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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Post: 5 Films That Just Don't *Get* The Book

When Mark from LocateTV asked me if one of his team could write a guest post for the blog, I was only too happy to oblige! Melissa Campbell writes here about adaptation and how books don't always *get* what the source material was truly about. For those of you who don't know, on LocateTV you can check local TV listings throughout the US, the UK and Ireland, and you can set up email alerts to let you know when your favourite show or actor is on. Enjoy...
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We often groan when we hear a film is based on a best-selling novel. It’ll never be as good as the book, we say. And while there are plenty of films that actually succeed in capturing the essence of a great book and adapting it to a new format, many, many more just don’t come close.

Here are five films that simply did not seem to understand the point of the books on which they were based.

**NOTE: Some paragraphs contain spoilers and are marked accordingly**

EAT PRAY LOVEStarring Julia Roberts, this film was fairly well received critically, but reviews on Rotten Tomatoes aren’t so kind: they mostly felt the movie was boring and lacked any real heart.

But the main problem I have with it is the simple fact that for a film about rediscovering one’s spirituality and sense of self, there were tons of shameless product tie-ins. At World Market or on the Home Shopping Network, you can buy Eat Pray Love official gelato machines, jewelry, and window shades. And if that makes you feel a bit self-centered and consumerist, well, why not spend $4.99 on the official Eat Pray Love prayer beads (found in the Decorative Accessories section of the World Market website) and use them to meditate on your $359.99 Eat Pray Love Indonesian oversized bench with a cushion?

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMENThis film is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, so it should be stuffed with references to Victorian literature and complex, flawed characters.

In the film, however, the characters were changed to appeal to a wider audience. Allan Quartermain (or Quatermain in the novel), for example, was changed from an opium-addicted hermit to someone who was only hiding from the public. Mina Harker was changed from the leader and recruiter of the League to a vampiress who is recruited by Quatermain – because everyone knows a normal woman can’t go around leading a league of Victorian superheroes. The producers also added Tom Sawyer, as they didn’t think Americans would like a film without an American in it.

And in the same way they took complicated characters and turned them into Proper Hollywood Superheroes, so they took the literary references and replaced them with action sequences. The novel was so full of literary references that even people in the background were from literature. The film, however, largely limited its literary references to the names of the characters.

A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT ***CONTAINS SPOILERS***This film is based on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain’s satire on the arrogance of industrialists. In the book, Hank Morgan gets hit on the head and wakes up in King Arthur’s England. With the best of intentions, he tries to force the people to accept the ideals and beliefs of Industrial America: that progress means mechanization and that superstition only impedes progress. He uses superstition, however, to convince them that he is more powerful than Merlin, and he is ultimately undone by the Church’s grip on the people. He is sent abroad under the advice of doctors caring for his ill child, and in the meantime, Arthur and Lancelot go to war over Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere. Arthur dies, Merlin casts a thousand-year sleeping spell on Hank and England has a power vacuum that the Church fills. Much like a Seinfeld episode, there is no hugging and no learning at the end.

In the Disney version, Calvin Fuller is a weedy nerd who is somehow on the baseball team, even though he always strikes out. During one game, he falls through a crack in the Earth into the court of King Arthur. After showing off all of his hi-tech gadgets, including a CD player and inline skates, Calvin accidentally proves to Arthur that he is the ‘saviour’ Merlin predicted. Calvin helps Arthur retain the crown and is returned to the twentieth century, just in time for the Big Game, where he hits a homerun. Like every other Disney film, there is plenty of learning and hugging, with no ambiguous motivations or characterizations and obviously no critique of modern sensibilities.

THE STEPFORD WIVES ***CONTAINS SPOILERS***In the book, the women of the town, who previously were independent-minded individuals, were replaced by robots that obeyed their husbands every command. The protagonist, Joanna Eberhart, tries to uncover and then foil the plot, but in the epilogue it becomes clear that she too has been replaced with a docile wife-bot.

In the 2004 film, the women were controlled by microchips implanted in their brains, which is weird enough, especially considering one of them dispensed money from her mouth earlier in the film. But instead of being turned into a robot as well, the film version of Joanna foils the plot to keep the women sedated, and she also gets help from her husband.

