Friday, March 30, 2007

Grants For The Arts cuts

Lyn Gardner on The Guardian Theatre Blog has news of a big cut in the Arts Council's Grants For The Arts funding. Even though many writers had bad experiences trying to negotiate the bureaucracy of this scheme, it's one of the few that is open individuals as well as organisations.
Two weeks ago it was announced that £675million of lottery funding would be diverted from the arts in order to pay for the Olympics, but nobody realised quite how quickly and painfully the cuts would start to bite. Now we do, and it hurts a great deal. As of Sunday April 1st the Arts Council's Grants for the Arts scheme will suffer a whopping 35% cut. This means that during the funding year 2007/2008 only £54m will be awarded, down from £83m in the current financial year.

The Arts Council has made no formal announcement of this devastating cut which will hit large and small and across all art forms. It says that the website will be changed next week to explain stricter criteria for Grants for the Arts applications including a cap on funding and new rules that mean all projects must start and finish in the year in which money is awarded. But the decision was obviously made in some haste because as late as last week some Arts Council officers were still unaware that the cuts were taking place. It comes, says the Arts Council, because of the knock on effect of Olympic funding but also because sales of lottery tickets have been steadily falling, a decline in income speeded by the diversion of money into special Olympic scratch-cards and other games. Those who warned when lottery funding of the arts began that the arts should not be dazzled by the apparent cash bonanza but realise that the history of lotteries in other countries suggested that sales do decline, have been proved right in their predictions.

Ali Smith's novel approach

As Brian Logan reports in The Guardian, novelist Ali Smith has taken an unusual approach to giving away rights to one of her books.
You've written a Booker and Orange Prize-shortlisted novel, which also won the Scottish Book of the Year award. Directors and agents are hammering at your door for the stage rights. This, surely, is your chance at the big time. So what do you do? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? You snub the professionals, and give the rights to a bunch of Lewisham schoolkids.

"I couldn't think of anything more exciting to do with it," says Ali Smith, of her 2001 novel, Hotel World. "Now I know it'll be really amazing, and I can't wait to see it."

Harry Potter's illustrators

Writers know what it's like to be ignored so spare a thought for Jason Cockcroft and Mary GrandPre. Their latest work was previewed around the world this week and will, later in the year be bought by millions.

They are the illustrators of, respectively, the English and American editions of the final instalment of JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. The launch of the cover artwork was splashed across the media, but hardly anyone mentioned their names.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Old news

On the Artful Writer blog, Craig Mazin says that screenwriting is a young person's game.
Talent trumps everything, but here’s a short list of attributes that tend to help: humility, drive, energy, ambition, work-for-reasonable-pay, low expectations, hunger, fearlessness, no kids, no wife, no mortgage, no life, no need for self-examination, no depression, no bad hip, no doctor’s appointments, no self-respect, no pride, no arrogance, no reminiscing, no condescension, no sense of entitlement, no better days to compare the present to and no victimhood to get in the way of the work.

Not all of those things are what you’d call “good for you” (no life is a bad thing, but hey, if you’re working staff on a sitcom, it’s pretty much s.o.p.). Still, they’re things that tend to help one achieve success in a demanding business, and they’re also things that tend to be associated with life in one’s 20’s and 30’s.

Less so in one’s 40’s and beyond.

Penguin's wiki novel.

Q: Can you write a novel by wiki?

A: Yes, but it might not be any good.

In The Times, Alice Fordham assesses Penguin's wiki novel and looks at other attempts at online collaboration by writers.
Scott Pack, the former Waterstone’s executive who runs The Friday Project, an internet publishing company, now bringing out its first novel, says: “My honest feeling is that that it is very unlikely to have any value as a book. Not in a snobby way — but I think it’s unlikely that people will want to read it.”

It is hard to disagree. Even an enthusiastic Penguin editor writes: “I find I can read in about ten-minute stints, which I reckon is pretty good considering what it's like.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Corrie beats Enders

On The Guardian TV blog, Ian Winwood argues that Corontation Street is way ahead of EastEnders, and that the BBC soap's writers are to blame.
...the EastEnders writing team have no understanding of the characters they've created. They don't like them, they don't trust them and (most of all) they don't credit them with any intelligence at all.

Abbott calls for more TV films

Award-winning writer Paul Abbott has continued his pressure on broadcasters, with a demand they commission more single films on television.

The outspoken creator of Channel 4’s hit series Shameless, which follows the lives of the dysfunctional Gallagher family on a sink estate in Manchester and has won popular and critical acclaim, said that the reluctance to make screenplays was a problem for the UK.

