O is for Other Things

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There are a couple of things to bear in mind when visiting the Big Apple.

The food is very cheap, and I have already marvelled at the “all you can drink” coffee that gets refilled for as long as you sit in a diner/restaurant, but what I didn’t mention is tipping.

The waiters/waitresses are paid minimum wages which is really low and they rely on tips to pay their bills (or so I have been told).IMG_5376

We always put a tip of between 10% and 20% onto the food bill no matter how good/bad the food was. The reason being as above, but also because the staff in New York were always so friendly, polite and helpful. If you need tips to pay the rent then of course you will be polite, but nevertheless it was a fraction of the normal food bills we have on the rare occasion we dine out in Manchester.

Prior to going to America I was told a few stories (surprisingly by people who hadn’t actually travelled over the Atlantic so no doubt were confusing  their facts with television). One story was that New Yorkers hate us British.

That may be so, but in no part of my five days in the City did I experience anybody being rude to us. In fact I found the opposite. Whenever we stood on a street with our map in front of us trying to find our next destination, every single time a New Yorker would stop and ask if they could help us.

Let me tell you if you were standing with a map open in Manchester you would be ignored and would end up having to ask for directions. As for London? – well the folk in London would never notice you as they never look up from the ground to make eye contact with anyone. And yes, I have experienced this in London where the code on the underground is to stare at the floor.

Secondly, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to make sure you have decent, comfortable shoes for walking around in. I didn’t fully appreciate how large New York City is and how much walking we would do, and I got blisters, sore heels and swollen feet. Thank goodness for the Nike shop who kitted me out with trainers that felt like I was walking on cushions.

Finally, plan your days. We didn’t end up doing half of the things we wanted to as we misjudged how much we could fit into a day.

But for anybody reading this who hasn’t been to New York yet – I am really jealous. It is fantastic, the most exciting city I have visited so far on my journey and I will certainly be back there to see her again.IMG_4777 - Copy

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 1 of the London Screenwriters Festival

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Day 1 of the London Screenwriters Festival

Walking towards the prestigious Regents College I felt the anticipation of excitement, creativity and impending inspiration. The objective of the weekend was to be inspired again, but with the packed timetable and variety of sessions and speakers I wasn’t quite sure what form that would come in.

Once I got my festival accreditation I made my way into Tuke Hall where it was standing room only. However, I spied a vacant aisle seat midway down and parked my suitcase, my iPad and my grinning face down. After an excitable opening speech by festival director Chris Jones, we were on our way to our first session.

The Creative Screenwriter which combined a taught session and a book launch was my first encounter. Led by Zara Waldeback and Craig Batty, they combined both the theory behind the craft of screenwriting with techniques to improve creativity. These were very simple techniques which as a writer you do forget, and in my case get very lazy with the written language. They reminded us as writers that we need to train the craft, establish a creative practice and write regularly. I also came away with notes on not settling for my first idea, thinking about the verbs I use in my scripts and general day to day writing. We also discussed plotting, working with worlds, scene writing and using valuable objects. There was a lot to get through in the dedicated time given that their book was a decent length.

Ah yes the book!

I had never been to a book launch before so was new to how it worked. I did end up counting how many times they managed to plug ‘The Creative Screenwriter’. It was a book launch after all so I shouldn’t really have been put off by that, in the end I decided to purchase a copy and even got it signed by both of them. They were both passionate about their topic so spending a tender on a book was a worthwhile purchase for me – even though I swore earlier this year that I would only buy kindle books due to my house being turned into one giant bookcase.

The next session was by Peter Thornton – the creative head of comedy called “How can you play a part in British Comedy”. Again some good tips were given to the delegates.

By this time of the day though I was starting to feel the effect of getting up at 5am after only three hours sleep. Strong coffee and a break were definitely needed. Sitting in that session I made the conscious choice that next year I would suck up the extra nights accommodation cost and stay in London the night before.

There is plenty of networking opportunities to do in the breaks. I also wandered around the book stall, Writers Guild table and was constantly checking the LSF app which was so informative over the weekend.

The next session brought me fully awake due to the enthusiasm of the speaker and the content of the discussion which was Julie Gray’s “You are the HERO of the journey”.

