Thursday, January 31, 2008

A lit crit crisis?

In Prospect, William Skidelsky ponders the falling status of book reviewing.
Reviewers rarely attempt more than a plot summary and some perfunctory reflections on style. Trends are rarely analysed. A supplementary argument for taking fiction reviewing seriously is that it might go some way to addressing that familiar complaint: "Where have all the critics gone?" In fact, there are still plenty around, and good ones too—it's just that no one pays them much attention. It says something that the two most important positions in literary journalism in America—the jobs of chief critic at the New Yorker and the Atlantic—are occupied by James Wood and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom are British-born. Even if America's newspapers no longer take book reviewing seriously, magazines do—which may help explain why two of our best critics have decamped.

Skins to debut online

Skins Series 2 Preview Trailer

The first episode of the second series of Skins (created by Bryan Elsley) will be made available on the web before it airs on E4, reports Digital Spy.
"Getting programming out to where our viewers are is an ongoing and important part of E4's strategy," said E4 marketing manager Sarah Martin. "It's great that we're able to reward Skins fans by giving them the chance to watch it ahead of it being on the channel."

BBC credits to be enlarged

From Matthew Hemley in The Stage:
Credits on BBC shows are to be enlarged following complaints that a new format rolled out last year makes it difficult to read the names of actors and production staff who have worked on a programme...

A BBC spokesman said: “End credits are commonly used throughout the broadcast industry as a means of giving viewers the information they are searching for at that moment. The new end credit format was rolled out last year and we have been canvassing feedback since then. Some people have said the font is too small to read and we are currently looking to enlarge it.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Friend or Foe - Working with Directors

On the WGGB website, Moe Owoborode reports from the first in a series of events about writers collaborating with directors that took place at the Writers’ Guild Centre last week.
Rupert Walters contrasted the situation with the US where the main job of movie directors is reading and working on screenplays whereas he found that British directors moving from TV over to film often have no experience or training in how to work with a writer. On most British TV dramas there is little contact between the writer and director as the script work is done by a script editor. He felt that directors need more training on how to collaborate with writers because this should be how much of their time will be spent.

Writing partnerships

On the WGGB website, Gail Renard outlines some key considerations when writing with a partner:
Writing partnerships can end up as Brad and Angelina, or as a replay of Sydney Poitier and Tony Curtis chained together in The Defiant Ones; but whatever happens, you should have a simple letter of agreement between you. It doesn’t have to be the Treaty of Versailles or be drawn up by a lawyer.

The movie on the page

On his blog, Billy Mernit finds a common theme in all ten of this year's Oscar-nominated screenplays:
...they read like movies. Their writers have put the movie in their minds on the screenplay page -- so specifically that any director worth his lens-knowledge could tell what the movie was supposed to look, sound and feel like.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Life on strike

In The New York Times, Melena Ryzik speaks to American screenwriters about life on strike.
Career shifts may be more common in the coming weeks, as residual checks dwindle. Depending on many factors — including the length of the show and whether it is on cable or a network — payments can be lucrative for first-time reruns, but they decrease exponentially with each broadcast. Still, for people like Nina Bargiel, who wrote 17 episodes of the Disney hit “Lizzie McGuire” a few years ago but isn’t currently working in television, that money is much appreciated. “If they’re doing a marathon, and they play six of your shows, that’s $300,” she said. “I’m lucky if I make that in a week.”

£3m extra for arts in Northern Ireland

From Michael Quinn in The Stage:
Northern Ireland’s arts sector has secured an additional £3 million funding from the region’s legislative Assembly, thanks to a high-profile protest campaign against proposals that would have led to an uplift of just £500,000 for 2008/9.

The announcement comes after a several years of “chronic under-funding” and a proposal in the Assembly’s draft budget that arts council chairman Rosemary Kelly described as “tantamount to sounding a death knell over large areas of arts activity”. The new allocation of £7.55 million for 2008/11 represents a 67% increase on the original sum proposed for the period and includes £1.7 million for the year ahead.

Joan Brady's eight year struggle

Award-winning novelist Joan Brady was working on her new book in a sleepy Devon town when she began suffering from the fumes produced by the shoe factory next door. Her response? To abandon literary fiction and write crime instead. And to start a lawsuit. She tells Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian how it took her eight years to win the case.
The legal wrangling may be over, but Brady is left with dead nerves, heightened allergies and a rage against the legal system and local democracy. On the plus side, she also has a lucrative new career: a few years after abandoning Cool Wind From the Future, she channelled her rage over the dispute into writing a new book, a thriller called Bleedout, which has become an international bestseller.
Meanwhile, Mark Lawson ponders what coverage of the case tells us about attitudes to crime fiction.
One example given of her problems - and here we come to the reason that Brady should probably not walk down any dark alleys filled with crime writers - was that she had become so confused by the fumes that she was forced to abandon a serious novel, Cool Wind from the Future, and turn instead to mystery fiction, with Bleedout.

So, in the course of a compensation dispute, we have medical and legal support for the traditional libel against crime writing: that it is done by authors whose brains aren't fully working. Perhaps, in the way that the dim in showbusiness became known as airheads, leading crime and thriller writers should in future be designated fumeheads.

