Thursday, December 20, 2007

British Council to disband specialist departments

In The Daily Telegraph, Richard Dorment laments the news that the British Council is set to close many of its specialist departments including those dealing with film, drama and literature.
Earlier this year the executive board abolished all the advisory panels - the writers, curators, museum directors and musicians who freely gave their professional advice and expertise to the council. Now the staff are being reorganised to focus on the following areas: "Progressive Facilitation", "Market Intelligence Network", "Knowledge Transfer Function" and "Modern Pioneer". If you have no idea what that gobbledygook management speak means, don't worry: neither does anyone else. All we do know is that the council will no longer deliver the arts internationally, and that this will happen when the thirst for British arts has never been greater. What an incalculable loss.

Coping with rejection

On the 5th Estate blog, Daniel Clay recalls coping with years of rejections before an agent finally took on his novel, Broken.
There’s no pretending rejection doesn’t hurt, but some rejections hurt less than others. The slush pile rejections I received rarely offered a specific reason for why I was being rejected, so it was just a case of crossing these agents off the list and sending out my next submission. I tried to look on these as the literary equivalent of a blind date not turning up – not exactly nice, but not exactly personal, either.

The hardest rejections were the near misses, and it’s frightening how close I came to giving up on Broken because of one specific rejection.

The Rocking Horse by Arnold Wesker

Yesterday, to mark its 75th anniversary, BBC World Service broadcast The Rocking Horse, a new play by Arnold Wesker.

There's an interview with Wesker on BBC News, and you can listen again (for a limited time) online.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Guild events next month

Early warning for two Guild events next month:

Friend or Foe - Working with Directors

The Guild's Film Committee will be holding an event focusing on how film screenwriters and film directors work together. There will be general discussion and then a Q&A session afterwards.

The event will be held at the Writers' Guild Centre in King’s Cross on Monday 21st January 2008 from 7pm - 8:30pm.

Speakers will be announced shortly.

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild members and £7.50 for non-members. If you would like to attend this exciting event please send a cheque payable to the ' Writers' Guild' to ‘ Friend or Foe - Working with Directors ’, Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15-17 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JN. Or please email : or call 0207 833 0777.

New Members Evening

The Writers' Guild will be hosting a new members evening on Tuesday 29th January 2008 from 7pm - 9pm at the Writers' Guild Centre, 17 Britannia Street, King's Cross, London WC1X 9JN.

The event will be a good opportunity to learn more about the Guild and the work that we will be doing on your behalf in 2008. You will also have a chance to meet and hear from the chairs of the Guild's craft committees, members of the EC Council, the General Secretary and other Guild staff.

Please RSVP to or call 0207 833 0777 if you are able to attend.

A Pitch In Time

The Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival pitching contest is now open for submissions.
As well as the opportunity to pitch your idea you will also be able to network with other writers, producers, directors and developers by selling your idea and yourself. So as well as pitching your idea to the live audience, you may also get the chance to pitch to a producer that may be interested in optioning you or an agent who may be interested in signing you up.

Arts Council funding

From Mark Brown in The Guardian:
Nearly 200 arts organisations in England have been told that their funding will end from next April in the biggest and most bloody cull since the Arts Council was set up more than 50 years ago.

Pre-Christmas letters from Arts Council England have been dropping on the mats of groups across the arts, telling them they cannot expect to continue receiving public money.

Many organisations will, however, have had good news. Of the 990 bodies which get funding, three-quarters have been told to expect inflation or above rises.
No official list of winners and losers has yet been released, but as The Stage reports, the funding review has upset many organisations.
Richard Pulford, a former deputy secretary general of the arts council and now chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association - many of whose members have been affected - told The Stage he was “extremely unhappy at both the process and the outcomes” of ACE’s decisions.

He added: “It seems extraordinary to me there could have been nearly 200 organisations that were worth funding this year, that aren’t next year. It looks like cutting for the sake of cutting. I don’t understand the rationale for it. We are very concerned that many organisations were given little or no forewarning and some have been cut by regional offices when they aren’t regional organisations. There seems to be no central policy.

“If you are cutting around a quarter of your portfolio, then there must have been something wrong with your portfolio in the first place - and whose fault is that?”
There's also comment from Lyn Gardner on The Guardian's Theatre Blog.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lisa Appignanesi elected President of English PEN

Novelist and critic Lisa Appignanesi has been elected as the twenty-fourth President of the writers’ organisation English PEN.

Appignanesi has announced a campaign to repeal the law of blasphemous libel.

