Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Meeting Your Mentor – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, September 1st, 2006

Summer 2006 suddenly went very quiet on the writing diary front. Producer Dean Fisher was pitching my script Waiting For Eddie around town, and then everyone goes on holiday in August. These are always worrying times for a writer. The phone stops ringing, emails don’t ping in your inbox, and you begin to wonder if all the enthusiasm for your project has just evaporated… Then summer ended and it all started kicking off again. September 2006 began with a fortuitous meeting with someone who was to change the course of my writing career, film director Jon Wright

 

Friday, 1st September, 2006

I jumped on a train to London for the really important meeting of the week. Dean, Jon Wright and I headed off to a meeting with Film London (to pitch Waiting For Eddie for the first ever Microwave Scheme).

Jon and I hit it off immediately. Quite literally: we bumped heads as we both sat down. Jon had some notes on the script, which were excellent. He definitely gets the script and it’s hugely gratifying to hear someone enthuse about it who will hopefully be in a position to make it a reality.

The Film London meeting went really well. Both Maggie Ellis and Sol Gatti-Pascual were friendly and encouraging and I have to say that Dean, Jon and I certainly held our own (I was a bag of nerves). I got the feeling that Sol really wants to work with Jon, so this could definitely work in our favour. We’ll hear if we get through to the next stage on Tuesday, but both Jon and Dean said they wouldn’t be despondent if we didn’t get through as they’re confident we can raise the budget elsewhere.

So, yes, in the kind of meet-cute you could only find on the corniest romcom, Jon and I met by head-butting each other. To put it in some kind of context, he was the first proper film director that I had ever had a meeting with, and I started by giving him a Glasgow Kiss. For a second I seriously thought I had completely ruined any chance I ever had of working in film ever, but fortunately he laughed it off and we got down to business.

The real boost was getting his very insightful and thoughtful notes. Like I said, he really understood the tone of my warped ghost story and it became clear that we shared many sensibilities, which would definitely pay off in the future, as he would eventually become Obi-Wan to my… Jar Jar…? Stay tuned for more…

Robot Overlords – HD download, DVD and Blu-Ray coming soon!

ROBOT OVERLORDS will be available to own in the UK on Digital HD from July 24th and on DVD & Blu-ray August 10th.

The Digital HD will be available across all platforms: Virgin Media, iTunes, Sky, Blinkbox, Talk Talk, Amazon, Xbox and Google.

The DVD and Blu-Ray are available to pre-order now from Amazon.

IMG_1021

The Blu-Ray is also available as a beautiful limited edition Steelbook.

Shiny...
Shiny…

All editions feature the same cool extras:

Cast and creator interviews at the MCM London Comic Con (featuring Gillian Anderson, James Tarpey and Craig Johnson)

A Making of…

A VFX special…

The cast reading an extract from the book at Pinewood Studios…

Matt Zo – Robots Never Lie Official Video…

The Comic Con extra is especially brilliant as poor lovestruck James pursues Gillian for an interview throughout the con.

So pre-order your copy now! But don’t just take my word for it…

 “A British sci-fi blockbuster, a must-see for all the family.”
   — Henry Fitzherbert, Sunday Express

Robot Overlords includes lots of things it’s impossible not to love, especially in the context of British cinema: hovering robot menaces, standing stones, a dour seaside location, a Spitfire in flight… while Gillian Anderson gives Paddington’s Sally Hawkins stiff competition for the title of Britain’s Best Mum.”
   — Kim Newman, Sight & Sound Magazine

“These are the droids you’re looking for…Robot Overlords proves, like Monsters before it, what can be achieved when you’re short of cash but rich in imagination. It’s also brimming with charm, and has a game supporting cast.”
   — Neil Smith, Total Film

“As with Jon Wright’s excellent last film,Grabbers, the pace never really lets up…Robot Overlords displays knowing intelligence, a sense of fun and a deep-rooted love for post-‘70s genre film. Unlike its titular villains, it’s sleek and it never malfunctions.”
   — Owen Williams, Empire Magazine

