Friday, March 27, 2009

Writing progress, Primeval, BAFTAs and Script Frenzy

Blimey, I can't believe I actually finished the big FAQ. Thank you for all the comments and feedback on it, very much appreciated. I'll add to it when necessary, and will probably do new posts linking to the edited bits when that happens. There's now a link to it in the sidebar, too. I've also added a special button to the end of every post, that lets you share it on other sites. You can now send any post, if you so wish, to people on Twitter, Digg, Facebook, and any number of sites that are not AT ALL about procrastinating, how dare you even suggest such a thing, I'm doing research, shut up.

The writing has been going well too, finished first draft of the TV script last week, then a TV outline/bible thingy this week, as well as sample scenes for the horror comedy movie I'm working on with some colleagues. There are another couple of potential movie things in the works, and two more new TV series at early development stage. I'm loving the work, after my time off, and long may it continue. I'll update about anything that moves forward, but at the moment most of it is a good way away from the screen, which doesn't make for exciting bloggery just yet. But I'll keep talking about stuff in my usual vague, nonsensical way. Also something Very Exciting may be happening this year, if I get off my arse and do something about it. More later.

My next upcoming TV thing will be Primeval, which starts this Saturday 28th March on ITV. I did the 2nd episode, which will air on the 4th April. The website has info and an interactive game, and you can follow Primeval on Twitter for other updates. After that, the next thing I've got on telly will be Torchwood, which I can exclusively reveal will be hitting your screens... sometime between right now and December 31st. No, I don't know.

The BAFTA Television Awards nominations have been released, and I'm very excited to have worked on two of the shows nominated in the Drama Series category - Doctor Who, and Spooks. So if they win, I can claim to be partially responsible - and will do so, naturally, as loud as possible. And because there are four shows nominated, I have a 50% chance of sharing in that glory. Nice!

If you've been toying with the idea of writing that spec film script, then why not go for it in April, with the Script Frenzy - write a 100 page script, in April, over 30 days. Bear in mind that in telly, you often get 2 weeks for a 60 page first draft - less if possible. 30 days is more than enough, if you can do 4 pages a day then you'll even finish early. And I reckon it doesn't have to be 100, a 90 pager is perfectly fine, especially if it's a genre flick. As long as it's about 90 or more, and finished, then I say you're a winner. Go for it.

And finally, don't forget you can still follow me on Twitter - if you don't, you've already missed several shared video watching frenzies (including The Hoff, Mr T, and some devil music), and a late night, drunken discussion about what constitutes a "spectacular rock epic" (i.e., NOT Def Leppard or 30 Seconds To Mars, yes, Kerrang TV station, I'm talking to you). See what you're missing?? How can you possibly stay away??

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Anniversary

As of today, I've been going out with the gorgeous, insane Jo for exactly 10 years. In May, we'll have been married for 3 years. And it has been exactly five hours since she woke me up by leaping on to the bed, shrieking, like one of those flying/gliding squirrel things. How has she put up with me for so long? I keep her drugged, and chained up in a cupboard under the sink.

They've been the best 10 years of my life, so far, and I couldn't do any of this without her, watching my back, looking after me, and occasionally bitchslapping me when necessary. She's lovely, warm, funny, sexy, silly, mental, clever, talented, has the voice of an angel, and the mind of a tart. I love her to bits, and can't wait to see what the next 10 years have in store.

Now get back in the cupboard, wench, daddy's working.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Big Writing FAQ

Hello! James Moran here. As you may or may not know, I get asked a lot of questions about writing, breaking in, and all sorts of other stuff. Many of the same questions crop up repeatedly, so this post is an attempt to put all the answers in one place for handy reference. I'll be adding to this regularly, so it will change and update from time to time. It's broken up into sections, and each question has separate links to make it easier to find everything. If you have emailed me with a question, and I have sent you a link here, it just means that your question has an answer in the list. I'm always happy to answer questions, and will continue to do so, but hopefully this will save us both a bit of time. If there's a question you'd like answered on here, email it over or add a comment. But please check this list first and make sure your question hasn't already been answered. You can click on a question to be taken directly to the answer, or read the whole thing, it's up to you.

And remember - any writing info I give, that's purely specific to me. Feel free to follow it, or completely ignore it, it's just what works for me. If you want my advice, then here it is, do with it as you wish. There will be some swearing. I'm not going to beat around the bush here, because I'd just be wasting everyone's time, especially yours. If you want to be told that you're brilliant and talented, go and ask your mum. She loves you. So, let's get started.

