london screenwriters festival

22 July : Advice to aspiring writers #wpad

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Hardly think it’s appropriate for me to offer advice to aspiring writers given that I am one of those myself.

However, there are a few things that I have done which have assisted me with my writing.

• Register for a writing course. It wasn’t until I began on my masters degree that I realised that I knew nothing about structure, characterisation, plot, narrative, genre and a host of other essential ingredients that make a good story. Local colleges and theatre groups also run sessions on writing which are not as expensive as university. I have undertaken two sessions of a Writing for Stage course which I found extremely helpful. It’s also good to be mixing with other writers.

• Start a blog and write about anything.

• Join twitter. I follow dozens of writers and it’s a great way to communicate with one another. There is also a valuable twitter forum called #scriptchat where a different member of the industry is on hand on a Sunday evening to answer any questions that are tweeted (in 140 characters though).

• Write for e-zines. The more articles you have published, the more of a portfolio you create for yourself.

• Write every day. I cannot stress that enough, the more you write the better you will get at it.

• Read.

• Make contact with other writers, it can be a lonely time so being able to communicate with somebody who knows what you are going through makes it seem all the better.

• For any scriptwriters, go to the London Screenwriters Festival in October. I went for the first time last year and it was well worth the money. There are so many guest speakers and workshops and I felt so motivated after the weekend. I cannot wait for this year’s festival, and I may just be brave enough to pitch my current project to industry members.LSF2

This is a post for blog writing challenge. One blog post a day for all of July.

20 July : What motivates me #wpad

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Everybody has varying factors which motivate them each day.

In a work capacity it’s surprising to note that for most people a high salary is not a motivating factor in their job role. During a workshop in my day job I was shown the following video which is worth a look, even if you’re not interested in the content of the discussion, watch it purely for how well the artist can draw.

As a writer I am motivated whenever I am around other like minded people.

I often attend masterclasses, talks or short courses as I find it motivating hearing about other people. I’m not the best networker but I am forcing myself to escape from my introverted shell and try to put myself out there.

The weekend just gone is an example of that. I attended Writing for Radio workshop organised by Euroscript which was a full day’s session in London. Not only did I learn a vast amount about writing for the radio medium but I also made some useful contacts with other writers. A number of them are attending the London Screenwriters Festival in October so at least I will know at least a couple more delegates than I knew last year.

The workshop tutor was also an industry professional so hearing firsthand experience from somebody who has been where I am currently really motivates me too.

This is a post for blog writing challenge. One blog post a day for all of July.

Networking : Challenge 22

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Networking is something that haunts me deeply. Having previously written about the subject after my poor networking performance at London Screenwriters Festival 2012

After writing that post back in November 2012, I made a commitment to do two things, the first is to try and collect five business cards at this year’s London Screenwriters Festival 2013. The second was that I bought a Networking book and was going to put some of the ideas into practice.

The first aim is still in my list of things to do this year. I can’t wait for the festival and this year I am going for longer so that I can attend the Save the Cat Wednesday event. So, that’ll be five days away in London, which means that I need to secure one business card, or email address per day.

Sounds so simple when it is dissected like that. But, when you are as introvert as me, it is a horrible prospect. networking

I have been assessing my lack of networking skills since last years festival. It’s not so much that I am painstakingly shy, it’s just that I don’t feel comfortable starting conversations with strangers. If they start conversations with me, I am absolutely fine and can chat as good as most people.

Networking is an odd situation to be honest. A lot of the time it feels forced, and I am sure I wasn’t the only one at the festival last year who found it uncomfortable. Talking about yourself to a complete stranger feels alien to me. I struggle at the best of times, let alone people I have never met before.

But, I have been trying to improve on it this year. I read some of the book that I mentioned in the post that I wrote in November.

My first accomplishment was soon after starting to read the book. It suggested to find something visual that you could use to start a conversation.

So, I was warming my soup up in the communal kitchen at work. In my building, which is in MediaCity we are joined by so many different people, who are either attending conferences, masterclasses, hiring the facilities etc. Basically, you never know who you’ll meet.

Back to the story. I’m warming my soup up and the gentleman next to me is making cups of coffee. Right, my head is saying, be brave and make chit-chat with this man. See what happens – if it goes tits up, then get the soup, and run back to your office vowing never to engage in small talk again. But for now, I’m going to do this. Now, what I can talk about? Find something visual, find something visual…..

The gentleman then starts to dry a teenage mutant hero turtle cup. That’s my way in, just like the book says. So, I take a deep breath and say “retro cup? I preferred the ninja turtles myself”. I almost broke into a sweat as I realised that I haven’t a feckin clue about the turtles ,and if he starts to talk about them then I am screwed. The closest I can get to turtle talk is that I have “Turtle Power” on vinyl. Why start talking about something you have no idea about.

