Talkback

Last night I was asked to give a talk about dialogue. The poor fools. They thought they’d get me for an hour or something, but instead I got them. Barricaded the room and settled in for at least a month’s discussion about this.

I’m quite keen on dialogue.

Toward the end of the session’s official, planned, reported running time, though, one man there asked a question that ultimately became the answer. Not just to his point, but actually to just about everything I love about dialogue in scripts and prose fiction.

He asked whether what I was really saying was that character comes first. That without the characters, the dialogue won’t ever be any good.

I know that this is what I have always believed, I know it. But – possibly ironically given the topic of the talk – it was someone saying it that made it work. That made it real and concrete.

For all the things I could enthuse at about dialogue, as I pulled down this barricade stuff and let them out as free human beings once more, it does come to this. What a character wants, what a character does, who a character is, that is what makes dialogue powerful.

We had an example last night, for instance – wait, I’m making an example of an example, I’m not sure that’s even allowed. Anyway. We had an example of one character who is advising another not to take a particular job.

If that first character is a good friend looking out for his or her pal’s best interests, the dialogue will be one thing. If this first character wants the job and is trying to get rid of some competition, it will be something else.

The words will be remarkably similar, but the dialogue will be totally different.

I would like to say that I went last night to bubble over at people about this wonderful topic. You could say that I grandly went to dispense wisdom.

But you can’t and I won’t deny that I learned something.

Accented characters

I’ve a friend who insists, really strongly insists, that he has no accent whatsoever. He’s American. I just look at him. But then this week, I was asked if I had deliberately changed my own accent.

I’m from Birmingham in the UK and if it’s fair to say we have a particular accent, then it’s very unfair how that accent gets maligned. When a Cockney tells you that your accent makes you sound stupid, truly the only thing you can say is “goodbye”.

As it happens, I don’t speak in a particularly Birmingham accent, but I am deeply uncomfortable at the idea I might have deliberately done that. I vow to you that I haven’t, but the very idea cuts deep into me and in part, I think because it connects to a key failing I think I have in my writing.

Let me triple underline that I have not and would not deliberately change my accent. I’m told that at times a sudden stab of Brummie will come out of me in some particular word. Good. If I cannot change my accent to avoid Brummie, I suppose I can’t in all conscience choose to change it so that I am more Birmingham, but I am proud of where I come from and where I live now, and enough so that I want you to know. If you get that from me actually telling you, fine. If you get it from a sudden Brummie word, all the better.

I used to tell people that my accent is what it is because I grew up watching Bob Hope films. But as I said to the person who asked me about it this week, I’m no longer comfortable saying that because of how Hope treated his writers.

He used to make them all stand at the bottom of some stairs while he was at the top. He would write their cheques and throw them down to them.

Maybe I could just amend my accent explanation, maybe I could just be more precisely accurate. I grew up watching the Road movies that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were in. Seven movies from 1940 to 1960-something, so long before I was born, but films like Road to Singapore, Road to Rio.

My favourite is Road to Morocco, and probably because it contains one of my favourite lines from any film. It’s a quite tortuous line that Hope and Crosby manage to sing on their journey and it goes: “Like Webster’s International Dictionary, we’re Morocco-bound.”

Now you’re looking at me.

I wonder if my clearly British but otherwise not apparently very precise accent is less my exposure to American films, and more because of this writing failure.

I could tell you the history of Birmingham. I have been a kind of tour guide for the place, I’ve dragged friends from the US and Canada around it. With friend and writer Yasmin Ali, I’ve put a visitor from Myanmar through every possible site in the city. I remember when I eventually left him and Yasmin, I actually sank to the street, my legs were evaporated.

When an interviewee recently described Manchester as Britain’s second city, I switched off the audio recorder and gave him a talking to.

When a college friend insisted that actually Nottingham should be the second city, I explained “Bollocks”.

Yet apart from right now, here, talking with you, I don’t think you ever see Birmingham in my writing. It’s certainly not from any particular decision, and I do have a current script that’s set here in the city, but my writing is definitely not riddled with my home town.

