I got my story. Where do I begin working out what to put in a script? What process do I use? Wide Angle hooked me up with Robert Watson, screenwriter, screenplay analyst, editor, teacher, historian, philosopher and, oh yeah, he paints landscapes in his spare time. We met and he clued me in to the crucial equations of novel conversion and screenplay structure.
We talked through starting and end points. In the case of my story, The Sparrow, it begins with one of my three main characters being shot. His body goes flying back and down a small cliff and yada yada, things get worse until the end. Simple.
So, what do I do first? Write a list of the main events - the large and small but crucial moments of the physical and emotional journey. List? I can do a list, damn it! Bullet-points? You got it!
Then I have to sift the list. Each item on the list is a key moment of interaction between the characters and their environments, one which advances plot and character development in that one moment. Sifting the list means looking for items that might be a repeat or a non-essential moment, or simply less interesting, then taking that item out. What's left can be large or small - from death to disappointment - but it has to be critical to story and character arcs. Is it lifting the emotional drivers of the story to a higher pitch? Keep it. Done that? Good. Take a rest, and maybe tidy the desk.
Next steps, consult with Robert, then put scene headings on the remaining items. Then write a brief outline of what happens in that scene - a scene breakdown. Then the easy bit, write the dialogue. How hard can it be?
Again, big shout-out to Abi and Emma at Wide Angle for connecting me with Robert. Slainte!
Just won a place in Round 8 of Wide Angle's End Game programme! For the win!
It's a real leg-up to have this level of support pushing the first draft of a project through - in this case turning a historical novel manuscript into a feature script. While I'm familiar with television scriptwriting, I'm painfully aware how big a set of challenges I now face.
...is the challenge. It's one thing to have written the narrative of an unlikely friendship between a Timorese criado, a young Tasmanian commando, and a Japanese defector during the Pacific War; it's another set of challenges to turn that into a feature script - a story which will be told by actors, director and cinematographer. When End Game kicks off, all of us in it will have 12 weeks to deliver a project. *gulp* But, hey, how hard can it be?
Big shout-out and thanks to Abi and Emma at Wide Angle for the opportunity, and [waving] hi to my fellow Round 8 End Gamers.
In most forms of storytelling, character is everything. Even narratives we'd describe as plot-driven only work - are memorable, compelling, etc - when we emotionally engage with the characters. Screenwriters are more sensitive to this reality because they are largely collaborative storytellers working in an industry which has a commercial imperative - everything has to work. That doesn't limit us in the stories we tell, as Anthony Mullins, Australian screenwriter and novelist, points out in his new book, Beyond the Hero's Journey - A Screenwriting Guide For When You Have A Different Story To Tell
There are many books that guide storytellers in this era, for screen and off, including those who reference the standard 'hero's journey' and 'three-act' structure. Including those approaches, Mullins' book is particularly useful, not least because I'd recommend it for writers in any genre or format. It's not a how-to, nor is it painfully academic or require wall-covering plot analysis for your WIP.
Screenwriters focus on character and their arcs. Mullins points to how that process plays out in a diverse sampling of feature films, and does so simply, succinctly and engagingly. I recommend it. So, if you're a writer, with a WIP, and interested in reading a short review about Beyond Hero's, hit the link to the review at Tasmanian Times.
Pro tip: after having your business card printed, check the contact details are correct or else, as in my case, somewhere in the world, someone else with your name, whom you've never met, is being contacted about writing a book they have probably never heard of.
If anyone contacts email@example.com because they have one of THESE business cards...
...they will not be contacting me. They will be contacting another b.p.marshall whose life and existence I can only imagine. Perhaps this other b.p.marshall has also written a novel. Perhaps we'd have much in common. Perhaps, even, they too had a business card made up in the vague belief that, when attending a writers' festival, a writer should have cards to hand out - to whom and for what purpose they can only dimly imagine. Perhaps, even more incredibly, my b.p.marshall doppelganger also had the wrong email address printed on their business card. We'd laugh and become the best of friends...
Or, as has actually happened, I've emailed a complete stranger explaining the whole thing...
...making it clear that I'm the idiot and that any multi-million dollar feature film offers should instead go to THIS carefully curated correct email address...
To my doppelganger b.p.marshall, I apologise unconditionally... Unless, tempted by the multi-million dollar offer from a major film studio, you are, at this very moment, writing a script using my novel as template. In which case your evil genius impresses the hell out of me. Well played b.p., well played.
As a ‘festival virgin’, a clueless debut novelist invited to their first ever writers’ festival, I was nervous about attending the Bellingen Writers and Readers Festival.
In fact, when first invited, I wondered if I could get out of it. Though dimly sensing only a complete idiot would try and dodge this amazing opportunity, I wondered if I could think up some kind of excuse, or break my own leg – anything that would graciously excuse me from being onstage with other, far better and cleverer writers, facing an audience expecting something more than, “Um, so yeah, the book? I guess it’s like this big, um, road trip and, yeah, stuff happens.”
