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.

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I am a free man!

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Having struck a chord with what turned out to be one of my most-read blog entries in June, Keeping up appearance fees, in which I railed against a mission creep within the media whereby contributors are expected to contribute their expertise for free, it may seem counterintuitive to have launched a second blog.

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Let me explain. Blogging has always been free. I started this one in 2006 because, after a number of years broadcasting every weekday on 6 Music I’d moved to weekends, and found the daily blog I started on the station’s website a fun way of staying in touch with the listeners during the week. I moved over to Blogger in order to a) relieve me of the workload pressure of writing every day, and b) relieve me of the editorial pressure of doing so on a BBC website. I’ve been tapping out my thoughts ever since.

A childhood diarist, I used to use the blog as a place to post bulletins from my ordinary everyday life. But this solipsistic approach has hardened into something a little more formal, and a little less revealing since 2007. I can’t imagine how I can have become more busy since the punishing days when I was a DJ, author and scriptwriter in the late noughties, but I find myself going for a whole week sometimes without blogging now. If it weren’t for my weekly alert for Telly Addict, which takes five minutes to write, the gaps would be longer. But when something’s on my mind, it’s a unique outlet, with a surprisingly large available audience, thanks to Twitter.

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The new blog, Circles Of Life: The 143, came to me in early July, when I felt an urge not just to catalogue the best 143 songs of all time, but to write a short, personal essay about each one, and do so in an aesthetically pleasing manner and gradually. So it came to pass.

Because these entries about individual songs are by their nature fairly brief, I feel I can snack on them, publishing them as and when I have the spare time in an otherwise busy day. So far, I’ve published 13. Only 130 to go. I quite like not knowing how long it will take, and I love the freedom to mould the list as I commit it to the public domain. (It’s based on an actual playlist I made for my iPod earlier this year, and only one song is permitted per artist; I’ve already added, dropped, altered and replaced quite a few as I’ve catalogued them in The 143. It is the compiler’s right to do so.)

Anyway, have a look if music is one of your lifelong passions. Compared to the numbers under the bonnet on this blog, the following is modest, and not all that vocal. But a “soft launch” was my aim, and a soft launch it has been.

It was very kind of the esteemed David Hepworth to blog and Tweet about it earlier today. Numbers have risen as a result. So I’m officially “hard-launching” it here. What I wanted to say was: yes, I’m writing prose for free. I’m not trying to get a book deal, or even an eBook deal. I’m not trying to get a job. But rather than wait around for a publication to pay me to write about music, I’m doing it anyway. For fun. Barney Hoskyns’ campaign to withhold freelance labour from those who would exploit us is something I’m right behind. But since nobody asked me to write about my 143 favourite songs, I don’t feel I am exploiting myself in doing this.

I’ve spent much of my professional life writing about music; for around seven years, I did this while on the staff of three consecutive music publications, thereafter in a freelance, per-word capacity. But when Word calamitously went down a year ago, I lost my main outlet for paid music writing. (The Times dallied with me for a while, but lost interest – hey, commissioning editors change jobs, you fall in and out of favour, it’s a cruel world.)

I’ve grown quickly fond of The 143 blog. I like the “theme” I’ve chosen from WordPress. I’m quietly proud of the 999-based montage I made on my scanner and with very basic “effects” software. And I hope you enjoy reading my free essays. There’s nothing to you can do recompense me for them. That’s not the idea. But if you enjoy them and have something to say, post a few words, follow the blog, and that will be payment enough. It’s all about the music in any case.

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