And I do think that’s a failing.

Alan Plater’s work, for instance, was so often not just set in the North East, but positively imbued with the place. You can think of so many more, too. Places, usually home towns, that seep into a writer’s work and, I think, give it something I lack.

I have set more writing in the TARDIS than I have in Birmingham.

And this is all on my mind again because the friend who asked about my accent did so at a book event. There’s a new book called “Spake: Dialect and Voices from the West Midlands“, published by the great Nine Arches Press. It’s a collection of prose and poetry and essays about and using the dialects –

– sudden flashback to school. I’m in a technology lesson and the teacher is talking about computer languages and dialects. Then he finally writes that word on the board and the whole class goes “Oh, I see” because it had kept sounding like he was saying “Daleks”.

The book is funny and insightful and it’s a collection of writing from writers whose work I relish and some of whom, I know and relish as people too.

Each piece is about myriad other topics as well, but they all touch on location and they are all deeply steeped in the different regional accents and dialects of the West Midlands. I think sometimes it’s piled on a bit for effect, but the effect is brilliant.

The more precisely defined that a region is in these pieces, the more specific and particular the words and the grammar and the sounds of the writing, the more universal it all is. You may not know what a particular word means, but still it gives the writing life and verve.

You can’t make this stuff up, I can’t fake an accent I don’t have, and I suspect my writing will always lack this core, but that doesn’t mean I have to be okay about it.

EU, Me and 58keys

Some days I’m glad we’ve got this self distract thing. Such as today, January 31, 2019, a day when I’m embarrassed and mortified and ill about the UK leaving the EU.

Oh, this week was going to be so easy. I like talking to you and I don’t ever seem to be quiet, but some times I just know what I want to say, I can’t wait to tell you something and I cannot wait to see your face. This would be one of those weeks as I’ve just two days ago launched a new YouTube series that I’m really pleased about.

But, Brexit.

So much so that even though it’s you, I did consider shutting up today. Just as I did back when the Brexit vote result was announced. That day I was too paralysed to write to you, today I’m bruising. That day I thought there was nothing I could do, and this day I know there’s nothing I can do but sod it, sod everything, I’m doing things anyway.

Such as making things. My new show is called “58keys” and it’s for writers – what else would I do? – but specifically for writers who use iPhones, iPads and Macs. YouTube loves a really, really specific niche and this suits me because I know bugger-all about Android, Windows and PCs.

If that’s of use to you, do please take a look and maybe do all that subscribing lark, but by design it isn’t for everyone. And yet maybe the name 58keys is.

Or maybe it isn’t.

I’ve decided to be mysterious.

I wasn’t going to be. There’s a whole new shiny website for the project and up until about half an hour before its launch on Wednesday, it featured a page that explained why it was called 58keys.

But I announced on Facebook and Twitter that it was coming and enough people told me they liked the title that I decided to remove that page. If they like it without knowing what it means, I figured, maybe I could build up some tension and suspense.

Or maybe I can’t.

I’m not sure that mysterious is working for me.

Listen, I like the name, I like the series, but even though you know that whenever you do something like this you’re supposed to shout about it from the ceiling and include links at everypossibleopportunity, I wouldn’t have gone on about it with you. I’d have told you, I have to tell you, it’s you, how could I not?

However, the reason I’ve kept thinking about it is not the topic and not the name. It’s just because I did it. I decided to make a YouTube series and it is out there now, it is real and it is live. Whether it’s good or not, that’s one thing. I’m too close to it to see either the good or bad. But that it’s real is true and undeniable.

Okay, I said I’d do it by the end of January 2020 and my teeth lost a layer of skin in the process, but it’s real.

And if you’re thinking that’s very nice for me, I think you’re right. I needed to do something. This is something, I needed to do it. The Brexit syllogism.

You know I love writing. But, always, my favourite thing is thinking of something and then doing it. Turning an idea into something physical or at least, given that most of my work is online, something concrete.

Making, creating, building, producing, it’s all better than pulling out of the EU.