A public speaker I am not.
But, I figured I owed my brave little publisher, Brio Books, some payback for publishing me. After all, with no marketing budget and mid-pandemic, literally no one knew about my novel, let alone was buying it. Brio weren’t doing well from their investment in me. So I vowed to go and do my dib-dib-dib best. (I was a cub in the Scout movement for a few weeks when I was about seven, and the only thing that stayed with me was “dib-dib-dib, dob-dob-dob”. No, I don’t know what it means but there’s clearly still a part of me forever wearing shorts and long socks.)
Arriving at Coffs Harbour, alone and timid, I was greeted by Liz who instantly relaxed me and took me to my billet, something I dreaded mainly because all I could think about was the discomfort of having to poo in some kind strangers’ house while they were also in it. I know, but that’s how my mind works.
And then this amazing thing happened. The strangers in whose house I was inevitably fated to poo in, Beth and Tim, weren’t just nice, super-focused and intelligent in a relaxed and inclusive way, they weren’t just the sort of people who’d ignore me pooing in their toilet – they were immediate friends whom I felt relaxed and happy to be with. I had the weird sensation that they were simply a couple of my oldest friends I’d inexplicably forgotten I had. Now, if one of them needed a kidney, I have one to spare.
In other words, I was ready to poo and it would be a happy poo.
A whisky hangover later, the next day saw the Festival Opening with the two raconteurs, Miklo (Michael Jarrett), and William McInnes. Miklo brought us together by teaching us all to adjust our POV and ask for welcome to country. McInnes, playing a calculated casualness, appeared to ramble while actually applying the raconteur’s razor sharp wit. Then, a poetry slam, packed with locals trying out their best lines. Young and old, literary and loose, funny and grim, naïve and sophisticated – anyone could and did have a go. It was egalitarian, engaging and funny.
It began to dawn on me that I was in a community who loved words and story. Was this my ‘tribe’?
Writers advice 101: Find your tribe. What does that mean? For a recluse who lives in a remote mountain valley in Tasmania, it meant little. The idea is that you, as a writer, write in a certain genre, so you need to find those fellow authors, and your readers, who are, ultimately, part of the same ecosystem. For those of us writing multiple genres, unsure where we fit in, or struggling with introversion, finding a tribe sounds like the opposite of what we’d naturally do, which would be to find the quiet corner of the party by the bookcase, and try to blend in with the curtains.
So I’m nervous about my Big Day. I’m due on ‘Mornings’ – a chat with Organiser and MC Adam Norris at 9.45, then a speculative fiction panel with Nike Sulway and Rohan Wilson at 1.45 – followed by a book-signing, and finally an author-reading beside the wise and funny international bestseller Michael Robotham, fearless and tender journo-author Mohammed Massoud Morsi, and acutely incisive word-dancer poet Rebecca Jessen at 5.45, followed by another book-signing. Me, the awkward introvert on stage saying…stuff.
What can I say about the day I feared most? The day on which my pretense to authenticity as a writer would be cruelly exposed in front of writers and readers smart enough to know bullshit when they saw and heard it.
I’m such an idiot. From the moment Adam Norris’ dulcet, radio-perfect voice asked the first questions, I felt myself cupped and comforted by him and our small audience. I didn’t have to try and fail, I only had to be honest and helpful. I didn’t have to please people, I only had to share a little love and insight with them.
The spec-fic panel with Nike Sulway and Rohan Wilson had me relaxed and cheerfully sharing what I could, impressed by Nike’s generous moderation and Rohan’s deep and incisive insights into writing and politics.
Then, finally, the bit I'd feared most - the author-reading.
I asked my fellow authors for advice, and they kindly gave it. “Avoid reading passages with lots of dialogue.” “Don’t read your first few pages.” “Don’t, for the love of God, do accents.”
What did I do? I think you can see where this is going.
I started by clearing my throat, then, in a heavy south London accent… “Chapter One. My name is Blanco…”
My forever thanks to Adam, Liz, Sue and all who organised Bellingen Readers and Writers’ Festival, to my publishers David Henley and Alice Grundy, to my hosts Tim Cadman and Beth Gibbings, to the kind, clever and endlessly wise authors I met, especially Kate Forsyth – a gracious and wise Empress of empathy, Rohan Wilson – a constant font of insights, kindness and boyish enthusiasm, Rebecca Jessen – the soft-spoken word-dancer whose poetry instantly took me to other places and times, Mohammed Massoud Morsi – good humoured rogue journalist and novelist who brought us all, and himself, to tears, Mirandi Riwoe for kind words and great advice despite a teeth-grinding migraine, Michael Robotham – international superstar – who kindly admitted I hadn’t completely fucked up the ‘sarf Larndin’ accent, the audience – a diverse group of people who loved and listened to it all, and finally, those lovely kind people who asked me to sign their copies of The Last Circus on Earth.
