Writer’s blog, Week 49

Blog9Dec

I know. It’s been a while. It’s been more than a while. A gentleman discerning enough to use an avatar of Mark E Smith asked me via the medium of social media the other day what had happened to my blog. He surmised, correctly, that I have been too busy to keep it up. The truth be told, this year has been one of working harder and earning less, a pattern clearly replicated across this whole stinking world. Although I’ve not been writing here, I’ve been writing. And although I’ve not been writing in the desired form of a script that has been made into a television programme, I have been scriptwriting. It used to be known as development hell, although it’s hardly a hell, as you do get paid a stipend to write a script, even if it never gets past the stage of being words on a screen. (Actually, I always print my scripts out to read them, as they don’t seem real until you are holding them in your hands. If they exist physically, you can pretend they’re being made into television.)

In the accompanying picture above (what would nowadays be called a “selfie”, although these were invented long before the camera-phone), I am sitting in a hotel room in Aberystwyth in Ceredigion, West Wales. The hotel is the Belle Vue and it’s right on the front. Here is the view from my window last night when we checked in at around 7.30pm after the five-hour, one-change train journey from London.

AberPM I love the sounds of waves crashing and seagulls cawing. Because I spent pretty much every summer holiday as a boy in North Wales, I feel very much at home in this country. I’ve spent more time in North and South Wales, though, and less in Mid-, and it’s my very first time in Aberystwyth. If you’ve been following the story, you’ll have probably guessed why I’m here. The groundbreaking Welsh/English detective noir Y Gwyll, or Hinterland, is set and shot in Aberystwyth. I am here, in a landscape you could not make up, in weather you’d usually have to put in afterwards, to effect what’s known in the trade as a “set visit”. That is, I’ve been invited to visit the set, which in this case, was an actual barn near a farm just outside Borth, where a temporary production base had been established under a gazebo.

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I did take some pictures of the filming of a scene involving Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias, Mali Harries as DI Mared Rhys and another actor as a farmer, but these may be embargoed, as series two of Y Gwyll won’t be airing on S4C (in Welsh) and then BBC Wales (in English and Welsh) until autumn 2015. There’s a one-off special on S4C on New Year’s Day, which is intended to sate fans of the show in the interim. (If you haven’t seen it – and you really should – it’s a case-of-the-week crime-solver that has its own broader arc about Mathias’s past, so you can dip in and it will still work.) I’m sure you’re aware that the show’s trick – which it didn’t invent, but is rare – is to film every scene with dialogue twice, once in Welsh, once in English (and some Welsh, where applicable), thereby literally doubling the work of the cast and crew, but in the process doubling its marketability in an international TV market, something that’s clearly working for them, having sold it to Denmark, Holland, Belgium, the US and Canada (on Netflix) and countless others. Not bad for a show set in Aberystwyth.

On our windswept arrival last night, Tash from the PR company (in charge of delivering me to my destination) and I repaired to a bar and cafe – highly recommended locally – called Baravin. While the cast and crew are filming, some based in Aber, others in Borth, many of them far away from hearth and home, this magnificently sited venue seems to be a magnet. It faces out onto the seafront and serves artisan pizzas, draught beer and something called an “espresso Martini”, which sounded like a terrible idea at the beginning of the evening, but a good one at the end of it.

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At Baravin, we met Richard Harrington, Mali Harries (both of whom I appear to have known for years, or at least that’s the impression I got from the warm way they greeted me) and producers the voluble Ed Thomas and more quietly spoken Gethin Scourfield. We had a tremendous evening with all four. I didn’t take my dictaphone out, but we chatted about the show, and the way it’s produced, and it’s all “colour” for the feature I will write to coincide with transmission of series two in about ten months’ time. Our hosts provided plenty. Richard is dark and authoritative onscreen (if you’ve not seen Y Gwyll, you may remember him from Spooks), but in real life, he feels hewn from the same rock as his namesake Burton. An elemental figure, I of course blame him for talking me into an espresso Martini.

You sensed he was up for going after-hours, but the rest of us were knackered and opted for ending the evening when the bar did. (His co-star and producer/director were not even drinking.)