Welsh writers in online archive dispute

From BBC News:
Scores of writers are refusing to let their works be scanned for an online archive at the National Library of Wales because they are not being paid.

A year after a near-£1m project was awarded to digitise modern Welsh writing, a dispute between authors and the library has not been resolved.

The library is putting some 3.5m words from 20th Century English and Welsh periodicals and magazines on the web.

But literature promotion agency Academi wants writers to be paid a share.

Nominations sought for 17th Meyer-Whitworth Award

Nominations are being sought for the 17th Meyer-Whitworth Award, the largest annual monetary prize for playwriting in the UK. It is intended to help further the careers of UK playwrights who are not yet established. The Award is now administered by the Playwrights' Studio, Scotland in association with the UK Playwrights Network, with a prize fund of £10,000 from the Royal National Theatre Foundation.

Nominations must be made by directors of professional theatre companies.

Plays nominated must be in the English language and have been produced professionally in the UK for the first time between 1 November 2006 and 30 November 2007.
Candidates will have had no more than two of their plays professionally produced, including the play submitted.

No writer who has previously won the award may reapply, and no play that has previously been submitted for the award is eligible. A play submitted for consideration must be an original work. Translations are not eligible. Writers must be resident in the British Isles or Republic of Ireland.

To nominate a play contact Playwrights' Studio, Scotland on or 0141 332 4403 to request an application form.

The deadline for entries is 28 February 2008.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ronald Harwood on Diving Bell

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner in The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

Following his Oscar nomination, announced last week, British screenwriter Ronald Harwood explains in The Times how he set about adapting Jean-Dominique Bauby's book, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.
There is only one golden rule when writing a screenplay and that is: there is no golden rule. Every screenplay is different. Each one has its own imperative, dictating its own construction with the characters making their individual demands as if everything is preordained. I try to “learn” the book and absorb its contents. Only then am I able to define the story the book tells in the hope of translating it to the screenplay.

Wesker's Roots

In The Guardian, Arnold Wesker remembers how his play Roots (revived at the Manchester from Wednesday) overcame the initial doubts of George Devine and Tony Richardson's English Stage Company.
Devine and Richardson rejected it. They wanted me to rewrite the play combining the first and second act, making the existing third act into the second act, and to write a new third act in which Ronnie appeared. They argued, not unreasonably (but unsubtly) that the audience's interest in the boy had been aroused and now they wanted to see him. The brilliant men of the theatre had missed the point of the play - as they had done with Chicken Soup With Barley, which began its life at the newly built Belgrade Theatre in Coventry (50 years ago this coming July), and as they were to do with Chips With Everything, which also began its life at the Belgrade before transferring to the Court and later to the Vaudeville Theatre, where it ran for a year. Their suggestions for changing Roots shocked me somewhat; they were so banal. I rejected them and prepared to face the end of my career as a playwright.

Burnham comes in at DCMS

Following the resignation of Peter Hain last week, and his replacement as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by James Purnell, Andy Burnham has been appointed as Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

In Media Guardian, Emily Bell profiles Burnham and says that, even if the faces change, the policies are likely to remain the same.
Media policy has a very tight circle of not only like-minded but astonishingly alike individuals: Tim Allan, former press aide to Alastair Campbell and head of PR at Sky, and now public relations consultant; Ed Richards, former BBC strategist, Number 10 policy unit member and now CEO of Ofcom; James Purnell, Richards' friend, his successor on media issues at Number 10 and briefly minister for culture; and now Burnham, who had advisory roles to two previous culture secretaries, Chris Smith and Tessa Jowell, and as a young MP rose rapidly to become first secretary to the Treasury in Brown's first cabinet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The long life of Pest Control

In The L.A. Times, Jay A. Fernandez outlines the long and winding road travelled by Bill Fitzhugh and Matt Hansen's feature film script, Pest Control.

Sixteen years after it was first written, it has been through numerous rejections, landed a $500,000 option, been turned into a novel and is now being considered for a German radio adaptation and a Broadway musical. Still no film, though.
"People get excited about stuff and then they lose their enthusiasm," he [Fitzhugh] says, while pointing out that writing the novel in the wake of the screenplay's "failure" led to a bigger payday and more complete version of the story than if the original script had just been sold and sat on a shelf all these years. "I'm aware enough that you've got no control over it, so that it's insane to sit there and worry about, 'Are they gonna do it?' If it happens, great. Meanwhile, be working on the next thing."

Nestlé book prize to end

Fro Michelle Pauli for The Guardian:
The Nestlé book prize, which has been honouring children's authors for the past 23 years, is being discontinued by its administrator Booktrust and sponsor Nestlé.

According to Katherine Solomon, press officer at Booktrust, the future of the prize has been in discussion for some time and the decision to end the partnership was "mutual and there was no hostility". It was a "natural time to conclude", she added, as the literacy charity's focus moves increasingly into its national book-giving scheme - the Bookstart and Booked Up programmes that provide free books to babies and year seven schoolchildren.