"Despite significant victories, the battle for imaginative free expression is far from over," she said. "This year has seen the sentencing of Samina Malik simply for possessing books and poems, whilst the film of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane almost didn’t happen because of censorious protests. Meanwhile, the producers of Jerry Springer the Opera continue to be threatened with charges of blasphemy. The law of blasphemous libel is not only obsolete; it contravenes our right to free expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has no place in our plural society, where it can only divide people of different faiths and none. It is high time that the law of blasphemous libel is revoked."

Andrew Wylie interview

On, Lloyd Grove talks to one of the world's leading literary agents, Andrew Wylie.
...the key point in the business is that the investment is made in the wrong areas in the business, and I think that quality — which is more valuable over time — has been undervalued, and quantity — which is less valuable over time — has been overvalued. And I think this is a reaction to the dominance of the influence of the chains. In England right now, this is a catastrophe. The retail side is leading the business by the nose, and publishers have not reacted with sufficient strength, and they should have. And so the business in England is just in the tank basically.

Cast your votes in Collecting Society election

An official statement from the WGGB:

Many members of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain will shortly receive voting papers for a ballot to fill vacancies on the board of the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society Ltd.

You must use all four of your votes, and the Guild recommends that you cast them for the four Guild members who are standing – Edel Brosnan, Gail Renard, Hugh Stoddart and Robert Taylor.

It is more important than ever this year, as changes in the constitution of ALCS mean that the Guild no longer has any right to nominate representatives directly on to the board. Unless one or more of our members wins a seat, the Guild could be unrepresented.

ALCS collects millions of pounds each year from photocopying licences and fees for the overseas cable retransmission of UK television channels and programmes. The Guild is concerned that ALCS may tend to give more attention to photocopying than to audiovisual issues, and a strong vote for Guild candidates would help to avoid this problem.

It is very tough for Guild candidates to be elected, as Guild members are heavily outnumbered within ALCS by scientists, academics and book writers.

You should receive your voting papers within the next few days. Please deal with them immediately – despite the Christmas holiday, the closing date is early in the New Year.

Please also note that ALCS has introduced a strange rule that your ballot paper will not be counted unless you use all four votes. This is different from council and trade union elections, where you can use as many votes as you like up to the maximum number.

Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee, adds:

The ALCS ballot papers are plopping onto your doormats now, and we urge you to follow the Guild’s recommendations and vote for our four candidates: Edel Brosnan, Hugh Stoddart, Robert Taylor and Gail Renard. Edel, Robert and Gail are all current directors of ALCS, who are standing again for our seats. During our time, we’ve been instrumental in lowering ALCS’s commission rate considerably, but we feel there’s still much further to go. And it’s paramount, in this digital age, to find writers as many new sources of income as we can, without sacrificing any of our primary royalties.

ALCS do a lot of good work but Guild members and TV, film and radio writers are greatly outnumbered, although we few bring in about one third of ALCS’s income… almost £6 million a year. The Guild is concerned that ALCS may tend to give more attention to photocopying than to audiovisual issues, so we need reps at ALCS who are up to speed with our profession and its practices. A strong vote for the four Guild candidates would ensure we would all continue to be represented and protected.

Always remember that the money you receive is not a gift from ALCS or manna from heaven. These are your residuals, which literally means the remainder of your payment. Your initial fee takes into consideration the royalties and residuals which you’ll receive in the future; your ALCS money being one of them. It’s your part of your pay and you’ve earned every penny.

We are also committed to investigating the serious issue of secondary commissions. Often the payment you receive from ALCS has already been reduced by up to 40% by the time it’s included other commissions, handling fees and cultural levies imposed by foreign collecting societies and agencies. We will ensure that the ALCS investigates these amounts and re-negotiates contracts wherever exorbitant fees are deducted.

Your vote is vital. We’ll need each and every one of them to win, so please pass this info onto all the writers you know. Also, due to a vagary of the ALCS election, you must vote for four candidates using black ink or your ballot paper will count as spoilt. You don’t have long to return the papers, so please do it immediately. Help us to protect your income, now and in the future. It’s your money!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Save Kids TV blog

There's a new blog, Kids' Character In Search Of A Slot, supporting the Save Kids TV campaign.
I was so excited last night I woke up extra early, even before the pigeons. When I got to ITV land, everyone was asleep except for some Hoobs. Have you noticed how the elderly get up really early? And they forget things a lot? That must be why there are so many old shows repeated first thing in the morning.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yorke unveils drama series code of conduct

At a special event at the Writers' Guild last night, John Yorke, BBC Controller Drama Production Studios, unveiled a new code of conduct to cover drama series' work with writers.

