Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Comedy - Hay, Hay, Hay... wassup!?

Don't panic, I won't speak in that kind of urban lingo any longer. It's unbecoming in one, such as I, bespectacled and pasty faced. I can't stand it any more than you can.

I'm Graeme and Tom Green has allowed me to be the blog's comedy writing correspondent. I'll try and ensure that no opportunities for comedy writers slip through this particular cybernet. I'll also point you at articles, news and interviews relating to comedy.

First up then, the previously mentioned literary behemoth that is The Hay Festival has a nifty online programme and allows you to view all the events that are humorous in nature. (Don't let the fact that what then appears is headed by Max Boyce fool you, it really is a listing of comedy).

You can create similarly tunnel visioned listings for other, far less important, categories such as philosophy and history by palpating the little widgets on the right of the page.

Haype This Haylps.

Update: On closer inspection I now notice that the only event left under the comedy category that you can see without the aid of a TARDIS is Ned Sherrin. Note to self: "Future posts to be more useful".

In a desperate bid to recover face, here's a snippet from the BBC Comedy Blog about comedians at Hay:
Later, Braben regaled the audience with gag-filled reminiscences of working with Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise and Ken Dodd. (Sometimes even topical: he said Tony Blair's back problems were down to "the way he's been lying")

Braben churned out one-liners for Dodd's relentless six-gags-a-minute act for 12 years. Counting the jokes that never made it, it's been estimated that he wrote more than half a million jokes for Dodd alone. "You have to write 300 gags to get 60 - you always have to overwrite," he said.
Writing half a million jokes for Ken Dodd. Imagine. Like some kind of Gag-Gulag (shudder).

Midsomer Murders an international hit

Midsomer Murders, based on the books by Caroline Graham, is the UK's second most successful TV export, reports BBC News.

The ITV drama sells to 201 countries, second only to Gillette World Sport which sells to 240.

The full survey of UK TV exports for 2004 is available from Pact.

TV show ignores writers

Further to the post below, this account of the more common experience of script-writers being totally ignored is sent to me by Julius Hogben
In the first of his new BBC TV series last night, Cambridge University don Nigel Spivey set out his subject, “telling stories in pictures”. Beginning “in the dawn of time”, as TV presenters so often do, he declared that “ the same technique has proved crucial to the success of every film made today.”

He then managed to tell the story of Ulysses and the Cyclops by statues, with his own narration, without featuring the key role of Homer. Later, he hauled on George Miller director and co-writer of Mad Max to say “One cannot underestimate the effect of special effects and music in modern film storytelling.” Fair enough. You suspect that Miller’s co-writer on Mad Max must have been quite significant, not to mention his two other co-writers on Mad Max 2.

Tune in next week for more on How Art Made the World Without Writers?

TV critic credits writers

It's not often that a soap or series writer gets a name check in a TV review. So for two to be mentioned in one piece (Media Guardian, free registration required) must be something of a record. The luck couple are Colin Wyatt (EastEnders) and Nick Fisher (New Tricks).

Regular readers will remember that the reviewer, Rupert Smith, recently accepted a challenge from Mal Young and wrote an episode of Doctors. Maybe all reviewers should be given the same opportunity.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Children's book prizes

How richly should we reward high achievement in children's writing? Even Philip Pullman, that matchless inventor of parallel worlds, might think twice about devising an imaginary kingdom that endowed an annual prize for young people's literature worth a cool £385,000 - from the public coffers - to the winner. The lucky author collects this fairy-tale crock of gold from a genuine princess and caps a week of official festivities with a lecture in the nation's parliament.

As it happens, Pullman has merely shared this year's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, founded and funded by the Swedish state in tribute to the creator of Pippi Longstocking and the values that her books uphold. The enormous cheque, and the dazzling limelight of this week's jamboree in Stockholm, has been split between the fabricator of His Dark Materials and the Japanese illustrator Ryôji Arai. All the same, Sweden's generosity has a truly folkloric aspect, down to Wednesday's meeting with the Crown Princess - who arrived, one trusts, in a glass coach drawn by white mice - and the mythically round sum (five million crowns) of the award itself.
More on children's books prizes from Boyd Tonkin in The Independent.

Making Hay

If you can't get to the Hay Festival, you can follow it all week on The Guardian's Hay Festival blog.
More genteel than most is that of Alexander McCall Smith, a man whose professorial demeanour frequently collapses into mildly hysterical laughter over a deeply funny hour that ranges from German academic nomenclature to a one-legged sausage dog.