Penguin closes Scottish office

From Phil Miller for The Herald:
One of the world's leading publishers, Penguin, is closing its office in Scotland.

For the past four years, Judy Moir, a leading literary editor and former publisher at Canongate books, has found and nurtured writers north of the border for the London-based publisher.

However, Ms Moir is now to leave her post of Scottish editor at Penguin at the end of January after the publisher said it has changed its business model. Last night, she said she was "baffled" by the company's decision and that she still had great faith in the writing talent north of the border.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A.L. Kennedy wins Costa Book Of The Year

Novelist A.L. Kennedy has won the prestigious Costa Book Of The Year award for her novel, Day.
In one of the most open contests since the Book of the Year award was introduced in 1985, A.L. Kennedy beat best-selling biographer, Simon Sebag Montefiore for Young Stalin, first-time novelist Catherine O'Flynn for What Was Lost, poet Jean Sprackland for Tilt and children's writer Ann Kelley for The Bower Bird for the overall prize.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar nominations

Two British writers are among the nominees for the 2008 Oscars, announced today. Christoper Hampton (Atonment, from the novel by Ian McEwan) and Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, from the novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby) are both nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. You can read interviews with Hampton and Harwood in the latest issue of Written By magazine.

The full screenplay Oscar nominations are as follows:

Adapted screenplay

  • Atonement - Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
  • Away from Her - Written by Sarah Polley
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
  • No Country for Old Men - Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • There Will Be Blood” - Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
Original screenplay
  • Juno - Written by Diablo Cody
  • Lars and the Real Girl - Written by Nancy Oliver
  • Michael Clayton - Written by Tony Gilroy
  • Ratatouille - Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
  • The Savages - Written by Tamara Jenkins

Authors' poisoned pens

On The Guardian Books Blog, Stuart Walton wonders why authors seem so frequently to be misanthropic.
Opening his diary for 2007 (published in the London Review of Books), Alan Bennett mused that the literary world was an endemically cantankerous place. Contrasting it with the theatre, he put this literary grumpiness down to the fact that actors don't generally have supplementary careers as critics, in the way that writers do. Review sections are largely written by biographers, historians and writers of fiction who need the extra cash to fill the penurious gaps between instalments of the advance. "It's harmless enough," commented Bennett, "but it makes literature a nastier world."

Hopes rise for US strike resolution

Does the agreement between the Directors Guild of America and the studios mean that a resolution of the writers' strike has moved closer? Possibly. As Craig Mazin writes on his Artful Writer blog, the DGA deal saw a number of crucial issues addressed in a way that could also be extended to a deal with writers.

Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter says that, having studied the DGA deal, Writers Guild of America representatives will meet informally with studio bosses this week with a view to getting negotiations back on track.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Novelists writing comics

In The Times, Tim Martin looks at the growing number of novelists writing (or overseeing) comic books.
The size of the influx is startling. Stephen King, one of the world's bestselling authors, has recently overseen the first in a series of comic adaptations from his Dark Tower novels. Ian Rankin, having retired the bibulous Inspector Rebus from print, has turned his attention to John Constantine, the hard-bitten Chandlerian sorcerer of Vertigo's Hellblazer comics. Michael Chabon has published several issues of The Escapist, a superhero created by the fictional protagonists of his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, while his contemporary Jonathan Lethem is halfway through a run on Omega the Unknown, a timely resurrection for one of the most philosophically baffling superheroes.

Diablo Cody interviews

It's not every day that a screenwriter becomes a star. But not every screenwriter used to be a lapdancer. And not every screenwriter has changed their name to Diablo Cody. And not every screenwriter produces a debut as acclaimed as Juno.

Here's an interview in The Times ahead of Juno's Uk release on 8th February.

And in Written By, Matt Hoey falls head-over-heels.
The waiter arrives with our check. No! Breakfast is finished and our time almost concluded. In humble, nerdy fashion I ask Cody if she will autograph my copy of Candy Girl. She obliges - a memento of our time together!

From her blog to her book to her movie, all the work shares an original voice that is honest, hilarious, and real. As we leave and I pay her this final compliment, she thanks me for the interview (She really, really likes me!) and says, “I'm glad that I have a voice. I think you spend years experimenting with different voices as a writer so when you hit on one that feels real, it's a good feeling.”

She's gone and I think to myself, I wish I'd known a girl like Juno MacGuff when I was in high school. Just like in the movie, she'd tell me I'm the coolest person she's ever met. And that I don't even have to try.
JunoEllen Page and Olivia Thirlby in Juno, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman

Friday, January 18, 2008

NPA networking event in collaboration with the Writers' Guild

New Producers Alliance and the Writers' Guild are pleased to announce a post-New-Year networking session on Wednesday 23rd January.

This event will be held The Verge,114 Bethnal Green Road, E2 6DG from 6:30pm until 9pm and is geared towards writers wishing to meet producers and vice versa. Please bring along business cards and a networking hat. To book your free place please email .

Weblink to map to get to The Verge. The nearest tubes to the venue are either Liverpool Street or Bethnal Green ( 5 min bus ride or 12 min walk from each).

