Wednesday, May 05, 2021



Like most of the country, I had high expectations for the final episode of series six of LINE OF DUTY. I would like to say it delivered, some would argue that it did, but I suspect most viewers felt the same as I did, that while it entertained, the ending lacked the punch we were expecting.

We had a similar situation with the final season of GAME OF THRONES in 2019. Fans expectation had been high but again, bar one or two moments, it failed to deliver. So why did two of the biggest shows on British TV get it so wrong?

When it was announced the final two seasons of GAME OF THRONES would be seven and six episodes respectively, rather than the usual ten episodes we had had for previous series, fans expressed their concern that they were being cheated. Indeed, the final season felt rushed, lacking the great moments of drama and tension that had made the show so loved by so many. Those final six episodes churned through the plot at a high rate, barely pausing for breath, and what was missing were those quiet, concentrated, intimate moments of character and high drama and tension we enjoyed in those ten-episode series. That is where, I believe, GAME OF THRONES got it wrong.

If there had been ten episodes each for series seven and eight as in the previous six series, the writers would have had more time to focus on those great moments of character and spent time building tension and delivering those heart-wrenching shocks the show was known for. The battle with the Night King's army was far too brief when we were expecting it to be epic and with a ten-episode final series, it would have had more time to play out. As it was, the sense of danger, the sense that any of the main characters could be killed off at any moment wasn't there as it had been previously and the Night King and his army were defeated far too easily in a rush to get to King's Landing and have Daenerys confront Cersei.

The same can be said of Daenerys' conquering of King's Landing and the defeat of Cersei, it was all over in one episode. Daenerys' destruction of King's Landing and its people didn't ring true or have the impact I think the writers wanted. Again this moment suffered as a result of trying to cram too much into too short a time and Daenerys' fall from grace would have been so much more convincing if there had been time to explore it in greater detail.

The problem with the ending of LINE OF DUTY is a different one. The problem there lies in the difficulty of maintaining the momentum of the successive climaxes/revelations over so many series, of having to ensure you top what has come before again and again. But when you have such jaw-dropping moments of high drama as we've seen in LINE OF DUTY, it's increasingly difficult to find new ways to exceed your audience's expectation and deliver something that shocks or surprises.

After four series of LINE OF DUTY, the audience was beginning to become familiar with how Jed Mercurio played with their expectations and to a certain extent, this made it harder to deliver great moments of drama they weren't expecting. By series six we had been hit by so many jaw-dropping moments that Jed was going to have to deliver something spectacular to top what he had delivered before. It didn't come. Whether that was deliberate or not, I'll discuss later.

We were expecting the fourth man/woman to be someone conniving and wickedly clever, someone who would run rings around AC-12 and push them to their limits and beyond. Buckells wasn't that man! He didn't even come close! He wasn't the arch-nemesis we demanded but a comically inept officer who just happened to pass on information to the OCG. His character lacked impact and so did his interview. Why? Because he was already in custody when they rumbled him and consequently there wasn't that anticipated, tense last-minute dash to hunt him down and bring him to justice. They just went to pick him up from the prison and interviewed him. Even good old Ted mocked him for his ineptitude as a police officer.

However, I'm thinking this might be deliberate, a ploy by Jed to take us into a seventh series where the battle to uncover the real fourth man/woman really takes place as he or she works against the team to tear them apart and shut down their investigation. There, for me, is the tension missing from the final episode of series six, the sense of urgency that the fourth man/woman needs to be found and brought to justice before he or she can disband the heroic AC-12 team and defeat them... only time will tell, but if I were you, I wouldn't be too surprised when series seven is announced.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


My new TV drama spec was finally finished and I happily emailed it to my agent. Job done, I thought... but what next?

I had planned to start a feature as my next project when I decided to have a quick flick through my old script files first. I have no idea why I chose to skim through my old screenplays, what prompted me or what the aim was, but I'm glad I took the time to do so.

It wasn't long before I came across a comedy TV pilot I had written several years ago. I found myself laughing out loud at its premise, its boldness and its sheer stupidity. What had I been thinking back then? But something about it struck a chord with me. Something about it cried out for attention. Something about it said, 'this story needs telling and the time is NOW!"

The creative juices started flowing; how I could update it, how I could change it to reflect a post-Covid world, how could I alter the characters to make them more relevant? It was like an explosion went off in my head and after months of little creativity, my brain decided it was time to make up for it. And it did a flipping good job.

