It’s bluebell time again. I have measured out my life not through coffee spoons like J Alfred Prufrock but through bluebells. These are taken at Duncliffe wood in Dorset at dusk. The scent of the flowers is always strongest then. It’s hard to concentrate on writing when I know that just a few miles away the bluebells are waiting for me…
Yesterday, the postman delivered the very first copy of Mr Rosenblum’s List. It’s an actual proper book. In hardback. With my name on. I placed it on the shelf in the sitting-room amongst the proper books by real authors (hoping they wouldn’t pick on him). I feel slightly dazed. I’ve seen proofs and typeset manuscripts and cover roughs and back copy blurb, but nothing quite prepares you for seeing your story bound into an actual book.
This the edition that will be sold in Australia and New Zealand…
I’ve done a couple of interviews now — one last week with an Australian paper. I feel amazed at how Jack and Sadie’s story has traveled. It is so lovely that people so far away want to read a love story about a short, middle-aged man and his roundish wife…
And, if any of you are in London, I’m doing my very first book event, which will be at Jewish Book Week on March 2nd, at 5.30pm in Bloomsbury. It’s free and un-ticketed and you will be able to get an early copy of Mr R…
My grandmother had a rather spectacular recipe book. It doesn’t look like much – a battered exercise book with the cover torn off – but it contains magic. All the family recipes are in there, and although she died when I was very small, I feel that I know her little through the Baumtorte, the Apfel Kuchen and the Sachertorte recipes.
Here are her Vanilla Crescents. I loved rolling these out as a child and coating them in sugar. They make me long for evenings in front of the fire, licking sugar crystals off my fingers.
6 oz flour
2 oz semolina
4 oz softened butter
3 oz vanilla sugar (2 for cooking, 1 for dusting)
drop of almost essence
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl until a rough dough is made. Then, with your fingers, roll out small sausage-shaped pieces and pinch them into crescents. Place them on oiled grease-proof paper and put onto a baking tray.
My mother and grandmother always keep a jar of vanilla sugar in the larder for making cakes and desserts. All you do is put one or two vanilla pods into a sealed container of caster sugar and leave it there. Every six months or whenever the pod begins to lose its potency, replace it with a fresh one.
Bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Today I went out with Julia, the lovely Hodder sales rep, to meet booksellers in the Dorset area. It was great to meet the people who will actually be selling Mr R. There are just so many people involved in the selling of a book – from the brilliant team at head office, to the traveling sales reps (make me think of old fashioned peddlers with donkey carts piled high with glittering books) as well as the booksellers in the shops.
Jack is on his travels too. I’ve been e-mailing with Professor M, my German translator. Having someone scrutinise your book in minute detail is quite an odd experience. In my alternate life as an academic, I have spent eons reading a poem, researching every line, and as a screenwriter I have interrogated the text I am adapting. It’s a fantastic experience, and one becomes quite obsessed with the source text – it feels at times like squatting in someone else’s brain. However, having that gaze turned upon one’s own work is quite disconcerting.
I’m now getting glimpses of the foreign covers. This is the Dutch one:
And this is the Spanish:
Mr S and I have been writers-in-residence at a rather lovely school in Kent this week. There was a blizzard on Wednesday night and we woke to Narnia. And, last lesson was cancelled – after leaving school I never thought that I would once again experience the joy of a snow day.
We’ve been running workshops on writing fiction and screenplays. Lots of the the girls had questions about how to get started on your first screenplay and Mr S wrote them a how-to list. I think it’s really useful so am posting it here.
There are far too many screenwriting manuals out there. Anyone who has ever brushed up against the film business seems to think it qualifies him to tell the rest of us how to write for the movies.
So, first, a warning. Reading too many How-To books will almost certainly paralyse your writing aspirations. Unless you want to be deluged by off-putting jargon and prescriptive advice, I suggest that before you pick up a single manual you start at the source and read a bunch of screenplays.
You can get hold of many of your favourite films here:
All of these sites are run by fans so there’s one thing you should watch out for. Make sure that you read the actual screenplay (i.e. the draft written by the screenwriter(s)) and not a transcript that a fan has put together after watching the film three hundred and eighty-seven times. The sites usually tell you which is which.
