5-4-3-2-1 Talent Campers are GO!

Like most writers, I’ve done my fair share of courses – short and long, online and offline – to help improve my writing. I’ve attended events and seminars to glean nuggets of info from those who’ve been there and done it, and signed up to numerous writing websites’ newsletters .

And now, I’ve finally taken myself by the scruff of the neck and gone for the Big One: Talent Campus, the London Screenwriters’ Festival’s rocket-fuelled 7 day, 4 week intensive workout.

I’ll openly admit, I thought it was too soon for me to take full advantage of it. But then I thought, what the hell? I’ve either got talent or I haven’t and it’s probably best to find out sooner rather than later, right?

I was still unconvinced though, and my application contained 10 pages of an incomplete script which was pretty much a raw first draft, where I teed up ideas to explore further along. I figured, if they accept that, I know I’m on the right tracks.

So here I am. The first official day is June 26, but we’re in the Pre-Ignition phase and they’ve already set a first homework assignment, a 2 page script for their Impact 50 project.

It’s something I looked at briefly before, but couldn’t come up with a good idea, mainly I think, because I was concentrating on my TV pilot for a competition. So I let it go – and then slightly panicked when the assignment came through.

Don’t settle on your first idea, it said, and eventually the snippets I’d been jotting down previously formed themselves into a workable plot: An elderly lady decides to protect her canine best friend from suffering the impact.

I decided to give her a cantankerous husband to play off, then decided to give him dementia – we lost my dad to the condition, and I’m involved in the local dementia action alliance, so I’m confident including it in my stories.

But then a funny thing happened. Having only two pages to play with, I ran out of room for the dog. So the story became: A woman whose husband lives with dementia shields him from the present by recreating a date from their past. Which hadn’t been in my notes at all!

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I’m going to explode if I don’t talk about Avengers: Endgame **SPOILERS**

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I’ve seen it three times but I’ve friends who’ve still yet to see it, because they’re simply too busy. Consequently, I’ve had to resort to Facebook.

There are some real idiots on Facebook, aren’t there? I have to question if they even watched the same film or in fact, any of the previous MCU films, or whether their attention span has fled them entirely, since they clearly missed some of the major plot points. And that’s just the writers of online “news” platforms putting shit out there.

*It’s not a plot hole or an unanswered question just because YOU didn’t understand it!*

Ok, so now you’ve gathered I will be referring to said plot of Avengers: Endgame and if you don’t want to know – why are you still here?

So, the main issue: Time Travel. Specifically, the MCU’s version of time travel which is not like Back to the Future and sundry others mentioned.

Now, I should state that, as someone who couldn’t even pass CSE Maths and Physics (think GCSE failure and double it), I’m no expert in the quantum realm. So this is just what I think. But what I think is at least grounded in what I’ve seen and heard in the films. I guess I’m lucky they explained it in plain English and not algebra!

To preserve the timeline of the whole 22 film MCU, clearly they had to come up with something different from the usual Back to the Future type time travel. Hence:

“You cannot change the future from the past!”

Yes, it’s that simple a premise. Everything that happened in the earlier films has still happened regardless of any time travel shenanigans in Endgame. Because them’s the rules. They got a science adviser in about it an’ everything. This will be referred to as the original timeline.

Banner told the Avengers the rules. He and the Ancient One even drew a fucking diagram showing what would happen if the stones weren’t replaced. Seriously. The original timeline cannot be changed but if the stones aren’t replaced, they can cause an additional, alternative timeline.

But whataboutery …

But Loki took the Tesseract and disappeared! Therefore the space stone didn’t get replaced and surely an alternative timeline came into being? Yes and no. Loki took the space stone from 2012 and disappeared into a new timeline (Disney+). The space stone the Avengers took was from 1970 and it was replaced. So, original timeline intact. *Update* I saw an brilliant theory on Youtube that reckons Loki had learned to create a physical copy of himself, which he could have teleported back with the Tesseract to the point he stole it, to prevent a timeline anomaly!