In a wide-ranging speech, Yorke explained how he and his team have worked to put writers at the heart of the creative process on drama series. There had, he admitted, been difficulties on shows including Casualty and EastEnders in recent years following the big expansion in the number of episodes commissioned each year. We'll be posting a full report on the event on the Guild's website next week.

The code of conduct is as follows:

• All contracted scripts will be acknowledged on receipt, and writers will then be contacted within 24 hours to be given an indication of when notes will be given.

• Where possible notes will be given at face to face meetings or by phone. If notes are to be given by email, a courtesy phone call should precede the email.

• Productions will make allowances for writers’ time constraints where practicable.

• If scripts delivery schedules are changed, a new schedule will be put in place immediately.

• Adequate times must be scheduled for the completion of each draft.

• Writers will be guaranteed a clear editorial contact throughout the script process that covers for any staff leave or absence.

• Where possible, programmes should communicate clearly with writers as to whether they are likely to be used again.

• Writers will be told immediately when scripts are taken away from them, and the percentage rewrite involved will be indicated to them within two weeks.

• Scripts are deemed to be accepted on publication of the production script.

• Rebriefs are paid at a 10% minimum

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Authors must become brands

On her blog, journalist Danuta Kean argues that for long-term success authors must be turned into brands.
Despite the mixed signals sent by the book trade, authors do break out of the one hit wonderland to establish brand names and long careers. How is it done, and can publishers reinforce brands outside retail promotions? Joanna Prior, marketing and publicity director at Penguin, is adamant it is possible.
Prior has had a hand in the career of a roster of brand name authors, most notably Zadie Smith. Good branding, she believes, is a matter of confidence. “A lot of what it comes from is an unshakable belief that you have the ‘real thing’ on your hands, that you have an author who is going to write for a career not just one book.”
Such belief, she believes, should fuel publishers’ confidence to create distinct identities that set authors apart. In the case of Smith this meant an emphasis on her distinctive name using bold cover design and tactical publicity that showcased her as a voice for a new generation.

Peter Orton 1943-2007

Peter Orton, the founder of children's TV producer, HIT Entertainment, has died at the age of 64. There are obituaries in The Times, The Independent and from Simon Forrest in The Guardian.
At its height, HIT Entertainment, was one of the leading international producers of preschool children's programming, second only to Disney and Warner Brothers. Apart from Bob, the stable of characters included Thomas the Tank Engine, Pingu, Sooty, Kipper, Brambly Hedge, Fireman Sam and Captain Pugwash. Peter's strength was knowing what would appeal, combined with an excellent business brain. He also knew enough about his own shortcomings to surround himself with experts. As he said, he couldn't draw, wasn't really creative, not especially numerate, but he hired people who were.

British Library acquires Pinter archive

From BBC News:
The archive of Britain's leading writer and playwright, Harold Pinter, has been acquired by the British Library.

It includes more than 150 boxes of manuscripts, scrapbooks, letters, photographs and emails from the 2005 Nobel Laureate for Literature.

The British Library said it offered an invaluable resource for researchers and scholars of Pinter's work.

The entire collection, including items that have been on loan to the Library since 1993, was purchased for £1.1m...

The archive is to be catalogued and will be completed at the end of 2008.

A small temporary display, His Own Domain: Harold Pinter, A Life in Theatre, will run at the British Library, in London, from 11 January to 13 April.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Lulu diaries

Over on the Guild website we've put up the article by John Morrison from the most recent copy of the Guild's magazine, UK Writer, about online self-publishing with
I’ve published two non-fiction books with mainstream publishers and a novel under my own steam, so I’m not exactly a blushing virgin. But publishers require long and careful courtship; like Victorian maidens they won’t step out with gentlemen they don’t know, and their long term relationships are often never consummated.

Lulu, by contrast, is a new girl on the block and she doesn’t expect to be showered with expensive gifts and dinners before she delivers the goods.

Jan Etherington's Comedy Writing Course

Guild member and award-winning comedy writer Jan Etherington is launching her first two-day comedy writing course at the Riverside Arts Centre, Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex on 23-24 February 2008.

Jan co-created the prime-time hit television comedy series, Second Thoughts, Faith In The Future, Next of Kin and Duck Patrol plus many radio comedies and is also a successful journalist and broadcaster.

The course includes lunch on both days and a special guest on Sunday – legendary comedy writer, Alan Simpson, who, with Ray Galton, created Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe & Son.

Places are very limited, so book early. Special Introductory Offer for the 2 day Course: £130.

