You Are Not Your Software – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Monday 18th September 2006

There’s a lot of fetishisation* around the writing process. Articles and books on screenwriting would tell you about George Lucas only writing on yellow legal pads in pencil, attributing part of the mystique of Star Wars’ success to this arcane ritual.

Then he went and wrote the prequels the same way.

And perhaps you’ve heard the quote about Hemingway writing drunk and editing sober (though he probably never said it)? Or of Anthony Trollope getting up at the crack of dawn to write for three hours before going to work at the post office? Or of the many authors renowned for writing in bed?

Everyone seems to have their rituals, and accompanying magic talismanic devices to ensure that the muse is welcomed into their aura and the magic can begin. If the modern screenwriter is a knight valiantly overcoming the onslaught of movie execs and development notes, then our hero’s sword and shield are Final Draft and a Macbook. In September, 2006, I came into a bit of money thanks to a defunct pension scheme. I had two grand spare! My wife wanted a new kitchen. Guess what I got instead…?

Monday 18th September, 2006

The Mac came with me on the commute to work. Progress on the script was slower than I would have liked as I’m still getting used to the peculiarities of Final Draft. It was distracting, too, as I spent more time worrying about formatting than the script itself. I’ll get used to it though**

Final Draft touts itself as the industry standard, with the inference being that you simply can’t call yourself a screenwriter unless you have a copy. It’s expensive and brimming with features that you probably won’t ever use, even if you go into production. In my experience it’s been fairly well behaved, but like Microsoft Word it has to be all things to all screenwriters and as a result it feels very top-heavy… Oh, and every now and then they update it in a way that means you can’t open old versions of your script (at least, not without a huge hassle) and they charge you more dosh for the privilege. That’s always fun. For a very entertaining debate on the vagaries of FD, do check out the transcript of this episode of Scriptnotes. These days I keep it simple. Slugline is favourite, though I also dabble with Highland and Fade-In, all of which are based on Fountain, a plain text markup language.

But back in 2006 I felt like I had joined a secret club. Until now I had been writing in MS Word and formatting everything manually. Final Draft did all the formatting as I typed, which was very nifty, and I had a MacBook! Surely a Hollywood movie deal was just around the corner?

Not exactly. I still had to write. Once I got used to all the keyboard shortcuts, I was still just a writer trying to make words on a page jump into the reader’s head and screen a movie. There’s no software for that.

A ritual does not make you a writer, Final Draft and a Macbook does not make you a screenwriter, a Fender Stratocaster does not make you Eric Clapton. You are not your software. I should have bought a kitchen.

Just get words on a page. Pen on paper, pencil on a yellow legal pad, words on a screen. Build a story. You can worry about the formatting shizzle later.

By the way, MacBooks are also expensive and brimming with features you will never use. But they’re bloody awesome, and the software updates are free.

*A word I can type, but simply cannot say aloud without sounding like a drunk.

**Sort of did… eventually…

Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, Bradley Beaulieu and Ezekiel Boone walk into a pod booth…

GollanczFest 2016 kicked off today and I was delighted to be in conversation with a most excellent collection of SF&F authors on a pair of fun Google Hangouts. I began with Bradley Beaulieu and Ezekiel Boone and we discussed flesh-eating spiders, pit fighters, and how not to slavishly follow the rules of writing, while we waited in vain for Scott and Elizabeth to arrive before our hangout ended… somewhat alarmingly…

Then Scott and Elizabeth, who had been held hostage by a taxi driver, finally arrived and we discussed arson, the tenth anniversary of The Lies Of Locke Lamora, pulling the rug from under your readers and killing off beloved characters. This one ended with a major technical hitch (the sound dies about 17 minutes in)… but we had a backup audio recording and there will be more on an audio podcast coming soon – enjoy!

Eager or hopelessly naive? – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Wednesday 6th September 2006

I was at the London Screenwriters’ Festival last weekend, and it was delightful to meet so many writers, young and old, starting out on their writing careers. Their optimism, energy and determination made me feel very old invigorated me… and they reminded me of myself ten years ago. My script, Waiting For Eddie, had a producer in Dean Fisher, a director in Jon Wright, and we were waiting for news on our submission to London Film’s inaugural Microwave film scheme…

 

Wednesday 6th September, 2006

A most excellent day. Dean called to confirm that we’re through to the final stage of the Microwave scheme! A week of intensive script development awaits me in October and, with any luck, we’ll start production.