I have to be honest, it surprised me. Firstly, I hadn't expected the screenplay to be as good as it was, after all, it's almost a decade old. Secondly, I hadn't expected to have so many new ideas bombarding me from all angles, enabling me to take the project forward in a new direction. Lastly, I can't believe the level of excitement it has generated in me.

So a project I thought dead, not only has new life but is also now a story of hope, something so desperately needed after a difficult year for everyone.

Take a chance and every now and then go back over your old ideas and look at them with distance and fresh eyes, and maybe, just maybe they might spark a new idea that will take you forward as a writer.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021


It's been an awful year and not just because of Covid-19 and successive lockdowns.

Speaking purely from a writing perspective, it's been the worst twelve-months of my career. Even the commissioning of my seventh feature in July did little to lift me out of an extended creative slump. I barely wrote a word in 2020 and what I did write, I'm still agonising over months later, bogged down in the detail of the first ten pages of a TV drama spec I can't push myself to complete. I'm still rewriting/deleting/rewriting those same ten pages over and over again, never managing to get any closer to something I can conjure any pride in. None of my ideas have clicked, none have added to the original idea and in most cases, they've made the overall tone of the screenplay considerably worse.

I'd like to think the lack of creativity is down to my private writing space being invaded by a work from home wife and two homeschooling kids, all four of us competing for the same workspace and wi-fi bandwidth, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month...

Unfortunately, months of lockdowns have sapped all creativity from my little grey cells. I even hit Netflix, Disney + and Sky Box Sets hard, binge-watching my way through a series or two a week in an attempt to jumpstart my creative drive, and I still find my creativity is a pale, lifeless corpse. I can barely muster the enthusiasm to sit at a keyboard for an hour a day. That blinking cursor taunts me and my impotent creativity as I witness other's achievements posted on social media with a sense of resignation and envy and not the pleasure, pride and camaraderie I used to. This is what I have become, a shadow of who I was before anyone first mentioned lockdown and isolation, a creative and emotional cripple with no drive, limping from one day to the next like a directionless zombie.

I know others are experiencing the same sense of hopelessness and demotivation but it's of little comfort because it still feels as if I'm the only one. I can't help but wonder how honest people are when posting their successes on Facebook and what the real struggles are behind those celebratory headlines. I also know this isn't forever, that it's just a temporary, insignificant blip in a lifetime of dedication and that I shouldn't punish myself during an unprecedented global situation where over a million people haven't been as lucky.

Now and again there are a few hours of frantic focus that may or may not result in a page of something half decent and I try to hold to those moments of encouragement amongst the hopelessness I feel for any future, personal or career-focused.

You are not the only one. Hang in there. Stay safe.

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020


The trailer for THE WATCH, the much anticipated BBC America adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett's novel GUARDS GUARDS, landed three weeks ago to heavy criticism from fans. With the likes of sci-fi and fantasy author Aliette de Bodard stating it made her feel like, "someone took my teenage years and just repeatedly trampled them while setting them on fire," and Sir Terry's daughter Rhianna Pratchett Tweeting that the show shared no DNA with her father's Watch, the criticism highlights just how difficult it is to adapt a much-loved piece of work.

GUARDS GUARDS is my second favourite book of all time and I have to be honest I was dreading any adaptation as the last adaptation of books I loved from my teens, THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES based on the SHANNARA series by Terry Brooks, sucked massive bum chunks. I hated it, mainly for the writing but also for the poor casting and the dicking around with the lore of the books, so I can empathise with the Sir Terry fans who dread the launch of THE WATCH. However, I have to say I do like the look of the trailer and I'm intrigued to see what they've done with the series. I'll decide whether it sucks massive bum chunks or not when the series launches, but for now I'm happy to keep an open mind.

The reason I'm happy to keep an open mind is that I've written three feature novel adaptations in the past and know how difficult it is to write one to please the author, the fans and the producer. I accept that an adaptation can't be exactly the same as the source novel because they are two very different mediums, one formed of words and the other pictures. It's easy to get into a character's head when you're writing a novel, exploring their thoughts, fears and working through their thought process but it's almost impossible to translate that to the screen.

