Friday, 16 January 2015


This is a brand new strand in this blog, by our featured writers, telling their journey. We begin with John Hickman. The BAFTA Rocliffe selection process is completely anonymous, so we never get to know who the person is behind the voice until we decide upon the winners. We first met John after the panel cast their votes, his script THE THINGS was entered into the Writing for Children initiative. Here's his story: 

I won't just go on about the difference BAFTA Rocliffe has made to my professional life beyond saying I've got an agent now – Georgina Ruffhead at David Higham – and people want to see my work! I will take a little bit of time to go over how I got here. Wherever “here” is.

I've been writing for years. Around 8 or 9 at this point. At the start, I was an angry, frustrated young man. I'd discovered my passion: writing. It was all I wanted to do. I was so angry that I wasn't allowed to do it. Time and money were in my way. If only I could get paid to do the thing I loved, everything would be OK. I'd be happy. But I couldn't. I didn't have any industry connections. I grew up on a council estate. My dad was a labourer and my mum was a cleaner. Writing for a living was never going to be for someone like me. That made me angry.  

I had to harness my anger, focus it. It took time, but eventually I came to the conclusion: I didn't need to make money from writing to write. I just had to write. It didn't matter that I didn't have connections or creative theatre-loving parents. It didn't matter where I came from. Nothing could stop me writing. Once I realised that, I felt a lot less angry and frustrated and I started to feel OK. All I had to do was make a plan: how could I write more? I sat down and I came up a 5 year plan:  
  • Train as a social worker – 3 years. 
  • Practise as a social worker full-time – 2 years.
  • Go part-time as a social worker and write part-time.

Looking back, it wasn't the most efficient of plans. I didn't need to earn money from writing. I could do something else, like say, be a social worker. I love working with people (I was a support worker at the time) and not only would I be doing something useful, I'd be learning new skills, and gaining life experience. All that good stuff that I could pour back into my writing.

I stuck to my plan. I trained as a social worker, all the while writing whenever I could. I practised full-time, writing for an hour each morning before work as well as weekends. I learned a lot from the job. Most of all, to be empathic, and see things from someone else's perspective. Which in turn, gave me a real sense of perspective.Then I worked part-time and I wrote part-time, writing for more than half of my week. I wasn't making money from my writing, but I was writing. Because it felt like I was losing money to write, I made damn sure I wrote on those days. I sat down from 9 to 5 and I wrote like it was my job. Well, my part-time job at least. Because of my social worker job, I valued my writing days even more, I looked forward to them, enjoyed them. If you think writing's hard, try being a social worker. Or a nurse. Or probably lots of other things that matter.

That's how it went for a while. I was enjoying writing, and I was getting better. I was also doing lots of other things to make me a better writer. I joined a writing group. I did a Creative Writing MA. I put on plays, made films with my mates. Year-on-year, I could see my work developing. I was learning the craft, finding my voice, everything that writers who know what they're talking about, tell you. I knew that if I kept on writing and getting better, that one day someone would notice. One day someone would pay me for all this hard work. One day, this would be my job. In the meantime, I didn't care about that, because I was writing and improving. Then I realised, I wasn't angry or frustrated any more. Far from it. I was happy.

So I wrote and I rewrote and I rewrote, until my scripts were all nice and shiny. Then I sent them out. Competitions mainly. In September 2014, I got a call telling me I'd won the BAFTA Rocliffe's Children's TV Writing Competition, and a couple of months later I won the BBC Writersroom Scriptroom 7 competition. I was really happy. Over the moon, in fact. Although I’d have been happy even if I hadn't won, because I was writing. And that's what really makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, there are days when it's tough. I think about being a social worker, and all my friends who are still social workers, and everyone who doesn't get to do what they love, and I crack on.

When I look back now at that angry, frustrated young man, I know I wasn't ready. I hadn't learned the craft, I hadn't found my voice, I wasn't enjoying the ride. So thank you BAFTA Rocliffe for noticing my work. The competition really has made a difference to me. Now, I'm ready.

Bring it on.

~ John

Thursday, 8 January 2015



I wrote an article for the Irish Star on writing a film script, and how to get started. It appeared on 07 January 2015. 