Told my agent and she was very excited. She also let slip that Working Title have agreed to read The Last Time Machine – they’ll reject it, of course, but it’ll be interesting to hear what they say.

I also bought my Apple MacBook today. It’s gorgeous, though I’ve spent most of the evening trying to figure out how it works.

 

Cos you can’t be a writer unless you have a MacBook, people!* And Final Draft. Can’t call yourself a screenwriter unless you have Final Draft!**

Before you go rushing off to IMDb, I should warn you that (spoiler alert) neither Waiting For Eddie or The Last Time Machine were made into films, so all that talk of ‘Going into production’ was fuelled by the same kind of optimism, energy and determination those new writers had at the London SWF. Okay, you might call it hopeless naivety, and some days that’s all you’ve got, but when someone else shows interest in your work I would encourage every writer to enjoy and revel in the moment… then put it aside and get on with writing the next thing. Because, even if it your script is picked up and made into a movie, they’ll want something new right away, and if they don’t, you’ll need something new for the next round of crashing disappointments submissions.

Keep writing!

 

*Not true.

**Even less true.

Meeting Your Mentor – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, September 1st, 2006

Summer 2006 suddenly went very quiet on the writing diary front. Producer Dean Fisher was pitching my script Waiting For Eddie around town, and then everyone goes on holiday in August. These are always worrying times for a writer. The phone stops ringing, emails don’t ping in your inbox, and you begin to wonder if all the enthusiasm for your project has just evaporated… Then summer ended and it all started kicking off again. September 2006 began with a fortuitous meeting with someone who was to change the course of my writing career, film director Jon Wright

 

Friday, 1st September, 2006

I jumped on a train to London for the really important meeting of the week. Dean, Jon Wright and I headed off to a meeting with Film London (to pitch Waiting For Eddie for the first ever Microwave Scheme).

Jon and I hit it off immediately. Quite literally: we bumped heads as we both sat down. Jon had some notes on the script, which were excellent. He definitely gets the script and it’s hugely gratifying to hear someone enthuse about it who will hopefully be in a position to make it a reality.

The Film London meeting went really well. Both Maggie Ellis and Sol Gatti-Pascual were friendly and encouraging and I have to say that Dean, Jon and I certainly held our own (I was a bag of nerves). I got the feeling that Sol really wants to work with Jon, so this could definitely work in our favour. We’ll hear if we get through to the next stage on Tuesday, but both Jon and Dean said they wouldn’t be despondent if we didn’t get through as they’re confident we can raise the budget elsewhere.

So, yes, in the kind of meet-cute you could only find on the corniest romcom, Jon and I met by head-butting each other. To put it in some kind of context, he was the first proper film director that I had ever had a meeting with, and I started by giving him a Glasgow Kiss. For a second I seriously thought I had completely ruined any chance I ever had of working in film ever, but fortunately he laughed it off and we got down to business.

The real boost was getting his very insightful and thoughtful notes. Like I said, he really understood the tone of my warped ghost story and it became clear that we shared many sensibilities, which would definitely pay off in the future, as he would eventually become Obi-Wan to my… Jar Jar…? Stay tuned for more…

Old Ideas Never Die – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Friday 23rd June, 2006

One of the most fascinating things about looking back at an old diary is the sheer tonnage of stuff that I would otherwise have completely forgotten: people I’ve met, places I’ve been, and ideas for stories that never got beyond the scribble-on-a-scrap-of-paper stage. Some turn out to be complete duffers, but some still linger, and that includes an idea for a story that occurred to me exactly ten years ago today.

It started with an exercise where I jotted down various movie sub-genres on a page and drew random lines between them. The world isn’t quite ready for my superhero-slapstick-kung-fu musical, but there might be something in a Western Ghost Story…

Friday 23rd June, 2006

I’ve been scribbling ideas down for a Western Ghost story. I’ve talked to Steve, who can’t recall seeing that combination before, and he knows more about westerns than anyone I know. I sent him an email asking if he wants to work on this one with me.

