September 2022

Hi there,

This time of year is always flat out. Ada Lovelace Day is just two weeks away, and I have a ton of final preparations still to do. This, of course, is going to be the last year that my summer is dominated by ALD, and I can’t say that I’m sad. It’s been a great thing to do, to create out of whole cloth an entirely new day in the diary. But after 12 years (the first ALD was in March), I am going to be very, very happy to get my summers back and to have a year that is much less like the most tedious rollercoaster you’ve ever been on.

Suw’s news: Script rewrite nearly done

I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks rewriting the pilot of Tag, adding in two new subplots, un-killing someone, creating a new B-story character who’s a bit of an arsehole, and making my protagonist a bit less nice. In fact, she’s now a bit annoying, a bit needy, a bit clingy. Which is good, because that gives her room to grow that she didn’t have before. Or rather, I can make her growth a bit more explicit, rather than it just living in my head as a concept that, in previous drafts, didn’t quite make it on to the page.

I’ve finished the big rewrite, all I have to do now is polish and make sure that Act 1 ends on page 10, which might be easier said than done given the insertion of the new sub-plot. I have to get it submitted to Channel 4 by Friday, as we’re heading down to Dorset on the weekend for my Mum’s 80th birthday. It’s totally doable though.

Book review: The Last Hours and The Turn of Midnight, by Minette Walters

Cover of The Last Hours by Minette Walters.

When I was laid up with Covid, I started reading The Last Hours, by Minette Walters, purely on the basis that it was a book about the impact of the Black Death on a town in Dorset, where I’m from. Historical fiction isn’t usually something I gravitate towards and I found this a little hard to get into at first, but it and its sequel, The Turn of Midnight, were very enjoyable. Get the omnibus.

Once it picks up the pace, The Last Hours is a page-turner, following Lady Anne of Develish as she literally pulls up the drawbridge and isolates her people from contagion. Tensions within the moat are mirrored by threats from without, and Walters deals with both equally dramatically.

In contrast, The Turn of Midnight spends too much time in one spot, dealing predominantly with Lady Anne’s favourite serf, Thaddeus Thurkell, and his arrest in Blandeforde for pretending to be a noble. We see very little of the rest of the characters we’d come to know in The Last Hours, which is to the book’s detriment. There’s also not the same sense of urgency and peril, and the book just sort of stops, rather than concluding. Both books are worth a read, but perhaps with expectations tempered for the sequel.

Read this: Why “microhistories” rock

Clive Thompson talks about why he prefers what he calls “microhistories” – book that are “short, focused on one single subject, and usually historical” – to the big sweeping tomes that try to pull everything together into a unifying theory of whatever, which tend towards being broad and thus shallow.

I have to agree. I love a deep dive. Indeed, I’m thinking about doing one myself, on Ada Lovelace – not a biography, as that’s been done to death, but more of a look at how she’s been portrayed by her biographers. During the 70s and 80s, there were quite a few books that really took a hatchet to her, promulgating myths about her mathematical abilities that were based on a misreading of the documentary evidence. I don’t think she needs another biography, but a historiography could potentially fill a gap.

What do you think? Does this sound like a good idea? Let me know on Twitter!

Cover of What Are You Laughing At? by Dan O'Shannon

What I’m reading: What Are You Laughing At? By Dan O’Shannon

I have a plan in my head to write a comedy drama, but although I had a brief stint of doing stand-up in the mid-90s, I haven’t really focused much on comedy. My favourite TV shows over the last couple of years have been The Good Place, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso, but enjoying comedy is not the same as writing comedy.

So I’m reading What Are You Laughing At?, by Emmy-winning screenwriter and producer Dan O’Shannon, who worked on Cheers, Frasier and Modern Family, amongst others things. Hopefully it will give me some insights. Or maybe it’ll just be an interesting read. Or a doorstop. We’ll see.

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity blowing a drool bubble

I don’t want to drool-shame Grabbity, but sometimes I think that her name really ought to be Niagara. After a period of intense suspicion about our new sofa, she has finally decided that it’s a Good Thing and spends every evening sitting on the back behind my head, or on the arm next to me, or on my lap if there’s room. It has made her extremely happy, and when she’s happy she drools.

Here she is, blowing a happy little drool bubble.

The next newsletter is due in two weeks, on Ada Lovelace Day itself, which may have been a bit of a tactical error on my part. If it doesn’t show up on time, bear with me and I’ll get it out as soon as I can. Once ALD is over, though, I’ll be going back to my weekly schedule.

That’s it from me for now!

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

Summer is drawing to a close and finally we have rain. We’ve also had our first BBQ of the summer and started to let Copurrnicus explore the garden a little. I’m sure that he and I will have a lot of conversations about my inability to stop it raining in future.

Suw’s news

I’m quite surprised by how much has happened over the last two weeks.

A colleague of mine submitted a proposal for a short film plus TV pilot script and treatment to funders just before the last email, and we’re already arranging the first conference call to discuss the project. Long way to go before funding is approved, but this is a promising first step.

I also submitted the first ten pages of my novel to a literary agent who has specifically said that she’s interested in pandemic fiction, and was delighted to get a request for the next 40 pages. Unfortunately, a few days later she sent me a rejection. Bah and, indeed, humbug.

The agent in question has said on Twitter that she’s had 750 submissions and was sending out a lot of partial requests, so the odds were always against me. Still, this is the first time that I’ve had even a partial request, so I’m happy with that.

Now I’m focused on revising my TV pilot script so that I can submit it to the Channel 4 screenwriting course, about which, more below.

Do you have your stories straight?

I learnt a lot on Yvonne Grace’s script editing for TV course, but one of the most useful was how to think about the structure of a TV show. I realised pretty early on in the course that I would have to go back to Tag, my spec script, and plot it out properly, episode by episode. I have known that it needed a rewrite since I finished the first draft back in March, but knowing you need to rewrite and knowing how to rewrite are two different things.

The other day I had the epiphany I needed: Although I thought that I had a plot and subplot, I realised that I actually only had one story and the subplot was just another strand of that story. I need two more. I need an A, B and C story to create the richness that people expect from a modern TV show. And those two extra stories need to be driven by characters’ wants and needs, by subtext, rather than by plot.

I need to get the pilot script rewritten by the end of September so that I can enter it into the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course competition by 3 October. It’s not great timing. My mother’s 80th birthday is on 1 October, and Ada Lovelace Day is on 11 October, but I’m going to have to just knuckle down and try to get everything done.

Read this: Clive Thompson on how to take notes

Sometimes, you read a piece of advice so simple you wonder how you made it through life without coming up with it yourself. In this case, it is Coders author and journalist Clive Thompson’s advice on how to take notes when you’re doing desk research. If I end up going back into freelance journalism after ALD closes, this will be very useful!

Oh, and if you haven’t already seen Clive’s talk, How The Way You Write Changes the Way You Think, you really must. It’s fascinating, and possibly my favourite ever talk.

Obligatory cat picture

Back in issue 7, I introduced you to a new podcast about cats, My Cat’s Tale, by my friend Ewan Spence. I was delighted get the chance to talk about Copurrnicus and the challenges we’ve had with our darling feral boy. When we adopted him, we had no idea that he was feral, nor that he’d been taken from his mother too young. We soon learnt that Copurrnicus was going to take a bit more work than your average kitten, but we did finally bring him round. Please do give My Cats Tale a listen!

That’s it for this week! The next issue will be out in two weeks’ time, on 27 September. If you’ve missed any previous emails, I’ve now got the archives up on my blog, Chocolate and Vodka so you can go back and catch up at any time.

All the best,

Suw

 

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