That ending is completely unsatisfactory. There’s something about a happy ending to a dystopian tale that just doesn’t fit. Why is she able to resist the microchips when her fellow ‘strong women’ were not? Beyond that, what is there to learn if someone can just break free of that situation? The point of dystopian stories is to warn us of what could happen to humanity if we allow unsavoury parts of society to continue. In the book, we get a chilling look at what happens when an entire section of society is forced into subjugation. In the film, we learn that if men try to force women into prescriptive gender roles, well, it’ll be okay in the end.

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONSKurt Vonnegut has always written exposes of novel-writing in the form of novels. His experimental, deconstructionist style doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a straightforward plot, but you know you’ll be taken for a wild ride. Breakfast of Champions follows Dwayne Hoover’s breakdown: he believes that pulp science fiction writer Kilgore Trout’s novel – which claims that the reader is the only sentient human and is surrounded by robots – is literal truth. But at the end of Breakfast of Champions, the narrator tells Trout that he exists and can act independently, then the narrator allows Trout to go and act under his own free will. This is an interesting comment on the fact that characters in a book never react to things – they act in the exact manner that the author sets out, which like Hoover’s literal interpretation of a book, has implications on various religious beliefs.

Sadly, however, the movie is just a collection of kooky, crazy and otherwise eccentric characters self destructing in Middle America.
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Thanks Melissa and Mark! Great stuff there... What do you think?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Never Give Up - Except When You KNOW You Should

This post is for mega Bang2writer Helen Bang, who loves me so much she's even changed her SURNAME (100% true story) and for the lovely Andrew Tibbs, who have both asked me this question:

When do you give up (on a particular script) - how do you know when you're flogging a dead horse?

My general rule is thus: if YOU think you are flogging a dead horse, then you *probably* are. Sending the same spec out, year in, year out and getting the same "meh" response back is usually indicative of whether people "out there" are ready for your masterpiece, for whatever reason. If on top of that you start to lose enthusiasm for the project too, there is your answer.

But note I say, YOU - no one else should make this decision. If you BELIEVE in your spec *no matter* what anyone says, then KEEP ON KEEPING ON. Don't make any decisions when you're still stinging from your latest rejection. Put your script in a drawer for a few weeks (or in a file on your desk top) and PONDER:

Do I still love this story?

Do I still want to share it with the world?

Do I have the strength to be met with yet more rejection for it?


If the answer to any of the above is "yes" - there is your answer. DING DING, next round - you need to keep on keeping on, whatever any other person says (and yes, even if they are more experienced than you).

If the answer to any of the above is "No" - think carefully: are you saying this because you feel DOWN about your chances of getting you or the script noticed, or because the script is no longer your main interest? If the former, pick yourself up and dust yourself down: you need to go back in for round 2, 10, 38, whatever.

If the latter, though? Now is the time to MOVE ON:

Because it's the natural thing to do. There is no shame in junking a script or concept and moving on to the next one. This is what writers do. When we first start writing, we're amazed by the fact we get words on paper and our first scripts seem REALLY IMPORTANT to us. Yet as the years go by, they become less and less important. Why? Because your writing gets better with experience and what was once the very BEST you could do is now eclipsed by your latest piece. Life doesn't stand still - and nor does your writing ability. I wrote a script four years ago that got me my first agent and my first influx of "real" meetings. Do I send it out now? Hardly ever. Why? Because I can do better now. So move on!

Because your script not always as good as you think it is. Sometimes your idea - the one you think at the moment is "brilliant" - is actually crap. Recognising this is a skill in itself - as is letting go. I attempted to write a drama series idea two years ago that had plenty going for it - at a rehearsed reading, the actors said they loved the dialogue and the characters, for example - but its central concept stank. It fell back on cliche for starters and what I was trying to say with it? Even now I'm not entirely sure. So I junked it. I've never regretted it. Doing so has allowed me to move on to other ideas and revisit old ones and resurrect them... And one day, I will take that good dialogue and those good characters out of that old stinky drama series idea and put them in another script, I'm sure.