“The SFX are nothing short of incredible… What’s really astounding about this movie – not that fact that the team had this vision, but they managed to deliver it on a tiny budget, and deliver it well.”
   — Richmond Clements, Forbidden Planet

“Wright’s pleasingly pacy direction is infused with a palpable sense of fun and the film makes strong use of its various picturesque locations… Frankly, Michael Bay should watch this for tips and save himself a few quid on the nextTransformers movie.”
   — Matthew Turner, WOW 24-7

“Director Jon Wright makes the most of his resources, imbuing the action with an oddly endearing sense of string-and-glue DIY youthfulness.”
   — Mark Kermode, The Observer

“He may not have the Hollywood buzz of Christopher Nolan or the hyper-kinetic style of the similar-surnamed Edgar, but the director has a voice (and confidence of tone) that knows exactly who he is, whether he’s working with drunken aliens or giant robots.”
   — Ivan Radford, i-Flicks

“A surprisingly slick and stylish British sci-fi… An entertaining action adventure with impressive special effects.”
   — Maria Duarte, Morning Star

“Director Jon Wright – who co-wrote the script with Mark Stay – has come up with a brilliant concept that really works on a small budget… A rip-roaring adventure that harks back to the ‘80s. Perhaps they domake them like they used to.”
   — Kate Lloyd, MyM Magazine

   “Robot Overlords doesn’t outstay its welcome, it doesn’t rehash boring things seen in bigger blockbusters, it plays within a world with established rules and a history, it plays with characters who have clear goals and chemistry, and it has a lot of fun in the process… A really enjoyable slice of cinema.”
   — Andrew Jones, HeyUGuys

“Doing away with the massive spectacle set pieces and never-ending explosions, Jon Wright instead shifts the focus to the human side of the story. It’s all about the characters. This is where Robot Overlordsreally shines… An action-packed romp through ’80s sci-fi classics, taking the over-the-top spectacle of Transformers and flipping it on its head.”
  — Ryan Leston, Total Geeks

Robot Overlords is a fun entry in an increasingly neglected genre: the family-friendly sci-fi movie… A charming throwback to the adventure films of the 70s and 80s.”
   — Ryan Lambie, Den Of Geek

“A Children’s Film Foundation offering updated for the JJ Abrams era: we now get better VFX, lashings of lens flare and Roy Hudd as a kindly grandpa… More spirited and nonconformist than the Transformersmovies: the strategic deployment of a second world war Spitfire suggests this one may hold symbolic value for our newly confident industry.”
   — Mike McCahill, The Guardian

“A joy to watch, fun as anything, genuinely funny, tense, brilliantly made and with such grand spectacle at times it is hard to believe it is a British film, a proper British film. Your next big family favourite film.”
   — Andrew Jones, Box Office Buz

“Prepare to kneel before the Robot Overlords because this is one hell of a good film. Five stars.”
   — Paul Metcalf, Pissed Off Geek

“Giant Robots and Gillian… What’s not to like?”
  — James Mottram, Metro

 

Robot Overlords invade America – UPDATE FOR DVD!

UPDATE: Just to add that ROBOT OVERLORDS is now available on DVD, including from your digital overlords at Amazon.com. A big thank you to everyone who has bought it so far, and a big, metallic robot hug to the wonderful people who left us ratings and reviews. The good ones really help us!

The Sentry seems to have acquired a hoodie for the U.S. poster...
The Sentry seems to have acquired a hoodie for the U.S. poster…

And ROBOT OVERLORDS is available for VOD online streaming across all the major platforms, including Amazon Prime, Google Play and iTunes,

It’ll be awesome, but don’t just take my word for it…

 “A British sci-fi blockbuster, a must-see for all the family.”
   — Henry Fitzherbert, Sunday Express

Robot Overlords includes lots of things it’s impossible not to love, especially in the context of British cinema: hovering robot menaces, standing stones, a dour seaside location, a Spitfire in flight… while Gillian Anderson gives Paddington’s Sally Hawkins stiff competition for the title of Britain’s Best Mum.”
   — Kim Newman, Sight & Sound Magazine