But surely Steve would’ve told S.H.I.E.L.D everything about Hydra? Well, he could – wouldn’t have made any difference to events. Sure, he knew about Pierce, Sitwell and Rumlow and could stop them being hired but – cut off one head, and two more will take their place. And unless he was going to murder Zola in cold blood, the algorithm will still be created.

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Steve couldn’t save or rescue Bucky or save the Starks – everything that happened, happened. Even though he went back in time, those events are all in his past so he cannot change them. The best he could do would be to warn. There’s a reason Fury was suspicious of S.H.I.E.L.D – why else would he hire hijackers to attack the Lemurian Star? And know to always keep his light sabre with him? See? SEE?

But Gamora, how can Gamora still be alive? And Thanos? They were both killed in the original timeline. Indeed they were, but thanks to your traditional time travel, they came to 2023 from 2014, and all the events between 2014-2023 still happened.

But then, why can’t we just bring Natasha and Tony back? Because that’s not the story the creators wanted to tell. Tony was on a crisscross arc with Steve, and Natasha’s mission was to clear the red from her ledger. And you can’t just tear them away from their life in a different time because you miss them. Gamora knew exactly what was happening, and why, and it was a natural part of the story.

Natasha was clearly at her wits end and suffering, the only thing that mattered to her was getting everyone back, whatever it takes. I’m gutted too, I loved Natasha. I’ve more to say on Nat, the other female Avengers and how, if Marvel really want to, they could bring her back. In another blog post, hopefully soon.

But, but, but … Steve and Peggy – he went back and deleted her husband and children and their children and he kissed his own granddaughter. No, just no. Stop it right now. This is a whole other blog post too, otherwise I’ll be here all night.

Let’s just be happy for Steve that, post 2023, he’s content running a dog rescue home, with a nice sideline in gentleman’s knitwear.

There are some anomalies, of course there are – it’s a time travel story, so there are going to be, aren’t there?! And if we can’t suspend our disbelief and just accept an epic, rollicking great, adventure superhero film for what it is, then why are we watching?

Cap lifting Mjolnir, Tony’s final “I am … Iron Man” “AVENGERS. Assemble.” The portals. “On your left!” So many epic moments.

Don’t cry that it’s over; smile because it happened.

On a Spring roll …

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For novelists, November is a huge month, with a small endeavour known as  NaNoWriMo keeping them busy. It’s like the vomit draft I mentioned previously, aimed at getting some 50,000 words of a novel down on paper.

For screenwriters, the equivalent is Zero Draft Thirty – a month long attempt to bash out the first draft of your screenplay, or plan or rewrite – there are no rules. It fitted well with my three pages a day plan.

March was ZDT and I decided to adapt a thirty page short sci-fi story. I quickly realised that the twist at the end was really only the end of the first act and then came the hard part of upping the stakes.

I took vomit draft to a whole new level as I struggled to make sense of the story – and also struggled to not edit as I went along  – until finally, something clicked. It might only be 48 pages in total at present, as the 3 pages a day gave way to thrashing out the story, but it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I’m pleased with the overall concept. My main character turned out to be fun too!

Although I found the rewriting process with the other two projects a lot of fun, I’ve parked this story for now – it was more of an experiment for my first ZDT – and am going to focus on another project that I feel more passionate about, one that has a beginning and an end but a higgledy-piggledy middle.  This one, a darkly comic crime caper, has been one of my main projects since I started to focus on screenplays and I’m itching to crack on with it.

Flitting between the two stories is a bit of luxury at present, as the two completed projects are now with a script consultant. The pilot I’m going to enter in Thousand Films competition, and the feature will be sent to Sheridan Smith’s production company, Barking Mad Productions – Sheridan very kindly put out a call for scripts and has promised to read all of them – I’m guessing she’s decided for forego sleep for a while!

