Friday, 9 December 2011


I can't remember where I got this ScreenwritingU video from but it has some invaluable information on how to make an impact with a script within the first three pages to attract the attention of producers.

I'll be working to the rules for a script that just needs a bit of a tweak which I'll be sending out in the new year and it's great to be writing again after suffering a massive block during the last couple of months.

My former tutor said there is no such thing as writer's block and suddenly not being able to write was more about a loss of confidence than about a loss of talent. I've never had it before. It meant that whatever idea I came up with, I scrapped, or backed away from, and even looking at anything I'm working on filled me with horror.

It's been hell but suddenly this week the ability to write, the excitement of writing, and to know what I'm writing about has returned. It's a huge relief and great to be back inside my characters' world looking at ways of making them tell the stories in my head.

My next challenge is to try and write a fictional short story of 100 words with a competition in mind. I've picked up some tips from HERE and HERE but I'm sceptical of entering either linked competitions if a fee is involved.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Susie tumbled out of bed as the phone rang. Sleep hadn't quite disappeared and her head was in a fog. Clarity pushed through crashed dreams to focus on the fact that Poppy hated it when she left the answer phone to pick up. Susie rang her yesterday, trying to connect, just to say hello, keep in touch, but Poppy didn't pick up. Funny how it seemed OK for Poppy to ignore Susie's calls but Susie got a rollocking whenever she left the answer phone to filter out who she should call back.

Despite her protestations, Susie felt sure Poppy was secretly pleased at getting a recorded message rather than her mum. It got harder to know what to talk about since Poppy left their home town for a job as a health visitor 300 miles away. They couldn't have become more different in just three years. Poppy, it seemed, wasn't particularly interested in what Susie had to chat about anymore but Susie felt she had to try and make some sort of effort or they would drift even further apart.

She paused before picking up. Did she really want to speak to Poppy now, half asleep and imperfect? She'd say something wrong. She always did but mostly never realised it. Just being herself seemed to offend Poppy these days. Yes, she was bitter at the lack of contact but she didn't know how to make it stop. The more Poppy stayed away, the more Susie nagged her about it, the more Poppy didn't want to come home at all.

Susie felt she was losing her daughter and soon she'd be out of Poppy's life without trace if she didn't try to bridge that divide that widened each and every time they came into contact with each other. Susie could acknowledge it was 50/50 but Poppy never tried. She just stormed off as soon as Susie broached any subject that Poppy didn't want to hear about.

A flash of memory shot through and cleared the last of the sleep haze as Susie rubbed her eyes and in the whisper of a moment she felt Poppy's soft black hair snuggled into her neck in the intimacy they shared as mother and child. Things were easy then. Poppy needed her mum and loved her. Susie was the centre of Poppy's world. Now Susie felt like she was a nuisance just because she was there and wanted desperately to see Poppy who appeared to make any excuse she could not to visit.

Susie lifted the receiver to her ear. It wasn't Poppy. Her throat felt like the bottom of a bird cage, her voice sounded like an old 33 and third scratched vinyl copy of a Billie Holliday song on a shaky old gramaphone.

"You haven't just got up, have you?"

It was Mary, her sister.

Susie cleared her throat : "Yes, so what? I thought you were Poppy or I wouldn't have got up and answered the phone. And anyway, I've no reason to get up early. It just makes the day longer.

"Well, Poppy just called me to say she's coming home. She left about an hour ago so I reckon she'll arrive in another couple of hours - probably 3pm-ish."

Susie felt that pain again. Like a twisted knife in her chest - the pain that only Poppy made her feel.

"So how come she never called me?"

"She said she tried - the answering machine was on. You know how much she hates it."

Susie looked at the phone. The light on the answering machine flickered in alert that someone had called.

"Ah. I never heard it."

"You should stop smoking that crap Sue and then you'd have a clearer head, and Poppy wouldn't worry so much about coming to see you. I mean imagine if..."

