Wednesday 24 April 2013

Cake and Writing

I am currently developing my 3rd sitcom! It sounds great doesn't it? The truth is, I've gone nowhere with the first two. No matter how many times I read them or rewrite them, something doesn't feel quite right. I simply do not love them enough to even get some professional notes on them, let alone submit them to Producers.

Rather than insisting on something that's not working, I started fresh with a new idea that I've been wanting to write for the last couple of years.

It's not just the sitcoms that sit stored away in my computer, I also have a couple of features and various shorts, none of which I have deemed worthy enough to be shared. It's really bugged me though that I've not been able to just focus on one project at a time and feel the constant need to move on and start a new script. I feel like a child that desperately wants a toy but is easily distracted by a fly.

Then last week I baked my favourite cake ever and I realised that just like my writing is just like my baking. I'll explain.

I've always enjoyed baking and would never miss an opportunity to do so but it wasn't until the kids came along that I started to get a little more creative and ventured into the world of so-called novelty cakes. I admit, they are not the most mouth-watering cakes out there but they can look amazing.

My first attempt at a novelty cake was a 3D Frog for my niece from Debbie Brown's 50 Easy Party Cakes book. I remember being praised for my cake,  but you know what they say about family reading your work, well, it's the same in the cake world. It's very kind of them but I'll let you all judge it for yourselves. Let's just say, my frog wasn't very happy.

A month later it was my son's 1st birthday and his poor rubber duckie cake was a complete let down.

And so, the years went by and I kept on baking novelty cakes for various occasions. There were a couple that were quite disastrous, especially a 3D skull cake I baked for my little brother, but overall they were coming together quite nicely, especially the princess castle I baked for my niece's 4th birthday.

With every bake, I would get more compliments and comments that I should be selling my cakes, but the problem is, when you're the baker, you know where all the cracks are. You might be able to cover them and offer the cake at a different angle for others to view but to a perfectionist like myself, it just wouldn't do. I wasn't confident enough in my work to allow others to pay for it.

Then I baked a Star Wars cake and the response was so overwhelming that I finally allowed myself to start thinking bigger. For once, I was happy with it. It was absolutely not perfect, Yoda for example was bigger than Han Solo and Princess Leia, and Darth Vader was on the short side, but in terms of the actual cake, I was satisfied.

I was ready to move on to the next stage and when a friend asked if she could hire me to bake her daughter's cake, I did not hesitate to say yes. The party isn't for another 2weeks and I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well, but I am truly excited.

Meanwhile, I got the chance to do another 3D cake - Lightning McQueen. I hadn't done a 3D cake in a little while and I was picturing something that looked like McQueen but wasn't quite him. I baked my sponge and set of to mould it and frost it. The following day I had a look and it simply wasn't McQueen. I hesitated a little but then got a knife out and started to hack through the frosting. I was determined to make him perfect, not just something that looks like what it should be. By the time I was ready to add the sugar paste, I was satisfied that it was as good as it could be.

When my son walked in from school, his face lit up and all he could say was "Wow", and we know kids don't lie (maybe sometimes). I had made my best cake ever and I was impressed by my own work. Not only was the finish to my satisfaction, but the structure itself (the sponge) was quite seamless.

It's taken me 4years to finally accept that I can in fact create a cake that others will want to buy and I suddenly realised that it's for that same reason that I am yet to have a script that I am completely satisfied with.

So for now, I'll keep on writing and rewriting and who knows, the day I'm happy enough with my writing and stop giving myself a hard time about it, I'll finally get the professional notes that will help me improve it further.

Meanwhile, if anyone needs cake, it'll be my pleasure :-)

Friday 8 February 2013

An Inconvenience

My phone beeps indicating a message and for the 20th time I find myself typing “I’m OK, thanks”. And do you know what? I really am, in fact, I’m great.

