Friday, July 30, 2004

Online creativity

Jim McClellan in The Guardian reports on trAce , an online writing centre based at Nottingham Trent University.
One writer exploring what the net can do for storytelling is Tim Wright. As part of his residency at trAce, Wright is creating In Search of Oldton, a net narrative that works with blogging and user contributions as well as Wright's memories of his dead father. Oldton is the town where Wright claims he grew up, but it doesn't appear on a map. "I call Oldton a 90% true digital story about a town that disappeared off the map and a life that never made it into the digital age. By getting people to submit words, pictures, sounds and movies about something or someone lost or left behind, I'm hoping to build up an online archive/blog I can analyse and reshape (with permission) to create a map of the imaginary town I lost and revive some kind of relationship with my dead father."


Blogging for a book deal

Blogs are the cheapest form of self-publishing and can help you get published offline, says Biz Stone.
Back in the day, book deals were few and far between. You had to be a literary genius, a member of the super-elite writerly crowd, or some kind of insanely talented professional in your field. Then you needed an agent, a publicist, and a body of work to prove you had what it takes to be part of the chosen few, the noble, the proud, the published. Now, you just need a blog and some chutzpah.

Producer defends EastEnders

EastEnders executive producer Louise Berridge has defended the BBC soap after a newspaper survey found that 57% of viewers thought it had lost its appeal, reports BBC News.
"It's disappointing to read that a large number of viewers feel the show has been weaker over this last year - although to some extent I fear this was inevitable. In a way, it's been a victim of its own success."
Ratings have been lower than normal in recent months, with ITV scheduling Emmerdale in direct competition on several occasions.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Amazon ends anonymous reviews

The days of anonymously puffing your own books on, or putting the critical knife into rivals are over.

As Media Guardian reports (free registration required), Amazon has begun a new system, Real Names, which requires reviewers to provide their credit card details before posting a comment.
The change, which was quietly introduced earlier this month, is intended to put an end to authors and publishers anonymously showering their own books with praise while trashing the work of their rivals. An Amazon spokeswoman said: "This is the latest step in an ongoing effort to continually improve the content of the site."

Not that any Writers' Guild member would ever have been involved in such things....

WH Smith to sell Hodder Headline

WH Smith will sell or demerge Hodder Headline, its publishing business, by the end of this year.

The Times speculates on the companies who might be interested in buying one of Britain's leading publishing houses: 

Cinven, the private equity firm that was stalking WH Smith earlier in the year, is understood to have made an approach for Hodder Headline...which carries a price tag of about £230 million. The investment firm, which is no longer pursuing WH Smith, will compete for the business with Lagardère, the French conglomerate, and Pearson, the media company. Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, the publishing firms, are also thought to be interested.
Cinven is one of the world’s largest private equity firms and owns companies such as Gala Group, the casino operator, and Fitness First, the health club chain.

Incidentally, the Hodder website has very clear guidelines for unsolicited submissions.  Headline, a more 'popular' imprint, also has guidelines.

Radio features rate increase

The Writers' Guild has agreed an increase in the rate paid to writers for BBC Radio features – up from £35 per minute to £36.02 per minute, with a minimum payment per feature of £252.14.

The rise is 2.9 per cent – in line with the increase paid to BBC staff. The rise takes effect from 14 July and any features contracted since then on the old rate will have the new fees backdated.

Full details of all radio rates can be found on the Guild's website.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

New theatre for Leicester

A new theatre development in Leicester has been awarded a £12m grant by Arts Council England, reports BBC News.

The new centre, which will replace the city's Haymarket and Phoenix venues, is scheduled to open in 2007.
Haymarket Theatre chief executive Mandy Stewart said the Performing Arts and Conference Centre would provide the "ideal stage for innovative and creative performances".

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Naming of the shows

From Joanna Taylor's column in The Stage, ITV drama head Nick Elliot's report of the difficulty involved in naming a new firefighting drama: 
Steel River Blues was the initial title but after some discussion it was thought that the name was not hot enough so it then became Kill the Heat. That lasted about a week, until producers rejected it saying that audiences would be put off by the word 'kill', which evokes too much violence.

Back to Steel River Blues then. And then Blue Heat was suggested - because they are the Blue Watch of Middlesbrough Fire Station. The general consensus was that was a bit naff so the 'Blue' bit was taken off and the programme became Heat. Perfect.

Well, no. That wasn't popular at the top so it once again got changed. This time to Fire Fight. Sorted.

Until, that is, Elliott gets a call from producers and the cast who complain that they are unhappy with the name of the series. After a quick chat with director of programmes Nigel Pickard, the lightbulb pings on and a final decision on the title of the show is made. What is it? Steel River Blues. What else?