He warned: “If someone has a brilliant idea for a 90-minute film, they go to the UK Film Council, get funding and release it as a cinema-release film, instead of as TV film. The BBC rarely pays for TV films anymore.”
More from Liz Thomas in The Stage.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Evening with David Nobbs

David Nobbs, the Guild’s President, will speak at the Writers’ Guild Centre in King’s Cross on Thursday 26th April .

David is the creator of the successful 1970s sitcom The Rise and Fall Of Regianld Perrin (adapted from his own Reginald Perrin novels). But there is far more to David’s career than Reggie Perrin. There’s his acclaimed series, A Bit Of A Do, which gained audiences of fourteen million for Yorkshire Television. There’s his work for many top comedians, including Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson and The Two Ronnies.

And above all there are his novels, sixteen of them, all of them humorous in tone, leading Jonathan Coe to state ‘David Nobbs is probably our finest post-war comic novelist.’ They include the four Perrin novels, the four Henry Pratt novels, and two of his own great favourites, Going Gently and his latest, Cupid's Dart, which started life as a 1981 TV play and was published on Valentine’s Day, 2007.

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild members and £7.50 for non-members and includes a free glass of wine .

To book , please send a cheque payable to the Writers' Guild, to ' An evening with David Nobbs', Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15-17 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JN.

Bartlett switches to ITV

ITV Productions has hired BBC producer Kate Bartlett to run its merged London drama department. Ms Bartlett will join ITV Productions in the next couple of months as controller of drama in London.

She is taking over the merged drama departments formerly run by Michele Buck and Andy Harries, who are both leaving the broadcaster to join the independent production sector. The ITV Productions director, John Whiston, decided to merge the two departments after Ms Buck and Mr Harries announced that they were leaving.
More from Jason Deans in Media Guardian.

Writing spec scripts in the US

If you've ever dreamed of writing for an American TV series you'll probably know that, unlike in the UK where producers usually want to see originated work, the calling card is a spec script of an existing show. In Written By, some experts offer advice.
Marcy Ross [senior vice president of Current Programming, FOX]: It's always great to see that someone understands the nuts and bolts of scriptwriting and can have even a pedestrian understanding of a show's characters. That's the first layer. Then the second layer is when I'm sitting down to read 50 scripts, what are you going to tell me that's new about the character or gives me a heightened sense of reality or situation?

Jane Espenson [writer-producer, currently with an overall deal at NBC Universal]:
A spec has to be two different things. It has to read as if it could be produced, and it has to be different. So it's an odd little dance.
Jane Espenson also has a blog about writing spec scripts.

Minority report

Publishing is still a white preserve, with new authors from ethnic minority groups struggling to break in, reports Gavin Stamp for BBC News.
Despite the mainstream success of the likes of Andrea Levy and Monica Ali, authors with roots in immigrant communities still represent a small fraction of the industry's annual output.

This has inevitably raised questions about whether the background of key decision-makers in the industry limits the range of books being commissioned.

Samenua Sesher, director of the Decibel diversity awareness programme at the Arts Council England, says the make-up of the industry means it has missed opportunities to appeal to minority audiences through successful recent genres such as chick lit.

"Publishers need to try and cast their net a bit wider and broaden their links," she says.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Shooter - Jonathan Lemkin

Shooter trailer

In The LA Times, Jay A. Fernanadez explains how Jonathan Lemkin's adaptation of Stephen Hunter's novel Point Of Impact (for a film called Shooter, directed by Antoine Fuqua), has succeeded where numerous previous attempts have failed.
Like a precision marksman with only one shot to nail his target, Jonathan Lemkin crawled into this landscape littered with discarded screenplays and hit an unexpected bull's-eye: Lemkin's Page 1 rewrite gained the film a star (Mark Wahlberg), a director and a fast-tracked greenlight off a mere second draft.

"I had a great advantage of being able to look on the map and see where the quicksand was, because they had already gone down there," Lemkin says of his ultimately successful approach to the film, which opens Friday. (His organizational approach to the 528-page book involved 1,200 color-coded notecards spread across an 8-by-24-foot bulletin board behind his desk.)

Manda Levin returns to BBC Drama

Manda Levin is returning to BBC drama production as creative director, replacing Sally Woodward Gentle.

Ms Levin, a former BBC drama producer, is currently head of development at Kudos Pictures, the feature film arm of the independent producer behind Life on Mars, Spooks and Hustle.

The BBC drama production creative director role fell vacant earlier this month, when Ms Woodward Gentle quit the corporation to join independent producer Carnival Films.
More from Jason Deans in Media Guardian (free registration required).

