Well, this is meta, or beta, or something post-modern and hip in the internet world. It’s Sally Abbott’s answers to the recent Blog Tour (about a writer’s working habits) only she doesn’t have a blog so she’s asked me to host her replies instead (you can follow Sally on Twitter HERE). More than happy to do so, of course, as Sally is (a) awesome and (b) an amazing writer. Take it away, Sal!
Thanks (I think!) to the brilliant Sarah Dollard for tagging me in the Writers Blog tour here. If you don’t know it, it’s where a writer answers four questions about their current writing and then gets another three writers to answer the same questions.
1) WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
It feels like a lot at the moment… Scarily so.
I’ve just started my latest episode of Casualty which is being written via a brand new “Writers Room” process. It’s four writers, Lucy Raffety (our Story Producer) and researchers in a room together for 7 days over 2 weeks, with the rest of the team popping in and out. It already feels a far more relaxed, collaborative and creative way of working.
I’ve also been working on my own series with Ceri Meyrick and Will Trotter at the BBC. They approached me with an idea in January, I worked it up and the first script and bible was commissioned within 12 days. Super fast. I’ve just delivered draft six, got another draft to go before a decision will be made. I can’t say anything else. I don’t want to jinx it.
I’m also in talks with a show I’ve wanted to work on for YEARS! We’ve been talking since August. I’ve just been commissioned to write a story and I’m itching to get some time to concentrate on it. It’s a massively big deal for me. I’ve had to work really hard to hold my nerve. I’m super excited about it. Literally NUTS for it.
Camp Fear, a feature film I wrote (my first solo writing project) has recently got a director attached and we had a reading of it with some brilliant actors last month. It needs a rewrite so I’ve been percolating it, brewing the next draft.
I’ve also got a TV series optioned by Red Planet that I created with my 14-year-old daughter – so I’m rewriting the “pitch document” for it. I’ve got another two TV series (both co-written) that I’m also developing with Red Planet and a spec two-part thriller treatment that needs revising after some great notes. There’s also a stage adaptation of Emma Kennedy’s hilarious book “The Tent, the Bucket and Me”* for Scamp Theatre that will hopefully move forward next year. And there are some other projects at baby stage that I really need to get my lazy procrastinating arse in gear for. (Danny’s note: YEAH VERY LAZY!)
Like with all writers, there’s always lots in development and you never know if they’ll see the light of day. It’s weird, you create these characters and stories that you love and obsess over and it’s gutting to think they may never actually live.
* It’s seriously funny. So much so it gave me an asthma attack.
2) HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER TO OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I have NO idea. I didn’t word this question… But I guess, after having worked in youth theatres for years, I’m really comfortable writing large ensemble pieces.
Several of my Casualty episodes have involved lots of characters, same with Eastenders. I like writing adrenaline fuelled action pieces that emotion hidden inside. I love the contrast of a scene of chaotic mayhem with an intimate quiet two hander.
I’m also obsessed by people who struggle to do the right thing (even if it’s totally the wrong thing – but, then again, isn’t that all drama?) and people connecting. I’m not pigeonholed in one genre which is great.
3) WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I suppose they’re the stories and characters that come to me. In Continuing Drama (e.g. Casualty and EastEnders) there are a lot of givens that dictate the kind of stories you can tell. In Casualty, for instance, you need a guest story that matches up with what your regular character needs (in a non-Noddy, overly resonant way).
All I know is that I’ve always wanted to write – ever since I was about six – I just never knew that I could or would be “allowed” to. I didn’t commit to writing until I was forty. I got on to the BBC Writers Academy, run by the brilliant John Yorke, and felt I’d been given permission to write and that I could write.
Without sounding too twattish, there are some stories and characters that demand to be written and which won’t leave me alone until I work on them. I love those ones.
And, of course, I write a lot of what I do because I know it’ll get made and seen.
A show likes Casualty gives you huge storytelling scope. You can’t beat that life or death buzz with it. And also because I get paid for it which is lovely and still a novelty.
4) HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
A huge amount of procrastination, delay and thinking about things* (*i.e. internet diversions) followed by intense deadline driven work. I love deadlines for making you work; they’re a writer’s best friend. I literally can’t write without one.
Outside of that I sometimes talk the story through with non-writer friends and always do the “ten questions” John Yorke set us on the Academy – you can work out in minutes if you have a good character and story shape. I’ll beat the story out (if it’s multi-protagonist I beat out each story separately then weave them together). Once the treatment is sorted I go to script. I love treatments – they’re so much easier to handle than a whole script.
Once script writing begins my sleep is pretty much shot. I won’t sleep properly again until I’ve got to the end (especially on the first three drafts). I’ll normally feel paranoid I’m writing shite and full of doubt which is annoyingly time consuming.
I do a riot draft which is for my eyes only and really helps with “this is shite” worries. I write in five acts with a very definite idea of what I want to achieve each day. I find the start really hard (so many choices) but the last act normally writes itself very quickly. If it doesn’t, I know the beginning usually needs fixing.
And then I sleep.
I always finish the riot draft at least a day early so I can polish and edit it and put in all those things I forgot to do the first time round. That’s when I get to make it good. I was a script editor briefly and found typos, continuity errors and draft hangovers got in the way of reading it straight through. I always want it to be a good fast read.
And then it’s notes time (if not for a show or company I’ll send it to my lovely agent). I have to allow time for notes to sit – I usually think they’re all wrong but after a few hours I’ll realise they were mostly all right or showed that something or other needed addressing. Followed by rewrite after rewrite after rewrite and more sleepless nights.
These three very lovely writers have agreed to answer the same four questions and post their answers next Monday (or thereabouts):
The marvelous Debbie Moon is a TV and film writer based in Wales. Her BAFTA-nominated children’s series, Wolfblood, is currently filming a third series, and she has projects in development with Working Title and Ruby Television. She is a big fan of comics, science fiction, cats, and cake. Her answers will be here.
The fabulous Amanda Duke has a background in casting, her first short film was produced by the Film Council and several of her feature scripts have placed in screenwriting competitions. She has an interest in true life stories and is currently working on several projects from recent history, including an adaptation of the best-selling book Where There Is Evil, based on Sandra Brown’s involvement in the Moira Anderson case. Her answers will be here.
Jonathan Harvey is one of my all time favourite writers. He’s won multiple awards and writes theatre, TV, film and books. His credits include the staggeringly successful stage play and film Beautiful Thing; Gimme Gimme Gimme, Beautiful People, over a hundred episodes of Coronation Street and episodes of Rev, Shameless, At Home With The Braithwaites and Great Night Out amongst many many others. His third book The Girl Who Just Appeared is out in July. Jonathan’s answers will appear on Danny’s blog (Danny: meta/beta/it’s the hot thing to do!) here.