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