Protect the Human Playwriting Competition

Protect the Human is a new playwriting competition run by iceandfire theatre company and Amnesty International UK, culminating in Amnesty's 'Protect the Human Week' in October 2007.

Protect the Human are looking for compelling and original plays that imaginatively interpret iceandfire's mission statement of: "Telling the real life stories of individuals who have been displaced as a result of conflict."
The closing date for entries is 14 May 2007 . Thanks to BBC Writersroom for the link.

Blue 5 - Royal Exchange Theatre

Do you have new and emerging work to share? Why not apply to be part of BLUE 5 – the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester's three-day festival of emerging work, staged from 26–28 July.

The search is now on for more flourishing and established artists based in the North West to have their new work showcased at the Exchange. Previous showcases have been successful sell-outs and raised the profile of many of the region's most imaginative practitioners in live performance.
The deadline for entries is 8 May 2007. Thanks to BBC Writersroom for the link.

Daily Mail first novel competition

The Daily Mail and Transworld have launched a competition for debut novelists.
Transworld will publish the Daily Mail debut novel of the year in April 2008 and will offer a deal of at least £30,000 to the winning author. This is a chance to get your novel published by a leading publishing house with the imprimatur of the Daily Mail - something many an author would envy.
The closing date for entries is 2 July 2007.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hollywood and history

Trailer for 300

Controversy over the historical accuracy of the film 300 (screenplay by Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon, from the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley), released in the UK today, is in a rich Hollywood tradition, reports Greig Watson for the BBC.
The heroic westerner vs tyrannical Persian theme of 300 - based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC - has sparked indignation from some commentators in the US, and brought protests from the Iranian authorities.

And while not every movie provokes an international incident, bending the facts to fit the film is nothing new - as film historian Kevin Brownlow reveals.

"In his 1927 epic Napoleon, director Abel Gance showed his hero at the Club des Cordeliers when the Marseillaise was first sung. He was informed that Napoleon had not been present. 'He is now,' he said."

Trailer for Napoleon

Ofcom permits ITV1 children's cut

As Mark Sweeney reports for Media Guardian (free registration required), communications industries regulator Ofcom has agreed to allow ITV1 to reduce its children's programming this year from an average of eight hours a week to about five hours a week.
The five hours each week are not subject to scheduling restrictions, and ITV1 does not need to run the programmes in its traditional afternoon weekday slot. A proportion of the programmes will run on weekends.

"Having taken into account the opinion of Ofcom, ITV confirms that children's output across 2007 will average around five hours of programming per week across ITV1 hours," said the broadcaster.
The campaign to Save Kids TV continues...

BAC looks likely to be AOK

On The Guardian Theatre blog, Lyn Gardner reports some welcome news about funding for an important venue.
When back in January it was announced that Wandsworth council intended to withdraw annual funding of £100,000 to Battersea Arts Centre and raise the peppercorn rent to a mighty £270,000 per year, it looked as if it might be curtains for the south west London venue which has become one of British theatre's most influential centres for emerging artists.

But after a couple of uncertain months, there are at long last reasons to smile in SW11 with the announcement this afternoon of a deal reached with the council which will see Wandsworth giving BAC annual funding of £85,000 for the next two years and the transference of the Grade 11 listed building to an independent theatre preservation trust on a 999 year lease.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Publishers rush to digitise

Worried about the growth of Google Book Search (previously known as Google Print), publishers are rushing to digitise their books, reports David Derbyshire in The Telegraph.
HarperCollins plans to have digitised its collection of around 25,000 titles - most of them long out of print - by the end of next year.

Many in the industry believe that unless they take pre-emptive action, they could lose out to internet giants.
Google's project to digitise thousands of books has been opposed by the American Authors' Guild, but Google have defended their work.
We regret that this group chose to sue us over a program that will make millions of books more discoverable to the world -- especially since any copyright holder can exclude their books from the program. What’s more, many of Google Print’s chief beneficiaries will be authors whose backlist, out of print and lightly marketed new titles will be suggested to countless readers who wouldn’t have found them otherwise.
As long as copyright is respected then it's hard to see digitisation as anything but a good thing for authors, whoever is doing it. The so-called Long Tail effect of internet retailing has already helped smaller-selling authors and anything that makes it easier to buy books, whether on paper or digitally, must surely be a good thing.

Update: Further reflections on the subject from Victor Keegan.
Interesting things are happening on a variety of fronts that are changing the way books are found, read and talked about, and in almost every case for the good. Even while you are reading this, Google and others are scanning libraries of books - including the Bodleian at Oxford - to make tomes that were hitherto hidden available for all to read; in the case of the millions of out-of-copyright and "orphaned" ones, where ownership is unknown, for free.