He is, he explains, suffering from a condition that he caught from Armistead Maupin at a San Francisco party. "This is a medical issue – serial novelism. There is no cure – you write serial novels and then you die."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Who's blogging

In recent weeks we have started to open this blog up to a greater range of authors.

Dutch screenwriter Thessa Mooij is sending occasional reports from America, where she lives, and Edel Brosnan will be submitting posts next week from the Listowel Writers' Week.

We're planning daily posts from the Edinburgh Festival this summer and are always on the lookout for other ways to increase our range of coverage. If any Guild members are interested in contributing, drop me a line c/o of the Guild office.

Wilson is the new Children's Laureate

Despite fears among her supporters that literary snobbery would stand in her way, Jacqueline Wilson has ... been named as the new children's laureate, arguably the most popular - and populist - author to hold the position to date.

Following in the footsteps of Quentin Blake, Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo, the author of Tracy Beaker, Double Act, Bad Girls, The Illustrated Mum and numerous other acclaimed novels for children will receive a bursary of £10,000 and will hold the post for two years.
More about Jacqueline Wilson in The Guardian.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Double re-commission for New Tricks

The BBC has given TV drama New Tricks and double re-commission.

Filming will begin on the eight-part third series later this year. The fourth series of a further eight one-hour episodes is due to be shot in 2006.

It's the first time that more than one series of a drama has been re-commissioned at the same time, but it could be the sign of things to come.
Jane Tranter, Controller, Drama Commissioning, BBC says: "Double commissioning is designed to allow independent production companies the creative freedom to think further forward with their development of long running drama for the BBC.

"This is a clear commitment from us to continuing to secure the very best drama for our audience, and another way of making BBC commissioning more nimble."
New Tricks is made for the BBC by Wall to Wall television. It was created by Roy Mitchell and Nigel McCrery, and writers on the current series are Roy Mitchell, Nick Fisher, Karen Maclachlan, Howard Overman and Danny Miller.

New plays for The Globe?

Dominic Dromgoole, who will replace Mark Rylance as artistic director of The Globe theatre in London at the end of this year, has told The Stage that he wants to find a place for contemporary work alongside the Shakespeare.
"I think the Globe is a very magical place, a very special place. It’s already achieved so much. I would like to see some contemporary playwrights trying to fill that space but Shakespeare will remain as the core. If the modern plays are out there, I would like to take that risk for next season.”

Listowel Writers' Week; 1st-5th June

Annual Irish literary fest Listowel Writers' Week begins next Wednesday, in Listowel, Co. Kerry. Featured events include workshops on everything from crime writing to song writing; lunchtime and evening theatre; book launches and of course readings and/or Q & A sessions with writers - Robert Fisk, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Jack Mapanje, Carol Ann Duffy, Joe Simpson, Lawrence Block, Booker prize-winner D B C Pierre and many many more.

Irish writers at Listowel include Booker nominees Colm Toibín and Roddy Doyle, as well as Ronan Bennett, Michael Longley Pauline McLynn and Ross O'Carroll Kelly.

As a local girl and Guild member, I'll do my best to blog the highlights.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The axing of Westway

Westway, the World Service radio soap will be axed this summer as part of the BBC's latest round of cuts. Madness, says Dominic Dromgoole in Media Guardian (free registration required).
Surely we give money to the BBC so it doesn't have to enter the same frantic and sweaty games as everybody else, and so it can balloon off in new and interesting directions. The purpose of the BBC, I always assumed, was to nurture the wildest plants in our society and to tidy, with a gentle but sure hand, the most hidden corners in our room. Both functions were served by Westway. Why is it letting it go?

Monday, May 23, 2005


If you want to get inside the mind of one of Hollywood's top screenwriters,try johnaugust.com.

John, who wrote Go and Swingers and has adapted Big Fish and Charlie And the Chocolate Factory, offers advice to aspiring writers and comments on past, present and future projects.

Black theatre in the West End

Should you venture into the West End at night this week, you'll find not one but two pieces of black British theatre.

Elmina's Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah, originally commissioned by the National and now starring the playwright himself, is the first new black British play to open in the commercial sector. And The Big Life, a riotous ska musical developed at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, is the first black British musical to open in this famous postcode.
More in The Independent.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Behind the scenes on Coronation Street

Are journalists finally waking up to the fact that soap can be taken seriously? After Guardian TV critic Rupert Smith's script for Doctors, comes Barbara Ellen's attempt to write for Coronation Street (The Observer).

A lifelong fan, she goes behind the scenes to try and discover what makes the show tick, and takes along a few scenes she has written to show to series editor Gareth Philips.
When I got home, Philips was kind enough to ring me with a 'critique' of my scenes. Well, I say 'kind'. I ask him to be 'brutally honest' and he takes me at my word. This line is totally overheated. That line Blanche wouldn't say. This line about Audrey and hair dryers is pathetic ('If you're going to do camp, you have to be a lot sharper than that!') That line of Ken's is so weak it's a 'sackable offence' ... And so on.

