Writing and the Big 300!

It’s not always so easy to come up with a new blog post week after week. It’s even harder to find something extra special for my 300th post. Three hundred posts! I suppose to those of you who have been writing for years, 300 may not be such a big milestone but for an amateur writer like me, it’s pretty special. The crazy thing is this, a few weeks ago I was commenting on one of those online forums, praising WordPress and blogging and someone commented that if I hadn’t been blogging I might have finished my second book! Looking back I now wonder whether that guy was actually right. 300 blog posts, times my average word count per post: That comes to about 20,000 words. Yes, perhaps I could have written my next book. Then again, it’s not just the words, its the idea behind the words, the creative thrust of a book that’s important. Get that and the book should just follow. Still, that fellow had a point. Should I give up my blog posts in favour of my book? Well, if that would guarantee me producing a book then yes, great! The thing is, it’s not a lack of words that have kept my book in a constant state of unfinishedness (is that a word? If Norman Mailer can invent words then so can I.) It’s really my own laziness.

Laziness, fear of the blank page, procrastination, they are all enemies of the writer. The only way to overcome them is just to keep on writing. If you are writing a blog post and it wont come, switch to something else; that other post you had on the back burner or that  script you had started a few years back. A great deal of my work is done like that, in small bursts of activity. A while back I had an idea for a film screenplay and worked away creating the first quarter of the work. Later I decided to turn it into a book and as I worked with the text, adding in all sorts of detail that wasn’t in the original script, the story came alive to me in a different way and I started to bring something new to the book version. Don’t hold your breath though, its still far from completion.

On a number of occasions I get an idea for a scene, a single scene for a screenplay or even a book. Just a scene, not a book or screenplay idea, just an idea for a short scene. Occasionally I’ll write something and see an opening for that scene, a little space that the scene will fit in and perhaps take one of the characters from A to C when before there was a yawning chasm at B!

The other day my brother and I were talking about war pictures and I said that war films don’t really do it for me but then, my brother reeled off a number of war films that I love. World War 2 Films like The Wooden Horse, First of the Few, The Cruel Sea, The Great Escape, and The Dambusters. Then there are modern classics like Platoon and Born on the Fouth of July from director Oliver Stone. Platoon is a particular favourite of mine; it was written and directed by Stone and based on his personal experiences in Vietnam, which made it all the more relevant and emotional.

Anyway, I’m talking about war films for a reason, which is this. My scene, the one that I’m waiting for a story to fit it into, is from a war film. It goes like this:

EXTERIOR. WORLD WAR 2 BATTLEFIELD. SHELLS ARE BURSTING ALL AROUND. MACHINE GUN FIRE RAKES THE AREA AND A WOUNDED SOLIDER STUMBLES INTO A FOX HOLE. SOLDIERS RUN TO HIS AID. THEY TURN HIM OVER AND LIFT HIS HEAD UP.

THE SOLDIER COUGHS AND TRIES TO SPEAK.

SOLDIER 1: Take it easy son. Don’t try to talk.

SOLDIER 2: HE LIGHTS A CIGARETTE AND SLIPS IT INTO THE WOUNDED SOILDIER’S MOUTH.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS AND CHOKES.

SOLDIER 1: What did I tell you kid? Don’t try and talk. The medic’s on the way over. Save your strength.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS EVEN MORE.

SOLDIIER 2: Sarge, I think he’s trying to tell us something.

SOLDIER SPITS OUT THE CIGARETTE.

CLOSE UP:

(By the way, I did mention it was a comedy scene , didn’t I?)

WOUNDED SOLDIER: I don’t . .smoke..

Oh well. Here’s another script story. Ages ago when I first met Liz and we began socialising in St Annes, we started frequenting Wetherspoons there. It’s a pretty friendly pub and we made friends with quite a few people. There was Big Steve who I wrote about in another post but we also met two guys, Craig and Danny (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent!) They were brothers in law who were married to twin sisters and they both owned and ran small hotels in St Annes. The hotels were on the same street opposite each other and the  sisters were identical twins so their whole scenario seemed to scream ‘sitcom’ to me.

I used to ask them what funny things had happened to them in their work as hoteliers and being married to identical women. ‘Loads of things’ they would always say but I could never get any details. Anyway, when I had a quiet moment I started off a pilot sit com script using their situation, rival hoteliers married to identical sisters. It’s nothing brilliant but mildly amusing and it sat in my documents folder for a long time. Every now and again when I slipped into that blank page syndrome, I’d pull out the script and add a few more pages.

Not long ago I noticed on one of my occasional visits to the BBC Writersroom page that a window of opportunity was coming up for a sitcom script. The BBC, rather than accepting ‘spec’ scripts all year round open a small ‘window’ of a few weeks where you can submit your work in certain areas, sometimes a film script or a play, sometimes drama, other times situation comedy. I went back to my sitcom script,  pulled it quickly into some sort of shape, added an ending and bunged it off to the BBC. Now I sit glued to my inbox with bated breath, awaiting the BBC email that may or may not even arrive.

Of course, I do wonder what might happen if the BBC actually decided that my sitcom script is worth making into a pilot? That would be fun having my work made into a TV show. Imagine if it was succesful! Imagine if the BBC said we’re going to make a twelve episode series! Imagine me trying to write twelve episodes when it took me months to write one 25 minute episode! Even the great Spike MIlligan had a nervous breakdown writing the numerous scripts of the radio show ‘The Goon Show’. Of course, someone at the BBC could be reading this very post. Did I say something about 12 episodes? Would I be able to write 12 episodes?

