Course language

So there I was, minding my own business in several senses of the phrase, and running a free online writing course. It was about how exactly to make time to write and it was going very well. Except, I think you see where this is going, three weeks into it, we all got handed far more time than we ever wanted.

I actually thought about cancelling this free course. It was all online, all long prepared with videos and lessons and assignments, but the lockdown was so overwhelming me that I couldn’t write and figured I was unlikely to be alone in that.

However, that stasis-like sensation, that paralysis, not only stopped me writing, it stopped me stopping the course. I was that bad for a while, but now I am in all ways relieved that I was. Because people continued doing the course, they worked through its fourth week. And in a sudden spurt of writing, I quite radically changed the final week.

I don’t know why. Week five ended up having exactly the same lessons, so to speak, as it was going to. Of course it did, this was the culmination of a whole course. But I rewrote it and somehow it became much more personal than I’d expected. You know that writing is far from being just about the words on the page, it’s more about the words underneath those, and there is something different in that new final week. Something better.

And then there was this.

There is nothing or at least extremely little that I do to relax. Everything I am interested in, pretty much, I’ve managed to make part of my job so that is fantastic when I’m working and appallingly bad when I’m not.

Except when I was in that course’s final week, when I was in writing, I felt better. Writing that, then yesterday finally finishing the first draft of an extraordinarily difficult script, and right now today writing to you, I don’t feel locked down, I don’t feel self-isolated. I’m a little hungry, since we’re sharing quite so much detail, but writing turns out to be where I go when I need to be somewhere else.

We finished that free course a couple of weeks ago and the students on it have been wonderful. I’ve got to share this one with you, I’ve got to:

This course has honestly changed my life. In five weeks, my novel has grown from 15,000 words to 60,000. If that isn’t a huge success, I don’t know what is.

I know what that is. It is bloody joyous. Thank you, Leanne.

The way that made me feel and the way that writing now makes me feel –– well, it must always have been like this but I’m feeling the haven more these days –– means I’ve got to do it again. The plan was to launch many, many paid courses later in the year, but now I’ve created an entirely new one solely for us, solely for now.

Using This Time to Write” is about exactly how to get yourself writing during all of this. I will say this forever: nobody has to write anything. But you’re a writer, you can write, and I think now you’re ready for it.

Plus, more than anything else, I now think that writing will help you. Let’s you and I get you started, going, and writing forever – even or especially after all of this is behind us.

So “Using This Time to Write” has been a bit of a mad-dash adventure, creating three nights of mostly video lessons plus lots of written details, assignments, everything. I hope you find it as much fun to do as I did to create it, and I hope you don’t find it quite as exhausting.

This course will never run again. I will also never again shoot so much video while needing a haircut. And while you can sign up for the course now as I write this, you have to do so by the end of next Monday, May the 4th. I can’t get any more people on after that date.

So do please go take a look at it and see what you think. Actually, let me show you a short video I made about it too. That’s below. With the hair.

One last thing. “Using This Time to Write” is a paid course but there’s a special lower price for previous students. That’s what it says on the site, but I want you and I to read “previous students” as “plus friends”, okay? You’re a pal, I owe you, click that special lower rate and if anyone asks, tell them I sent you.

Full circle

You’re supposed to know when you’ve come full circle, you’re supposed to notice it happening.

And most of the time, I have. I can look very easily at how I was a Doctor Who fan as a child and now I write Doctor Who radio dramas. Actually, there’s a famous Doctor Who story from Tom Baker’s years called Full Circle and now I’ve worked alongside its writer, Andrew Smith.

Then there was Lou Grant, the television drama that is responsible for my becoming a writer. I watched it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the very names on the credits becoming as familiar to me as I understand football players are to sports fans. I haven’t completed that circle by now writing understatedly brilliant television drama, but once in a while those names on the credits are now names in my email inbox.

I can vividly see myself buying the new issue of Radio Times one week in 1996 when it announced it was going online with what would become I can vividly feel how I felt I’d missed a boat there, that I should’ve been involved somehow, that I wanted to be involved somehow. Shortly afterwards, I started working for them and Radio Times magazine plus became probably my biggest single and consistent freelance writing gig throughout the 2000s.

Same thing with BBC Ceefax. I wrote for the teletext service on the Paramount Comedy Channel and was very glad to get to do it but really it was BBC Ceefax I was aiming for. Actually, I remember pranking my mother with a news story that looked like it was on Ceefax but I’d written up on a BBC Micro. (This was in the days of BBC Micros, it was before the day that pranking became a word. I was a rebel.) Not very many years later, I was leaving messages for my wife Angela Gallagher hidden in pages of the real Ceefax.


You knew there was a but.

Easily the biggest, most marked, most rattle-me-to-my-core full circle happened this week and I did not know until it was too late.

I ran a trio of writing workshops at Newman University. (My sister went there when it was Newman College. I thought that was the circle for the day.) It was at Newman and it was for the University but it was with school children. The university was recruiting, really. There was an open day, there was a tour and then three of us local writers each ran three of these workshop sessions.

There was an extra fun to this in that the school groups were divided into three and they each stayed in their room all morning, it was we writers who had to race around the campus. There was an extra eeek to this in that I’d run into a room that had just had a workshop run by storyteller Cat Weatherill or poet Alan Kurly McGeachie. Follow that, William.

I think I did. I know I had a good time, I hope the schoolkids did. At the end, when everyone was gathered in a lecture hall, I had a quick count and I reckon there were 100 kids. I think they were mainly from three or four schools and I hadn’t actually heard of any of those.


When it was all done and half the pupils had headed out on their guided tours of the campus, I was standing near some staff planning the next day.

And I saw the name of my school on the page.

My old school, the one I nearly named here but have spent so long decrying that a decent Google search and a bit of elbow grease could even build you up a picture of me libelling that place, allegedly.

Let me tell you quickly. I had fights at my school, not just fistfights with the other pupils but a political one with a member of staff whose oncoming nervous breakdown somehow made him want to have me kicked out. I had a careers lesson in which the teacher did not just laugh at my saying I wanted to write, he got the entire class to laugh with him. I should own up to having been a poor student, but this was a bad school and all I got from it were the kind of bruises that did help in journalism but let’s not give them any credit. And I also got a bucketful of embarrassing memories of just how much and just how many of my year I fancied, but fortunately that’s not the point here.

The point is that I’ve now visited a lot of schools as a writer and I have never come so close to my own one. They were going to be in Newman University the next day and I wasn’t. That was so close that I felt jolted.

So it was really more of a kick to hear “No, that’s today’s list”.

I turned to the students left and asked if any were from this school that again I just began typing the name of, you’ve got to stop me. But there were none. As I understand it, only a very few came from this place, it wasn’t one of the main schools who were there.


Without question, without doubt and unfortunately without knowing it, this week I taught some kids from my own school.

I’ve come full circle. I’m rather excited by this, I am certainly more than a little freaked. Maybe if I’d known it would happen, if I’d known it was happening, that would’ve been easier. But knowing I have done it and not being able to know which kids had been from there, it’s on that borderline between tantalising and disturbing. I’ll admit, since it’s just you and me here, that it did also make me feel old. It did also make me feel a bit strange. I’m wondering if this makes me square or loopy.


You’re supposed to know when you’ve come full circle, you’re supposed to notice it happening.