Nothing will teach you more about how to write a screenplay than reading one.
And if, after that, you still want to write one, I suggest this book. It sounds cheesy (it is) but I used it at the start of my career and, hey, look at me now.
‘How To Write a Movie in 21 Days’ by Viki King
It’s strangely compelling and inspiring and utterly practical. You feel as if she’s holding your hand throughout the process, and who doesn’t like to have their hand gripped by a complete stranger? But don’t expect to turn out a great screenplay. This is about practice.
If you prefer something a bit more serious to get you started, then Syd Field’s ‘The Foundation of Screenwriting’ might be your thing.
Many people will suggest that you pick up Robert McKee’s comprehensive tome, ‘Story’. It is fascinating, it is dense, it is a cohesive philosophy, it makes many, many insightful points. And it will probably kill you. Stay away from it for a few years, that is my advice. Early in my career I glimpsed thirty seconds of a McKee lecture on a DVD, and was unable to write for the next six months. Seriously.
I suspect that the book which inspired me won’t have the same effect on you. Mostly, because the films he references are ones you probably won’t have seen. The book is ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ by William Goldman. He is one of the true greats. ‘All The President’s Men,’ ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ ‘Marathon Man,’ ‘Princess Bride’ (I’m going to guess that you do know this last one). He writes about the process of writing and making several of his movies, with excoriating anecdotes about the business mixed in with practical advice, especially on what to expect when your screenplay is turned into a movie.
So now you’ve read a couple of books and many more screenplays. You know how to format your work, you’ve got a sense of story and structure. My advice would be to stop reading and start writing.
In the film business, you will be met by unceasing hordes of people telling you what works, what doesn’t work, how to do it, how not to do it, but, as the great William Goldman so succinctly put it, the truth is that Nobody Knows Anything.
It’s been 20 years and it’s time for the cottage to be re-thatched. This is the cottage that my grandparents bought when they first arrived in Dorset and the place where I spent all my holidays as a child. The windows are really high as it used to be the village school and the teachers didn’t want the children to be distracted by interesting goings on in the lane outside.
The thatcher and his assisant are doing a grand job as you can see. My mum mentioned ‘Mr R’ to John the thatcher and he was very enthusiastic and is bringing his wife and their book group to the launch. If only he could have helped Jack and Sadie with their leaky roof in chapter 10…
And you need a good head for heights… I feel dizzy.
Mr S and I are back in Dorset after a busy week in London. It was all rather fun – I met my charming Dutch editor, Jacqueline, and saw the cover for the Dutch edition of Mr R. The book is being busily translated at the moment, and editors and translators are starting to send through questions about the text. The biggest challenge seems to be the Dorset dialect. There is a motley collection of local folk in Mr R and they speak in broad Dar-set tones.
This was great fun to write: I scoured old dialect dictionaries, read lots of William Barnes and, of course, Thomas Hardy. The speech is written phonetically with dialect words like ‘jitterbug’ (glow worm) and ‘yow’ (ewe) and ‘noggerhead’ (idiot). In old West Country speech, nouns are gendered as they are in German or Anglo-Saxon and are nearly always ‘he’. So, a roof in need of repair is: ‘ee’s in a bit o’ a bad way, isn’t ‘ee?’ I chose to elongate the ‘ee’ when transcribing, as I felt ‘e’ as in ‘e’s in a bit o’ a muddle’ sounds too much like cockney.
All well and good – gave the poor copy editor a bit of headache – but I thought it was all finished. Now, the poor translators are going through exactly the same thing. Jacqueline and her translator are trying different rural Dutch dialects and choosing which sounds best. Professor M who is working on Jack in German, is struggling with the eccentric spelling of the dialect. He emailed to ask what an ‘ersey mistake’ is – (it’s an easy mistake to make…)
It’s a very strange feeling to be taking a week or so off writing (agent Stan has Fred) while knowing that other people are busily working on Mr R. I think they are all in need of some of Curtis’s jitterbug cider.