Because the world is not ready for it... yet. Other times, you come up with a story or concept that no one wants. Not because it isn't good, but because it isn't market-ready. Like anything, the writing world follows "fashion" if you like and at the moment, the genre film is king (especially thriller and comedy) and TV likes supernatural concepts. That means your kitchen sink, gritty realist drama, however good it is, probably isn't going to get a look in right now. I had a meeting about my own gritty realist drama at the beginning of this year that went like this:

PRODUCER: I loved it. The characters really came alive for me, I really wanted to know whether they'd get together in the end... and when they did, I actually cried a little bit.

ME: Great! That was what I was going for.

PRODUCER: But I can't do anything with it. Distributors don't touch this stuff with a barge pole at the moment.

ME: Oh.

But those are the key words - "at the moment". Once upon a time, not so long ago, gritty realist drama was king... And it will be again at some point. I can revisit my own script THEN. So move on!

DON'T beat yourself up. Sometimes it's not about YOU or even your writing as such - just *that particular script* you're currently hawking around. I have one script that was so rubbish in its early incarnations about two or three years ago I am filled with SHAME at the thought of my fellow feedbackers and bloggers having read it, but also know that as my fellow writers, they appreciate you can't judge someone by a SINGLE DRAFT (or sometimes three or four - LOL). I also remember some of their disbelief that I continued with it, no matter what they said to the contrary, which varied from "friendly advice" along the lines of, "Stop doing this to yourself" to "STOP WRITING THIS CRAP SCRIPT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!" But I kept going. Why? BECAUSE I HAD TO, I BELIEVED IN IT.

And I still do. If no one ever makes that bloody script, *I* will! And that's a promise.

So never give up. Unless YOU decide to.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Networking at the LSWF

LSWF delegate Rosie Jones asked me my thoughts on networking at the LSWF, so I composed a list of my "Do's and Don'ts". I've also found some handy links to other articles, including some by speakers Danny Stack and Tim Clague.

What are you waiting for? Check it out on the London Screenwriters' Festival blog right now: http://ping.fm/UA4au

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Redrafting & Feedback Processes

Many thanks to Bang2writer Sandra Bendelow, who has posted her thoughts on my development notes for her spec TV script, "The Book of Lost Causes". You can see her post here:
http://ping.fm/GjChU

I think it's really fab so many writers now feel confident enough to post their reactions to feedback and talk honestly about their drafting processes. It's incredible to see such a change in writers' attitudes over the last decade: when I started reading, first-first drafts in the spec pile were the norm and feedback was often met with hostility. Now look at us all!!!

Don't forget you can still join my free directort The Script Exchange and find writers to swap scripts and feedback with. Find it here: www.tinyurl.com/fdbkxchng

Plus if you have any craft or format worries, there are two other free resources for you:

The Required Reading List - http://www.tinyurl.com/reqdreading

and

The Format One Stop Shop - recently updated to include parentheticals, TV spec "teasers", Ad breaks and more:
http://www.tinyurl.com/format1stop

Happy redrafting!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guest Post: Christopher Regan on Making His Short Film, "Jenny Ringo & The Monkey's Paw"

I love to hear about writers just getting out there and bringing their characters to life by making their films themselves, so I was only too happy to hear about Chris Regan's short film... Enjoy!
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As a writer I find there are some characters you create to fit the parameters of a particular project, and there are some who create themselves and wait for the right story to come along. Jenny Ringo was always the latter.

She started as a character in a short story I wrote when I was 17. She was a thief in that story, then a journalist in another and by the time I got to university she had graduated to being a photographer with a sideline in witchcraft. Her profession continued to vary, but the witchcraft stuck. When I moved from writing prose to writing screenplays she followed. She did her time as a secondary character for a couple of scripts, but when it came to writing the final assignment for my Scriptwriting MA I gave her centre-stage.

When I read the feedback on that last script I realised I had a problem. I was starting to get my first taste of working with directors and producers and was discovering the necessity of compromise in collaboration. But Jenny had been around almost since I started writing. She was who she was. I was not willing to compromise with this character.

I moved on, worked on a couple of scripts without her. She came back though, in a script I wrote a couple of years ago. She was the same as she ever was and I realised how much I’d missed her. But the feedback on that script brought me to the same conclusion. She was never going to change, only now I knew enough about the industry to realise she would probably never make it to the screen as a result.