“These are the droids you’re looking for…Robot Overlords proves, like Monsters before it, what can be achieved when you’re short of cash but rich in imagination. It’s also brimming with charm, and has a game supporting cast.”
   — Neil Smith, Total Film

“As with Jon Wright’s excellent last film,Grabbers, the pace never really lets up…Robot Overlords displays knowing intelligence, a sense of fun and a deep-rooted love for post-‘70s genre film. Unlike its titular villains, it’s sleek and it never malfunctions.”
   — Owen Williams, Empire Magazine

“The SFX are nothing short of incredible… What’s really astounding about this movie – not that fact that the team had this vision, but they managed to deliver it on a tiny budget, and deliver it well.”
   — Richmond Clements, Forbidden Planet

“Wright’s pleasingly pacy direction is infused with a palpable sense of fun and the film makes strong use of its various picturesque locations… Frankly, Michael Bay should watch this for tips and save himself a few quid on the nextTransformers movie.”
   — Matthew Turner, WOW 24-7

“Director Jon Wright makes the most of his resources, imbuing the action with an oddly endearing sense of string-and-glue DIY youthfulness.”
   — Mark Kermode, The Observer

“He may not have the Hollywood buzz of Christopher Nolan or the hyper-kinetic style of the similar-surnamed Edgar, but the director has a voice (and confidence of tone) that knows exactly who he is, whether he’s working with drunken aliens or giant robots.”
   — Ivan Radford, i-Flicks

“A surprisingly slick and stylish British sci-fi… An entertaining action adventure with impressive special effects.”
   — Maria Duarte, Morning Star

“Director Jon Wright – who co-wrote the script with Mark Stay – has come up with a brilliant concept that really works on a small budget… A rip-roaring adventure that harks back to the ‘80s. Perhaps they domake them like they used to.”
   — Kate Lloyd, MyM Magazine

   “Robot Overlords doesn’t outstay its welcome, it doesn’t rehash boring things seen in bigger blockbusters, it plays within a world with established rules and a history, it plays with characters who have clear goals and chemistry, and it has a lot of fun in the process… A really enjoyable slice of cinema.”
   — Andrew Jones, HeyUGuys

“Doing away with the massive spectacle set pieces and never-ending explosions, Jon Wright instead shifts the focus to the human side of the story. It’s all about the characters. This is where Robot Overlordsreally shines… An action-packed romp through ’80s sci-fi classics, taking the over-the-top spectacle of Transformers and flipping it on its head.”
  — Ryan Leston, Total Geeks

Robot Overlords is a fun entry in an increasingly neglected genre: the family-friendly sci-fi movie… A charming throwback to the adventure films of the 70s and 80s.”
   — Ryan Lambie, Den Of Geek

“A Children’s Film Foundation offering updated for the JJ Abrams era: we now get better VFX, lashings of lens flare and Roy Hudd as a kindly grandpa… More spirited and nonconformist than the Transformersmovies: the strategic deployment of a second world war Spitfire suggests this one may hold symbolic value for our newly confident industry.”
   — Mike McCahill, The Guardian

“A joy to watch, fun as anything, genuinely funny, tense, brilliantly made and with such grand spectacle at times it is hard to believe it is a British film, a proper British film. Your next big family favourite film.”
   — Andrew Jones, Box Office Buz

“Prepare to kneel before the Robot Overlords because this is one hell of a good film. Five stars.”
   — Paul Metcalf, Pissed Off Geek

“Giant Robots and Gillian… What’s not to like?”
  — James Mottram, Metro

Robot Overlords screening at the Greenwich Book Festival – Sunday May 24th – now with added James Tarpey!

STOP PRESS!

Come and see a screening of ROBOT OVERLORDS this Sunday 24th May at 2.30pm!

As part of the Greenwich Book Festival, I’ll introduce the event with a ‘From script to screen’ presentation, followed by a screening of the film. I’m pretty sure this will be your only chance to see the film before the DVD release later this year, so do please come along!

STOP STOP PRESS!

I’m also delighted to announce that I’ll be joined by James Tarpey, one of the film’s stars! We’ll have posters to sign and give away to those who buy a copy of the ROBOT OVERLORDS novelisation.