Rural arts

Arts Council England is undertaking a review of the arts in rural England.

You can download a paper - The arts in rural England - which sets out the aims and process of the review, and how to get your views heard.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Forward Poetry Prize

The short-list has been announced for the Forward Poetry Prize.

The contenders for the Best Collection prize, worth £10,000, are:
  • Newborn by Kate Clanchy
  • The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie
  • Snow Water by Michael Longley
  • Corpus by Michael Symmons Roberts 
  • The Strange Hours Travelers Keep by August Kleinzahler 

Friday, July 23, 2004

Influential TV

Guess what? Another list. This one comes from Broadcast, and claims to rank the 50 most influential TV programmes. Ever.

If you're still reading, the selections for drama are:
  • Boys from the Blackstuff
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • Brookside
  • Cathy Come Home
  • Doctor Who
  • Edge of Darkness
  • The Forsyte Saga
  • The Singing Detective

Coming soon, a list of the most influential lists.

Arts funding

Arts organisations are warning that the future of theatre in Britain will depend on how new government money is allocated, reports The Stage.

The National Council for the Arts has welcomed the extra £200 million announced in Gordon Brown's three-year spending plans as necessary to secure the large investments already made by the government but said this was tempered by the need to wait and see how it would be distributed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The money represents a funding increase of 2.3% - in line with inflation, although not taking into account the extra costs associated with higher National Insurance rates. 
A spokesman for the DCMS said: "Although we have a settlement for the department for the period up to 2007/08, we have yet to divide up that money between the different areas in the department. It may take quite a few weeks before we will be able to say what effect it will have on each section."


In The Guardian, David McKie looks at the challenges of writing biography. 
The history of biographies is full of examples of books conceived in love, but completed in disaffection; or books whose authors have developed a degree of respect, even of liking, for subjects they'd planned at first to disparage.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Corrie in crisis

No, not another tabloid revelation or ratings battle. This crisis came forty years ago, and is remembered by John Finch in an article on the Writers' Guild website.

It's a nice insight into the characters behind the early days of Britain's favaourite soap.
Crisis point was reached when we were down to not much more than half-a-dozen or so actors. There was no one to pull a pint in The Rovers Return. Pints were slid across the bar by a studio hand working off camera!

Einstein Year

The Institute of Physics is offering awards of up to £1,500 to individuals and organisations who want to become involved in Einstein Year, the UK & Ireland’s contribution to the world-wide celebrations marking 2005 as International Year of Physics.

To make Einstein Year truly national, the Institute of Physics is encouraging individuals and organisations to run their own physics-based outreach activities in their communities during 2005. This includes arts projects with a physics theme.

Full details are on the Einstein Year website.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Night Watch

The New York Times reports that a new film, Night Watch, has become Russia's first homemade post-Soviet blockbuster movie hit.
Even some hard-to-impress Russian film critics, who tend to prefer weighty art-house fare, are giving Night Watch a thumbs up. "Quite witty, sufficiently bloody, beautiful and expensive," one Russian reviewer said.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Public backs BBC licence fee

The Government has published the results of  a major public consultation on the future of the BBC, carried out from December 2003 to March 2004.
The report, What You Said About The BBC, is likely to be seen as an endorsement of the Corporation's work. Polls revealed an overall satisfaction rating for the BBC of 75% and the licence fee was widely considered to be the best – or the “least worst” – way to pay for it.
However, the public’s view of the value for money delivered by the BBC is equivocal – with 46% saying it delivered fairly good or very good value for money, compared to 43% taking the opposite view.
And the BBC is no longer widely thought of as "Auntie". Instead it can, apparently, be best characterised as "a man in his 50s, suited, comfortably off, conventional, conservative and reserved, who appeared friendly but was powerful and sometimes domineering".

Children still love Enid Blyton

Unfashionable they may be, but 36 years after her death a high proportion of Enid Blyton's 600 books are still in print and selling well, reports The Independent.
In fact Blyton was not quite such a reactionary as is often alleged. Although sex-roles tend to be stereotyped, the tomboy George in the Famous Five books is an honourable exception. Blyton also has a healthy distrust of authority figures - witness such disagreeable creations as Mr Plod, PC Goon and Dame Spankalot. Overall, though, it would be pointless to deny that Blyton's books are of conservative tendency. But so what? That's why children like them. Children are natural conservatives, just as teenagers are natural radicals.

UK film industry booming

A new report from UK Film Council has good news about the much-maligned British film industry. 