All this is happening while putting together the next RLF Murderous Medway (21st September), for which we have some cracking authors already lined up. A pretty productive March, which has energised me for April!

Writing daze

The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra

You know I said I’d be writing at least 3 pages a day? I actually have!

Therefore, as we near the end of January, I can look back on the month and be really proud that I’ve now two complete project drafts. And it’s thanks in part to the excellent book (see above) by Pilar Alessandra: The Coffee Break Screenwriter.

I was stuck at a rough 12 pages for the pilot episode of my TV series, so, since it was Pilar’s weekend TV writing course that set me on the journey with it last year, I revisited her book to jump start me again.

Going into the weekend last year with just the basic concept, I came away with the full template for all the elements of a mini series bible, which subsequently turned into a 5 page document that set a strong framework for me to work from.

But knowing my characters and where I want them to go turned out to be the easy bit. So using Pilar’s book, I’ve begun to work through the 10 minute exercises and concentrate on one part of the script at a time. Before I knew it, I’d hit 45 pages. And I’m still only at the beginnings of the rewrite processes!

Having already completed the vomit draft (as I’ve charmingly seen it called) of my feature – Pilar refers to it as the speed draft (as in you write it quickly, not while you’re high) – I’ve started the rewriting process on that and already it’s gained another 4 pages.

It helps that I’ve finally made the effort to make more, dedicated, time. I’d let too many distractions keep me away from the writing but a new approach has proven worthwhile. This is essentially not writing just on the computer – printing the drafts off and going through with a red pen (like in the olden days) clearly works for me. Pen and paper, you can’t beat it.

Yesterday I was at the second Rochester Write Then Socialise and basically sat quietly for 3 whole hours working through the script, with Pilar’s book becoming more and more thumbed as the day wore on. The beauty of this was that once I felt a break was in order, I could reward myself by chatting to fellow writers over a coffee, the importance of which can’t be underestimated.

Writing is a lonely, solitary business and it’s easy to become isolated. While we were all concentrating on our own projects, the sounds of low chatter, tapping on keyboards and the scratching of pens reminded me I’m not on my own.

Breaking into broadcasting as a disabled person

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I met Christina Lee when we were both on a workshop while volunteering for Leonard Cheshire. She was immediately a fantastic addition to the LitFest’s volunteers and here, she shares her insights on breaking into the broadcasting industry as a disabled person.

Photo: Christina with Joanna from Wall to Wall.

Recently the government announced that national broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, and Sky, plan to double the number of disabled people working in television by 2020 in an attempt to diversify the industry. The Creative Diversity Network (CDN), who proposed the Doubling Disability plan, had found that disabled people only make 6.8% of those appearing on screen, and 4.5% of those off screen, despite the fact that 18% of the UK population is disabled.

Why are there so few disabled people working in television?

In the media sector, work experience is vital. But getting work experience can be extremely difficult for young people with disabilities for reasons such as access problems, financial costs, health limitations and cultural attitudes towards disability. Misconceptions about what working in television is actually like, also put off many people with disabilities from the industry.

Back in February this year, I had the fantastic opportunity to undertake a work placement at Wall to Wall television production company for two weeks. (I wrote about my experience for Muscular Dystrophy UK, which you can read about here.) Later I caught up with Joanna Gatcum, Talent Assistant, and had a great post-placement chat about the experience. We talked about how to get more young disabled people into the media industry, and she gave some fantastic advice on how young disabled people interested in television can embark on their careers.

The television industry is without doubt a very competitive sector for anyone. Depending on the type of job you apply for, it can be physically and mentally demanding, involving working long hours or out-of-hours, or travelling frequently between sets. This may appear daunting, especially for young people whose disability may limit the type or duration of work they do. The good news, as I found out at my work placement, is that the television industry is incredibly diverse and accommodating. Given the nature of television production, you never really just do one thing at a job. So if there are certain tasks (e.g., heavy lifting, being on outdoor sets), it is often possible to swap with colleagues and do the tasks you can do (e.g. logging or transcribing).