Spent most of the afternoon researching ghost towns on the net. Got some great stuff, including the story of Henry Plummer. History still hasn’t decided if he was a fine, upstanding lawman or the worst kind of lowlife, but he was once the sheriff of Bannack, Montana, most of which is still standing, even though it’s totally deserted. How does a town get like that?

Monday 26th June, 2006

Did some work on the Western Ghost Story. Synopsis coming along nicely.

Wednesday 28th June, 2006

Found plenty of time to finish the Western Ghost Story synopsis, which Steve likes, so hopefully we can work on it together.

Thursday 29th June, 2006

Steve’s given me Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy to read. He says I’ll find inspiration in its pages.

I did indeed. Lordy, that’s one hell of a book. Relentless and truly shocking.

The Western Ghost Story idea became something called The Ghost of Little Shiloh, which never really got beyond the treatment stage. One reason is that my friend Steve Mayhew started his doctorate in John Ford movies and that combined with a full-time job didn’t give him much spare time to write. And, as you’ll see in future diary entries, I was about to become quite busy myself.

But I still have a folder on my laptop labelled ‘Western’ (it was last modified 17th September, 2006), and every now and then the idea gives me a nudge and wonders why I don’t call anymore, and I entertain the notion. However, the sad truth is I’ve learned a lot about the business in the last ten years, and no one’s looking for original Western ghost stories these days (or superhero-slapstick-kung-fu musicals). Plus, Doctor Steve’s busy with his own books and sharing his substantial knowledge with the world. But you never know… old story ideas never die, but they might just become ghosts.

Coping With A Non-Ringing Phone – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, 21st June 2006

It’s been about a month since my last 2006 diary entry. Why? Because when you’re a writer, and especially when you’re starting out, there are long periods where precisely sod-all happens. The phone doesn’t ring, your agent seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet, you’re beginning to think that pitch/script/treatment you sent out two weeks ago has ended up in a development exec’s junk folder, and because you’re cursed with an imagination you begin to imagine a future where you’re stopping strangers in the street offering to knock-up series bibles for food.

So, how do you cope with these lulls? First of all you have to stop thinking that your career is in the hands of other people, that some magical career fairy will appear in a puff of smoke dispensing commissions and making you a showrunner overnight. Yes, you might be lucky enough to have an agent, but you can’t sit back, twiddling your thumbs hoping that he or she will call to announce out of the blue that you’re writing Star Wars IX.

I try and do two things every day:

I write every day, seven days a week. Even if it’s only a few words, they’re words that weren’t there yesterday.

And I try and do a little business every day. Because this is a business. I try and create work by making contact with people in the industry, reminding them that I’m here, letting them know what I’m up to and what I want.

By creating and touting for work, you can vastly increase the odds of actually getting work, and when the odds are stacked against you the way they are in this business, that’s no bad thing at all. Of course, there’s a fine line between being pushy and assertive, cockiness and confidence, and being able to discern the difference between these is a skill in itself. And you can’t afford to sound too desperate either… I still don’t think I’ve mastered that one.

The following diary entry came after I nudged a producer called Dean Fisher, a splendid chap who had optioned my script Waiting For Eddie and took it to Cannes as part of slate he was developing. I had marked his return on my calendar, and dropped him an eager “How did it go?” email the day after…

Wednesday 14th June, 2006

Got an reply from Dean at Scanner Rhodes – Cannes went well, plenty of promises on funding, but he needs people to put their money where their mouths are. He mentioned a new Film London project called Microwave: you get £100k to make a movie in London (plus all sorts of facilities and services for free). He’s thinking of putting Waiting For Eddie up for this. Sounds good to me, and I’ve asked my agent for advice.

Wednesday 21st June, 2006

Received an email from Dean today; he’s definitely entering ‘Waiting For Eddie’ in the Film London Microwave scheme and, even better, he’s meeting a director next week with a view to getting him on board. His name is Jon Wright and if his website/showreel is anything to go by he is perfect for the job. His short films are nothing short of brilliant; they look great, are well written (he wrote them himself) and they have terrific sound design. Apparently he’s keen to work with Dean, so hopefully this could be very fruitful.