Becoming a writer and breaking in:

I really want to be a writer, what should I do?
How did you break in?
What about writing courses, or books, or contests? Are they any good?
How do I get better at writing?
If I send you my stuff, will you read it and give me feedback?
So who can I get feedback from?
Can we collaborate on a script? Or if I have an idea, do you want to write it?
Is writer's block real? What do I do if I have it?
Okay, I've rewritten my script, what now?
How do I get an agent?
Will you recommend me to an agent? Or pass my stuff on to producers/companies/etc?
Do you have a list of agencies or companies that accept submissions?
Is it really that hard to break in?
Is it who you know, rather than what you know?
What if I'm no good? Should I just give up?
What should I write? What are TV/film producers looking for?

General, day to day writing and so on:

When you still had a day job how much did you write daily? Did you have a set goal?
How fast did you write?
Do you have a writing routine? What's your writing process?
Any opinions or experience with collaborative writing?
Can I interview you for my university course/project?

Doctor Who and Torchwood:

How do I get to write for Doctor Who? Or Torchwood?
Did you get to meet Russell T. Davies / Julie Gardner / David Tennant / John Barrowman / etc etc? What are they like?
Can you get me David Tennant's/John Barrowman's autograph/email/mobile number?

Other things

Can I have a part in your TV show/movie? Can I do the music, make up, costume, special effects, etc?
Are you going to be at a particular event or convention / Will you come to our event or convention?


Becoming a writer and breaking in:

I really want to be a writer, what should I do?

Start writing. Keep writing.

Seriously. Sounds simple, and it is, it just requires a lot of work. If you want to be a writer, you have to write, a lot, and read a lot, and rewrite a lot. You write and write and write, and you might not be any good for a long time, maybe several years, until you get a bit better, then you keep going, then eventually you'll get good at it. There is no short cut, no magic solution. There is nothing I can tell you that will help you jump the queue. How did I get in? Is there a secret to it? Yes: write stuff! Keep writing until you get good. I wrote and wrote and wrote, for years, got better at it, and then managed to sell something. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO BECOME A WRITER. I can't make it any clearer than that. When you finally write something really good, it will probably sell. It might not sell immediately, but if it is genuinely good, it will find its own way. People are always looking for good stuff.

How did you break in?

I wrote, for years and years, until I got better. I was close to giving up, because I didn't know if I was any good. I entered a script competition, the Sci Fi Channel's Sci Fi Shorts - if you won, then they made your script into a short film. I didn't place the first year, then won the second year. They made my short, Cheap Rate Gravity, and it was shown in cinemas in front of other movies. But that wasn't me breaking in - it would have all ended there if I hadn't worked my arse off. It gave me the motivation and validation to keep going. I got some more scripts together, then narrowed them down to two - a film script and a TV episode. I drew up a list of agencies, put them in order of preference, and started submitting. The first agency I approached took me on, and I then spent a year - a YEAR - writing and rewriting Severance. My agent sent it out, it sold, and I was in the movie business. But that still wasn't enough, I couldn't rest on my laurels. I had to keep writing stuff, keep pitching for jobs, keep sending stuff out. Until eventually I got my meeting with the Torchwood producer and script editor. Once I got a few TV jobs under my belt, the work started coming in more regularly. It takes a lot of hard work - a lot of writing. And rewriting.

What about writing courses, or books, or contests? Are they any good?

Not as good as writing and then rewriting, over and over. I haven't done any screenwriting courses myself, but I know several people who have, and got a lot out of them. But from what I can tell, the biggest advantage of any course seems to be that they get you to write a lot of stuff, and get feedback. Some books are helpful, in that they help you analyse movies. Some are not. But you don't *need* any of them. What you need to do is write. A lot. When a script lands on someone's desk, they don't care what qualifications you have, what books you've read, who you are. All they care about is that script - is it good or not? There is no book or course or magic trick that will turn you into a screenwriter. The only thing that turns you into one, is writing. A lot.

There are some books that give you valuable advice - none of them will tell you how to write, but some will give you good pointers on how to start and build a career. The one I'd highly recommend is Adrian Mead's "Making It As A Screenwriter" - it has lots of good strategies to break into the business, the proceeds go to Childline, and I (as well as many, many others) have happily endorsed it. But again, all the strategies assume that you are going to write, a lot, to become a better writer. You have to put the work in.

As for the screenwriting books - again, some are helpful for analysing movie structure. But they analyse the structure of existing, *finished* movies. They are of no help, in my opinion, when you are sitting staring at a blank page trying to work our your story. And I wouldn't touch anything written by anyone who isn't a writer or some sort of film-maker. Seriously. The Syd Field books have some useful analyses, but he's not a screenwriter. "Story", by Robert McKee, I found to be a monstrous, dull, dry bag of tripe. It's a billion pages long, has a few decent, common sense points buried among pages of waffle, and actually has charts and graphs. Graphs! About writing! I hated every second I spent reading it. And yes, I read it all the way through, just to make sure I gave it a fair chance. Complete waste of my time. I could have written two drafts of a script in that time, and learned *more* by doing that.

