The 21st Century Writer

(Or: I am not a lazy git.)

It’s probably fair to say that about 80% of a writer’s labours are hidden from public view.  They’re the projects that never quite come together, or never get picked up, for a whole variety of reasons.  The pitches that seem to be going somewhere, and then die at the last – and this is particularly true of the TV world, where only a tiny fraction of what is written actually makes it to the screen.  The articles that get bumped from magazines, or websites, or newspapers, because something more newsworthy has just surfaced.

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I work at my writing constantly.  Five days a week, sometimes more.  It’s my job, it’s my life.  A book with my name on it may crop up once a year, sometimes with even longer breaks, so it’s easy to think I while away my hours drinking in the local pub or wandering the world, watching the clouds pass by.  (I do both, just not all the time.)  What you don’t get to hear about are all the pieces of work that never break surface, because: what’s the point?  But here’s what I have been doing:

No ‘Mark Chadbourn’ book recently?  That’s because I’ve been writing a series of books under the pseudonym I’ve reserved for historical fiction (to avoid confusion among readers, booksellers and marketing people) – James Wilde.  These books have made The Times best-seller list, so as people are keen to keep reading them, I feel an obligation to keep writing them.  I’ve just signed a three-book deal with Penguin Random House for a new series which will be of interest to James Wilde readers *and* Mark Chadbourn readers (particularly if you liked Age of Misrule).

I also work extensively as a screenwriter – 26 hours of produced work for the BBC under my belt to date.  I’m currently developing several new series for broadcasters around the world, and working on a film script.  My near-future SF series, Shadow State, is in the hands of a US network.  My book, Testimony, an investigation into a British Amityville, is being developed for UK and international TV.  I have a political thriller and a crime series also in development.  It’s a long road from here to any of these projects appearing on a screen near you, and they all might fall at any one of the numerous obstacles.  But, you know: paid work.

One of my favourite TV writers is Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass, and I’m writing an extended piece about him for We Are The Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale, a new book looking at his life and work in TV and film.  This will be a great book with some fantastic contributors, so definitely check it out if you have any interest in F/SF/H, TV, film, or just the work of a quality writer.

And on top of all the writing and the endless, endless meetings, I do various talks, lectures, and signings here and there.  The next one is a screenwriting workshop at the Derby Book Festival Writers’ Day.

All of which makes an interesting point about what it takes to be a full-time writer in the 21st century.  Only a very,very few writers make a good living from novels.  A publishing industry on the ropes has slashed advances, and the black arts of publishing accounting means royalties sometimes take a while to surface in your bank (most authors don’t even make any royalties).  The choice for many is to hold down a full-time job and scribble away in the evenings.

But I like my freedom.  It’s been a long time since I was a wage-slave, working as a journalist on the national papers in London.  I’m pretty much unemployable now.  But I also like to eat.  And, you know, have an amazing time travelling the world and being louche in new locales.  So the wise thing is to cast my net wide and put my writing to work in different media.  Eggs/baskets etc.

But then, if you’re a writer, why wouldn’t you?  Story telling is the same all over.  Once you’ve mastered the new skill-set for a new medium, you’re drawing on the same natural ability wherever you’re employed: your ideas.

A film script is a palate-cleanser after a novel, and vice versa.  Journalism and comics and TV all have their particular joys, and they all complement each other.  In the multi-media, cross-platform, constantly mutating 21st century, why would any writer want to limit their storytelling to only one area?