Tickets are just £6 – click here for details!

The film is rated 12A, so children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Robot Overlords: From Script to Screen, plus a screening of the film.

Starts 2.30 pm – Presentation: 45 minutes (approx.), film running time: 90 minutes – should all be done by 5.30!

Old Royal Naval College

Queen Anne Building

Lecture Theatre 080

SE10 9LS London

Five books to keep you sane during the robot occupation

A shorter version of this first appeared in the Big Issue on 9th February 2015…

Morse Code Martin (Roy Hudd) and Nathan (James Tarpey) discuss the classics in a scene from Robot Overlords © MEDIATOR 452 LIMITED/BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE 2014
Morse Code Martin (Roy Hudd) and Nathan (James Tarpey) discuss the classics in a scene from Robot Overlords © MEDIATOR 452 LIMITED/BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE 2014

Robot Overlords shows us a near-future where Earth has been invaded and occupied by an overwhelming force of Robots from another world. Everyone has been confined to their homes, and while the Robots’ purpose here is a mystery, they’ve promised to leave after seven years.

So what books would I grab to keep me sane during the occupation…?

SAS Handbook by Jon ‘Lofty’ Wiseman (Harper Collins)

SAS handbook

As used by Connor (played by Milo Parker in the film) to identify edible mushrooms, this is the only book I know of with a chapter on how to survive a nuclear explosion, an essential bit of info when your enemy has defeated every army on the planet (though, to be fair, they do make it clear that the odds aren’t great for surviving a nuclear holocaust). Also check out the Homefront chapter, with excellent advice on food storage, rationing, vitamins and filtering and sterilising water. Of course, for when times are really bad, there’s the obligatory bit on drinking urine.

Also available as an App, not that you’ll have any use for that once the robots destroy your phone.

Reader’s Digest DIY Manual (Readers Digest)

readers digest diy

In Robot Overlords the Volunteer Corps are humans who have chosen to collaborate with the robots by delivering rations, making repairs etc. But these are exactly the kind of humourless sociopaths you find in every level of bureaucracy (best represented by Robin Smythe, Ben Kingsley’s character in the film), and so you don’t want to be relying on them to fix a leaky tap. I’ve had a copy of this for twenty years and it’s so clearly laid out that even an idiot like me can use it with only the occasional flood and mild electric shock.

Asterix and the Big Fight by Goscinny & Uderzo (Orion Children’s Books)

Asterix and the big fight

There are many works of literature to inspire a burgeoning resistance against the invaders, but I can think of none finer than the seventh instalment in the Gaulish saga in which our heroes stage an enormous punch-up to save their village. A bit of genuine light relief in all the trauma.

Cooking For Blokes by Dr. Duncan Anderson and Marian Walls (Sphere)

cooking for blokes

When the Volunteer Corps deliver your weekly ration of unleavened bread, unidentifiable grey meat, and misshapen vegetables, you’ll need more than a little imagination to keep things exciting and varied at the dinner table. My wife bought me a copy of this when we first started living together and it set me in good stead when all we could afford was unleavened bread, unidentifiable grey meat, and misshapen vegetables.

Great British Songbook (Wise Publications)

great brit songbook

And finally, something to keep you going through those long winter nights of the occupation. As a busking level guitarist (ie: a bit rubbish) I can select any one of over 170 songs from Keep The Home Fires Burning and We’ll Meet Again all the way through to erm… Careless Whisper and I Believe In A Thing Called Love. And if you do drive your fellow housemates mad with your caterwauling, then it’s big enough for them to beat you to death with, and makes for good fire fuel.

Robot Overlords by Mark Stay is available now.

Robot Overlords – The Book of the Film!

Hurrah and huzzah, now that the PR gods have finally announced it from on high – for we must all wait upon such things in these times of heightened, super-whizzy media – I can now talk about the film tie-in novel of ROBOT OVERLORDS wot I wrote.

First of all, let us gaze upon the awesomeness of the cover art…

It's a robot... a big one!
It’s a robot… a big one!

