Friday, February 26, 2010

What Guild members are getting up to

BENNETT ARRON will be performing his show It Wasn't Me, It Was Bennett Arron at the New End Theatre in Hampstead from Saturday February 27th until Monday March 15th.

LESLEY CLARE O'NEILL wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 5th March.

MARY CUTLER wrote the episodes of The Archers going out on Radio 4 from Sunday 28th February till Friday 5th March at 7:00pm with each episode being repeated at 2:00pm the day after its original broadcast.

JEFF DODDS wrote the episode of The Bill "Protect and Serve" going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Thursday 4th March.

JIM ELDRIDGE'S radio play Ashes to Antarctica is going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Monday 1st March.

CHRIS FEWTRELL wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Friday 5th March.

JONATHAN R HALL wrote the episode of Doctors "Unmoved" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Monday 1st March.

JAYNE HOLLINSON wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Thursday 4th March.

GWYNETH HUGHES wrote the episode of the second series of Five Days going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Wednesday 3rd March.

JULIE JONES wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Monday 1st March.

NEIL JONES wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Wednesday 3rd March.

PETER KERRY wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 1st March.

JONNY KURZMAN wrote the episode of MI High going out on BBC1 at 4:35pm on Monday 1st March.

DAVID LANE wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 5th March.

DARREN RAPIER wrote the episode of Doctors "When We Were Young" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Tuesday 2nd March.

BILL TAYLOR wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm and 8:00pm on Thursday 4th March.

The future of drama on BBC Radio 4

At a meeting with representatives from the Writers’ Guild and the Society of Authors last week, Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor for Drama at Radio 4, and Mark Damazer, the Controller of Radio 4, emphasised their commitment to retaining single plays on the network and outlined some upcoming changes in scheduling.

The biggest change concerns the Friday Play, which will be cut to 12 new commissions this year and then disappear all together (with one or two exceptions) next year after as a result of budget cuts. ‘We decided to cut an entire slot rather than take a slice out of everything,’ Jeremy Howe explained.

Elsewhere across Radio 4 the volume of drama will remain about the same. ‘Radio 4 drama reaches almost 6.5 million people per week,’ Howe said, ‘and a single Afternoon Play reaches almost as many listeners as could see the plays at the National Theatre in a whole year.’

Radio drama, though cheap in comparison with TV drama (about £24,000 per hour rather than £500,000 for an episode of Casualty) is much more expensive than other radio genres. At a time of widespread budget cuts across the corporation, Howe and Damazer insisted that the continued volume of drama across the schedule was a demonstration of their commitment to it, and to writers.

The Radio 4 drama slots

While, with the exception of the Friday Play, the drama slots are set to remain the same, Howe outlined how they are developing.
  • Women’s Hour drama –this used to be a place for many writers new to radio but is now looking to commission ‘the biggest and best writers’ for what is a high profile and challenging slot
  • Afternoon Play – ‘variety remains the key’, and this is where writers new to radio are most likely to start. The single play will continue to dominate but some more series will also be commissioned
  • Saturday Play – without any fanfare, Howe said, this has been evolving into a ‘showbiz slot’ which sought to really entertain listeners
  • The Archers – in Howe’s words, ‘Nearly 60 and behaving like a ten-year-old’ (in a good way)
  • Classic Serial – continuing to find new ways to do the classics
The audience

Research shows that the Radio 4 audience is 51% male and 49% female with an average age of 54. ‘It’s a very informed, curious audience,’ Howe said. ‘You dumb down to them at your peril.’ The station as whole is looking to attract more forty-something listeners, he added.

The commissioning process

The process for getting a drama commissioned for Radio 4 can be complicated, but from a writer’s point of view, Howe said, the main thing is to make a contact with a producer whose previous work you have liked.

Dramas from in-house producers are commissioned on the basis of pitches submitted by producers – although they will need to see other full length work as well if you are new to radio.

The Classic Serial slot is commissioned once a year, the Women’s Hour drama and Saturday Play twice a year. The Afternoon Play also has two main commissioned rounds but it has introduced some rolling commissioning, including for those independent producers selected as ‘batched suppliers’.

Once a producer has agreed to take forward an idea from a writer they will have an informal meeting with the Commissioning Editor (Jeremy Howe) to talk it over. If they decide to take it forward they then submit a formal 300-word pre-offer. In the spring 2009 commissioning round, Jeremy Howe revealed, he received 61 such pre-offers for the Saturday Play slot and 26 were rejected.

Those that make it through the pre-offer may than have some further development with the writer and are checked for any scheduling clashes. Finally a full two-page offer is written submitted by the producer to the Commissioning Editor and Controller. In spring 2009, 16 titles were commissioned into the Saturday Play from the 35 formally offered.

Commissioning from independent companies follows a similar process. In spring 2009 there were nine Saturday Play commissions from the original 84 pre-offers that were submitted by independents.

Who gets commissions

Howe said that for 2009/10 Radio 4 drama has commissioned more than 220 writers.
  • Three writers have got more than nine commissions, more than 150 have got a single commission
  • 80 are women, 140+ are men
  • More than 50 are first or second time writers for radio (‘possibly a few too many,’ Howe said)
How to get a commission

The key thing, Howe said, is to ‘listen to Radio 4 output, including drama, note the name of a producers whose work you like and then contact them.’

He stressed, however, that writers shouldn’t ‘clone what you have already heard. We want originality, we want your voice.’

