Saturday, 30 October 2010

Waiting for the call...

In twenty minutes, I'm due to be interviewed by Skype by a New York based network called Family network about the origins of my series PUNKY.

I'm as nervous as a kitten and it's ridiculous! It's not as if I don't know the answers - I only spent three years developing Punky and her world!

Fortunately, I don't even have a webcam - I barely have Skype! - , so I don't have to worry about what I look like. And I am so happy to have an opportunity to talk about this idea that I lived with and sweated over and fought for and which is finally in production.

So where did it come from? There were germs sown when my sister Karen, an occupational therapist in the Central Remedial Clinic would bring children home that had special needs. One autistic boy smashed my little red kettle. I couldn't understand why the rules were different for him than for me.

Then there was the fact that my mother made no secret of the fact that she worried all through the pregnancy that there might be something wrong with me. She had seven other children. She was 46 and a quarter when I was born. She was told I'd be a fool or a genius. She always said she hadn't made up her mind yet!

In more recent years a friend of mine told me stories about her younger brother, David, who had Down's syndrome. I loved them. I loved his perspective of the world. The way he interpreted it and could make the mundane, make things we take for granted, fresh and new.

My partner has a son who is severely autistic. My daughter was six when they met and she really didn't know what to expect. She tried to make him notice her, to talk to him, but she was a child and under his radar. It's only in the last ten months that he has registered her and she has been so thrilled every time - when he stopped after she called him, when he almost-sort-of 'hugged' her! -, when he pointed out that we were leaving her behind. He knew she was one of the family.

But the relationship he and his sister have is really special. I've never seen anyone so loved as he is and he is mad about her. It's probably because of her that he hugs and loves to be cuddled - on his terms.

But it's not easy being the sibling of a child with special needs and I decided I wanted to explore that relationship. Honestly, with humour and in a way that would make children more accepting of difference. They begin that way. It's only as they get older that they become judgemental.

But I also wanted to tell stories, to create a world, from her perspective. I wanted her to be the lead, I wanted her to decide how we interpreted the world and what was happening in it.

And so Punky, albeit in a slightly different incarnation, began. She emerged in a very funny animated short that hasn't been made yet. Then she dived into a live action/ cgi film script but there were too many stories in it for it to work fully. When I started toying with the TV series element, I knew I wanted it to be funny, to be honest, to be imaginative and to fell real, albeit as a cartoon. As children enjoyed the entertainment, they would be learning to accept difference.

The Irish Film Board weighed in with their support in the form of a Development Loan in 2007. I worked with Barbara Slade (Rugrats, Angelina Ballerina) as script consultant and then worked with Aidan Hickey for a while. But it was a hard one to get right - to work as a commercially attractive series a producer would feel able to make, and yet live up to everything I wanted from it.

Gerard O'Rourke of Monster liked the sound of it and the talks began. He supported it long after another producer would have turned tail and run because he really, really believed in it. Jason Tammemagi liked it too and came on as Director and so the saga began to roll towards the full scale production that is taking place now.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Writing treatments...oh what joy!

Found this quote today, scanning the internet for procrastination tools that might also help me write the story outline I'm wrestling with.

"I'm tempted to say, 'Writing treatments is like designing a film by hiring six million monkeys to tear out pages of an encyclopedia, then you put the pages through a paper-shredder, randomly grab whatever intact lines are left, sing them in Italian to a Spanish deaf-mute, and then make story decisions with the guy via conference call.' But no... compared to writing treatments, that makes sense, too." ~ Terry Rossio ~ (

Friday, 22 October 2010

Aim for a minor miracle... or walk the dog?

I'm turning a new leaf. There was an article by screenwriter Caroline Farrell on the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild website ( She's done really well with her scripts, getting them short-listed, long-listed, chosen, made and her attitude is inspiring.

Basically what she was saying is that there are tons of competitions out there. Any one of them might bring us recognition and even dosh. Which despite being selfless writers, we would all really like. Especially if it's in recognition of our work!