It being Wales, where the stars are visible in the sky, and a promenade, where the sea puts you to sleep, I slumbered hard, woken only once at 4am when two young women who had gone after-hours sang a modern pop song under my window from the pavement below. I could only admire them.

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Tempted out for a pre-breakfast walk along the front to the pier this morning, I felt blessed to witness the murmuration of starlings, who shot out from under the Royal Pier and filled the sky. I don’t think my non-iPhone really captured the glory, but you can’t blame me for trying, presented with that. This may be a writer’s blog, but I’m painting a lot of this with pictures.

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One full English/Welsh inside me, and we were off to the set. This is me, pretending to be a vital cog in the Y Gwyll machine, sitting on a plastic chair under the gazebo, watching a monitor and wearing some headphones so that I can hear the Welsh and English words being said by the actors into the microphones. I am well wrapped up against the cold. It would have been pathetic of me to even admit to myself that I was feeling the cold, as I was only on set for half a day, and these dedicated professionals do it for twice that long, every day, for weeks on end.

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This photo depicts me and S4C Drama Commissioner Gwawr Martha Lloyd, whom I have met before, showing our frozen appreciation for the arrival of on-set catering in polystyrene boxes wrapped in tin foil and cling film. (For the record, I am holding two portions of main course and dessert, only one of which is for me.) After about five hours of being among the elements, it was the thought of getting into a warm car and being driven to a warm train station where a warm train awaited that was keeping me alive.

Ten hours on the train there and back, but 20 hours spent in the salty, reed-filled embrace of Aberystwyth and Borth, getting a boyhood Proustian rush from the Welsh signs, the stern, symmetrical, chapel-like Welsh houses and the sight of endless sheep. Ceredigion really is “Hinterland Country” now. If you know the first series, you will literally spot houses and bridges and garages you’ve seen on telly in real life. This is a show that, unlike so much geographically faked TV fiction, lives and breathes its authentic, living, breathing environments. Gethin and director Julian Jones let us accompany them on a location scouting trip to Borth where we trod infinite dunes and were almost literally run off private farmland after a wrong turn.

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An unusual day in a writer’s life, and a rewarding one, whose printed fruits exist only in the future.

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Writer’s blog, Week 40, Thursday

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It is Thursday. It was quiet when I came into this coffee shop in a department store and secured my pleasant window seat just after it opened at 9.30am, but it is now noisier than the trading floor of the stock exchange, except with crying babies. Which is not to say I am getting any less done. When you’re a have-laptop-will-work transient, you learn to shut the noise out. I put my earphones in and thought seriously about listening to the new U2 album, which arrived for free in iTunes, but I couldn’t bring myself to press play. That’s what happens when you give something away for free. I’d rather hear the noise of babies actually crying and toddlers doing that whining thing that isn’t really crying, more a chorus of disgruntlement. I channel my disgruntlement through my fingers into my laptop.

I read a really good blog this week from Danny Brocklehurst, the blessed younger-than-me writer with a CV that gleams with Clocking Off, Shameless, The Street and Accused – the sorts of strands I’d love to have written for, had I not backed myself down the cul-de-sac of comedy – and is now crowned with The Driver, a project I’ve known about for a long time as I occasionally have a coffee with David Morrissey, its star and co-producer. Danny’s blog (I’ve never met him, by the way, but feel sufficient writerly solidarity to call him by his first name), was on the fabulous Writers’ Room website, and was mainly about writing The Driver. Read it here.

I always find the story of a project’s genesis interesting, as I’ve been there myself many times, albeit predominantly these days with projects that do not come to fruition and therefore do not qualify me to blog about them on the Writers’ Room website! Danny says that once he and his co-creator had come up with the idea for The Driver, he sat down and wrote the whole first episode, without waiting for anyone to ask him to. This means he wrote it on spec, which means for free. I envy him, I can’t lie. To be able to afford to do that is such a luxury. I’d love to just sit down and write a script, but it’s not practical. If I was commissioned to write one – and I currently have one project “in development” – I’d be able to clear the decks and concentrate on it.