The most common shortcomings when it comes to pitches, he said, were the lack of a hook for the story and the lack of conviction in the offer document. ‘Single plays need to be singular, need to stand out. If you submit an idea, you need to communicate clearly and passionately why you want to write it.’

The way ahead

Since the cost of drama is an ongoing issue, Radio 4 is generally looking to do ‘fewer, bigger, better.’ However, the commitment to drama remains as strong as ever.

Howe explained that they are looking at ways to get content out on as many platforms as possible – although rights issues remain to be resolved. They are also looking to develop closer ties with TV drama.

The Nick Darke Award

The Nick Darke award was conceived in 2006 by Jane Darke and Cornwall County Council with the aim of celebrating and supporting a writer. It aims to achieve this by awarding the writer a sum of money which will allow time to work, and offer some support through the development process.

Nick Darke wrote in many forms but earned his living in the world of theatre, screen and radio. As this award is intended to contribute financially to the life of a writer, we have decided to make the award in one of these disciplines.

We are asking writers to submit work that pursues an environmental theme – to reflect Nick Darke’s lifelong commitment to this issue, and within one of the following four disciplines:
  • Stage play
  • Screenplay
  • Radio play
  • Documentary film
The Nick Darke Award has been developed by Nick Darke’s wife, the artist and film maker Jane Darke, with the support of Nick Darke’s family. It is funded by University College Falmouth’s School of Media and The Works (Dance & Theatre Cornwall Ltd.), and supported by KEAP (Kernow Education Arts Partnership). It is being administered by University College Falmouth.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 12 March, 2010.
The winning writer will be awarded £3,000 to help them complete their project. Full details can be downloaded from the website (pdf)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Penguin boss unfazed by march of ebooks

In the Daily Mail, Penguin chief executive, John Makinson, tells Simon Duke that while the 'transition from physical [publishing] to digital is a momentous moment for the industry' he (unsurprisingly) doesn't believe that the role of publishers will be diminished.
Makinson believes publishers will be ‘more than a filter’, or a stamp of authority amid the deafening noise of budding authors trying to sell their work online.

‘I see the role of the publisher being extended rather than reduced in this world,’ he said.

‘We make decisions about what we want to publish, edit the content, design the content then sell and manage the product.’

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thousands of authors opt out of Google Book Settlement

From Alison Flood in the Guardian:
Former children's laureates Quentin Blake, Anne Fine and Jacqueline Wilson, bestselling authors Jeffrey Archer and Louis de Bernières and critical favourites Thomas Pynchon, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson have all opted out of the controversial Google book settlement, court documents have revealed.

Authors who did not wish their books to be part of Google's revised settlement needed to opt out before 28 January, in advance of last week's ruling from Judge Denny Chin over whether to allow Google to go ahead with its divisive plans to digitise millions of books. The judge ended up delaying his ruling, after receiving more than 500 written submissions, but court documents related to the case show that more than 6,500 authors, publishers and literary agents have opted out of the settlement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hollywood and politics

For the Writers Guild of America, West, Denis Faye talks to former West Wing writer Patrick Caddell about how US film and TV have portrayed the country's politicians.
What has Hollywood gotten right about presidential politics?

For a long time, not anything. I remember the conversation that got me involved with West Wing. I met Aaron Sorkin when I was doing Bulworth [Screenplay by Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser]. We had lunch and I said, “Look, the most important thing to understand about politics and Hollywood is that unlike so many other things, Hollywood shows what it wishes it would be, not what it is.”

Hollywood makes great cop movies, for instance. They research the different sides. The grittiness, the accuracy, is so authentic. You know it when you see it. But with political movies and shows, it’s much more how they’d like it to look.

The second thing I told him was that the reason so many films fail about the president is that they’re made out to be cartoonish or, even worse, to be evil. Not to denigrate that because it can be part of the art, but I don’t think people really want to see that. The theory I had about politics is that people were already so negative of politics. When Hollywood showed even more negative views of politics, people didn’t go because why depress yourself even further?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tories publish plans for the arts

From the Conservative Party website:
Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt and Shadow Arts Minister, Ed Vaizey have today set out far-reaching proposals to rejuvenate the arts under a Conservative Government.

"The Future of the Arts with a Conservative Government" (pdf) sets out plans for how to provide coherent and sustained support for the arts.

The Conservative approach is to:
  • Secure, long-term funding for the arts, based on the mixed economy and the arm’s length principle which ensures they have the resources to carry them through the good times and the bad.The promotion of excellence in the arts through greater trust and independence for our arts organisations.
  • Use technology and a more coherent approach to arts funding in schools to enable access – we believe as many people as possible should enjoy the arts in all their varied forms in this country.
In the Guardian, theatre critic Michael Billington is unimpressed.
Hunt is not all bad: I sympathise with his desire to trim the bureaucracy of the Arts Council – though I hope there is no petty, politically motivated urge to ditch its chair, Liz Forgan. But, in general, I fear Hunt is offering us a dodgy prospectus. I'm sure, personally, he loves the arts. But what I want to hear is a passionate defence of state funding, an assurance that a new culture minister will have a seat at the top table, and as big a commitment to regional growth and innovation as to shoring up the established institutions. I don't get any of that from Hunt.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An evening with David Edgar and Bryony Lavery

Thursday 29 April, 7-9pm at Derby Theatre Studio

To launch the revival of this famous studio venue (formerly Derby Playhouse) the Theatre Arts department at Derby, in partnership with the Writers Guild of Great Britain and in association with Theatre Writing Partnership, present Getting it Good, Getting it Right – an evening with David Edgar and Bryony Lavery

At a time of economic recession, the theatre seems to be thriving. And with the recent British Theatre Consortium survey revealing just how widely newly commissioned writing figures in this success, the challenge of what the playwright can bring to the contemporary stage has never been more relevant.