Who remembers the original BLADE RUNNER with it's clunky, distracting and often intrusive voiceover? That there is the problem summed up in one film. If you use voiceover to portray a character's thoughts on screen it seems artificial, often patronising to an audience and don't get me started on characters breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the camera. Both options rarely work with adaptations or add anything to the finished product. They are just a cheat, a simple way to get around the problem of adaptation without actually solving it.

When adapting a novel you need to come at it from a fresh perspective, from an angle that will keep the essence of the original story but give the audience something new. If you give them exactly what they're expecting the audience will be satisfied but the bigger impact will come from giving them something new, something more evolved and unexpected. The way I approach writing an adaptation is to look for the core of the story, the heart of the tale being told and start from there. 

Let's examine THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, adapted into the 2009 film of the same name. It is probably the best adaptation of a novel I have ever seen, focussing on the core love story between the protagonist and his wife, which is complicated by his unpredictable time travelling. Yet, the author, Audrey Niffenegger, hated the adaptation and swore that none of her future novels would ever be adapted. Without knowing what she was expecting from the film, I can't really comment on why she was so disappointed with the result, although an unhappy author is a problem I too have faced.

When I was called upon to adapt Ken Smith's coming-of-age novel COWBOYS CAN FLY I decided to focus on the friendship of the two boys and the companionship they found in each other's company. When I passed on the first draft to Ken he wasn't entirely happy and complained I had taken a lot of the humour out of the story. We sat down (via the internet) and talked it over. I discover that by 'humour' he meant the rude bits and I explained why the protagonist couldn't be seen to have erections or disappear behind a bush for a quick wank if we wanted to keep the story PG, making it accessible to a wider audience. Ken eventually understood this and I then went back and layered some of Ken's less blue humour back into the screenplay making it a more fun and appealing read.

Some scenes from the book made it into the screenplay and some did not. I also added scenes I thought would work well with the story and characters and when Ken read the second draft he was happy with it. However, I don't think as an author you can ever be entirely happy with an adaptation of your novel unless you write the screenplay yourself, simply because so much of it does get lost in the translation to a visual medium.

I remember a similar cry last year over Sarah Phelp's adaptation of the Poirot tale THE ABC MURDERS. Fans were horrified that Sarah had dared to change the lore of Poirot, making him an older now forgotten detective past his prime and revealing in flashback that he was once a priest. What did the audience expect? Another carbon copy of all the other versions of this story? It really would have been very boring and pointless to copy what has come before and more interesting and entertaining to reinvent Poirot, adding new layers and depth to a character who has now become so familiar it's very difficult to make a version of the novels without the audience knowing what's coming. If Sarah had not refreshed an old, familiar character and added more flesh to his bones, the adaptation would have largely passed unnoticed. As it was, it was a brilliant piece of TV drama and I for one can't wait until her next.

Last month I finished my third adaptation, a feature version of Douglas Hill's 80s sci-fi novel YOUNG LEGIONARY for Plenitude Productions. I was a little nervous taking this adaptation on as, like fantasy fans, sci-fi lovers can be very protective of their favourite works.

The problem with adapting YOUNG LEGIONARY was that the original source novel was a collection of four short stories which didn't work as one feature, and choosing what to include and what to leave out proved a big headache. In the end, the producers asked me to concentrate on the first two stories with the greatest part of the screenplay focussing on the struggles and teen angst of the second tale. As the second story was quite short I've had to expand the plot while keeping the essence of the original story and characters intact. Douglas Hill's core story is still there, it's just my interpretation, exploration and expansion of it that will make it to the big screen and when it does, I hope the fans of the original will love it.

What you the audience needs to bear in mind is that an adaptation is not a direct retelling of a familiar story, and because of the differences in the mediums as explained above, it can never be so. An adaptation is the producer, director and writer's vision of the original story, a retelling with new insights and twists that are true to the core plot and characters but which examine closely and expand on the source material. So if you're unsure or nervous about THE WATCH give it a chance, as will I, and make your mind up when you've seen the producer's full vision for Sir Terry's much-loved novel.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 09, 2020


Writers' Block isn't real! There, I've said it. I know, madness, right? But no, it's true, writers' block doesn't exist and here's why.

Writers' block is a myth perpetuated by writers who have run out of things to say, whose idea doesn't have legs or who haven't prepared their screenplay/novel outline properly. "Oh no, I've hit a wall on page 30!" That's because you didn't plan your beat outline, sometimes called a scene by scene, well enough, not because you've hit an actual wall. You should really only run into problems if your planning is lacking and your idea is poorly thought out.

