In our Wordstock Deconstructed event in September, an audience gathered at the October Gallery to hear from screenwriter Rob Williams. The evening was full of insights into the world of screenwriting, creative struggles and how to tell better stories. For those of you who missed out, Matthew Aldridge reports back.
So, who is Rob Williams?
Well, he’s a writer with some very respectable credentials. Not only was he the creative director at Penguin, he has also had a long, successful career as a screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, and he’s recently been writing scripts for the BBC, ITV, and Amazon, again.
For many, securing the role of creative director at Penguin would have marked the absolute zenith of career progression. But not for Rob. Despite his success, he saw that his role at Penguin was heading in a direction which, despite the title, wasn’t particularly creative.
“I did love Penguin,” Rob told us. “But I knew I was only going one way if I stayed there: into more meetings”.
Prior to Penguin, he’d been considering writing a novel himself. Although, after seeing how brutal the world of publishing could be first hand, he decided against the novel and started looking for other opportunities.
As luck would have it, Rob happened to meet one of the head writers for the TV show Doctors, and she suggested that he have a go at writing his own episode for the show.
However, beginner’s luck didn’t quite work out for him. He was told that despite his first attempt showing promise, it was, on the whole, messy.
Fortunately Rob didn’t lose hope, and applied to the (incredibly competitive) BBC Writers Academy. He managed to secure a place, and so began the writer’s equivalent of olympic marathon training. Picture a group of writers in a room, churning out stories for incredibly harsh lecturers, morning till night, for eight weeks straight.
“I hated it. It was like dancing naked every day. People were throwing up from the pressure,” Rob told us.
And what incredible prize were they all struggling to achieve at the end of the eight weeks? The chance, if they were good enough, to write a single episode on a continual drama.
Thankfully, Rob was one of the chosen few and secured his episode. However, it happened to be for the most difficult soap to write for: Holby City.
“No one wants Holby. It’s the hardest cause you can’t really leave the hospital. That’s why, normally, 40 minutes into an episode, someone goes into cardiac arrest – just to keep things interesting. The BBC hour is a b****h to write for.”
Despite the stress, Rob reflected that the BBC Writer’s Academy had taught him something which he would never forget: structure is vital.
“It’s amazing what structure can do to bring your ideas to life. A lot of people think structure is boring, but to be able to tell a good story you need it.”
For those who want to know more, Rob highly recommended a book on how to use effective structure, Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, by John Yorke.
Besides structure, Rob also stressed that personal interest was the key to good writing:
“The fact that I really care about the themes in my work is important. My weakest pieces are when I don’t care about the subject, and I can see it when I look back. You have to put yourself into your writing, and be interested in it for it to be truly good.”
All in all, talking to Rob was brilliant. Not only did we get an insightful look into the world of screenplay writing, and the creative struggles Rob has experienced in order to further his craft, we were also given invaluable advice about how to tell better stories.
And don’t forget about our special event, Getting Published, on 28 November at the Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon as part of Wordstock Deconstructed. It’s a session that aims to be practical and celebratory at the same time, all helped by the location in the downstairs bar of a great pub. Three 26ers who’ve been published many times over (Elise Valmorbida, Rishi Dastidar, John Simmons) will explain how they got their fiction and non-fiction books published, in genres as different as poetry, novels and business books. What to do, what not to do – helpful advice will be dispensed over a drink of your choice.
It will also be a celebration because actually 26 has been a phenomenally successful publisher throughout its 15-year history. Through our projects we’ve published 26 writers, often for the first time, in books and websites. To mark that aspect of ‘Getting Published’ we’d like members who have been published in 26 projects to volunteer to read one of their own published pieces on the evening. We’ll be delighted to hear a few but first you need to sign up and then send your name + suggested piece to read to firstname.lastname@example.org It should be a great evening – and it could be a writing breakthrough for you.