From their different personal perspectives, these two accomplished playwrights will talk about how they approach this challenge (both creatively and structurally) including discussion of David Edgar’s new publication How Plays Work and Bryony Lavery’s latest collaboration with Frantic Assembly Theatre Co.

(How Plays Work will be on sale and signed by David Edgar at the end of the evening).

ALSO on Wednesday 5 May, 7pm

Penny Dreadful – a theatrical reading of Richard Pinner’s black comedy about the controversial, final chapter of Charles Dickens’ life.

Both events all-ticket @ £5, £2.50 concessions. But FREE for Guild members!

BOX OFFICE 01332 255800,

For enquiries/ reservations contact Richard Pinner at

EastEnders at 25

If you didn't catch the live episode of EastEnders last Friday, written by Simon Ashdown, it's available until the end of the week on BBC iPlayer.

It attracted ratings of almost 17 million and a mountain of media coverage including 25 years of EastEnders women, cartoons by Modern Toss, and special awards for the most popular characters of all time (won by Dot Cotton).

And following the recent online success of E20, There's even a blog post by Stuart Heritage about other possible EastEnders spin-offs...

By the law of averages, not everything that happens within the confines of Albert Square has to be morbidly depressing. It might not seem that way to the average EastEnders viewer, but some of the characters have to experience fleeting moments of levity every now and then. So why not make a spin-off about those moments? That's right – I want to see a show where Lucy Beale buys a nice new hat, Pat Butcher dances the macarena in a pair of novelty slippers and Max Branning receives a telephone call that doesn't make him scowl like an angry prawn for a month afterwards.

Ears Wide Open

From the Theatre Writing Partnership:
Ears Wide Open is an experiment in site specific audio drama – an opportunity for two writers (one from the West Midlands and one from the East Midlands) to collaborate and write a series of short plays in response to locations in Birmingham and Nottingham. The locations should echo each other – they might be green spaces in the city or underground spaces. They might be rooftop locations, night clubs, industrial spaces or cinemas.

The aim of the commissions is to make radio drama which will be heard by listeners in a particular location in both cities as part of the Birmingham Book Festival and as part of the Momentum New Writing Festival. The commissioned writers will collaborate with each other and with the director of Theatre Writing Partnership, Kate Chapman, who will produce the audio drama. Our aim is to make the audio drama available online but also to find a way to present it on location in each city as part of each respective festival.

Other creative input will come from a sound designer (to be appointed) and from Director of Birmingham Book Festival, Jonathan Davidson.

We would like the commissioned writers to have an input into finalising the creative brief and identifying the locations. At this stage we would like to invite expressions of interest from writers who would be interested in this project. The deadline for expressions of interest is 28 February 2010. The writing period will be March – June 2010 with recording and editing taking place from July – September 2010 and the presentation in October.
Download the writers brief(pdf).

Link c/o BBC Writersroom.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What Guild members are getting up to

SEBASTIAN BACZKIEWICZ wrote the episode of Holby City "Amare" going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Tuesday 23rd February.

SARAH BAGSHAW wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 22nd February.

SIMON BRETT'S new series People in Cars "Get Away" begins on Radio 4 at 11:30am on Friday 26th February.

D.J. BRITTON has been appointed to the Board of the National Writers' Centre for Wales, as artistic adviser. The centre is based in Tŷ Newydd, Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd, home of the Welsh Statesman David Lloyd George. It promotes and develops literary writing in English and Welsh through residencies and short courses.

David Britton , who lectures at Swansea University, is currently working as dramaturg in the preparatory stages of Shelf Life, the second production in the premiere season of the new National Theatre of Wales. Shelf Life is an inventive site-specific presentation by Volcano Theatre and the Welsh National Opera. It takes over the grand Victorian building that housed the old City Library in Swansea in April. The production is is directed by Volcano's Paul Davies.

MARK BURT wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Friday 26th February.

LESLEY CLARE O'NEILL wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 24th February.

PAUL COATES wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Thursday 25th February.

ANDREW CORNISH wrote the episode of Doctors "Yetis on the Golf Course" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Monday 22nd February.

SIMON CROWTHER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Monday 22nd February.

Guild members BENITA CULLINGFORD, JEAN MCCONNELL and MARY RENSTEN feature in The Woman Writer, A History of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) by Sylvia Kent. Price £12.99, copies from The History Press.

KATE DELIN wrote the episode of Doctors "Eyes Open" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Wednesday 24th February.

BILL GALLAGHER wrote the episode of Lark Rise to Candleford going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Sunday 21st February.

TOM GREEN'S new play Fighting begins it's run at the Brockley Jack in south London on 23rd till 27th February as part of its Write Now season.

JONATHAN HARVEY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Monday 22nd February.

ADRIAN HODGES wrote the concluding episode of Survivors going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Tuesday 23rd February.

JOHN KERR wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 26th February.

PETER KERRY wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 26th February.

JESSICA LEA wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Friday 26th February.

PHILIP QIZILBASH wrote the episodes of BBC Asian Network's daily soap Silver Street going out from Monday 22nd till Friday 26th February at 12:15pm, with an omnibus edition on Sunday 28th February.

GILLIAN RICHMOND wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Monday 22nd February.

PAUL ROUNDELL wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm and 8:00pm on Thursday 25th February.

