Writers take note: steam rooms rock

My gym has an enormous super-steamy steam room. You can never see the edges and you can never truly tell if you’re in it alone or there are twenty others in there with you. And it’s the best place to listen to a wide cross-section of people’s conversations. Which – if you’re holed up in your local coffee shop – you probably aren’t.

Super-steamy steam rooms are great because the people in them totally forget – or simply don’t know – someone else is right in there with them. So they’re more natural.

So I get to hear a group of 20-something lads who work in a local hotel talking about how to “ask out the girl in laundry”.  Or the late-thirties post-stag weekenders who are ready to “drop all that going-on-a-bender shit” but don’t know how to tell their mates.  Or the women talking about “those scary Brexit signs on the M4 and the ads on the radio”. It’s a chance to dip into so many people’s lives and listen to how they talk, what they talk about … and I suppose it’s a bit creepy too.

Thanks super-steamy steam room.

WHO PUT THE “S” IN “ISLAND”? Jacob Rees-Mogg probably did…

Super entertaining news this week that Jacob Rees-Mogg (esquire) has written a memo to the cabinet informing his colleagues that they should NOT use the words very, ongoing, yourself, speculate, ascertain, disappoint … amongst others.  And he also went on to make it very (sic) clear that all non-titled males should have “esq” after their name, there are double spaces after full stops and there’s never a comma after “and”.

How ridiculous.  How can the man possibly think he can control the language, that he even thinks he has the right to control the language, and what sort of message is he sending out in trying to do such a thing?

Very aptly, given that JRM (esq) is jokingly referred to as the right Honourable Member for the eighteenth century, in that very period Boswell, Swift, Johnson and others wanted to ‘fix’ the language.  By bringing out his dictionary, Johnson wanted to ensure the language didn’t change or degenerate over time.  And his colleagues decided that English needed to look more Latin because Latin = classy.  So they “Latinised” Germanic words, for example by shoving the letter “s” into the world “island” …

… and they also shoved a “c” into “scissors”.   Thanks guys, English wasn’t nearly difficult enough to spell.

But what they failed to grasp, and what JRM (esq) doesn’t get, is that language is a liquid, not a solid, and it morphs and changes over time and bends to its user.   And that’s the beauty of it.  It’s a common to us all but the way we use it is personal and distinct.     We demand the right to use ascertain.

Having said all that, those people who litter their prose with “some” do actually need taking out and shooting…

If men could see us as we really are …

I was searching for a quotation to add some colour to a pitch I’m putting together for a highway woman drama I’ve written. Well … I really lucked out with this one.

When I read the quote it actually sent a shiver down my spine: not least because it’s as relevant today as it was when it was written 170 years ago and that’s actually really bloody depressing when you think about it.

Enough – here it is.

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend”

Charlotte Bronte, Shirley, 1849

What would she have made of the film industry I wonder…

Writers are surrogates

Here’s a definition of surrogacy …

Surrogacy is an arrangement, often supported by a legal agreement, whereby a woman (the surrogate mother) agrees to become pregnant and give birth to a child for another person(s) who is or will become the parent(s) of the child.

Which is pretty much what it means to be a scriptwriter…

Scriptwriting is an arrangement, often supported by a legal agreement, whereby a woman (but usually a man) agrees to bring a script into the world for a Producer(s) who is or will become the parent(s) of the project.

Because being a scriptwriter means giving away your babies … and it’s so damn hard!  At the heart of it, a writer – just like any creative – has their own creative integrity.  And we have to hold on to it, defend it, but also let it go.   How am I supposed to defend it and simultaneously let it go?

OK so I could wrangle more control and become a writer/director … but then my actors will veer from the exact line of my script. And once the editor gets their hands on it …

The bottom line is … collaborating is a good thing.  My feature script has reached new height thanks to my producers and Ffilm Cymru’s feedback.  It would never be so rich and pacey and diverse if it wasn’t for their input.   I guess the secret to success is you just need to choose your collaborators with care – so when your script takes its first steps without you, it’s in safe hands.

Save the world: write

I love surveys, and I love BAFTA, so the news that the two have combined just made me very happy last week.  LINK HERE

In a report they’ve titled Subtitles to Save the World the academy – and Deloitte – analysed the subtitles of non-news programmes across the major broadcasteers over year and found (surprise!) Brexit is one of the most mentioned terms … and way down the list, after cats, cake, Shakespeare and picnic (!) came climate change.

Is it really so side-lined?

BAFTA went further, with the chairwoman urging the industry to tell powerful, human stories to connect audiences with the world around them.  If we write about it, our audience will think about it, and if they’ll think about it … well maybe they can make a difference.

And the very, super, wonderful best thing about the whole thing is that my current spec children’s TV script is just about that: a family saving the world in an everyday way.  Hurrah!

Reduce, reuse, recycle, rewrite…

“Well you’ve nailed the title”: surviving script editing

It was the funniest thing … I’d been so looking forward to my script editing session with industry heavyweight Kate Leys (Churchill, Lady Macbeth) that I’d completely failed to consider …  what if she thinks my script sucks???


So there I was, pootling along Piccadilly on my way to BAFTA HQ to meet her, now absolutely terrified.  Like going to the Headmaster’s office when you’ve broken a window.

I’d met Kate before, she’d been with me on stage at BAFTA when I’d won the Rocliffe award.  At that time – many, many drafts ago – she’d spelt out exactly what was wrong with the early draft script (“not enough goes wrong, Claire!”) and I’d built in her criticism but … what was now in store for me?

Well, truth be told, it was fantastic.  She didn’t talk scenes or dialogue or pace, she went right to the heart of story and everything came out from there.  The producers, Kate and I refined exactly what’s at the heart of the story (and thank God I’ve nailed the title!) and all the work from now on – and there’s plenty – should come out of that.

The session highlighted for me the fact that the initial stage of script development, that thinking, considering, developing of the idea is crucial to the success of the finished piece.  If you haven’t thought through your concept well enough at the first hurdle then you’re setting yourself up for all  kinds of trouble later on.  And that’s a stage I do find hard because often there’s hardly anything to show for it.  A few post-it notes, scribbled notepad pages, much desk research.  Far better to be typing away furiously at a script.  But It’s definitely encouraged me to slow down and make that first stage count.