Message for young playwrights: don't be so boring

In The Guardian, playwright Anthony Neilson says that too many writers are boring their audience.
Boring an audience is the one true sin in theatre. We've been boring audiences for decades now, and they've responded by slowly withdrawing their patronage. I don't care that the recent production of The Seagull at the Royal Court was sold out. To 95% of the population, the theatre (musicals aside for now) is an irrelevance. Of that 95%, we have managed to lure in maybe 10% at some point in their lives, and we've so swiftly and thoroughly bored them that they've never returned. They're not the ones who broke the contract. They paid their money and expected entertainment; we sent them back into the night feeling bored, bullied and baffled.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Writers' Co-Op

Thanks to Danny Stack and MovieQuill, for a link to a fascinating story by Michael Fleming for Variety about the creation of a writers' co-op in Hollywood.

And if the idea of a co-op conjurs up images of malnourished idealists struggling to earn enough to pay for their next cup of FairTrade coffee, think again. This co-op is based at Warner Brothers and is the brainchild of John Wells, Nick Kazan and Tom Schulman. The aim is to get a better deal for screenwriters and to bring them closer to the heart of the prodcution.
Over the next four years, the Writers Co-Op will generate at least 18 scripts from writers who will risk their usually high upfront salaries for the reward of receiving first-dollar gross, the right to participate as producers and a guarantee they will not be rewritten without their consultation and approval. The scribes will also have a say in the decision making process from development all the way to post-production....

"This company gives writers an unprecedented role in the development and production of their films," said Schulman. "If this model works, we hope others will emulate it."
Will any UK Writers be willing to try it over here?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

British Short Screenplay Competition

The 2007 British Short Screenplay Competition is now accepting entries. The cost is £25 for entries received by 27 April 2007 or £35 for entries received by 22 June 2007.

The winner will have their film produced by Kaos Films, the company behind the competition. They are supported by the National Film and Television School, The Times and a variety of other sponsors.

Although some writers might feel that the entry fee is prohibitive, it is one of the few highly regarded short film script contests and there is a guarantee that the winning film will be made.

Do women writers lack imagination?

In the Independent, Suzi Feay reports on a controversial critique from the Orange Prize panel chair.
Muriel Gray, novelist, television presenter and this year's chair of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (for which male writers are not eligible), accompanied the announcement of the longlist with an accusation that, by and large, the writers this year's panel assessed lacked imagination, and focused too narrowly on their own lives and personal issues.

Women writers don't work hard enough to escape from their own gender and circumstances - in short, says Gray, they're failing to make things up, surely a prerequisite for good, absorbing fiction. She's coined a phrase, rural schoolteacher syndrome, to describe the phenomenon: "the delusory condition that fools the sufferer into believing that an experience, say as ordinary as being a rural school teacher, is so interesting and unique that it's almost compulsory to chronicle it ... thinly disguised as fiction".

Characters over plot

On the Broadcast blog, British director Jon Sen explains what he thinks gives US TV drama the edge over shows from the UK.
I think the real reason why American drama series manage to inspire such devotion is because of what the programme makers do before they start shooting. We've all heard about the huge writing teams and the triple-decker salaries and that's got to make a difference. But more importantly, American writers have always really understood that an audience is loyal to characters not to plot.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Marina Lewycka interview

tractorsIn The Times, Stefanie Marsh talks to Marina Lewycka about her bestselling debut, A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian, and the challenge of following it up.
It is notoriously impossible to predict with any real accuracy what will fly off the shelves at bookstores, and the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, for one, had reasons to believe that A Short History of Tractors In Ukrainian, Lewycka’s sensational debut, had all the ingredients of a catastrophic dud. When she sent off her manuscript to Kavanagh’s offices she received a straight rejection — unnecessarily crushing, I thought, for containing the words “we cannot summon sufficient enthusiasm”.

Lewycka suspects that her precious manuscript went straight into the slush pile unread: “I think editors and agents only want to commission books.”
Caravans The Times also has more about her new book, Two Caravans, as well as an extract.
He opens the barn door and they wade into the roiling sea of chickens. The chickens squawk and screech and try to flap out of their way, but there is nowhere for them to go. They try to flutter upwards but their wings are too weak for their overgrown bodies and they just scramble desperately on top of each other, kicking up a terrible stinking dust of feathers and faeces. Tomasz feels something live crunch under his foot, and hears a squawk of pain. He must have stepped on one, but really it is impossible not to.