On this last day in the European Union, I may be regretting that I don’t drink, but I will definitely be talking on the radio about the best television couples in comedy and drama, I will be working on a play, and even if it takes huge effort, what I will remember of this week is that I created 58keys.

Make something of yourself

A friend was on Sky News on Wednesday night and I tuned in early to make sure I saw her. Sky News has a permanent countdown clock at top left on the screen and it was saying 9 Days, so many hours, so many minutes, so many seconds.

For quite a few of those seconds I was actually wondering what in the world was going to happen in nine days.

Then just in the same instant that I realised, the clock confirmed it by rotating to briefly display a banner saying “Brexit Countdown”.

And then I got to spend all the time between then and when my friend was on thinking about what in the world is going to happen in nine days.

I think you can go so far into misery about this that it’s paralysing. The only Friday I haven’t talked to you in about seven years was the one when the Brexit vote was announced.

I do also think that you can go too far the other way, that you can decide to abandon politics because it isn’t working, the system is broken and there’s nothing you can do. True, it isn’t working, the system is broken and there’s nothing you can do. But it doesn’t get fixed by turning your back on it – even if you are in any kind of position to do that.

Yet, maybe just because of that countdown and this impending day, I do need to think about mental health. And I do need to think about one particular thing.

It’s that we need to make things.

This isn’t really about politics, it’s really about us and the world today. I know people who are astute in their political opinions which they tell me about a lot – but they don’t actually do anything. I professionally know people who have opinions about art – but never create any.

I ran a workshop this week about vlogging, a day for musicians, actors, journalists and writers about making videos and series of videos. At one point we got deep into a discussion about how you deal with comments, with internet trolls really.

And partly because I was watching the clock and did need us to get on to the next, I said something that I didn’t realise I truly meant.

Ignore the comments, I said. Ignore everything and just keep on making things. Control what you can control, make what you can.

I’ve been thinking about that since I said it.

Listen, I see you as a writer but even if you also dabble in other things like art or a proper job, make something. I think you need to.

Childhood’s start

I’ve been waiting all week to tell you something but instead a completely different, pretty much entirely forgotten memory has come back. I’d vow to you that it was entirely forgotten, except that obviously I’ve remembered it.

It’s about a friend I had in school. I won’t name him, chiefly because I cannot quite grasp his name across all these years – but we fell out. I’m not sure when it was now. Fourth year of school? Fifth? No idea. Plus I’ve no clue what happened, though I suspect that’s not just because the chasm of time involved. I’ve a sense that didn’t know then, either. I remember it hurt. It was one of those where your friend is suddenly someone else’s friend instead, you know the thing.

But as I close my eyes, really squeeze them tight shut and try to remember his name or even just picture him, what I’m seeing instead is a Doctor Who book. For some reason, and who knows why, the closest thing I’ve got to a concrete memory is of his reading a Who book called Horror of Fang Rock by Terrance Dicks.

I hope he was a Doctor Who fan, that it wasn’t just the book he’d happened to pick up out of the school library. Because he should’ve stuck with me, kid. For this week I’m the one who got to make an obituary speech about Terrance Dicks at the Writers’ Guild Awards.

More than 200 of the UK’s finest writers watched me speak – and so did Terrance Dicks’s family. I’m not sure which made me more nervous, but his family being in the room, these writers, the sheer honour of talking at those awards and the unimaginable privilege of being the one to deliver this writer’s obituary, I was shaking before I started.

I’m relieved to tell you it went fine. Actually, solely since it’s you, I’ll tell you that it could not have gone one pixel better.

But if it was all the thinking about my own reading of Dicks’s novels back in the day that brought this old school friend to mind, this has coincidentally been a bit of a week for nostalgia all round. And not all of it good.

I’ve been watching Alan Plater’s 1990s episodes of Dalziel and Pascoe, remembering the stories he told me about its production, and getting weirdly sentimental about the days when mobile phones were bricks and there were still Dillons bookstores.