STEPHEN RUSSELL wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Thursday 25th February.

BILL TAYLOR wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 23rd February.

STEVE TRAFFORD wrote the episode of The Bill "Red Tape" going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Thursday 25th February.

JOY WILKINSON wrote the episode of Doctors "Loving Memory" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Tuesday 23rd February.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why are British films commercial flops?

With the BAFTA film awards just a few days away, in the Telegraph David Gritten asks why even those British films that achieve critical acclaim rarely make much impact at the box office.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the British film industry won't be surprised at his main conclusion - that it all comes down to distribution.
Valentine’s Day, like so many heavily marketed and advertised Hollywood films in Britain, opened last week on a massive number of screens - 432. Fish Tank opened last September on just 47. What hope did it have? At that time I met its director Andrea Arnold, who told me plaintively she believed lots of people would like her film if only they got the chance to see it.

But they don’t. Some weeks back, I alluded to this in a Saturday Telegraph column, and a reader wrote to confirm that her friends were 'not aware of this type of (British) film, whereas they know all about American releases.’ Popcorn movies, she added, could be seen 'anywhere, at all times, but anything else is restricted viewing as far as my two local cinemas are concerned.’ Now this was someone with not one but two local cinemas. And she lives within 20 miles of London. If she feels excluded from British films, imagine how someone living in Cumbria or Cornwall must feel.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Doctor Who writers scripted against Thatcher

In an article by Marc Horne in the Times, former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy reveals that in the 1980s that the show had an anti-Thatcher agenda.
“We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. Those who wanted to see the messages saw them; others, including one producer, didn’t.”
McCoy's claims are confirmed by Andrew Cartmel, the show’s script editor during the late 1980s:
He said last week that John Nathan-Turner, who produced the show throughout the 1980s, had asked him during his job interview what he hoped to achieve in the post.

“My exact words were: I’d like to overthrow the government,” said Cartmel. “I was a young firebrand and I wanted to answer honestly. I was very angry about the social injustice in Britain under Thatcher and I’m delighted that came into the show.”

In praise of BBC radio drama

In the Daily Mail, Ray Connolly sings the praises of BBC radio drama.
'In a single afternoon we catch as many listeners as could see the plays on all three stages of the National Theatre if every seat was filled every day for a year,' explains radio drama commissioner Jeremy Howe.

It's a huge audience, and it's all garnered at a bargain basement price. For instance, while an hour of television drama costs between £500,000 and £1million to make, the average budget for radio drama is just £20,000 an hour - that's to pay for everything: writer, actors, studio staff and other costs.

Obviously with its low-key, thoughtful appeal, radio drama isn't a lucrative or glamorous part of broadcasting. But then ideas, stories and the imagination of the audience are the things that are important here.

Have your say on the skills needs of the literature sector

From a Creative & Cultural Skills press release:
Creative & Cultural Skills is inviting the literature sector to contribute to a new plan to develop the skills needs of the industry.

The Literature Blueprint will be a workforce development plan for literature in the UK. It will analyse the skills needs of the literature sector and propose key actions in response. The plan is focused on creative writers and those who support them. We would like to hear a range of views from the sector, from writers across different disciplines to writers’ networks and anyone who works to support the development of the literature sector. The plan will be UK-wide.

Tom Bewick, Group Chief Executive, Creative & Cultural Skills, said: “The UK is rightly proud of its literature sector, which encompasses a range of working practices and business models. To ensure the continued success of the sector in a time of intense technological and economic change, we need to focus now on developing those skills that will be needed in the future.”

Antonia Byatt, Director, Literature Strategy at Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to have been partners with Creative & Cultural Skills in developing the Literature Blueprint. To ensure that everybody can access high-quality literature experiences, both now and in the future, is at the heart of our work, and the development of skills is vital in this aim.”

Please go to to download The Literature Blueprint. The consultation closes on Friday 19 March 2010.

Kudos boss Stephen Garrett interviewed

For Media Guardian, Maggie Brown talks to Stephen Garrett, executive chairman of the independent television producer, Kudos.
Garrett's fears are for UK-based dramas that are suffering from the BBC squeeze on costs and find it difficult to attract international funding. When Kudos made the first series of Spooks, the difference between the fee paid by the BBC for it (known as the tariff) and its production costs was about 3%-5%. That shortfall could be made up by DVD sales, repeat fees and some overseas sales. He says the fee the BBC now pays for the series is less than it was in 2001 and so, with increased production costs, the funding gap has widened.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dick Francis 1920-2010

Dick Francis, the best-selling thriller writer, has died at the age of 89, reports BBC News.
Francis [won] numerous accolades for popular fiction in his genre, including Crime Writer's Association lifetime achievement award in 1996.

He was awarded a CBE in 2000 for services to literature.

Numerous tributes have been published, including by Simon Barnes in the Times:
The sameness of his books is not his weakness but his strength. You know what you’re getting with a Dick Francis. And given that there are so many of them, his consistency is astonishing. I have hardly met a dud, and I have read an awful lot of them.

Perhaps the best is Bonecrack, set in Newmarket, in which our hero outwits an insane Mafia chief fixated on the idea of having his son win the Derby as a jockey. It’s not terribly likely, no, but you don’t argue the point when the plot’s on the gallop and the baddie’s coming to get you. The weightiest is The Danger, the kidnap one. Hot Money actually has a strong character alongside the narrator.

How should we assess the Francis oeuvre? As an incomparable entertainer, as the best aeroplane books ever written. Marcel Proust merely wrote about time: Dick Francis destroyed time. Are we at JFK already?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New screenwriting forum

Guild member Piers Beckley has set up a new screenwriting forum.

