Son of a Beach

It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.

I finished the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting course. 16 weeks of pretty intense work. Was it worth it? Check out my thinkings over here…

I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…

Getting a lift in the new Hachette warehouse…

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Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.

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I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”

I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?

Also, I’m going to be on the new Dominic King arts show on BBC Radio Kent next Tuesday 12th at around 8pm. He asked me to put together a montage of voices from the podcast, which I did, but I’ve also made a “Guess the voice” quiz, which you can play here

Till next time!

Mark

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What I Learned on the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting Course…

I’ve just completed the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting course. A seven-session course, spread over 16 weeks with the ultimate aim of producing your own original treatment for a feature film or TV pilot.

Full disclosure: I was given free access to this course by John’s team after he appeared on the Bestseller Experiment podcast. It’s usual cost value is over £900, which is a fair chunk of change and something I kept in mind throughout the duration of the course.

The course covers story analysis to build your own understanding of story structure, it looks at the essential elements of story, the five-act structure, how to build stories, countless story tips, and all the time you are submitting your own work, which is reviewed by your peers on the course. You submit everything through the course website, which is a clunky thing that’s starting to show its age with a sometimes confusing user interface. Once you get used to it, it’s okay, but I found myself working with several browser tabs open as that was easier than trying to find your way through the menus.

Make no mistake, this is a big commitment, and people dropped off the course, most likely overwhelmed by the level of work required. It’s not for beginners or hobbyists. I would say this course is ideal for writers who are serious about making a career of writing: maybe they have an agent, or a credit, or have been optioned and want to hone their craft. You need to manage your time for this course carefully. I generally carved out time over the weekend. Be prepared for it to impinge on your regular routine.

The first couple of weeks ease you in and are deceptively simple. You’re asked to watch well-known feature films and complete exercises on structure based on your observations, while referring to John’s book Into The Woods. This was all good narrative theory and great fun: I get to watch Aliens for homework! Though, I have to confess that this was the point where I wondered if the course was going to be a bit lightweight for me, but looking back it was a good way to limber up before the main event.

As the course progresses the exercises become more involved and complex. You’re asked to rewrite scenes from films and TV shows (and due to John’s connection with EastEnders, I found myself watching more of that show than at any time in the last 20 years!) and your writing will be compared to the final show that was screened. Our course tutor was Kieran Grimes (script editor on shows like Red Rock, The Clinic and Fair City) who was firm and fair in his critiquing of our work and went into considerable detail with his observations and was always constrcutive and encouraging. You really felt that he was reading your work properly!

And it’s not all about structure. There’s excellent work on character, and self-analysis. Indeed, one of the most useful things I took away from the course were tools for critiquing my own work (something I’ve often struggled with). There were also opportunities to have live chat Q&As with Kieran and Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars), which I managed to miss, being stuck on the train home when these were scheduled, but there was always an opportunity to post questions beforehand and read the transcripts afterwards (I never did, to be honest).

In the final stage of the course, you write and submit your own treatment for a feature film or TV pilot based on what you’ve learned. Like many writers, I can’t stand treatments and find them reductive and nigh-on impossible to write from scratch, but the guidance from the course on treatments was very helpful.

However, from the very beginning of the course I knew that I would be writing a treatment, so I decided to start writing a TV pilot script in parallel with the coursework, re-writing as I went as per the lessons learned. Having a completed script to hand at the end of the course made writing the final 4 page treatment was much less painful.

A couple of weeks after the deadline for submission you receive your final feedback on your treatment from both your course tutor (Kieran) and John Yorke himself. It totalled about 1300 words. As with any notes, I didn’t 100% agree with everything they said, but having two perspectives from two seasoned pros revealed common bumps in the road, and highlighted a couple of issues with my treatment, and gave me very clear and actionable notes for my next pass.

I’m always very suspicious of creative writing courses and contests and the like. They’re often nothing more than a way to part wide-eyed noobs with dreams of Hollywood from their hard-earned cash. But John’s course is designed to be practical and has tons of useable advice and tools for professional writers. It’s also unusal in that it’s not just Hollywood-focused. There’s so little for UK-based writers out there and this course fills a much-needed gap in the market. Once the course has run, you have access to all the materials used in the course, and you become part of the course alumni online, which is great for making new writer friends. So, yes, this is an expensive course, but put in the context of certain screenwriter conventions where you might pay hundreds of pounds to passively watch panels it provides good value for money.

While I was on the course, I had a TV show of mine optioned based on a pitch doc (a “Look book” rather than a treatment), and the lessons I took from the course helped me navigate my development meetings with the TV production company, and the TV pilot I produced for my final exercise is one of the strongest things I’ve written, so I’m quietly confident that it will make some noise and get me some attention. Watch this space for more…

In the meantime, here’s a link to the course.

 

 

 

I got a rejection this week… and I’m in good company…

I loved this Tweet from VE Schwab asking authors if they had received rejections of their work recently…

She was deluged with replies, some from some very big names, and one from me. Only last week, I had a book pitch rejected by a publisher. The response I got was, “We pissed ourselves laughing, we loved it, we just don’t know how to sell it.” And that’s fine. I appreciate the honesty and know that there would be nothing worse than slogging away on a novel for however many months only for the publisher to give a shrug on publication.

I more positive news I was inspired by blog posts from a couple of writers friends. Julian Barr talks about what he strives for here, and Laurence Doherty talks about working up from rejections to the NI New Writers Focus Scheme here.

And the big treat for the week is the Bestseller Experiment live show with Orion editor Emad Akhtar (pictured above). He answered all sorts of listener questions on writing, editing, storytelling and WWE wrestling… Yes really. You can listen here.