Of course! What’s 12 episodes to a top writer like me? I might even start episode 2 straight away. Well, straight away after a cup of tea. And maybe a sandwich. Better make it first thing tomorrow. Well, tomorrow afternoon might be better . .


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!

Dynamic People and the Movie Business.

I always used to the think the TV and movie business was full of creative people. It isn’t. Sure, there are creative people, people who write and direct and act but for the main part, the industry is full of dynamic people, people who get things done, people who make things happen.

I am many things, some good, some bad, but not by any stretch of the imagination can I be called dynamic.

A long time ago, fresh from my encounter with channel four (read about my Taxi project here) I was determined to break into film and TV. I had a friend called Nathan (once again, names may have been changed to protect the innocent) who was interested in video and we made some video movies together on a pretty amateur level. We lost contact for a while but we both saw an advert in the ‘Manchester Evening News’ advertising Manchester’s new film office. Neither of us knew what the film office was so we both went down to see what it was, to see if we could maybe get a job there or make some contacts or even if we could get someone to listen to us for a few minutes. It turned out the film office was just that, an office for film makers who wanted to film on the streets of Manchester and the office would facilitate that. Anyway, because of that we met up again and Nathan and I started to chat about our ambitions. Nathan had found a comedy script written by an old friend and wanted to make it into a comedy TV show. It was about a Yorkshire yokel and the silly things that happened to him so we put together a ‘treatment’ as they say in the business and took it to channel 4.

“Great,” they said, “we like it!”

“Great,” we answered, “can we have the money to make a pilot?”

“No,” they said, but if we made one they’d look at it. Well that was it I thought but Nathan went away and came back to me a few days later. He had placed adverts in the press looking for actors and needed me to help him with the first rehearsal!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I have to say I was surprised and a little and shocked but I looked at Nathan, dynamic Nathan, with new found awe and respect. Numerous people turned up at Nathan’s place and Nathan gave out parts and we had our first read through. Afterwards Nathan cooked a meal; basic stuff, beans, toast and so on, but he cooked a meal for the assembled company. Most of them were students so perhaps John thought that was a good way to keep them coming back! The one problem was that our star actor, and here my memory has failed me a little, I can’t remember if the star actor was a friend of Nathan’s or the writer or Nathan’s mate’s friend or whatever but the star actor lived in Huddersfield. He played the leading part but he was too busy to come over to Greater Manchester and mix with his fellow TV actors and crew. In fact he felt we should all go over to Huddersfield!

Anyway, rehearsals continued without our lead and we chose an actor from our new troupe to stand in for the lead. The lead’s mother was played by a lady from Stockport amateur rep and she seemed to feel that perhaps we were more amateur than her and resigned. Her place was taken by a young black girl who did a great Yorkshire accent and generally played the part pretty well.

A week later she astounded us by playing the part in a Caribbean accent.

“What are you doing?” I asked, and she explained that her mother was a Caribbean immigrant and therefore a black woman of that age in Yorkshire must have been an immigrant also. Her logic was clear and she was playing a good part, bringing her own background and experience to the role so we said, “great. Carry on.”

A few weeks later the guy playing the yokel’s father left and our Caribbean girl suggested a replacement. It was another black actor so we gave him a shot and he worked well with the ‘mother’, also playing things from a Caribbean perspective. Now about this time I was concentrating on the video side and I was busy trying to get Panasonic to lend me a broadcast standard video camera so we could shoot our pilot. When I returned to our ‘set’ a few weeks later we had lost control of the shoot. Our Yorkshire yokel project had become a sort of Afro-Caribbean meets Yorkshire project and on top of that, John, and it is probably an understatement to describe him here as a fellow who liked the ladies,  Nathan had lost no time in using his new ‘producer’ status to attract more young ladies. Various females appeared ‘on set’ and he took pictures of them or videoed them reading from the script. They were clearly thankful to their producer for giving them this chance!

One day we were shooting out in Didsbury when a girl I had never seen before called out “CUT! Set up for retake!”

“Who are you?” I asked only for Nathan to shoot over and calm me down.

“Can’t we give her just a bit of a chance at being director?” he asked. Nathan, like many a producer before and since had lost his soul to the power of the movie business.

Anyway, I thought the time had come to return the project to its humble beginnings. It wasn’t a show about Caribbean immigrants. It had morphed into something I didn’t know anything at all about but Nathan felt things had evolved naturally and it was important to follow that course to the end. Sadly, Nathan and I went our separate ways. I went back to bus driving for a short while then I later became a cigarette salesman and today, apart from being an amateur writer and blogger I work for the Highways Agency.

And Nathan? Did I mention what Nathan does? No?

He’s a film producer.

Anyway, not to worry, has he got a blog as good as this one? Doubt it but if you enjoyed this post you might want to read my book. Click the icon below!

 

Unknown Numbers and Taking That Call.

The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. MobileNow, normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller but, and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft, I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.

Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking about who I wanted to play the main characters, did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get the feeling.

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)

(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)

STEVE

Hello.

CALLER

Is that Steve Higgins?

STEVE

Yes, speaking.

CALLER

Are you the same Steve Higgins that has just registered the domain name stevehigginslive.com ?

STEVE

(APPREHENSIVELY)Yes . . .

CALLER

Well I represent a new web design company and for a small fee we can completely re design your site and actively promote it and-

(CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on WordPress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.

Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .

The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed.


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