Indeed, only one line (one!) passed muster (something about rain on a washing day being a shame), but overall I was guilty of 'straying too far into sitcom territory'. 'We are pedantic whiners,' says Philips. 'But I make no apologies for that.' It would seem that I was right about it being harder than it looks to write for Coronation Street (though maybe not as hard as listening to someone tell you that you're absolutely hopeless at it).
Postscript: Ellen calls the Street producer "Tony Young" throughout her article. His name is, in fact, Tony Wood.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Writing topical monologues

Channel 4's new comedy writing competition requires entrants to write a three-minute topical monologue. To help newcomers to the form, we asked comedy writer Dave Cohen for his top five tips.
1. Read the newspapers. Not as daft as it sounds, sometimes a sentence jumps out at you and you come up with an instant punchline.
2. Try and avoid the obvious or the ongoing old story - if there's another joke to be had out of the Blair-Brown leadership battle that hasn't been done yet it'll take you too much time to think of it.
3. Look at the quirkier stories in the news - you can find them in newspapers, on the net, even on ceefax. Often there'll be a simple gag off the back of them.
4. Try and be different. Go off on a tangent, find a topic where you hear the same obvious jokes being made and try and look at the story from a completely different angle.
5. Listen to shows like News Quiz and Parsons and Naylor, the current topical shows on the radio. You can catch up with them on the net. Watch Have I Got News For You. Don't nick the jokes (instant disqualification, because everyone else will have heard them,) but get the feel for the structure of a gag, and listen to how the professionals tackle the week's stories.
Dave is currently working on Have I Got News For You and will be doing a stint on The News Quiz in June/July. He has also written for Rory Bremner, Dead Ringers, Spitting Image and many more.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Beeb shall inherit the earth

The BBC is embracing the internet revolution, reports Wired.com, putting it well ahead of the US TV networks.
The greatest irony here is that it takes a publicly-funded broadcaster from a cozy liberal democracy to teach America's lumbering, anti-competitive Hollywood dinosaurs what a real, competitive offering looks like.

TV over the internet

A recent BBC test streaming TV programmes live over the internet, leaked out to the public. Is it the start of a broadcasting revolution, asks Paul Hayes in The Stage.
The BBC’s research and development arm, based at Kingswood Warren, was conducting a test for the streaming of the BBC’s television channels to UK-based broadband internet customers, in a move to provide a service similar to that already offered free for all by BBC Radio, whereby all stations are available to listen to live over the internet, with selected programmes stored in a ‘Listen Again’ archive for at least a week following transmission.

New Writing Ventures 2005

Booktrust is seeking entries for New Writing Ventures 2005. There are three categories: fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
New Writing Ventures is a series of national prizes being launched by The New Writing Partnership in collaboration with Arts Council England. It is designed to help launch the careers of writers who are expected to make an impact on the world of books, writers and readers in the coming years. The winner in each of the three categories in 2005 will receive £5,000. In addition, the winners and two shortlisted writers will be given development opportunities by Arts Council England in the region of £5,000 to support bespoke individual development plans which could include workshops, mentoring and professional advice.

The awards are administered by the national charity dedicated to promoting literacy, Booktrust. An independent charity, Booktrust runs several successful reading campaigns and manages numerous literary prizes. The submission deadline is 1 July 2005. The shortlisted authors will be announced in September 2005, and the awards will be presented at the second edition of New Writing Types held in Norwich from 24-28 October 2005

Channel 4 comedy writing competition - details

Further to the announcement earlier this month, Channel 4 have now published details of their comedy writing competition.
Channel 4 are launching a new initiative to find the best new unpublished comedy writer or team of writers. The winner will have the opportunity over a 12 month period to receive writing commissions from leading production companies for a range of Channel 4 comedy and entertainment shows, earning up to a minimum value of £20k.

To take part, submit a three-minute topical monologue and three non-topical sketches of no more than three minutes each in length.

Deadlines for submissions is July 14th.

Finalists will be chosen by a selection panel comprised of Channel 4 commissioners and celebrity comics. The winner will be announced at The Edinburgh Television Festival in August.
Update (20/05/05) Read Dave Cohen's Top 5 tips to writing topical monologues.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Five ventures into original drama

Five is making an ambitious move into home-grown drama, developing a number of shows from leading production companies, as part of a push to redress the poor representation of the genre on the channel.