For a little while now I’ve been getting the occasional lower back pain/ leg pain typical of sciatica. I roll myself on the floor, do some stretches and presto, I’m ready to get on with my daily tasks. My husband and a good friend think otherwise, they both urge me to join them for Pilates but I shrug it away. Who has time for Pilates really? I’m a busy Mum and when the kids are finally in bed, the last thing I want to do is get into the car and drive to a class. And so I keep on moving.

One Friday it all came to a standstill. I woke and couldn’t move. Turning to any side hurt, a lot! I was stuck in bed whilst downstairs my boys were having breakfast getting ready for the day ahead. Upstairs, I was immobile. I decided it just wouldn’t do. With some effort and pain, I turned myself towards the edge of the bed and rolled right off it landing flat on the ground with only my arms for support. Slowly, I got myself on all fours and then focused on standing up. It wasn’t going to happen. That was my day, I crawled down the stairs and when I finally made it after 20minutes I burst into tears. I couldn’t find anyone to help out last minute, so Taro had to stay home. It was a very long day and my greatest achievement was to get myself onto the toilet without the humiliation of having to use my son’s potty. I got prescribed anti-inflammatory meds by my lovely GP and by Monday I was mobile once again.

I was cured and back to normal and I still wouldn’t go to Pilates.

I’m not sure when it started again. Sometime before Christmas I started to get the odd pain here and there. These were funny pains. My leg would get numb for a short while whilst walking, sometimes it would get hot, others just feel pain. My back was also a little sore. It was always short lived and after a little spot of back exercises, I was new again. 

Then came the new year and my resolution to get organised meant that I needed to keep up with my to-do lists and get things done. One of those items was to sort out an appointment with the GP, so I did. By the time I got to the GP, it was almost the end of the month. By then, I was waking up daily with sharp pains that would slowly go away during the day as I moved around, but sitting down was always way too painful. I got prescribed once again anti-inflammatory meds and was over the moon. They had worked really well before and were therefore bound to work again. Five days later I was worse, much worse. It was a Saturday and my feet were numb. I found myself dragging my feet around and the pain was too great to bear. Sleeping was horrendous as my calf would burn up and I had to keep massaging it to calm it down. I cried. I didn’t know what to do, I considered calling an ambulance but it was Saturday night, possibly the worse night to go to A&E. I fell alseep and woke up feeling a little better albeit still numb. During the next couple of days, the sharp pain would return but I’d massage my legs back to numbness and all would be fine again.

That Monday I called the GP and got referred to an MRI, they couldn’t guarantee an appointment sooner than 2 weeks. I panicked and go prescribed stronger meds. The following day, it all became too much. My sister had come over to help out at home with the kids and didn’t like what she saw. The numbness had now moved up to my coccyx area, something was seriously wrong. Without delay, my sister instructed the boys to pack their bags, they were going to sleep over at her house and I was going to A&E. She contacted my husband and got him to come home.

At that point, I could no longer walk without support, my feet dragged and I had no balance. With great difficulty, I stumbled out of the cab and found a railing, I held firmly on and made my way to A&E. A few minutes later, I was giving my details to the receptionist. After finding me in the system (and realising I didn’t live in a caravan in Manchester), I got passed to the next desk. My legs were giving way, I could no longer stand there detailing my troubles, yet I couldn’t help but wonder how much they believe you and how much of an act they think people put on when telling them all their problems. I headed to the waiting area. It was full, after lying across a couple of chairs in an attempt to ease the pain, I started to scan the room for a good spot to lie down. This was A&E after all, if you’re not dying, you’re not priority. Minutes later, I was being called, ahead of everyone else. I was delighted but also quite worried. Was I really an emergency? 

For the next couple of days, I heard that word a lot: Emergency. 

The next morning I had an emergency MRI and realised just how claustrophobic I am; I enjoyed a little morphine thanks to the chatty porter who demanded some pain relief for the young lady who’s in a lot of pain; and I got my first ever bed wash! Humiliating but very welcome.

From there, I got transferred to Charing Cross hospital by a Jake Gyllenhaal lookalike for an emergency surgery. As the doctor explained,  I was priority on their emergency list and was going under the knife 1st thing in the morning, unless someone arrived and needed surgery as a matter of life and death.