Wow – I think the way that Julie projects her voice, her knowledge and her enthusiasm she could make the dullest topics seem excitable. If I was lagging in the tired stakes at this point of the day she brought me back to life like a shot of expresso! This was a pivotal moment for me in terms of my masters studies too. I have read lots of the theory books, listened to various lectures but for some reason Julie made it all click for me – at last I understood how important it is to take the protagonist on a certain pathway with my writing. Yes…that’s why X did this in that film, that is why Y was there when X did this… it was all making sense now. Sitting in Tuke Hall I felt like I was Jake Blues when he is in the church and he receives a “message from God” to put the band back together. I understood what I need to do with my characters from now on. It’s not about liking them at the start of my story, its about making sure they are flawed, with an inner need etc etc.

Key aspects I have taken from this session.

  • –           The protagonist must learn lessons and be in great pain
  • –           Characters are not about me, it’s about we
  • –           There should be something about that character that makes me feel uncomfortable
  • –           It should make me dig deeply and explore what makes me feel uncomfortable
  • –           Fall in love with the character on page 100, not on page 1

Okay now two things happened! The first thing is I started to think about the scripts that I have written so far, and how I hadn’t developed my characters as fully as I should. I didn’t know them inside out and as a result my storyline was weak. Okay, no worries as that is what re-writing is for.

The second thing is something that my poor husband is going to moan like hell about. I am going to be super-critical every single time I watch a TV show or a film with him as I will be looking for those elements that should be happening. If it was bad enough with my limited knowledge of the craft of scriptwriting (in that I have now either turned a film off or left the room as I cannot face spending time watching stories where I don’t care about the character, therefore the writing is weak) – well it’s about to become even more of a problem.

So, Julie gave me creative high during that session. I then went into the “Writing for Young Audiences” session with Rob Spackling, Chris Hill, Tim Bain and Tony Cooke.  I quickly realised I hadn’t read the brief fully and this wasn’t the session for me. My stamina was shot for the day and I had to retreat back to my hotel which was a tube ride away. Sleep was important as Julie Gray was scheduled for a 9am class on the Saturday and I thought if anyone is worth getting up early for – it is definitely that woman! I think I may have developed a little student crush on her, she is a teaching gem!

The Road to London Screenwriters Festival

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It seems a long time ago that I cashed in the early bird offer from the London Screenwriters Festival 2012. Having just completed my semester one script on my MA, I really thought it would be a useful event to attend.

But it certainly came round quickly. Now into the second year of my masters degree, before I knew it I was having to book train tickets, a hotel and start making choices as to which session I would attend.

My remit for this festival from the start was purely just to experience the whole event. I wouldn’t be pitching, I wanted to be inspired, meet other people like me and have some quality time in the writing world. In my “ordinary world” I mix with many people, and thankfully due to the job that I do and where I do it, I quite often meet writers every now and again. However, the draw of spending a full weekend with storytellers like me is as appealing as a cake shop to Roseanne.

At the same time I also started to feel a bit nervous about being on my own in a big city – London! Previously I have visited it a handful of times, and each of those I was with somebody. Never really thought about that in February when I was booking my early birdticket! Sounds silly but realising that was a bit nerve wracking but thankfully there is always a wind taker who will feed any negative thoughts.

So, the person who judged me by overhearing me communicating my fear of being alone in the city and laughed at me because I had never lived alone – well they just made me want to get on that train and show them. Yes I have lived with my husband from age 19, yes I haven’t lived alone but damn you it doesn’t mean I am not a brave person in my own right! I just love those wind takers…….they keep me wanting to strive!

Being the tight arse that I am I decided I would travel on the morning of the opening day, and save on an extra night hotel bill. Note to self – next year I will not be tight as being exhausted and falling asleep mid first day is not big, it’s not clever and it’s absolutely disrespectful to the speakers.

So, I spent the night before wide awake – couldn’t sleep as I was worried that I would sleep through the 5am alarm. I think I finally got to sleep at 3am, up at 5am – woke my husband up to give me a lift to the train station and so my adventure begins………