Word Count 15: Recuperation, The Cut, The Appeal, design in screenwriting, John M Ford and Cici’s kittens

by Suw on August 23, 2022

Hi there,

Last week, I took everyone’s advice and did as much of nothing as I possibly could. My four Pfizer jabs, (the US offered a second booster to the over-50s just before I left), have stood me in good stead and my experience of Covid has been no worse than a bad cold, although the cough does linger. I have been very lucky to have got away so lightly.

Suw’s news

Unfortunately, I did not test negative on Friday, so could not attend the Script Advice script editing course with Yvonne Grace in person. But, thankfully, I was able to attend by Zoom, which was just as good.

It has been an absolutely fascinating weekend and I’ve learnt a lot about how TV episodes are structured and how the script development process works. There has been just so much to absorb, I’m going to have to go over my notes again before the second half of the course next weekend. Fingers crossed that I test negative soon, so I can do it in person.

Review: The Cut, by Christopher Brookmyre

Confined to bed as I was, I asked some friends for book recommendations and Christopher Brookmyre’s The Cut was at the top of the list. Although it took me a while to get into it, it did settle down into a very good read. The characterisation was spot on. The protagonists are an elderly woman who did time for murder and a young film student trying to escape his past as a petty thief, and both are beautifully drawn.

Millicent Spark, who went down for murdering her boyfriend despite claiming innocence, is a particularly powerful character: damaged by her time inside, we see her slowly regain her confidence and, indeed, her will to live. At the same time, she helps young Jerry break away from his history of crime by, ironically, committing much, much larger crimes.

The way Brookmyre develops their relationship is warm-hearted and compelling, and it’s a great example of how a relationship has its own arc and is, very nearly, a character in its own right.

Review: The Appeal, by Janice Hallett

Written entirely in emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, notes, letters and diary entries, this murder mystery really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Hallett’s ability to draw characters so clearly from a few short emails is really quite something, and The Appeal is worth a read just for that. Hallett establishes personality and, again, relationships between characters with great economy, and then slowly subverts your understanding of a character’s personality by dripping additional nuggets of information in via other people’s opinions.

I didn’t find the murder mystery bit all that mysterious and had sussed the twists long before they arrived, but it was still a very satisfying and quick read. I’d say if you’re interested in non-standard story formats and how to establish character quickly, this is well worth your time. If you prefer be surprised by who the murderer is, this might be a bit too on the nose.

Tip-top tip: David Wappel on using design to tell story

Today I saw a great thread from screenwriter David Wappel on using elements of design to tell your story. By design, he means everything from set dressing to costume to location choice. Wappel echoes a point that Yvonne Grace emphasised repeatedly over the weekend: TV is a visual medium, so don’t use dialogue to explain things when visuals will do the trick.

In Grease, imagine at the end Sandy was described as “more rebellious, a new gleam in her eye, she’s different” or something like that. Completely unnecessary.

Leather jacket. Smokey eye shadow. Shoulders bared. Hair curled.

We see everything we need to know. That’s design.

Insight: What does “I’m not right for this book” mean?

This is a very helpful thread from Helen Lane, an agent with The Booker Albert Literary Agency, about what exactly an agent means when they say that they “like a book, but don’t love it enough to represent it”.

Being rejected is par for the course for authors, and indeed anyone who is creative, but the most frustrating form of rejection is “I loved it, but I’m still passing”. Not that I’ve ever had that myself, but it’s something you see authors bemoaning all the time. In her thread, Lane explains what that really means, and why authors should take it as the compliment it is. Read the full thread!

Read this: The Disappearance of John M. Ford

There is a fascinating piece on Slate from 2019 about how a seminal science fiction author fell from view, and how the journalist researching his story ended up helping bring his work back into print.

John M Ford was an immensely talented, inventive and enigmatic SFF writer whose career was cut short by that brutal combination of ill-health and America’s savagely expensive healthcare system.

“He would make art in the most surprising places,” Gaiman told me. “Once he wrote a short play based on the invitation and directions to my annual Guy Fawkes party. There was a typo, and he took that as the grounds for a play.”

Many, many obligatory cat pictures

Not long after I wrote last week’s newsletter, young Cici decided to give birth. The first kitten arrived easily, but after a four hour gap, Holly and her fellow fosterer Jenny decided that Cici needed some help. The vets gave her some calcium and oxytocin to help things along and she successfully gave birth to another two kittens, which is what we were all expecting. Then she gave birth to another four kittens, which no one was expecting at all.

Cici and her kittensCici cuddling one of her kittens

Cici and her kittensAll Cici's kittensCici and her kittens at dinner time

Seven kittens is a lot for a litter – it’s normally more like four – and sadly the smallest didn’t make it, despite getting lots of care and attention and extra food.

But Cici is now happily nursing her brood, who are all doing very well indeed. There are three tabbies and three tuxies, and they are all adorable.

That’s it for this week!

All the best,


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