What TV writers talk about when they get together...
BBC Writersroom recently held their fourth annual conference for TV scriptwriters, featuring the talent behind dramas such as Sherlock, Broadchurch and Last Tango in Halifax. The small department works closely with the BBC's drama, comedy and children's programming.
Here its creative director Kate Rowland reflects on the event in Leeds.
This was a vintage year for the BBC's TV Writers' Festival. No, we didn't have the Rolling Stones but we did have Steven Moffat (Sherlock, Doctor Who), Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax), Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch) and Dennis Kelly (Utopia) to name a few.
The Writers' Festival has become a fixture on the broadcast calendar, renowned for its spirit and unique purpose, and it's something I am immensely proud of.
TV drama is too big a force not to have a space dedicated for the writers creating the characters, stories and worlds that challenge and entertain millions.
What makes the festival unique is that it's led by working writers, giving them the chance to debate, network and be inspired by their peers. We provide a confidential space where they can talk openly about the business. But it's also a cross-industry event, big-hearted in its approach and bringing together talents from the key broadcasters.
The dynamic Emma Frost (The White Queen) and Jack Thorne (This is England) were this year's chairs, choosing "conflict" as the theme because, as they well know, writers face them in multitude: head vs. heart, craft vs compromise, industry vs art, keeping their voice… and anyway what's a drama without conflict?Sex and violence
So, led from the off by Emma & Jack's inspirational speech, we boldly entered into uncharted waters.
The keynote debate, which focused on sex and violence, was one of the most difficult sessions I have ever had to chair. Should we limit creative freedom and truthful storytelling? How fine is the line between perpetuating behaviour on one side and artistic censorship on the other and where does the responsibility lie?
Discussed in the context of the environment outside network TV and the effect of the internet on our viewing, the question that resonated was whether we are becoming desensitised?
The debate was personal and passionate to say the least, and programmes from The Fall to Five Daughters were discussed. This was a complex and difficult issue, discussed by a writer, director, producer, columnist and commissioner.Difficult writers
Naturally emotions ran high but, as one writer in the audience said to me afterwards, "that was the highlight of my year, we so rarely hear such honesty in a public space, grappling with something that ultimately affects everyone".
End Quote Kate Rowland BBC Writersroom
Writers who speak at the festival don't just tip up, stay an hour and then bugger off”
In another frank conversation we looked at whether there is such a thing as a "difficult" writer? Where do you draw the line between defending your work and dealing with producer notes?
Overall, there are too many highlights to mention. Steven Moffat in conversation with Toby Whithouse (Being Human), both talking about the finer points of writing, dealing with difficult writers, and how it feels to be responsible for two of our best-loved brands.
BBC drama commissioner Ben Stephenson interviewed Chris Chibnall about his ITV hit Broadchurch, with the writer telling a packed audience how this was a passion project - a speculative script that has resulted in the most unbelievable impact. Afterwards, Chris said he felt like "he had just been hugged" due to the positive reaction.
Sarah Phelps and Sally Abbott, who have written for EastEnders, led a session called "How to write Soap without losing your mind", and Sarah also joined Kate Harwood, head of BBC drama in England, to debate the recurring question of whether there is too much period drama.
In a discussion about The White Queen, Emma Frost and executive producer John Griffin talked about the challenge of turning Philippa Gregory's novels into television drama. Issues such as the role of commissioners and the treatment of directors were also debated.Supernatural success
The festival aims to provoke thinking as well as give time for more structured learning and John Yorke's annual masterclass on the 'Use and Abuse of Narrative' was a big hit with the delegates.
We were delighted to celebrate two success stories in sessions exploring Debbie Moon's CBBC supernatural show Wolfblood and Dominic Mitchell's zombie drama for BBC Three, both of which began life because of BBC Writersroom development schemes, and are a brilliant expression of the individuality of their vision and ambition as brand new writers to television.
Moreover, they are both now embarking on their second series.
Writers who speak at the festival don't just tip up, stay an hour and then bugger off. They are part of the whole thing, they commit to the event and they listen to each other. Feedback from speakers ranged from "a blast" to "awesome, awesome, awesome".
And why wouldn't you enjoy it, when the list of speakers is a roll-call of the best in TV drama?
Around 250 delegates and speakers were packed into a 26-hour schedule of 30 sessions - but after all the sleepless nights to organise it, one thing holds true. The BBC Writersroom puts writers centre-stage of everything we do.
And we would not be where we are without the collaboration and support of writers at the top of the game, sharing their expertise and vision with their peers.
As Jack Thorne said: "What I love about this festival is I think it's genuinely about us - everyone in this room - feeling like a community. I've been every year and I love it every year. Because I hear something unexpected and brilliant but, more than that, I feel inspired by people's love for television."