"...that's just an excuse."

"Well she is a leading health worker who hates smoking never mind the added risk of that stuff that you insist on using despite what she thinks. It would hardly do her career any good if she was at your house and you got busted."

"I won't and she knows it. It's something I've done for years - why should she make it a problem now? She should stand by me instead of always having a go at me about it. It's not like I haven't always done it. It's me - who I am."

"Look, kid yourself all you want but try not to upset Poppy when she comes. You know, instead of having a go at her for not coming home more often why not try just enjoying the time you've got together. And make sure that you're hash is out of sight."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I always do anyway," Susie said but her heart felt chewed and she swallowed hard. Her throat was still dry. She needed a drink.

She put the receiver down and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

"Fat chance of this going well," she thought to herself. No matter how hard she tried, or what she did, it seemed she and Poppy were genetically predisposed to fall out. Last time it was about her refusal to quit smoking. The time before because she had a political view on smoking. The time before that because Susie smoked weed and Poppy didn't approve. And the time before that because Poppy insisted staying with her dad and his new woman.

Suddenly, Susie didn't want Poppy to come home but she knew she'd have to put aside her fears, not talk of the things that interested her, stay off any subject about smoking and dad, especially, and crack on and get ready to be the perfect host. She'd stick to polite and banal - safe ground but not the place she wanted to be - not with the daughter she hoped would be a lifelong friend.

Susie sighed, hugged her dressing gown around her and moved towards the bedroom. She picked up her stash tin from the dressing table and checked her plants under the window. Growing marijuana was her hobby and smoking it was something she'd done for the last 40 years. She'd just plucked and dried a very nice piece of African herb which she sprinkled into a cigarette paper and topped it with tobacco - again home grown, Susie's additional new hobby. She liked growing her own. Poppy wouldn't be interested. She hated smoking full stop and that was something Susie would be unable to do during her visit. In short, she couldn't be herself and that was all she knew.

She sat back in a bedroom chair and inhaled deeply and felt more relaxed with each draw. Some of her friends that she started smoking with in her teens had matured and given up. Poppy always said Susie needed to grow up and give up but she had little else in life these days to extract so much pleasure from and it was about self-medication after all. When she was down, sad, angry, tired she smoked. When Neil left her for Julie she smoked for 48 hours without a break and then sank into the sleep of the dead. The only way to numb the pain.

The alternative was to be like her own mother who she watched go downhill rapidly in a physical and mental sense after doctors turned her into a prescription drug addict. To help her quit smoking they said. She lost her mum then and never got her back. She died a quivering and sweating wreck after a fall took her to hospital and they cut her NHS drugs off dead to make her go through cold turkey. She didn't survive the experience. Susie swore she wouldn't be like that. If she had a problem with hash, if it led to financial instability, or a mental breakdown, then she would give it up but she felt no need to abandon something that gave her so much pleasure and so much comfort even if it was illegal.

Some of Susie's friends still smoked weed and only one seemed to have developed some sort of psychosis but then she was a bit of a nutter before she started anyway. Susie hadn't seen her for years. Best avoided she thought as she inhaled the last of her spliff and crushed it out in the ashtray.

Poppy's visit now loomed like a dark cloud full of thunder and Susie felt an urge to run, to get out of the house and just not be in when Poppy arrived, but instead she stepped into the shower to wash away the stench of the smoke that her daughter hated so much

Saturday, 6 August 2011


How to write this crime novel that has been floating in my head for more than a year has given me some trouble and following it to nowhere is not helping a lot.

I did wonder if creating some sort of step plan, as one does for script writing, would help to clear the way and create a path and after reading THIS, I think it might well be the answer.

Updates to follow when this plan is in the bag.

Friday, 5 August 2011


During my MA fiction course, we had to submit a piece of work about once a month for critique. I hated that partly because I was too busy with work to give fiction my full attention and partly because I knew whatever I submitted in haste was always going to be crap.