Friday 23rd June, 2006

Good news – Jon Wright loved Waiting For Eddie! Dean’s going to enter us in the Film London thing and we should hear if we’re in by the end of July.

Yes! The first appearance in the diaries from one Mr. Jon Wright, who would turn out to be somewhat significant in my own career. A Magical Career Fairy, if you will? Or not… More on him soon…

 

Remember That Night – Gilmour & Bowie, 29th May 2006

It was ten years go today…

Introduction:

I work for the Orion Publishing Group and had really enjoyed Guy Pratt’s My Bass And Other Animals one man show and after seeing one of his shows in London I plucked up the courage to ask him if he had ever considered getting his stories published as a book. In fact, he had written a draft of the book and was looking for a publisher, so I introduced him to one of our editors Ian Preece and the rest is publishing history.

To promote the book we invited staff from Ottakar’s (the now much-missed UK book store chain) to come to Guy’s show at the Salisbury festival, which just happened to be the night before one of the best David Gilmour gigs ever. Here’s an extract from my diary, featuring Guy, Ian, my nephew Chris (who was 14 at the time, and in a band), my dad and his friend Kevin… and a new friend from Brazil…

Sunday 28th May, 2006

Took Chris down to Salisbury to see Guy Pratt’s ‘My Bass And Other Animals’ show. Couldn’t find the venue at first. We walked in circles along Endless Street (oh, the irony) in Salisbury looking for the Arts Centre only to find a very sorry-looking dilapidated building. We asked some guys playing basketball nearby if they knew where the Arts Centre was and they pointed us in the direction of the church, without pointing out that it actually was the church.

Chris and I were wandering about, looking very lost when, by random luck, a door opened and Guy stepped out.

‘It’s Guy!’ I said, and for a second he gave me one of those Christ-should-I-know-you? looks (I had only met him a couple of times at this point).

Indeed, the Arts Centre is a deconsecrated church and what a fantastic little venue it is. Guy led Chris and I through the backstage area as he told us about his gigs with David Gilmour in Manchester and Glasgow (which was just the night before).

We met with the Ottakar’s guests (including Duran Duran devotee Jon Howells) and the show started. We elected to stay seated at a raised area at the back, and behind us was a massive stained-glass window with an image of Christ on the cross, which Guy said was putting him off a bit.

Guy’s show was superb (this would be the third time I’ve seen it). He had new material from the recent tour — mostly about insane American fans — and, despite coming straight from the Glasgow gig, was full of energy. He also gave a lot of time to the Ottakar’s people after the show (even though Jon was clearly hurt by the Duran Duran only have one bass riff gag) and he dropped lots of hints about tomorrow’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Amazingly, he’s definitely got us two passes for backstage. I cheekily pushed for more and Guy very kindly explained that he would see what he could do, while pointing out that it’s not very exciting and you’re just shoved into a little bar with all the other liggers.

He saved the best till last, though… he let slip that Roger Waters and Nick Mason were at the same rehearsal studios as Gilmour’s band last week. He then added that something very special was lined-up for Monday night’s gig, he wouldn’t tell us what, but I can’t bloody wait!

Tuesday 30th May (my diary entry written the day after the gig).

I’m surprised Claire (my wife) didn’t thump me yesterday as I spent most of it in a distant daze. We had family and friends over for a barbecue (it pissed down, of course), but all I could think of was the Gilmour gig and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house.

Chris and I eventually ran off at about 5.30 and we picked up dad and his friend Kevin and set off the Royal Albert Hall. The doors opened late and the crowds were heaving. Luckily it had stopped raining and we found Ian Preece (the editor of Guy’s book) by the band’s blue catering bus by door nine. We found the guest list and got our passes. There were three of them: big red stickers that you had to slap onto your shirt. I broke the bad news to dad and Kevin that we didn’t have enough for them. Kevin was fine about it, though dad threatened to write me out go his will if I couldn’t get him a backstage pass.

Dad and Kevin were sitting in the next block, so we split up and Chris and I took our seats.

The gig… Well, bloody hell…

History will record that, despite all the rumours, Waters and Mason didn’t turn up. After a brilliant start with Breathe/Time/Breathe (reprise), Gilmour forgot some of the words to ‘On An Island’ and seemed initially hesitant with his playing and hit a few bum notes. But, once he warmed-up, the evening became something very special.