The Sentry robot was kindly donated and posed by the good folk at Nvizible (laser weapon, model’s own), and the rest was co-ordinated and designed by Nick May of the Orion art department and the wizards at Blacksheep Design, who’ve won awards for all sorts of cool covers, not least Adam Roberts’ JACK GLASS, one of my favourites of last year.

The book has been huge fun to write and, in the tradition of my favourite tie-in novels, will expand on scenes and characters from the film, as well having plenty of new material completely original to the book. My hope is that the book and film will complement one another, so if there’s a moment in the film that leaves you wanting to know more, you’ll find it in the book.

Tie-in novels are usually a late addition to a publishers’ schedule, often written in a rush by an outside writer. So I am very grateful that Gollancz took a punt early on in the process, and gave the go-ahead to this while we were still shooting the film. It’s given me the time to write the book I wanted to and, thanks to the brilliant editing of Gillian Redfearn and the copy-editing skills of Lisa Rogers, it’s become a much better book than I could have hoped for.

It’ll be available in paperback and eBook, and there might even be an audio edition. The publication date will be as per the release of the film. We’re saying February 2015 at the moment, but that will almost certainly change. There might even be a special edition with some top secret added extras. I’ll be sure to update here with any news as soon as I get it, and be sure to follow @Robot_Overlords on Twitter for news about the film.

 

Why bother going to the cinema?

I took my mum to the cinema to see PHILOMENA last night…

The last time we saw a film together was in 1978 when she took me to see STAR WARS for the second time. I remember chatting to an old lady on the bus on the way there and telling her how excited I was, and she tried to look sympathetic but told me she didn’t understand any of that spaceman stuff.

That wasn’t mum’s last ever visit to the flicks – not long after she saw ABBA: THE MOVIE and had a great time – but she stayed away after that. It was around this time that my dad, one of those people who has to have the latest gadget*, bought a VHS recorder. Why go to the movies when you can watch them at home? A man used to come door-to-door on our Hornsey estate with a typed, mimeographed list of films available to rent. Our first ever VHS rental was SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and I would scan the list for more, intrigued to know what kind of movie LEMON POPSICLE could be (there were no illustrations whatsoever to give us any hints or clues). I begged dad to let us rent FLASH GORDON, only for him to point out that the film listed was actually FLESH GORDON and not entirely suitable for children (he, uh, saves the Earth from Emperor Wang’s incredible sex ray, according to the trailer)…

Things got better, of course. To the point where I have HD TV, a Blu-Ray player, 5.1 digital surround sound, Sky Movies, and Apple TV with Netflix streaming and a few hundred DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. If the robot occupation ever did become a reality, I’d be well set for the rest of my life.

But I still go to the movies. In fact, I reckon I’ve already seen more films in the cinema this year than any other. So why, when you take into consideration getting a babysitter, paying for parking and over ten quid for a ticket, do I still go to the cinema?

In short, the memories.

For example…

Seeing all the STAR WARS movies

Going to the West End for the first time with dad to see THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN. I don’t remember much about the film, but remember the bright lights of the stores and restaurants in Chinatown making a big impression.

Going on a school trip to see SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS after we did it as a school play (I was Grumpy… typecast from the start).

Watching GHOST BUSTERS on a ferry to Ireland in a storm. The ship listing heavily from side to side added considerably to the feeling of horror and unease.

Watching THE GOONIES while on a soccer exchange in California. I was horribly homesick, but this had me hooting with laughter.

Swinging on lampposts and singing the Raiders’ theme after seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

Bluffing my way into TOTAL RECALL with my best mate Tim (our first 18 movie – we were only 17… yes, shocking, I know).

Deciding to see GOODFELLAS with my A-level drama class after going to the West End to see a play, only to discover that it had closed the previous week (a great bit of planning on the part of our drama teacher). In the row in front of us were a pair of little old ladies who must have just come from the wrestling as they revelled in the film’s visceral violence while sucking on bonbons.

Bumping into Claire at a screening of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. We weren’t seeing each other at the time, but it’s since become “our film”… aww, stop puking at the back.