Unless I put her there.

So despite my incredibly limited experience I decided to direct a short film. The challenge was to take a script that was based entirely on my own work and see it through to the end. If there were to be any compromises, any fundamental changes to the character I would be the one to make those decisions.

I brought in some very talented friends for the crew and filled the gaps with very talented friends of friends. When it came to casting I deluded myself into thinking that the perfect Jenny would just happen to turn up when we started auditioning. Funnily enough, this is exactly what happened, but at the time I was so preoccupied with finding someone who perfectly matched the image in my head I almost didn't see it.

We shot it over the summer and recently finished editing the first cut. It was overly ambitious and really hard work but it was absolutely worth doing. I learnt so much from the process because all the mistakes I made were my own. There was no one to blame and I didn't look at my script afterwards and wonder if it could have been done differently. I don't necessarily believe that all writers should turn to directing, but I do think that putting your script through this process and seeing it through to the end product is an incredibly valuable experience.

No matter how the film turns out, the character I’ve been writing about since my teenage years now exists outside the pages of rejected scripts and unfinished stories. I’m looking forward to introducing her to the world.
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Thanks Chris! Can't wait to see the finished film.

Want to find out more? Here is the Facebook Page for the film - join now.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Course with Free Script Feedback Opportunity

There are only a few weeks left until our forthcoming class - REWRITE: An Insider's Guide To Working With Script Editors And Producers. Link: http://ping.fm/S4xbj

This seminar is your chance to hear from six speakers with a wealth of UK and international film and broadcast experience.

Philip Shelley - Script Editor and Producer. Philip has worked with most of the UK's leading writers and producers. He is also one of the UK's most respected script consultants and trainers http://ping.fm/5W6sY

Arabella Page -Croft – Producer, Black Camel Pictures. Arabella has successfully produced two features both with international sales and distribution and is currently prepping to shoot her third. http://ping.fm/gde4K

Turan Ali – Producer, Bona Broadcasting. Turan has a huge range of experience as a producer of both TV and radio that covers the world of international drama and documentary. http://ping.fm/lVsHB
Rob Fraser - Writer. Rob has an extensive CV of credits and has worked with all the UK's broadcasters. He has written for Holby City, Taggart, Monarch Of The Glen and many, many others.

Louise Ironside - Writer. Louise works across TV, radio and stage and is currently writing for BBC Scotland's River City and The Traverse Theatre Edinburgh.

Peter Hynes - Writer and Script Editor. One of the UK's most prolific and successful writers of live action and animated children's television with currently over one hundred and eighty TV programmes scripted and transmitted worldwide. http://ping.fm/Z61qF

Adrian Mead - Writer and Director. Adrian has written or directed a wide range of film and TV projects including, Waking The Dead, The Eustace Brothers, Blue Dove and feature film Night People, winner of the Cineworld BAFTA audience award. www.meadkerr.com

SCRIPT FEEDBACK OPPORTUNITY

As well as this excellent range of speakers we are also offering you the chance to test drive your pitch doc with a producer, a writer and a script editor before you send it out to the wider industry. We will also provide you with pointers for where you can go next with your project.

This offer is open to all attendees of our forthcoming class - REWRITE: An Insider's Guide To Working With Script Editors And Producers. In the month following the course you will have the opportunity to send us a pitch doc for one of your projects. You will then receive feedback to ensure you have it polished and ready to send it out as a selling document for your script or idea.

There are only a few weeks to go until the class so don't miss your place and the chance to get professional feedback on your pitch doc.

We guarantee you a fun, friendly and info packed day that will benefit writers of all levels interested in exploring a career as a screenwriter or script editor. This unique course will massively boost your confidence and knowledge. If you want to get ahead of the competition you need to BOOK NOW via this link: http://ping.fm/sZ04G

Adrian Mead
Writer and Director

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Format 1 Stop - Updated

I've been emailed, Facebooked and Tweeted a LOT of format queries in recent weeks, so I thought I'd add them to The Format One Stop Shop. Enjoy!