These were Danny’s wise words on being in development:

Development can be painful sometimes. But the secret to getting through it is to listen to others whilst trying to keep hold of your original vision. If you start writing what you think others want, nobody is going to be happy.

I feel his pain – and recognise his truth. If you don’t have the time to read his blog, he says that of the three episodes that comprise The Driver, one of them had to be rewritten from scratch. No writer is too good, or too decorated, or too old, to have to do that. It’s part of the process.

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I am off to see the Head of Development at a very successful production company this afternoon. I’ve met him and worked with him before, but at another company, so it’s like starting again; I’ve also been in to talk about possible projects with at least two other people at the same successful production company in the past. One project actually expanded to at least three further meetings and a lunch, followed by a frenzied period of development with another writer, which led to a brick wall, and neither of us was paid a single penny for our time. So, Danny Brocklehurst was able to afford to write a whole episode of The Driver for free, and this other writer and I were expected to work up a storyline for an imagined comedy, also for free. If you’re a writer, you have to write and you don’t need anyone else’s permission first. If you don’t have to write, you might not be a writer. But when writing becomes your living, it’s sometimes irksome to have to do it with no guarantee of any recompense.

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I wonder if the small soya latte that you make last for two and a quarter hours is the most perfect symbol of a writer’s life? It costs money. So when you sit and write for two and a quarter hours with no guarantee of any recompense, you are literally down on the deal before you start. But what better inspiration to write something inspiring than having invested three pounds, and made yourself irritable with toddler whining and a laptop battery that tells you you’re down to 48%? (I was inspired to write this, but it’s better than nothing.)

I will pitch two things at the meeting. Unless it’s my lucky day, I have a sneaking feeling that neither will go any further, because producers and heads of development can always think of a reason why a commissioning editor won’t “go for it”. They are paid to know this, but it’s not an exact science, as commissioning editors a) change jobs all the time, and b) change their minds all the time.

I was planning to put a comedy idea in at the next “offers round” at Radio 4, having licked my wounds after the cancellation of Mr Blue Sky for long enough, but was tipped off that the commissioning editor didn’t want anything “media-related”, which my idea was. I tried to de-media it, but it made no sense without the media angle, so I stopped trying to bend it into a new shape, with Danny Brocklehurst’s wise words resonating around my head (“If you start writing what you think others want, nobody is going to be happy”).

I don’t believe commissioning editors when they say, “We don’t want anything to do with the media,” because if they didn’t, why would Episodes or W1A be on my television?

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The project I actually have in development is moving at a slow pace. (Once someone is paying you some development money, they earn the right to ask, “How soon can you get it to us?”, but you are not entitled to deliver a draft and say, with similar urgency, “How soon can you get your notes back to us?”) Luckily, I pitched a feature idea to the Guardian last week and they said an immediate yes, so I researched and wrote it, and delivered the copy yesterday and they like it. When TV moves at treacle pace, it’s refreshing to write something for a daily newspaper (albeit for the weekly Film section, so the publication window comes round less often).

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On a similarly straightforward note, I had a job on Sunday which was paid, and yet entirely pleasurable: to host the Q&A after the world premiere of the first episode of the second series of Peaky Blinders in its spiritual home of Birmingham. That is a shot I took of my own access-all-areas pass as I sat, alone, in the green room beforehand, while stars like Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, creator Steve Knight and Benjamin Zephaniah soaked up the Brummie love on the red carpet. I’ve done a lot of Q&As, and if I could make my living out of doing it, sometimes I think I would. It’s fun. I find it thrilling rather than nerve-wracking, and I love meeting talented, creative people, even if we’re miked up in the process.

Being the host, moderator, facilitator, whatever, gives you a hint of importance, but you always know your place in the hierarchy, so it’s both elevating and humbling. But who wouldn’t want to see their name on a cinema seat?