Arts Council latest

In The Stage, Alistair Smith reports on a war or words between National Theatre Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner and Arts Council England (ACE) Chief Executive, Peter Hewitt.
Peter Hewitt has defended the funding body against criticisms from National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner, by claiming that the organisation has received “a large number of communications welcoming both the strategy” and “specific proposals” of its latest funding round.

Speaking at the NT’s season launch yesterday, Hytner said that ACE should be “encouraged to act boldly”, but branded its recent funding proposals as “bollocks”, and its spending review a “strategic catastrophe”.

Today, Hewitt responded: “It is pleasing that the director of the National Theatre and others so strongly support the arts council’s arts funding strategy - in Hytner’s words, ‘being encouraged to act boldly, otherwise new companies and new ideas would not emerge’. But it is disappointing that they are less able to countenance the practical consequences of that strategy, which means reducing or not renewing funding to some organisations, in order to create a vibrant artistic culture.
Meanhile, on The Guardian's Theatre Blog, Lyn Gardner looks at what happens now that organisations have submitted their appeals against funding cuts.
The timetable continues with the meeting of the national council on January 29 2008, which will consider any funding of organisations over £5m and which will also have to approve the budget for the whole of the proposed expenditure. What is clear, according to the Arts Council, is that the amount of money available is fixed. If any of the proposed cuts do not happen, then the money will have to be shaved from the budgets of either those who have been offered continued inflation-level funding, uplifts or some of those 80 organisations (whose identity is not yet known) who are going to get revenue funding.

US directors sign deal with producers

The Directors Guild of America have signed a new deal with producers.
“Two words describe this agreement - groundbreaking and substantial,” said Gil Cates, chair of the DGA's Negotiations Committee, in announcing the terms of the new agreement. “The gains in this contract for directors and their teams are extraordinary – and there are no rollbacks of any kind.”
The Writers Guild of America has issued the following response:
Now that the DGA has reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP, the terms of the deal will be carefully analyzed and evaluated by the WGA, the WGA's Negotiating Committee, the WGAW Board of Directors, and the WGAE Council. We will work with the full membership of both Guilds to discuss our strategies for our own negotiations and contract goals and how they may be affected by such a deal.

For over a month, we have been urging the conglomerates to return to the table and bargain in good faith. They have chosen to negotiate with the DGA instead. Now that those negotiations are completed, the AMPTP must return to the process of bargaining with the WGA. We hope that the DGA's tentative agreement will be a step forward in our effort to negotiate an agreement that is in the best interests of all writers.

Licence fee could be shared

From Owen Gibson for Media Guardian:
The government last night said the BBC's licence fee could be shared with other broadcasters to pay for public service programming. The culture secretary, James Purnell, promised to be "bold" in devising a new structure for broadcasting and may bring forward legislation to preserve the public service ethos in the digital world.

It is the first time the government has admitted it is considering the move and Purnell said it would be "perverse" not to ask whether or not some of the licence fee should go to other providers. He asked: "Do we think it's sustainable for every penny of the licence fee to go to a single organisation in an industry which now has very many providers?"

He is believed to have decided to address the issue head on after the BBC's chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, suggested that "top slicing" the licence fee might harm the corporation's output.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Arts world unites to complain about Arts Council

As Alistair Smith reports for The Stage, the Arts world has united in a letter to Culture Secretary James Purnell to voice “grave concerns” over the way Arts Council England has handled its recent funding announcement. The letter is written by the National Campaign for the Arts and signed by all the major industry bodies including the Writers' Guild.
It... complains that ACE’s proposals “do not always appear to be based on solid, reliable evidence” and that data used by the council to come to its decisions was, in some cases, “inaccurate and flawed”.

The letter continues: “The timing and the lack of notice for these proposals contravene government’s own compact about how public bodies should deal with voluntary sector organisations (which many arts organisations are). In the past, ACE has tried to ensure an adequate notice and preparation period when taking funding decisions, and has always advised that the sector does the same in regard to its own long-term planning. In fact, the council’s own disinvestment policy refers to timescales of a six-month notice period. It is worrying that ACE is not following its own advice in this instance.

“While we absolutely support the arm’s-length principle, we feel that this situation is of such seriousness that it merits closer inspection.”

Chris Chibnall interview

BBC Writersroom has published an interview with Chris Chibnall, the lead writer of Torchwood.
The key to it is emotional reality. In terms of images, pictures, and concepts, you can go as far as you like as long as it's grounded in relatable human emotions for the team. The Torchwood quintet are the way in for the audience – they should be seeing absolutely extraordinary things, whether it's a time agent or a huge animal beyond comprehensible size, but everything comes back to how that affects the team and their reaction. If you or I were in that situation how would we feel?
Torchwood Captain Jack (John Barrowman) gets up close and personal with Captain John (James Marsters)in the new series of Torchwood (Photo: Adrian Rogers/BBC)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Martin McDonagh, from theatre to film

In The New York Times, Sylvaine Gold talks to playwright Martin McDonagh about In Bruges, the feature film he has written and directed.
“In Bruges,” which opens [in America] Feb. 8, was not supposed to be Mr. McDonagh’s first feature. He had been writing screenplays along with his plays, though he found them much more difficult. “You can write eight scenes, and that’s a play,” he said. “Eight scenes can be the first half-page in a film.” He found “the jigsawlike” elements of screenwriting — “the idea that you can jump back in time, space, and come back” — unnerving. Still, he said, he kept at it, and “each one was getting a little better.”
In Bruges trailer

The McMaster Review

Against an unhelpful background of the Arts Council's recent funding review, Sir Brian McMaster, former Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, has been undertaking a review for the government into how the arts are supported.

