Hard at work!

As some may have noticed, we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front. We bought another agency back in April, and have been paddling hard like the proverbial duck while attempting to look serene.

The easiest part of the process was doing the deal with my agent friend. She was great and furnished me with all sorts of information: spreadsheets of current licences, contact details, email addresses of royalty departments and so forth. Granted, the deal was on the basis that the agency couldn’t accommodate a large number of new clients – not with the level of attention we like to give.

What I’ve learned in the process:

1. Agents carry a very large amount of information in their heads. You think you’ve put everything down on paper, but it’s a whole nother thing to come along as a newcomer to this information.
2. Some people need telling twice. Some people are still trying to send money to the old agency. There will be people I have to remind more than twice, I can already tell.
3. You have to take the time it takes to establish good relationships. This applies to the new clients as well as new co-agents and publishers. It’s well worth it.
4. Change makes everyone anxious. Of course.

We’ve worked out who needs what tax forms, who’s writing what and for whom, and what money hasn’t arrived. It’s also been important to work out the new clients’ preferences in style of agenting, from the ‘professional only and don’t ask me about my new dog’, to the ‘I’d quite like an opinion on everything I’ve ever written’, to the ‘I miss old-fashioned publishing lunches and I’ll be really happy if we can linger till four in the afternoon talking about old friends and bad books’.

A few things have gone by the board lately, which we should apologise for. We haven’t been as responsive as we’d like to submissions, in particular. But everything’s now getting back onto an even keel. Still paddling hard, though.

Fans want Control

Casting for 50 Shades

What’s going on with the recent fan protests about the casting of 50 Shades and Batman?  On its own, I’m struggling to be interested in the hoo-ha about 50 Shades (apparently voted the least-desired present for Christmas, and the most likely book to be left behind in a Travelodge).  But, with the Batman protest a few weeks ago, it feels like it might be becoming a phenomenon: fans want control.

But does any actor embody a character as you imagine them?  Mostly, after a while, it’s impossible to imagine the character as anyone else, though.

Playing with audience appetites is a long-established Hollywood game.  Back when Garbo and John Gilbert were the subject of hot gossip, the studio put them in a film with a mischievous title so they could announce they were in Love. 

Maybe this furore is just good advertising.

So, answers please:  Is this significant?  Should an audience be able to affect creative decisions before a book or film is released?

(Incidentally, the picture isn’t an illustration of any fans, just suggested cast.)

Hopeful news for the UK film industry



There’s some good news about the British film industry (see the link above), although clearly there’s some work to do in getting more jobs for writers.  Let’s hope that the good performance of UK films will trickle down and stimulate more commissions for UK writers – especially women.

What can writers do, in the meantime, to increase their own chances?  A lot of rookies make the mistake of writing something that’s filmable on a small budget.  This makes a certain amount of sense – producers would be shy of investing a lot of money in a less established writer.

However, it’s mostly enthusiasm that wins the day.  When an agent pitches something, the producer can always tell if they’re genuinely excited.  When a producer is talking to their financiers, and trying to bring on board a director and cast who will help make the film viable, it’s enthusiasm that indicates there’s something special here.

So writers help themselves by writing a script that shows their intelligence, their heart, their soul, and their writing muscles.  That’s what sets the fireworks going.

Description – the Cinderella of the writing world


Editorial notes concentrate rightly on plot and characters, but description is often neglected or taken for granted.  It can add so much to a novel or script that it doesn’t deserve to be a Cinderella.

In a script, (besides denoting the action) description consists of the crucial few words you use to tell a director what mood you’re after for a scene.

In a novel, description is where the author is also the director.  Besides the obvious need to ground the characters in a time and place, there are four other functions to consider:

1.  Tone/atmosphere

Your character is shown to their room a badly-run hotel.   You can vividly show this with the unpleasant hairs in the bath-tub, the sticky patch on the carpet, the television that receives only channels in Welsh.  The tone can convey whether the character is depressed, infuriated, or amused – and the reader picks up on that, entering into the mood.

2.  Sub-text

A woman brings her emotionally cold husband a Coke with too much ice.  That’s all the author needs to say, in order to drop this clearly but inconspicuously into the reader’s head.

3.  Pauses and passage of time

A character considers how to answer their companion.  The author can drop in a bit of set dressing here, while there’s a pause, rather than clogging up the momentum with it earlier on when action needs to happen.

4.  What’s going through the character’s head

A boy’s walking down the street with his girlfriend, but the description tells us about the graffiti on the wall.  What’s going on?  Clearly he’s so blinded by love that he can hardly bear to look at her.

Description is one of the most subtle but most powerful set of tools a writer has.

Stories of your life


The film I’ve watched the most times (perhaps 30) is Star Wars.  When I first discovered it, I watched it obsessively for months.  Even the opening bars of the soundtrack (which I also had to have) would set off the craving.  Only in hindsight did I figure out that it was saying to me something I really needed to hear: ‘You’re not meant to waste your youth doing your duty. Go and have The Big Adventure!’

Those months of watching the movie, I was, perhaps, subconsciously nerving myself up to immigrate to Britain, ignore a university degree I no longer wanted to use, and look around for what I was really meant to do with my life.  I was 22.

It took five years (during which time I was working in a bookshop, secretly reading the entire stock) before I stumbled across what an agent is.  Starting as an assistant in an agency really felt like climbing into an X-wing fighter.

I’m no longer a Luke Skywalker in years – I like to think of myself more as the Han Solo of the business – but before I turn into Yoda, I can tell you:  some books, some movies, some plays are telling you what you need to hear.

Chamber of Horrors 1

ID-100125322 (2)

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 http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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.