I'm sure we've all gone to lectures by, or read interviews with, our favourite screenwriters. The Tony Jordan's, Paul Abbot's and Jimmy McGovern's of this world. And the all time favourite question appears to be, how did you become a screenwriter? And the answer often seems to be a slight variation on, "I wrote this thing when I was (enter very young age of your choice) and sent it somewhere, it got bought, and then I did something else, that was also bought, and then I started work on (enter soap of your choice) etc." I'm not being flippant. These guys are brilliant at what they do. That's why they give lectures that we go to and do interviews that we read. But I imagine that they are the exceptions to the rule. The rest of us mere mortals plug away over a number of years. So how did I get here...
At university I read English Literature. I was preparing myself for a career in Journalism. But the more stories I read, the greater depth I went into the analysis of these stories, the more I realised I wanted to tell them myself. I'd always excelled at writing stories in school. Thinking back to them, they were like mini scripts really, with very little prose, a good pace and plenty of dialogue. So after uni I applied to do MA Screenwriting at London College of Printing (now Communication) And despite a first class honours degree, I didn't get in. It counted for nothing because I had little screenwriting knowledge and the short I wrote for the application form was truly awful. So I attended a two day course run by the same folk where I harangued the poor tutor for this obvious injustice. To her great credit, she sat down with me, looked at my application and pointed me in the right direction.
So I took a load of short courses, including ones run by the now extinct London Screenwriters Workshop and a Diploma in Media Practice at Birkbeck College, which was basically a whole load of writing modules. (Incidentally there was also one or two journalism modules. And when the tutor asked us all whether we were prepared to knock on the door of a family who had just lost their son in a stabbing, and get a story, I knew I was in the wrong place.)
But with my army of short courses behind me, and a now far better short film script for my new application form, I re-applied two years later for the MA - and this time got in.
The MA, a part-time, one day a week course, was the best two years of my educational life. It was an amazing experience and one I still miss, two years after graduating. The course was devised and run by Phil Parker, surely the most eminent screenwriting guru based in the UK. He has now left the College by if you ever get a chance to hear him talk etc, I would seriously suggest you do. He is an inspirational figure and fervently passionate about screenwriting.
Anyway, I graduated from the MA with a new short script, a half hour adaptation script, a mock episode of Doctors, and a feature film script. Unsurprisingly it's the feature that has got me the most attention. Whilst not being picked up itself, it has been read all over the place and got me a few meetings. More significantly, it nearly won me the Red Planet Prize. Well to be fair that might be an exaggeration. I don't know how close I got, only that I was shortlisted and one of the twenty writers to attend two workshops led by Tony Jordan earlier this year. But hey, top twenty out of over 2000 ain't bad so I'm gonna keep telling everyone that if you don't mind. (Interestingly, a friend from my year also made it and Joanna Leigh, the winner, is an alumni of my MA - so we probably all learnt a thing or two when there.)
Apart from that, there's not much to tell. I've got to two Kaos Short Film Comp semi-finals, a commission from Shoestring Productions to write a low budget film, and an option on a feature from Life Entertainment GMBH. And of course I have written other screenplays on spec. I keep knocking on doors, I keep writing, and I keep the faith. So what's the point of all this? I think what I am trying to say is, reading about the top people in our profession can be inspiring. But when you read how they got their breaks so quickly and seemingly so easily (although this of course can also be misleading) it can become frustrating and make you feel like you have failed. I have been doing this now, if you go back to the beginning of the short courses, for about seven years. I'm not there yet, I'm nowhere near 'there' yet! But I'm still here, I'm still doing it, I'm not giving up, and I can promise you this... the best is yet to come.
How I approach novel writing....
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