I’ve been reading one of Isaac Asimov’s books, The End of Eternity. When I was a schoolboy, I thought it and he were marvellous. It didn’t take much growing up for me to spot that Asimov writes like a schoolboy, but still the ideas in that book are tremendous. Unfortunately, this week I learned that Asimov used to go around snapping at the elastic on women’s bras. And reportedly rather than shaking some woman’s hand once, he shook her breast instead.

Cheers, Isaac. Made me queasy. I read your autobiography, I want to un-read it now.

Fortunately, though, there was one more thing this week. Something much nicer.

This week I can tell you of a 1970s legend whose reputation will never be tainted. He might have a world-size ego, but this time he earned it, he deserves to think this highly of himself.

At the Writers’ Guild Awards this Monday, I met and shook paws with Hartley Hare.

He presented the Best Children’s Television Award with his friends Nigel Plaskitt and Gail Renard. (Danger Mouse won, by the way. I punched the air when I found that out, I was so pleased.)

Anyway, follow me for a second. You know that at an awards show, there is a winner and there are runners-up. The presenter says who has been nominated before they read out the winner’s name, and they also say a little something about each show.

There was nothing different about how it was done at these awards, but it was in every way different for me because I wrote the descriptions of the children’s shows. I wrote the descriptions that Hartley Hare read out.

I have written dialogue for Hartley Hare. And I got to be the one to pay tribute to Terrance Dicks.

Take that, you Horror-of-Fang-Rock-schoolfriend-somebody thingy thing.

Unacceptable Language

I don’t know why this has only now occurred to me, but online complaints are rubbish. We’re supposed to have this great online conversation, this ability to go back and forth with friends, strangers, colleagues, artists, but it’s a blunted conversation in every sense.

Someone will do or say something, and then someone else will tell them they’re wrong. It might get heated, it might have others joining in on all sides, but it’s blunted in the sense that it stays only in that moment, only in that level. It doesn’t progress, there isn’t any real back and forth, neither side moves so much as a pixel.

It comes down to someone does something, someone else complains, and the first person shrugs. There may be swearing, but ultimately that’s as flat as it goes.

We should at least be able to review complainers. rank them. You can’t do it, if you even try to say a complainer is wrong then they act like you’re calling them a troll and consequently they act like a troll.

I think this is on my mind now because I had something like three complaints this week and they slotted so easily into categories that I long for there to be categories.

One was just a nutter. Once I’d decoded it and comprehended that his complaint about a piece I’d written was that it wasn’t a piece about something else and therefore I am, I don’t know, a stooge of the capitalist society who should be first up against the wall when then revolution comes, I ranked him as Delete.

I really did just delete it and so now I can’t check whether it actually was a man. but you know it was.

The next definitely was, because he put his name on it. In this case, he was telling me that I’d got something wrong about him in an article and he was right. He was right, I was wrong, I would rather not have had the mistake, I would rather he not have had to email, but I was glad he did and I corrected it.

I also just enjoyed the conversation. That was a pretty good kind of complaint.

But then there was the case of last week’s Self Distract. That featured me boasting about everything I’d done in 2019 and you saying oh, come on, it’s all either typing or yapping, waddya talking about?

Tthe complaint wasn’t that I’d gone on too much, though. I’d have nodded at that. instead, it was saying I’d missed something out.

It was saying that I’d skipped over a five-week workshop series I’d run late in the year and how good it had been.

That’s a pretty lovely complaint to get.

It’s also unequivocally lovely. You get that complaint and there’s no question, it gets slotted into the Lovely category.

So that’s Delete, Lovely and Usefully Enjoyable in the middle.

However, this week I did also have a producer telling me – not as a criticism, just as factual information – that for what I want to do with it, a script of mine features unacceptable language.

She didn’t mean it as a complaint, I didn’t take it as anything other than what I needed to know. But I have never in my entire life been told I use unacceptable language.

I need a category of complaints called William Feels Like a Searing Dramatist Now.

A few thrilling moments (2019)

I need you to work with me on this. There’s a huge part of me that wants to tell you what I did last year. A huge part of that huge part is because I’ll dismiss everything, forget everything, and concentrate instead on what I failed to do if I don’t write it down somewhere like this. If I don’t tell you, basically.