I was excited! Sure, I was also scared by the things that could go wrong, but I was looking forward to walking again. I had told my son that as soon as Mummy was better, we would play football, so I focused on that.

It was 6 am and I was getting prepped, to start with, a nice bed wash and a change of sheets, I was getting used to this now. I then got visited by one of the surgeons as a matter of courtesy, and by an anesthetist to explain the process. At 8am the world was moving upside down as my bed got wheeled to the prep room. I saw bright lights as the oxygen mask covered my face and woke up in a rather large room with lots of space for other beds. I was in recovery and drifted in and out of sleep always waking up with a new face staring down at me. But then I panicked. As I moved my feet, they still felt numb. The pain was gone, but the numbness remained. I could have cried but I was so terribly dry and thirsty from the procedure there were no tears.

As a result of a tear during the operation, spinal fluid leaked. I would have to remain horizontal for the next 4 days to get it drained! It seemed like a task, 4 days of sipping water through a straw, lying sideways to eat some soft food and relying on a bed pan, which just wasn’t happening. Thankfully I was relieved of this bed torture by day 3 and was back on my feet, almost! 

I have now been home for 4days and recovery seems far away. I have battled with insomnia and am finally able to get a decent sleep again, my taste buds are coming back and along with them my appetite and coffee drinking habit, but my feet are still weights at the end of my body and my coccyx is still numb. Of course I have Googled it and people do recover, even if it takes a year but I’m human and all I focus on at times is the chance that the damage could have been permanent.

I had my first breakdown yesterday when the physiotherapist came to visit but quickly dried my tears. It really is stupid. So I can’t walk properly, my legs are very weak and using the toilet is a mission, but I’m not incontinent and I’m moving around and the strength in the leg muscles will definitely come back. I have had an amazing amount of support from family and friends and the boys’ faces when Mummy came home was priceless.

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, this certainly wasn’t planned, and could have been avoided by me not just “trying to get on with it” so often and doing the bleeping pilates. But I’m alive, I’m functioning well, I’ve got full control of my mind, body and soul and it’s not a couple of limbs that will drag me down.

I might not be fully healed yet but I am great and one day, I’m going to play football with my boys.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Free Your Mind

I’m back! 

I realise blogging about resolutions is so last week and by now you’ve probably already broken the no chocolate, no alcohol, write every day promises, but here goes mine anyway.

It seems that my 2012 resolution which stated right here that I would keep on blogging didn’t go to plan. This year, I made just the one resolution: To be Organised! That’s it, that’s all. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it really were that simple? I do honestly believe though, that by adding just a tiny more order to one’s home, writing, thoughts, and life makes a huge impact.

How best to tackle this resolution? Here are some thoughts from the point-of-view of someone who has fallen into some terrible habits and usually feels exhausted and deflated by the end of the day. Lack of time ends up being a far too common excuse and makes no sense when 10 levels of Angry Birds have been completed. No lack of time for games then eh? 

I recently came across the following chart and it illustrates perfectly what I'm aiming to achieve:

So here goes, a few steps that could help us all get there:

Is Your Routine Really the Best it could be?
Take a minute to write down what you do on a daily basis from the moment you wake up, or in my case, from the moment I get trampled all over and yelled at by two infants keen to have breakfast in the middle of the night! I have to be honest, some days it doesn’t feel like an awful lot but my head is spinning at the end of the day as my list of errands increases. On the plus side, I can tell you what many of my Facebook friends have been up to all day long. Sound familiar? Distraction just comes way too easily, and the less you have to do, the more distracted you’ll become and that will start to build up to the point where all errands and housekeeping snowball until you don’t dare think about it and end up with takeaway for dinner. Again! Nevermind the writing.
Review your routine, write an improved routine and see how that works out. (the busier you are, the more you’ll get done)

Remove the Distraction
If your new routine is still not working, perhaps it might be time to get rid of all distractions. As I type, a little box has popped up informing me I have new mail. That has to go, along with all other notifications! Set yourself certain times of day in your routine to check your e-mails and social networks. You do not need to see another photo of a cat doing something cute, or a baby with a face covered in chocolate! Well, at least not all day long, that can be done during your chill-out time. I’ve recently heard of people using timers to manage their workload and it sounds quite useful both for work and for leisure. 