In a bid to strengthen its reputation in drama and entertainment, the broadcaster has confirmed it is working on programmes for 2006 and has promoted Abigail Webber to the new role of drama editor to oversee the projects.
The full story is in The Stage.

The Play's The Thing - Channel 4

Finally writers are to get their chance in the world of reality TV. Following Operatunity and Musciality, Channel 4 is launching The Play's The Thing, which will see "novice playwrights" submit work to producer Sonia Friedman. The winning script will get a West End run.

There is a report in The Guardian.
"Obviously from a commercial point of view it's completely bonkers," Ms Friedman said. "I have been working in the West End for five years, and there are very few new plays in the West End that haven't already been supported by the subsidised theatre sector or have come from the US. It's primarily because the risks are just too high. With The Play's The Thing, I have been set a challenge and I want to know whether we can fulfil it."
Update 1: There's now a page on the Channel 4 website. The contest is strictly for non-professionals (i.e. people who have never been paid for dramatic writing for radio, television, film or stage). The closing date is 1 July 2005.

Update 2: Edel Brosnan has pointed out in a comment to this post (see below) that by entering the competition, writers surrender all their copyright in the submitted piece.

Friday, May 13, 2005

John Whiting Award

The John Whiting Award, administered by Arts Council England, is intended to help further the careers and enhance the reputations of British playwrights and to draw to public attention the importance of writers in contemporary theatre.

The Award is made to the writer whose play, in the judges' opinion, most nearly satisfies the following description: a play in which the writing is of special quality; a play of relevance and importance to contemporary life; a play of potential value to British theatre.

The judges do not have to regard whether or not the play has received a production, or is likely to receive a production or publication. It must, however, have been written during the years 2004 and/or 2005. The value of the award is £6,000. The judges' decision is final.

Any writer can apply who has had one of the following in the calendar years 2004 or 2005:

1. An offer of an award from the Arts Council (e.g. Grants for the Arts)
2. A commission from one of those theatre companies in receipt of regular or Grants for the Arts subsidy from the Arts Council
3. A premiere production by a theatre company in receipt of Grants for the Arts subsidy from the Arts Council

Translations are not eligible.

Contact Charles Hart (Charles.Hart@artscouncil.org.uk) for further information or an application form .

Meyer-Whitworth Award

Supported by the Royal National Theatre Foundation and dministered by Arts Council England, the Meyer-Whitworth Award is intended to help further the careers of UK playwrights who are not yet established. Candidates will have had no more than two of their plays professionally produced.

The award is made to the writer whose play, in the judges' opinion, most nearly satisfies the following description:

1)a play which embodies Geoffrey Whitworth's dictum that "drama is important in so far as it reveals the truth about the relationships of human beings with each other and the world at large";
2)a play which shows promise of a developing new talent;
3)a play in which the writing is of individual quality.

The judges reserve the right to advise that no script meets the required standards of the award and that therefore the award should not be made.

The value of the award is up to £8,000. The award is given by a panel of three judges whose decision is final.

Contact Charles Hart (Charles.Hart@artscouncil.org.uk) for further information or an application form .

The Children’s Award

The Arts Council is inviting entries for its Children’s Award for playwrights who write for children.

Submitted plays should be suitable for children up to the age of twelve and be at least forty-five minutes long. They must have been produced professionally between 1 July 2004 and 30 June 2005. This may be a first, second or third production of a play written within the past ten years. The playwright must be resident in England.

The value of the award is £6,000.

Contact Charles Hart (Charles.Hart@artscouncil.org.uk) for further information or an application form .

Guild backs BBC strikes

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain has announced its support for a series of one-day strikes by employees at the BBC aimed at preventing large-scale cuts in BBC staffing and operations.

The staff involved are members of BECTU and Amicus (producers, technicians, admin staff, etc) and the NUJ (journalists). The staff unions held ballots which produced large majorities in favour of strikes.

The walk-outs will take place for 24 hours on 23 May and 48 hours on 31 May and 1 June, with a fourth stoppage to be announced to create the "greatest amount of disruption" possible.

In a statement The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain said that it supported the views of the BBC staff unions.
The Guild deplores the 15 per cent across-the-board cuts because they are bound to have a bad effect on the production of drama, sitcom, sketch shows and other genres that involve Guild members.

Virtually all Guild self-employed freelancers rather than employees. Therefore the Guild was not involved in the strike ballots and is not officially part of the unions' "Fight for our BBC" campaign. Under trade union legislation it would be wrong for the Guild to instruct or encourage members to withdraw their labour.

However, Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: “I hope Guild members will show maximum possible support for the staff unions when they take strike action. The dates are known in advance, so if Guild members have meetings or appointments planned for those days, I hope they will rearrange them.

"If they have deadlines on those days, I hope they will refrain from submitting material while staff are on strike – whether this means submitting it a day early or a day late. Many producers and managers will be on strike themselves, so Guild members should consider discussing with them in advance how they can react to the strike situation.

"The minute any Guild member thinks there is a serious problem, they should ring me at the Guild office and I will advise them how to proceed. Also, there are likely to be picket lines at most BBC premises. I would encourage Guild members to join the picket lines if they can, and show their solidarity with the BBC staff. After all, we all want to preserve the best possible public service broadcasting service for our country.”

An Englishman (and his dog) in Brooklyn

For a debut novel that pays tribute to the wonderful power of books, it seems only fitting that the Writers' Guild meets its author on National Library Day. 'National' in this case meaning 'American'. English writer Wesley Stace lives in brownstone Brooklyn. His novel Misfortune is published in the U.K. by Jonathan Cape on May 19. On May 29, Stace appears at the Hay-on-Wye festival, which calls his book a "vivid Gothic masterpiece".

On the day of the interview, a book review in the New York Times calls 18th-century bawdy London a "precursor of our own ambiguous times." Hm. Ambiguous maybe in the sense that American libraries are reporting book-lending stats to the FBI. But a few gay guys on a mission to give the country a make-over or people running out of acronyms to pigeonhole themselves into a sexual category hardly make for bawdiness. In America, sex is a competitive sport. Pleasure doesn't seem relevant, which it was for those 18th-century Clerkenwell barmaids.

Real sexual freedom is the main theme of Misfortune, whose protagonist(e) Rose is raised as a girl by the richest man in 19th England and a surrogate librarian mother. When she hits puberty, the father prefers not to face reality - but after a soul-searching trip to Narcissus-land in a mythic Hellenic part of Turkey, Rose decides to stick to her guns.

Wesley Stace: "Believer magazine published this phenomenal article about the Michigan's Womyn Festival that only women are allowed to attend. Five years ago, they threw out transsexuals, who went on to start Camp Trans. It's like civil war between the two, which is the saddest thing, if you think that's what the sexual revolution and gay rights have led to. Rose would find all that insane. Not because she's old-fashioned, but because of her character.
In this huge world where everything is permissible, everything is still very much pigeonholed. In fact its getting worse pigeonholed, because things are easier to describe and you can find exactly what you want on the internet. Twenty years ago, you would have a hard time finding American fans of English football. Now you can even find the people in New York who support Arsenal."

Misfortune grew out of the ballad Miss Fortune that Wesley Stace wrote for his alter ego John Wesley Harding, as part of his long-standing career as a singer/songwriter with a loyal American fanbase. That was eight years ago. How did it grow into a 544 p. novel?

WS: "I never wrote more than a hundred pages of my other novels. They were all set in the present, they were very memoir-ish and I didn't enjoy writing any of them for even one word. When I was writing in the present tense [interrupts: "What was that?" His dog Grey is digging up something in the garden] I found myself continually distracted by things in the present. I would want to make fun of Diana Ross, Subarus, your iPod and celebrate them and talk about them. Starting this book I knew that I'd bitten off more than I could chew and that I would finish it. I knew it was going to take years. By setting it in the past, I could have a fictional character set in a completely blank space. Then I would start to get pictures in my head. Without all the distractions, I was able to let my characters talk about essential things: life, love, art, books, their relationships, their conflicts."

At times, Misfortune flirts with Dickens' epic swagger and Henry Fielding's verbosity, but ultimately, Rose's voice is strong, confident and contemporary. Early on, Stace, who feels "very much like an English writer', got a priceless bit of advice from Rick Moody.

WS: "He said: 'I'm giving you the exact advice you don't want to hear. This is not where American literature is at right now, so you need to finish it first, and make sure it's fully thought-out.' Misfortune is completely irrelevant to modern American literature. I might have more in common with women writers, like Anne Patchett or Katherine Dunne who write larger books. If you compared that to the thin books written by men who must have agonised over every single word...My book is written in the spirit of: 'I have a big story to tell, let's tell the story'."

Updated theatre rates

The updated minimum rates for theatre writers working under either Theatre Management Association (TMA) or Theatre National Committee (TNC) rates have been published.

