Writing In The Time of Plague

Back to the writing mill after four days off over Easter. On my virtual desk, I have two novels to complete, and two TV projects.

Work hasn’t changed much here during the lockdown. It’s still me in front of a screen, roaming around the inside of my head.

But work isn’t just the productive part. My well of inspiration was always fed by getting out into the world, to the pubs and bars, to cafes and restaurants, lounging on the common, seeing life, seeing stories unfold around me.

That’s all changed.

Social media has really come into its own in the last few weeks. It’s no substitute, but I’ve found it a lifeline for keeping up with friends and work colleagues. Isolation isn’t good for the soul. We’ll always find ways to connect.

(You can find me on Insta and Twitter, both @Chadbourn.)

TV Work

Generally I don’t talk about all the TV work I’m doing. When you’re creating new series, there are usually long periods of ditch-digging with the team, sweating, bouncing ideas around and drafting and re-drafting pilot scripts as conceptions change. And even then it doesn’t always come together.

But, as several people have asked, I’m currently in development with seven returning series for UK and international streaming broadcasters, across a range of genres.

More when I’m contractually allowed to speak about any of them.

The Future Of TV

When I’m not writing novels under my pseudonym James Wilde, most of my current work under my own name is screenwriting for TV, developing shows for both the UK and the US. I have several currently in different stages of development (more on these projects soon).

The nature of the industry is changing so fast you can almost feel the land moving under your feet.  Terrestrial broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, NBC, ABC – are in steep decline.  They’re fighting to get eyes on screens and talent to make their shows.  Streaming providers are winning.  Netflix, Prime, soon Disney and Apple, with a whole lot more in the pipeline.

It’s a great time to be a screenwriter.

Netflix has just taken over a massive new building on the lot of Sunset Bronson Studios on Sunset Boulevard.  If you want to get a sense of how they’re changing things up, this piece in Wired is a great read.

On January 7, 2018, Netflix had its biggest ever day of streaming, with users collectively watching 350 million hours of TV shows and movies. (Netflix puts this down in part to an increase in viewers around holiday periods.) It’s planning on spending $8bn on its video content in 2018; by comparison, Fox spent the same amount in 2017 on non-sports content.



The Stories We Need To Tell Ourselves

There is a shiny red apple filled with poison and a crone with eyes like steel. There is a virginal girl as pure as snow, a sleep like death, and a kiss that wakes her into a new life of Happy Ever After.

This tale has survived from ancient times because it was always more than just entertainment. It was an instruction for living.

We’re moving into a new age now, one of unparalleled and accelerating technological change. Every aspect of our existence is being transformed. Hang around in the coffee shops and bars and you will catch murmurs of unease. Old friends are vanishing by the day. Familiar, comforting ways of doing things lost. Nowhere seems safe.

Never has there been a more important time for stories that instruct and guide and explain. A new narrative for a new age.

Read it all here, by me, on Medium.

2018 – The Year When Everything Changes

For a while there, I was thinking of changing the name of this blog to The View From The Bunker.  On a personal and professional level, 2017 was all-round great, if not one of the best for a while.  But…you know…out there in the world…

Now, stuffed full of turkey and mince pies and brimming with martini and champagne, I feel a bit more optimistic.  Still, whichever way you look at it, this year is going to be another one where Big Things Happen.  No point trying to ignore it.

Everything is connected.  Outside/inside.

On that theme, I plan to be writing a lot more here.  For a while, I’ve wanted to pass on what I’ve learned about the writing world.  How to go about making a living from novels and TV and film and journalism, say.  Because when momentous events are occurring out there, it’s also a good time to shake up your own life.  If you’ve ever wanted to walk away from the mundane world of 9-to-5, to carve out the existence you’ve always dreamed for yourself, now’s the time.

One thing the current Age of Upheaval has taught us is that time is running fast, life is short, and there’s no point counting on the status quo to see you through.  The people who win big are those who take calculated risks.  There won’t be a better time to reimagine who you are and what you do.

I’ll be talking about all that here.  Maybe you’ll pick up something that might help you.

My own work-front is looking pretty crammed.  I have three TV series in various stages of development with major broadcasters, and a movie script underway.  Can’t say any more about any of those right now.

There’s a new book out from my pseudonym, James Wilde, in July:

The paperback edition of Pendragon is out in March:

And various foreign editions all hit the shelves across the globe.  For a while, I’ve kept the “Mark Chadbourn” name just for screenwriting, but this year I’ll be publishing something under that moniker which will appeal to Age of Misrule fans.

And in the summer, I’m being inflicted on the poor students and conference visitors at the University of Oxford, talking about fantasy, Tolkien, writing and more.

Hold on tight. 2018 is going to be epic in all the right ways, if you decide to make it so.