My first free preview of a movie was CASINO, hosted by Transworld, the publishers of the book. Free food and drink and a private cinema?! Nice. I could get used to this.

Taking Claire to see RESERVOIR DOGS and knowing that she was the girl for me.

Taking my young nephew to see the 1997 re-release of STAR WARS (he fell asleep).

Watching SKYFALL with the kids – their first cinema Bond movie – and seeing their little faces light up at the big screen mayhem.

And many more that I won’t bore you with now, but these are all about sharing an experience that you can’t get when sitting in your own living room. I always feel a tension when a film begins. Partly it’s “will that twat who was chatting all through the trailers continue to do so through the film?”, but it’s more to do with what kind of emotional rollercoaster is this story going to take me and my companions on today?

Going with mum last night was a shared experience. Having a drink and a chat before the film, I learned stuff about her that I never knew before. Watching the film we laughed and cried together, and I suppressed a giggle when she called the nuns “Bitches” just a little too loudly near the end.

And that’s why I go to the movies.

*An expensive habit that I’ve inherited from him big time.

My Robot Occupation Movies #2 – Psycho

Second in a series – Imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

Psycho_(1960)

Psycho was the first film that I ever studied in any kind of depth. Up till then, films were just films to me. Good, escapist fun, but nothing I ever thought about in any kind of academic sense. I’d seen Psycho on TV. My dad, just leaving the house for a night out, saw that it was on, ‘Psycho. You’ll like that,’ he grinned, leaving me alone in the house and possibly scarring me for life.

It was unlike anything I’d seen before. I’d enjoyed horror movies with my friends, but they were always in glorious technicolor, never black and white. This one felt slow and talky, and there were only a couple of murders. To this teen, it was okay, but I preferred a bit more claret with my horror. But, that aside, there was definitely something odd about it. It made me think, for a start, which no other horror movie had achieved so far.

Then one of our teachers announced that he would be running an after-school film club and Psycho would be our subject. By now, I’d seen a few more of Hitchcock’s movies and was aware of Psycho’s importance, but I hadn’t seen it since that original TV viewing.

Well, we took that baby apart. We analysed everything: shot composition, shot lengths, the importance of light and shadows, the motif of birds – Crane, “Eats like a bird”, Phoenix, the positioning of the stuffed birds in shots – the abundance of reflective surfaces throughout, and even the colour of Janet Leigh’s underwear before and after she steals the money.

And the shower scene? Took it apart shot-by-shot. All 3 minutes and 50 cuts.

From then on, I would never look at movies in the same way. It made me aware of symbolism, motifs, music, casting, lenses, lighting, sound – all the building blocks of a movie. And, most of all, it had me hooked. Movies were now my thing. More than music. More than books.

Not long after that, my friends and I made a short movie for a national schools competition. Fresh off our Psycho experience, we thought we knew it all. Of course, the end result was mostly dreadful, but there was one scene where dozens of kids came charging out of their classrooms into a hallway (our film was about a revolution in a school), and seeing that cut together – the doors crashing open, the feet pounding, the kids running – was the first time that anything we’d done actually looked like a movie. The stuff we’d learned watching Psycho had, for a few seconds, paid off. We can do this, I realised.

Despite ripping its guts out, Psycho is still fun to watch. My sister and I still talk about it (it’s one of her favourites too), and its power hasn’t been diminished by the 1998 remake, or the poor sequels (though Psycho II isn’t that bad!).

The original was on TV just this week, and I subjected my 13-year-old daughter to it. She talked over the shower scene, ‘That’s what you get for using all my hot water!’, but stuck with it till then end. And now she’s asking questions… That’s what the movie does. Provokes dark and disturbing thoughts. Some have been explored in documentaries, films and books, not least Stephen Rebello’s excellent Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho, but the mysteries of the human frailties of jealousy and murder will always remain. So let’s leave the last word to the master himself…

How to flatter a fat* man – writing advice from a nobody.

So, yesterday someone asked me for screenwriting advice. Never mind that I have no movie credits to my name (yet), but the news that I’ve co-written a script that’s going into production was enough to send a 22 year-old I’d never met before, pelting down three floors of our office building to seek out my sage wisdom.