I have written “A few thrilling moments” before – the title is a quote from Grosse Pointe Blank – but I haven’t for a long time and I wasn’t going to show you this year either. But I got a lot of response over Christmas from a tweet and a Facebook status where I recommended that you write this stuff down, specifically if you find New Year’s Eve hard.

Because, man, it’s hard sometimes. I can be having a fine old time and then midnight strikes like a hammer. All I can think of then is what I have failed to do all year and there’s of course so much of it that this thinking takes up the entire next day and multiple aspirin.

Plus, a friend, Heddwen Creaney, wrote her version on Facebook and it was so good that it lifted me, it emboldened me.

So may I tell you about my 2019? If that doesn’t already seem a very long time ago.

For a start, it included the best thing I’ve ever written, so far anyway, which was an incredibly short but deeply intense series of lines of dialogue for the National Trust’s What Is Home project, currently on display at Croome. That was more than a year’s work on what must’ve ended up at around 300 words. Worth every minute.

Also in 2019, I took a week-long research trip to Hull and that is the first time in my career that I’ve ever spent a continuous week on a single drama project. And I produced and directed a Cucumber night of theatre at the Birmingham Rep. That included a brief off-stage spot of acting from me because I was too cheap to hire another actor. And that may have led me to performing short stories of mine at Mouth Pieces or anywhere else that would have me.

I wrote something like 30,000 words in a month by month review of the year for AppleInsider.com, for where I also wrote many hundreds of features and news articles across the whole of 2019.

BBC Radio Wales got me on the phone once as a TV expert, and then BBC Radio Stoke immediately did the same, followed by my first time speaking down an ISDN line to BBC Five Live. I’ve done down the line before, representing Radio Times, but this was a first as myself. And it threw me a little: untold years ago, I used to earn a nice fiver during a BBC Radio WM early morning shift by showing people how to use the NCA Studio (News and Current Affairs) when they were guests on the Today programme. And now someone had to show me how to do it too.

That was in the BBC Mailbox, but Rosie Boulton came to my office to record me for a BBC Radio 4 documentary about writers in Birmingham. She followed one day across the city and I was first up in the documentary because I was first up in the day.

I ran the Room 204 buddying programme for my fifth year and started my first online mailing list for writing projects in 2020. That feels like the next thing I should do: in 2019 I did 90 workshops or other public speaking engagements for various firms and it’s a bit scattershot, I can’t tell you much in advance when or what they’re going to be, and I want to sort that out. Please consider this your personal invitation to join that list of mine: it’d be weird not having you on there.

Mind you, that 90 for other people and organisations did include working on some tremendous projects which were a true privilege to be involved in. I ran or assisted running Writing West Midlands’s Spark Young Writers’ workshops in Walsall and Wolverhampton, for instance. Through that same organisation’s National Writers’ Conference, I finally got to work with friends like Tom Wentworth, Stephanie Ridings, Lisa Blower and Casey Bailey, whose writing I deeply admire, plus spoke on a panel where I learned far more from fellow panelists than I contributed.

Speaking of speaking, I also spoke a couple of times at the National Youth Film Academy. I got to be a part of the Solihull BookFest where it turns out that an attendee had come there in part to check me out.

I didn’t know which person it was, or that they were there for that, but I seemed to do okay because I consequently got hired for a day working with USA teenagers. That was amazing, actually, there’s this decades-old education organisation called Experiment in International Living and I got to be part of the tour they gave these American teens.

Then the 90 speaking things doesn’t include something like 45 podcasts. Nor 7 YouTube videos I’ve produced for a series going live later in January. Nor an evening working with the Royal Television Society at their Big Telly quiz. And through the RTS, I had a great time working with a producer on a radio series proposal that went through some serious consideration at CBBC. It ultimately failed, but what a time.

