As yet untitled, damnit

I was a judge at a Royal Television Society school day contest earlier this week and one team called their proposed TV show “Help! I’ve Lost My Dignity”. They nearly won on the title alone. Earlier this autumn, I was struggling with a title for a collection of stories. Earlier this year I was arguing over the title for another project. Instantly, after three prods, a week, two months and half a year, I immediately realised that I wanted to talk to you about titles. I just didn’t and don’t know what to call this.

Tell a lie: it was four prods.

A few days ago the script to the pilot of Timeless leaked online. I really like this show – it’s coming to E4 soonish but I have a US iTunes Store account so I’ve been watching it about a day after it airs in the States – and I envied its title. That would’ve been just right for my collection. The bastards. Only, as well as a very revealing deleted scene, the script also shows that the series was going to be called Time.

That’s it. Just Time. I felt better: they had to go through some trouble to get to a great title and they managed it.

But then that reminded me of how it seems everyone goes through the same hell and they continue to. Jeremy Clarkson and the other two who are late of Top Gear are about to start a car series called The Grand Tour but it was going to be called Gear Knobs.

When that was rejected – I can’t imagine why – they also looked at Speedbird, No Limits, Dip Sticks and The Best Car Show… in The World.

Speaking of words that might not pass muster on a broadcast channel, have a read of Elizabeth Meriwether’s pitch for the US comedy New Girl sometime. It is a gorgeous piece of writing, so alive and full of verve, and it begins with this: “The working title of the show is ‘Chicks and Dicks’. But obviously this isn’t France, so we’ll have to change it.”

New Girl is a bit of a dull title and progressively out of date as the new woman of the name has now been around for something like five seasons. Whereas The Good Wife was a great title for a brilliant series. I just hanker for one of its working titles: among an apparently 75-100 considered names there was The Whole Truth, In The Spotlight and – wait for it – Leave the Bastard.

I also love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but would’ve been just as happy if it had been called Tooken. That title makes its way into a single sentence of dialogue in one episode. Whereas in the UK Phil Redmond went further when he wanted to call his show Meadowcroft but legal concerns forced him to change it to Brookside. Reportedly in its early years you can see characters in Brookside watching TV – and the show they’re tuned in to is a drama called Meadowcroft.

That’s the subtlest way of airing a working title. Less subtle is actually calling your show by one name and maybe later on fixing it. So Seinfeld aired for a season as The Seinfeld Chronicles. The sitcom Ellen’s famous and excellent coming out two-parter was disguised from the network with the innocuous title The Puppy Episode and in the end aired as that.

Whereas the whole show Ellen aired for one season as These Friends of Mine. It was then reportedly renamed Ellen because of potential confusion with a new hit called Friends. Though speaking of Friends, that was going to be called Six of One or Across the Hall. It was sold to the network without a title but then went a long way with the name Friends Like Us.

Which reminds me: My So-Called Life was originally Someone Like Me. I do love and cherish MSCL from its title to its end credits but Someone Like Me was very clever for a tale of a high school teenager feeling estranged and different to everyone around her.

None of which is helping me find titles for a collection or, since I’ve now decided I loathe some of my story titles, any good story titles. I’ve been around the houses on this subject – oh, EastEnders was going to be called Round the Houses. Also East 8. I’ve got a book somewhere that talks about the terribly problems they had finding a title for them. It seemed to work out.

Everything does when you get a good title. I know that a good title catches the readers’ or the audience’s eye and attention but there’s more to it than that. When I’ve got a good title, my writing flies. Pity I haven’t found a clever title for our chat this week.

It’s not you, it’s me

Okay, you may have trouble swallowing this considering how I go on at you every week. But when we meet in person, I am infinitely – infinitely – more interested in you than I am in me. Have I said this to you before? I tell you everything, I must’ve mentioned it: my attitude when nattering away with someone is that I know all about me, I was there, I saw me do it, let’s talk about you.

Truly, time spent talking about me is wasted and boring. I’m not knocking myself, I’m just not interested and I have plenty of time to know me, I might get only minutes with you. And look at you: look at all you’re doing, all you know that I don’t, how could I possibly waste any time talking about me?

I got told off for this today.

I saw a friend for a coffee – she’s Steph Vidal-Hall, she does coaching for creatives and you could look her up right now – and she is doing so much that is so interesting. I was really looking forward to learning about it all.

And I did find out a lot but she also tricked me.

Before I knew it, I was telling her about a job I have on that is worrying me, about projects that are vastly delayed because of my cold, and I was even telling her about a thing recently that went spectacularly well for me.

Clearly I will never have coffee with this woman again.

She argued that this is how conversation between friends is supposed to be. I can’t disagree. I do also wonder if I’m a bit selfish in conversations, wanting to ditch me and talk about you.

This is all a small and maybe obvious point but I’m thinking about it a lot now. Previously, I admit this, I’ve liked that I put the spotlight on you. That’s mostly because that is exactly where the spotlight should be, but also we’ve all had people who can barely hide that they exist to tell you about themselves. So I have enjoyed not being like that.

Plus, my lights, you cannot believe the things people have told me. It is amazingly flattering and I’d give you examples but for how that would be rather destroying the whole trust that I seem to have got from strangers and friends alike.

I’ve looped around this thought before and always managed to kick it to the kerb. But today’s friend did two things that fixed the issue in my head and also made me want to talk to you about it.