Classic twists

In The Guardian, Jed Mercurio talks to fellow writers about the art of adapting novels for the screen.
[Steven] Bochco was one of the creators of the 1970s TV series The Invisible Man. "We pretty much started from scratch, with the only element remaining intact being the title," he remembers. [Darren] Star adds: "I was attracted by the title Sex and the City. I thought it was very catchy." And this sums it up for me. We writers want the titles of these adaptations, so they will bring in the audience; when we've got their attention, we want to show them how original we can be.

Friday, March 16, 2007

October Road

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard TV commissioners say that they don't want comedy or dramas based around the media. It's not a world the mass audience is interested in or understands, they insist.

Strange then, how many comedies and dramas are based around the media in its various forms: Extras, Alan Partridge and Ugly Betty, for example, have all overcome the perceived shortcoming of their subject matter.

A new American drama, however, looks like it might face a tougher challenge breaking into the mainstream. October Road, written by Josh Applebaum, André Nemec and Scott Rosenberg, is about an author returning to the hometown he exposed in his best-selling novel.

The pilot episode has a prime-time slot on US network ABC but Gina Bellafante in the New York Times is not impressed.
Should you already hold the view that young writers are hideously self-regarding, pillaging the intimate emotional property of their closest friends and relations, then “October Road,” a drama beginning on ABC this evening, will do nothing to change your mind even though it seems intent on trying.
But one group of viewers who, I suspect, will be watching, is writers. We all love seeing our own profession on screen, even if it's only to howl about how inaccurately it's being represented.

There's no news yet as to whether Ocotber Road will come to the UK. But another American media drama, Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, will be shown on Channel 4 some time this year. Like American writer and blogger Ken Levine, you might end up loving to hate it. But I bet you'll watch it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Muscial could be magic for Brocklehurst

Question: what has been the highest grossing drama of all time - Titanic, Star Wars or Lord Of The Rings?

Answer: None of the above. The biggest box office takings of all have been for Andrew Lloyd Webber's muscial, Phantom Of The Opera (lyrics by Charles Hart, book and additional lyrics by Richard Stigloe, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux) - around $3.2 billion. Muscials really are big business.

So, congratulations to writer Danny Brocklehurst who, it was announced yesterday, has written a show based around the songs of Take That that will be opening in Manchester later this year.

Could it do as well as the ABBA musical Mama Mia, written by Catherine Johnson, which has so far amassed box office takings of around $2 billion?

Take That don't quite have the Swedish group's global appeal and the band have distanced themselves from the production, but with two recent number one singles, a number one album and a sell-out tour, the group's current popularity certainly bodes well for Brocklehurst's musical.

Jonathan Lethem's Promiscuous Materials

American author Jonathan Lethem has come up with a new approach to selling options to his work. In a project he's calling Promiscuous Materials, Lethem is offering the right to adapt any of a selection of his stories for the price of $1. The main condition is that "films be held to the length of half an hour or less, keeping them firmly in the category of 'short'. Similarly, I'd ask that playwrights keep to a 'one-act', or forty-five minute, limit."

The options are non-exclusive but if the adaptors do make money Lethem says he'll be owed nothing.
If someone working from one of these stories does find distribution or other support that brings financial reward, I'm delighted, as I would be for any artist. For me, while I'm happy to make money from partnerships elsewhere, The Promiscuous Stories aren't about that.
He sees it as a literary equivalent to Open Source software.

With his new novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, Lethem has taken an even more innovative approach.
On May 15th I’ll give away a free option on the film rights to my novel You Don’t Love Me Yet to a selected filmmaker. In return for the free option, I’ll ask two things:

1. I’d like the filmmaker to pay (something) for the purchase of the rights if they actually make a film: two percent of the budget, paid when the completed film gets a distribution deal. (I’ll wait until distribution to get paid so a filmmaker without many funds can work without having to spend their own money paying me).

2. The filmmaker and I will make an agreement to release all ancillary rights to the film (and its source material, the novel), five years after the film’s debut. In other words, after a waiting period during which those rights would still be restricted, anyone who cared to could make any number of other kinds of artwork based on the novel’s story and characters, or the film’s: a play, a television series, a comic book, a theme park ride, an opera – or even a sequel film or novel featuring the same characters. For that matter, they can remake the film with another script and new actors. In my agreement with the filmmaker, those ancillary rights will be launched into the public domain.
Whatever you think of the terms that Lethem is seeking, at the very least he is attempting to wrest some control back for the author in the optioning process. As his Promiscuous Materials project shows, his interest is in getting work made and the terms of his option for You Don't Love Me Yet are surely a welcome change from the complete control normally sought by buyers in these circumstances.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Francis Hopkinson to leave Channel 4

Channel 4's senior commissioning editor for drama, Francis Hopkinson, is leaving the broadcaster to join former ITV colleague Andy Harries in the independent sector.