As a result, most of my submissions got very heavily criticised - even laughed at to my shame - which resulted in me wanting to run a million miles away from anything to do with short stories or novels.

I did, however, begin to write a crime novel. Now I'm a year away from it, I can see why it caused such a giggle and why it was so crap which immediately made me want to scrap it but instead I began to tweak it, rethink my characters, and let it lead me to where it's going rather than the other way around.

I have an idea of what it's supposed to be about so I'm hoping that by going back to my 2000 words a day fiction writing target that it will all somehow begin to take shape.

If that happens anytime within the next year, I'll let you know.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


I get ideas all the time for writing scripts but with four now of a very different nature in the bag, I don't much see the point of writing more until at least some interest in shown by producers or agents in those I have already.

That is maybe a bit of a defeatist attitude but the truth is I wanted to write fiction and script not so much as a hobby anymore as a new market for paid work and a new career progression.

I did my MA in the hope that it would give some sort of insight into the industry and of course to learn to write to industry standard. As I got a First for my dissertation, I figured I'd proved myself capable with the skills needed to write screen plays and all I had to do was to find someone who would take me seriously.

That script has been to just one agent and two production companies. The agent said no thanks with no other feedback than the script did not make them react. The producers haven't bothered to respond so I guess the silence speaks for itself.

Looking back at the script after taking almost a year out, I can see it still has many faults but without guidance and mentoring from someone in the industry who can perhaps pinpoint more exactly what's wrong with it, I guess it'll stay on file or just get spiked as I really am stumped for ideas of what to do with it and where to send it.

I also have paid work as a journalist to find which is taking up more of my time than I'd like and again despite my qualifications and 20 years of experience, finding any work in the newspaper industry is proving nigh on impossible in this time of austerity cutbacks and news by press release.

I guess as far as the scripts are concerned, I need to root through the lists of agents and producers and probably spend the next year or two hoping that one will actually read it. They get millions each week I am sure and I don't know what there is about my scripts that offers anything new. Maybe the email links provided just send new writer's work into spam boxes so I guess my best bet is to get myself several new printer cartridges, print off several copies, send them to all on the list and cross my fingers.

Failing that I can't think of how to get my work to the attention of anyone in the industry who might be interested in it. It's like fumbling in the dark trying to find the light switch without success but wish me luck. I'm surely going to need it.


Jade heard the knock on the door and stopped to look in the hall mirror before opening it. Her fingers brushed away a small piece of white fluff from her black coat. Not sure about the boots. Too late to change now.

Michael stood on the other side, dressed in a dark suit that stood out against the colour of cold snow.

“Are you ready?”

“As I’m ever going to be.”

Jade stepped out, shut the door carefully and examined the ground before taking small steps on the ice. One foot slipped as soon as the smooth surface of the boot’s narrow sole hit the icy footpath. She fell backwards and looked like a windmill as her outstretched arms flapped about trying to secure her balance. Michael took hold of her arm and steadied her. she gripped her fingers around his sleeve like a wrestler in a clinch.

Michael guided her to the passenger side of the car. She waited as he walked round and stepped in. A moment later she was inside. It was warm.

“You alright?“

“Yes. Just not used to snow. Especially in these boots. Should have worn my wellies or my trainers but I told Mum I’d make an effort.“

Head forwards, she watched as Michael drove slowly and negotiated his way off the estate and onto the main road which was clear with snow pushed up against each side. An old couple gripped onto each other and the hedge that lined houses on the pavement as they slipped their way along an icy path with fresh fall.

”Thanks, by the way.”

Michael flicked her a look.

“For coming with me. I didn’t really want to go on my own and I didn‘t want to be in that funeral car. Easier to escape afterwards.”

“No worries. But I don’t even know why you’re bothering. I didn’t think you liked him that much.”

“Not many people did. Mum‘s still in shock. I’m going for her. It was a bit, er, you know … sudden.“

“As long as it doesn’t take all day. I told Emily I’d get the kids from school.”

