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.

Good behaviour in the shark pool

It hit the news this week that the Weinsteins are suing Time Warner over the Hobbit novels.  Their deal gave them revenue on ‘the film’ but didn’t allow for the possibility of the book being dramatized as three films:


Is this rough justice, holding them to a contract that everyone agreed, or should allowances be made for a change of circumstance?  This is one of the issues that keeps me awake at night: the contracts I advise my clients on can only be based on the information available at the time.  You try and provide for anything that might happen in the future, but you can never foresee everything.

This counterpoints with an interesting ruling about behaving fairly over contracts, where there’s a relationship involved:


In a sense, it’s also a bit scary to wonder who’s going to rule whether we’ve acted in good faith, but if this means shark-like behaviour is lessened, even agents (as proverbial sharks) must welcome it.


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.

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.

Don’t tell me what to write


New handbagIsn’t it lovely when your prejudices are confirmed?  Lisa Campbell’s editorial in Broadcast this week says:

“At Mip, we heard one overriding message from successful European creatives: it sounds paradoxical, but global success occurs when storytellers are encouraged to write for viewers in their own countries – and not the international marketplace.”


In other words, let’s concentrate on great stories, rather than stories that look like good candidates for co-production.  International sales follow if the story works well for a specific audience.

We’ve seen something of a renaissance of interesting foreign TV series in this country lately.  Clearly a UK audience can not just cope with, but enjoy, foreign programmes.  And ours are also enjoyed worldwide.  What these programmes have in common is that –although they’re aimed toward a home market – they’re not parochial.

It’s clear that good plots, good characters, and heartfelt writing and production, are still paramount.