Thankfully, neither had he. It wasn’t his cup, it was the artistic director for the theatre group he belonged to. He was an actor, in rehearsals in our building before moving to The Lowry for four nights performances. See – I got all that information from warming my soup up.

Lucky for me my first encounter at networking was with a theatre actor who are generally larger than life. I tried making small talk the other night with another writer, and it was painful. She seemed even more introverted than me so there was a lot of looking around the room, checking mobiles and looking at the time.

I won’t give up though. Two affirmations I try to live by (among others).
1) Do something every day that scares you.
2) If something scares you keep doing it until it doesn’t.

Knowledge is power

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And so comes the next challenge……..

A few things I learnt from my recent weekend at the London Screenwriters Festival

  • It is okay to be on facebook and twitter
  • I know more about the structure and the theory of screenwriting than I thought I did
  • If you travel on the 6am train from Manchester, you will be too exhausted for the last session so next time arrive the night before
  • My writing so far has lacked really interesting characters
  • Don’t stand on the left side of the underground escalators or you will get pushed over
  • I won’t get attacked just because I am sleeping alone in a hotel room
  • Life on Mars took nine years to be commissioned
  • Don’t be embarrassed about sharing my blog with people
  • If a writer wants to write crime stories then spend time with the real life cops and criminals
  • There is a snobbery among writers if you are a writer on a soap opera
  • When in London it is expected that you walk around quickly and push into people – you don’t need to apologise to dogs when you bump into them
  • The snobbery hasn’t put me off wanting to write for Hollyoaks
  • Writing Mad Men is the best gig a female writer can have
  • Get to Madame Tussaud’s early if you want to pay on the day – those queues go on for miles
  • I am piss poor at networking

The last point was detrimental to my weekend. I should have spoken to more delegates than I did. Yes, piss poor at networking is the sad conclusion to a somewhat inspiring weekend for me. I anticipated that I would find it problematic, and had I have stayed for the bar session on the Friday night it may have helped the nerves, and got me a few contacts. However, there is no hiding from the fact that I seriously suck at networking. And, if I want to get anything commissioned on the radio or TV in the future then I am going to have to expose my inner soul and show these people who I am. 

I was always shy as a child, would never approach any of the cool kids in the playground. I always waited to be invited into friendships and can recall standing at the side of the playground on my own many times. I’m not the sort of person who hung around in large groups, it would always be myself and one or two other friends. This has pretty much carried on into adulthood.

Don’t get me wrong I am not completely mute. I can hold my own at work, have managed staff, chaired big meetings and sung (badly) in karaoke. The problem arises when I am in a situation which I haven’t been in before, such as this big weekend of gathering with other like-minded individuals. I find it alien to start a conversation with a complete stranger and have no idea how to go about it. 

So, I have set a goal for myself. Learn how to network and try to get at least five business cards at the LSF next year. As I write that, I can feel the fear already. I like to write – there’s a reason for that right? I do it because I prefer to communicate by the written language instead of the verbal, that’s just me. I also thought every other writer would be like me, so was not ready to witness during break times how friendly and talkative the other delegates actually were. This is what knocked my confidence at the LSF and why I retreated to the park bench in the Regents Park.

People who know me are always surprised by that revelation. The truth is that I am shy, it takes me ages to make friends but once I do then they are friends for life.

Okay, so I have admitted that I have a fear that I need to overcome. Now onto how I go about changing that?

I have looked at courses online, but unless I can blag work to pay for it then I am not going to be able to afford the kind of prices that they charge (I have next years LSF ticket to fund and that ain’t cheap).

So, instead I have purchased Brilliant Networking – What the best networkers know, do and say by Steven D’Souza. It got a five star rating on Amazon so I am hoping it will be a useful tool in helping me overcome my social sickness.


It only arrived the other day so I will be reading it very carefully over the next couple of weeks and making notes in the margin.

If anybody has any tips they wish to share with me – they will be most gratefully received.

Day 2 at the London Screenwriters Festival

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Firstly, thanks for taking the time to read my blog. This entry is pretty long and jam packed which sums up my second day at the festival.

After an exciting first day at the festival I wondered what the second day would have in store for me. The schedule for Saturday was jam packed with industry professionals that I wished to see, but could only be in one place at a time. Luckily, most sessions were being filmed to be uploaded onto the website so all was not lost if two sessions collided.