David Crosby and Graham Nash popped-up throughout providing backing vocals, Robert Wyatt played trumpet on ‘Then I Closed My Eyes’ and the main show concluded with a version of ‘Echoes’ that completely blew my mind… and all through this I was wondering what the big surprise could be.

Then, for the encore, David grabbed his Telecaster and said, ‘Now I’d like to invite onto the stage… Mr. David Bowie.’

The Albert Hall erupted as five thousand people jumped to their feet all crying ‘David-fucking-Bowie?!’ all at once.

Bowie then sang an absolutely stonking version of ‘Arnold Layne’ that had everyone in a frenzy and if that wasn’t enough he followed it by singing the verses to ‘Comfortably Numb’ followed by one of the best renditions of the solo I’ve ever heard Gilmour do…

… it was around this time that my head exploded.

Still stunned we came reeling out of the hall to find dad and Kevin. Dad took my car keys — they were gamely going to sit in the car while we checked out the post-show party — and we went to find Ian.

We found him by door one, a member of staff told us to go back to door nine, which we did, but when we couldn’t find anyone there we were directed to door twelve, then eleven. While hanging around we were approached by a very attractive young woman with what I thought was a Spanish accent. She pointed at our red backstage stickers and wondered where we got them, ‘We know Guy,’ I said.
‘You know a guy?’ she asked with a frown.
I showed her Guy’s picture in the program and she understood, and wondered if we had any more. I explained that I had already left my father and a friend shivering in a car because we could only get three, but she decided to tag along anyway and in an exceptional piece of blagging she shuffled through security flanked by us badge-wearers. We were so impressed we bought her a drink. Her name was Paula and she was from Brazil and she’d been travelling across Europe when she heard about Gilmour’s tour and managed to get a ticket just the day before. She was a huge fan and we talked about the best songs of the evening. Guy arrived to say hello and I congratulated him on the show. He was really happy with it and felt we had seen the best version of Comfortably Numb ever. Phil Manzanera and Steve DiStanislao drifted through too, and Guy explained that David had his own private party downstairs. Paula had been hoping to meet the great man, and knowing her impressive blagging skills I’m sure she eventually did.

After half an hour Chris and I headed back to the car to find dad and Kevin inside with the engine running and the heater on full playing Freebird at a head banging volume. A perfect end to the evening.

 

Arnold Layne…

 

Comfortably Numb…

Getting Paid – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Thursday 25th May, 2006

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter and cursed/blessed with a vivid imagination, you might get a bit carried away when fantasising about that first ever professional payment. Would it be for a life-changing sum of money? A million dollar deal that meant you could finally say sayonara to the day job and pursue your dream full time? Or would it be for about £82.73 (less tax) and take forever to arrive? Guess which one happened to me!

My script Waiting For Eddie had been optioned by a producer back in November 2005. The producer paid promptly, but whenever I asked my agent about the money I only ever got vague replies. Things were complicated by the fact that I had two agents: one for film and a literary agent. The film agent did the deal, but all the money went through the lit agent. I found a handful of mentions of it in my 2006 diaries, and I’m clearly getting a bit fed-up at this point…

Tuesday 18th April, 2006

Script agent emailed me to day and told me that the Literary Agent has had my Waiting For Eddie option money since November… It’s only £85, but it doesn’t instil me with much confidence.

Then, over a month later…

Tuesday 23rd May, 2006

I got another rejection today… Oh, and they (Literary Agent) found my cheque. It was at the bottom of an in-tray… I should get it tomorrow.

Thursday 25th May, 2006

The cheque arrived today. My first money earned from writing. I suppose I can call myself a writer now… £82.73. I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job just yet.

Nearly six months from option to pay! Believe me, that would not happen now. I’d be on the phone with an earful of righteous indignation for someone in less than 48 hours. When you’re starting out, it’s not uncommon to be coy about getting paid, but never forget that what you do as a writer has a value. No one would be on that set if not for you and your ideas. Forget any bullshit about getting exposure, or publicity value, or an opportunity to “get on the ladder”. You have worked your butt off producing a work, and if they want to make it, they have to pay you, and pay you the going rate. If they can’t afford to pay you, then they shouldn’t be in business. No other industry puts up with this crap – try asking a baker to make you some bread for free – and yet it still goes on today: see the recent scandal over Sainsbury’s attempt to get an artist to work for free.

