Tag Archives: writing

Top Tips For Comedy Writing – NEVER Give Up

Last year I wrote a sitcom pilot and sent it out to several producers. After seeing it returned with some encouraging comments but mostly a ‘better luck next time,’ I decided to do a little more reading on the subject, take some professional advice and then put it away for a time and write something else.

A fortnight ago, I completed the first draft of my comedy novel for women, MRS DAVID DANDO –  a project that was started immediately after a dear friend of mine who I met through Twitter, Hywel Jones, passed away. At the beginning of 2012, Hywel told me, ‘this will be your year Heather!’ It wasn’t, because sadly, I lost one of the most amazing people I have ever met. But one of many things he taught me was the truth in the saying, ‘live to regret the things you did do, not the things you didn’t.’  If you ever doubt the power or usefulness of Twitter, you can read about my inspirational friend Hywel and our bizarre/funny/extraordinary conversations HERE. Suffice to say, I truly fell in love on Twitter and miss Hywel everyday. And he is, without a doubt, the reason I set out to write my novel.

I have met, chatted with and listened to some amazing people through the social media channels from many varied and fascinating backgrounds and have found it a fantastic training ground.  The onset of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc has allowed me, a humble, unknown writer to get a grasp of what people I never thought would give me the time of day have to say about the comedy writing industry – and, indeed, the publishing industry in general. It has also resulted in a deluge of well-meaning folk sending me links on how to handle rejection since I announced my plans to start sending out my novel to literary agents in the New Year. If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have a saying of my own when it comes to rejection, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try eating the whole bun.’  If you missed the original post about my motivation for writing, please see HERE.

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And so this week, I have an email I am permitted to share that was sent to me from TV writer and Executive Producer at Wild Rover Productions Kieran Docherty. Kieran has written extensively for the BBC, Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company among others:

“I always thought of myself as a writer, but I think my career only really started once I started thinking of myself as a business. I knew I had to sell my scripts, but I also started to view myself as a product that needed to be sold too. Once that little switch went off in the back of my head I started to view the industry differently. I started to research agents, production companies and even broadcasters. I hated my job (I worked in an outbound call centre by day and as a barman by night) so I started to dig my escape tunnel by reading industry magazines like Broadcast and Film Ireland. I wanted to sound like a knowledgable professional to offset the fact that I looked like a scruffy student! 

I found out the names of all the local producers in town and managed to befriend a comedy producer who just so happened to drink in the bar I worked in. He agreed to read some of my stuff. He liked it and asked me to send him some more. I did that for about a year and a bit. I didn’t get payed, but that was OK because I hadn’t jacked in the day job yet, and eventually I got a shot at writing on a real radio show.

I still hated my job but I knew I couldn’t leave just yet, so I developed a new plan – to try and find a job somewhere in the industry. I figured it would let me meet the important people in a professional capacity as opposed to a drunken capacity. I took days off work to take on runner jobs at no money. I meet some nice people, stayed in touch with them, and kept myself on their radar. This lead to a development job at a local TV production company, which lead to a format development job, which lead to where I am now. It’s quite an interesting place to be – I’m a producer now – so I’m seeing the industry from both sides. I don’t know whether I prefer hearing the word ‘no’ or saying the word ‘no’! 

I have no idea if the approach I took was sensible or not – I was making everything up as I went along – but thankfully it worked out for me! The only thing that I know for sure is that, even if none of the above had ever happened, I’d still be writing and plugging away. If you want something bad enough, don’t settle until you get it.” 
Kieran 

There is a general theme to all the advice that I have received, that normally comes at around the last line: ‘Don’t settle until you get it!’  I’d hazard a guess that all successful writer’s have this in common.

Hope to catch you here reading next week!

FINAL THOUGHT: Huge congratulations to Midway-Media.com – owned by my brother Barry & his wife Tracey – on winning The East Midlands Best Wedding Videographer Award

Keep writing…

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Top Tips For Comedy Writing – And Dear Mum, I’m Not ACTUALLY Selling My Couch

If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have been sharing how I use LinkedIn for networking and asking great people in the TV/Radio comedy writing/producing world how they got to do what they do. If you missed the original post, please see HERE.