The UK film industry in 2003 boasted record levels of film production, and a film workforce up by 14% in a year, and the top ten UK films at the international box office scooped more than a billion dollars between them...

Love Actually, written by Richard Curtis, led the field with a worldwide gross of £116 million.

British cinema admissions in 2003 were the second highest for 30 years with 167.3 million film visits.

Friday, July 16, 2004

RSC offers £5 tickets

The RSC is offerring young people £5 tickets  for all performances in its forthcoming London season at the Albery Theatre. Fifty £5 tickets, including the best seats in the house, will be available to young people aged 16 to 25 for each of the 150 performances in the six-month season.

ITV winning drama ratings battle

Media Guardian (free registration required) reports that ITV has dominated the drama ratings for 2004. New shows inlcuding Life Begins, written by Mike Bullen, have made a strong impact. Only six BBC drama made the list of the most popular 20. 
"ITV remains at the pinnacle of television drama. I'm delighted that we continue to go from strength to strength each year," said Nick Elliot, the ITV drama controller

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Self-published novel wins top award

Award-winning self-published author, Mark Blaney, is interviewed in The Guardian.
For the first time in the 57-year history of the Somerset Maugham awards, a prize has been given to a self-published work. Blayney's Two Kinds of Silence is described by the author as a "genuinely amateur effort: I took the cover photos in Wales, designed the cover with a friend, taught myself Quark so that I could typeset it, and instructed the printer on the size of the book. It was hell on earth really, trying to do it on top of a full-time job."

Five goes for laughs

Channel Five has recruited Graham Smith from the BBC to lead a new foray into original comedy programming, reports Media Guardian (free registration required).

Smith was the executive producer of shows including Little Britain, Spaced, So Graham Norton and TFI Friday.

Reports suggest that Smith will work for both Five and the Paramount Comedy Channel as part of a new joint production venture between the two broadcasters to develop sitcoms, sketch shows and other scripted comedy programming.

Pinter points the way

The quality of film reviews in the New York Times has already been noted in this blog and it's pretty good on theatre, too.

In fact, its coverage of London theatre is better (or, at least, more interesting) than many English newspapers.

For example, Ben Brantley has written an interesting article (free registration required) about the revival of Harold Pinter's Old Times. He argues that Pinter's influence can now be seen on many of the leading British and Irish playwrights such as Martin McDonagh, Michael Frayn and Conor McPherson.
...their most recent works suggest just how much they share Mr. Pinter's respect for the unknowability of people. And they have applied this perspective with unsettling grace to fields that would seem to be more about finding answers than raising questions: psychotherapy (Shining City) and government (Democracy). Whether looking inward or outward, their characters talk a blue streak, but words ultimately fail them.


The BBC has launched a study into BBC One's peak time schedules amid viewer concern about programme quality.

BBC News Online analyses a week's programming.
There are 410 minutes of US movies on BBC One compared to 195 minutes of UK films.

But there is also almost five hours of new British drama and more than two hours of current affairs programming.

55 Degrees North is a highly-publicised new drama series on BBC One, but critics may argue that a new police drama does not count as original programming.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ofcom broadcasting code

Ofcom has published its draft Broadcasting Code setting out its proposed new programme and sponsorship rules for radio and television broadcasters. The draft Ofcom Code will replace the six Codes inherited from Ofcom's broadcast regulator predecessors, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority.

The main changes are an increase in protection for children, but less regulation for programmes for adults.
Section 3 of the Communications Act states that Ofcom should set standards on harm and offence in a way which best guarantees freedom of expression. Ofcom believes this can be best achieved through a less intrusive regulatory approach to material intended for adult audiences. Broadcasters will instead be expected to exercise greater responsibility for ensuring adult viewers and listeners are informed about the contents of programmes.
Consultation on the proposals will continue until 10 October 2004.

Gatsby to be serialised

In a return to a Victorian publishing tradition, the New York Times will be publishing The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in serial form.

According to news reports, the newspaper will run the entire novel over the course of the week in its New York metro editions, beginning with a special pull-out section on Monday. The cost will be met by sponsorship from BMW.
Toby Usnik, a spokesman for the Times, said the paper will also serialize three other books this summer under the same sponsorship program: Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel; Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote; and The Color of Water, by James McBride.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Poor theatre

Interesting article by Will Hodgkinson in the Telegraph (free registration required) about the foundation of 'poor theatre'.

It started, apparently, with "the American première of The Constant Prince, Jerzy Grotowski's production of an obscure 17th-century play, which was performed in an old church in New York's East Village on a prop-free stage in front of about 100 people. In Polish."