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It goes without saying that Steve Knight, a prolific and voluble individual with internationally acclaimed screenplays as well as this vast civic passion project under his belt, is one of those writers who’s currently inspiring me to get out of the comedy cul-de-sac. For a man so busy, I was surprised and encouraged to learn that he starts writing very early and likes to knock off at around 2pm. God, at least he’s about five years older than me – that’s far less worrying when you think your moment might have passed. I genuinely don’t believe mine has, but it crosses my mind more than it used to.

Also, he’s among the three men who came up with the format of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in the late 90s. So I guess – I hope! – he too can afford to write a script for free.

And U2 can certainly afford to chuck out an album for free. I wonder what it’s like?

 

 

Writer’s blog, Week 29, Friday

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It’s Friday. Not quite the end of the working week, as I have to write and clip Telly Addict tomorrow. Yesterday, I found myself in Hastings, just for one day, and – a complete stranger in town – I was surprised and delighted to run into an old friend from Chelsea School of Art, who was in the year above me and whom I may not have seen since the 90s, maybe even the 80s: Peter Quinnell (whose website is here should you wish to commission one of his fabulously arch collages, which he has been perfecting for 25 years). The reason I mention it, is that he called me “Andy.” Because when he knew me, in the mid-80s, I was called Andy.

I dug out my 1979 diary, above, as it marks the first transition from my birth name Andrew, to what I felt was the cooler and more casual Andy. As you can see, I carefully Letrasetted “Andrew Collins” onto the Boots page-a-day diary to confirm ownership, presumably when I first got it, for Christmas 1978. However, this was the year punk broke in Northampton (sorry, but it was), and certainly the year puberty broke in my endocrine system, hence the later branding, in punk-styled ransom lettering, carefully sealed under Sellotape: “Andy Collins. Private!”

The name-change, aged 14, was non-negotiable. It went on all my exercise books. I practised writing it, and elongated it into an artistic “signature”. I was saying to the world in a first flush of defiant individualism: Andrew – he dead.

It’s weird to be called Andy again. But perfectly normal for Pete to do so, as I was sealed in the aspic of time as far as he’s concerned. Still Andy. Still a student. Twenty eight years have passed since he graduated from Chelsea; 27 since I did. We all reinvent ourselves to a degree, although he was instantly recognisable when I saw him unlocking his car on Hastings’ Old High Street, and he only had to look twice to recognise me coming towards him. I must have looked something like this when he last saw me:

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And now I look like this.

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Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego … If you can identify which film that quote comes from, you’ll be ahead of me here. Yesterday I was tasked with telling the 46-year story of the Planet Of The Apes franchise for Radio Times, to tie in with the fact that the second rebooted entry in the series Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is imminent, and the first, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, is showing in two Saturdays’ time on C4. This is the kind of piece I am retained by the magazine to write. Most of the time, the film section is headed up by a straightforward actor/director junket interview, but occasionally, it remains unfilled until the last minute – Wednesday afternoon – when I must step in and provide a 750-800 word feature from scratch. It’s a bracing commitment.

As previously stated, I do not romanticise my own writing ability. If anything, I have delusions of adequacy. But I know I can write quickly, and to a reasonable professional, spell-checked, word-counted standard, and I never play the prima donna or tortured artist. Brief me at 2pm and I’ll deliver 800 words by 3.30pm. (Luckily for me, the sub-editors at Radio Times are wizards, so you’re always going to look better on the page than you ought.) Anyway, the reason I bring up the Apes feature is that, rather than just trot out the story, I tried to personalise it. This is encouraged. I reflected on the early 80s and an era in which my school- and then college-pal Paul Garner and I were obsessed with movie makeup effects.

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This imported 1983 issue of horror/fantasy/sci-fi journal Cinefantastique, which we both pored over as it were a holy sacrament, sums up our religion during that devoted period. In gory detail, its vast cover story unpicks makeup genius Rob Bottin’s work on John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film Paul and I were dying to see. Although both of us loved drawing and caricatures – Paul actually produced a full-size, Mad magazine-influenced spoof of Planet Of The Apes (one of our favourite films) – he was the ingenious one who also moved into 3D model and mask design. I just sat on the sidelines and thrilled to his amateur triumphs: a full-head werewolf mask, a Woody Allen forehead and glasses (which I wore in a play). He went on to earn his living as a commercial artist, storyboarding and creating incredible bespoke prints, usually with a horror/fantasy/sci-fi theme. Once you’ve seen Peter Quinnell’s work, you might want to browse Paul’s.