There is an age-old saying that we all have a story in us. It’s as true as the day it was first uttered. Everyone is a budding writer – be it for books or scripts.
People often approach me with a great idea for a novel or film but when I ask them for a script or an outline they shrink away.
The issue is that people talk about it but don’t make it happen - the reality is it’s just talk until you start writing. There’s nothing more disheartening than someone telling you about a project they’ve never written. Believe it or not, you need to sum up your project in one line verbally or one page.
You must commit your idea to paper. Too often we fill our days, clutter our time with reasons not to do this - writing is writing, it’s as simple as that – starting with a blank page.
When I set out to work in the film industry, I would constantly puzzle about how to break in. Was there a big secret? Was forging a career in this industry impossible? It was only asking around that I discovered I was looking at it in all the wrong ways – it wasn’t impossible; in fact, the possibilities were endless if you sought them out.
People will help you if you help yourself because most have a passion for the work and want to support those trying to make their way.
Writer DANNY BROCKLEHURST (Shameless, The Street, Driver) says, ‘If someone asks, I don’t want to be the lad that pulled the ladder up behind them. PAUL ABBOTT (State of Play, Shameless, Cracker) helped me, and you want to help and show encouragement to new talent and to nurture it.’
I was lucky when I started out in this business; I was curious and asked questions.
All the mistakes I made I put into this book, from briefing the wrong meeting, to selling my idea in 45 minutes instead of 45 words.
I discovered that there was nothing stopping me making my dream a reality except me and confidence.
ROCLIFFE NOTES taps into the experiences of 150 successful writers, producers, actors and directors – those in the know across the globe – sharing a variety of perspectives on topics from writing habits, pitching and ideas, to agents and application forms.
I love describing it as eavesdropping on 150 conversations. I learned that the mystery is that there is no mystery - that’s the big secret anyone who wants to write should know. Best bit is you don’t need to read my entire book, you can just dip in and find what you need.
JIM SHERIDAN (My Left Foot, In America), at the Austin Screenwriting Conference in October, told the audience that the first ten pages are pretty much like his advice on dating – don't say much in the first ten minutes.
His review of my book had even less words “It’s brilliant” he told me on the flight from New York to Texas - although he called me a bitch for keeping him awake as he was knackered but couldn’t stop reading it. Other great advice is like Sharon Horgan who says of sitcom pilot scripts to get as many jokes on the page. It’s obvious but true – comedy needs to be funny!
And it’s never too late to start - LENNY ABRAHAMSON (What Richard Did, Frank) in an article, not to me, describes himself as a late developer.
But don’t give up the day job just yet. According to MOIRA BUFFINI (Byzantium, Jane Eyre, Tamara Drewe, Handbagged), it takes time: "if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Keep writing. Make it a discipline. Write every day. It took me ten years doing waitressing jobs, acting jobs, temping jobs, other things, but I wrote consistently during that time."
‘DO IT! Don’t wait for permission. There are no red lights,’ says Wolverine and Big Eyes actor, DANNY HUSTON, but I would add to this: work won’t find you. 


Find a reason to write – for pleasure, work or to explore a truth. You need to write with purpose.
Start by writing a one page outline – a beginning, middle and end – and then fill it in.
Buy a notebook. Write down your ideas. Eavesdrop on conversations – take out those headphones.
Note things that make you laugh or cry, write it down. You will forget it otherwise.
Get screenwriting software. If it’s a script, it must look like a script. Celtx is free
Throw everything into your first attempt but remember at the heart what you want to say with your story.
Get someone to read it and ask them to mark an X where they get bored or confused (a tip from JULIAN FELLOWES, writer of Downton Abbey).
Set a time each day to write. Put on the alarm clock an hour before you usually do. Use that time to write. If you can't work within the time frame of an hour, set goals of page count, scene count or word count. Don't let yourself walk away until you have achieved your goal.
Know when you write best – morning, afternoon or evening. What environment makes you the most prolific? Cake helps me!
Think of writing as spending time with someone you love: if you hate writing or what you are writing, why would you spend time doing it?
Once you’ve written a script, it is about getting your work read and about meeting people, engaging with them, them wanting to read your work, seeing potential and then wanting to work with you! 
Be pro-active:
Go to festivals and attend the Q&As of writer-directors.
Information is key and knowledge puts you in a better position.
Sign up to to newsfeeds – Screen, Variety, Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, BAFTA, film bodies (e.g. Film London, Northern Ireland Screen, IFB, BFI), - it’s all relevant.
Read scripts, watch films, watch short films and research your subject matter.
Excerpts From: Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors. Available from Amazon and most book stores.