I have had the happy privilege of receiving a wealth of advice over the past twelve months from author and television writer Ivor Baddiel. His current projects include writing for The X Factor & his latest book Never In A Million Years: A History of Hopeless Predictions is available HERE. You will find Ivor on Twitter as @Ivorbaddiel – or not as the case may be – as he is still an egg avatar (which does, in fairness, represent a good likeness ;-)) and only tweets occasionally. His advice for readers of this blog for this week’s snippet is:

“My advice – when writing for yourself, find your voice, don’t be derivative and be as funny as fuck. When writing for other people, give them what they want and hope to retain as much of your dignity as possible. If all else fails, think of the money!”

I have also had a kind email from British film and TV producer and director Ed Bye. Ed produced and directed Series I to IV, Series VII and Series VIII of Red Dwarf – just part of a busy career that includes Absolutely Fabulous, My FamilyThe Young OnesBottomKevin & Perry Go Large and French & Saunders. But Ed began his career in humble beginnings, as a floor assistant at the BBC. Here is my email that Ed has kindly allowed me to share here:

Hi Heather, 
Think back to your best idea, write it, put it away and do something else. 
Pull it out again and review it in the cold light of day, rewrite anything that seems even slightly iffy. 
Repeat the above at least two times. 
Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is the plot strong enough even if there were no jokes in it? 
  • Are the characters strong enough to carry on for many episodes?
  • Will the audience have some sympathy for your principal character even if they are an utter pig? 
  • Are there of 5 to 7 equally good plots which will work for the characters? 
  • Is it funny enough? 

If the answers to the above are “Yes”, then get some mates to read it out loud and record it on a handy cam then put it away. 
Go for a drink/earn some money/both. 
Pull it out and review it in the cold light of day, rewrite anything that seems even slightly iffy. It HAS to be funny. 
Repeat all the above until absolutely certain. 

Good luck, comedy is a tough old nut to crack but don’t give up, you will eventually be rewarded. 
Ed. 

I am extremely grateful to all the wonderful people that have been happy to give their time to offer content for this blog. If you have anything to add or suggestions for future posts, please feel free to email me: hell4heather@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Keep writing!

News about ME: After months of sleepless nights, I have now completed the first draft of my comedy novel for women Mrs David Dando – which is currently undergoing the real work – editing! I hope to begin my hunt for a literary agent in the New Year. Read an overview of Mrs David Dando HERE.

And if you do nothing else, please help me tell my worried mother I’m not so skint I’m actually selling my couch! 🙂

Blod, Sweet & Teer’s

This week I am celebrating two years – yes TWO YEARS – of chasing my writing dream and swearing at onscreen typos. Hurray! *cracks Pomagne bottle open*

It has been two and a half years since I walked out of a relatively secure job because I felt creatively stifled, and wanted – neigh NEEDED to do something else.  It took a little while longer for me to say aloud, ‘you know what, I think I can write. So I’m going to try.’ Then, after all the other people on the bus had edged away from me for talking to myself, I wrote it down.. and it was gooood..

It is actually all Will Smith’s fault – or should I say, Chris Gardiner’s. Because one day I sat down to watch The Pursuit of Happyness. And if you haven’t seen it, this is a little of what I saw:

Sentimental as it may sound, this film – the true story of how Chris Gardner turned his life around in one year from homelessness to stockbroker – really struck a chord with me. He said, and I quote:

‘Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something.’

At the time, myself and my husband were just getting by financially and no more despite both of us working full time. My salary was effectively cut in half anyway by childcare costs and the kids had to be up and out at 7am in the morning to be taken to the out of school club and we all got home at 7pm at night. And we were sick of it.

So, in the midst of this and after watching Chris Gardner’s remarkable story, I sat down with my other half and told him that, even though we were broke already, I wanted to quit my job and try and get us out of this madness (and, OK possibly into some more) because I believed I had a talent to do something extraordinary. With terror in his eyes, ‘is she nuts?’  ‘dare I disagree?’  ‘Hang on, you mean she’ll be home to cook me a hot meal at last?’  – my husband agreed.