Till next time, happy writing!

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?

“Therefore, but…” with Cass Green

We had the amazing Cass Green on the podcast this week and one of the things we touched on was the “Therefore, but…” rule for writers as explained by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone in this vid.

We also discussed a recent blog by Mark Chadbourn on how writers should be looking for not one, but multiple streams of income to pay the rent. It’s a fascinating piece, and could well change your life!

And we were delighted to see the podcast featured on Buzzfeed as one of the podcast you NEED to start listening to in 2018. Buzzfeed! My kids were actually impressed for about 30 seconds…

And stay tuned for some big news on an exciting new project!

Mark

PS.

Oh, and my first book Robot Overlords is in the UK Kindle half-term sale. Thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy so far. If you haven’t you can grab a copy for only 99p now!

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My plans for 2018, and your favourite episode of the Bestseller Experiment revealed…

Okay, maybe the answer to the latter is obvious as it’s the one episode that we go on about more than any other, but I think you’ll enjoy the countdown of our top five as it contains some of my favourite moments. Have a listen here.

And there’s a little mini episode introduced by our editor Dave (who has a great trailer voice!), where you can hear clips from the Deep Dive extras for Patreon supporters. Me and Mr. D talk about New Year’s Resolutions, which I don’t really do, but last year I did make a list in my diary of the things I wanted to achieve with my writing in 2017. They were…

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BOOM! Managed to get a tick on all of those… There might be something in this list making stuff after all…? The smudge is a top secret film project that I’m working on with Jon Wright, and there’s definitely been some action on that front, though the problem with film and TV is that so much of it is out of your hands (especially if you’re the writer) that you can make all the lists you want, it ultimately comes down to all sorts of ducks and stars aligning, so I find it’s less stressful to just go with the flow.

So what do I want from 2018? Here’s the current wish list…

  • Get my fantasy novel The End Of Magic published (more on that soon!)
  • Self-publish at least one of my Woodville novellas
  • Get some TV assignment work
  • Get one my spec scripts optioned/off the ground

How hard can it be?

What are your writing plans for 2018? Whatever they are, I’d love to hear about them. Sharing the pain is half the fun of being a writer. Until next time, keep writing!

 

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If you liked that episode and want some more, we’ve started having post-podcast deep dive discussions for our Patreon supporters. You can support us and get the extra content here.

And if you’re looking for something new to read in 2018, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

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Looking Back At The Bestseller Experiment Episode 2 – Sam Eades & Juliet Ewers

At the time of writing, we’re up to episode 36 of the Bestseller Experiment podcast and, as we get close to finishing the first draft of our book, I thought it would be interesting to go back and listen to those early episodes, and give you, dear reader, a little peek behind the curtain.

We still didn’t have any big names lined-up, and this was another one we recorded at the end of August, long before our launch. But, I’d heard precious few editors interviewed in writers’ podcasts and we thought we could offer some value with two of the best, and little did we know what a cracking episode it would be. Have a listen here.

Sam and Juliet came properly prepared with copious notes and, as we recorded it at the tail end of a colleague’s farewell drinks in the office, they were both very relaxed thanks to the power of beer.

My favourite bit comes 23m 30s in, where I flippantly announce the end of the podcast. We had to make it clear to listeners that we weren’t cynically trying to custom-build a bestseller. I’d been tipped off that a book called The Bestseller Code was coming soon, and already it was getting a bad buzz in the industry. We wanted to avoid comparisons with any kind of bestseller-by-numbers approach. It’s a criticism that we still get, and understandably, considering what we decided to call the show, but I didn’t want this to be a nuts and bolts, insert tab A into slot B operation. If my name is going on the cover of a book, it’s going to be as good as I can make it.

A few thoughts listening back…

  • The sound at Hachette still had too much reverb.
  • We still had no clue what we were going to write
  • I say ‘prevaricating’ when I mean ‘procrastinating’… It’s lucky I don’t intend to make a career out of this words malarkey, eh?
  • I do a very weird pause at the 39:37 mark. I simply ran out of things to say.
  • I still haven’t spoken to Juliet about her time working in recording studios, and I see her every day…
  • We still haven’t got Ian Rankin on the podcast (but we’re working on it).
  • There are no twins or unreliable narrators in our novel, but there is some sex. It’s excruciating.
  • We have the first mention of Into The Woods by John Yorke!
  • I keep banging on about ‘voice’… Something I still bring up with annoying regularity.
  • Our biggest takeaway: we were NOT going to write GONE GIRL.
  • Juliet mentions using everyday language to help make a book more accessible to readers. Not quite the same as Mr. D’s Grade 3 obsession, but duly noted.
  • That fear of it all falling apart was still very real…
  • Question of the week was another fake one!

Our most important lesson from this episode was Juliet’s declaration that if you don’t love what you’re writing, then why would anyone else? And writing what you read was another important note for us. As Mr. D reads a lot of narrative non-fiction, and I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, I thought it would be impossible to find something that we were both fans of, but it turns out I needn’t have worried. We certainly weren’t up for giving Sam her sweeping romance novel, but her idea of happiness as a theme definitely resonated with us, and influenced what we finally decided to write. I’m also really interested in making an emotional connection through writing. I can do excitement and comedy, but I’ve yet to make anybody cry, and that’s my high bar for writing now. I get weepy when I watch movies and read books, so can I dig deep and do that with my own writing?

Still haven’t read Gone Girl.

There’s a transcript of the interview in our free ebook. Get your copy here.

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