As he says on his blog, he's done it:
Because we didn't have anything like The Artful Writer or Wordplay forums here in the UK.

Hopefully it'll be of some use to everyone. Why not stick your head in and say hello?

Are writers to blame for the lack of parts for older women?

Last week the Stage reported that Shelia Hancock had complained that:
“I’m afraid a lot of men have a concept of women as they become older as being rather dreary and rather grey and not having any kind of life or personality, and therefore there is a danger that writers don’t write lively parts for older women. That’s a problem.”
Here's a response from Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's Television Committee:

Sheila Hancock, you’re one of our finest actresses and I’d love to write something... anything... for you. But the problem lies with the executives and decision makers, not with the writers. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve written something in comedy for an older woman and execs turn her into a Cheryl Cole clone which, let me tell you, doesn’t make for great storytelling or dialogue.

And every time there is a strong woman lead in a series (i.e: Emilia Fox in Silent Witness); she has to be surrounded by more men than you would find in a public urinal. Older women characters are often merely barking. And I can’t wait to see how they cast the “Susan Boyle Story.”

Trust me, writers are with you all the way. There are questions currently being asked about gender inequality in the business and the Guild is highly active on this. The problem you describe extends to women writers and directors as well.

But just one thought. You’re a splendid writer yourself. Why not join the Writers’ Guild and help us win the fight?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Post-show with Peter Brook

On the Guardian theatre blog, Guild member John Morrison recounts his experience of an extraordinary post-show encounter with theatre director Peter Brook.
Last Tuesday's event helped me understand a little more of what he's up to. Firstly, his theatre is about storytelling. Secondly, he believes in the maxim of the famous French chef, Escoffier: faites simple (keep it simple). Thirdly, and most importantly, he has a deep respect for the audience, who are more than just passive watchers and listeners. In Brook's concept of theatre, the audience is essential; without it, nothing happens. "The relationship between the actor and the audience is the only theatre reality," he once told an interviewer. That idea puts Brook at odds with the tradition of Stanislavski and his followers, such as director Katie Mitchell, who seem to view the audience as at best incidental to their productions. Brook admits he has "barely read" Stanislavski.

What Guild members are getting up to

SIMON ASHDOWN wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Thursday 18th and at 8:00pm on Friday 19th February.

CHRIS CHIBNALL wrote the concluding episode of Law & Order: UK "Honour Bound" going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Monday 15th February.

RYAN CRAIG'S radio play English in Afghanistan goes out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Tuesday 16th February.

CLIVE DAWSON wrote the episode of The Bill "Crossing the Line" going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Thursday 18th February.

DAVID EDGAR has adapted Arthur and George, the semi-fictional novel by Julian Barnes, for the stage.

Birmingham solicitor George Edalji has been convicted of a terrible crime and is desperate to prove his innocence. After his release from prison he recruits the help of none other than expert crime writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to help solve his mysterious case and hopefully win him a pardon.

At the Birmingham Rep from Friday 19th March to Saturday 10 April. Booking now.

MATTHEW EVANS wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Monday 15th and at 7:30pm on Tuesday 16th February.

STEVEN FAY wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Wednesday 17th February.

JEREMY FRONT'S dramatisation of Simon Brett's A Charles Paris Mystery: Cast in Order of Disappearance concludes on Radio 4 at 11:30am on Friday 19th February.

BILL GALLAGHER wrote the episode of Lark Rise to Candleford going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Sunday 14th February.

TONY GREEN wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Friday 19th February.

JILL HYEM - Her new comedy We'll Always Have Paris is premiering at the Mill at Sonning Dinner/Theatre from February 24th-April 10th. Director - Joanna Read. Cast - Louise Jameson, Lucy Fleming, Marlene Sidaway, Anna Nicholas, Michael Fenner.

JESSICA LEA wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Tuesday 16th February.

BILL LYONS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 16th February.

CHRISTOPHER NEAME'S new trilogy Three Weeks in May makes its stage debut in Carpentras, Provence, France on 26th February. Catriona Maccoll and Craig Bowles take on three parts each under the direction of Veronica Grange. For further information see

JANE PEARSON wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 17th February.

ALAN PLATER has just finished the re-writes on his latest drama, Joe Maddison's War, and it begins shooting in the North-East on 1st March. Commissioned by Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes for ITV and will be produced by Mammoth Screen. Set in Newcastle in 1939, Joe Maddison’s War features shipyard worker Joe (Kevin Whately) who feels emasculated and past his prime and is too old to serve in the war. Needing a new challenge, Joe and his friend Harry (Robson Green) reluctantly volunteer to join the Home Guard.

DAN SEFTON wrote the episode of Holby City "Together Alone" going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Wednesday 17th February.

EVE SPENCE wrote the episode of Doctors "Too Little, Too Late" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Wednesday 17th February.

JOE TURNER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Monday 15th February.

PETER WHALLEY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Thursday 18th February.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

David Greig on Dunsinane

For BBC News, Nigel Wrench talks to playwright David Greig about his new play Dunsiane, which imagines what happens after the end of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
The Scottish playwright was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), but Greig is not sure what Shakespeare himself would have made of his work.

"Well now, I don't know. I think it's a very cheeky thing I've done," he says.

The playwright adds: "But then to some degree for Scottish writers, it's always felt a little bit cheeky that unquestionably the greatest Scottish play was written by the great English playwright.