There are increasingly more and more companies operating flexible hours and job-share schemes, not just for people with disabilities, but also for parents and caregivers. Joanna herself job-shares with another colleague and works different hours to normal office hours to accommodate childcare. On the days during my placement when the UK was hit by a freakish snowstorm, I worked from home and communicated with the team via email. Employers are often happy to negotiate and make appropriate compromises to enable people with disabilities to do their jobs well (in fact, they are legally obliged to do so, as we learned from the Disability Law workshop). Joanna was optimistic that young people with disabilities stand as much chance in television as anyone and encouraged anyone interested in the sector to give it their best shot.

I asked Joanna what, from her experience working in Talent, are the most skills and attributes young people need to succeed in television. She explained that since most jobs in television are contract-based and project-based, flexibility and ability to adapt are crucial survival skills, especially for freelancers. The skill requirements vary depending on the type of job you are applying for, but as there are tight deadlines and things can (and often do) go wrong, problem-solving and organisational skills are also very important. Most graduates starting a career in television won’t have much experience in the media and they are bound to come across sector-specific practices that they are not familiar with.

Even if your degree has nothing to do with media or if you didn’t go to university, it is still possible to have a successful career in television. More than qualifications, it’s experience that matters. That’s why willingness to learn is key to getting to grips with the tricks of the trade. Entry level jobs such as secretarial roles and PA positions may not sound very impressive, but they provide opportunities to learn how television works behind the scenes and meet important people like directors and producers, who could be useful contacts for the future. The words that we went back to again and again were passion and enthusiasm. All the staff I met loved their work; even though it’s hard, their passion shines through and that’s what make their work so brilliant.

Evidently, the television sector is far from perfect and disability representation remains low. But things are changing, onscreen and off-screen. And hopefully getting more young disabled people into the television industry will drive change to the right direction.

Special thanks to Muscular Dystrophy UK and Wall to Wall for the fantastic opportunity and experience. If you are a young person with disabilities and would like to learn more about similar work opportunities, please visit their Moving Up page for details.

Final Tips:

  • Be boldDon’t be afraid to try something new, even if you don’t think you are good at it. For me, pushing myself out of my comfort zone by taking up placements at MDUK and Wall to Wall taught me not only about the industries and the workplace but I also learned about myself and what I can do. It made me realise that a lot of my existing skills are transferable and made me more optimistic about my career options.
  • Be proactive! Television is a creative industry, it’s competitive, so you need to create your own opportunities. Joanna gets a lot of emails from applicants every day, so it’s not always possible to reply to emails quickly. However, this does not mean that your application is rejected; your CV gets stored on the company database for future uses. If the company does not reply within a few weeks, send a follow-up email. Sometimes companies will require someone urgently for a specific job, and if your email arrives at the right time then the job could be yours. There are job-posting websites and talent databases like TalentBases and MediaParent where companies recruit freelancers that are free for applicants.
  • Be-friend! Networking is important for any career, but especially for television. Freelancers work with different teams on every project, so it’s a good idea to keep a list of contacts from each project who can potentially point you to other projects and introduce you to other people. Taking up work experience placements, internships, and media events are also very good ways of meeting people. For writers, finding a good agency with the right contacts can make a huge difference.

Good Luck!

With huge thanks to Christina for sharing this with us 🙂

It’s been almost two years (I thought it was longer)

2019

Yep, almost two years since I last blogged. Outrageous isn’t it? Or would be if I hadn’t been busy with all sorts of things that, sadly, were just more important.

But here I am, having guilt tripped myself into it, mainly to get back in the habit of just writing freely – even if it’s a load of nonsense (which it quite likely will be).

I’ve been concentrating on screenwriting, which includes reading and watching lots of stuff too, and also organising the first Murderous Medway which – even if I say it myself – was bloody good. Quote of the day? “The quality of the panel discussions was as good as any I’ve heard at Harrogate” – from a regular Theakston’s Old Peculiar attendee.