Mr Hopkinson is understood to have handed in his notice and will depart at the end of May, after around two years at Channel 4.

He is said to be planning to join the new independent TV and film production company being set up by Mr Harries, who is leaving his job as ITV Productions controller of drama, comedy and films later this year.
More from Jason Deans on Media Guardian (free registration required).

Grade says no future for children's shows on ITV1

ITV Chairman Michael Grade has told MPs that children's programming has no future on ITV1 reports Chris Tryhorn on Media Guardian (free registration required).
"In terms of the valuable air time on a main network like ITV1, maintaining a loss-leading service for children seems to be unlikely to be sustained in the medium to long term," he said.

Pressed if that meant there would be no children's programming in the main ITV1 schedule in the long term, he replied: "I can't see it, no."

At the moment ITV is still bound to show eight hours of children's programmes a week on ITV1, but so far it has failed to persuade media watchdog Ofcom to reduce that obligation.

Once analogue switch off is completed in 2012, ITV hopes it can move all its children's programmes to CITV, the free-to-air digital channel launched a year ago, which it says is already available in 90% of homes.

BBC scripts online

The BBC have made more comedy and drama scripts available online, including the first ever episode of Life On Mars by Matthew Graham.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

David Masson obituary

David Masson, the influential science fiction short story writer whose collections included The Caltraps of Time (1968), died last week at the age of 91. There's an obituary by Christopher Priest in The Guardian.
Masson leapt to prominence in the science-fiction world with his first published story, Traveller's Rest (1965). It is difficult to convey the seminal impact this remarkable story had on the small but influential group of writers, critics and readers who closely followed Michael Moorcock's New Worlds in those days. It depicts an apocalyptic war being fought across a time-dilated landscape, where all human senses are subjected to the distortions of relativity.
Without wanting to get too morbid, it does feel as if a generation of sci-fi writers has now almost entirely passed away. The last six months, for example, has seen the deaths of British sci-fi TV pioneer Nigel Kneale, and celebrated American 'pulp' magazine contributor, Jack Williamson. The influence of their work on popular culture, however, remains as strong as ever.

Josie Rourke joins The Bush

Josie Rourke has been appointed as artistic director of west London’s Bush Theatre, replacing Mike Bradwell, reports Alistair Smith in The Stage.
“The Bush inspires, nurtures and champions playwrights and I am thrilled to have been invited to become its artistic director. I look forward to working with Fiona Clark, the directors and the staff of the theatre to take The Bush into its bold and promising future.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

Russell T Davies interview

It's been a long time since a TV writer was as influential as Russell T Davies. Not only has he overhauled BBC One's Saturday night schedule with the return of Doctor Who, he also seems to have restored the faith of the entire industry in prime-time family drama. In The Telegraph he talks to Richard Johnson.
Doctor Who, which is just about to begin its third series under Davies, first appeared in 1963; it is now the longest-running science fiction television series in the world. With good reason, reckons Davies - it's down to the writing.

'Take The Talons of Weng Chiang, for example. Watch episode one. It's the best dialogue ever written. It's up there with Dennis Potter. By a man called Robert Holmes. When the history of television drama comes to be written, Robert Holmes won't be remembered at all because he only wrote genre stuff. And that, I reckon, is a real tragedy.'
Doctor WhoFreema Agyeman and David Tennant prepare for series three of the new-look Doctor Who.

Russell T Davies also has a letter in The Guardian today, defending John Inman's portrayal of Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served? (written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft).
It seems a bit easy to condemn both John Inman and Mr Humphries for the failings of a bygone age (G2, March 9). As a young, gay viewer, back then, I loved that character, and even watching it now, it strikes me that in a sitcom full of failure and frustration - as the best British sitcoms are - Mr Humphries was the only one with an active, successful sex life. He's the only character in Are You Being Served? who is essentially happy. And that's how I will remember him.

Authors getting poorer

New research reveals that, while superstar authors may be thriving, most novelists are struggling to make a living, reports Cole Moreton in The Independent.
The average author earns about £16,000, a third less than the national average wage, it is revealed. So what? They're doing what they love. But hidden behind that figure released by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a grimmer truth: when you take away the superstars who are earning shedloads, the actual figure for the rest is closer to £4,000.