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See, there’s a link here, and it was too good not to get down while I sit here in the Library. In writing about my fanboy love of makeup artists for next week’s Radio Times (they’ve headlined it, “Confessions Of A Fanboy”, which it kind of isn’t), I reminisced about my friend Paul, who pursued his love of art and design and made it his profession. Although I’ve seen him on and off into the current century, he will still think of me as “Andy”. In visiting Hastings and bumping into another friend, from college, who also called me “Andy”, I was once again reminded that I never pursued my love of art and design into a full-time career – although it opened the door for me to journalism, so I couldn’t have got here (wherever here is) without it.

I reverted from Andy back to Andrew in the late 80s, when I sought to establish myself as a professional illustrator, and had an invoice book and an accountant and my first answering machine. I drew the covers of these.

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I seem to remember I was discouraged by the design agency that employed me from signing the artwork, as it might be considered self-aggrandising by the client, Trinity-Mirror. So after all that fannying around about Andrew and Andy and Andrew (and, at one pseudonymous stage, Boone), I was anonymous.

I was the man with no name. The unknown artist. It squashes a man’s ego.

 

Writer’s blog, Week 26, Monday

Blog16June

Back in London, as I missed the humidity, litter, scaffolding, oligarchs, controlled parking and housing bubble. They don’t even have an Aldi here! It’s Monday. A new week of fiddling while Rome burns, if fiddling is a metaphor for doing little bits of jobs rather than anything meaningful on a large-scale ongoing commission, and Rome is a metaphor for my career.

With Sitcom A in post-BBC3 limbo and Drama A in a holding pattern while a potential broadcaster gets round to reading the 32-page, 17,000-word synopsis (come on, hurry up!), my creative juices are being diverted into the channel marked “NEW IDEAS”. Although what we call in the trade “small jobs” overlapped and expanded to fill my three full days in glorious, sun-dappled, Northamptonian exile (a TV review for the Guardian Guide’s Other Side page which shouldn’t have taken that long but I still feel as if I’m on probation in the actual paper; my Telly Addict script plus clips; some time-consuming editing work which already feels as if it’s taken three times as much time as I charged for), I am now dedicating that key bumper period between being awake and falling asleep to formulating at least three new sitcom pitches.

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The World Cup is on. (The football one.) Because of the four- and five-hour time difference between here and Brazeel – to use the official pronunciation from ITV’s lilting credits sequence – some games kick off at 11 o’clock. At night. I’m usually tucked up in bed by then, not gearing up for 90 minutes of silky footballing action, sometimes involving a team that happens to share my nationality which has a Pavlovian effect on my general interest. England supplied their traditional dose of expectation and disappointment on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. I managed not to drink anything until 10pm, which was restraint in excelsis, but I was still imbibing at 1am, which is not my usual style unless at a wedding.

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This is me at the Guardian yesterday afternoon, fighting my way through the Lego (they’re doing their now-traditional Lego reenactments of the World Cup highlights, which are always a joy), to enact this week’s Telly Addict (coming imminently, watch this space) which includes a review of the opening ceremony and a little comment on the difference between the ITV and BBC presentation. I won’t be reviewing any games for the Guardian, and although somehow, in previous years, I’ve found time to post regular bulletins from World Cups and Euro Championships on this blog (representative samples: World Cup 2010, Euro 2012), I don’t see that luxury happening this tournament.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say (Pogba’s cake-style haircut, Andy Townsend’s continued use of the phrase, “got a toe to it”), it’s just that the best pithy commentary comes from armchair experts on Twitter, and my brain isn’t big enough to have my phone on during televised matches. The TV picture, the phenomenal Guardian World Cup Guide, conversation: that’s quite enough stimulus for me. I admire you if you can cope with all that plus social media and stay sociable in the room.

