Tuesday 8 July 2008, 15:37
"So - have you been writing any of your own stuff?" asked a friend of mine the other day after I'd outlined the exhaustive timetable of dovetailing a Casualty into the end of a Holby hot on the tails of an Eastenders.
I stared at my wall planner agog (we were on the phone) - had he not been listening? Does he know just how long these shows take to get right? Well in all honesty he doesn't know, he's not a writer, but even so.
"This is my own stuff," I said defensively and it's an answer I often give.
"Yeah ... but, It's not really.." he replied, I volleyed back that 'yes' he was right that it was a collaborative work in a sense, but it is my own stuff. I write it.
I have to get defensive around this issue, it's delicate - I would love to say I have three or four pieces of work in development, that I'm nurturing several ideas of my own. But time does not always allow for this. I do have a melting pot of ideas on the proverbial back burner and I'm currently very excited at the prospect of developing a theatre piece with the company who produced Peter & The Wolf last year. But sometimes I don't feel like letting people off the hook that easily when they're pressing that 'Continuing Drama is too prescriptive ergo not writing of value and integrity' button.
If anything, it's the production values and scheduling that cause these shows I write for to sometimes feel repetitive and implausible - too many stories and too many episodes. You can't tell me that fewer shows a year wouldn't boost quality and engender a 'desire' in the writers and the watching audience as opposed to an 'immunity' to story. Series breaks work that way. How can you know the joy of being sated if you're never allowed to feel hungry?
I really enjoyed writing my last Holby, which is in the process of being signed off. My editor was very thorough from the word go. I had several stabs at my story pitches and tweaked, trimmed and refined the Treatment until I felt this guy, my editor, was verging slightly on the obsessive. Same with my drafts, "We're getting there.." would be his opening gambit, until draft 4 he finally said something like, "I think this is on the verge of almost being there.."
It was like teetering on a huge precipice throughout, when would I 'be there?' when would it be safe to relax? Where was it I was going anyway? What my editor was aiming for was a smooth ride and we got it, relatively speaking - that's not to say the workload wasn't tough, but with all our preparation work behind us, by the time the exec producer got his hands on the script, it was quite tight. And barring a huge casting/scheduling cock up it shouldn't have needed too much tinkering with.
The exec notes were entirely manageable. I relaxed a little. The Director now had his mitts on the script - again his notes were manageable. Now I had to think of a title - I suggested a couple. "I'll run them past the producer" my editor mused. Not that catchy then?
I spent yesterday in Bristol discussing the first draft of my current Casualty. I can get quite nostalgic about Casualty - especially climbing the stairs to the offices in the portacabin hell that is the Bristol Casualty Warehouse. They have old Radio Times covers on display on the walls there. Mostly Charlie posing with some nurse or other - usually Duffy, under the title 'Charlie's Angels' and the like.
Casualty was a Saturday night staple in our house when I was younger. One particular Christmas episode moved my angsty teenage heart and has stayed with me.. (if you are the writer of the following retro Casualty episode, thank you and please do get in touch!)...
It was Christmas on the ward and all was very busy - during the episode an anonymous medic appeared (white coated in those days I believe) and moved from bay to bay surreptitiously 'curing' people in a very unassuming way. The medic left the ED at the end of the episode as enigmatically as he had entered, nobody knew who he was. Oh the true spirit of Christmas and all that... give me a bit of the old magical realism any time.
My current Casualty, although not the Christmas episode, is a Christmassy episode and I've officially been given the go ahead to go tinsel mad if I so desire.
And I do desire it.
Also, someone will have to appear in a hand knitted Christmas jumper at some point, I need to get more crafting into my episodes.
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