This was one of the first productions to follow the guidelines laid down in Towards a Poor Theatre, Grotowski's manifesto for a metaphysical approach to acting.
He advocated a theatre in which non-essentials – props, sets, costumes, even the script – were irrelevant, because all that mattered was the process of acting.
Grotowski's ideas had a strong influence on Peter Brook, Lee Strasberg, Théâtre de Complicité and many others.

Presumably he has not been so popular with writers, however.

Text novel

The BBC reports that a Chinese author, Qian Fuchang has reduced his novel Outside the Fortress Besieged into 60 chapters of 70 characters each to be delivered by SMS text message.
Described as a "steamy tale of illicit love among already married people", the novel will be available exclusively to mobile phone users.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Amazon accused

Buying second-hand books has never been easier. allows you to search and buy used books as easily as new ones.

If you're looking for bargains or out-of-print titles this is a fantastic service. But is it creating a new market that will damage the book trade?

An article in the New York Times (free registration required) suggests that publishers are starting to worry.
"We think it's not good for the industry and it has an effect, but we can't measure it," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, a trade group. "There has always been used-book sales, but it's always been a background noise sort of thing. Now it's right there next to the new book on Amazon."

Donnelly wins Carnegie medal

Jennifer Donnelly has won the annual Carnegie medal for children's books with her novel for teenagers, A Gathering Light.

As the BBC reports:
Donnelly struggled for a decade before being published last year aged 39. As a struggling would-be author, she took various jobs by day and wrote by night. She was rejected by nearly every publishing house in New York, but last year her first novel made it into print.

Media power list

Another day, another list. This one is from Media Guardian (free registration required) - the 100 most powerful people in UK media.

No great surprises (Rupert Murdoch in top spot) but nice to see Guild member Richard Curtis at number 59.

New TV drama

Two new big-budget dramas have made their debuts in the past week.

The Long Firm is adapted by Joe Penhall from the book by Jake Arnott. There's an interview with Penhall in The Stage in which he talks about the challenge of writing for TV rather than theatre:
"I think the hardest part of the experience was convincing people that complexity was a good thing. They didn't have a problem with scenes of raw violence or even mutual masturbation. What concerned them was the need, as they saw it, to simplify everything."
Island at War, written by Stephen Mallatratt, is a Sunday night drama combining the epic sweep of the Channel Islands' war-time occupation with personal stories and family dramas. ITV will be hoping that their investment is repaid with big ratings, and probably an award or two as well.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Internet film piracy soars

Illegal downloading of films is on the rise, according to a new survey reported by Cnet. The spread of broadband is only going to make things worse.
For example, an estimated 98 percent of South Korea's population uses broadband. Nearly 60 percent of the population has reportedly downloaded movies, and one in three say they go to the box office less often, according to the survey.

Hunting an agent

Increasingly, literary agents won't read unsolicited manuscripts.

Roger C. Parker says that you need to make a personal approach.
Before approaching an agent, prepare an 'elevator speech' describing your project in the less than thirty-seconds it takes for an average elevator ride. If you can't, your project probably isn't ready for prime time.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Charlie Kaufman sitcom

The Writers' Guild of America, west (WGAw) has published six unproduced TV scripts on its website.

Among them is Depressed Roomies, a sitcom pilot by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich).

UIP man to chair Film Council

Stewart Till will be the new chairman of the UK Film Council. The announcement was made by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and had been widely expected.

Till, who is currently deputy chair of the council and chief executive of UIP, will take over from Alan Parker at the end of the month. The post is unpaid.

There's a short biog on screenonline:
Like Alan Parker...he began in advertising, and has a strong sense of the need to sell films. He has been associated with the distribution of such successes as Four Weddings and a Funeral (d. Mike Newell, 1994), but was also co-executive producer on the darker, less obviously box-office titles, Jude (1996), I Want You (1998) and Wonderland (1999), three masterly films directed by Michael Winterbottom, which must have taxed Till's commercial instincts.

Syd Field

New at The Screenwriters' Store, Syd Field analyses Pulp Fiction.

Syd bills himself as "Hollywood's pre-eminent authority on the art and craft of screenwriting" and his book Screenplay has sold by the lorry load.

His conclusions about Pulp Fiction?
[It is] a new departure, a kind of beacon leading us into the future, like Jay Gatsby's green light, because it presents a new way of looking at things, another step forward along the path of creative innovation in the movies.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Abbott takes Monte Carlo

It's been a good week for top TV writer (and Guild member), Paul Abbott.