Parentheticals. After a short absence, parentheticals seem to be creeping back into spec screenplays - especially features. My recommendation: don't, with the notable exception of (sarcastic) or any other time a line is otherwise AMBIGUOUS in the story. Otherwise, parentheticals feel really obvious, are quite distracting and actually take up a fair bit of space; plus I'm told actors are TAUGHT to ignore them anyway!

Act Breaks. Recently I've seen a significant increase in spec TV scripts with act breaks referenced (ACT ONE, END OF ACT ONE, etc). You don't need to do this in a UK spec script. Just concentrate on telling the story as you would any other script.

Ad Breaks. Lisa Barrass contacted me and said she had feedback from an American screenwriting competition telling her she "should" have included ad breaks in her spec television script; whilst this may be true of our American writer friends, as a UK writer you DON'T need to do this... Why? Because as a spec script, there's no telling who your script *may* end up with - there's every chance you'd be sending to an ad-free corporation like The Beeb, especially the Writersroom or one of Aunty's many initiatives or calls like The Writers' Academy or shadow schemes.

Trial scripts. Lots of writers wonder about the various formats of various shows and worry they won't *know* what to do if they're offered a trial script on a continuing drama or series. My advice: don't worry about it. If you get a trial, the show will generally send you various notes, sometimes the Series Bible and will send you a sample script of an episode which has already aired. Just copy the format of that sample script - if that means including stuff like act breaks and ad breaks and using a font other than Courier, etc? - then DO IT. Simples.

Teasers. I'm seeing more and more spec TV scripts with teasers (that little "bit" before the title sequence). Teasers are quite an American thing - and something lots of TV shows are noted for, so it's not surprising many writers try and mimic this style. And end of the day, why not? It's a spec script, you can do what you like. The two caveats to this I would offer, however: 1) DON'T reference titles after a teaser, there's no point to it story-wise. 2) Make sure your teaser SETS UP what happens in the episode in a very obvious fashion. Most of the teasers I see are really obscure and make the reader guess about what they're for, when in reality I can't think of a single TV show that does this. If you consider the CSI franchise, which is famous for its teasers, the teasers usually happen this way:

1) Shots of the victim - possibly alive first, then definitely dead *in some interesting pose/way*
2) Team arrives - some brief exposition about the cause of death, the neighbour didn't see/hear anything
3) There's *something* about the crime scene that's weird or odd
4) Investigating officer makes some kind of cheesy quip - WHAM, CUE TITLES

House does something very similar, though usually we see only the patient be *struck down* in some way, cue titles, then the diagnosis team come in with some brief history, etc. Teasers should really be called OPENERS I think: they're there soley to SET UP what comes next in the episode itself, not tease us in a more obscure way as so many writers appear to think.

Colours. Several scripts have come through Bang2write recently using various colour fonts (especially blue) to signify things like flashbacks and other nonlinear time thread devices. My advice: don't. Not only does it look a bit amateur, if you don't feel confident the writing ITSELF can convey the changes in time, why should the reader?

Phone calls. Lots of writers have asked me on Twitter in particular about phone calls recently. The two main issues: 1) "How do I format a one-sided telephone conversation?" and 2) "How long should a telephone conversation be in a script?" As for 1) Just write it as you would normally, but try and make sure the dialogue doesn't go on for a gigantic block; breaking it up with small actions can help, ie:

JOHN picks up the telephone.

JOHN
Hello... Oh, hi! Yes, no problem - what's the address?

He waves, exaggerated at FIONA: she stares at him dopy - what?? He mimes "pen"!

JOHN
Let me... Just. Get. A. Pen...

Fiona runs about like a headless chicken - presents him with an eyeliner. Groans, writes with it anyway.

JOHN
Uh-huh... Yeah. Thanks. Appreciated.

John puts the phone down.

JOHN
They want us in at two to discuss our "options".

Fiona shrieks with joy.

As for 2) the answer is always - AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE. In the specs I see, writers often use telephone conversations as a crutch for exposition and it's always really obvious; sometimes phone conversations will crop up every time a writer wants to fill the audience in on something (some scripts have 5, 6, 7 or even 8 instances!). Other times phone conversations will go on for pages and pages and pages and just be really boring. [As always, there's no reason why long phone conversations CAN'T work, but they need to have *something good* going for them - here I'm reminded of Pulp Fiction between Travolta and Eric Roth, ending with "Are you calling me from a CELL PHONE?? CRANK CALL! CRANK CALL!" - else they can be a bust].