I’ve enjoyed the high-scoring matches I’ve seen so far, by the way. Own goals, yellow cards, famous players being rubbish, headbutts, physio breaks his own ankle … it’s not been without incident, has it? I can’t believe I had to choose between it and the Game Of Thrones season finale. Culture can be so cruel.Blog16JunG2

I may well make this radiant, sanguine face while producer Tom has left the studio to do something important and to tread Lego into the carpet. There’s a serious insurgency afoot in Iraq, and as if the imminent destabilisation of the Middle East and a faction too horrible for al-Qaeda committing something we loftily call “war crimes” wasn’t depressing enough, it means Tony Blair is on my television and in my newspaper. Fuck off! Admit defeat! Go and live in Donald Rumsfeld’s house if you like it so much!

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Stop press: managed one World Cup game – the game of one half: Germany Portugal – and the finale of Game Of Thrones. The latter lacked a character as vicious, malevolent and ruthless as Pepe. And it went to penalties. [Throw in further Game Of Thrones/football allusions here]

Writer’s blog, Week 25, Tuesday

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Tuesday. Unless you’re one of these weird dilettantes who goes on holiday, you have to take your respite – even if it’s only geographical – where you can get it. A couple of days’ house-sitting for Mum and Dad in Northampton feels like a holiday, even though I have the same amount of work to do as if I were in London. A change of scenery is as good as a new play, sometimes. Because it’s sunny, I ate my breakfast on their patio. I could do this at home, but choose not to. I think I may be trying to make a few days’ hard work feel more holiday-like. Leave me alone.

Haven’t done a writer’s blog for a while – end of April – so there is much to update. I was at that time deeply optimistic about what had been previously coded Sitcom A but had entered the public domain via the British Comedy Guide as Wild Life. We staged a full-cast read-through in a small theatre above a pub in Turnham Green and it was a fabulous day. We couldn’t have put in any more effort – and by “we”, I mean my management company Avalon, our producer/director Sioned, and the illustrious cast, Frankie Boyle, Isy Suttie, Miles Jupp, Craig Campbell, Adam Hess and Angela Simpson.

It was not picked up.

I am disappointed by this outcome, but at least it draws a line under a project that was “in development” for two years. There’s only so much blood, sweat and tears you can put into something. During that time I was paid a one-off fee, despite all the extra rewrites and other energies expended upon it. A writer does not work by the hour, or the day, in development. (Actually, even when green-lit, a project pays a writer by the script, before residuals. This is why I sometimes wish I had the skills and training to be a plumber, where good work is paid for, and some even incur a call-out charge just to come and look at the problem. I never resent paying a plumber, as they can plumb and I cannot – despite my best DIY efforts in this vexed area!) Anyway, we move on.

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Maybe Sitcom C should now be promoted to Sitcom B (I may call it The Scottish Sitcom, actually, for luck). It has – as previously logged – been turned down by one broadcaster, but is still “in play” with another, according to the exec at the production company which originally pitched it. With each day that passes without news, I imagine the worst.

What was Sitcom B last time we spoke (the collaboration with a very funny comedian based on one of his characters) has with caution and by default been upgraded to Sitcom A, in that it looked for all the world to have the best chance of being commissioned until BBC3’s move online was announced and all bets seemed to be off. Having, again, put a lot of hours in on this, I’d like it to go further, but nobody can legislate for the channel it’s pitched at being effectively shut down. I have made a new friend, either way. And no writing experience is wasted experience.

The production company who pitched Sitcom A also make Badults (that’s how I met them), which enjoyed a return to BBC3 before the drawbridge is pulled up, two Mondays ago. Having script-edited this series, I can honestly say I think it’s twice as strong as the first, which suffered many a sling and arrow on social media, but impressed the channel enough to get a second bite of the cherry. As is now traditional, we all watched Episode 1 go out live, round at Ben’s flat. Here we are.