Books I'd recommend by writers, directors, filmmakers - some have good advice, some have good stories, I learned something from all of these: "On Writing" by Stephen King. "Adventures in the Screen Trade" by William Goldman (and the follow-ups). "Hollywood Animal" and "The Devil's Guide to Hollywood" by Joe Eszterhas. "On Film-making" by Alexander Mackendrick (a director, but I learned more about writing from this than all of the "how to write" books put together). "Rebel Without A Crew" by Robert Rodriguez. "Hitchcock" by Francois Truffaut (series of interviews that share the thought processes behind many of the movies he directed). But you don't *need* any of them.

Contests are a mixed bag. It all depends on the prizes. Some have a cash prize and some generic "we'll show it to industry professionals" nonsense. Some make the script as the prize (the Sci Fi Shorts competition I won, for example). Some give you valuable, actual industry feedback and help (the Red Planet Prize, still the best UK contest ever, I reckon - mentoring, script commission, cash, and an agent). Some have entry fees, some don't. I personally wouldn't enter a contest with a fee - but then some of them are incredibly useful, and can kick start your career if you win or place highly (the Nicholl Fellowships, for example). If it's worth a go, then it's worth a go. But read the fine print. If the prize is to have it made into a film, and you get paid a small amount for it, then it might be worth just sending it out for sale - you'll make much more if it sells to a production company.

And don't get disheartened if you don't win - you can't always be the very best at everything. Suppose, to make up a silly example, you entered a competition the same year that the script for The Godfather was entered. It wins, and you don't. Does that make your script shit? No. Best case scenario if you lose - you've written a good script, as quickly as you could, and now you have something to sell or send to an agent.

How do I get better at writing?

Write more. Read more. Write more. Rewrite lots.

The more you write, the better you get. Read as many books as you can - fiction, I mean. Read all the scripts you can get your hands on. I'm not going to provide links, if you can't manage to find scripts on the internet, with a simple Google search, then maybe you're not cut out for this. Read good scripts, see what they do well. Figure out how they work. See how lean and minimalist they are. Rewrite your own stuff, be merciless, cut out anything you don't need. Watch good movies and TV shows. Listen to the commentaries, watch the documentaries, see how they were made, hear what choices the writers and directors and producers made.

Anything that helps you increase your vocabulary or learn more about the world is good - so read a lot. And write a lot.

If I send you my stuff, will you read it and give me feedback?

No.

Why not? Five reasons. (1) Because I get tons of requests like this, and I'd never get any writing done if I started saying yes. (2) Because if your story features a giant robot, and in a year's time you see a Doctor Who story with a giant robot, you might think I nicked your idea and sold it to the production team. (3) Because if I'm already writing something similar to yours, I'll have to abandon it, otherwise I'll feel like I'm copying it - unless it's different enough to carry on, and then you might sue me. (4) Because I don't have the spare time, the spare brainpower, the spare energy to work for you - and it would be work, for me. (5) Because I'd probably be completely wrong about your script anyway - sure, I love A Clockwork Orange and all sorts of clever movies. But I also love movies like Road House. And I'll defend Road House to the death, passionately, not in a "so bad it's good" kind of way, I genuinely love it and think it's a great movie. I might read your script and say it's no good, because it doesn't have a fight scene between two men in sweaty pants. You don't want that.

So who can I get feedback from?

Find 3 friends, with different personality types and different interests. Don't ask people who will just say it's all great, and don't get ones who will just slag it off mercilessly, neither approach is helpful. Ask people who will be honest, but not cruel - constructive criticism is the way to go, things like "I didn't understand that bit, I liked the end but wanted the hero to do X as well, thought the beginning went on too long" etc. Things that are useful, that you can work with. You want people who will pick the script to pieces, and point out every logic flaw or plothole, or twist that doesn't work. Some things they say, you won't agree with. But if all three say the same thing, then maybe it needs fixing.

If you don't know anyone who can give you useful feedback, then the internet awaits you. Start a blog, join the scribobloggosphere-o-tron, and offer to give feedback to other bloggers if they help you out too. Again, if one person doesn't like the ending, it's up to you if you want to change it. But if 10 people say the same, you should have a look at it. Update: I linked to two peer review websites originally, but they don't exist anymore. If someone in the writer blogging world wants to set one up, I'm sure people would find it useful. Although one of them disappeared due to lack of interest - for all the complaining about "I can't get feedback!", people apparently ignored a genuinely helpful website when it existed for that very reason. Maybe things are different now, if someone wants to give it another go.