For a writer, I did seem to spend a lot of time talking, but I did also get to edit Spark Young Writers’ magazine, and write a fair few pieces for The Space, an excellent arts organisation co-funded by the BBC and the Arts Council. I wrote a short story for a friend’s dad, wrote and rewrote many Time stories for a collection of mine now due out in 2020, and toward the end of the year cracked some seemingly impossible drama problems with the Hull project.

I can’t tell you what that project is yet, or even what the problems were, but, grief, they were gigantic. So much so that simply to prove to myself, and a producer, that it was physically possible to write this play, I wrote her the opening and closing scenes as a proof-of-concept. And I tell you this just because it’s you, those closing lines make me cry every time.

I can’t summarise the year without saying that I also cried a lot at my friend the writer Lindsey Bailey’s funeral. Can’t stop thinking of her, either.

Because of that, because of her, I did write my first half poem in some years. As much as poetry now gets to me as a reader, it’s one type of writing I can’t do and that I have never before been compelled to really try. This time, I had to, and poet friends tell me it’s half a poem. I just can’t ever complete it and just can’t stop myself showing you.

Liar

She’s not dead and I don’t know why she keeps saying she is.
She’s waiting to pop back in and it isn’t funny.
She’s in half the people I pass and I don’t want her there.
She’s not dead and I’m never talking to her again.

I don’t know. Nearly a year later, that burns me but I don’t know if it can even warm anyone else.

I also cannot measure where this next thing comes on the scale of good to bad. I’m again Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild, which is great; I represented the Guild at an event, which is great; but that event was Terrance Dicks’s wake.

He was a writer whose Doctor Who work was so influential to me that when I heard of his death, I could feel myself back in 1978 reading one of his books. And I mean feel: the sun of the summer holiday, the weight and the texture of the paperback in my hands.

I wrote an obit for him in the Writers’ Guild and I’ll be presenting another obit for him at the Guild’s awards in January. In 2019 I had a blast attending the Writers’ Guild Awards, for 2020 I’ve worked on them in my capacity as Deputy Chair. Now I just need to write something worth winning one.

I mean it when I say I’m telling you all of this because I will sink if I don’t make myself remember it. And I’m never going to diminish how bad we can all feel if we concentrate on failures.

But there’s also no earthly way that I pretend I haven’t just boasted at you. It’s only a boast if you’re impressed and I don’t know whether any of it seemed more than a shrug to you, but it meant a lot to me. Plus, I was there, I saw it all as it happened.

I’m a writer, a British writer, an ex-Catholic British writer, my stomach is in knots discussing all of this, even with you. But on the one hand, it’s better my stomach than my head.

And on the other, you know I’ll get over myself.

Now, it’s January the 3rd and I have completely failed to do anything at all ever.

Timeless

Apparently it’s Friday, specifically December 27, 2019. Doesn’t feel like a Friday. Feels more like a blurring of times, like 23:30 in the morning, or like some cross between Sunturday and Wedhursday. I know that this is chiefly because of Christmas, but there is also a fair bit of blame to put on Star Wars.

Forty-two years ago, my mom took me to see the original film and yesterday I drove myself to see the last one. That I thought more about that night with my mother than I did the new movie might tell you something, but really, the last Star Wars is fine.

True, I’m not a child anymore who longs for a lightsabre. I’m an adult who yearned for a blaster to shoot some of these characters to stop them talking. For a film series famous for its visuals, it’s astonishing how much we have to be told, such as the fact that there are so many hours before something happens. Er, okay. No earthly way the characters could know that, and they then ignore it except when they remember to tell us again.

It’s when they’re being “funny”, though, that’s when I rooted for the Dark Side.

We are also told again and again that the Dark Side is more fun, basically, but all we actually see are some hellishly uncomfortable-looking seats and no snacks.

I do have a very strong visual memory of being in the cinema to see that first Star Wars film. It’s a stronger visual memory than I have of yesterday’s movie, but I only have flashes of most of them. I don’t mean I’ve forgotten the films, though whenever Episode II or III comes on the TV I cannot be sure I’ve seen them. But I remember leaving a press preview of Episode I with an editor. I remember getting into my seat late for Return of the Jedi in 1983 which meant the first thing I saw of that film was the Death Star. And the first thing I feel is oh, we’ve seen all this before, then.