There are also times when your motivation will be low and you find yourself struggling to put words on the page even with a beat outline, but there will never be a point in your career when you simply go blank and can't write anything. There is ALWAYS something you can be getting on with even if that means going back and reworking your beat outline.

Here are a few tips to help avoid the brick wall and keep those words flowing even during moments of low motivation.

  • PREPARE IN ADVANCE - Whether you're writing a TV episode or a feature write a paragraph for each beat of your story before you start - usually twenty beats for TV and forty for a feature. Make sure you hit all the necessary points - the catalyst, the break into act two, the midpoint and the break into act three. Work and rework your beat outline until you're happy it works perfectly. Once it's well-worked and polished it then becomes your guide for writing the screenplay.
  • JUMP TO ANOTHER BEAT - Even if you do work everything out sometimes you'll come to write a scene and won't know exactly how that scene is going to play out. That's fine, there's no pressure. If this happens just jump to another scene in your outline and write that instead. You'll usually find that when you come back to the original scene you were stuck on it has miraculously sorted itself out in your head while you were writing other scenes.
  • FEED YOUR TEA/COFFEE ADDICTION - Can't quite get the core of your scene then go make yourself a drink. Even a few moments away to make yourself a drink can be enough to reignite the ideas and give you inspiration. Drink enough coffee and you'll actually have trouble stopping those words being typed. I find I'm usually at my most productive on two to three cups of coffee. Your acceptable caffeine level may be different.
  • WALK THE DOG - Going for a walk for an hour gives you the headspace to restart the brain so that when you get back to your desk those words should flow easily once more. If you can go for a walk where there are trees and grass then even better. Don't think about your work just enjoy the walk and the exercise.
  • WRITE BOLLOCKS - Just write. Don't tie yourself up in knots about getting the perfect words down on the page, just write anything. It's easier to rewrite a page of crap than it is to rewrite a blank page. So many writers I know get so hung up on the first sentences of their scenes that they spend an entire day just writing once scene. Just put words on the page and then worry if they're crap or not later. Quantity is for the first draft, quality is for later drafts.
  • ANOTHER PAIR OF EYES - If you're really stuck then let someone else read your work and give you feedback. Sometimes you can be so close to your idea you can't see the faults, so a fresh pair of eyes can help move you along.
  • MIND MAP - If you've run out of ideas or think you have, try using a mind map to work through your existing ideas and see if they inspire some new ones. I never settle for the first idea that jumps into my head as they are usually clenched and overused. It's when I get to my third, fourth or even tenth idea that I get really excited as I find they're usually the best ones. I find it helps to write down anything to do with my idea before I embark on a beat outline so that I've explored every corner of every branch of every idea to the fullest extent that I can. The more ideas you put down, even the silly ones, the more you have to work from.
  • ALCOHOL - Have an alcoholic beverage. Don't get pissed, just have one or two, just enough to distract your brain so you stop thinking so much and start writing lots. This one is usually a last resort if all the others have failed to do their job and is not recommended if you're in the last few hours of a deadline.
As I've said above, if you run into a brick wall it's usually because your planning, that extensive beat outline, isn't as well planned as you originally thought. There's no shame in admitting it and it might even help to stop writing and go back to your beat outline and rework it some more.

The most important thing to remember is not to put pressure on yourself. Put the words on the page and then rework them later so they make sense. Keep the words flowing even if you have to come at your project from a different angle to make it work.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 02, 2020


I read a lot of screenplays from writers of all abilities and the one thing I often find these screenplays lack are credible character arcs.

Story seems to be the main obsession for most writers. More often than not they focus entirely on their fantastically imaginative stories but populate them with cliched or uninteresting characters we've seen a million times before. It's no wonder then that writers are puzzled and frustrated as to why their screenplays don't get the attention they expect. So how can you ensure your characters match the ambition of your story ideas?

By asking yourself the following questions about your character. If you can't answer all of these questions about your character then you really don't know who they are. And if you don't know who your characters are how do you expect your audience to know?

Character Flaws: What is your character's major flaw? What is it about him/her/it that makes them absolutely the very worst person to be going on this journey?