People who know me well, also know how completely useless I am at getting up in the morning. It takes me all my time to get to work on time, so weekends are generally a struggle. But, if anybody was going to get me up and arriving at 9am at the Regents College it was going to be Julie Gray! Thank goodness the LSF decided to schedule her session first, that way I was guaranteed to get my money’s worth on the Saturday.

JULIE GRAY – Character and Structure : Separated at Birth

Another really informative session by Ms Gray, which again reinforced my knowledge that I have gained whilst undertaking my masters degree in Television and Radio Scriptwriting. Julie used examples from Rain Man and Legally Blonde to demonstrate to the group how the craft of structuring a film works. I must admit at that session I hadn’t seen either of those movies, but I still managed to follow it. I know, I know how can I call myself a movie fan when I haven’t seen Rain Man, the simple answer is that when that movie came out I was really into my 80s action films so the film never appealed to me (not being a Tom Cruise fan either).

Julie went into much more depth than in the previous days session and focused on character’s general and specific wants, inner needs and active flaws which will then let the character “wreak havoc in their world” She talked about the difference between ourselves and our characters which is something I personally will take away from the session.

Julie gave a great example of how to make sure that as writers, we understood about the flaw that our characters possessed. She asked the delegates to think about how greed would act at a dinner party? How would anger behave playing at sports and how does vanity behave queuing in a long queue? Those flaws will create conflict, and thus the adventures will write themselves! She passed out worksheets to the group and got us thinking about ourselves. The only downside to the session was that people were asking questions, and I wanted to just hear Julie speak!

I left the session thinking about my current project that I am working on with a group of students on my course. We are writing an eight part radio drama, where we each write our own episode. Several of us have to devise a character for the show, myself being one of those. I have decided to revisit my character as at the minute she has no obvious flaw, so once I get that right she will make a very interesting character to write.

Thinking about characters also makes you start to pay more attention to the people that you come across in everyday life. I have met and worked with some characters in my time. All of us have flaws don’t we? But the wonderful gift of being a writer is that we can build on these minor flaws to make such interesting characters that really do wreak havoc on their world.

MARY KATE O’FLANAGAN – Dramatic Tension……how to crank it up

Onto the next session with script consultant Mary Kate. With a few technical glitches at the start, Mary Kate delivered a really compelling session which broke down the three act structure.  Beginning with a few wise words about being a storyteller, Mary Kate told us to take note of the following:

  • 75% of people who do get a film made will not go on to get a second film made (that’s ok for me, I just want to write for television and radio).
  • A great storyteller will create a tale about somebody wanting something very badly and having great difficulty getting it. The storyteller must play with the audiences emotions during the process – what do the audience hope for and what do they fear.

Mary Kate quoted from Aristotle that the protagonist is “a creature of necessity in a landscape of scarcity”. Interesting quote! She then went into more depth about what should be going on with characters during each of the acts. During which she would give us precise examples from a variety of European films such as Headhunters and Festen. We were then treat to a corker of a film with Pour Elle, which is a French film about a husband who plans to break his wife out of prison after she was wrongly incarcerated for the murder of her boss. During the film Mary would stop the sequences at the various scenes where dramatic tension was being cranked up, to show the group why certain actions were used.  The session ran over into the coffee break, but nobody moved from their seats as we were all absolutely hooked into the story that was unravelling in front of us.

Another fantastic session where I took loads of notes – more than I can type up on here.

                Clues for Success : Writing Detectives for Film and TV

I decided to go to this session as I am currently involved in a radio project where I have to create my own character for the series. I have decided to go with an undercover detective for my character, so naturally this session was intended to assist me with this work. Thinking about the types of shows that are on my planner I wouldn’t say that detective shows are ranked up there. My favourite is Scott and Bailey which I do watch religiously when it is on, but I hadn’t watched Silent Witness in years or Waking the Dead which are two shows which the panel write for.

The panel being Barbara Machin (created Waking the Dead), Tony McHale (Silent Witness and Waking the Dead amongst many others), Isabelle Grey (The Accused), Matthew Graham (Life on Mars)
and Tony Garnett (Cathy Come Home and The Cops).

The delegates in the room knew they were about to be treated to some industry knowledge with the combination of these five writers. I just sat in absolute awe, and listened to their stories about working on the different shows that I ended up not taking many notes. What they did all agree on, is that writing crime is a great drawing board for which to tell fantastic stories about people. You can tell most stories through a crime show, and there are opportunities to develop some complex characters during the content of the episode.

Tony Garnett stressed to everybody in the room that were thinking of writing for this genre, that it is extremely important to research and the best way to do this is to spend time with the cops and the villains. How great does that sound? Being allowed to follow the cops around. I am not sure my radio drama warrants that sort of research, but you never know in the future.