And just put yourself in the producer’s shoes for a minute. They have a slate of projects, including your script, which they optioned for free, and another script which they paid money for. Which one do you think will be their priority? They have to make a return on their investment, and producers hate losing money, so your little freebie won’t be getting to the top of their pile anytime soon. It’s all about being valued. Make sure you are.

I’ll leave the last word to the wonderful Harlan Ellison. This video has been doing the rounds for a few years now and it’s one of my favourites (and yes, I’m aware of the irony that, this being YouTube, Mr. Ellison probably doesn’t see a penny from this), but he sums it up better than I ever could…

By the way, I still have a day job, so clearly need to work harder at this payment malarkey myself.

 

My First Agents – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On: Sunday 14th May & Monday 15th May, 2006

I had not one but two agents at this very early stage of my writing career (that word still makes me look over my shoulder to check that no one’s sniggering at me). I met my first literary agent at a networking event at Waterstone’s Piccadilly called ‘The Film World Meets The Book World’ (I think). I can’t remember how I heard about it, but I knew that I had to go as there would be agents and film producers and people who would surely see my colossal writing genius for what it was and insist on flying me out to Hollywood to introduce me to Mr. Spielberg that very weekend… I’m nothing if not optimistic.

Like many British people I can find it difficult just introducing myself to strangers for no reason other than personal gain (or “networking” as it’s known) and like many aspiring writers I found it borderline fraudulent to introduce myself as a writer at a time when I’d only written and staged a handful of plays. But one of the most important lessons I had learned from my failed career as an actor is that no one will knock on your front door and ask if you fancy a role in the Royal Shakespeare Company… You have to go to them and let them know that you’re good and what you do could be of value to them.

And so I walked into a crowded room where everyone seemed to know each other and I knew no one.

Eventually, and I have no real recollection how, I found myself talking to a very nice lady who ran a well-established literary agency, primarily for children’s books. I had no real desire to be a children’s author (at the time), but happily chatted with her and pitched my first play to her, which had a teen protagonist. She thought it would make an excellent children’s book and asked to read it. She was also intrigued that I worked in publishing and we discovered that we had a few mutual friends. I made it very clear that I wanted to be a screenwriter first and foremost and she said that was fine and that she would hook me up with a film agent, too.

Which is how I ended up with two agents. This all came together in the autumn of 2003, so I had been with them both for a couple of years at this point and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to pursue the children’s author career. I had written a couple of books that got some very nice rejections from publishers, and the pleasant lady who ran the agency had since passed me on to one of her junior associates. To be honest, the junior associate and I did not get on. She pulled strange faces when talking about my work, and seemed to treat me like a nuisance if I ever got in touch.

The film agent, however, was terrific. She was very encouraging and wanted to get me work and I was kicking myself for faffing about with the books for so long, and so in 2006 I made sure I would have a spec script for her to show around town. Few spec scripts sell, so I was determined not to worry about budget or anything that might seem small or too kitchen-sink-British. I wanted to write a commercial Hollywood movie that would get me noticed by commercial Hollywood people, and I came up with an idea called The Last Time Machine, which was epic stuff with time travel, dinosaurs, Roman Legions, the Luftwaffe and the end of the known universe  (I write more about this project and how it was doomed here).

By May 2006 I had finished a polished draft (written in Microsoft Word, hence my note that it needed formatting!), my script agent had read it, and we were set to meet for lunch on the Monday, and here are my diary entries for that time:

Sunday 14th May, 2006

Had a quick read-through of The Last Time Machine script in prep for tomorrow’s meeting. Made a few minor notations. I’m proud of it, just a shame it’ll never get made.