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” 
― Jim Ryun

Keep a Calendar/ Diary
Fill it! Colour code it. If you’re quite good at using an app to help manage your schedule, great. I’m not. I add to one and then don’t look at it for a week. I now have a shiny new wall calendar and I walk past it all day, every day. It’s the best thing ever! 
There’s a column for each one of us in the household and I now know where everyone needs to be and when. It’s one less thing to keep in my busy mind and at a glance I know which days/ weeks will be better for writing or just note taking. 
If you love apps, I find Evernote really good for planning, sharing and storing information. 

To-Do lists are your Friend
Don’t Keep it in Your head or there will be no room for dreams!
I’m a little bit anal and really do enjoy lists and spreadsheets and so far it’s been fun. Putting it all into practice will be harder, but I’m determined to make it work.

Be realistic and take it one step at a time! It sounds obvious but it might not be. Looking at my writing goals last year, they could have been more do-able had I been more specific. Rather than having a goal that says write a feature, a more achievable goal or to-do list would be:

  1. write notes for a feature
  2. write a logline
  3. share the logline for feedback
  4. write a loose outline
  5. rewrite outline
  6. write a treatment (or beat sheet or whatever it is you do)
  7. rewrite treatment
  8. get notes
  9. write 1st draft

Now that looks a lot more achievable, rather than writing a whole feature, the 1st task on my to-do list, which I can actually cross off within a realistic time frame is simply to write down notes. And ticking that box feels good! It is no longer a monster, it is no longer a task that I want to avoid and wash the dishes instead. It is a small part of a whole which I can enjoy as I haven’t set myself too high a goal all at once.

Empty Your Sink
That takes me into another part of my life that needs to be more organised, my home. I won’t bore you with how I’m going to achieve this without a cleaner but I have noticed that I get too distracted when the house is a mess, or worse, I feel guilty. Guilt that I have chosen to write over a list of other things that need my attention.

I will share the one great tip I got from FlyLady: Always empty your sink! The longer you leave the dishes, the less motivated you are to wash your dishes. Now just try to empty the sink. Put the dishes on the stove, on the worktop, on the floor if you have to. How does that feel? Try it, it feels amazing and your dishes will get done! 

Now try to apply that to writing, whatever your metaphorical sink might be. In the words of En Vogue “Free your mind and the rest will follow”  Maybe your mind has too many ideas floating about, too many worries, too much baggage. Empty it! Keep an ideas book, write them down. Keep a to-do list, take note. Keep a diary, let it remind you of your meetings. 

Make Time for Your loved Ones
Most important of all though, make time for your friends and family. If you need to, add it to your to-do list “Call Mum/ sister/ friend/ dog”.
I have made a conscious effort to put my phone away at mealtimes. It was too easy to grab it to just check something quickly during a meal and that’s not something I want my kids to be doing if they are ever allowed their own phones. 

There you go, just a few tips on how I intend to survive this year without reaching the end with a sense of non-achievement. I just think that if you organise your life, your thoughts, you’ll be happier and those around you will too. You reflect to the outside world the energy within.

Friday 6 July 2012

Sitcom Pilots - Introducing Characters Early

After much procrastination, the time has finally come to tear apart the script to Dead End Job (sitcom pilot), and do a massive re-write.

With the BAFTA Rocliffe Forum competition deadline around the corner, we have set our deadline and hopefully the motivation and pushing force needed to get this rewrite off the ground.

The pilot has been sitting in the ‘drawer’ for a good half year since receiving some great and very useful feedback and now Taro and I are finally ready to tackle it - we have a board, post-it notes, and most of all, lots of notes and ideas on how to make it stronger.