That's less than it was last time anyone looked, seven years ago, and far less than the distant days when the Net Book Agreement kept prices high. Forget living on baked beans in a garrett; this is barely enough to buy stale bread and a tarpaulin for shelter.

Friday, March 09, 2007

PEN marks International Women's Day

Yesterday the international writers' organisation, PEN, marked International Women's Day by highlighting the cases of women writers who have been silenced, imprisoned or even killed.
Harassment and intimidation of writers in Vietnam has long been of concern to PEN. Among them is Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an author and essayist who was arrested briefly in September 2006 for articles that she posted on the internet. She was again briefly detained a few weeks later for publishing further essays. She is editor of the dissident magazine To Quoc (Fatherland). In October she was subjected to a “People’s Court” in Hanoi where police gathered 300 people to denounce and humiliate her, and her home had been attacked by mobs calling her a traitor and a prostitute. Police refused to provide protection. She is now living under virtual house arrest.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Joe Eszterhas interview

Legendary screenwriter Joe Eszterhas talks to Susan Dominus in The Telegraph about his new book, The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!.
'I think there are all these phonies out there who don't know what they're talking about giving screenwriters advice,' says Eszterhas, his hands on his knees as he sits on the couch facing the big-screen television where he and his sons like to watch basketball.

'I've learnt a lot over the course of 30 years, and I wanted to encourage screenwriters to really take seriously what they write, not just to sell out and take the money, but to put their hearts and guts behind it to write a book that would be funny and inspirational and tell the truth about what it's really like.'

Abbott blasts commissioners

TV writer Paul Abbott has attacked commissioners for lacking the courage to launch shows with a long run, reports Liz Thomas in The Stage.
“The way the system works at the moment [means that] commissioners give you three or six episodes at first and it is two years before they’ll commit to ten. The commissioners are gutless, because it is expensive to make TV drama and they won’t take the risk. But I think it’s important for us to learn to tell audiences that we have got something good, and if we commissioned 16 episodes straight away then the audience will appreciate that investment, and they’ll feel well looked after.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Martin Crimp interview

In The Guardian Maddy Costa talks to playwright Martin Crimp about his career so far.
When Crimp talks, he sounds fascinatingly like someone delivering one of his own plays. His intonation rises and falls, bringing drama to every sentence; he weighs words just as his characters do, assessing them for correctness. He describes himself as "text obsessive"; perhaps his voice is so recognisable in his work because he speaks every line aloud himself, checking its shape and rhythm. "That's my own private craziness," he says, "talking to myself."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

James Vanderbilt - Zodiac

Zodiac trailer

Zodiac, written by James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Robert Graysmith and directed by David Fincher has been getting rave reviews in America. It opens in the UK next month. For the Writers Guild of America, west, Denis Faye talks to Vanderbilt.
The audience is going to spend 120 minutes or so in the grimy, dark world of Zodiac. You, the writer, spent over a year there. How'd you cope with that?

I honestly think part of being a writer is that you deal in dark shit so you don't bring it out in your real life. I'm a pretty happy-go-lucky guy because I can deal with dark shit and get it out on the page and not have it follow me home.

The other side of it is that it's funny. We talked to a lot of homicide detectives and the surviving victims of the Zodiac, and there's just a lot of humor to it, a lot of dark humor. You watch shows like Homicide, and you see them joking over dead bodies. That's what you sort of need to do to decompress and not think about it. I remember the first time Brad Fischer and I went out to one of the murder sites up at Lake Berryessa. We went there with Robert Graysmith. He showed us around. We went back to the hotel and got blind drunk. It was ridiculous. We're in the bar telling strangers about this experience. It's just this horrible stuff, but at the same time, there's something about being able to excise it by putting it out there on the page or putting it out there on the screen.

Edward Albee - The Lady from Dubuque

Twenty-seven years after a short run on Broadway, The Lady from Dubuque by Edward Albee is finally getting it's British premiere. In The Telegraph, Jasper Rees talks to the author and the director, Anthony Page.
Such is Albee's abhorrence of directorial egotism, and protectiveness of his own dialogue, that he nurses an ambition to write a short experimental play in which the actors will speak at the behest of an actual conductor.

"If it's written properly, there will be a proper relationship between what is conducted and how the actors naturally speak the lines."

Channel 4 scales back drama

Channel 4 will fail to fulfil its stated ambition of showing a major new drama every month this year or in 2008.

The broadcaster's commissioning editor for drama, Liza Marshall, has admitted that Channel 4 would not be meeting its target of 12 flagship pieces per year.