“I think it’s just this morning but we might have to drop in after for a little while. I offered to organise things for her but she wouldn’t have it. Costing a fortune as well.”

“Always was a bit stubborn, your mum. “

“Quite, but this is going to be hard for her and she needs support even if she thinks she doesn’t.”

“Shame he was such a bad tempered old git. Don‘t you remember that time…”


“Yes, yes, I know but you couldn’t take him anywhere. Embarrassing. Especially when women were around. I don’t know why your Mum put up with it.…. And he could be a right nasty bastard when the mood took him.”

Jade put her head in her hands and then swept her dark, long hair, back from her face.

“He wasn’t like that always. He was lovely when he first came. It was only as he got older. I think his mind had gone a bit…”

The heater in the car whirred hot air into Jade’s face.

“… It’s quite warm,” she said, as she pulled her scarf from around her neck.

Michael fiddled with a switch and the whirr whispered in a lower, cooler breath.

“Is Kelly or your brother coming?”

“Kelly said she would. Don’t know about him. Aunty Flo‘ll be there.“

“Maybe you ought to phone and check?”

Jade’s eyebrows arched . She dipped into the black handbag by her feet and pulled out her mobile phone. She looked across at Michael, began to dial and held it to her ear.

As she waited for Kelly to pick up, she pointed to the left.

“Ooh - this way, Michael - It’s by the hospital.”

He cursed: “Shit. I’ll have to turn back at the roundabout ahead.”

Jade tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and stared down at her knees as the phone at the other end picked up. “Oh, hi Kelly. It’s me. Are you still coming today?”

Michael couldn’t hear the response but he saw Jade‘s smile began to slide downwards as she listened.

“Yes, I know, but Mum wanted us all there. Even Michael’s coming and he’s only a cousin. You know she’ll never let it drop if you don’t come….”

Jade held the phone away from her ear and all Michael could hear were obscenities.

“Look Kelly. OK. I know he hasn’t always been around but he was good for mum - despite his faults. You know how much she loved him… and don’t forget, if she didn’t have him she would only have been whining for us to spend more time with her as she got older… “

Michael nudged Jade’s arm and nodded ahead. They’d caught up with the funeral car on Hospital Road. It was in front of an impatient racing cyclist who was zig-zagging in the space between the hearst and Michael’s white Vauxhall, Michael wasn’t sure if he was going to overtake on the inside or the outside. Traffic crawled behind them all.

“Yes, yes, I know he was. Please Kelly. For mum.”

There was silence as Jade listened. She sighed a resigned “OK” , ended the call and slapped the phone shut, holding it between her fingers like a prayer.

“She says she hated him. She doesn’t see the point of all of this and she thinks Mum will be a lot better off without him. They never got on those two. She tried sticking the boot in when Aunty Flo first brought him round… and the way he used to look at her. They just got off on the wrong foot and never had a chance to put things right as the years went on.“

Jade unclasped the phone and dialled again as the hearst turned off the main road and onto crunchy snow. It‘s 15mph slowed to 5mph. The funeral car had a floral show in the back and a small arrangement spelled out with a bouquet ; JIM.

Jade shook her head, clasped the phone shut, and put it in her bag.

“No answer. He‘s not there.“

“Or just not picking up,” Michael cut in.

The cars moved through snow covered gates that led into a cold and bleak small cemetery. Engraved stone tombs lay embedded in white which hid most of the details of the dead and who loved them. The cortege inched it’s way towards to an open grave and stopped.

A thick stockinged-leg finished off with low black ankle boots pushed out of a door, opened by a streak of a funeral assistant in top hat and tails. The elderly woman, with silver-white short hair and wearing a thick, black fleece, turned, and reached back to help the other elderly lady who was half way out with a stick. The second woman pushed away the offer of help from an outstretched arm and shuffled out of the car with some difficulty.