In LIAR LIAR, Fletcher lies to everyone, his clients, his colleagues, judges and even his son. It's not only his job to lie, but it's also the core of who he is. He's a born liar. So when his son wishes that his dad can't lie for one whole day, Fletcher has to find another way to win the case he's presenting in court. If the same wish was cast upon a priest, for example, the outcome wouldn't have such a huge impact as it would on someone who lies for a living, as the priest would be used to telling the truth. However, if that priest didn't believe in God and always broke the ten commandments then his life would be thrown into as much chaos as Fletcher's.

It is also often the case that the character's major flaw is what saves him/her/it. In Fletcher's case, because he's been an expert liar all his life he's able to spot another lie and this eventually helps him win his case in court.

Character Journeys: When your story begins what is it your character wants? What is their goal? How do they go about getting what they want and reaching that goal?

This is where conflict and the obstacles you put in the way of your main character come in. This is where you put your character through increasingly worsening situations and obstacles on their way to their goal. Fletcher's goal is to win his case. But he can't lie for twenty-four hours and so attempts to delay the court hearing in increasingly more desperate ways so he can win it the next day in the only way he knows how by lying. Of course, he fails and this brings me on to the next part of your character's journey...

What does your character actually need? And how is your character going to realise what he needs? Fletcher needs to stop lying and be more honest with people, especially his son. He only comes to realise this when he wins his case by telling the truth and his son is about to be taken from him. He learns the value of truth and gets his family back. Huzzah! The character may not always be blind to what they need but might have chosen instead to ignore it. This too is an option.

So those questions again are:

1 - What is your character's major flaw?

2 - What does your character want or what is their goal?

3 - How are they going to go about getting what they want or reaching their goal?

4 - What does your character actually need to grow as a person?

5 - How does your character come to realise what they need?

Now you've asked and answered those questions about the main character you have to do exactly the same for all your other main characters. Even your secondary or background characters will have their own wants and goals and you will have to think about how they're going to go about getting what they want or achieving their goals. Your secondary or background characters won't necessarily require a need like your main characters but they will require a want or goal for them to work towards.

Remember, try to think of several answers for each of the questions above for each of your characters. Try a few different combinations and try to steer yourself clear of cliche. The more original, interesting and unusual your characters are, the more memorable they will be.

Now your characters are a little clearer in your mind you'll find your fantastically imaginative story has just got a whole lot better. Now you've explored your imagination new ideas for your story will present themselves elevating your already quite decent idea to something special.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 08, 2020


After blogging last week about how to write a screenplay in six weeks, I received a few expressions of concern from new writers via social media, who were worried that I was putting undue pressure on them and weakening the quality of their work by setting unrealistic time delivery expectations.

Let me be very frank with you, writing screenplays is a very competitive industry, one where a writer is asked to deliver quality work to tight deadlines. This is not said to be mean or to put anyone off, it is a fact that has and always will be the case. A writer who can deliver when asked is always sought after by producers even if the quality might sometimes suffer slightly. A writer who struggles to deliver will often be dropped from a project and replaced at short notice to ensure the deadline is met. It's not cruel, unrealistic or overly demanding to do this, it's simply a reality of the industry we work in.

A company can't halt or postpone a production because the writer isn't able to deliver what is required of them in the time set. The TV show or feature is bigger than the sum of its parts and at the end of the day, decisions are ruled by money. In an ideal world, a writer would have all the time they require to write and polish their labour of love - indeed a new writer working on a spec does indeed have this luxury - but the reality is that in the professional world, they don't.

I've known writers to be replaced on TV shows because they've struggled to deliver a script on time. I've known writers who have gone in and replaced a writer under these circumstances, it's not ideal but it's a necessity to ensure the project is delivered on time and in budget. Every professional understands this. If, as a new writer you can't accept this, your career won't progress very far. To put it as plainly as I can; if you can't deliver there will always be ten writers waiting behind you who can, so why would a producer spend time on you when they can easily bring in another writer to do what they require?

I've also been in the position where I've been brought in to replace an existing writer because the writer was struggling to produce what was expected of him. It was an awkward experience but I got my head down and delivered what was asked of me to the delight of the producer.

If you're a new writer and are worried about deadlines, set your own. When I started out I would ask working writers how long they took to write different lengths of screenplays. I then took the average for each and forced myself to write to these self-imposed deadlines. I didn't need to, no one would have known any different if I hadn't, but I did it because I wanted to prove I could do it and because I wanted to improve as a writer to make sure that when I was offered my first commission I would be confident of delivering. Why not try it for yourself, what have you got to lose?

Happy writing!