Or you could try Triggerstreet.com. It's more focussed on film scripts, but you'll get feedback. You have to review other scripts, and others have to review yours.

If you want professional feedback, then you can always pay for a pro script reader to give you coverage. They'll analyse the script thoroughly, say what worked, flag up areas they think need work, and so on. Prices are usually about 30 or 40 quid. Only go to them when you've done several drafts, there's no point giving them your first draft.

Can we collaborate on a script? Or if I have an idea, do you want to write it?

No. I'm concentrating on my own stuff right now. And I have plenty of my own ideas that I want to write.

Also, I don't know you, and you could be crazy. And you don't know me either - *I* could be crazy. I probably am. I only collaborate with people I know and trust, and so should you. It is a very rare event. And 999 times out of a thousand, I'd rather write it myself, because that's the way I work. I'm a loner, a maverick, sometimes I break the rules but I always get the job done, dammit. I have done and still do rewrites, but only on professional projects, and only when I'm taking over. If it's going to have my name on it, then every word on every page has to go through me. Unless it's something that has been rewritten by a showrunner, but that doesn't apply to this question.

While we're on the subject, don't be so quick to throw away your sole credit. Right now, it's your idea, your script - you haven't even finished it yet and already you want to share your credit? What does that tell you? Many people think that getting an established writer to help them finish their script will give them a way in. It won't. It just suggests that you want a shortcut and don't actually care about writing at all, or you can't be bothered finishing your work and want someone else to do the hard work for you.

Finish your script, for better or worse, because right now it's yours. If you can't finish one script, then maybe you're not ready for this business. If the thing really isn't working, and you want to abandon it, fine, but finish *something*. You have to finish what you started.

Is writer's block real? What do I do if I have it?

If by writer's block you mean "getting stuck", then yes, it's very real. For more on that, I've gone into further details here.

As for dealing with it, here is another, very long post about that very subject.

Okay, I've rewritten my script, what now?

Rewrite it again. And again. And again. I *guarantee* you it's too long. Be ruthless. There's nothing you have done that is so brilliant it can't possibly be trimmed down a bit. If it's a TV episode for a one hour show, anything from 58 to 65 pages is okay. If it's a movie, try and keep it between 90 and 105 pages - that's a general guideline, I always try and keep mine shorter, 90 to 95 is my personal preference. If your script is 120 pages, it's too long. It just is. Again, this is a general guideline, for newcomers submitting scripts to agents or production companies etc, not for everyone or every project. But trim it down anyway.

How do I get an agent?

Write something really good. Send a short, polite query letter to an agent, asking if they'd like to read it. If they say yes, then send it to that agent. If they reject it, send it to the next agent. Repeat until someone takes you on. If the script is really good, then you will get taken on. That's what I did. I sent a film script and episode 1 of a TV script, an agent liked them, and took me on. Actually, he only liked the TV script, he thought the film script was shit. So that 30 page episode script was enough, because he liked it. I liked it. It got me in.

It will probably take you a while to do this. While you're doing that, send scripts to production companies - again, you can find places online that accept submissions. Look at the credits of shows you like, and the name of the company will be there. Enter script competitions, put scripts on Triggerstreet for feedback, go to shootingpeople.org to see if anyone is looking for short film scripts (they always are), see if you can get a short made or hook up with other up and coming writers or tv/film makers. Try and get a temp job or free work experience at any media company - the pay's shit, but it's good experience. Keep pushing yourself, keep writing, keep rewriting, keep sending stuff out. You can't just write one thing and hope that everything will magically fall into place.

Will you recommend me to an agent? Or pass my stuff on to producers/companies/etc?

I'd have to read your stuff to make sure it was something I wanted to pass on, and I can't do that (see above). But you're actually better off without my recommendation, as the agent/producer/company won't then feel guilt tripped into reading your stuff just because I've asked them to. If your work is good enough, then it will speak for itself. Trust me.

Do you have a list of agencies or companies that accept submissions?

No. I have an agent, and don't keep up to date with every other agency and what they're looking for, that's something you should be doing! You can find a full list of them in the Writers & Artists Yearbook, or by Googling. I have no idea which production companies accept submissions either, but again, Google is your friend. See the next question for more on this.

Is it really that hard to break in?

Yes. It really is.