Monday 15th May, 2006

Had lunch with my agent today. She loved ‘The Last Time Machine’ and has a whole list of people she’s going to send it to. I just need to format it finally and she’ll send it off. She said a very nice thing: she’d wondered if she’d been having too good a day when she read LTM because she had so few notes. She really couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I explained that this was my first truly original script without the baggage of having previously been a play. We talked about other movies I could write – she’d love to see me write a horror movie – and my career. I asked about the teams that write for the likes of Spooks and Hustle. She’d rather establish me as a feature film writer first (her words – there’s something a little bit unreal about all this… at least until I earn some money from it or see my name on the big screen).

I wasn’t so aware of it back then, but she was doing the things that a good agent should aways do: she was encouraging, she was critical, but in a positive way, and she was talking about my future and the direction of my career. The horror movie thing is interesting, as horror features are often the best way for a commercial writer to get a film made: they can be produced for a low budget and can be very profitable, thus giving your career a great start. The very next thing I wrote was a horror film and it very nearly got made, introduced me to some very influential folk, and definitely took me up a notch.

The junior associate literary agent also had some ideas about my career, but they didn’t tally with the direction I wanted to go in and so it was an uncomfortable relationship. Like dating someone you know isn’t right for you, but you’re so desperate to cling on to a girlfriend/boyfriend that you’ll put up with the unhappiness, but we all know that can never end well. If you’re dreading an email or a phone call from your agent then something is seriously wrong.

I stayed with the literary agent until they eventually dropped me in 2010, but it became an increasingly distant relationship. I wanted to make films, and 2006 would be the year where this once-fantastic dream very nearly became a reality…

 

 

Paranoia and delusion – the writer’s friends and how to cope with them…

I saw Florence Foster Jenkins last night, a fine and enjoyable film based on the true story of a socialite who sang opera in New York in the ’40s, eventually playing Carnegie Hall, despite the fact that she had something of a tin ear…

It also reminded me of the incredibly twisted film Windy City Heat, which Jon Wright gleefully introduced me to while we were in pre-production on Robot Overlords. This faux-documentary is an elaborate prank whereby Bobcat Goldthwait and friends fool comedian and wannabe actor Perry Caravello into thinking that he has the lead role in a crime drama called Windy City Heat and they do everything they can to sabotage his dream…

Intriguingly, even after she had heard herself sing on a record, Jenkins still couldn’t discern that there was a problem with her singing, and Perry doesn’t think that he’s a bad actor. And what’s really fascinating is that both of them have just enough talent, the tiniest sliver of ability, to make them think that they can actually achieve their ambitious dreams.

Making Robot Overlords was a dream come true. A British science fiction family epic, with huge stars, a great cast, a decent budget, and a fantastic crew. But I have to confess that while watching Windy City Heat there came a point where I wondered if this was Jon’s way of breaking it to me that the whole project was an elaborate prank, that it really was too good to be true… Thankfully, it wasn’t, and I’m an idiot to think so, but that was just me entertaining the poisonous friend of artist’s everywhere: paranoia.

I’ve yet to meet an artist or creative type who hasn’t feel like a fraud at some point, usually when the rejections, failures and doubts feed the paranoia to a degree where they think they’re a talentless hack. I get it on a regular basis.

Paranoia’s evil twin is delusion. ‘I can do that!’ is my default answer to any challenge, but there comes a time when confidence becomes hubris and you fall flat on your face.

Both can be crippling if you surrender to them, but I encounter them so often now that I think I can cope with both their peaks and troughs, and I’ve found the best way to do this is to use them as creative fuel:

Hubris and delusion are great when I’m faced with a challenge. Can I write this pitch/script/book/comic? Hell, yeah! I can do anything! I hitch a ride on that boost of confidence and get it all on the page and screw the consequences.

Paranoia and self-doubt are useful when it comes to editing. That awesome piece of work I did yesterday? Dear God, it’s a piece of crap. You’re hopeless. Do better! Instead of wallowing in pity, I try and use the critical faculties of paranoia to improve what’s already on the page.

I try to step back and see my work as objectively as possible, but it’s simply impossible to be certain, and I’ve had strangers tell me that they love my work, and I’ve had two-star reviews where they found it dull. Who can ever really know?

But, like Florence and Perry, I enjoy what I do. I write every single day and I love it. Florence sums it up perfectly, ‘People may say I can’t sing,’ she said, ‘but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.’