One of the feedbacks we received was that our first scene only establishes a couple of the main characters and one of the ‘rules’ of sitcoms is to introduce all the main players right at the beginning, so adding a new character half-way through could be confusing.

I read somewhere that the pilot for Taxi managed to do this in a very creative way, by having a broken phone from which people could call anywhere they wished for free, we got a glimpse into all the characters, whilst still adding a little drama when Alex calls his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen or heard from in 15 years.

I recently watched the pilot to Friends and that was pretty excellent too, and if you haven’t watched it during one of the many re-plays, I recommend watching it right away. Now. Go!

Right, so as you hopefully noticed, we get introduced to all the characters from the go and through very clear dialogue, get a sense of their identity, all this whilst also setting up the Ross and Rachel saga that will carry the series through 10 seasons.

Based on that, how can Taro and I make our characters stronger and immediately tell our audience who these people are and what they are searching for? 

Before we start re-writing, and this is not procrastinating, it’s research, we have decided that we will be watching as many sitcom pilots as possible in the next week or two. Coincidentally, look what just popped up on my Twitter feed this week:

I took the opportunity to Storify the interesting conversation that followed between Bitter Script Reader and his followers on Twitter.

Lots of food for thought, and hopefully the more pilots we watch, the more we’ll start to see a pattern emerge and if we’re lucky it will be so engraved in our memories that writing might as well just happen by Osmosis. 

Feel free to make me any Sitcom recommendations, it would also be great to watch some that maybe break the rules and are still great.

Friday 15 June 2012

Writing Opportunities and Competitions

It’s that time again when there are various scriptwriting competitions open for submissions and there seems to be something for everyone, so if competitions are your thing, here is a list of what I’ve come across:

London Screenwriters' Festival

Deadline: June 29th

Kaos Films

Deadline: July 6th

The Bitch Pack
Deadline: July 10th

Deadline: July 12th

Regular Deadline: July 5th  Final Deadline: July 12th

Early Deadline: June 22nd  Final Deadline: July 27th

Early: July 1st  Regular: October 15th  Final: November 15th

As I was preparing to put this post together, I came across a comprehensive spreadsheet of competitions put together by Kulvinder Gill, it includes the above and many more. You can view the list here.

Finally, the BBC Writersroom keep a current list of writing opportunities on their website.

If you know of any other current or upcoming competitions or opportunities, please feel free to list it below. 

Wednesday 7 March 2012

I Propose a Challenge

It is now March, 3 months into a new year and I’ve been nowhere as productive as I’d like to have been. At the beginning of last year, hardly a day went by when I wasn’t writing and by the end of April I had completed 2x sitcoms, one feature, and had blogged 3-4 times a month. So far this year, I have done a lot of reading, even more thinking, but very little writing; blogging has also slowed down drastically.

I've always worked better to deadlines and without any in sight, I have decided I need a challenge. To all of you out there who need the extra motivation, I propose the “A Page A Day Challenge”. 

It is very simple and is exactly what it says on the label: write a page a day.

I realise one page a day doesn't sound very helpful, especially for those of you who aim to write 4 pages or more a day. How often though do we procrastinate the writing because we don't have the time, only to find that we've spent half an hour on Twitter or Facebook instead? However, if you do sit down thinking just one page, chances are by the end of the page you'll be in the zone and just carry on without even thinking about it. See what I've done there?

It's like when you sign up to the gym and never go; the minute you've passed the barrier of actually getting there and changing into your sweats, you might as well work out for an hour rather than 10minutes and it's always really invigorating.

So, if like me you need a challenge, just follow the link A Page A Day Challenge and join in the fun - because writing is fun! 