Launching the report last week, Sir Brian said:
“British society today is, I believe, the most exciting there has ever been. It has the potential to create the greatest art ever produced. We could even be on the verge of another Renaissance. So we should do all we can to make this happen. That means moving away from simplistic targets and recognising instead the profound value of art and culture in itself.

“I have found a hunger in the cultural sector for public funding to be more ambitious, and to lift the pressures that favour financial and artistic safety. My recommendations are founded on the simple belief that we have a genuine opportunity to build on our success so far and create some of the most exciting culture the world has ever seen.”
Critic Michael Billington has hailed the document:
Unusually for such reports, McMaster's is full of radical ideas. The biggest is free admission to publicly funded arts organisations for a week. Clearly that raises an equally big question: how do companies make up for loss of box-office revenue? I'd modify the idea to six "free" days scattered through the year rather than one big-bang week. But, whichever way you look at it, it's a bold, brilliant concept that would open hitherto closed doors. McMaster has lots of other schemes up his sleeve. Ten-year-funding cycles for 10 specially targeted groups. A communal knowledge bank on which boards and trusts can draw before making key appointments. Above all, allowing arts groups to be assessed by their peers in the pursuit of excellence.
However, as Billington acknowledges, quite how any of this can be put into action if the arts community has lost confidence in funding bodies, remains to be seen.

Sean O'Brien win T.S. Eliot Prize

Forward Prize winner Sean O'Brien has done an unprecedented double by winning the prestigious 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize as well.

As Dalya Alberge reports in The Times:
Peter Porter, chairman of the judges, said: “Sean O’Brien is undoubtedly a major artist, a consistently good poet who sees us living in the middle of a kind of detritus left over from the 19th century . . . In The Drowned Book it’s almost as though he’s seeing into a kind of pool in which the past is there, held in a sort of suspension that’s still around in the 20th century. What’s exhilarating is the way he puts words together, his sentence structure.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

So You Want To Be A Playwright ?

Are you interested in writing for theatre? Would you like find out more about how to get started? If so then this event on Monday 17th March at The Writers' Guild Centre, 17 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN from 7 until 9pm is for you.

The session will focus on getting your first commission, building relationships with theatres and the initiatives and opportunities available to new playwrights.

Panelists include Writers' Guild President and playwright David Edgar (Nicholas Nickleby and Destiny) and playwright Kwame Kwei Armah (Statement of Regret and Elmina's Kitchen). Further speakers will be announced shortly.

Tickets cost £5 for Guild members and New Writing South Members and £7.50 for non-members. If you would like to attend please send a cheque payable to The Writers' Guild to 'So you want to be a Playwright?', Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15-17 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JN.

For more information please email : or call 0207 833 0777.

Meet the Agents - Part 3 ( Brighton)

The Writers' Guild in collaboration with New Writing South will be hosting the third in its series of Meet the Agents events. The session will be held on Monday 18th February at the Nightingale Theatre, 29- 30 Surrey Street , Brighton, BN1 3BE from 7- 9:30pm.

The evening offers an informal opportunity to meet with agents working with playwrights, screenwriters and film and prose writers. Find out if you need an agent, what agents do and how and when an agent can help your career.

Speakers include Elaine Steel from the Elaine Steel Agency. Other panelists will be announced shortly.

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild and New Writing South Members and £20.00 for non-members. If you would like to attend please contact the New Writing South office on 01273 735353 or book online .

The Revival of The Audience Sitcom

The Writers' Guild presents The Revival of The Audience Sitcom on Tuesday 12th February from 7pm until 9pm. The event will be held at the Writers' Guild Centre, 17 Britannia Street, London WC1 9JN.

Despite numerous pronouncements of its imminent death the audience sitcom is alive, well, and re-inventing itself for the 21st Century. With The IT Crowd, Channel 4's first audience hit since 'Black Books', BBC1's Not Going Out and After You've Gone all re-commissioned for third series - and ITV re-entering the market with Teenage Kicks - the signs are good for television's most loved (and hated) format.

We've assembled an all-star panel to discuss the revival, and offer us pointers to the future. Joining us on the night will be Lucy Lumsden(Comedy Commissioning Editor, BBC), Beryl Vertue OBE (Producer of Coupling, Men Behaving Badly and countless hit shows), Ian Brown and James Hendrie(Writer-Producers of After You've Gone and My Family) and Charlie Hanson (Producer of Not Going Out). More names to be confirmed.