Last year, I joined the professional networking site LinkedIn and began researching all the writers I admired, all the comedy programmes I loved and set about finding and linking to the people involved. I didn’t know any of them and risked being thrown off the site for doing what you are essentially not supposed to do but then, I’m not known for doing things by the book. I have been known to do things WITH a book – apologies to all the little spider orphans, but I digress…

So, I contacted people in earnest, acknowledging the fact that I didn’t know them, had never worked with them and wasn’t an old next door neighbour looking to ask for my lawnmower back. I said, ‘I admire your work and want to know how you got to be where you are today.’ The surprising thing was, yes, a few people couldn’t be bothered in their busy world to give me the time of day, but for the most part – around 85% I would say – of the industry professionals I contacted have been more than happy to take time out to advise and encourage me.

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For those of you that don’t know, Jon Plowman is responsible for producing and commissioning programmes produced in-house at the BBC, of which the greatest successes include The Office and French & Saunders. One of the UK’s most experienced producers, he became head of comedy in October 2005, and now oversees the BBC’s in-house comedy production. In short, he’s (to quote Bridget Jones) ‘very busy and important.’ But he was not too busy to talk to me when I asked, ‘how did you get to do what you do and how did you keep the wolf from the door as you tried to do it?’ This was his email response, which he has kindly given me permission to share:

Heather

Well it was a while ago but I got my first break by writing and directing a play for no money and then writing to the place I wanted to work and asking them to come to see the play which luckily had had nice reviews.
In relation to the wolf the answer is that you need long term and short term goals . If long term is work in showbiz/tv/media you also need short term which is eat.
If you really want to do something enough then you WILL do it and if you have to do other things to eat try to do at least one thing a day (like reading something or writing something) that’s yours and towards the longer goal.

Good Luck

Jon Plowman

So, I am going to share my findings in a short series of guest posts giving  hints and tips from writing industry professionals to keep us motivated as we soldier on, pencils at the ready, wolf at the door, singing ‘typo, typo, it’s off to work we go!’

My first guest post will be from Charlie Adams, a comedy writer who wrote gags for the likes of Bob Monkhouse and Bob Hope and someone who has gone that extra mile to offer me loads of joke writing industry insight. Tune in next week!

50 Shades of Graphite – The Longhand of the Hill

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Me going up in the world – on the floor

‘Most people enjoy the sight of their own handwriting as they enjoy the smell of their own farts.’ – WH Auden

Anyone who has followed my Twitter account @hell4heather since it’s birth may remember that before I decided to introduce myself to the world as a ‘Mum of Five – not the band’ my original bio said, simply, ‘some of my best friends are pencils.’ I can now reveal to the world why this is actually true… because I prefer to do the majority of my written work longhand and in pencil; a trait which an editor friend of mine called barmy, due to the fact that I then have to go and type everything I have written out later, thus taking twice as long to finish anything. And what has brought about this newly proud revelation? Because  -and I’m just going to come out and say it – I just discovered one of my absolute comedy writing heroines, Dawn French, does the same thing and I’m not too proud to admit to indulging in a bit of girly glee when I heard this. It is without doubt incredibly self-affirming finding out someone with such immense cult status in the world of your chosen art thinks in some way the same as you do …unless it’s Charles Manson 😉

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Do I write longhand because my hassndwriting is clear, concise and beautiful? I think not…

Dawn has recently ‘pencilled’ her new book ‘Oh Dear Silvia’ which is out today; hence the wave of television interviews with gorgeous Dawn (yes, beautiful women can be funny) that I’m thoroughly enjoying, especially as they have given me new hope that my perceived ‘old-fashioned’ writing style is not simply the work of a madwoman. Although, I still have to admit to maintaining a slight streak of madness. Hungry for more proof in my I’m-not-prehistoric-really pudding, I read an interview with Dawn for Penguin Books this morning, where she is quoted as saying,

‘I use pencil. A sharp pencil moving over crisp white paper with feint blue lines. It’s a sensual treat. It’s lead-tastic in every way.’

This single sentence was like my own little 50 Shades paragraph. I know exactly what she means! I’m forever found lying on my belly in front of the fireplace, scribbling away and sticking my nib in the sharpener every five minutes for the sheer sensual pleasure of doing strokes with a sharp end – at least that was until I found an even sexier toy – the mechanical pencil.

So to Dawn French, who I know will never read this, thank you, you legendary, comedy Goddess for making me feel normal. Now I will get the book (birthday present hint to children here) but sorry, I can’t read until after I’ve finished writing mine.  And I love you but no, you can’t borrow ANY of my pencils!