For more details visit the website:
Tel: 020 8133 0110

The BBC's new Oliver Twist

In The Times, Daphne Lockyer goes behind the scenes of Sarah Phelps's adaptation of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist for the BBC.
The choice of Phelps as the adapter is almost a mission statement. She is normally on the writing team of EastEnders and this is her first adaptation of a classic novel. But, as in the BBC’s groundbreaking adaptation of Bleak House, the aim is to give the story an episodic, populist feel. “We wanted a drama that would have resonance even to people who had never picked up a piece of classical literature in their lives,” says Brown.

By choosing Phelps, of course, the BBC also hope to make this version the most gritty and modern of all the Oliver Twist adaptations. “What working in soap teaches you is never to wiffle-waffle around the edges of a story, but to get straight in up to your elbows. And that is exactly what I have tried to do here.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

Doris Lessing's Nobel lecture

2007 Literature laureate, Doris Lessing, delivered her Nobel lecture on Friday - a call for people to recognise the value of books and reading in this country and around the world.
The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise ... but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories, the storyteller, that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, what we are at our best, when we are our most creative.

EU Online Copyright Bill

From William New for Intellectual Property Watch:
European publishers and copyright holders have a friend in European Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, which she reinforced last week in describing efforts to push through a new bill on digital publishing copyrights...

“Copyright is a cornerstone of the information and knowledge-based society,” Reding told the 6 December European Publishers’ Forum. “This is why I introduced in the new framework an appropriate balance between ownership and access.”
On a similar subject, in The Guardian poet Wendy Cope calls for people to respect poets' copyright.
A few years ago one of my step-sisters asked me about Jenny Joseph's poem Warning - the one that begins: "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple." My step-sister spends a lot of time in the USA and had heard about the Red Hat Society, a women's organisation inspired by Jenny's poem. As Warning is included in an anthology I edited, I offered to send her a copy. "No," she said. "Don't bother. I'll get it off the internet." That was when it dawned on me that nowadays, if you want a copy of a particular poem, you don't have to buy a book.

Friday, December 07, 2007

US strike talks continue

Talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, aimed at ending the ongoing writers' strike, have continued all week

For up-to-date information see the WGA website and the United Hollywood blog.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

MPs call for tax credits for kids TV

By David Rose for Broadcast:
Political pressure is mounting on ministers to throw a lifeline to stricken independent producers and save UK children's TV.

Tory and Liberal Democrat media spokesmen backed Labour MPs today in urging the government to respond to the crisis confronting children's programming following ITV's decision to withdraw from the sector.

MPs highlighted the need for an urgent government response by warning that freelance writers, directors and performers were quitting while some companies had already gone to the wall.

As a interim first step, the government was urged to extend tax credits currently available to the film industry to children's television programme makers.
Tax credits for children's TV will be the main subject of the Guild's lobby of MPs at Westminster next week.

Thanks from the WGA

An open letter from the Writers Guild of America

Dear Members of the International Writers’ Community:

We at the Writers Guild of America extend our heartfelt thanks to members of the international community for your unprecedented and robust outpouring of support for our cause on International Solidarity Day on November 28. We were moved and inspired by the hundreds of scribes who marched in front of the Eiffel Tower in France, at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, and on the streets of Canada, England, Australia, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Wales, and Mexico. Clearly, our fight to win fair compensation from global media corporations has struck a chord with writers everywhere.

The scope of the protests was truly impressive: In Berlin, over 100 German writers carried WGA picket signs at the Brandenburg Gate. Hundreds of writers marched in freezing temperatures in Montreal and Toronto. In Amsterdam, an auditorium full of writers cheered our cause. We have heard from the Portuguese Screenwriters Guild, the Writers Guild of Great Britain, the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds, the Writers Guild of Canada, the Screenwriters Guild of Germany, and the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe. Members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild marched for our cause dressed as leprechauns!

At home, WGA members with international backgrounds marched at NBC Studios in Burbank, California. Jean-Yves Pitoun, a French native and WGA West member, stressed that the fight in the U.S. has an impact abroad: “Europeans are very carefully watching the writers, actors, and directors in the U.S. because Rupert Murdoch is everywhere.”

We thank you for reinforcing that fair compensation for writers is a worldwide cause. Together our voices will be heard.


Board of Directors

Writers Guild of America West

Pegg wins Guild Comedy Award

Simon Pegg won the Writers' Guild Ronnie Barker Award at the British Comedy Awards last night.

Peep Show (written by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong) was named Best TV Comedy, while Gavin & Stacey (written by Ruth Jones and James Corden) took the award for Best New British Television Comedy.