If you want it badly enough, you have to work at it. I got an agent, but that didn't mean the job offers suddenly came rolling in. I did more than 20 drafts of Severance, over the course of a year, evenings and weekends while working a full time job, 5 days a week. I was fucking exhausted, nobody gave a shit who I was, I was nothing and nobody. But I made it happen, because it's the only thing I've ever been really good at, and I wanted it more than anything. If you're talented, and prepared to work your arse off, you'll get in. Nobody's going to do it for you. Sometimes people email me and ask me for information that can easily be found with a quick Google - like lists of agencies. Now, I have an agent, so I don't have an up to date list of agencies - when I started out, I Googled them, and got the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook for backup. How did I find them in Google? I typed "uk film tv agencies" into Google, and spent half an hour looking through different websites. You have to put the work in, if you want it badly enough, then you'll make the effort. Seriously, if you're not prepared to even do a bit of Googling, then you're in the wrong business. If you think I'm being unfair when I say that, then you're *definitely* in the wrong business.

It's really, really, really hard. Of course it is. Is it unfair? No. It is what it is. The "system" isn't keeping you out. Some of you will break in, some will take longer than others, and some will never break in. If you're good at what you do, you'll break in. Just like any other job. Complaining about it won't help. Spend that time writing instead, and improving your work. I might as well say that the "system" is preventing me from being a fire fighter, even though one time I helped to put out a small fire in a dustbin. Don't they recognise my talent?? Well, no. They need a bit more than that. So hang on to the day job for now, you'll need the money for luxuries such as food, rent, electricity, etc.

Is it who you know, rather than what you know?

No. A good script is a good script. Knowing people is helpful, in that it gets you meetings and so on, but without a good script to back it up, they're not interested. They want good scripts, good writers. End of story. To stretch my already painfully thin analogy, suppose my uncle Fred worked at a fire station, and got me an interview. Would I then be immediately hired as a fire fighter, and sent straight into a burning building? No, of course not. Same with TV and movies. They don't care who you know, they care what you can do. And if you force your way in somewhere with a friend or family connection, you'll have to work ten times as hard to impress them, because they'll automatically be annoyed.

What if I'm no good? Should I just give up?

I don't know. Maybe. Unless you have a talent for it, then you'll never get anywhere. You can be taught the mechanics of scripts, story structure, screenplay format, and all that, but unless you have that spark, that certain something, it won't happen for you. I don't know if you have it or not. You may not know. For a while, back in the bad old days before I won the short film competition, I wasn't sure myself if I was good enough to break in. What made me keep going? My wife convinced me to keep writing, she was always honest with me, and I knew she wouldn't have said it if she didn't really, really mean it. After that, I just knew I had *something*, some sort of a voice, something to say. Maybe I wasn't brilliant, but I definitely had a talent for it. I didn't know if I'd ever be good enough to make a career out of it, or even sell one single thing. But I knew I had something.

If you really want to write, if all you want to do is tell stories, if you have a head full of ideas and desperately need to get them out - then write your arse off, rewrite, and keep going. If you "really want to be a writer", but have never written, have no ideas, and simply like the idea of it, then it's probably not going to happen. Sorry. If you want to do something, then do it. Sit your arse down on that chair, and do it. If you're not prepared to do that, then it's impossible.

What should I write? What are TV/film producers looking for?

Okay, this is a closely held secret, that all of us professionals try to keep you from discovering, but I'm going to break the code of silence and tell you: TV/film producers are looking for GOOD STUFF. That's it. Don't waste time wondering what genre or type of story is "in" right now, because by the time you write it, sell it, get it made and released, something else will be "in". Any time a producer or channel says "we're not looking for X, and Y doesn't work", ignore it - if they got a script that was fucking amazing, about X *and* Y, they'd snap it up. Things don't work until they do. The second you start trying to tailor something to the market, your script will suffer. If you have a story to tell, something you're dying to get out into the world, write that. Write from the heart, put your soul, blood, sweat and tears into it. And it'll get you noticed (if it's good, obviously). Producers want to see your original voice, not something you think they want, or a carbon copy of whatever's popular at the moment.


General, day to day writing and so on:

When you still had a day job how much did you write daily? Did you have a set goal?

As much as I could manage. I'd get home about 6 or 7pm, eat, then get straight on to the computer and write until 10 or 11pm, sometimes later. Some days, I'd be too tired or fed up to do anything. This was during the Severance days, before I sold it, and was still trying to figure out the story while on the 12th or 13th draft.

How fast did you write?

Back when I was on my journalism course, in 1993-1994, I managed just over 60 words per minute. When I moved to London and had been working in offices for a few years, and writing at night, I was much higher than that. I'm still pretty fast now. As long as I have the storyline roughly worked out, I can crack through loads of pages a day.

Do you have a writing routine? What's your writing process?

