart quickened with a junkie’s desire and he felt a rush of heat at the knowledge that he was going to give in to this need, whatever else he did that day, he was going to buy the cigarettes and smoke the whole damn pack. Maybe he would do just that, buy a pack in the shop round the corner, come back here for another coffee and smoke all twenty, one after another. So what if the buzz is gone after the first, hell, what else did he have to do today?

            “You look like a man who’s given up.”

The voice was low, amused. It took him a second to come out of his fugue and locate it. The woman who was smoking regarded him with dark eyes. He felt them on his face, felt their passage, heard the vibrant cry of her carmine lipstick, lost himself in the maze of lazy looping black hair that tumbled out of sight behind her shoulders.

            “Huh?”

She waved the lit cigarette and he was entranced by her smooth wrist, the tension of the tendons in her hand. The glow of the cigarette’s tip shone in her eyes.

            “It’s a hard habit to break – you’re never a non-smoker, you’re a smoker who isn’t smoking. Right?”

            “It’s been a while.”

They traded stares, his open and unguarded, beguiled and frank. Hers was curious, suspicious and a touch defiant. She nodded, as if agreeing with something he hadn’t said. Her cuticles were a translucent white, the nails uncoloured, and he followed their path as she raised the cigarette to her lips. Her eyes, those fabulous eyes, squinted half shut against the smoke curling up and he was so distracted he didn’t see what she was doing until she held the new, untouched cigarette out to him. He looked at it, the effort of refocusing causing him to lean back a little. She laughed at him, the cigarette shaking in her outstretched fingers and he suddenly snatched at it. Fearful, lest it should fall, angry that she found him laughable. He examined the gift, hoping he had not creased the perfect tube in his haste. Some tobacco was protruding from the end and he pushed at it with his fingertip. It loosened further and he left it, not wanting to lose any. Looking up, he found the eyes of his donor.

            “It has been a while, hasn’t it, Quitter?”

            “Can I have a light?”

She pulled her chair round to join him at his table, reaching back for a bag and coffee cup, then one more time for a silver lighter. The bag went on the floor. The coffee cup, already half empty, was pushed to the edge of the table. She slid the lighter across to him and it arrived spinning. He watched the lights glinting on it, catching in the design etched on the surface. A skull and crossbones? No, some other thing, a skull with a dagger through it, a military emblem of some sort. He flicked his eyes up, tapping the design.

            “Should I salute? Or run for cover?”

She shrugged.

            “Stole it off an old boyfriend. Only thing he had I wanted.”

A million replies sprang to mind, funny quips, sharp questions, worldly wise throwaways, but he left them ashes in the pit of his mind. He’d used them all once, when he was someone else, with someone else. He picked up the lighter, opening the cover and thumbing the wheel. The flame was orange and flushed the scent of paraffin before it.

            “Do you want me to hold that for you?”

She was sounding amused again. He raised the cigarette to his lips, felt the heat from the lighter as he brought it close. The cigarette was fresh, he heard no crackle as the flame kissed the tip. A deep breath, his eyes on hers as the smoke rushed down. A second’s hesitation, heighten the anticipation, wait, wait. Now breathing out, through the nose, an old friend’s wisdom recalled in the moment

            “You pass the smoke out through your nose, the nicotine reaches your brain quicker.”

And there it was, like a punch to the back of his head. The room retreats a pace, the vision of dark-haired beauty before him wavers slightly and his eyes water.

            “Oh yeah.”

He can smell the smoke on his breath as he speaks. He’s taking another drag, adding another layer to the fog he’s in and she’s reaching for his hand, her fingers cool on his wrist.

            “Steady, Quitter, they’re strong enough.”

Was it the touch making him giddy now? He couldn’t move the wrist she held and he watched the cigarette burning down. The waste, after all this time, the drug he suddenly wanted being released into the uncaring air!

            “You didn’t come out today looking for cigarettes.”

            “But I found them.”

            “Maybe I found you.”

            “Was I what you were looking for?”

He was answering by rote, watching the dissolution of the cigarette he held, feeling the electricity of her fingertips. One finger slowly moved, tracing a circle on his wrist bone. In a sudden movement he swept his left hand over the table. He let the cigarette drop from his right, scooping it out of the air and into his mouth. Her grip tightened and her mouth dropped open. He heard her gasp, surprise rushing out of her, carrying the tang of smoke to him. Gently now he took the cigarette from his mouth with his left hand, moved his captive right to her chin and drew her forward across the table to him. Their lips met and he filled her mouth with his smoke. She pressed her lips to his, never releasing his wrist but pressing with her fingers too. He felt a circuit being completed, the flow from her fingertips down his arm, through his mouth and back into her, the smoke his returning of her gift.

