She read her way around the library, hungry for journeys, adventures, laughter and passion.  She took each new book to bed like a lover, savouring every chapter, going too far some nights until the letters danced like insects and she was groggy next day at work.  But still she’d sneak away for lunchtime trysts, her eager fingers fumbling for the bookmark.  In between times, in the worst of times and all alone, she would graze on safety notices, cereal packets, logos, the small print on tickets.  In museums and galleries she read the plaques, barely glancing at the exhibits.

When she died she had never travelled more than thirty miles from the small town of her birth.  But between the covers she’d been all round the globe:  a queen, a mother, a spy, a murderer, a general, a slave, an alien.  She died just before the last chapter.

*Originally published by www.the-phone-book.com (now archived)

Starting and Finishing

I began a new book recently.  Although I have been busy for some weeks creating characters and their stories, developing the ideas for the murder case, and researching on topics I needed to know more about, for me a book isn’t started until I write those first lines.  That’s the ‘proper’ work of writing and no matter how much plotting and planning I might have done in advance (and that varies from book to book) it is in the process of writing that everything is given life and form and new ideas often emerge.

The finishing point is not quite so clear cut.  I think there are two of those.  The first is when I scrawl the last sentence, put the closing full stop.  And the second is when after typing up, editing as I go, polishing and amending in the light of feedback from my writers group and doing a final read through I have a whole book, ready to send off my agent and editor.  Of course there will be further work to do – changes suggested by editor or agent, copy edits to agree, proofs to be checked, cover images to consider but in my mind the novel already exists, fully formed.  And what comes after, crucial though it is (and it is!) I see as part of the production and publishing process not the creative process.

TV Drama Writers’ Festival

Last week I went to the BBC Writersroom TV Drama Writers’ Festival in Leeds.  My main aim was to galvanise my interest in screen-writing again because, like most creative endeavours, it often feels like an uphill struggle – or whistling in the wind.  I was extremely, I mean EXTREMELY, lucky to see my first TV pitch, Blue Murder, get greenlit and become a successful returning series.  That is the stuff of fairytales but since then, I’ve had much more experience of not getting projects off the ground.  Of having meetings with commissioners and producers where I pitch my ideas and see them crushed (in the nicest possible way) one by one.  The responses usually go along the lines of ‘we’ve got one of them in development, we don’t want any cop shows, we don’t do private eyes, we’re hanging fire on legal dramas, we’ve got one of them, and one of them, and (insert name of uber-writer) is doing a show looking at that world with us.’

What was refreshing about the conference was understanding that this is how it is, 99% of the time for all writers, even the ones who seem to be at the top of the game.  And that scripts can get written and paid for and everything be going swimmingly until the plug or rug is pulled.  A panel with Danny Brocklehurst and Toby Whithouse and Mark Catley looked at ‘The One That Got Away’ – and there was more than one – they were myriad!  And then there are the fairytales.  Wonderful to hear Chris Chibnall talk to Ben Stephenson about Broadchurch, Sally Wainwright and Nicola Schindler discuss the development of Last Tango with Peter Bowker and Dominic Mitchell and the team at BBC North describe the creation of In The Flesh.  All shows I love.  Good too to meet writers from theatre and radio and swap stories of where we’ve been and where we’re going – or would like to go.

So, when I can possibly carve out some time from my novel writing I will work on some new ideas to pitch for television.  I will!  Just don’t hold your breath…

PS The BBC Writersroom is a very useful website – do have a look if you’re not familiar with it.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/