Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Hi there,

It was -7C when I woke up this morning and still hasn’t got up as far as 0 yet, so this week’s newsletter come to you from underneath a large pile of blankets, one of them electric.

Suw’s news: Ethics applications and editing

There can’t be many fiction projects that start off with an ethics proposal, but Fieldwork is being written under the auspices of the University of York and is funded by a National Environmental Research Council grant, so we have to get ethics clearance before we can start doing the background research. That means that last week I had to do some informed consent training, and I now have a little certificate to prove that I know what informed consent is! The ethics proposal is well underway, but I can’t start talking to ecologists until it’s approved, so finishing that up is this week’s task.

I’m also spending as much time as I can find editing Tag and filling plot holes so large you could drive a fleet of tanks through them. Episodes 1 and 2 are done, and I’m knee deep in 3. Unfortunately, 3, 4 and 5 are the most threadbare episodes and it’s taking me longer than anticipated, so I might not finish them up by the end of January as I’d hoped to. But I am making progress every day.

Blog post: Why ‘Just write!’ is terrible advice

I’ve been wanting for a long time to blog about why I think ‘Just write!’ is an awful thing to say to someone who wants to become a writer. It was once said it to me when I was deep in a painful lull in my writing, and it bit deep. I couldn’t ‘just write’ – if I could have, I would have been. So I’ve taken a look at this pernicious bit of advice and come up with a few more compassionate and constructive alternatives.

Stop, look, listen: The Dark Is Rising on BBC Sounds

Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series is one of my favourites. I was introduced to it when I was 19 and I reread it regularly. So I was very excited to hear that the BBC has adapted it into a 12 part audio series, and even more excited by the fact that they got some great names in the cast, including Toby Jones and Samuel West.

Perhaps because I know The Dark Is Rising – which is actually both the name of the series and the title of second book – so well, I came to it with expectations. But ultimately, I was disappointed. The adaptation felt a bit overwrought at times and the soundscape overwhelming.

Yet there’s still something to learn from listening to it, especially if you already know the books.

The problem with this adaptation is that, in order to stop it being dominated by narration, they had to have Will Stanton, the protagonist, describe some of the scenes and action. The result is lots of slightly odd interjections and a halting nature to some of Stanton’s dialogue. When you compare this functional dialogue, if you will, to the speech Susan Cooper actually wrote, it stands out a mile. So if you want a good study in natural vs artificial dialogue, you could do worse than listen to this closely and see if you can spot the new additions.

Read this: Eli’s coming

American Scriptwriter Ben Blacker predicts a difficult year for writers trying to break in to the TV and film industries in the US, but suggests that 2023 will be a good year to knuckle down and get as much writing done as possible.

If you start now, you can have a polished portfolio of sample scripts by December. If you’re looking to work in TV, I’d recommend having 3 original pilots, a spec of an existing show, and maybe one feature script too (as the lines are blurrier between media than they once were). If you want to write movies, write four feature scripts. That’s one per quarter! You can do that!

Frankly, it’s never a good time to try breaking in as a new writer, whether you’re trying to get into film or TV, or trying to find an agent and get your book sold. I think Ben’s goals are a little bit optimistic for early career writers who are still learning not just how writing works, but how they work too. So perhaps just pick a goal that is ambitious but doable (and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit it).

My goals for this year are: one short film script, a completed* TV series plus treatment and novelisation, plus an outline of a YA novel. That’s quite a lot, given how little time I get to devote to writing. And if I achieve it all, I shall be very proud of myself regardless of whether I get an agent or not.

* They say you shouldn’t write the whole of a TV series, just a pilot and a treatment, but at this stage in my development as a writer, I need to know that the whole story is robust and complete, and that means I have to write it all. And, despite all advice to the contrary, I want to convert it into a novel when I’m done, because I feel like I stand a higher chance of getting an agent and selling a novel than I do getting a TV production company to take a risk on a high-budget series from an unknown writer. So yeah. I’m writing it all. Bite me.

Copurrnicus sits on his cat tree with his chest up against the lip and his front legs dangling over the edge.Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus loves his cat tree and particularly loves to sit like this. How on earth can that be comfortable? How does he not end up cutting off the circulation to his little paws?

Cats. They’re beyond me.


That’s it for this week!


All the best,



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