Flashback/Flashforward/Other. I see flashback in the slugline and above the slugline all the time and both seem fine to me, but you DO need to tell us when we're changing time frame. The same goes for stuff like DREAM SEQUENCE - other words can substituted too: I've seen stuff like, JOHN'S IMAGINATION, SPACE, LIMBO, INSIDE SARAH'S BODY, THE INTERNET, ON THE COMPUTER SCREEN, THROUGH THE DOG'S EYES, etc. Why not? I think the easiest way to do anyof these is:

FLASHBACK:

EXT/INT. LOCATION - DAY/NIGHT

****insert scene here****

(END OF FLASHBACK)

Intercut. Lots of people have been asking me the "right" way to format INTERCUT. In short, there doesn't seem to be a "right" way, I've seen it all kinds of ways. I think the easiest is simply:

PC Kelly's gaze settles on a watch, on the victim's dressing table.

INTERCUT

That same watch, this time on the wrist of DCI Morton.

(END OF INTERCUT)

PC Kelly picks the watch up without gloves, slips it in his pocket without the rest of the team noticing.

Intercut can also used be in two-way, different location phone calls; in which case, probably best to put INTERCUT above the slugline (aka scene header) - but again, don't forget to tell us when it ends.
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If you click on The Format One Stop Shop, you will find these updates there now. Can you think of any format issues I've not tackled? Then let me know and I'll add it to the list.

Monday, September 06, 2010

New Script Comp! Sequel To Cannes

The Sequel to Cannes Scriptwriting Competition is BACK - and this time it's not just for shorts, but features AS WELL.

There's large cash prizes up for grabs; all entries get feedback and as before, production companies will sifting ALL entries (not necessarily just the winners) for scripts they like.

Deadline for short script entries is 30th November, 2010; for feature length scripts, the deadline is 30th April 2011 - so you have plenty of time to enter!

What are you waiting for? All the info and necessary downloads are here: http://www.prequel.biz/

Good luck!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Survey of Female Screenwriters

Nicola Depuis is presently conducting some research into female screenwriters for her MA and has provided some questions for Bang2writers. If you feel able to complete them (you don't necessarily have to be female, just a screenwriter), then please leave your answers in the comments section or send direct to Nicola on nicoladepAThotmailDOTcom. Thanks!

QUESTIONS:

1. Nationality:

2. Gender:

3. Do you write screenplays and/or work in the industry?

3. How long have you been working in the industry and/or writing?

4. Why do you think there are more male screenwriters than female screenwriters?

6. What barriers, if any, do you think hinder women from getting ahead in screenwriting?
Check out my latest post on the LSWF blog: http://ping.fm/F3l8L It's about remakes and reboots! @londonswf scriptchat

Friday, September 03, 2010

Top Search on the blog this wk: How To Banish Vashta Nerada & Other Dr. Who-Related Monsters http://ping.fm/TkxnA

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Just Passing Through...

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you'll know I have a DELUGE of work just now - one part of which is now tweeting and blogging for The London Screenwriters' Festival: follow the festival tweets here or "Like" on Facebook here.

If you're a student or alumnus of Bournemouth University and intending to go to LSWF, click here: we have a special FB group for you for a group discount. LECTURERS/COURSE LEADERS of other unis: if you want to do the same for YOUR students, get in touch with me now - either here, on Twitter or Facebook or via Bang2writeATaolDOT com.

Here's my new post on the LSWF blog - it's about dealing with rejection, 5 WAYS no less, so hopefully it'll be of some use to you out there.

In the meantime, have you seen the fantastic line up of panels, workshops, seminars and other events at the festival??? The page officially launched last night and I for one CANNOT WAIT for the fest!!! We have all kinds of delicious topics and people in store for you, you really must take a look. Alternatively download the schedule as a PDF here.

Last but by no means least, don't forget you can get a whopping £37 off the price of a LSWF via this very blog - just use the portal thingyamajig on the ride hand sidebar and enter discount code BANG2WRITE.

See you there!!!