So it turns out that I can talk. Possibly you’re not surprised, especially if you followed a link here expecting Strictly Come Dancing chatter. There is plenty and it contains News: you’ll find it here, which is the metric equivalent of about an inch down the page.
But it turns out I can talk and it was a little startling to me.
Specifically, I can pitch.
The one thing that spoiled the London Screenwriters’ Festival for me last weekend was the dread and the fear of pitching an idea to people in a speed-pitching session. And then the things that risked overwhelming the whole festival for me were the fire in me when I got to do the pitching and the elation when it went so well.
It’s interesting to me that what I got out of a writing festival was speech but that was always going to be the way. No matter what anyone tells you about courses, nobody can teach you how to write. Get better at it. Get more successful at it. But writing itself, no. I don’t know if this troubles you at all, but in case it does I will also point out that there are many fine people who state without question that if you were to spend 10,000 hours on your writing you would become a fantastic writer.
If you believe that, please come back when you’re on hour 9,999 and we’ll talk.
Even then, see, it’s all about talking. I used to truly wonder if writers are the people who don’t write.
Then I met several hundred who all wrote, all the time, and still had lives so long as you count other jobs and wine o’clock as lives.
I did get into a natter about science that had nothing to do with writing and everything to do with entirely fascinating me. I did meet people who proved to be as funny in the flesh as they do on Twitter.
And every one of them has at least one great script or great project – oftentimes they left it up to you to work out which it was – and every one of them was increasingly fired up by this festival weekend.
I wasn’t going to the London Screenwriters’ Festival until I got a bursary for it from Screen West Midlands: thank you very much to them. It’s first time I’ve been directly funded for an arts event and it was an event I was very keen to go to so that was particularly good news that could not possibly have even a hint of a dark cloud.
It had rain instead.
I learnt that as part of the bursary, I got to take part in the speed pitching sessions. I just had to tell them ahead of time what my project was so the organisers could match me up with people who might be interested. The project I got the bursary on wouldn’t do: it’s tied up with a producer already. So I said the first one that came to mind, the first script of mine I could think of.
I contemplated pitching the idea without rereading the script or even entirely fully remembering a single thing about it.
Somehow that just seemed to make a five-minute speed pitch feel like it was going to last an hour. So I read. And, since it’s you, I’ll tell you I enjoyed the piece. It’d been a year since I looked at it and I’d forgotten so much that I got into the story again.
Let me skip ahead: all three people I pitched to liked the idea.
But let me skip back: I’m a writer on a bursary who has to show what he’s got and do it at lightspeed. I was genuinely scared going in to this session and it coloured the whole first day of the festival for me.
Since you ask, the colour was a kind of Doppler effect: all blue in the morning before it, all brilliant red in the afternoon after. I left that room ten feet tall and wouldn’t have noticed if the rest of the festival was bad or perhaps if it even happened at all.
I’m bubbly about this event just talking to you, feeling anew that rush that came before the chin-on-desk slump when I got back home to work. There were things that didn’t go well at the festival: one speaker advised new writers to write a spec Absolutely Fabulous script. Silly man. “Hello, Mr or Mrs or Ms Producer, here’s a script I’ve written for a show that finished ten years ago. I promise I haven’t spent a decade on it and I do know that comedy has moved on a bit since then. Can I have a commission now, please?”
But I learnt that soaps are brutal and harsh and so very like the newsrooms I was trained in that they appeal to me again. I found out that German television makes a billion and a half single dramas every hour where UK TV hasn’t since the 1960s. I fortunately also found out that German television translates British-language scripts.
And of all the events, I had the best time in a crime one run by Barbara Machin. Finally, someone else who likes crime and doesn’t care whodunit. Or rather, that’s the least important thing in a crime tale that’s any good.
It sounds a bit off, but hearing people you rate saying the same things you believe is rather invigorating. Please agree with me in the comments here and make me feel great.
I have learnt for next year, however. I’ve learnt that I need to practice my trade more, I need to build up writing muscles, I need to exercise what resilient skills I have: oh yes, next year I too must be able to stay up drinking Pepsi until 7am and losing my voice.
If you want to know more about Screen West Midlands who funded me, they have a particularly fine website here. And as for the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2011, you’ll probably hear about it first on creative director Chris Jones’s blog.