"Have your inciting incident in the first ten pages, you must."
“Have your inciting incident in the first ten pages, you must.”

I was flattered to say of the least, and my ego puffed-up to full as I prepared to dispense pearls of wisdom to this young neophyte. But, as I opened my mouth, I realised that I was one microsecond away from becoming a pompous Robert McKee type, and managed to stop myself.

The truth is I don’t have a bloody clue. I managed to piece together a chronology of how I managed to get where I am today, but anyone can do that, and everyone’s story will be different, so what use that is, I have no idea.

The only vaguely useful advice I could give was, “Er… Write, keep writing, and eventually you get better at it, and one day people start to take notice of it, and maybe you’ll get some work.”

I also urged her to meet and befriend other writers. Not only are they fun, if slightly mentally unhinged, but we all have the same doubts and fears and share them on Twitter when we know full well we should be working to a deadline.

Then I started reeling off lists of podcasts I listen to (and I’ve shared them below), because this has been a big part of my education in writing in the last few years, and these guys all know a lot more than I. And that was it, really. I was all out of advice.

I’m collaborating on a new script with a new writer. It’s his first, my umpteenth. And the thing I must not do is start telling him how to write. I have more experience, yes, but to tell him how to write is tantamount to telling him how to think, and that’s how cults and religions and very bad things start. Why do you think they call them script gurus?

MY FAVOURITE PODCASTS:

You can get all of these on iTunes for free, but it’s worth having a look at their related blogs, and do follow them on Twitter too.

Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin:

http://johnaugust.com/podcast

@johnaugust

@clmazin

What sets these guys apart from the Syd Fields and Robert McKees of this world, is they’re actually working as writers in the film industry, so they can talk with authority about how the industry works. This one covers everything from writing techniques, to agents, managers, lawyers, the WGA, writing software, and even fonts (John August also develops apps). It’s been running for a couple of years now, and it’s worth dipping into the backlist, though you can jump in at any time. This is a very American podcast, but if you’re thinking of working in the States, this is very useful.

Scriptwriting in the UK with Danny Stack and Tim Clague:

http://dannystack.blogspot.co.uk/

@scriptwritingUK

Danny has one of the best UK scriptwriting blogs out there, and, in this monthly podcast, he and Tim Clague talk about writing in the UK.

Danny is clearly smart, professional and knows his stuff. Tim now seems to mostly write for games, and never fails to mention that he once won a Bafta for a short film he made years ago (and, to be fair, neither will I when the day comes). Not as zippy or slick as the US podcasts, but invaluable for insights into the UK film and TV industry.

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith:

http://www.theqandapodcast.com/

@yogoldsmith

Jeff gets an amazing roster of writers talking at great length about how they started, their careers and their latest film. This is American too, but he gets loads of British writers on the show. These are often recorded after a screening, and the audience get to ask questions.

He previously presented the Creative Screenwriting podcast, which no longer seems to be on iTunes, but I’m sure you can find it if you go digging online. They were terrific, essentially the same format, but presented in association with the magazine Creative Screenwriting.

Filmsack

http://filmsack.com/

Not a podcast about writing, but these guys love popcorn movies. They watch them on Netflix (which can skew what kinds of movies are available) then get together over Skype to dissect them. They’re really good at pointing out tropes and plot holes, which is invaluable for a writer. I’ve lost interest recently, as they don’t seem to be covering movies I particularly like, but the earlier episodes on films like Superman and Wrath of Khan are outstanding.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lvdrj

@wittertainment

Probably the best film show on radio. It goes through phases of being overly self-referential, but Kermode really knows his stuff (even if he never shuts up about bloody 3D), and Mayo keeps him in line. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

Empire

http://www.empireonline.com/podcast/

I bloody love Empire, and this podcast is huge fun. Their reviews tend to be more forgiving than, say, Kermode’s, and the interviews are always good. The hour long specials are wonderful. The Terence Stamp one is a gem. And Helen O’Hara should have her own show.

*Okay, so I’m not exactly Jabba the Hutt, but I have a bit of a tum, and boy, do I love to eat.