Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How it all began... 2007

So after yesterday’s nonsense, a proper introduction…

I’m a writer (doing a boring admin-y job to pay the bills), who wants to get into telly. I love continuing drama (so sue me), sci-fi and all the fab American series. Actually, to be honest, I love ALL telly drama. I can watch ANYTHING. I love everything from EastEnders and Six Feet Under to Doctor Who and Gossip Girl to State of Play, Holby City and Dexter. About the only thing I’m not into is procedural drama, as a rule. I love film too and I know a full-length screenplay is probably important to have in the old bag of spec goodies, but… I just prefer telly.

So there.

I’ve also become increasingly interested in radio drama, rather to my surprise. To be honest, I started writing radio plays because I’d heard (and read) that it was a good way in, but the more I did it and the more of them I listened to, the more I realized that it’s a great way to tell stories.

Anyways, I’ve been writing for about three years now (on and off) and a bit of a recap seems about as good as any of starting this blog. So, without further ado.

The story so far…

Year One and it all started off when I saw this – BBC NI’s Tony Doyle award, for new and up-and-coming Irish Writers, writing about Ireland and looking for a break into television.


I’d had an idea in mind for… well, I’d been having ideas for about 30 years, if truth be told. I’d just never done anything about them. But one in particular had been knocking around for a while and seemed perfect for the comp. Only one problem, the deadline was in a week!

So I took a week off work, sat down, wrote the whole thing and sent it off.

“99’er – a 60 min first ep for a series. A girl from London struggles to adapt when she suddenly finds herself living in the backwaters of Northern Ireland and working for an over-bearing boss in a company where everyone hates her. As things go from bad to worse, salvation unexpectedly arrives in the form of a mad, chaotic Irish-Italian family who own the local ice-cream parlour – especially when our hero meets the daughter…”

How could they not love that?

Well because I did almost EVERYTHING wrong. The first scene was 10 pages. 10 pages! Of two people talking!! I didn’t plan it out, or structure it (structure? what was that?), I just started writing. Page 1, line 1 and off I went. I didn't use any recognisable formatting. In fact, I didn't use any formatting AT ALL. And the descriptions... Pages of description of clothes, furniture, ice cream cones, anything, they went on FOREVER. Then people started talking (cause I couldn't have them actually DO anything, naturally. That would be too obvious. No. Just long, long speeches and people just…. talking… about themselves… for PAGES AND PAGES.

I knew nothing. Bless. Considering how obsessed I’d been with TV my whole life, it amazes me looking back how little I knew about story or character or... anything.

The upside? I wrote. Solidly. For a week. And I loved it. I had a ball. Best. Time. Ever. Nothing will ever replace the absolute joy I had that week just... writing. And not only that, but realising after all that time of talking about writing and thinking about writing and not writing that I LOVED it. The fears that I'd had in the back of my mind that I couldn't do it, that I'd never finish it, that I wouldn't know what I was doing just disappeared. They didn't matter. I was having a ball. And despite all the mistakes, despite all the flaws, I finished it. And that changed everything. Knowing that I could actually finish something.

A few months later a polite “no thanks” letter arrived.

I was gutted. Kinda. The fact is, I’d spend the intervening months reading every blog and article I could find on t’internet, so I was beginning to realize the error of my ways, and just what a bag of poo I’d sent out. But still, I'd had that little hope that they'd recognize the genius behind the crap.

They didn't. They just saw the crap.

I'd obviously done a REALLY good job of hiding the genius.

Undeterred, I moved on to the RTE Radio Drama P J O’Connor Awards. I’d never even thought of writing for radio before, but I was young and innocent and up for anything.

Well, innocent anyway.

Oh, and I had three days before the deadline. And I still went for it. Like I say, innocent. Or maybe just stupid at that point. Anyway, I didn’t make that deadline (go figure...) but I did start to think in radio terms. Well, after pacing around the room for hours trying to work out clever ways of NOT writing:


FRANCESCA: Hello! Why, it’s Giorgio! How are you, Giorgio? And is that your brother, Luca, you’ve brought with you? And what’s that you’ve got there? A present? For me! Oh, a new coat! And it’s blue! My favourite colour!

You get the idea (and if anyone can tell me how to indent the dialogue there like it would be on the page, I'd be very grateful).

Trying to overcome the fact that the audience can’t see anything, and yet finding ways to make them “see” what you want them to, is a bit of a head shift, but once you get your head round that it’s great fun. Overcoming the challenges is often what leads you to the best ideas. Anyway, once the deadline had passed, I lost interest (I’m good like that).

However, “Francesca and Giorgio” was to prove to be surprisingly important in the long run…

Later that year, I entered yet another competition, this time run by - “Staffroom Monologues” . You had to… well, write a monologue… for a teacher… in a staffroom. You also had to be a teacher to apply, or involved in teaching/schools in some way, but I figured my 5 years teaching English as a foreign language made me eligible. Monologues had to be 800-1000 words in length and the whole thing was judged by Tony Marchant. To be honest, I thought it would be fairly easy (stupid guy pops up again). But coming up with something that has an impact in such a short amount of time was a tough call. Also, looking back, I was looking for competitions that I felt were doable in the timeframe and which might get me some kind of credit, rather than writing what I wanted to write. I was also being tempted by competition deadlines as an incentive. And easy habit to fall into, but do you actually want to write whatever it is they’re asking for? Competitons are great, and a great way of getting noticed, but you have to make sure that the parameters and context are something that you feel comfortable with. Still, it was an interesting thing to go for and, best of all, kept me writing. Check the winners out here.

Anyway, the rest of that year was spent on the internet – reading all those blogs (including ALL the old posts), gobbling up other people’s experience and hoping some of it would rub off. And it was great training. There is a wealth of stuff out there. Danny Stack, Jason Arnopp, David Bishop, Lucy Hay, Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton – all full of advice and experience. And entertaining too. If you haven’t already read those guys, get over there right now. It's absolutely INVALUABLE stuff. Of course, I didn't understand the half of it - turning points, inciting incidents, loglines, treatments and endless discussions on story versus character. What were they on about? To be honest, I still don't get some of that stuff, but the more I write, the more it slots into place (usually when I've messed it up for the nth time and then read some blog and look at my script and go, "Ahhh... the hero's not being active!" or "Ahhh... the hero's want doesn't conflict with his need!" or "Ahhh... there is no hero..."

But I'm learning.

Next time... 2008 and I get somewhere in a comp, TAPS comes calling and the Sharpshooters are born...


  1. What? You mean that my blog wasn't highly influential in your development as a writer.

  2. You entrance comes in 2008 (or was it 2009?). There's gonna be a whole blog post dedicated just to you. I'm thinking of calling it "Adrian Bentley: The man, the myth..."

  3. I should think so too. I would hate to think that I wasted the half hour I spent on it.

  4. If he (Adrian) gets one (whole blog post), then I want one too.

    Suitable words you might want to choose for me include... legend, brilliant, erudite, eloquent etc.

  5. dammit... and I just used up all those words for Adrian...