If I could talk to myself that day, I’d tell me that this is nothing, you just wait for The Force Awakens, kid.

Presumably younger me would then ask how long he had to wait, but I don’t think he’d be that fussed when I told him.

He’d be more interested in whether I turned out to be the man he hoped. But then I could dodge that one easily because little me didn’t think ahead much anyway.

An 11th Top Ten Writing Lesson

Back in 2018, I decided to read a script every day for a year and the only failure was that I got a wee bit carried away and ended up reading 624 of them. I counted. But as you can imagine, my first thought on January 1, 2019, was that thank goodness that was done, I had completed the year, I could relax now.

Unfortunately, my second thought was that I really wanted something to read.

So 2019’s pledge was to stop this reading a script a day, but I screwed up nearly completely. When you and I are done talking today, I’m off to read my 596th of the year.

Give me credit, though, that is less than 624. This is the quality of information you get from me: 596 is less than 624. I’m not wrong.

Then true, as I write this it’s December 20 so there are another 11 days, including today, so there’s a fair to decent chance that I’ll end up having read 606. But that’s still less.

Also, on March 24, 2019, I forgot to do it. So that’s failure in every way possible.

Last year I wrote about the ten things I’d learned from reading daily and this year did reinforce every one of them. But I’d like to add one more, an 11th in my top 10.

It’s this:

11) A good bit at the end isn’t enough

I read most of these scripts for the fun of it, but maybe 70 were actually for work. I’m involved in many different projects that required me to read scripts, and one of them was from a soap. I’m not a soap watcher, nobody expected me to be of any particular use on this part of that project, but I started reading it.

And then asked the person who’d hired me whether I really had to finish.

We both knew there was nothing useful I was going to be able to contribute – and there may even have been a dozen other people on the project so I didn’t matter – but she insisted yes, I had to read it, because there’s a really good bit at the end.

I pointed out that every line on the first few pages was a cliche and she argued that this is the trouble with soaps, they have to have realistic dialogue. They can’t do great speeches, they can’t rely on music and sound effects and green screens.

Yes, I said, but they don’t have to talk bollocks.

Soaps do not have realistic dialogue. They have dialogue that sounds like every other soap. What’s that supposed to mean?

I’m being unfair. This year I read a radio script that you could argue is a soap and it was so good it made me cry. In my mind, that makes it drama, but there’s a decent argument that it’s a soap and so clearly I’m wrong with my all-encompassing, all-sweeping description of soap dialogue.

Whether you like soaps or don’t like soaps, though, if you’re not into the first part of any script and/or you can’t bear the dialogue, my 11th Top Ten writing tip is that a good bit at the end is not nearly enough.

This was all very early on in 2019 and, besides, it’s only you and me here, so I’ll tell you. I didn’t read to the end.

Roguishly handsome

The only time I haven’t written to you on a Friday in at least eight years now is the day after the Brexit vote in 2016. Couldn’t do it. Paralysed. Today, the day after yet another UK General Election, I’m numb.

But I’d like to tell you a story anyway, and it’s this.

I have a thing where I will describe myself, probably far too often, as being roguishly handsome. I can’t remember when or where it started, but I do easily remember how because of course it was a joke.

It was somewhere you couldn’t see me, something like radio or a podcast, maybe just somewhere in text where there was no image of me. And the joke was really in the next line, which ran: “Ah, nobody’s going to check.”

Don’t ask me why it’s roguishly, and please don’t tell me that I do it too often because I know. But if it’s not always followed by that next line, that actual joke, it is always clear from the context that I’m lying.

I know I’m lying, you know I’m lying, it can be quite a happy little moment.

Today I thinking that I might just keep saying it seriously. I might keep saying it with a straight face. I’ll still know I’m lying, you’ll still know too, but on the scale of lies one can apparently tell now without consequences, it’s pretty piddlingly small.

For years, I’ve been politically engaged and then politically enraged, too.

I think I might be spent.