Tuesday, 3 December 2013


By heck, but British screen drama just gets better, don’t you think? I watch a lot for its entertainment value, and also because I appreciate the way the writers make it work. Writers can learn a lot by watching how the masters do it. This last couple of months or so we’ve been treated to such gems as Peaky Blinders, The Paradise, The Tunnel, the individual plays in the series Drama Matters on Sky Living, and Last Tango in Halifax – which is what I want to talk about.

– In fact, quite a lot of people are talking about this right now. The viewing figures for episode 2 of the current (second) series were 7.42 million (BARB w/e 24 November 2013). I can remember a time when programme viewing figures went as high as 18 million and beyond, but you have to bear in mind that in those days there were only three channels, so Last Tango’s figures are fantastic.

The writer Sally Wainwright was born in Huddersfield and has lived in Halifax, like me, but that is where the similarities end. She’s great at creating characters, and says that she writes about the type of people she knows, which makes her a great observer, giving her creations eccentricities, making them different, adding a touch of daring, nudging the boundaries of what is considered normal, whilst retaining credibility. Whether we like to admit or not, we are fascinated by other people, no doubt as we try to find some meaning in life. And this is how Sally does it: she takes ordinary people, gives them a quirk or two (or three), and then gradually lets the audience in on it by teasing and allowing the story to develop around these foibles or strengths.

In addition Sally is also writing major parts for older actors; these are not cameos or minor role prop-ups (as I call them), but big, juicy parts. This has given Derek Jacobi (Alan), who usually plays popes and kings, the rare opportunity to play a working-class Yorkshireman, and actress Anne Reid (Celia) the opportunity to play a character with such inner conflicts and bigoted attitudes, who finds herself being educated by her fiancé.

Into the mix add the alchemy between the characters as typified by the chemistry between Alan and Celia, and the real-life chemistry that exists between Anne Reid and Sara Lancashire. Then there’s the attention and involvement from the producer Karen Lewis, who is on set at all times, and which makes such a difference to the production. The quality of the cast adds yet another ingredient and reminds us that Red Production Company has invested heavily in this project – and I’m not talking mere money here – due, I feel, to the quality of the writing. Sally Wainwright has an original voice, and for me she is up there with the likes of Kay Mellor, Jimmy McGovern, Anthony Horowitz, Lynda La Plante.

Sally doesn’t have problems writing dialogue, but instead agonises over story. I don’t think she needs to worry, although I can appreciate that the odd fright or two are part and parcel of the writing process and helps with honing the final draft into the finished article. She is an expert. Think: Unforgiven (2009), At Home with the Braithwaites (2000), and one of my favourites The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (2006). Oh, and not forgetting Scott & Bailey (2011). Romantic comedy isn’t her only speciality, as we can see from this list. There is also The Last Witch that was one of Sky Living’s Drama Matters plays mentioned above. In 2014 there will be Happy Valley, also filmed in the Halifax area, and this – and I’m quoting the producer, here – is a cross between Juliet Bravo and Fargo.

I would say there’s a damn good chance it will be brilliant.

Monday, 25 November 2013

My one thousand a day

– and that's not vegetables.

When I read that author Sarah Waters aims to write 1,000 words a day I thought, I'll have a go at that! and indeed managed – but it lasted only a day and then over a week went by during which the total word count was well below the desired daily rate. She also explained, in graphic terms, how difficult it can be. Now I know how she feels.

I can tell you that the next book is coming along nicely. Now, I only say that about a project when I can see that the end will come, which isn't the same as being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel; that's still a way off. But the story is over half way there. That's the first draft I'm talking about. There's still loads to do after that (and some of it can be trickier than writing the story).

So I'm training myself to get the 1,000 words a day. Sarah says it helps her to inch the book forwards. It might not sound like many, but maybe it's because there's a great temptation to make every single word the right word – as if this is the last draft and no further revisions will be allowed.

James Joyce, so they say, took his time writing each sentence. I don't know if what I'm going to say now had any bearing on why he wanted to get it right first time, but we should remember that in the early days (and not so long ago), whatever you typed was immediately there on the paper. There was no backspace or delete key. If you reached the end of your manuscript, then found that you'd missed a bit, or lost a bit, or something was wrong that affected everything that came afterwards, then you had to go back and type it again. While publishers accepted inserted pages, such as 15, then 15a, 15b, then 16, and so on, it was unlikely that first-time authors would be allowed such concessions. Manuscripts had to be submitted looking rather pristine. Maybe that was why Joyce wanted to get the write right the first time. Perhaps he didn't like re-typing. Or maybe not.

However, the secret of good writing is rewriting. So I will continue to strive for the thousand (and squirm when I think about Stephen King's 10 pages a day) and see how it all shapes up at the revision stage.