Update (7.12.07): A first-hand account from Guild TV Comittee Chair, Gail Renard:

Once again the WGGB was proud to be associated with the British Comedy Awards, which glittered like newly whitened teeth despite not being aired live by ITV this year. The Guild reps on the Brit Com panel were Jonathan Harvey, Simon Brett and myself, and we judged our fellow writers as we would ourselves be judged… only they won awards.

The Guild gave its prestigious Writer Of The Year Award to Simon Pegg who, with his various co-writers (Jessica Stevenson, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, Michael Ian Black et al) has produced many hit TV shows and films. Pegg’s range has been impressive. From the C4 series Spaced to Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg’s brought a lot of joy with both his writing and performing. I’m sure the WGA strike t-shirt we also gave him was the icing on the cake.

The Best TV Comedy Award was won deservedly by Peep Show, and its writers, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong; officers, gentlemen and staunch Guild members. It’s hard enough to create an original, laugh-out-loud comedy series, but to sustain it over 4 years with continued excellence, as Peep Show has done, is a tribute to its entire team.

Gavin And Stacey's James Corden and Ruth Jones won three awards between them, and if that doesn’t count as a good night out, I don’t know what does.

As ever the Guild wants to thank Michael Hurll, exec producer and creator of the Brit Coms. In his incredible comedy career, Michael’s produced everyone from Jack Benny to the Two Ronnies. All of us in comedy owe him a great debt. He definitely deserves his own British Comedy Award.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Increase of minimum rates for TV writers negotiated with the BBC

The minimum rates for writers commissioned under the WGGB / PMA / BBC TV agreement have been increased by 4% as a result of negotiations between the three parties, effective from 1 November 2007.

The following per minute minimum rates for TV writers will now apply:
  • Teleplays: £166.47
  • Series/Serials: £151.00
  • Dramatisations: £104.34
  • Adaptations: £66.06
  • Educational Drama: £101.44
In addition:
  • Attendance fees: £88.73

Polly Stenham interview

Last week Polly Stenham won the The Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright at The Evening Standard Awards. In The Independent, Ciar Byrne meets her.
Stenham, who wrote That Face as part of the Royal Court's Young Writers programme, fell into the theatre almost by accident. "I wanted to write fiction really, but I couldn't find any courses and then I heard about the Royal Court," she said. Writing the play was, "a lot of fun".

She is now "in the murky depths" of writing a second. "It would be completely possible that I now write four or five terrible plays," she said. "You lose your innocence a bit. The first one you just write for you and the complete joy of it."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Channel 4 schools moves online

From Bobbie Johnson for Media Guardian:
For years they have been a fixture of Channel 4's schedules, but next year early morning programmes for schools will become a thing of the past - replaced by a sweeping initiative on the internet.

In a pioneering move for a broadcaster, the £6m annual budget spent on education programmes aimed at teenagers is being moved from traditional TV shows to multimedia projects.

The relevance of sci-fi

In The Sunday Times, Brian Appleyard argues that science-fiction writing is more relevant than ever.
“The truth is,” [Brian] Aldiss has written, “that we are at last living in an SF scenario.” A collapsing environment, a hyperconnected world, suicide bombers, perpetual surveillance, the discovery of other solar systems, novel pathogens, tourists in space, children drugged with behaviour controllers – it’s all coming true at last. Aldiss thinks this makes SF redundant. I disagree. In such a climate, it is the conventionally literary that is threatened, and SF comes into its own as the most hardcore realism.

BBC cues up new Aussie soap

Any hopes that the impending move of Neighbours from BBC One to Five would lead to the commissioning of a British replacement have been dashed by the announcement that the BBC has commissioned a new Australian daytime soap called Out of the Blue.
Though long-running show Neighbours comes to an end on BBC1, the channel will keep an Antipodean flavour with a new show set in Sydney.

Out of the Blue will begin shooting in the new year and is set in the Sydney beach resort of Manly.

The story opens when a group of thirtysomething friends return to their home town for a high school reunion.

However, the celebrations are brought to an abrupt end when one of the group is murdered.

Out of the Blue is being made by Southern Star Entertainment, the company behind hits such as The Secret Life of Us and Love My Way.

The BBC has ordered 130 half-hour episodes of Out of the Blue, which will run in an as yet unspecified slot in daytime.

Derby Playhouse closes

From Pat Ashworth in The Stage:
Derby Playhouse has gone dark, after the theatre’s board took the decision to place the company in liquidation...

The news comes after last week’s revelation that the venue faced a £300,000 shortfall in expected revenue and needed £70,000 to pull it out of danger of closure. Venue officials blamed the financial problems on disruption caused by the development of the surrounding Westfield shopping centre. Productions staged during that period performed below expectations.