So it’ll be happening again this year – details will come in due course. My personal aim for 2019? To write at least 3 pages per day. I’ve still a few hours left today …

First up though (and the guilt comes from having had this a while) from one of the Litfest’s lovely volunteer’s Christina, who did some work experience at a television production company earlier this year and shared her thoughts on how disabled creatives can break into the industry. Stay tuned!

Happy 60th Birthday The Cavern Club: 18 facts you never knew about The Beatles spiritual home

On this day in 1957, the most famous music club in the world opened its doors: Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

The Cavern Club Christopher Brown Flickr

The Cavern Club by Christopher Brown on Flickr

Want to impress your Liverpudlian friends? Here are all the things you need to know:

Now a major tourist attraction, it’s located in a warehouse cellar at number 10 Mathew Street, in the heart of the city centre near the River Mersey, local theatres, museums and shopping centres.

It was originally a jazz club, hosting Ronnie Scott and Acker Bilk in its early days.

The club has closed down, remodelled and re-opened on several occasions, and was owned at one time by former Liverpool FC hardman Tommy Smith.

Closing down in February 1966, the club was officially opened again by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in July the same year.

Its original owner, Alan Sytner, named the club after a Paris jazz club, Le Caveau De La Huchette, hoping to make it the biggest jazz club outside of London.

The first jazz festival held in Liverpool and featuring many of Britain’s top acts took place at the Cavern Club on January 16, 1960.

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The Cavern Club Wall – Ian Ransley on Flickr

The club is home to 25 resident artists, from The Cavern Club Beatles tribute band – brought together following comprehensive auditions to find those who captured the look and sound of the four Liverpool lads – to The Amazing Kappa Band, who are somehow an eclectic mix of Led Zeppelin, Ravel, Dolly Parton and more!

A statue of former club hat-check girl  Cilla Black is being unveiled outside the club today, a present to the city from her family.

The club offers Rock School Tuition, with expert tutors in bass guitar, guitar, piano/keyboard and drums.

In 1983, the Strawberry Fields Children’s home benefitted financially following the sale of 5000 bricks from the original cellar area of the club.

Hosted by the club, Liverpool’s first Mathew Street Festival took place on August 28, 1983 until being replaced by the Liverpool International Music Festival in 2013.

Books about the club include three by Spencer Leigh, BBC Radio Merseyside presenter: ‘Twist and Shout! – Merseybeat, the Cavern, the Star-Club and the Beatles’, ‘The Cavern – The Most Famous Club in the World’ and ‘The Cavern Club: The Rise of the Beatles and Merseybeat’ and one by former Liverpool FC player and coach Phil Thompson, called ‘The Best of Cellars’.

American actor Billy Bob Thornton appeared at the club in 2002 and said: “It’s the dream of my life to be here in Liverpool and playing the Cavern because this music got me through my childhood.”

The artist for the original club posters and signage, Tony Booth, has been commissioned to produce the 60th anniversary artwork which will feature all the artists ever to appear at the club.

In July 2006, American golfer John Daly took to the stage and performed during the launch of his autobiography.

The Cavern Club by Ronald Saunders on Flickr Jaye Nolan Freelance Writer

The Cavern Club by Ronald Saunders on Flickr

The first Beatle to play at the club is rumoured to be Ringo Starr, who was apparently a member of the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group when they appeared there in July 1957.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney debuted at the club a few months apart but both with The Quarrymen, John in August 1957, and Paul in January 1958, after joining The Quarrymen in October 1957.

The first performance at the club by The Beatles was on February 9, 1961. Brian Epstein saw them in November that year and subsequently took over their management. The last of their 292 performances at the club was on August 1, 1963.

Do you have any special memories from the Cavern Club? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credits: Christopher BrownIan Ransley, Ronald Saunders

Here’s to a happy and productive 2017

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

2016 was a year many people will never forget, from the world changing democratic decisions to the loss of so many icons in music, television and film.  Yet in other ways – the olympics/paralympics for example, and for me on a professional level –  it was excellent. I took a quick look back while looking forward.