And I'll try not to get too hung up on the numbers. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

IT'S TRUE – Oak Seer is free!

But only for 2 days: October 31st and November 1st 2013 are the promotion days chosen to enable readers to get a copy of Oak Seer completely free of charge.

Of course, it doesn't matter if you don't have a dedicated Kindle reader because Amazon has prepared Kindle apps for Androids, iPhones, iPads and computers, so there's no excuse.

One thing working in this book's favour is that the title has not been used before, so simply typing "oak seer" in the Amazon search box will find it for you. Or you could simply click here.

Because Amazon's time settings are American-based, if it doesn't show up as free, please keep trying. The offer will end on 1st November at midnight Pacific Standard Time, so it should end in the UK at around 8 a.m. Saturday the 2nd.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


There are still plenty of hard copies of books being sold (or maybe that should be "soft" where paperbacks are concerned). Thankfully. Don't get me wrong—I appreciate that digitization is expanding the availability of good reading. And I remember not so many years ago when there were fears that reading books was falling in popularity. Well, that is no longer a problem, and the recent interest in Kindles, Nooks, and apps on smartphones and tablets just shows that reading literature will be here for some time to come.

But it occurred to me a few weeks ago that a digital version of a book cannot be signed like a physical copy can. I remember back to 1994 when my wife and two young children went to an author's book signing in Whitby. There, Robin Jarvis, author of the Deptford Mice books, and the Whitby Witches trilogy, was sitting, happily talking to his fans, some of who had travelled many miles just to meet him and get their books signed. (He also signed books that they already owned, that they may have bought elsewhere; it wasn't essential that you had bought it at that very shop. Top marks to the Whitby Bookshop!)

But how would you get a personalized copy of, say, a Kindle edition?

I have just signed up with Authorgraph—a way of digitally signing an eBook. Well, not quite. What happens is that, providing that your chosen book is listed on authorgraph.com, you can request the author to send you an authorgraph. What you receive is a downloadable PDF file of the book cover, with the author's message and signature beneath. Brilliant stuff!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Oak Seer trailer

Here's the promotional video on YouTube:

It lasts just over a minute, so nothing to get bogged down in, and I hope it gives a bit of a taste of the story. There are also some illustrations that were not used in the final book.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

"Promotion, promotion, promotion" didn't someone say?

Just as the promoting of one novel begins, the writing of the next must somehow be fitted in.

I have just included a countdown timer on the home page. This is to indicate the, as yet, not-so-impending release of my next book. As it's not written yet, does this make me rash, reckless even?

That might be the case if the story hadn't already been going through the mill, so to speak, on and off now since 2002. Or 2003 (don't remember). The overall story is there, albeit in screenplay format (2 x 60-minute television scripts), but it needs something else – something that only a novel can reveal about the characters.

This is because unless the screenwriter is present at rehearsals and/or during filming, and dares to offer his comments to what is usually a tight group of industry professionals, some of who don't take kindly to suggestions, then the writer's vision of the characters is pretty much left to the abilities and perceptions of the actors and director. So the script, being merely a blueprint, could be interpreted any way. Even the final editing can shift emphasis to an aspect that was not originally intended. Writing this story as a novel will enable me to accurately portray these people as I see them.

It is set during the First World War, and uses a backdrop that hasn't been used much before, if indeed at all.

But that countdown timer worries me... tick! tick! tick! relentlessly counting down like the doomsday clock in ITV's drama series Eternal Law. I will see it in my sleep. Better get writing.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Oak Seer – unleashed

That's it – my novel is finally out there. Oak Seer (originally titled Quercus Necromancer, but that's a bit of a mouthful) first came to me in 1988. I remember it well.

The first typescript (pre-computer) was sent around the literary agents before finally being accepted by one. And he actually found a publisher, whose books were regularly reviewed in the Spectator. And then it all seemed to turn a bit sour. That was 1994, and the last contact I had was when I said I'd get back to them about some point or other. But I never did. And now the publisher has sort of disappeared.

This doesn't mean that the present story (although it is set in 1994) is in any way out of date by today's standards. At the first writing it was contemporary, and I've chosen to retain the period because there are so many modern pieces of technology around these days that just didn't exist 20 years ago. Our lives have changed so much, whether we like it or not, and, despite the protagonist not having the benefit of a mobile phone (yes, I know there were mobiles back then, but they were cumbersome and expensive and frightening (well, the pricing plans would certainly cause nightmares)), ironically I felt a certain comfort in going back to those times. It's only 20 years or so, yet life was simpler.

I feel that the intervening years have benefitted the re-writing of this story, and I hope readers like it and the characters living in it. It's been good visiting these old friends.