            They broke apart and she smiled, exhaling smoke through her nose and sliding her fingers  up his hand to his fingertips. He caught her hand before she could withdraw it completely. She muttered something he didn’t catch.

            “What?”

            “My heart will be the bridge that you walk over.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “You’ll use me to get over her, whoever she was.”

            “Maybe I just did.”

She pulled her hand free and reached into the bag. Dropping the pack of cigarettes, two remaining, onto the table, she met his gaze.

            “I have another pack at home.”

Thanks to Natalie Imbruglia for supplying a vital line in this narrative.

Why didn’t someone tell me?

This is NOT me

A character called "The Author" in "Work in Progress"

Writing magazines are an important source of comfort and inspiration for the emerging author. Sometimes, however, I wonder about the focus they place on success.

When I became serious about being a writer, about a decade ago, I naturally turned to writing magazines to help me achieve my goals. I wanted good, solid advice on the path I was going to take. What I found, along with helpful articles on the nuts and bolts of story, was that there are only two types of writers that are featured in writing magazines.

Type 1: The Established Author. We hear a lot about Type 1 authors. We are invited to read about their typical writing day (“Get up, walk dog, drink coffee, retire to study, write 5,000 words, have lunch, walk on the beach, write another 5,000 words….”), or get a glimpse of their writing area. We’re asked to marvel at the details of their latest book deal, or commiserate with them that their brilliant novel has been savaged by Hollywood and turned into a dreadful (but lucrative) movie version.

Type 2: The Rising Star. These authors appear regularly too: the first deal neophytes, who break the big time with their first novel (“Cynthia Mulligan scored a $100,000 three-book deal after ***** bought her first novel ‘The housewife with a wooden leg’…”) Whether or not we’ll ever hear about Cynthia ever again is anyone’s guess. The important thing is that she penned an instant hit, and therefore YOU COULD TOO!

The problem I found with constantly being assailed with these two author types was not sour grapes (though you’d be forgiven for thinking so.) I know those at the top of the profession, those type 1’s,  had either a massive stroke of luck or clawed their way up by sheer effort. It takes tenacity and dedication to get a manuscript finished, let alone send it away again and again until it gets accepted. Even if you make it that far, odds are someone’s going to ask you to write another one… The same is true of the Type 2’s. No one is minding the kids and doing the housework for them while they retire to their writing area. They have to fit in the work around the work, as it were.

No, the problem is that this gives new writers the idea that these are the only two career paths for writers – successful superstars, or ‘Just made the big time’ authors. I wish – oh, how I wish! – that back then someone had told me you could be a jobbing writer.

Type 3: The jobbing writer. The jobbing writer still lives in the real world. They don’t attend big book signing events. They don’t sell film rights and buy a yacht. They probably don’t even call themselves “Writers” because they’ve found something specific, some niche that pays a steady wage and still allows them to stretch their creative muscles. They may be Columnists for newspapers or magazines, local paper reporters, speciality magazine editors or contributors, serial letter-writers, or, like me, playwrights. All of these people are Writers, all need the same skillsets as the Type 1’s and 2’s, they need to write in an engaging manner, keep tracking down and eliminating adjectives, spellchecking, fact checking, rewriting… But they don’t get interviewed for the Writing magazines, they don’t get the kudos for doing what they do. Yes, I’m sure you could find exceptions, famous columnists or playwrights, but I would argue that they have not become famous for that – Tom Stoppard may have been a famous playwright, but he became better known for writing the screenplay for “Shakespeare in Love”. “Bridget Jones’ Diary” was a popular column, but Helen Fielding didn’t hit the big time until it became a novel and then a movie.

In the last ten years I have beavered away, writing and working and waiting for the big break. It wasn’t until around five years ago that I realised I was actually earning a reasonable sum – say the equivalent of a part-time job. Not from one big score, but from the accumulation of lots of small pieces selling well. I had diversified, adding Script Reader to my Playwright title. Now I could review new scripts for my publisher. Then we launched a Script Appraisal service, where new writers could get to read the script reports I wrote, as well as having their script proof-read and marked up for errors.

Of course I’m still dreaming of the day when I find myself being interviewed as a Type 1. I’m still working on my screenplay and occasionally I dust off a manuscript and begin yet another re-write. But I know that by plugging away at my niche I’ve built a reliable income and been able to write the things I wanted to write – still do, in fact. If I’m only a little further on ten years from now, I’m sure Mrs Dim will be disappointed (She wants to go to the Hollywood parties…) but I think I will be content. As long as I don’t read too many Type 1 articles.