I try not to have a writing routine, because as soon as I decide to write at a certain time of day, that immediately makes my mind go blank at that exact time. Some people write during certain hours, and if that works for you, fine. I probably should do that. But I just can't. If I'm working on a script, then I get up, have breakfast, procrastinate, and when I get to the point where I can't put it off any longer, I make myself start writing. Every project is different, so I don't have a standard page goal. On the first day of scripting something new, I take it easy, and see how many pages I get done. That then becomes the unofficial daily goal for the rest of that draft.

Update: inevitably, my lack of routine started to become a routine. For the past year or so, when I've got work to do, I have a new routine - I get up, have breakfast, check email/blogs/etc, then get started, and keep going until dinner time. I'm a lot better about sticking to daytime working hours now, because I know my brain won't be as useful later in the day. Although it's nowhere near a 9 to 5 routine, I could never do that. Some days, your brain just doesn't work properly. Some days, you get up bursting with ideas and can't stop writing until after midnight. My one rule is: get it on the page, now, and don't look back until you get to the end.

As for my writing process, I'm constantly tinkering with ways of finding the soul of a story, and am always fascinated to hear about how other writers figure things out. You never stop learning in this business, and it's never too late to add a new gadget to the toolbox. Right now, I've got a process I enjoy and that works well for me. I go into detail on that current writing process here.

Any opinions or experience with collaborative writing?

During the actual scripting stage, I usually work alone, and prefer it that way. I have collaborated a few times, and sometimes two heads are better than one, you can spark off the other person, get instant feedback - but it's easier if I'm on my own, and can just rattle on with it, then get feedback afterwards. Just the way I prefer to work, really. A way that can work is the "taking it in turns" method, where one person writes something, then the other person has a go at the next bit, or reworks the first bit, and so on. If you're sitting there at the same time, both trying to decide what comes next, it can be a bit awkward. Better to work out the stuff you want to do by talking about it, and then moving to the page. Brainstorm first, then write.

Most TV shows are collaborative in that you'll be bouncing ideas off the script editor, exec producer, head writer, etc, and sometimes the other writers too. You're fully supported at every stage. But when it's time to write and rewrite the script, you still have to sit in a room and do it yourself. I've rewritten others, been rewritten, but you're still working alone when you go to the keyboard.

Can I interview you for a magazine/university course/project?

I've done a lot of interviews for various things, and while I enjoy doing them, they take up a lot of time. You can still ask, and let me know what it's for and how long it'll be, but depending on what I'm working on or how many interviews I've just done, I may have to decline. Don't be offended, but I have to say no a lot of the time.

As for interviewing me for your university course or project - I don't do that. Interviews involve promoting something I've worked on, helping out with fanzines, having fun on podcasts, or getting wider exposure for me or for writers in general. School and university projects involve me helping you do your homework, and are not interviews. I didn't like doing homework back when I had to do it, and I like it even less now. Again, I get asked to do a lot of these, and I can't do them.


Doctor Who and Torchwood:

How do I get to write for Doctor Who? Or Torchwood?

First of all, DON'T write a spec episode, or an idea, or a pitch, or anything even remotely related to the show. They're not allowed to read it, and nobody else can do anything with it. All spec episodes or ideas are binned or returned, unread. I keep telling people this, but the question keeps coming up. It's not a "slim chance" that you'll get an idea through. It just won't happen, because they're not legally allowed to read anything like that.

The best thing to do, is write something of your own. They need to see that you can write, that you can tell a story. So write your own thing, anything, even if you don't think it's commercial, even if you don't think it'll ever get made - they want to see your voice, what drives you, what you love. Write the first episode of the best TV show in the world, according to you. Write something from the heart, something you feel passionate about. It has to be a story you're burning to tell, and if you feel *that* strongly about it, it will come across on the page. Show off what you can do.

I got my agent based on the first episode of a mad TV idea I had. It'll never, ever get made (it's sort of a comedy, and a surreal science fiction horror hybrid, but features kids being brutally killed and eaten by alligators). But it's got me more meetings than anything else. Later, the script editor on Torchwood read Severance and Curfew, and I got a meeting with him and the producer at the time. Severance is a horror comedy, Curfew is a none-more-black horror with no jokes or light at the end of the tunnel. Neither of those would seem a good basis for eventually working on a family TV show. But they could see that I could write, tell a story. After working with them on Torchwood for a few months, they offered me the Doctor Who job. But I had to show everyone what I could do first.

If you show that you can write, then get an agent, then hopefully write some more good stuff, then you can get your agent to send the production team your work. But be patient. You can't break into the industry but *only* write for Doctor Who, you have to write other stuff along the way, gaining the skills and experience of a working writer. Otherwise you won't get the job - they want people who can write. If you're a writer, then you have a burning desire to write all kinds of stories, not just for one particular show. Either you're a writer, or you're not. So go and write stuff.