And we all have scripts that might have been shelved for a while. Is it time to dust them down, polish them up, make another pass at and send them out? What use are they sitting on the shelf? Maybe the right person or panel is out there that might love it as much as the last one didn't!

From reading scripts for competitions over the years, I have few illusions. No matter how objective you are, it is still a subjective process. There is taste, experience, mood, level of exhaustion and number of scripts in the pile to read all to be taken account of.

The first script of mine that ever got picked for European recognition - for Moonstone Writers Labs - I wrote in ten days. It was optioned quickly and nearly got into production. I still adore it and have hopes to work with a director on it next year, even though I know it will change quite radically. Which is the point of screen-writing - we need to get our material made. It's soul-destroying having them languish unrequited on the shelves!

I've laboured years over others and had some luck in competitions but I got disheartened and stopped years ago. Now I'm thinking, it's time to try again. I'll rewrite - I'm a different person now, I have different insights, skills to bring to a script/ story/ characters - but a deadline can be a wonderful incentive and who knows, some of us have to be lucky!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

This noble profession...

For forty odd years in this noble profession
I’ve harboured a guilt and my conscience is smitten
So here is my slightly embarrassed confession –
I don’t like to write, but I love to have written...

Without doubt, this is one of my favourite bits of doggerel by a writer called Michael Kanin. Doesn't it just sum up how impossibly difficult writing occasionally is, and how frustrating.

At the moment, I seem to be bogged down by all the material I want to finish or start. There's a competition being run by Shine Pictures called The Big Idea. Look it up. (
It's a really interesting competition and you're allowed up to one entry in each genre... only the storyline has to be 700 words and for some reason this seems to have stumped me. The pieces I would love to develop have either short two page outlines or storylines that range above the 3,000 mark.

And I want it to be a really strong piece - there's no point otherwise - and yet, every time I think I have space in my head to thrash it out, 'something' happens. An enquiry arrives from the outside world looking for me to develop a proposal for a body of work, or to see if I have something to match a certain brief -- which means developing on spec, yet again, but sometimes it pays and if you're not in, I don't see how you can win.

It's a greedy business. It gobbles up time.

Then there's the script-editing work, which always seems to take far more time than I ever allow for. And I'll be teaching again from Thursday eve in Filmbase so I managed to spend hours today reorganising my handouts, my notes, choosing different clips... Which led me to realise I have to see heaps of films and fast because I want to find even better clips.

And then there's the children's book I was rewriting. (I managed to narrow the focus down to just one for rewriting). My life - which seems large and enjoyable now that the tooth/ sinus/ jaw demon has been mostly expunged - tugged me me away from it a fortnight ago, at the tail end of Chapter 7...

I've realised in the interim that there there is sooo much more I can do with it and I'm wondering why I got an idea that all the chapters should be the same length? It's so arbitrary and it really isn't necessary. I'm hungry to get back to it but I haven't had time.

Mind you, sometimes that 'something' is me, allowing distraction to lure me in just about any direction. And hell knows, there are enough genuine distractions in life without procrastination jumping in. Self discipline is something that comes like a miraculous gift and then you get tons done, amazing mountains of work sift away into manageable dunes... but then, sometimes, it vanishes again.

And this is one of the reasons I haven't been looking at Facebook or writing the blog or watching those fantastic TED lectures. I WANT to be writing. I want to create something new and original and bloody compelling... and I want to finish everything else so that it feels new and original and bloody compelling, with bells on.

So I'm considering buying a self-zapping collar. I could rig it up so that if I strayed too far from the desk, it would remind me with a gentle (?) electric zap to sit back down... Only it might kill more brain cells than I successfully murdered with wine last night and might be self-defeating.

Besides, sometimes the procrastination, the long walks and the ruminating and the picking out of odd books from a bookshelf, or even the making of a pot of coffee are all necessary to the art of creation.

I think.