Both have been increased in accordance with inflation. Full details are available from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Authors peak at 50

The cult of youth is over. Or it should be. New research from American company Lulu, reported by BBC News, has revealed that the average age of writers who topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List from 1955-2004 was 50.5 years.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Fighting back against the critics

The dangerous proximity of critics and practitioners in the theatre, by Dominic Dromgoole in The Guardian.
There is hardly any art form that enforces such proximity between practitioner and critic as the theatre. Film critics skulk into viewing rooms in the morning; literary critics flop on to sofas at home with the latest novel; art critics stalk around galleries at their leisure. It's only the theatre that forces everyone to sit in the same room, all contributing to the same event. I have great friends whom I have seen less often over the past 10 years than I have seen Michael Billington. Which is as good an argument as any for not working in the theatre. The proximity makes for passion.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sony Radio Award winners

The Vladimir Nabokov story, Laughter In The Dark, dramatised by Craig Higginson, has won the Gold Award for drama at the annual . Sony Radio Academy Awards Produced by Catherine Bailey, directed by Maria Aitken and with sound design by Howard Davidson, it starred Geraldine Alexander, Roger Allam, Sarah Badel, Ewan Bailey, Lauren Bird, Alan Cox, Tom George, Claire Price, David Shaw Parker
and Tracy Wiles

The judges commented that:
"Maria Aitken's beautifully crafted and paced production of this lesser-known Nabokov tale drew a brilliant performance from Roger Allam, strongly supported by every member of the cast. The atmosphere of cruelty, sleaze and menace was almost palpable, making this a gripping listen."
Laughter In The Dark was made by Catherine Bailey Productions for BBC Radio 3

The Silver Award went to The Permanent Way, by David Hare. (Producer: Catherine Bailey, director: Max Stafford-Clark)

Bronze went to Banana Republic, by Greig Coetzee (Produced and directed by Claire Grove).

Comedy Awards

The Gold Award for comedy The National Theatre Of Brent’s Complete And Utter History
Of The Mona Lisa, written by Patrick Barlow.
- Producers: Bruce Hyman & Helen Chattwell
- Director: Martin Duncan
- Editor: Jake Roberts
- Performers: Patrick Barlow as Desmond Olivier Dingle, John Ramm as Raymond Box
- Additional material: John Ramm & Martin Duncan

The judges commented that
"The National theatre Of Brent continue their singular pursuit of turning the historical into the hysterical. A very funny, very different, beautifully observed and, on occasion delightfully informative romp through the story of the world's most iconic piece of art."
The National Theatre Of Brent’s Complete And Utter History Of The Mona Lisa was an Above the Title productions for Radio 4.

The Silver Award went to The 99p Challenge, written Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Tony Roche and Jon Holmes. (Producer and directed by David Tyler)

The Bronze Award went to Clare In The Community, written by Harry Venning & David Ramsden. (Produced and directed by Katie Tyrell)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Novelists in pods

In New York three novelists have taken residence in special pods where they will write in full view of the public. There's a full report in
The New York Times.No cameras will record this voyeuristic experiment, though visitors can peep occasionally (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m). The potential for public humiliation comes not from the perils of constant surveillance, but from the more familiar writers' problem of failing to meet a deadline. Make that deadlines. They will give weekly readings of their works in progress on Saturdays at 8 p.m., and take part in two public discussions scheduled for this coming Sunday and May 22.

Coronation Street wins best soap

Coronation Street was awarded best soap at The British Soap Awards last night, reports BBC News. Long-time Street writer John Stephenson was given a special achievement award.

25 Words or Less: Director’s Cut

There's an interesting piece in the latest issue of Scriptwriter magazine about a new initiative from the UK Film Council - 25 Words or Less: Director's Cut.

Previous 25 Words or Less contests have invited writers to submit pitches for films in certain genres. This time they have asked two leading directors, Danny Boyle and John Crowley, to set the briefs.

The title of "25 Words or Less" is slightly misleading, in fact. You also have to submit a one-page outline and ten pages of script. Writers must be Full Members of the Writers' Guild or have an agent in order to apply.

The Film Council's Development Fund, with the respective director and production partner, will select two writers to receive funding: one to work with Danny Boyle and Pathe UK and one to work with John Crowley and Intermedia UK.

Development funding of £10,000 will be offered to each successful writer to cover a first draft original script and one set of revisions based on the story idea.

The closing date for applications is 11 July 2005.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

AuthorHouse launches new partnership with Waterstone's

Self-publishing company, AuthorHouse UK, have announced a new partnership with high street retailer Waterstone's.
Through this partnership, AuthorHouse will provide Waterstone's Self-Publishing Packages which includes, among other things, guaranteed shelf space for self-published authors in Waterstone's flagship store at 311 Oxford Street in London, England.

"Big publishers do not have the monopoly on good books," said Scott Pack, Buying Manager for Waterstone's. "Some of the most exciting books we see nowadays are from small independent publishers or self-published authors."