My favourite part of the session was listening to Matthew Graham talk about how he came up with the idea for Life on Mars. His childhood was in the 1970s and like me, he called friends of his parents uncle and auntie even though they were not related. He spoke of his “Uncle John” who wore cowboy boots, strutted around the place and was very loud and to the point. Matthew just wanted to write a show about Uncle John who in fact turned into Gene Hunt – so Matthews words of wisdom was for us all to write about our own “uncle John”. I really liked that story, because it was real and I think Gene Hunt is one of those larger than life characters that I just really love and wish I could write for, so to be told the story of where that inspiration for that character came from makes me see the character in a whole different light.

The Show Must Go On : Writing for Soaps

This was the session I had been waiting for ALL WEEKEND. The panel consisted of Yvonne Grace (former Eastenders), Damon Rochefort (current Coronation Street), Tony McHale (former Eastenders) and Tracy Brabin (former Hollyoaks and Shameless).

Now, I do believe there is a certain snobbery with some creative folk about people who write for soaps, or continuing drama as we are told in my course. That could have been the reason why the room was only half full of delegates. However, that suited me fine as I was able to get up at the front.

Folk consider writing for soaps as not really being creative as the characters are already in the show and storylines come and go. Not me – I know which soap I would want to write for. The ultimate would be Coronation Street, because it is watched by millions and I have watched it from being a little girl, although not an avid fan nowadays, but I do pop in every now and again. But, for me it is Hollyoaks. I started watching it last year after a representative from Lime Pictures came to give a masterclass to my scriptwriting group. I thought it would be a good way to get into writing for soaps so I started to watch it. Well – it took approximately a couple of weeks to get to know the characters, but I can honestly say 18 months on that I am a massive fan of the show. Even my kids and husband watch it with me, and I would really love to be able to write for those characters eventually (especially Brendan Brady, Jackie and Joel).

Anyway, I am going off track here. So, as a massive fan of Hollyoaks you can imagine my excitement at having a real scriptwriter from the show on the panel in the form of the wonderful Tracy Brabin. Tracy has also written for Shameless (another of my favourite shows) and was famous for playing Trisha in Coronation Street some years previous. Tracy was like a breath of fresh air, she started off saying that she didn’t feel like she deserved to be sharing the panel alongside the others. As an actress she decided to retrain and was able to be funded for a masters degree in Screenwriting, which she then used to get on at Hollyoaks as a writer. This immediately made me prick my ears up as she is doing what I am hoping to do in the future, in the same way that I am doing it. There could be hope for me? Tracy spoke of how she was able to land a spot on the Hollyoaks writing team, she talked about how the writers attend storylining conference and have to pitch stories for the characters etc.

From this the writers from Eastenders and Coronation Street stated that a similar process was in operation at those shows. Story conferencing consists of two to three days of sitting in a room with other writers and staff from the shows, when stories are pitched. If the story goes on the board then the writer pretty much knows that they will receive a commission to write one of the episodes. So, that process alone shows that the writers do get involved in the show in a creative manner.

The session was a great insight into the world of the soap opera. The panel were kind enough to continue the discussion into the script chat which followed. The only time over the weekend that I suddenly asserted myself was to sit next to Tracy Brabin as I desperately wanted to ask her a question away from the rest of the group – you can see me on the photograph of the script chat. The panel continued to advise the delegates into how to break into soap writing – a common theme over the weekend was that nothing would happen to our writing careers without the backing of an agent.

So, coming away from that session I have two things to tackle over the next twelve months. Firstly, the most important task for me is to finish and pass my masters degree, and secondly to start the process of finding an agent.

Finally, I did get to ask Tracy my question away from everybody else. She is such a nice, lovely person and I am grateful that she spared me a few extra minutes.

For the remainder of the day I also attended the Should you write for radio session and the Social Media session. Again, both really useful. Radio is the other medium I would like to write for, depending on how I cope with my current radio project at university. As for social media? Well I felt more relieved after that session that I should use it even more than I currently do (which is a lot). For my homework I will be having a look at googleplus and following a few more twitter folk.

So, that rounds up my second day at the festival. It was my favourite day by far, and although the ticket is arguably expensive, I would state that I got my moneys worth on Saturday. I can’t state how motivating it is to even be in the same room as these geniuses of their craft. Normal people like myself who have worked hard, never given up when they received rejection and are proof that people can get their lucky break. Matthew Graham spent nine years trying to get a commission for Life on Mars and that was initially just a story about his uncle John.