Comic Relief

Keen readers of this blog will be aware that this is my first post in a few weeks. Because of the Easter break, I've been writing an awful lot because the job I do allows me two solid weeks of time, so personal circumstances notwithstanding, that's what I've done. So all told, I've managed sixteen thousand words on my novel, three or four solid days on another project, and nine hundred cups of PG Tips. Unfortunately, my chocolate egg eating record is still waiting to be smashed, but you can't have everything.

I'm on the home stretch of The Sad Club now, with about nine chapters to go. That sounds like a lot but it really isn't; many writers will tell you that when they're on it, they could write another hundred thousand words before their morning cornflakes. I've done a very basic plan of what I feel has to happen before I call time and I intend to stick to it. 

So when I'm on such a prolific streak, why would I want to share that time and creative energy  another project? Well, I really didn't have a lot of choice. Even keener readers of this blog will recall from my introductory podcast that I have previously collaborated on a sitcom with my friend Tom, about a failing library and its staff. Shelf Life has been sat on for the past seven years or so, and would have remained buried were it not for the Thank Book For podcast that I took part in. In the lead-up to the recording, we independently took a look at our previous work and were pleasantly surprised at how funny we found it.

That's the way it would have remained for some time - my working on The Sad Club and Tom working like a Trojan on the Thank Book For project was our only focus - until I noted at the start of March that BBC Writersroom were taking open submissions for sitcoms. This is something they rarely do these days given the weight of material they surely get, and if we wanted to be in with a shot at getting it seen, we had to work hard to get episode one into shape.

I've submitted to Writersroom before: every week I would turn out gag after gag for Andy Parsons only to be disappointed they weren't used (if you agree with me that Parsons is one of the least funny comedians on the circuit, you'll have an idea how bad they must have been), and I also submitted a comedy drama spec script called The Glory Game, about an ageing footballer who scored for his local side in an FA Cup tie back in the seventies and who gets the chance to revel in his slight celebrity as fate pairs his side against the same opponent on the eve of the Premier League era. Again, despite my efforts, they didn't even offer a 'don't call us, we'll call you.'

It was all fun and games until John reminded the other three that
Yoko was picking him up from Abbey Road at five.
As Shelf Life has been dormant for so long, Tom and I had to renew our working partnership, which was interesting. I've been writing solo for so long that compromise no longer comes naturally, if it ever did. The reason I began to work with Tom in the first place was that he's not only naturally funny, but he also has a brilliant imagination. He reads a lot of fantasy and sci-fi stuff, whereas I'm quite meat and potatoes, and tend to base my comedy around turns of phrase and wordplay. 

Occasionally this can lead to issues where neither of us has wanted to give up an idea or say that we think a replacement sucks. I'll give you an example. The opening scene of episode one sees Patrick, who is starting his first day at Sedgefield Central, having a paper thrown at him by a hooligan paperboy. He is carrying said paper as he waits to be let in, when he meets Ad, the waster who will develop into his partner-in-crime:

AD: You the new paperboy?

PATRICK: No, I'm waiting for someone to let me in.

AD: Like a dog? That must be why you're holding a paper.

Now, we both liked this exchange. But I liked it more than Tom, who also quite reasonably saw it as a rather aggressive opening line from Ad, who isn't very confrontational in general. We ummed and ahhed and I kept giving the case for it, but eventually, I agreed to try and come up with something else and yes, we did change it. And we both agreed that it was a lot stronger than what we had.

Other problems were more prosaic. For example, at the time we wrote it, England were managed by Fabio Capello, who famously never really mastered English. So we had this line between the handywoman Amin and Ad, regarding her dogsbody Brute:

AMIN: It's a shame for him. You can't do anything in this infernal country if you don't speak the language.

AD: I dunno, you could manage the national football team.

I was very sad to see that go. But we slashed, and amended, and slashed again, and we were really happy with what we had at the end of it. Then it fell to me, with the bulk of the free time, to format Shelf Life episode one into a script, which took a stupid amount of time. My recommendation to aspiring screenwriters is to buy a script program. You'll regret it if you don't.

So I submitted it at the start of the Easter break and our fingers are crossed. The BBC were keen to stress that it's a multi-stage review process and in itself can take months. I don't know about Tom, but I'm sanguine about it - we both know it's the strongest script we could have turned out, know it's like nothing else currently on television and is funny. If the Beeb don't see that, then there's not much we can do. It'd be a shame to see it never get off the starting blocks though.

It was nice to have another project to turn to, but as for The Sad Club, I'm still keeping at it. The word count is rising (the editing process will be brutal, I can tell you), but I'm writing, and thinking, and constantly working to turn out a really solid first effort. There's no substitute for sitting down and typing, apart from maybe a giant Creme Egg and a fortnight off.


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