But Ms Marshall denied industry rumours that the tally would be cut by as much as half.

"There is likely to be a refocusing and we are going to do less than 12 - but we are certainly going to do more than six," she said.
More from Ben Dowell in Media Guardian (free registration required).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Websites for writers

This event was announced to Guild members in the e-bulletin on Friday, but it's also open to non-members (although for £7.50 rather than £5). I've already been contacted by lots of people requesting topics to be covered (for example, the best website design software, search optimisation and building wikis), so if you have a suggestion please enter a comment to this post.
Websites for writers

19th April 2007, 7.00-9.30pm. The Writers' Guild Centre, King's Cross

If you have a website or are thinking of getting one, this event is for you.

For beginners there will be easy-to-follow advice on creating websites and blogs. Plus, hear from other writers about their experiences: how can you use a website to publicise your work and what are the best ways of attracting people to your site?

For those with web experience there will be advice on how to make the most of your online presence. What are the new tools that could improve your site? Are you following the principles of good web design and usability? How could new technology change the way you work?

Entry price includes a free glass of wine. Places are limited so tickets must be booked in advance. To book please send a cheque for £5 (£7.50 for non-Guild members) payable to WGGB to 'Website event', WGGB, 15 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN.

Channel 4 - Coming Up

The Channel 4 Coming Up competition has now been opened to any writer who has not had an original drama broadcast.
Coming Up is the only talent scheme currently in the UK where new film-makers have the opportunity to make an authored drama with a guaranteed network broadcast. Now in its seventh year, IWC and Channel 4 continue their commitment to innovation, experimentation and new voices.

We will make up to eight challenging and individual films from the best emerging talent in the UK. Each film will be for a half-hour Channel 4 slot and we are looking for:

• Bold ideas
• Strong voices
• Originality
• Ambition
• Wit
• Films that push boundaries in a way that wouldn't / couldn't be done in mainstream drama
• Films that are contemporary
• Films that can be shot in 4 days on a limited budget

Friday, March 02, 2007

Blog stats - Feb 2007

Most writing blogs - like most blogs in general - are very coy about their traffic stats, but screenwriter and blogger John August is an exception. In a post about the impact of having one of his articles mentioned on the link-recommendation site, Digg, he has published his February blog stats. You can see why he's not shy: he's had more than 85,000 visits and 130,000 page views.

Still, in the interests of the free exchange of information this blog refuses to be cowed. Here's our monthly stats for February.

The industry standard measure, in fact, is monthly unique users (what Google Analytics calls Absolute Unique Users) - i.e. the number of different people who visit your site. This blog's total for February 2007 was 1,846.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The big Oscar winner: writers

Conventional wisdom holds that "The Departed," by winning four Oscars, including best picture and director, was the big winner Sunday night at the Academy Awards. But for my money, the evening's truly triumphant were the screenwriters.

Going beyond even the terrific choice of using classic (although uncredited) quotes from screenplays for such Oscar-winning films as "Silence of the Lambs" (Ted Tally), "Jerry Maguire" (Cameron Crowe) and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (William Goldman) on the show's promotional billboards, the ceremony was arguably the most screenwriter-friendly in modern history and, hopefully, a sign that their part in this great and glorious distraction is beginning to get its due recognition.
More from Jay A. Fernandez in the LA Times.

Top writers' favourite books

Leading writers from Britain, America and Australia have been asked to list their top ten works of literature, and the results will be published in a book next month.

The top-rated work was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. His other great epic, War and Peace, came third. Two other Russians also made the top ten. Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous novel Lolita came fourth and the stories of Anton Chekov ninth.
More from Dalya Alberge in The Times.

In my own words

Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Evelyn Waugh have all put fictional authors into their works. Is it escapism or egotism, asks Mark Lawson in The Guardian.
Agatha Christie's fictional stand-in is Ariadne Oliver, a best-selling lady detective writer who Christie's own sleuth Hercule Poirot reads for distraction while working on a case (in 1963's The Clocks, for example) and who frequently joins him as a deputy in detection. With a playfulness that some might find surprising in such a generally plain stylist, Christie sets up fi ctional mirrors. Oliver's recurring character is Sven Hjerson, a Finnish detective whose adventures frequently test Miss Oliver's very limited knowledge of Finland, in what can be presumed to be a reference to Christie's irritations in satisying an audience desperate for more instalments about a fastidious Belgian.

Christie also used Oliver as a sort of authorial version of a newspaper's ombudsman, admitting to her own errors in previous plots through Oliver's anecdotes about her regrettable slips.