Chamber of Horrors 1

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It’s a sunny Friday, and a feeling of summer in the air.  All too cheerful.  You might like to step into the back room of my laboratory, where I store nasty samples in jars.

Along here are the Stunted Works. This one was a stage play that never grew an Act 3.  Was sold for TV.  Was commissioned as a 30-minute pilot, then expanded to 60 minutes, then cut to 30 minutes (but a different 30 minutes).  This one used to be a comedy, but bad things happened to it.

Here’s a fine collection of Appalling Contracts.  This one took 2 years to be negotiated and signed.  The Head of Contracts would take 6 months to answer, and then only to say she’d lost the previous set of responses.  The project it was commissioning was rewritten and finally rejected by the time the contract was signed.  I’ve got two here that actually have a clause saying ‘This is not a legal document’.  You’ll see they went unsigned – what’s the point?

These many smaller bottles here are Screaming One-liners.  ‘We know it’s a prestige project – that’s why we’re paying your client less’.  ‘We’re only interested in your client because he’s cheaper’.  ‘Oh, Meg, you were supposed to be cancelled.  I’m having lunch with an agent that I’m really doing business with’.

Next, I’ll introduce you to some Toxic Conditions peculiar to writers and agents.  Have a sunny weekend.

Image courtesy of Renjith Krisnan from

Welcome to the Fun-Fair


Yikes!A number of producers have been interested in a book whose film/TV rights I represent.  It’s a debut novel, hopefully the first of a series.  The author is smart, and done a lot to educate herself on how it all works and what to expect, but it’s a steep learning curve.

It’s been great – perhaps a bit overwhelming – that producers have bought us nice lunches, offered fresh muffins and nice folders showing what a great TV series they’d make of the book they’re so enthusiastic about.  An author’s dream.

She’s asked me what to expect, and what the implications are of granting producers the right to allow other writers to create stories for the series.  It’s all a known quantity and probably unlikely to prompt any writer to suicide – unless it’s a big success.

In a bad scenario, maybe the alchemy that happens during development and production will go against the book, and a bad programme will emerge.  Only a few people will watch it, and the producers will try and forget it.  Probably remove it from their CVs.

More likely, the producers will do a reasonable job.  The series will run for a few years, everyone will get paid, and then go on to something else.  The author’s value will have risen, and she’ll have more power to make other creative choices – write novels in other genres, for instance.

But it’s if it really takes off that things get amazing and nightmarish in seemingly equal measure.  She’ll make more money, and publishers and producers will become more deferential.  She might overhear them asking for ‘the next’ her – just like her but a bit different, probably younger and cheaper.  Her villain will make a jovial appearance on Children in Need, and people will adopt his costume for Halloween parties.  There’ll be a spin-off series in totally the wrong style, and an American version which is probably better thought-out but subtly askew.  Her series and name will become a short-hand for something they never originally meant.

It really feels like standing at the gate of the world’s biggest roller-coaster, wondering whether to persuade a friend to get on it.  Would it help if I offered her a blind-fold?

Down a deep well

MicroscopeFor a long time, I thought that all writers should be full-time.  Shame on a society whose economy doesn’t allow creative people to spend all their time on their art.

This doesn’t actually suit all writers.  Sometimes you talk to an author in the course of the day and realise they’re still in a different universe doing something else.  They call their agent on a pretext: what are their sales figures in France?  Has their book been submitted for some obscure award?  It feels like someone calling up from the bottom of a well they’ve got stuck down.  It’s dark here – is there anyone else up there?

Scriptwriters usually have it easier, working full time.  They get called into meetings.  They work on a couple of things at once.  Their script editor calls for a long conversation.  But book writers need to consider whether a job, even part-time, would keep them connected with the outside world.

I was talking to a trainee nurse once, who said she’d had a seminar on how to protect herself from the job.  That sounds like a wise thing for anyone with absorbing work.  Writers need to immerse themselves fully in the world of their story, and the characters, for it all to come alive.  But I wonder if they can get stranded in there for too long, and need some form of decompression, like a diver.

Lest I find myself in a glass house throwing stones, anyone listening to a group of agents talking about high discount clauses or turnaround provisions would say we probably need to get out more, too.