Friday 20 January 2012

Life's a Pitch

My mind has slowed down dramatically, although perhaps it’s always been slow. Not sure how I used to be an A+ student when I really struggle to hold a conversation these days. I find myself having full conversations in my mind of what I should have said, or even just a funnier punch line. If first impressions count, I’m doing a terrible job. I do remember being able to give snappy quick replies to people but those days are long gone. Am I out of practice after spending the best of four years holding conversations with toddlers who just laugh when I try to talk politics with them? Oh no, I remember, I never was any good at that. Sadly, I can’t blame the children. I might have a very logical mind and a creative flair, but as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, I could never do stand-up. In fact, I could never rule a country; unless my speeches were all prepared and rehearsed beforehand, I would most likely stutter, never mind answering all those press questions. Actually, perhaps I could rule a country…

Yes, sorry, back. I was busy imagining what I would do if I ruled the world. Probably start telling writers what they should be writing about rather than worry about the state of the economy, health and education.

The reason I worry about how I present myself to others is the fact that I’ve recently had two rather interesting experiences: networking and pitching.
Surely we should all be brilliant at both really. What are they if not selling yourself and an idea? And unless you want to appear to be someone you’re not, then just being yourself should suffice. That’s the problem really; I’m socially awkward.

Generally, I’m not a shy person and feel that I do a good job at approaching someone I’ve not met before and start up a conversation. But that’s where it all goes wrong, the content of the conversation. It’s possibly a fear of that awkward silence and in my attempt not to have those gaps where suddenly the other person remembers they need the toilet or another drink that I start to blurb. I ask stupid questions, make silly remarks or just go off on an unnecessary tangent boring myself, never mind the other person. I should have accepted the gap. The gap is a natural part of any conversation where it allows the other person to gather their thoughts too. Maybe if I allow for the gap to happen, they might get a chance to talk too thus continuing the conversation, but now, I’ve lost them, and I just want to dig a hole and hide. Thankfully, there are always those with whom the conversation flows, the gaps go unnoticed and the night is a success. So here’s a tip to myself, and others: networking is about finding people you can build relationships with, and unless it’s a natural process, it’s not going to happen. So note to self, take a deep breath and let it flow.

When it comes to pitching, I take it like a job interview, and just like the interviews I’ve had, unless I know inside out what I am talking about and in fact am passionate about the job I’m up for, I won’t cut it. I’ve had some really good interviews in the past, some that felt more like conversations between friends, but the pitches I had a few months ago were nothing like that. They were in fact terrifying. It all came down to one thing though, I didn’t have any good answers, I clearly hadn’t done my homework and didn’t know my story or characters as well as I should have. I went in for the experience and came out enlightened. I knew what I had to do to make this programme 10x stronger, and I found out that if I’m going to play this game I need to learn how to pitch. Having an interesting story to tell with strong characters is definitely a good start, but knowing the audience, why it’s different, interesting, and most of all, why it needs to be made will get you a lot further. Knowing who you are pitching to though, will also make a huge difference.

That could have been the worse pitch, but really, it’s when you (and by that I mean me) find yourself in front of a producer and decide you’re going to pitch them a script. You blurt it out and then realise you haven’t thought this through. Now remember how I said at the start that my mind has slowed down and my memory just fails? Well, having not prepared this at all, and in fact not even looked at the script for a few months, I blanked on the ending, the most important part of the script. The whole story built up to this one point and I could not remember a thing, one single detail! Of course, as I sat in the train home that night, I could have pitched it to any stranger. I knew it inside out, but pressure or time limitation makes me draw a blank, the kind of blank that I have when bumping into someone I know well unexpectedly and suddenly don’t remember their name – yes, that’s happened twice.

If like me you’re getting senile a lot earlier than expected, then make sure that you pause. There is no need to rush through conversations and pitches. Take your time. If you know there’s a chance you’ll be pitching to someone, prepare. The blurted out pitch I did? There really was no reason why I should have pitched at all. I could have just had a friendly chat and then approached him again at a later time with a stronger pitch. You rarely get those chances twice so don’t waste them.

Here are a couple of useful links on the do and don't of pitching:

  • First Impressions by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman on her column Balls of Steel for
  • Preparation and Pitching - a list of must-read links on the subject compiled by Lucy V Hay on her blog