The discussion will be chaired by writer and comedian Dave Cohen (My Family)

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild members and £10.00 for non-members. If you would like to attend this exciting event please send a cheque payable to The Writers' Guild to 'The Revival of The Audience Sitcom', Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15-17 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JN.

For more information email : or call 0207 833 0777.

'No confidence' after Arts Council cuts

On the Writers' Guild website, playwright and Guild Theatre Committee member Amanda Whittington has written her account of the stormy Equity-organised meeting with Arts Council England (ACE) last week.

Meanwhile, press coverage of the controversial proposed funding cuts continues in The Observer and The Guardian.

Organisations have until tomorrow to register protests over cuts, before ACE announces its final decisions early next month.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Trial scripts

A guest post from Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee:

Calling all TV writers! The Guild recently has received queries from members writing trial scripts, particularly for long-running series. There seem to be many variations on the theme. Sometimes writers are well paid; other times not at all. Sometimes the scripts are used; sometimes binned. The feedback from production personnel on these scripts runs the gamut from helpful to you must be joking.

The Guild takes the working conditions and welfare of writers seriously, so we’re gathering information about how production companies and broadcasters elicit, pay for (or not) and contract trial scripts. If you have an experience to share (good or bad; experienced writer or novice) then we'd love to hear from you. Of course all info will be treated as confidential.

Email your comments to Naomi at

As ever, you speak and the Guild acts!

Tributes to Catherine Wearing

Tributes have been paid to BAFTA-winning producer, Catherine Wearing, reports Ben Dowell in The Guardian, following her sudden death at the age of 41.

Her producing credits for the BBC include Sandy Welch's adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, A Mug's Game by Donna Franceschild, Nature Boy by Bryan Elsley and series two of Common As Muck, written by William Ivory.

Her credits outside the BBC include two series of Rose and Maloney, written by Bryan Elsley and Peter Flannery and Second Generation, written by Neil Biswas.

William Ivory told The Guardian:
"Both as a script editor and a producer Catherine was something of a rarity in that her primary concern was always to realise the writer's voice before all else. She was a hard taskmaster but her relentless drive to get to the heart of a script or an idea ... or a single scene was invariably predicated by 'What do you want to say?'....

"She bothered with the thorny issues of scheduling, star names and what the broadcasters wanted, only when the heart of the piece had been thus settled."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Moxie Makers - The Big Pitch 2008

Moxie Makers, a "micro studio" managed by Ipso Facto Films, has launched The Big Pitch 2008.
Moxie Makers and our Partners are proud to present The Big Pitch.

The Big Pitch will provide comprehensive training and development for six producer/writer/director teams as they compete to win the most dynamic feature film pitching competition and the largest film production prize in the UK.

The Big Pitch is looking for:
  • fresh, original and dynamic work in a recognised genre
  • diverse and innovative, up and coming filmmakers
  • commercially orientated projects that can find an audience in the UK and around the world
  • projects that can be realised on budgets up to £250,000.
The winner of The Big Pitch 2008 will receive production finance from Moxie Makers for their film (a minimum of £150,000) together with a post-production deal with Molinare, guaranteed UK distribution with Soda Makers and international sales representation with Moxiehouse Entertainment. The film will receive its red-carpet Gala Premiere as part of the Northern Lights Film Festival in 2009.
Applications are invited from production teams (director, writer, producer) or writers alone. Full details are in the Guidelines for Applicants - writers (pdf), including that applicants must:
  • be resident in the UK
  • have the demonstrable professional talent to realistically achieve the project on budget and within the timeframes outlined in the schedule
  • have a feature film project already at a developed script stage.
Writers will be required to complete the application form, and provide a treatment (5-10 pages) and a long biography/filmography (max. 1 page).

The closing date for applications is noon on 22 February 2008.

Adapting short stories

On the Picador blog, Bruon Vincent argues that adapted short stories often make better films than adapted novels.
It seems to benefit both forms: it allows all of the event in the short story to be included and given proper space. It also allows the filmmaker to expand rather than condense.

Novelists' distractions

For Media Circus, Tim Dowling considers the five biggest distractions faced by novelists.
Try to arrange things so that there are several flights of stairs between you and anything remotely worth eating. My office is in the attic of our house and the kitchen is on the ground floor, so when I weigh up the choice between starting a new chapter and having some toast, I have to factor in the journey. This is, of course, exactly the wrong way round - walking down the stairs is no real bother, and once I am in the kitchen the prospect of going all the way back up again means that making several dozen profiteroles shaped like swans suddenly seems a better use of my time.

Equity meeting with Arts Council England

An Equity-organised meeting with the Arts Council England (ACE) brought theatre professionals face-to-face with ACE chief executive Peter Hewitt yesterday for some angry exchanges about proposed funding cuts. The Guild was well represented and we'll have a report on our website soon.

In the meantime, here's an account in The Times, and Lyn Gardner's comments.
By the end of the meeting Hewitt did look visibly shaken, and several times struggled to keep his anger under control. If he is a wise man, he will have rushed back to the office and demanded to see every scrap of evidence on which each and every one of these decisions has been made. Hewitt leaves the Arts Council at the end of the month, and the mess he leaves is wretched. He'll be gone - but the arts community will be living with it for years to come.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tony Jordan's soap gamble

Tomorrow night ITV1 will broadcast a new prime time soap, Echo Beach. Risky enough, you might think. But not as risky as showing a behind the scenes 'mockumentary', Moving Wallpaper beforehand, and running the two shows in parallel every week.