And for other writing news – this blog is being published on Kindle in a round 24 hours and going weekly! Woo-hoo! Again I’m a published writer; albeit in the ‘publishing giant that is Heather Hill herself’ kind of way. OK, I exaggerated about the giant thing *checks arse…* *thinks, maybe not…*

So I hope to see you here next week, with some surprising guest posts and encouraging comments from the world I aspire to infiltrate, including a comedy writer who wrote jokes for the great Bob Hope and Bob Monkhouse and ex-BBC Comedy Chief turned Executive BBC Producer Jon Plowman.

For those of you that don’t know, this is what I’m currently working on… (Well, actually this blog is what I’m currently working on. But you get my drift…) MRS DAVID DANDO

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The latest addition to my comedy writing CV 😀

The New Mrs D – A Greek Travesty

Bearded lady, 41, slightly used, with squishy, puffball belly subtly disguised by low-lying nipples, seeks man with GSOH, porn allergies and willingness to share razor.

     As I finished the last pistachio and gazed over the blue Aegean Sea, a promise of marital happiness peered back at me in the form of that annoying bastard – the romantic evening sunset.
‘Oh fuck off!’ I told it.  It didn’t…

Most people might see a week’s holiday on a stunning Greek island as an opportunity to relax, rewind and recharge their batteries.  Not me.  As each day of my ‘break’ passed just last year, a novel began to emerge in my head that tap, tap, tapped me on the shoulder each day and night until finally, in an attack of “I can’t stand it anymore,” I bought a beautiful views of Greece emblazoned notebook at the airport and wrote an entire fourteen chapter overview for a comedy novel on the plane home, all the while chuckling to myself like a mad woman.  Am now hoping said notebook might have a place in a museum one day beside J.K. Rowling’s writing chair.  One can dream..

Relaxation breaker or not, it was good to get it all out on paper.

”The New Mrs D’ is the story of a woman’s action packed solo honeymoon in Greece. And yes, I said, ‘ solo’ honeymoon. 

Don’t ask me why, during a holiday away with my own husband, I was dreaming up a scenario where a newly married forty something kicks out her louse-spouse and embarks on a series of holiday experiences of a lifetime alone.  Because my answer would have nothing at all to do with enjoying a romantic, taverna-by-the-sea evening meal at a table conveniently placed in front of the TV for the European cup finals or any dashing, young Greek waiters I didn’t notice whilst not being distracted.  No.  Nothing at all.   Love you Mr Hill!  (Has he looked away yet?)  Phew! 😉

With the tagline “when life throws shit at you… grow great, big, f*ck off roses!” The New Mrs D follows a two week voyage of self discovery with our heroine as, among other hilarious antics, she rides a horse through the sea at sunset, learns to paint, performs a duet on a nudist beach, contributes to a Greek fish explosion and snowboards down an ‘erupting’ volcano, all the while realising a series of hopes and dreams she had long forgotten existed.  Mrs Dando is newly single on her honeymoon. The possibilities are endless…

To read a synopsis of THE NEW MRS D, Click HERE

Coming to a slush pile near you soon. 

 