"So there is a slight sense of answering back a little bit. Playing with some of those concepts and characters, and claiming just a little bit of history from another point of view."
Dunsinane runs at Hampstead Theatre, London from 10 February to 6 March 2010

BBC 'to cut digital spending'

By Tara Conlon in Media Guardian:
BBC Vision, the corporation's TV and video content division, is to cut back on digital spending to protect its programme budget.

Jana Bennett, the BBC Vision director, recently told a meeting of television producers that the corporation wants to reduce digital costs and focus on ensuring that the BBC continues to make high-quality programmes. One source said: "She said digital spending will be reduced but not reveal how much."

David Eick on Caprica

For the Writers Guild of America, West, Shira Gotshalk talks to one of the writers of the new US TV series Caprica, David Eick.
I read that you said Caprica is less about futuristic technology and more about ideas and emotions and relationships. What is it about sci-fi that makes it such a conducive forum for character-driven drama?

It allows you to express controversial ideas in a way that's safe for the audience to consider and debate. If you do an episode of House or Grey's Anatomy or ER in which tough issues are being discussed, you either find yourself in very hot water, very quickly, with the network or with the audience because inevitably, there's the impression that the show creators or the writers have taken a position. That can tend to lead to either a lot of oppression in terms of what mainstream television shows are willing to tackle, or when they do tackle them, they have to be Very Special Episodes and all points of view need to be serviced and the final solution has to, in some way, reflect all points of view. There's this tremendous emphasis on sociopolitical balance.

Whereas in science fiction, you don’t have to do any of that, because if you're talking about a robot instead of a stem cell or if you're talking about aborting your fetus that may or may not be entirely human, or if you're talking about torturing something that may not be entirely human, you can just talk about it. Your protagonist can take whatever position serves the story or serves the character. And while certainly there may be an uproar in terms of people saying, "Well, clearly, this is just a metaphor for X,Y or Z," at the end of the day, there's a safety net underneath the audience. It's more for the audience to be able to take it in and accept the story and allow themselves to consider the point of view of the protagonist or the antagonist or the storyteller without the heightened political emotions that go along with those kinds of stories.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Go-ahead for product placement

As expected, the government has announced that it will relax the regulations concerning product placement on TV.
...the Government has concluded that we will be able to allow television product placement in a way which will provide meaningful commercial benefits to commercial television companies and programme makers while taking account of the legitimate concerns that have been expressed.

We have therefore decided to legislate to allow UK television companies to include product placement in programmes which they make or commission to appear in their schedules.
As previously reported, the restrictions on what can be advertised are tighter than some broadcasters were hoping.

Gail Renard, chair of the Guild's television committee writes:

Product placement is finally upon us which doesn't come as a huge surprise. It's a pragmatic decision in response to falling television advertising revenue. The WGGB greets it cautiously with the following caveats:

The Guild will ensure that we take part in the Ofcom and government consultation processes, to see that the proper controls and gatekeepers are in place. A scene taking place in Dev Alahan's corner shop in Coronation Street cannot morph into a five minute infomercial for all the delightful products on Dev's shelves. However there's no reason why Kellogg's Cornflake boxes can't be seen on Dev's shelves, like in every other mini-mart in Britain, as long as it's not part of the storyline. Which brings us to the difference between product placement, which the Guild accepts, and product integration, which America has and we don't want.

Product integration is where the product becomes an integral part of the show; i.e.: where Jack Duckworth stops the storyline to extol the virtues of Clucko Pigeon Feed and how it keeps his birds regular. Not on our watch.

Product placement, as stated in the original government papers, must also never be present in children's programming (or what little of it remains in Britain.)

And all the powers-that-be must remember that product placement can't be a sticking plaster or miracle cure for poor network management and/or programming. It's an opportunity to tap a new source of revenue to make more and better British television programmes. Like all breaks, let's use this one wisely.

Simon Beckett - Britain's top writer in Europe

In the Times, Richard Brooks reports on new figures revealing that the best-selling British author in Europe last year was crime writer Simon Beckett who is relatively unknown in this country.
Simon Beckett, 49, did not find literary success until his mid-forties, but he is now mobbed at book readings in Germany and recognised at airports in Scandinavia.

In 2009, Whispers of the Dead, his latest book, sold 300,000 copies in hardback alone in Germany and about 200,000 more copies elsewhere. It also reached No 2 in Poland and was a bestseller in Sweden and Italy.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Bain and Armstrong's Sundance diary

In the Guardian, a diary kept by comedy writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong on a recent trip to the Sundance Festival where Four Lions, the film they wrote (with Chris Morris and Sam Blackwell) was being shown.
Jesse: The screening goes well, but I find it excruciating. Sometimes when I'm scared of flying, I have this feeling like it's taking my full powers of concen­tra­tion to keep the plane in the sky. It's the same at the screening – as little pockets of laughs emerge here and there, I'm examining them for tone, timbre and implications. In my head I'm a sheepdog – circling the room wanting to shepherd people to draw the right inferences, go the right way.

Afterwards, I try to make a frank assessment of how the film has gone down. If it's possible for something to go rather well while simultaneously taking you repeatedly to the brink of throwing up throughout, that's what it felt like.

