Fighting the Good Fight.

When I was first going out with my husband - and we lived on opposite sides of the country - he turned up at my flat one weekend, en route to a tournament in full fencing get-up. (He never did make the competition, but that's another story.) The fact that he still maintains an interest in what he says is an art, rather than a sport, may serve to explain why he devoted two precious hours of his life, the other night, to watching something advertised as a British Drama on Hallmark. I was present but, after the first half hour, I buried my nose in a book and contented myself with the occasional peep - mostly at Robson. The premise was that our hero, fleeing the police, assorted criminals and his past, took on the coaching of a girls' fencing team at a posh boarding school somewhere near Oban. (Culzean Castle, as it turned out. Not THAT near Oban, really. You could see Ailsa Craig in some of the shots.) He had been offered the job after a gratuitous bonk with the headmistress, in a hotel room. Unlikely, but you never know your luck in a raffle...
The fact that the whole production was truly, deeply awful, should in no way be blamed on the actors who struggled manfully, and womanfully, with both script and fencing. It was when the credits rolled that I guessed the awful truth. There, but for the grace of God, went yours truly.
Once upon a time, after one of my stage plays had been well reviewed, I was approached by a script editor, bearing enticements. It was just after Ballykissangel, and they were looking for an idea for a Scottish rural drama. From my extensive experience of deepest rural Scotland, I obliged. In the meantime, however, a blistering drama called The Lakes (remember that one?) was doing rather well, so back came my outline, with the suggestion that I make it "darker." Perhaps they wanted The Lochs. I reckon my modified idea was a little too dark, because at the next meeting the editor suggested that I pitch it somewhere in the middle. More work, more meetings, more discussions. No money though. "They seem to think" said the script editor, apologetically, at what turned out to be our last meeting. "That it falls between two stools."
Beware of script editors or development executives or whatever they are calling themselves nowadays, bearing promises of jam tomorrow, if only you can "get it right."
You have to remember that in television, script editors may be only one step ahead of the writer in terms of experience. Or, come to think of it, some way behind the writer. Development is their job, their raison d'etre, the way they earn their living. The company must be seen to have various projects "in development." Mostly, as a writer, you won't be paid anything for that development work but the script editor will often be employed by the company. It stands to reason, therefore, that the development process will be lengthy, while the writer wastes weeks, months, nay years of his or her life on rewrites and revisions, always pursuing that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, until the initial idea crumbles away into dross. A few dried leaves. Just occasionally though, one of these productions actually makes it onto the screen. To encourage the others, perhaps? The fencing fiasco had the despairing air of something concocted by a committee of script editors and development executives. Somewhere in there was an excellent and original idea, twitching feebly, as it expired before our very eyes.
After a bit, you get wise to this process. But not before you have wasted far too much time, and far too many ideas. Every time I have had a reasonably successful stage play, somebody has approached me about television. The last person I spoke to was refreshingly honest about the whole business. If you want to get into television, you begin by writing for the soaps. You send in sample scripts, and if they are good enough, you get to serve an apprenticeship, learning your trade the hard way. That's how it's done. If you don't want to do that, then you don't want to write for television badly enough. So don't do it. Write what you want to write instead.
PS They were holding their "back hands" wrong in the fencing scenes as well. So said my husband . "They'd have got their fingers chopped off!" he muttered darkly, as he went to bed.

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