The man behind the concept is writer and producer, Tony Jordan. He tells BBC News why he thinks it will succeed.
Jordan is convinced the concept is easier to sell on screen than it is on paper.

"It's not breaking new ground," he concludes. "It's a sitcom and a soap."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Strike kills off Golden Globes ceremony

Hollywood suits might not listen to striking writers outside their studio lots, but the silence emanating from what would have been the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday will be deafening. As Steven Zeitchik explains for the Hollywood Reporter, all that will take place is a short press conference - actors and other talent are refusing to cross Writers Guild of America picket lines to pick up their gongs.

Next month's Oscars could also be in doubt. As BBC News reports:
On Saturday, the Screen Actors' Guild, the union which represents Hollywood actors, said there was "unanimous agreement" among members not to cross picket lines set up by writers.

The WGA thanked the actors' union for its "solidarity and support".

It says it is engaged in a "crucial struggle that will protect our income and intellectual property rights for generations to come".

Monday, January 07, 2008

Attacking Arts Council cuts

In The Times, director Holly Kendrick speaks out against the withdrawal of the Arts Council grant to the National Student Drama Festival.

Manwhile, in The Guardian, Guild President David Edgar attacks the cut in The Bush Theatre's grant by 40%.
From its tiny theatre on Shepherd's Bush Green, the Bush not only presents, tours and transfers new plays by upcoming and established writers (as it has done for over 30 years), but its unique skills and experience enables it regularly to risk putting on playwrights' first plays.

Its literary department reads 1,000 scripts a year and reports on them to their authors, distributes bursaries, mounts workshops, commissions playwrights. This winter, two Bush plays by unknown writers (Jack Thorne and Abbie Spallen) play off-Broadway. It is this work - the seedcorn of British playwriting in the future - which would be threatened if this proposed cut is implemented.

Persuading DCI Hunt to return

In The Guardian, writers Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham attempt to persuade DCI Gene Hunt to return for Ashes To Ashes, a follow up to Life On Mars.
ASHLEY PHAROAH: OK, we've been asked by the Guardian to discuss why we've made a sequel to Life On Mars.

MATTHEW GRAHAM: It's a fair question. After Sam Tyler died in -

GENE HUNT: (Sneering) The Guardian? Bunch of snivelling pinkos and sandal-wearing poofs. We had an outdoor lav when I was a kid and my Dad wouldn't even let us wipe our arses on it.

MATTHEW GRAHAM: We were all taken aback by the success of Life On Mars and by the response to the last episode -

ASHLEY PHAROAH: Which was a fine piece of writing, Matthew, if I may say so.

MATTHEW GRAHAM: (Modest) Thank you, Ashley. There are still so many stories to tell, stories that can only be told in a series like this.

ASHLEY PHAROAH: Social realism has been the dominant narrative form in television for decades now. As writers it's incredibly exciting to break out of that straitjacket, to explore that "other" wing of British storytelling, the tradition of Blake and Wells and Pressburger and Powell and Terry Nation.

GENE HUNT: Unemployed Scouse postmen shouting at their wives. That's real television.

US strike continues

As the US writers' strike continues, in The LA Times Thom Taylor argues that the studios are making the same mistakes as during the last dispute in 1988.
During the 1988 strike, writers worked independently on "spec scripts" (written on the speculation that they would eventually sell them) and a pipeline-dry studio system snapped them up. TV producers also sought alternatives to traditional, high-cost scripted series. The strike resulted in the 1990s' spec script boom and reality television -- two new business models.

It's not strikers' demands but the work stoppage itself that creates a new paradigm. By fighting the writers over the new-media issues today, the studios are effectively creating what they fear most: a major tectonic shift in the entertainment business that will reduce the role of the studios even further.

Friday, January 04, 2008

How to get your first novel published

Catherine O'Flynn's debut novel, What Was Lost, was rejected by 14 agents, before winning the Costa First Novel Award this week.

So, in The Independent Boyd Tonkin asks "What should you do if you want to get your first novel published?"

George MacDonald Fraser obituaries

Novelist and scriptwriter George MacDonald Fraser has died at the age of 82. The creator of the Flashman novels also wrote numerous screenplays including Octopussy (with Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson, based on the stories by Ian Fleming).

There are obituaries in all the major newspapers including The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and The Independent .
It needed only a few moments exposure to one of his reminiscing public performances to establish that George MacDonald Fraser had led quite a life. His experiences included being held upside down by his heels, while strafed by Japanese sniper fire, as he foraged for water during the Burma Campaign of the Second World War, basking in the admiration of Charlie Chaplin and worrying about whether Burt Lancaster disliked his film scripts. Posterity, on the other hand, will remember him for a single achievement. This was the creation, or rather the re-creation, of Harry Flashman, originally the villain of Thomas Hughes's Victorian morality tale Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), but remodelled, under MacDonald Fraser's expert grasp, into the star of a dozen books that changed the face of British historical fiction.