While last year involved much consolidation, I was able to embrace and combine more of the things I love.

Determined to stay completely freelance and concentrate on writing and social media, I was rewarded by being commissioned across a variety of projects, both personally and for the Rochester LitFest.

I began blogging for Yahoo, which is brilliant on two counts: I’m writing more regularly about my favourite things, and I have to watch a lot of television – no choice, it’s my job now 😉 – it’s also helpful with respect to my own scriptwriting that I dissect the shows, watching them more critically and figuring out why they worked so well and what made the characters engaging. That it coincided with an exceptional year on television made it a pleasure rather than work.

Although I’ve been working in social media for a long time, I decided to go to college and earn myself a Diploma in Social Media for Business. It’s extremely satisfying to be an official social media goddess and I’ll be putting what I’ve learnt to good use, running workshops as well as continuing to work with private clients. 

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Of all the sad losses in 2016, one that hit the Medway community particularly hard was the demise of the beautiful little WOW Magazine, our bible of what’s on where. Happily though, this means we can concentrate on the WOW Kent website, for which I’m the online editor. Together with founder and editor Emma Dewhurst, I’ll be working towards making it the go-to source for creative and cultural news and events across the Kent area.

In order to concentrate on funding for the LitFest, this year will look a little different in that there are currently no plans for a standalone festival in October. Instead, we’ll be running events across a month or so in May/June, covering the Dickens Festival and the Battle of Medway, as well as another Discworld inspired Turtle Moves day, honouring Sir Terry Pratchett.

We’ll also be in attendance at the Creative Care Expo in Maidstone on 26/1 and looking forward to working with more people on our Memory Box project this year. A smaller version, mixed with the Turtle Moves activities will take place at the Rochester Dementia Memory Cafe on April 28 – Sir Terry Pratchett’s birthday, appropriately.

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There are a lot of exciting things to look forward to this year; I’ll try to share all of them with you.

Have a great 2017 🙂

#RLF2016: Written Worlds, Inspiring Places

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For some strange reason 5 years ago, I decided to start a literature festival. Possibly I had too much time on my hands (I didn’t) possibly I just felt we were lacking a festival in Medway dedicated to writing, and somebody had to do it. I must’ve been mad, and I’m also stubborn, so here we are: the fourth Rochester Literature Festival 2016 kicks off this weekend.

Amidst the usual creative writing workshops, Cafe Crawl and author talks this year, the RLF has a wonderful day of craft activities planned for all ages.

The Turtle Moves, inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, sees a Juvenile Crafters’ Guild appear, as if by magic, in Rochester’s Community Hub, where you can design your own Luggage or bring to life a Golem, among other activities. Out and about in the high street you’ll bump into numerous characters – and even see a re-enactment of the Battle of Koom Valley! And shhhhh – it’s rumoured that the Librarian will be appearing in L-Space (Baggins!)

RLF Patron Lisa Cutts is appearing at Strood Library on Oct 4, alongside fellow crime author Simon Booker, while author of The Outlaw Chronicles, Angus Donald, is at Rochester Library on Oct 6. There is also a Local Author Day at Rochester Library between 10am-2pm on Oct 1.

The popular Cafe Crawl takes place on Sunday, Oct 2 and features the Canterbury Yarners, Fiona Sinclair, Nancy Charley, Johanna Coulson and Maggie Butt alternating at Bruno’s Bakes, The Quills and Cafe @172 between 12-3pm.

The festival opens with three creative writing workshops on Saturday, Oct 1: An Introduction to Screenwriting, A Guide to Self Publishing, and Building Your Make Believe World. It ends with a Writers’ Retreat on Sunday, Oct 9.

All the events apart from the workshops are free, and more detail and tickets for the workshops can be booked here.

If you pop down, be sure to say ‘hi’ 🙂