Customers shopping Waterstone's will notice a new "Self-Published" book section which will display and sell authors' books being published through the AuthorHouse UK/Waterstone's partnership. Self-published authors will have their books stocked a minimum of eight weeks, giving Waterstone's buyers a chance to see how their book sells.

"Retail distribution for any author, especially self-published authors, has always been a challenge, " added Bryan Smith, President and CEO of AuthorHouse. "Our authors have complete control over the look, size, release time, royalties and now, retail distribution of their books."
The announcement comes less than a month after Amazon.com's purchase of self-publisher BookSurge.

Is the self-publishing industry coming of age?

Translators recognised by Man Booker International Prize

A special translators award of £15,000 will be given as part of the Man Booker International Prize 2005, reports The Guardian.
The move has been inspired partly by the judges arriving at a final shortlist in which 10 of the 17 authors wrote in other languages. The winning author would have got £60,000, with nothing, until now, for the translator.

"The judges became increasingly aware of the huge role translators play," said their chairman, John Carey.

Among those in line for the inaugural prize are the translators of Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, Milan Kundera, Stanislaw Lem, Naguib Mahfouz, Tomas Eloy Martínez and Kenzaburo Oe. The winning author decides which translator gets the prize, with discretion to split it among several translators.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Edinburgh strike threat

Workers at the King’s and Festival Theatres are being balloted on strike action following seven months of wrangling over job cuts. Talks between management and unions broke down over two compulsory redundancies at the council-owned theatres, which are run by a joint trust, Festival City Theatres Trust.
Strike action could hit the theatres during the Edinburgh Festival this summer. The full story is in The Scotsman.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Brooklyn Books

Brooklyn's brownstone enclave of Park Slope seems to be particularly favoured by writers. Gourmet bread, design furniture, chai lattes and of course bookstores are staples on the main drag, 7th Avenue. Its London equivalent would be Crouch End, with a hint of Hampstead (Prospect Park!).

So when local author David Grand found out that the city-run school (PS 107) frequented by his sons didn't have sufficient funds for a library, he decided to tap into some of Brooklyn's natural resources. Teaming up with the school and 7th Avenue's Community Bookstore, he organised a sold-out series of four readings by Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gary Shteyngart and Darin Strauss.

Less than 100 of NYC's 650 elementary schools have functioning libraries and 60% of New York City's public school students in grades 3 through 8 are reading below grade level. At least PS 107 doesn't have to worry about that anymore. The sold-out series has been enough to fund a $ 35,000 library (including furniture, computers and a librarian).

The May 3rd reading featured Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Safran Foer. The following Q&A was moderated by Vanity Fair editor Elissa Schappell. Since most of the audience seemed to consist of (aspiring) writers, the discussion focussed on craft-related issues.

Q: What is the most important quality a writer should have?
JSF: When I was in college, Joyce Carol Oates told me that a writer should have energy. I've been thinking a lot about Saul Bellow and the energy in each of his sentences, in his books in his whole career. I've only written two books, but it's starting to feel like a Monster Truck Ball; the further you get, the more you have to carry. It's kind of painful. Even keeping parts of your own personality to yourself takes energy.
JL: The one trait I relate to is curiosity. Writing has opened up the world to me. I'm not an immigrant - I came to Boston from London when I was two - but want to know what my parents went through. Most of my protagonists are men because I want to know what it's like to be one. To care about someone enough that you would want to go into their head, that's where the compassion is.

Q: Do you have any special fetish to get you into a writing mode?
JSF: When I was writing my second novel in the New York Public Library, I would listen to Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You on my iPod. I don't even like that song, but it helped me get my subconscious to a place where I would be more receptive.

Q: What's the editing process like for you?
JL: I'm always editing. I was editing even as I was reading the story to you, because it's unpublished and fairly new and I'm keen to get the best possible version out. Somehow in my head a story gets started. Then I usually clear the mess in my work until I think at least it's readable for a few people. Then when I get their feedback I do a few more drafts. There are days when I scrawl something on a piece of paper, maybe that could be considered the writing part, but I don't really distinguish between writing and editing.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Re-working Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

If you liked the big screen version of Hitchhiker's the man who deserves some of the praise (as well, obviously, as original author Douglas Adams) is US scriptwriter Karey Kirkpatrick. And if you didn't like it, then he's probably the man to blame! He's interviewed by Denis Faye for The Writers Guild of America, west
Primarily, it [Douglas Adam's original feature script] was missing a middle, a second act. It was missing things you'd expect, like an active central protagonist with an emotional arc. It's a hard piece of material to weave that into because it started as a series of sketches in a radio play that were turned into a book. A lot of its charm is in how verbose it is and its wordplay, so in that way, it'd sort of be a Monty Python movie, but you can't do that for the amount of money it takes to realize this kind of material. I think that was the thing that was preventing it from ever getting made.