Neil Cross interview

On the BBC Writersroom, novelist and scriptwriter Neil Cross talks about his writing life.
As a novelist, I'm slightly suspicious of outlines. When I was a teenager I read a book about becoming a writer which cautioned - wisely, I think - against telling anybody your plot, even yourself, before you've actually written it. This is because writing, as much as reading, a novel is a process of storytelling. Once a story is told, it's told - and telling it, even verbally, diminishes the imperative to tell it again. So for novels, I tend to keep the story to myself and work from the loosest possible guidelines. I very rarely have much of an idea where a book is going next, although usually I know where its going to end up.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Friend or Foe - Working with Directors

An update on an upcoming Guild event:

The first in a series of discussions on screenwriters' working lives will be held on Monday 21st January 2008 from 7pm - 8:30pm at the Writers' Guild Centre in King’s Cross and will focus on the working relationship between screenwriters and directors.

The panel includes screenwriters Tony Grisoni who has worked with directors including Terry Gilliam, Michael Winterbottom, Jon Amiel and Gillian Armstrong, and has scripted a fantastic slate of films including The Lives of the Saints, In This World, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the brilliant Laurence Coriat (writer of three Michael Winterbottom films including Wonderland and the innovative Seven Days).

If you’re interested in hearing how some of the UK’s most successful writers and directors work together then this event is for you! There will be a panel discussion with a Q&A session afterwards. Refreshments will be served.

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. Alternatively please email or call 0207 833 0777

Challenging the 'liberal consensus' on stage

In The Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish goes in search of right wing plays.
Canvassing the opinions of three artistic directors at the heart of the new writing culture, I was struck by a number of things: on the one hand, there remains a disheartening willingness to caricature "Right wing" as the embodiment of all that is reactionary and simplistic; on the other, all three declared themselves willing to stage work that tested liberal pieties.

Edward Bond interview

In The Guardian, Michael Billington talks to playwright Edward Bond whose play The Sea is being revived at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from January 17.
What is sad is that Bond's attempts to deal with the big issues of our time go largely unseen in Britain. Paris has become his working home, where the Theatre National de la Colline is staging a five-play cycle addressing what Bond calls "the search for human freedom". But it is difficult to determine where the blame lies for Bond's cultural isolation. He talks to me of the "nightmare" of staging his own play, The Woman, at the National in 1978: "It was a nightmare to do because the whole place was run like a biscuit factory. We had a run-through of The Woman and it was fantastic. I went back to see it after it had been playing for a week and the actors were doing it as if it were Tom Stoppard. They were doing 'theatre'. But drama is not 'theatre'. When I first went to work at the Colline, people said, 'You remind us of why we became actors.' For the French, there is a tradition of using art, drama and painting to create an interpretation of human society."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

BBC iPlayer launched

bbc iplayerThe BBC have launched their online watch-again service, BBC iPlayer. Many BBC shows will be available for seven days after first broadcast. At the moment downloads only work on Microsoft XP or Vista, but Mac and Linus users can still stream programmes.

Andrew Davies on Sense And Sensibility

In The Times, Rosie Millard talks to Andrew Davies about his new adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility which started on BBC One last night.
“I think Jane Austen should have written another draft of Sense and Sensibility. There are quite a few odd little things in it, and I think she published it before she needed to. She left all sorts of 18th-century stuff in it, which shouldn’t be in there. And left lots of things out. So I thought, ‘Let’s put these things in’.”

Forty libraries lost in 2007

From Ciar Byrne in The Independent
Margaret Hodge, the minister responsible for libraries, has conceded that a net 40 libraries have been closed in the past year. In the West Midlands, Dudley council revealed plans to shut five, prompting Ms Hodge to step in to ask how the needs of residents could be met, although she admitted there was little she could do to prevent the closures going ahead...

The novelist Will Self, who campaigned against cuts to his local library in Lambeth, south London, believes the trend for libraries to have coffee shops, DVD rentals and internet access is a diversion from their primary purpose – providing books. "Libraries are the bedrock of literate culture."

Remembering Bugs

On his blog, Stephen Gallagher recalls writing episodes for hit nineties Saturday-night drama, Bugs.
I tackled every story thinking it would be my last. I didn't warm to every aspect of the format - I suppose my natural urge was to Goth it up a bit to contrast/juxtapose with all the shiny docklands architecture - but I worked within the style and had more fun than any series writer can decently hope for.
As a prompt for the hard of memory, here's the title sequence:

Damehood for Jacqueline Wilson

Among those receiving honours in the New Year list was children's writer Jacqueline Wilson, reports BBC News.
In a career spanning 35 years, she has sold more than 30 million books and, for the past four years, has been the most-borrowed author in British libraries.

Her most famous creation, Tracy Beaker, is a 10-year-old girl placed in a care home as a result of domestic violence.

But Wilson has written more than 80 books, many dealing with gritty social subjects such as teenage pregnancy, divorce and failed suicides.