He's been voted number 5 in the TV drama Power List (below), and has won a Golden Nymph (pictured, left, for any of you who've never won one) at the Monte Carlo TV Festival for State of Play.

His series Shameless won a further two Nymphs, including one for actor Ann-Marie Duff.

Monday, July 05, 2004

TV drama power list

Two writers have made the top 20 in the Radio Times 'TV Drama Power List'. Paul Abbott comes in at number five, just above actor James Nesbitt, while Russell T Davies, the man entrusted with resurrecting Doctor Who, squeaks in at number 17.

Julie Walters tops the chart, based on a survey of industry professionals (not including, one would guess, very many writers).

Here's the top 20 (actors, unless otherwise stated):

1. Julie Walters

2. Jane Tranter (controller of drama commissioning, BBC)

3. David Jason

4. Nick Elliott (controller of network drama, ITV)

5. Paul Abbott (writer)

6. James Nesbitt

7. Lorraine Heggessey (controller of BBC1)

8. Martin Clunes

9. Mal Young (controller of continuing drama series, BBC)

10. Caroline Quentin

11. Andy Harries (controller of drama and comedy, Granada)

12. Carolyn Reynolds (executive producer, Coronation Street)

13. Ray Winstone

14. Helen Mirren

15. John Yorke (head of drama, Channel 4)

16. Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone (Kudos Films)

17. Russell T Davies (writer)

18. George Faber and Charlie Pattinson (Company Pictures)

19. Christopher Eccleston

20. Nicola Shindler (Red Productions)

Sunday, July 04, 2004

King Arthur

While so much film criticism seems to be little more than loud-mouthed prejudice-indulgence, The New York Times regularly carries interesting reviews and features.

An analysis of the new King Arthur by Charles McGrath (free registration required) is a case in point. Witty and smart, it includes an exhaustive study of Camelot's movie history. He even mentions the screenwriter (David Franzoni), although he's not much impressed by his screenplay or Antoine Fuqua's direction.
It's a sort of Dark Ages Seven Samurai story - with the addition of a Xena the Warrior Princess figure: Guinevere, who is not only an excellent archer but is also apparently impervious to the elements. In the dead of winter she fights in a kind of sleeveless nightgown, and for the climactic battle she wears a revealing Thierry Mugler-style S & M outfit.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Peter Barnes dies aged 73

Playwright and screenwriter Peter Barnes has died from a stroke at the age of 73.

The Ruling Class, his most famous work, helped Peter O'Toole to an Oscar nomination in 1972 when it was turned into a film.

Apparently Barnes completed several projects that are now waiting to be made.
"The playwright became a celebrated older dad when his wife Christie gave birth to daughter Leela when he was aged 69, then within a few years to triplets Nathaniel, Zachary and Abigail.

This became the inspiration for one of his last completed screenplays, Babies, which is expected to be a two-part drama for Granada and tells the story of a man who become the father of triplets late in life.

Barnes had also just completed three other high-profile projects.

The screenplay for the film From The Moon To The Stars is due to be directed by John Irvin, who directed the Boys from County Clare starring Andrea Corr of Irish band The Corrs.

He had also completed Easy Virtue, an adaptation of a Noel Coward play, and Sea Change, which will feature and be produced by Kristin Scott Thomas, the female star of the movie The English Patient."

Channel 4 appoint Duncan

Andy Duncan has been appointed as chief executive of Channel 4, following Mark Thompson's departure to the BBC.

The decision was a surprise to media watchers, since Duncan has no experience of programme-making. His background is with Unilever and he has spent the last three years as director of marketing, communication and audiences at the BBC, during which time he spearheaded the launch of Freeview and the BBC's digital channels.

Channel 4 Chairman, former Pizza Express boss Luke Johnson, said that: "Having a brand specialist like Andy at the helm will offer us a competitive advantage in such a noisy and over-crowded marketplace."

Hobbling Penguin

Penguin books is still struggling to distribute its titles, according to a report on Publishing News.

Penguin normally deliver around 260,000 books a week, but a new automated distribution system has failed to work properly, reducing distribution to as little as 130,000 books a week.

However, the publisher says that it is over-coming the problems and hopes to return to normal service next month.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Mr Men to be animated

Chorion, owner of the Noddy characters, is offering animation producers the chance to make a new series based on the Mr Men books.
"Chorion bought the Mr Men and Little Miss franchises in May for £28m and promised to make Mr Tickle, Mr Nosey and Little Miss Sunshine famous again. The company has a track record in reviving children's favourites after giving Noddy a computer-animated makeover with Make Way for Noddy."
The books, written by Roger Hargreaves, have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.