First, she pointed out that she has previously enjoyed our chats but gone away feeling bad that they had been so completely about her.

And, second, she helped me.

I have this job on and I am nervous about it. I’m still nervous, I’m not going to say she changed my mind and has made me look forward to it, but she gave me a nudge that helped. It’s a nudge that may mean I get over these particular nerves given time, it definitely means I had a moment when I actually felt relaxed.

Also, she bought the tea.

If we were chatting face to face now I’d be grabbing your arm and bringing you over to her.

Let’s all get a tea some time and you can tell us about you, Steph can tell us about her, and hopefully you’ll both take long enough that I have time to make up some interesting lies.

Library of Birmingham speech

Just over a year since the gorgeous Library of Birmingham was opened, it’s under threat. More than half of its staff face redundancy, about half of its opening hours may be cut. Even in those opening hours and even if the staff that remain happen to be the experts you need, access to the Library’s archives will be further limited.

There was a public meeting this week, organised by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, which saw the Library’s Studio Theatre full. Two hundred people turned out at 5pm on a wet Wednesday to have their say from the audience and six speakers got to have their say from the stage.

I was one of those six: I was there representing the Writers’ Guild. I want you to know about this. You can listen to the audio recording of my part here – though my mother warns you that afterwards Soundcloud goes straight on to an ancient BBC Radio interview with me – and the full text is below.

Since I had an almighty accident with the text on my iPad on the night (my finger grazed an on-screen button that fired off an automated reformatting and replacement of the last two thirds of it) I had to deliver most of it from memory. So this text is slightly fuller, slightly more detailed than I said on the night.

Go support the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, would you?

Hello.

I’m William Gallagher, I’m regional representative of the Writers’ Guild here in the West Midlands. And I speak to you today very much on behalf of the whole Writers’ Guild, the national union, because this is a national issue. It’s an international issue.

It’s international and it is personal.

For I am a writer, I am from Birmingham, I am recently returned here from London. So you know the crisis facing our Library is important to me. You know it is.

Actually, you know exactly how I feel about this because it is obvious. A writer. A Brummie. It is impossible not to feel shaking rage that this is happening.

Except.

It turns out that it is possible to feel other things as well.

Maybe less obvious things. Certainly things I don’t believe are being considered.

Such as embarrassment.

I’m regional rep for the Writers’ Guild and today I’m here for the whole union. But being the regional representative more often means representing Birmingham and the West Midlands to the Guild. I was embarrassed telling them about the cuts. I needn’t have been, as it turns out, because they knew the second I did, they feel the same way I do. To the national Writers’ Guild union, this is not a Birmingham problem, this is a national issue.

But to me, it is also personal and it is also very much Birmingham, and I was embarrassed. Telling Londoners.

Shaking rage and embarrassment.

How about shame? I am ashamed of what’s happening in my city.

Now, I am proud to be part of the arts and culture world that we have all created here in the Midlands but as well as arts and culture and media and literature, I am a businessman.

I’m a full-time self-employed freelance writer. I create my own work. I hire actors, I commission other writers, I book venues. I am a businessman. And this is supposed to be a great time for business in Birmingham. The city wants to attract companies, the city needs to attract companies, the entire point of HS2 is to bring businesses here to the city.

We are telling the world that Birmingham is a fantastic place for business.

But we are showing them that we can’t even keep our Library open.

Shaking rage, embarrassment, shame. One more.

Fear.

I am actually frightened for what this means to the future of our city. Now, that sounds like a bit of a reach. The library closes and a few writers have to buy more books on Amazon. Amazon needs the money. But no. It’s more.

I have taught writing to schoolkids in this very building. Schoolkids in the 21st century, thrilled to be coming to a library, having the best and the loudest day and then leaving roaring with excitement.

I think that’s worth the world.

But let’s talk hard business cash.

Take one hundred of those kids, any one hundred of them. How many will become writers? Novelists, poets, scriptwriters, journalists, playwrights, sports reporters nearly count, how many? There is no way to know. That’s one reason this kind of decision is easy: you can’t measure it.

And you do know that it won’t be many. Statistically, there is even a good chance the answer is none. That not one of those particular hundred kids will do what I did, will make writing their career. That makes it even easier: who needs the library?

But.

All one hundred – all of them, every single one, one hundred percent – go away from this Library able to write, able to communicate. They go away communicating at the top of their lungs, they go away working together, creating together. They go away with books, they go away with ideas, they go away seeing, actually seeing, that art and writing and communication is something vital, something they can do and that it is something they might be capable of doing well.

All one hundred – all of them, every single one, one hundred percent – will use what they get from this Library in whatever career they have. They will do well in their careers because of this Library, because of communication.

A teacher told me here, told me in this building, that he can look around a class and tell you which kids are readers and which are not. It is that obvious. It is that physically obvious. Reading and writing and seeing what reading and writing does, it changes all of us. It improves all of us. It improves and it empowers our city.

I’ve come back to Birmingham after years of commuting to London. Now I’m back I wish I’d never left because Birmingham and the West Midlands have this vibrancy, they have all this creativity – and we have this Library of Birmingham.

And we’re thinking of cutting it.

So yes, I am afraid. I am afraid, I am ashamed, I am embarrassed and I am shaking with rage.