50% funded on THE END OF MAGIC

Happy days! I just hit 50% FUNDED on THE END OF MAGIC! In the words of the poet, ‘Woah, we’re halfway there, woa-oh, we’re livin’ on a prayer!’

Huge thanks and big love to everyone who’s pledged so far. It’s incredible to me to think that we’ve come so far in just a few weeks.
As a treat (punishment?) here’s a quick extract of me reading from THE END OF MAGIC

I apologise in advance for the Scots accent. a) The character was written that way, and b) I’m an old ham and can’t help myself.

To pledge and support THE END OF MAGIC, click here: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/


A few notes on formatting screenplays

This week a friend of mine asked me to take a look at his first-ever screenplay. He’s a novelist, with a succesful historical fiction series at a major publisher, and he was adapting one his novels into a TV pilot. Story-wise it was all pretty ship-shape, but the formatting of his script was a bit skewy, and I thought I would share some of the notes I sent him as it covers a lot of the basics when it comes to formatting your screenplay. Some of the details have been changed to protect the innocent…



You’ll hear all sorts of dictatorial “rules” about how you should or shouldn’t format a screenplay, and there are certain people out there who make lots of money running expensive screenwriting courses who will tell you how your screenplay will be instantly rejected if you ever break one of these sacred rules…

This is, of course, bollocks. All that matters is clarity.

So, when reading what follows, always remember that these are not hard and fast rules. But there are some principles that you should observe if you want to set yourself apart from noob screenwriters.

Scene numbers: Don’t bother with these quite yet. They’re usually added by a line producer just prior to going into production. The screenplay is then locked and any subsequent scene number changes will need to be logged. For example, a scene that’s added between scene 27 and scene 28 will be logged as 27a. However, for the purposes of my feedback I’ll refer to them now, but you should probably delete them before you submit them to your agent or production companies.

Same goes for the (CONTINUED)s at the top and bottom of each page. Most people don’t bother with these, but some screenplay apps have them as a default, so it’s your call if you want to keep them (I find them clunky).

Scene 1. You’ve split LONDON 1792 over two lines. Any titles or subtitles should ideally be on one single line of text.

When introducing a character for the first time put their name in CAPS. This helps the production team identify when a new character appears in the script. It helps to remember that so much of what you put in a script is there to make the lives of the cast and crew easier. It’s also generally accepted that you should really only put the name in caps when the character first appears, and not all the way through the script.

Any sound effects should really be in caps, too. This helps the director, editor and sound designer note when noises will need to be added in post-production.

A note on Wrylies. These are the little bits of direction in parentheses…

(mutters in annoyance)
Bloody fool.

Lose ’em. All of ’em. Okay, maybe allow yourself one every ten pages. Writers put them there to give the actors on guidance on how to say a line, but actors generally hate being told how to act (especially by the writer!) and they should be used very, very sparingly and only when there’s a point of clarity to be made, usually when a line could be read as either straight or sarcastic. That’s why they’re called wrylies… he said wryly.

I can understand that in your case that you’re trying to preserve the intention in your novel. When writing dialogue in a novel you have far more control over how that line will be interpreted. But in film and TV you’re going to have to learn to trust the actor and director, and they’ll surprise you and will often bring something new and wonderful to the line that you might not have thought of.


Scenes 3, 4, 5 and more simply say CORRIDOR or STAIRWAY. Yes, these scenes follow on from one to the next, but remember that these are used as guides for the reader and the production team and will sometimes be read in isolation from the rest of the script. So maybe go with:


This lets the reader know that that the scene is set inside and continues from the previous scene.

However, with a pre-production draft I think it’s it’s fine to leave them off if you think it makes the script a faster, easier read. But when you go into production the sluglines will be made to work harder.

When I started out I found The Screenwriter’s Bible to be helpful on formatting, but to be honest why not just read a whole bunch of scripts for free? One of the best resources is the BBC Writers’ Room Script Library. Hundreds of free TV, film and radio scrips all available to download legally and freely. You’ll learn tons!

And, for variety, why not check out scripts by the likes of Tarantino or Wes Anderson. They ignore a lot of screenplay conventions and they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

Caveat: there are no rules, only principals, and what matters most is clarity. If you can, try and wangle a day on a film set. Watch how everyone works with the script, and when you’re next writing, try and put yourself in the shoes of the director, the actors, and the production team. Good luck!


While you’re here, check out my new grimfun fantasy novel The End of Magic

The End of Magic, Week 4 – almost, nearly, partly halfway there… a bit…

The End of Magic now has over 100 backers, which is amazing and I would hug you all but I suspect there are laws against that sort of thing and my arms aren’t nearly big enough. Didn’t quite make my aspirational 50% target this week, but I’m really happy at 46%. Still, almost, just, maybe making my 1% per day target…

But next week, folks, next week it’s 50% or bust! I’ve been told that getting to 50% means I’ll get on the Unbound newsletter, which reaches 60k people, which might help a tad.

So do please continue to spread the word. Send your fantasy fiction fans this link… https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

Or this RT this tweet if you haven’t already… https://twitter.com/markstay/status/963766850155933699

Or send them to this video… 


In the meantime, enjoy these little snippets from the book…

Till next week!

The curious influences of Alex T Smith

We had the excellent Alex T Smith on the podcast this week. He’s one of those children’s authors who gives so much back to the community, not least when it comes to talks and interviews that are choc full of great writing tips. I was lucky enough to talk to him at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators‘ conference last year (a big thanks to the organisers for letting me crash the party!). I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex’s influences, which included the likes of Frankie Howerd, Frank Spencer and ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Not the most obvious starting points when writing for young children, but he makes it work. It’s a fun interview and you can hear the whole thing when you click here.