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From left to right: exec Gav (seen in cameo as the man with balloons in Ep1), producer Izzy, Badults Tom, Ben and Matthew, actors Ivan and Max, and script editor me. It’s a fun show to work on, and a thrill to see my name fly past in the end credits. I rather suspect its chances of a conventional third series are low, but nobody yet knows what the online BBC3 will look like, or if it will even commission anything longer than 10 minutes. (If I was fully online, I wouldn’t.) It’s very sad, and I hope David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre and Alistair Campbell are pleased with themselves.

Drama A, incidentally, is moving at a pace slower than any comedy. We had a meeting with a broadcaster three weeks ago, at which positive noise were made (positive noises cost nothing – they literally give them away), and the first script and seven detailed storylines have been delivered. Why it’s taken me 26 years to discover this, I don’t know, but getting anything commissioned on TV is like trying to get the attention of a giant, distracted baby. Some days, you just run out of gurgling noises and funny faces.

Here’s your moment of Zen. BBC2 repeated I Love 1980 last weekend (as you know, I appeared on I Love 1980, I Love 1981 and I Love 1982), but it never turned up on iPlayer or On Demand, so I was unable to watch it. I found a shit version on YouTube, as a couple of people had pointed out how young I looked on it. (It was shot in 2000.) What you didn’t say was how fat I looked on it. I fear I have misremembered this particular bit of the past.

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Writer’s blog, Weeks 16-17, Monday

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Welcome to my world. My name is Andrew Collins. You may know me from my recently updated mug* on the film pages of the Radio Times, where I give three stars to two-star movies, or four stars to three-star movies just to annoy you. Or from my moving face in an oblong that magically appears every Tuesday morning or thereabouts on the Guardian website, so that at least one commenter a week can bemoan the fact that it’s a video and not a written review of the week’s TV, which is a bit like complaining that a cat is a dog. Although visible, both jobs involve writing. But what I’m doing most of the time, you can’t see. It’s me, at this laptop, stringing sentences together in the fervent hope that they will one day come out of the mouth of a professional actor.

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In order to stay sane, I also write that other blog, Circles Of Life: The 143 Best Songs In The World, which gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing, as I don’t have to show it to anyone in order for it to be published, as I publish it myself. Nor do I have to wait until someone asks me to write a short, personal essay about, say, Across 110th Street or Venus In Furs. I simply ask myself, and then do it. If there’s time. Incidentally, I was rather pleased that Scotts menswear (who make wear for men) have chosen to republish a number of my 143 blog entries on a special website celebrating the life of men over the 30 years they’ve been making clothes for them. (The site has been edited and designed by Sabotage Times and looks terrifically smart.)

There hasn’t been much time in 2014. As you’ll have picked up from previous Writer’s Blogs – few and far between of late – I’m hard at it.

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The above PhotoBooth photos were taken on the same overground train journey on Friday. They are not very interesting, but where I was going is. What I think I might once have referred cagily to as Sitcom A is now released from the captivity of superstitious secrecy, even while it remains below the line “in development”. It has been revealed – via the on-the-ball British Comedy Guide – as Wild Life, a single-camera comedy about a five-person nature documentary film crew on location. I’ve been developing it – which means writing and rewriting and rewriting it for a fixed amount of money which stays the same however much work I do – for two years at my management company, Avalon. But here’s where it gets interesting.

On Friday afternoon at 2pm, we staged the script for a small audience of invited TV bigwigs and comedy fans without nine-to-five jobs. This is habitually done in the world of comedy (we did it for Grass, way back in 2002, and landed a commission wit it), but usually in an airless conference room. We did Wild Life, scripts in hand, in a small theatre-above-a-pub in West London called the Tabard. A terrific venue, the cast rocked up at 10.30, and within a few hours were “performing” the script, live. It’s like a huge audition, for me as the writer**, for them*** as the cast, and for Avalon as the prospective production company. And it lasts half an hour, and then it’s done. I’d say we gave it our very best shot. It’s in the lap of the gods now.