Did you get to meet Russell T. Davies / Julie Gardner / David Tennant / John Barrowman / etc etc? What are they like?

Yes. RTD and JG were in charge of the whole thing when I was hired, so obviously I worked with them a lot. And then there's the readthrough and a set visit, so I got to meet most of the cast, including David Tennant and Catherine Tate, everyone except Billie, who wasn't in my episode, and Freema, who also wasn't in my episode (although I eventually met her later when she joined Law & Order). I met John and the rest of the Torchwood cast when I did Torchwood. What are they like? I realise it sounds like a load of PR nonsense, but they are all genuinely lovely, clever, and fun to work with. Although RTD likes to bite people. If you ever work with him, and can't think of an answer quickly enough, guard your shins, he'll gnaw right through them. There's nothing quite as terrifying as a very tall man crouching on the floor and gnawing your shins.

Can you get me David Tennant's/John Barrowman's/anybody else's autograph/email/mobile number?

No. Even if I was their best mate (which I'm not) and had all their contact details (which I don't), they'd hardly want me giving them out to strangers, would they? As for autographs, sure, I *could* probably contact the office, hassle the crew and wheedle an autograph somehow, but I'm not going to. I mean, I *could* come and help you do your shopping, defrost your freezer, or set the timer on your DVD player. But I'm not going to. I have my own life to live.


Other things

Can I have a part in your TV show/movie? Can I do the music, make up, costume, special effects, etc?

To clarify, I must explain that there are two stages to everything I work on:

Stage 1: this might never, ever happen, it's YEARS away. In which case, things are still being written, and important people with big hats have to decide whether it's worth spending the money to maybe film them one day.

Stage 2: ohmygoditsontellyin2weekshurryupandfilmthefucker. By the time it gets greenlit, suddenly there's a huge rush, and things have to happen immediately.

Stage 1 is way too early to even think about hiring cast or crew. Stage 2 is where you could come in. However. Usually, as the writer, I am the last person to have any sort of say about casting, music, etc etc. Or the show is already established, has its own people, and I'm simply doing an episode.

Unless it's a show I create or co-create - some of which I'm working on at the moment. But they are all in Stage 1 right now. If they move to Stage 2, and I get my own show up and running, then I'll probably have some say, or can at least put things in front of the right people (casting director, etc). If it is at all in my power, then I will post details of the places to send these sort of things, or make it as easy as possible for you to get your stuff to them. I'm well aware that there are tons of incredibly talented people out there, and it makes sense to cast a wide net for some jobs, unless there's a specific person we already want for various reasons. But I'll do my best to make it fair, and make things open and available. Your part of the bargain? Be professional, do your best, and if it doesn't happen, take it on the chin, and try again next time.

But until I put out the call or point you towards a place/website/etc - there is NO POINT sending me things, like headshots, or work samples, because right now, I can't do anything with them, and will probably lose them by the time we're ready to look for people. So hold on. I'll shout if/when things happen, trust me.

Are you going to be at a particular event or convention / Will you come to our event or convention?

Update: Here is a regularly updated page with my event schedule.

I usually announce it on the blog when I'm going to be a guest anywhere. If I haven't mentioned it, then I may not know yet, or sometimes negotiations may still be under way. I love going to things as a speaker, it's always great fun to meet new people and talk about the work. But I can only go to things that I've been invited to, I can't just turn up and demand to be given a panel and a Q&A (it never works). Like a vampire, I must be invited in. If you would like me to be at a particular thing, contact the organisers, and ask them to invite me, my contact details are on the blog (tell them to contact me *directly* by email, *not* my agency). The organisers will then (hopefully) contact me, and invite me along.

If you are the organiser and you want me to be a speaker/guest at your event or convention, just email me and ask - don't ask my agent, email me directly, he's busy getting me work and draining the lifeforce out of lawyers. I'll check my calendar, see if I'm available, see what my workload is like, then see if it's something/somewhere I'd like to go. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. I'm up for anything really, and always like to see new places.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Progress report, and Crusoe DVD