Adopting an Elfy Lifestyle

“The Word on The Tweet”
The day the Beeb made Terry Christian speak to me

After almost two years of calling myself an ‘aspiring’ writer, early this month I took the important step of self-publishing a children’s book I wrote almost nine years ago.  It was just two days  later that I decided to drop the ‘aspiring’ and adopt the ‘perspiring’ writer status.
“Hooray!”  I thought. Until…
On a rare evening out in my local pub I was asked the question I’d being dying to be asked since promoting myself.
“So, what do you do?”
It was just last Friday night when I found myself reluctantly stuck talking to a drunken bore, who, after claiming to be a rich entrepreneur having made his fortune in recruitment, asked me this question when he’d finally stopping talking about himself.  Which was sometime on Saturday morning.
This was the first time!  My first chance to say it!
“Me?” I said, puffing out my chest proudly – before swiftly sucking it back in again as the dirty old beggar’s eyes nearly popped out.  Note to self: Search pub for missing shirt button next time I’m in.  “I’m a writer; comedy mainly.  I just published a book.” I beamed.
“You’re a writer?” he sneered, looking me up and down.
Oh no, I thought.  He doesn’t think I look like a writer.  Did I drop my Shakespearian ruff too whilst puffing out?
“How tall are you?” He asked.
How tall am I? Is there an average requirement for writers?  No wait; Ronnie Corbett writes comedy.
I told him.  And without a moment’s hesitation, as God (and vodka) is my witness, he said:
“I have just the job for you!  You can be my Christmas elf!”
One of my drinking partners for the evening (my daughter), had to be helped onto a stool because her legs buckled as she battled with a fit of uncontrollable giggling.  I, on the other hand, was choking so hard on my drink I was furtively stuffing straws up my nose so I didn’t lose any vodka.  Our male companion, a tad more drunk than us, was found shortly afterwards embroiled in a serious conversation with said bore, which went something like:
“Christmas elf you say?  £1000 a night?  Do bagpipe playing elves earn extra?”
It has to be said my bagpipe playing friend Fraser towers over me at a height of about five foot two.  He could be a Christmas elf too!
So, there you have it.  At five foot nothing I don’t have the look of a writer.  And writing isn’t a real job anyway.  I look like an unemployed elf.  Something tells me JK Rowling never had this problem..

Anyway, I declined his offer, citing “no elf insurance” as the reason; promptly confirming his suspicion that I wasn’t a comedy writer at all.

And so to my book.  “Toads May Talk” – a rare serious piece of writing from me.  ‘Toads’ is a gentle, sometimes amusing and compelling tale aimed at protecting children from abuse through the gift of knowledge.  Every parent and educator of children should buy this.  Spread the word X   ..Or ‘Elf4heather’ could be coming to a toy store near you soon 😀

Oh Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree, How Come We Can’t Afford One?

Warning: I may be admitting to a crime – watch this space.

In the Hill family and in the life of a female comedy writer this week it was time to turn our attentions to the matter of acquiring a Christmas tree, as we always do on my birthday.  You see, it is an unwritten law that every year on the 6th December, I am presented with a huge, twinkling reminder that:

a) I am yet another year older and

b) even though there is a nineteen day gap, most people have difficulty differentiating between my day and Jesuses. (I’ve Googled and apparently, according to Yahoo Answers – so it MUST be true – this is Jesus x2).

Apart from the year where, as a single parent with very little money, I returned home from work to find the tree almost completely bare and kids with very red faces, hoovering furiously following an apparently ‘playful’ cushion fight which resulted in a sympathetic friend lending me a synthetic one, we have had a real tree whenever possible. I love the smell of fresh, Christmassy pine in the house and real trees are generally cheaper. Plus – before any eco warriors message me – the local farm does plant another in it’s place.

The wonderful thing for me in this year of skillfully remaining jobless, is that the local forest is right next door.  So, armed with two shivering children (I made them do it), a bottle of Blossom Hill, a neighbourly Christmas card and wearing holey jeans for maximum, ‘oh my goodness you must come in from the cold and while you’re here, take a tree with our compliments’ effect, we plodded next door to do some begging.  OK, this is where I admit that we also had an hour long family conference the night before, planning a midnight raid and deciding against it as we are honest, decent folks afterall.  Rewrite: …planning a midnight raid but deciding against it as the snow trail from their field to our house would give us away.

Timber!!!!

My lovely neighbour gifted us said tree, whilst making one vital mistake.  He said:

“Climb the fence whenever you like and take your pick.”

And we needed a pick.  Plus an axe.  And bandages.  Because of my fantastic sense of scale, my poor hubbie spent half an hour hacking at  ‘oh please, I’ve always wanted a big tree’  and we ended up dragging a monster through the field, over the fence and it took everyone and the cat leaning into it to get it inside.  Like a scene from James and the Giant Peach, we squeezed it through the door; minus a few branches… or seven.

Half and hour of sweeping, mopping, wiping down the paintwork and chiseling away to get its montrous trunk in the tiny stand (which bent with the pressure) later, she was up; although  we may now need a new carpet and my husband taught us all some very new words in the process.  I’m told one acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.  We now have enough to keep seven of us and three cats breathing easier through to New Year.

Twinkle, Twinkle little 41 Year old…

We have less furniture, and only two of us can be in the living room at a time, but it’s officially Christmas!!! 🙂