Getting a job is such hard work!

I’ve thought a lot about this post, especially since it’s about something that only happened in the last forty eight hours. I often remember the phrase “A thought is never fully formed until it has been expressed.” and for me the best form of expression is writing. I need to have things written down so I can see what I think about them. It makes me useless in an argument because I can’t marshal my responses. I look at both sides of what’s being said, and often cave without arguing back. With Mrs Dim, I’ll quite often take her opening speech and run through how I think the argument (oops, meant “discussion” there…Sorry!) will go. Odds are, I’ll find I’ve run out of responses before we really get into it. This isn’t because she overwhelms me or is authoritarian or anything spooky or depressing like that : The fact is, if we’re having a difference of opinion, it’s usually because I am being resistant to change or reluctant to take on responsibility for something (see my previous post).

It may seem daft that I say I’m resistant to change after spending sixteen years moving from house to house, having three kids and numerous minor jobs. Here I am, thousands of miles from the country I was born in, saying I don’t deal well with change. Well, it’s true. I like routine, I like things to sort themselves out and then I can cope with them being the same every day. Having got Tiny Weasel into full-time schooling, I could relax into running my own day between 9 and 3, fitting odd things into that schedule when necessary.

A while ago, when we were living in Bournemouth and not sure if we’d ever get to Canada, I wrote a  magazine article called “Giving up the dream” which talked about the fact that I would have to stop being a full-time writer and go back to regular employment if we were going to stay in the UK. There was no other way we’d cope with the financial reality of life outside the RAF. And besides, with the kids in school and the writing business only growing slowly, there was no reason not to. I had hoped that coming out here, where the house prices are lower and the exchange rate was so good, that we could carry on as we were, and I could survive by increasing the number of published plays. Of course, I also had my grand plays to be visiting Rock-Star-Playwright at the local school and colleges, feted by all and showered with money for deigning to appear and discuss my process.

Well, the plays are still being written. We add new titles every month and our business plan for the next year is healthy enough, but the projected earnings don’t match up to the projected shortfall if we go ahead with the house purchase we’re both considering. Me getting a regular job is the only sensible solution, and this is what Mrs Dim said to me, in a very reasonable tone of voice on Saturday afternoon. I’d like to say that I nodded sagely and instantly suggested several courses of action that we could work on.

I didn’t. I sulked like a teenager. I whined and bitched. I muttered about having wasted the previous ten years building up a business only to throw it away. I said I would only be able to get a stupid shift job at Starbucks, since I’m qualified for nothing, and what good would that do? When this didn’t get me anywhere, I brought the dog into it. How was she going to get her morning walk if I go out to work? Pathetic, isn’t it?

Mrs Dim was more than a little disappointed. From her point if view, I was being very slow and unsupportive. She had shown me the accounts spreadsheet the week before and indicated how the incoming and outgoings wouldn’t match up if we take on a mortgage, or even if we just carry on the way we’re going now. I looked blankly at the lines of figures and nodded hopefully. I did not leap up and suggest I get a job and, bless her, right then she didn’t ask me. She gave me more time to figure it out myself, and when she felt it couldn’t wait any longer, she pushed the issue and I reacted like a spoilt brat.

Why? Well, have I mentioned that I don’t cope well with change? (Please understand, I am aware that everything said in this paragraph is an EXCUSE and not a REASON. I’m explaining my point of view, not asking you to agree.) I have exactly the life I have always dreamed of: I have time to write my looniest ideas down and send them away to my publisher, I get to tidy and clean at my own pace, I get to walk the dog in the fresh air at least twice a day and I don’t have an in-tray. I’ve worked in many different types of jobs in my time, and never really found one that I enjoyed. I worked behind a bar, behind a desk, behind a shop counter, in a factory and it’s only since I’ve been working for myself from home that I’ve been happy with the working hours and conditions. If the kids are ill or there’s a crisis at school, I don’t need anyone’s permission to shut down the computer and go get ’em.

But the point here is not how comfortable I feel in a new work situation. The point is that Mrs Dim has said there is a family crisis on the horizon, and I’m the one who can do something about it right now. If I step up and find work, I can stop that crisis ever arriving, and what kind of husband or father would I be if I just curl up under the desk and hope it goes away? It’s not like she’s asking me to stop being a playwright, and there’s plenty of examples of people out there who acheived more than I do on a daily basis while holding down a nine to five job. If I can’t carry on writing, reviewing and appraising while I turn in eight hours a day somewhere, then I don’t deserve to have all this time at home playing at being a famous writer.

On the other hand, if you know anyone who wants to hire a writer for a couple of thousand dollars a month, I can send you the number to call….

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?