Just popping in to say: I'm still alive. However, I am in the midst of an attack of the Space Virus, with a bit of SARS mixed in. I'm halfway through a TV script, hence the sudden silence here. I'd forgotten how much fun scripts are, I've been stuck in outline limbo for a couple of months lately. There'll be other outlines to come soon, but right now, I'm just basking in the glory of a real, live script. I'm also enjoying the new, organised me. Last year I took on too much work, but this year I'm only taking on work that I really, really want to do. I've got enough to keep me going for a good few months, but not too much. It means that I can work on one thing at a time, which feels like a luxury. I'm managing my time better, too - there are limits to when I do and don't work, and I'm making sure that meetings don't eat up too many writing days a week. I've been travelling a lot lately for work reasons, with more trips to come, so I need to guard my time properly. And while I still refuse to set myself normal working hours or daily page goals, I seem to be falling into a more or less regular routine when I'm working on a script. As long as I don't think about that too much, it will hopefully continue. At the moment, the first day's page count becomes an unofficial goal for each day after that, which is working out nicely - each project is different, so the first day is a good test of how many pages you can turn out, without setting some arbitrary goal before you even know how difficult the thing's going to be. Now, at the end of each day, I've done a solid amount of work, and can enjoy the evening without feeling guilty.

I had a lovely birthday, thank you all for the nice messages, and thank you Jo for the brilliant Wii, which is far too much fun. I have ordered the Wii Fit to go with it, because I am tragically unfit and unhealthy, huffing and puffing at the mere thought of standing up. I'll update you on my comedy progress, because if nothing else, it'll be good for a laugh. Haven't started it yet, cause I'm ill, and right now it would probably estimate that I was a 96 year old asthmatic with one leg.

Mr Stephen Gallagher has posted about the upcoming Crusoe DVD release on Region 1, on 5th May, so go and have a look if you haven't already. I have no idea if it's going to be shown on UK telly or not, so this may be the only option for us humble UK folk. I'm really proud to have been part of it, and hope more people get to discover the series.

Update: There's an interview with me in the new issue of The Terrible Zodin, a Doctor Who fanzine. Go and check it out and tell them I said hello.

I'm going to do the writing FAQ post next, because I keep putting it off, and I've been getting a lot of questions recently. So hold on to your hats, or arses, or whatever you fancy.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

"I'm 37, I'm not *old*..."

Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to me,
Me-Me Me Me Me Meeeee-
Me-Me Me Me Me ME.

Today, it is my birthday, so I expect cash, gifts, and undying allegiance. Mainly cash. And yes, like Dennis, I'm 37, I'm not *old*...

This is me, a couple of birthdays back, getting a superb Hulk toy - you tie his arms, put him in a breakaway cage, then pump up his muscles using the attached pump. When they inflate enough, the arms break free from the twist-tie, and smash open the cage. There was even a velcro shirt which would rip open. It was fucking brilliant. Check me out, playing with the Hulk, and rocking the loose white vest look:


And this is a special gift from fellow Twitterer @Absolute_Tash - I was demanding coffee, and she suggested that I have some Hoffee instead. I thought this was an excellent idea, so she made me a jar of Hoffee:


Oh yeah. You know you want to drink some.

Anyway, as it is my birthday, I expect to be humoured and treated like a king for the day. You may all tell me how brilliant and amazing I am, because I'm the Birthday Boy and that is what I demand. And I'll probably milk it for at least a week. Now, if you'll excuse me, cake beckons. Also booze.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Meetings and the countrycide

Blimey, where does the time go? Away, into the past, that's where. Things are quite busy at the moment, so blogging will be even more sporadic than usual. And my enormous holiday/Gallifrey report will be *slightly* delayed (expect it around 2012). The Story Engine went really well, I talked non stop for about 5 hours, and had a great time. Managed to avoid nervousness again, which is a new and exciting experience for me. I also felt like I knew what I was talking about, which is an even newer experience.

While I was away, I reached 500 followers on Twitter, so we had a Hoff frenzy: I demanded that everyone watch the same Hoff video. This one. Yes, that sound you can now hear is your brain climbing out of your left ear and slithering away. For 600, which is approaching fast, there'll be some other type of frenzy. And for 666, I have even better plans...

Got back on the Friday, then Saturday morning (at a fucking ridiculous hour, I didn't even know 7am existed at the weekend) I went to the country to meet some ex-special forces blokes who could quite easily kill me with their little finger. It was a research trip for a new project, still early days yet, but if all goes well, then it'll be a cracking new TV series. The hotel had no internet in the rooms, but did provide a little decanter of sherry to make up for this. I also saw a sign that simply read "CIDER", pointing down a side street, and a large tank parked by the side of the road (wasn't quick enough to grab a photo, so you'll have to take my unreliable word for it). The countryside is a strange and scary place. None of the blokes killed me, although I learned some incredibly scary and cool things which will hopefully be part of the TV thingy if all goes well.

More meetings this week, a very important one on Monday for a project I'm dying to be involved with, and one today for something I've been working on for a while. Then this Saturday I'm off to De Montfort University to take part in their screenwriting day - so maybe I'll see you there. I mean, if you're going. If you're not, then I won't see you. Obviously.