Centre for Children's Literature

A new Centre for Children's Literature has opened at Cambridge University, as Nicola Woolcock reports in the Times.
The university opened a Centre for Children’s Literature yesterday, which will give as much consideration to blogs, fan fiction and video games as to the works of established children’s authors. Its founders say they deserve the same attention, as all can have a deep and lasting impact on children and teenagers.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Writing For Publication: West Midlands Writers' Guild branch event

A guest post by Philip Monks

The West Midlands branch of the Writers' Guild held their very successful Writing For Publication event on Friday 22nd January at Birmingham Rep Theatre. It was a great way to welcome in a new year of writing. The event was well-attended, with 50 people coming along from across the region to hear what the panellists had to say, to put questions and to chat afterwards. The audience was fairly evenly divided between members and non-members and covered poets, novelists and other writers, both established and aspiring, as well as those just interested to find out more.

Novelist Helen Cross deftly chaired the event and her upbeat style and positive tone was echoed by the panel, who talked about the opportunities as well as the difficulties of the different fields of publication. Both Laura Longrigg (literary Agent at MBA) and Alan Mahar (Publishing Director of Tindall Street Press) looked at current trends in the fiction market and there was an interesting discussion about marketing and the power of the various outlets.

On the poetry side, both Jane Commane and Matt Nunn from Nine Arches Press and Jacqui Rowe from Flarestack talked about their current initiatives and publishing policies and showed examples of recent publications. Rounding off the panel, Dave Reeves explained how Radio Wildfire is developing and the opportunities for online publishing that he can offer.

A very enjoyable and encouraging event overall, with much positive discussion and sharing of knowledge and opinions.

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Guild members are getting up to

CAREY ANDREWS wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Monday 8th February.

DAVE COHEN performs the final preview of his new one-man stand-up poem My Life As A Footnote at the Dogstar, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, Tuesday 8th February 8:00pm Tickets £5.

JULIE DIXON wrote the episode of The Bill "Keeping Her Talking" going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Thursday 11th February.

TIM DYNEVOR wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 12th February.

RACHEL FLOWERDAY wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Thursday 11th and at 8:00pm on Friday 12th February.

JEREMY FRONT'S dramatisation of Simon Brett's A Charles Paris Mystery: Cast in Order of Disappearance continues on Radio 4 at 11:30am on Friday 12th February.

BILL GALLAGHER wrote the episode of Lark Rise to Candleford going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Sunday 7th February.

JIMMY GARDNER wrote the episode of Survivors going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Tuesday 9th February.

TOM GREEN'S new play Fighting will be on at the Brockley Jack in south London as part of their Write Now season.

TONY JORDAN wrote the episode of Hustle going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Monday 8th February.

IAN KERSHAW'S radio play Raft to Bondi goes out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Monday 8th February.

DAVID LANE wrote the episodes of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm and 8:30pm on Monday 8th February.

GARRY LYONS'S radio play Amazonia is going out on Radio 3 at 8:00pm on Sunday 7th February.

DAVID MCDERMOTT wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 10th February.

JAN MCVERRY wrote the episodes of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm and 8:30pm on Friday 12th February.

PAUL MYATT wrote the episode of Doctors "The Bigger Man" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Tuesday 9th February.

RICHARD STEVENS'S radio play The Small Back Room is going out on Radio 4 at 2:30pm on Saturday 6th February.

CHRIS THOMPSON wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 8th February.

KATHARINE WAY wrote the episode of Doctors "Love Lies Bleeding" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Thursday 11th February.

KARIN YOUNG wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm and 8:00pm on Thursday 11th February.

Bradshaw 'retreats' over product placement

A report by Denis Campbell in the Guardian yesterday says that, according to letters written by Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw to Cabinet colleagues, plans for liberalising the rules on product placement have been watered down.
"Following consultation with the Department of Health I propose to ban product placement in the following areas: alcoholic drinks, HFSS [high in fat, sugar or salt] food, gambling, smoking accessories, over-the-counter medicines and baby food," he said. Those restrictions go further than existing limitations on advertising cigarettes and medicines, for example, in print and broadcast media that are contained in both advertising industry codes and British and European laws. Companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's will not be able to promote many of their products in this way.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

How screenwriters might use the iPad

From screenwriter and self-confessed geek John August's blog, his take on Apple's new iPad, including:
It should be terrific for reading scripts. Right now, the big Kindle DX does a credible job with screenplays. It’s $489. The iPad is only $10 more, and can handle mail, web, video and a lot more. A few weeks ago, I wrote about reading scripts on laptops turned sideways. The iPad is the elegant version of this solution.

BFI to stage 'HBO weekend'

In the Independent, Arifa Akbar reports that the British Film Institute (BFI) will present an 'HBO weekend' looking at the work of the American cable channel that has produced critically acclaimed dramas such as The Sopranos and The Wire.

I can't see anything about it on the BFI website yet, but apparently it will run from 23-25 April.

Akbar's article quotes BFI artistic director, Eddie Berg, who says that part of the reason for bringing HBO execs and producers to London is to see what British broadcasters can learn from them.
"When people think of British drama around the world, we think of quality costume drama at the BBC, but what we don't think of is [it showing] series dramas like The Wire or The Sopranos, which are contemporary and edgy.

"We have to ask ourselves why can't the BBC seem to be able to do this with all the resources it has?"
Reporting on the same story, the Telegraph also has a comment from the BBC.
In response, the BBC issued a statement saying that television drama was "alive and well" in Britain, citing Criminal Justice, Small Island and A Short Stay in Switzerland as evidence of the corporation's commitment to risk-taking programmes.