What sci-fi writers think of Star Wars

Think science fiction writers would love Star Wars? Think again, says The New York Times.
One problem with Star Wars, science fiction writers say, is that it is not, ultimately, concerned with science, but rather with a timeless vision of good and evil. Mr. Lucas has said that his story, especially the journeys of his central characters from innocence through trials by fire to wisdom and acceptance, were rooted in Joseph Campbell's comparative studies of world mythologies, and especially in his popular book, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces."

What Mr. Lucas may have seen as eternal, however, science fiction writers have tended to see as antique.

"It started out 30 years behind," said Ursula K. Le Guin. "Science fiction was doing all sorts of thinking and literary experiments on a totally different plane. 'Star Wars' was just sort of fun."

"It takes these very stock metaphors of empire in space and monstrously bad people and wonderfully good people and plays out a bunch of stock operatic themes in space suits," she said. "You can do it with cowboy suits as well."

Science fiction, on the other hand, "is a set of metaphors," Ms. Le Guin said. "It's useful for thinking about certain things in our lives - if society was different in some way, what would it be like?"

Critic turns soap writer

Guardian (free registration required) TV critic Rupert Smith was challenged by Mal Young to write an episode of Doctors. The result can be seen tomorrow...
Understanding the mechanics of TV drama doesn't mean I've become a more charitable critic. If anything, it's made me less inclined to stomach some of the drivel I'm obliged to sit through in my day job. Producers set themselves very high standards, and if those apply to a daytime show like Doctors, they must be doubly important to primetime material. Internal consistency, economy of character, situation and dialogue, the sense of an ending - they're the qualities the Greeks were keen on, and they still rule today. There's a lot of awful TV drama out there that might be improved considerably, if only it didn't trample so gaily over the lot of them.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Tribeca Hooligans

When Elijah Wood was done with Lord of the Rings, he wanted to do something very different. So he signed up for a gritty indie film in which he gets to kick the living daylights out of Man U supporters. Screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, Hooligans is the powerful debut of Lexi Alexander, a former kickboxing champ from Germany who went to LA to become a filmmaker, doing stuntwork to pay for the bills. She took continuing education classes in directing at UCLA and made an Oscar-nominated short film about a boxer.

The average Newyorker's idea of team rivalry is shouting Boston sucks!!! at a baseball game, while downing tepid Bud Lites. No matter how much Yankees fans pretend to hate the BoSox, they will happily squeeze into the same subway car on the way down from the Bronx. Not so in Europe.

Elijah Wood plays Matt Buckner, a talented journalism student who gets kicked out of Harvard through no fault of his own. He flees to London, where his sister lives with a banker-type, who farms out Matt to his kid brother. Through Matt's American eyes, Stateside audiences are introduced to the excitement that comes with football matches - and post-game recreation in the form of a West Ham firm. For those already familiar with football, the film is intruiging for the stylishly choreographed fight scenes, superb acting and the train wreck that is Matt's culture shock. Hooligans has been sold to most European countries, including the U.K., where UIP will release the film later this year.

Filmmaker Lexi Alexander has first-hand experience with firms, having been a member in her native Mannheim. They really didn't take girls, but since she was their kickbox teacher, they couldn't refuse. "The guys would get together on Wednesday evenings to figure out the map of the away-city. When you realise that all of these guys have normal jobs, but this is what they do on the weekends, right there you have a movie, because it's all about character."

Although she received full co-operation from West Ham United, Lexi had less-than-great experiences with the London authorities when it came to shooting there. "They're not really friendly to independent filmmakers. If they do let you shoot, you have to pay a lot of money. They're not as infatuated with the film world; they couldn't care less. When I was shooting my short film in Alabama, the senator would send the local pizzerias to feed us and he would come on the set to ask me what else I needed. That kind of thing could not happen in London." Indeed. The idea of Ken Livingston doling out kebabs on a film set in Southwark seems positvely far-fetched.

The film's producer Deborah del Prete generously gave Lexi an executive producer credit. "My business partner and I like to support female talent. I had been to London and seen the excitement around soccer, but I never realised it was organised around formal groups. Lexi's script gave me an insight in how young males could be sucked into that violence. I have a teenage son and I was always wondering, 'how do guys get involved in that?' So the film is really a cautionary tale."

Update from Tom (03/05/05): The original script for Hooligans was written by Guild member Dougie Brimson.