Your Four-Step Guide To Getting Your TV Series Made #screenwriting


So, this is BTS #2. Whenever I’m out doing talks, or at conventions, I’m usually collared by someone asking for tips on how to get a TV idea made (and, really, if it was that easy do you think I’d be showing the secret handshake to everyone?)  The conversation usually starts with, they’ve got an absolutely amazing idea that would make a brilliant TV series and everyone will jump the moment they hear it etc etc

Most TV writers I know are a hard-bitten, cynical bunch and for good reason. But there is some advice worth dishing out for those people who really want to be screenwriters (at this point I’m excluding the woman at the last talk who said she had a great idea but didn’t have time to write it so could she just tell someone…)

So here you go, a measly four steps to getting your own TV series made.  Four simple steps to earning hundreds of thousands of pound (UK)/millions of dollars (US).  Easy, right?

1. Get Trusted 

What, not come up with a great idea?  No.  Let’s talk a little about basic human psychology.  Whenever someone in TV hires you (and in books, comics, music, and everywhere really), they’re putting their job on the line.  The job that keeps their partner with a roof over their head or feeds and clothes their undoubtedly beautiful children.  In TV, that usually means giving you anything from a few thousand pounds to earmarking millions if a TV series gets made.  If you screw up, if you miss your deadlines, if your scripts suddenly become ordure, if the series flops so badly TV critics are pointing and mocking, that person who commissioned you will be asked some tough questions by the powers above them.  They might even lose their jobs.  So, as anyone would, they mitigate against this.  They say, “But the writer was an Oscar/BAFTA winning screenwriter.  Anyone would have hired them!”

Which is one reason why you tend to see familiar names at the top of your favourite shows.  If you want to cut the risk factor, hire a seasoned professional, someone who has proven they can take the pressure and do the job.  Not just the job, but an amazing job.  A safe pair of hands.

How do you get trusted?  That’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post.  But briefly, get lots and lots of credits.  In the UK, write for a soap, get taken on as a writer on another series, write a movie, in the US, get hired for the writers’ room on a show.  Build your brand.  Publish novels, comics (these actually mean a lot less than you might think – different skill-sets, but they show you at least understand Story).  Basically, find some cover for the people who might hire you so they can keep their jobs.

2. Write A Jaw-Dropping Spec Script

What, still no amazing idea?  Your spec script is your calling card.  You’ve read this on every screenwriting advice site.  You know this.  It has to be a script that is so good, some producer could imagine going straight to screen with it.  It has to be the equal of the work done by those seasoned, highly-feted writers you know and love.  If it’s not, the producer will simply revert to those other writers.  The people in charge of the money need to know you can do the job.  And, as is the theme of the 21st century, good is not good enough.  It has to be the best.  One tip: aim to write four spec scripts a year.  Keep them flowing out there, circulating, so someone, somewhere is always reading your material.  There’s a tsunami of writers waiting to break in.  Attention spans last days.  Even writers with lots of credits can get forgotten.  You have to keep stepping up and throwing a punch to show you can do it.

3. Have An Amazing Idea

Finally!  But it has to be a particular kind of idea.  Too far ahead of the curve and people will be afraid to touch it.  (See #1, about people trying to keep their jobs.)  But it needs to be fresh.  A novel take in an area people understand, so you don’t have to do lots of explaining before you get to the core of your genius idea.  In a nutshell: new, but not too new.  The TV industry is not burdened with gamblers.  (There are numerous exceptions to this, of course.  The ground-breakers are the ones everyone remembers, and producers will always say they want ground-breakers until someone, somewhere says they don’t.  Break a bit of ground, until you’re in a position to dig up a whole field.)

4. Build Your Family

The TV industry, like publishing, like music, is all about relationships.  This, too, ties in to #1.  Human nature – people like to work with people they like, and people they trust.  Nobody likes to work with a dick, or an incompetent.  Take meetings, get on with people, chat, go for drinks.  I’d say ‘network’ but that’s too cynical.  Just be a nice guy and get on with people and you’ll find a lot of barriers melt away.  Neil Gaiman once said, “Be good, be fast, be likeable. Any two out of three will do.  Any less, won’t.”  That’s decent advice.  So, make as many contacts as you can.  It’s the easiest way to get your work read.  If you’re one of those writers who likes to sit in their room and send their scripts out by raven, trembling at the thought of human interaction, sorry, you’re doomed.

See how easy it is?  This has been a longer bit of bloggage than intended.  I’ll get into detail on some of these points at a later date.  If you want me to pick up on anything specific in the future, leave it in the comments.

In the meantime, I just want to remind you that I have a knockdown special offer running on my ebook of my supernatural thriller The Eternal, for the next seven days.  Buy it now before the inevitable movie adaptation:

Here’s the UK link

Here’s the US and world link