Wednesday, 2 March 2011

TV or not TV

There’s too much whingeing online by authors who feel it’s their right to have a publisher and/or an agent. I know from experience that it’s frustrating to see the rejection slips piling up and get those two line e-mails reassuring you that they’re not suggesting you’re crap and they hope someone else will take your work. But the fact is that they’re busy people and the market is very crowded. Another fact is that many of the apparently unloved books are of very high quality (although some aren’t). The reason I’m saying all this is because I don’t want you to think that what follows is me complaining about anything. So this is the story.

Without my being aware of it, the BBC television drama department was considering 2 of my books for possible adaptation. In other words, my detective, Jack Carston, was going to be the next Inspector Morse. (You’ll have to allow me the occasional bit of self-indulgence.) This obviously is not something to complain about. I did nothing to bring the books to their attention and I imagine that 99.9% of authors would consider themselves privileged to be in such a position – and I do.

I first heard of it when I received an e-mail asking if the television rights for The Darkness and Rough Justice were available in principle. I resisted the urge to jump up and down, phone everybody I knew, buy a yacht and even say anything about it on this confessional. Instead, I calmly replied that they were, only realising later that instead of writing ‘Hi’ at the beginning, I’d written ‘High’. (I’m not making that up. It perhaps indicates that I was experiencing levels of elation unbecoming in a man of my years.)

I then heard nothing for about seven weeks, so I wrote again and asked what was happening. I got a very nice reply, revealing that they liked the character of my detective and adding details which showed that they had given the book a close reading. But they decided that the narrative approach in the novel would be difficult to adapt for television. I can understand why they thought that although I don’t altogether agree with them.

Naturally enough, I was disappointed. Despite the fact that I try to convince myself that nothing will come of such promising situations, there’s always a sneaking feeling/hope that it will. So rather than the satisfaction of being proved right, I had the feeling that something had been snatched away from me. But that’s not true. On the contrary, I should and do take pleasure in the fact that they were considering the books at all.

Nonetheless, the feeling was there. But then, the next day, when friends and family had commiserated and said positive, complimentary things, what remained was not a feeling of dejection, but the thought that, having got so close without doing anything at all to deserve it, I should overcome my idleness and start being as active as Linda suggested in her recent posting. If a committee is sitting discussing my books while all I do is sit with my feet on the desk, what might happen if I actually stood up?

I’m not saying that this is a new me, or that I’m preparing my Oscar speech, but it is true that this sort of abstract encouragement is all it needs for a writer to feel validated. OK, in the end I wanted to tell you this, but I also wanted to extend its significance. I think it sums up a lot of the daily experience of being a writer. Yes, it illustrates the disappointments but it also calls attention to the privileges we have. We do the writing, enjoy ourselves, create the characters, the settings, the worlds, and send them off. And then we wait. And wait. But, as we’re waiting, we also hope – and that’s a luxury which isn’t available to everyone. In fact, if we consider the deprivations and abuses some people have to endure, hope seems a very fragile and scarce commodity.

As I’ve said, the agents, publishers, and others in whose computers or on whose desks our manuscripts are sitting are busy people and our book is one of hundreds they’ve received that week. Working their way through them is an administrative process. But while it sits there, it’s our little Godot and can be the source of very happy dreams.


  1. I think it is amazing. Really. And yes, frustrating,but being a writer you must be used to frustrations by now. :) What it means though is that surprises could always be just around the corner, even when you are not being that proactive! so here is to many, many more.

  2. Wow, it's amazing that they were even considering your books. I'm impressed! Wonder who I have to kill to get them to take notice of my stories...

    Actually I had something similar recently; someone contacted me to ask if they could turn one of my flash stories into a short film. Like you, I was jumping up and down. Like you, I felt disappointed when it fell through - although now I'm thinking perhaps I shouldn't have done.

    Good luck with the new approach; may it bring you lots of success.

  3. Thanks, both. Yes, the possibility of a pleasant surprise is always there. Here's to the next one for all of us.

  4. Bill - I'll come back and read your post, but just wanted you to know I've awarded you a 'Stylish Bogger Award' which you richly deserve. If you want to accept it, you can pick it up (where I've mentioned your blog)at:

  5. Thanks, Rosemary. I note that I need to say 7 things about myself. I'll try to think up some that are true.

  6. Yup, being in the arts - of any kind - is a frustrating business but you have to learn to take it your stride. Kudos that they were considering your work - a lesson learned perhaps about what might be more suitable. Is there anything else that you've written that might work better? I'm sure they go through PILES of stuff before the lucky one gets picked.

    On the positive - you now have contact details of someone who works for a TV company.

    Next time, eh? Then you can re-brand yourself as Bill.I.As. Novelist and TV guy.

  7. Thanks for turning your post into a positive, Bill. It's amazing that the BBC gave such time to considering your novels and the Carston character (who would make a good TV detective).

    I absolutely agree about the exciting hope we have as writers. That's what kept me trying for so many years when starting out, not knowing what the post might bring (or email now) and it's why I keep going as I've never lost that hope. So enjoy your moment in the BBC drama room spotlight. And they might change their minds.

  8. Hmmm 'TV Guy' - doesn't quite have the resonance I seek. How about 'enfant terrible of post-modern deconstructivist transitional media'. Yes, that's better.

  9. Rosemary, I think we share the same approach to all this. Your mention of the post recalls how it used to be - manuscript in envelope, expensive to post it but off it went, then silence for weeks, sometimes months and no way of knowing what (if anything) was happening. And yet every morning, the hope that there'd be a letter of acceptance or the despair when the bulky envelope came back through the letterbox. The same hopes but even less contact with the decision-makers.

  10. What I love about 'modern times' is that we can turn that luxury of hope into action. We are empowered as never before. We have resources at our fingertips, and a level of control unknown to earlier times.

  11. Right, Diane. That's certainly the case in publishing, isn't it? The only difficulty I haven't been able to resolve yet concerns getting books which are published in the USA printed in Europe, too. That's why Stanley has stalled for the moment. His next story's all ready for the printers but if kids here can't buy it, I'm reluctant to sign any contract.