** Although I wrote the script, we drafted in my old sparring partner Simon Day to help make it “funnier”, to use arcane industry jargon. It was a huge amount of fun being locked in an office with Simon again. And he did make it funnier.
*** Although Simon was away and couldn’t cameo on the read-through, as he would have wished, the cast assembled by Avalon was supreme: Frankie Boyle****, Miles Jupp, Isy Suttie, Craig Cambell, Adam Hess and Angela Simpson.
**** Frankie took to Twitter to “correct” the British Comedy Guide’s article. But don’t believe the hype, he is as nice as Noam Chomsky-reading pie in real life and I would love it if you could see him in Wild Life in a utopian future where my scripts get made.

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Meanwhile, what I’ll stick to calling Sitcom B, which I’ve been co-writing with the comedian who will star in it (a pattern that follows Grass and Not Going Out, an arrangement to which I appear to be suited), has hit its third draft, which is frankly unrecognisable from drafts one and two, and this is a good thing. This has been approved by our bosses at Avalon and has been delivered to the broadcaster, which is the BBC. Balls are up in the air again.

The above award-winning photo is me on my way home on the train from the Guardian on a humid Monday afternoon, hence the shirt. The big story in my professional writing life remains Drama A, another 50/50 co-write, which has just been rewritten for reappraisal by the broadcaster who has put it in development. What I will say is this: it’s weird – and a relief – not having to put jokes in.

Back to work, then. Telly Addict number #151 will appear miraculously here tomorrow morning at around 10am. In that shirt.

Writer’s blog, Week 10, Tuesday

Blog4Mar14a Happy birthday, Bobby Womack. It’s traditional for me to say that on my birthday. It’s my birthday. I’m still, miraculously, in my 40s, and found a single grey hair in one of my eyebrows the other day which I have yet to pluck expertly out for visual continuity. I feel OK, thanks. My eyesight is not as sharp as it was last year when I tried to avoid seeing the Oscar winners on breakfast news while I was on the treadmill in the gym (planning to watch the whole ceremony, as live, during the day) – what I’m saying is: it was a little bit easier to do so yesterday.

Clearly, I am giving myself the day off. (It was a close-run thing last night when I was called up at the last moment to spend at least part of today in the offices of a Shoreditch-based production company where I’m helping another writer storyline the second series of her sitcom, but I was stood down about an hour later, so the day is back to being my own again.) Even when you’re self-employed, as I have been now since I was 32, you have the moral right to give yourself the day off without written warning, especially when you’ve been routinely working weekends since Christmas. I am going to see a gay film.

It seems, momentarily, to have stopped raining, which is a plus. And there are two baby sparrows in the back garden, hopping optimistically about. I have delivered a workable draft of Drama A, as I am calling it, so the waiting game begins. Torture, in other words. Meanwhile, what I shall herewith name Sitcom A (as the previous Sitcom A has been rejected by the BBC, so this one moves up to most-likely-to position) seems to be enjoying a shot in the arm, in the form of interest from a performer who might consider taking the lead role, which will really raise its game when we request a “table read” as a way of impressing upon its potential commissioning editor that he should commission it. We already have a fine cast assembled, but the lead pulled out, and the replacement is a much bigger name, so maybe it was for the best.

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Not that anybody really cares, but of the eight main Oscar categories I was forced to predict for Radio Times, alongside my teen-cinephile hero Barry Norman (another annual tradition), I got half right. The one I wished I’d got right was Best Adapted Screenplay for Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for Philomena, which went to John Ridley for 12 Years A Slave. I enjoyed watching the whole extravaganza play out in “real time” during the day yesterday, with coffee and chocolate. I’ve been measuring out my life in Oscar ceremonies since I was that young teenager, steered into film appreciation by the BBC’s Film programme and not just Barry, but a string of replacements they put into his swivel chair in – I think – 1981: Ian Johnstone, Michael Wood among them. I’ve taken films seriously ever since.

I had a two-page feature printed in the Guardian yesterday about TV medical documentaries. I’m very proud of it. You can read it here. It’s proper, and a nice little marker flag on my CV: first two-page feature in G2. Like Matthew McConaughey says, if you make yourself in ten years’ time your hero today, you will never attain the position of “hero” but it will always give you someone to aim for. I’m definitely not the “hero” of myself in 2004, so maybe his crackpot, God-fearing theory holds some water.