In other news, my aunty Marion has a new book out! Actually, she has TWO! If you listen to the podcast regularly, you’ll know that we’ve mentioned her  a few times. Her memoir was an Irish Times bestseller a few years ago, and she’s spent the time since then working on what is essentially a fictionalised version of her life, with an added dollop of romance. I’m indebted to the tireless Andy Bowden who designed the cover art, which really looks the business…

And speaking of new books… did you know that you can get 10% off when you pledge for my new book The End of Magic? Go here, click pledge and type bestsellerxp when prompted.

Till next time, happy writing!


The End of Magic, Week 3 – and the meaning of life, the universe and everything…

This morning I was delighted to discover that we’ve hit 42% funded, with 93 wonderful, beautiful backers!

42, of course, is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything as featured in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (definitely my Desert Island Discs book), and so I’m doubly happy. I’m still hitting my 1% per day target, and it would be great to hit 50% this time next week.

I’m still finding that personalised emails and messages are the best way to get responses and pledges, but my address book will inevitable run out at some point, so I’ve started experimenting with some social media ideas to get the word out there…

If you’re on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, do please share them far and wide and a huge thank you to everyone who has done so already.

And here’s a link if you’ve not pledged yet: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

More next week!


The End of Magic – week 2

Another week passes and I’m currently at 35% funded with 73 wonderful backers. A big welcome to everyone who’s joined the adventure in the last week. Your pledges mean the world to me.

I’m also amazed to see that the ‘Be in the book’ pledges have sold out! Thank you Craig, Phill and Andy… I look forward to giving you all glorious deaths on paper very soon.

I’m currently hitting my target of 1% per day, and if we keep this up then we should be fully funded on 4th May, so if you’ve already pledged please continue to spread the word and let any fantasy fiction fans you know that the book is coming. Word of mouth is the best way to help make this happen. Here’s the link: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

We discuss The End of Magic and how Unbound work in this week’s episode of The Bestseller Experiment podcast. Have a listen here… http://bestsellerexperiment.com/unbound-and-the-end-of-magic/



The End of Magic – week 1 update

My new book The End of Magic is coming soon from Unbound! It’s a fantasy adventure mash-up of the kind of high fantasy I read in my youth, with a bloody dash of the grimdark I enjoy now. Yes, I’ve invented a new genre called GrimFun* – you’re welcome!

Here’s a short video of me looking all windswept and David Starkey…



Why Unbound? One big reason was the opportunity to work with Simon Spanton. Simon is an editor of excellent taste who has worked with the likes of Richard Morgan (Altered Carbon), Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself) and Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora). I couldn’t pass this up!

And Unbound use a crowdfunding model, which means I have to raise about four grand in 90 days! It also means that every book they publish is profitable, and there are few publishers that can boast that these days. And after the Bestseller Experiment it seemed apt that I should jump feet first into a new way of publishing.

To entice you good people to pledge for a copy of the book, there are all sorts of rewards on offer. You could get your name in the back of the book (or the front, for a few quid more!), you could even have a character named after you (but be quick – two of those have gone already!). If you’re a writer, I could give you constructive feedback on your novel or screenplay, or I could give a talk on the Hero’s Journey to your writers’ group or school, and there’s a completely mental option where we go for a pub lunch in Herne Bay. Only two available. One has gone already…

I know that times are hard and money is tight, so if this is a little rich for your pocket then all I ask is a little signal boost: please tell all your fantasy fiction fans that this book is coming, because I think they’ll love it. Please send them here: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

After a week of fundraising, I’m just over a quarter of the way there, which is great, but other Unbounders tell me that this is the easy bit. Once your friends and family have all chipped in the real work begins… Wish me luck and come and join me on this adventure!



PS. If you like the music in the video, it was composed and performed by my friend Dominic Currie. Check out his Soundcloud page here. He’s something of a genius.


*I actually think Jen Williams got there before me, but she prefers the term GleeDark, which is just as cool.

Cosmic Cosmo Podcast

This week’s podcast is a bit different in that we were visited by Catriona Innes, Senior Editor at Cosmopolitan UK. When I was a teen, Cosmo was the mag that you read to learn about sex when you were sure no girls were looking! But it’s evolved into something very different now and it was terrific to hear from Catriona how she’s gone undercover to expose all sorts of shady shenanigans. Cosmo is now doing what 21st century magazines do best with long form articles, thoroughly researched with a sense of perspective and objectivity.

There were also some top tips from Catriona on interview techniques that any writer could use in their work. Check it out here.

We also released another deep dive episode for our Patreon subscribers. It’s all about how to tackle second drafts, and you can listen to a wee snippet here. If you want more, do please pledge your support over on our Patreon page.


And speaking of pledging… have you signed-up to join me on the epic adventure that is The End of Magic yet?

Want to be part of an epic fantasy adventure…?

Hello – I’m very excited to announce that my new book, a fantasy novel called The End of Magic will be coming soon from Unbound Publishing!

Watch this clip of me being all windswept and David Starkey to discover more…

Unbound are amazing. It’s essentially a Kickstarter model, and YOU – yes YOU! – can be a part of the book’s publication. Simply pledge and get your name in the book as a patron, or go really crazy and make yourself a character in the book (you could die a glorious death!), or get feedback from me on your novel or screenplay, or even take a trip to the coast and talk toot the whole day!

This book is a big passion project for me. It’s a combination of the kind of fantasy I loved when growing up, combined with the sort of grimdark I enjoy today. I’m calling it GrimFun (you’re welcome) and I really hope you can join me on the adventure.

And here’s the cool bit –

You can get a 10% discount on your pledge using the discount code bestsellerxp

Do please SHARE with anyone you know who loves a great read, in the meantime enjoy the book’s awesome theme tune composed by Dominic Currie…