Once outside. The two women stood, ankle deep in snow, huddled and shivering as Jade stepped carefully towards them while gripping onto Michael’s arm.

“Hi, Aunty Flo. How is she?“

“I’m not so old or so stupid, I can’t speak for myself, you know!” the woman with a stick snapped.

“Sorry, Mum. You know I didn’t mean that.”

“Well, for your information. I’m fine. But I‘ll never get over this. Do you hear? Never!”

“Time’s a great healer, Ruth,” Aunty Flo said.

Ruth scowled.

“Come on, Mum. You’ll be fine, you’ll see.“

“He was such a good frie… “ the end of the word came out like an aching limb.

Michael handed her a hankie. She blew. Loud, like a trumpet playing, screwed up the hankie and pushed it back into Michael’s hand.

“Thank you.“ She nodded towards Jade. “It’s very good of you to bring her.”

Michael walked to a bin and wiped his hand down his trouser leg.

“Where’s Kelly?”

“She tried, mum, she really did, but she just couldn’t get the time off work.”

Ruth sniffed and pursed her lips.

“At least your brother sent flowers.” She nodded at the JIM.

“Yes. I did wonder about that.”

“It’s the thought that counts.“ Flo put her hand on Ruth’s shoulder. She turned to Jade. “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He didn’t realise it’s supposed to have the name of the deceased and not the person who sent it. But never mind.”

“Jim’s always been such a good boy,” Ruth said.

The thin funeral assistant was joined by his shorter, stocky colleague and between them they carried the coffin at a jaunty angle, due to their respective heights, to the open grave where a woman in a black cape, and holding a black book, waited at the head.

“I couldn’t have had him cremated. I just couldn’t.“ Ruth sniffed.

Jade patted her mother’s arm as they walked slowly behind the coffin carriers. Her new boots were ruined but at least they stopped her feet getting wet. The thick snow was easier to negotiate than the icy pathway

Michael, with hands clasped in respect, walked next to Flo. His feet were soaking and he couldn’t wait for all this to end.

Flo nodded down at her feet: “I’m the same. But we’ll all get a nice cup of hot tea back at Ruth’s. Are you coming , Michael?”

“Maybe just one cup, aunty Flo but I can’t stop. Kids, you know.”

They arrived at the graveside. The coffin was placed on planks ready to be lowered in. Ruth let out a gurgling cry of grief and launched forward towards the coffin. She slipped, her stick angled away from her, and she fell before Jade could catch her. Ruth, lying in the snow, picked up a handful and threw it to the ground.

“I just loved you so much. My Boy. My friend. My All.”

Jade, Michael and Flo, reached down and helped Ruth to her feet. Michael looked like he was about to explode through facial skin. His face hurt trying to keep a sombre look when every muscle twitched and urged him to roar with laughter.

“It’s alright you sniggering, Michael, but he was always there for me. So loyal, forgiving, he’d have died to protect me if he had to. Unconditional love, that’s what he gave me. You don’t get that very often. Who’s going to be there for me now?”

The woman in the cape began to speak as the assistants lowered the coffin in.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” She threw in a small handful of soil from the newly unearthed mound by the side of the grave, topped with white. It scattered across the brass name plate.

“We commit the body of Scruff, great friend and companion of Ruth Robinson for 16 long years, to the ground. “

Ruth hobbled forward. She took out a photograph of herself with a collie dog and a brown, leather collar, rather worn around the edges, from a bag passed to her by Flo, and threw them into the grave.

Michael rolled his eyes and checked his watch. Jade nudged him. Flo stroked Ruth’s back as she sobbed. The woman with the cape muttered some kind of prayer and after a minute’s reflection in silence, it was all over.

The cortege turned and walked back towards the car. As soon as they were out of sight, a man in a waterproof coat which said Pet Cemetery on the breast pocket moved in. He drew in the last of a cigarette, threw the stump into the hole, picked up a shovel, and began to fill in the grave.