Forty years of Nancy Banks Smith

In the Guardian, Michael McNay celebrates the 40-year career of TV critic Nancy Banks Smith.
A shrewd, unprejudiced writer, Nancy created the art of TV reviewing as tangential knockabout comedy – a mode that set the agenda, and has been followed ever since but never equalled. She doesn't do the day-in-day-out stint any more, but Nancy remains by a distance the funniest columnist writing, better than the stuff she writes about.
There's also a selection of her reviews and tributes from actors, producers and writers including Andrew Davies:
Nancy manages to convey her infectious enthusiasm for TV, good or bad. I've always felt honoured to be noticed by her. Almost always, she identifies the key moments in a show and expresses exactly the way they come across.

Routes Into Screenwriting - Feb 5th

The Guild's Deputy General Secretary, Anne Hogben, will be taking part in the Routes into Screenwriting online forum run by Guardian Careers tomorrow (Feb 5th) from 1-4pm . The panel also includes Guild member and agent Julian Friedmann.

The forum is already open for questions on any aspect of careers in screenwriting.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Adapting Charles Paris

On the Writers' Guild website, Jeremy Front explains how he came to adapt The Charles Paris Mysteries by Simon Brett for BBC radio.
Adapting the work of a dead novelist has its own problems, not least of which is making the work your own whilst staying true to the spirit of the original. If I take liberties (and I’m sure I have) with Evelyn Waugh or Anton Chekhov, I may incur the wrath of their devotees, but the authors are unlikely to accost me outside Soho House. Simon and I had never met, but I knew he was very much alive and well. I was assured, however, that he (and the BBC) had given me free rein to go with my instincts and take the radio version in whatever direction I felt it should go.

In the end this meant keeping the basic structure of the murder mystery plot, over which I storylined and a whole new parallel narrative for Charles, Frances and Paris’s useless agent, Maurice (Jon Glover). The upshot of so much change was that all the dialogue and Charles’s laconic narrations would be new and original writing.
The new Charles Paris series, Cast in Order of Disappearance, continues on Radio 4 at 11.30am on Fridays until 19 February. Episodes are also available for a week after broadcast on BBC iPlayer.

A Series Of Murders and The Dead Side of the Mic are available on BBC Audio.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

British writers among Oscar nominees

Nominations have been announced for the 82nd annual American Academy Awards and several British writers are among those in contention for an Oscar.

Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for In The Loop. Nick Hornby is nominated in the same category for his adaptation of An Education, based on the book by Lynn Barber.

An Education is also in the running for Best Film and A Matter Of Loaf And Death, written by Nick Park and Bob Baker, is nominated for Best Animated Short.

The full nominations in the writing categories are:

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
  • District 9, written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • An Education, screenplay by Nick Hornby (based on the book by Lynn Barber)
  • In the Loop, Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Writing (Original Screenplay)
  • The Hurt Locker, written by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds, written by Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger, written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man, written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • Up, screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy
The winners will be announced on 7th March.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Write Stuff - A History of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain

Guild member Nick Yapp has researched and written an illustrated 50-year history of the Guild, from 10th October 1956 when a small group of writers met in the basement of a doctor's surgery through to the present day.

The book is now available at £12 plus £2.50 postage & packing - but for a limited period Guild members can order a copy at the special discount price of £10 (postage paid). If you would like to purchase a copy, please send a cheque for £10 to the Guild office at: 40 Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4RX.

Read an interview with Nick Yapp on the Writers' Guild website.

Which self-publishing site to choose?

In the Guardian, technology correspondent and occasional poet, Victor Keegan, looks at what's on offer from different online self-publishing services.
It doesn't have to be an embryonic bestseller because self-publishing is best suited to limited editions. Anything over 1,000 copies and you would be better off going to a traditional printer to take advantage of economies of scale.

Amazon and Macmillan battle over e-book pricing

By Ben Par for Mashable:
While the ebook war between Apple and Amazon has only just begun, this weekend’s drama between Macmillan and Amazon has ended decisively in the book publisher’s favor.

This weekend it was revealed that Macmillan and Amazon were fighting over ebook prices. Macmillan wanted to raise the prices and change pricing to an agency model. Amazon responded by yanking Macmillan books off the digital shelves.

Now Amazon has made its own statement on its forums. The gist of the message: you win, Macmillan.
As Motoko Rich and Brad Stone report for the New York Times, the dispute goes to the heart of publishers' and retailers' aspirations for e-books.
Amazon’s goal has been strategic: it aims to establish a low price for e-books that will have the ancillary benefit of helping it sell more Kindle devices.

Amazon’s decision is also a victory for Apple’s chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, who first pitched the idea of selling e-books under the agency model to book publishers earlier this year. Now Apple, whose iPad tablet is due in March, can compete on fairly equal footing with Amazon.

Book publishers, meanwhile, are volunteering to limit their digital profits. In the model that Amazon prefers, publishers typically collect $12.50 to $17.50 for new e-books. Under the new agency model, publishers will typically make $9 to $10.50 on new digital editions.
Update: A related article by Erick Schonfeld for Tech Crunch: Why Amazon Cannot Afford To Lose The eBook Wars To Apple
The coming battle between Apple and Amazon will occur on many fronts, but place where Apple can really hurt Amazon is on pricing. Just as Apple initially did with 99-cent songs on iTunes, Amazon imposed a uniform $9.99 price on bestsellers in the Kindle Store. A single price helps to establish markets for new product categories, especially when that price is at a discount to the physical alternative. While the 99-cent strategy worked well for Apple in digital music, in books Apple doing a jujitsu move on Amazon by allowing publishers to have more control over the pricing. Now Macmillan is demanding that Amazon sell its eBooks for $14.99, and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch is making similar grumblings about HarperCollins.