In an unexpected plot twist, Blanco and the circus meet up with a 'journalist' in the middle of nowhere - probably somewhere in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, as they all travel south following the denouement of Last Circus. Assaph Mehr's excellent interview blog, dedicated to the protagonists of many, many novels, has published the story of this encounter.
And for readers of The Last Circus on Earth wanting to see the real star of the book, Daisy, here she is.
Never been to a writers' festival? Wondering what a writer even looks like? Come to BWF and see us in action!
You may be surprised to find that in this modern era, writers now use "computers", and often just input a few general instructions before the "computer program" writes the entire book. That said, there's still a lot of preliminary thought put into those keystrokes!
Once the idea takes hold of the writer's imagination, the average novel can take several weeks to write. For some this is a pleasant time...
For others it can be a time of considerable struggle. Writers can even suffer from a condition called 'writer's block', which requires immense patience and sympathy for those around them because writers are often selfish bastards who could be doing something useful with their lives, and pretending this isn't the case takes its toll on loved-ones.
It's generally thought that children's writers have the easiest time of it...
...while writers of larger books are necessarily required not only to write a great many more words, but avoid repeating them too often. This can be a challenge.
Writers frequently use alcohol or amphetamines, medically prescribed, to assist.
Others like to relax to allow the percolation of thoughts to arise naturally, like bubbles in a bath, to the surface of the mind, where they can be transferred to the written page. (*NB, this is known as a 'simile' which is a writer's term for taking the scenic route to the point they're trying to make.)
But, however the magic is done, writers are amazing, and the Bellingen Writers' Festival celebrates that magic in sessions which will pit writer against writer, in a winner-takes-all tournament, with you in the ring-side seat as they try and out-clever each other! Come along, heckle, pelt us with produce! Bring the kids and family pets! Nothing like children crying or barking dogs to ramp up the tension while we try to think! See you there!
The Exploring Tomorrow podcast, by filmmaker, director and writer, Mikel J Wisler, has interviewed me on his wonderful, uber-nerdy show. It was a lovely chat, and Mikel was a warm and charming host. Super-nerdy writers of sci-fi and spec-fic may enjoy the conversation.
Last year, in the middle of releasing a debut novel, mid-pandemic, with no marketing plan or budget, I blagged a surprise collaboration with Tasmanian playwright, Stephanie Briarwood, funded by TasWriters. The funding was part of a 'we'd better keep them alive and off the streets' strategy by government to avoid performers and other creatives from being seen in public, so, long-story-short, I co-wrote a kinda, sorta play - a speculative fiction narrative set in the near-future, in glorious down-town Burnie. Intended as a one-hour screenplay, Steph and I didn't know where the work would end up, so we were chuffed to be told Blue Cow were going to do a readthrough-performance - irl!
Watching their performance, and skills in action, was wonderful. Stephanie, a seasoned professional, cheerfully mocked me as a 'theatre virgin' when I misted up, made unexpectedly emotional by the characters evolving through their narratives. So, a huge thank you to all involved. I'd love to see the actors encore in an actual filmed version of that one day in the life of an illegal taxi driver, Hong Kong refugee, Wendy Chen, and her growing family of passengers. Anyone need a super low-budget, locally made 100% Tasmanian drama script?
Obviously a mistake has been made. I've been invited to a writers' festival to be some kind of literary cage-fighter with an impressive group of real writers.
Having never been to one of these things, I'm honestly not sure what to expect other than heavy drinking and arguments. I imagine it will start out reasonably civilised...
...and then descend into some kind of fierce competitive intellectualism in which the caged writers entertain the bellowing, half-naked crowds with things I'm unfamiliar with, like wit, and bon mots, and incisive insights into la condition humane. Etc. As each writer tries to top the others, and put them down in ever-cleverer ways, things are bound to turn nasty.
My strategy will definitely be to get drunk quickly and throw the first punches. My rationale is that, sufficiently intoxicated, blows I fail to deflect will hurt less, and I'm sure to win audience plaudits and tossed coins by being ready to kick it all off.
In any event, I've looked at the competition, and I'm pretty sure I can take down John Marsden, Clare Hooper and Bob Brown if I progress to the finals, but first I have sessions with Alex Landragin, Alison Croggon and Nike Sulway, then a 'conversation', presumably in some kind of bear-baiting pit, with Ramona Koval, then finishing the Saturday with an all-in mass-brawl with Koval (if she's still able to fight), Tony Birch, Mirandi Riwowe, and Rebecca Jessen. I hope to see some of you at the bar afterwards!