A Writer's Life No.6: Dropping Through The Glass Floor

Christopher Fowler
Doctor_Who__The_Curse_of_Peladon In this month's issue of 'Black Static' magazine, the genre author Stephen Volk releases an angry polemic about what looks to be an increasingly disastrous future for writers. Having just returned from dealing with the BBC executives, he points out that their training managers - brought in to teach them how to make decisions (as if they shouldn't have that skill already) - earn far more than writers, who are no longer required to pitch original ideas, and are largely working in this area for nothing, in that it's incumbent upon us to come up with endless input that goes unpaid and barely even studied. According to Volk, he's dealing with execs who have no knowledge at all of genre fiction, from 'Rosemary's Baby' to 'Buffy', and are only looking for something that was already made before. This desire to endlessly reboot the past may be nothing more than a faddish response to our deeply conservative times, but it does seem peculiar to UK television, especially when one compares it to the US
commissioning process. Admittedly, for every 'Breaking Bad' there are a dozen dumber also-rans, but here we seem doomed to repeat the past, so 'Downton Abbey' is 'Upstairs, Downstairs' and 'Ripper Street' is 'Sergeant Cork', and nothing is ever really fresh. Old wine in new bottles is, of course, fine - but not old wine in old bottles. Each project has to have a brand and a sales history now, so the old bottle needs to come with all its previous receipts. This, as Volk reminds us, is after our useless and offensive culture secretary Maria Miller gave a disastrous speech at the British Museum, where she referred to arts funding as 'venture capital' that must reap big dividends for shareholders. At the bottom of the scale lie the writers, who pitch endlessly without payment of any kind, only to be told
that what they propose is to hard to sell. Because as we all know, selling is the only thing that counts now. In 'The Teleportation Accident', one of Ned Beauman's characters says that deciding between English and American fiction is like deciding between dinner with a corpse or cocktails with a baby; at least the baby has a life ahead of it. Lately I'm inclined to agree with that hypothesis (although not the Hollywood part of the model), not because there aren't talented writers here; there are - but they're really not being given the breath of life. Now that the internet has convinced everyone that they have a book in them, we find ourselves reading the illiterate ramblings of confessional diarists who are insensible to the grace of culture. Meanwhile, the BBC seems to have rebranded itself as the Dr Who Channel, so
maybe anything adult is surplus to requirements. The problem is that initial home funding must be topped up from a variety of other sources, all of whom get a say in what's produced. Nothing good ever came out of a committee consensus. Writers, eh? Always complaining. Who needs 'em?
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Keith Page (not verified) Thu, 28/11/2013 - 11:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've recently been watching the 'Beiderbecke Trilogy' by Alan Plater from the 1980's.It's very low key but still comes across as original.You certainly don't see 'em like this any more.Just as well the BBC is the Doctor Who Channel [ a better suggestion might be the Dancing/ Masterchef Channel, actually].
And just when you think they couldn't come up with anything sillier than Merlin what do we have but the total disaster of a programme which is Atlantis

Stephen Groves (not verified) Thu, 28/11/2013 - 14:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Interesting ,Writers who needs them ? It would make my home a lot less full .
More to the point, Why is there no Bryant & May series on tv yet ? that's what I want to know.

all best

Dan Terrell (not verified) Thu, 28/11/2013 - 15:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Have to agree that it is not easy getting published. Never was and now only worse. The hurdles that are put up have you leaping, but landing wide of a contract.
-Only accepting submissions from writers with agents or from agents we buy from.
-Only accepting submissions from previously published writers.
-Only accepting submissions for series.
-Not accepting submissions from first time writers.
-Not accepting submissions longer than 90,000 words or only accepting submissions of 30,000 to 60,000 words.
-Not accepting SiFi, Romance, Teen or children's literature, etc.
-Not accepting short story collections, poetry, children's illustrated books.
-Proposals must be no more than a paragraph in length, however, explain as fully as possible the general plot of the submission.
-Submit no more than 500 words and short outline no more than quarter of a page.
-Looking for Nordic themed materials, vampire-romance...
It is not just a glass ceiling that's given way, it's a cement ceiling that has next to no headroom.
For Americans: Happy Thanksgiving.

John Griffin (not verified) Thu, 28/11/2013 - 18:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I tend to judge TV when I don't want to be arsed watching my saved shows. Astonishingly, Ripper St got the 'couldn't be arsed' award last week, and apart from The Blacklist most of the rest has been dumped. Dangerous stuff is no longer commerce.

Joanne Bourne (not verified) Thu, 28/11/2013 - 19:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Re: "maybe anything adult is surplus to requirements"
Are kids these days even watching the BBC? Aren't they all prodding their iThings or watching kittens in jugs (or worse) on YouTube?

As a book and magazine writer I sympathise. I've been bashing my head on Dan Terrell's cement ceiling for some time now. Kind regards.