Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jane Austen on Film

For my last assignment of the BFI Film Journalism course I chose to write about Jane Austen on film. I'd read there was to be an ITV series of newly-commissioned works in the Autumn. They'll be adaptations of the the lesser-known novels: Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. The picture alongside shows fanciable Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, hero of the last mentioned. I wouldn't fancy being at sea in one of those eighteenth century galleons, though - Anne Elliot's choice when she marries him.

As usual I enjoyed the research and did a ridiculous amount, much more than a 600 word piece required. The best bit was watching just about the only version available of 'Northanger Abbey', made in 1957, in a private viewing room in the BFI. I paid £8.50 for the privilege and thought only afterwards that maybe I could have watched it at Goldsmiths for free. They have a good collection of tapes and DVDs and it's just the sort of thing they would have on their shelves. Never mind. After all, it all helps to swell the coffers of a very worthwhile institution.

It was funny, too, to read the letters in the Radio Times, one complaining about the ladies being shown entering the spa pool at Bath, albeit fully clothed, and another from an elderly woman saying that the screening time, 10.30pm, was past her bedtime. What a boon the video recorder turned out to be.

I'm so relieved the courses are over. I learned a lot in a short time but never again do I want to face with all those deadlines . The Film Journalism had the most content and I certainly learned about feature writing as distinct from the review writing I'd done before, but I enjoyed the Goldsmiths classes. The main thing I learned there was that journalists are extremely badly paid in a very insecure profession. One student told me the excitements of meeting celebrities and the sheer variety made up for it.

Now I'm free to get back to writing what I like and I've made a start on revising some short stories with the idea of entering them in competitions and sending them to magazines. Oh dear, yesterday' s impulse buy of The Lady was a disappointment. I was attracted by a front cover which said 'Short Story Competition: £1,000 Prize.' The judges looked promising, one Alexander McCall Smith who writes the funny detective stories set in Botswana and the other Adele Geras whom I don't know but she read languages at Oxford and has written some prize-winning stuff herself. There was only one story in the magazine, and what a letdown that was. It was a tale about a widow who turns down an invitation to spend Christmas in Portugal with a lively old school friend because her pregnant daughter goes into early labour and her grandson gets chicken pox. I'm hardly a model mother myself, but really!

Roy and I are off to my home town in the north tomorrow and then on to Scotland on a coach trip with my sister and her husband. By coincidence we are going to be staying at what was once a leading spa resort, called Strathpeffer.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I called in at West- minster Library on Charing Cross Road to reserve a copy of the new John Osborne biography and the librarian cautioned me, 'That will cost you £1.50.!' I told her it was still cheaper than buying the book and she had to agree; she could see from the compute screen that it costs £25.

I don't usually reserve books here. In fact they have a very good selection of new books, inlcuding lots of thrillers, my favourite genre. I almost daren't go in there when I have a big pile of unread books and newspapers beside the bed.

As it was, I came away with a book called 'The Unfinished Novel and other stories' by Valerie Martin. Well, I couldn't resist the title and the blurb promised a collection of soul-searching stories about artists. The first of the collection was a first-person-narrator story about a about a painter with a very good twist at the end. I read it, fittingly, in the National Gallery after I'd left my Chinese class and found the timing was all wrong for films at the Haymarket Cineworld.

I've been revising a couple of my own stories to enter in the Senior Moments competition, closing date 15th June, so it's good to be reminded of successful examples. I try not to get too discouraged by comparisons. I was astonished to read that Annie Proulx revised Brokeback Mountain 60 times!

I actually bought a book at Ottakars at the weekend -Creative Writing, in the Teach Yourself series. I'm enjoying it as its is very readable and practically inclined, and I was sure that the author's name must be a made-up one, as it's Diana Doubtfire. However, in the acknowledgements she refers to a husband and on with the same surname, so it must be real.

I am pleased because I think I've found a suitable writers' circle which meets fairly near to where I live. I found it on the Internet and contacted a woman who gave me quite vague directions to a cafe at Crofton Park. There's a park and a railway station of that name but no road that I can see. Still, there can't be all that many cafes. I've asked for more precise directions.

I'd been to the BFI Library earlier today to research for my Jane-Austen-on-film feature, but hadbeen destracted by a book called 'From Screenplay to Film: Brokeback Mountain' with essays by Annie Proulx, and the scriptwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana - fascinating and very useful for the redraft of my Ang Lee piece.

Brokeback Mountain is one in a collection of short stories set in Wyoming and is in of my bedside pile . Never mind - less than two weeks now before I get a chance to catch up.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'm almost sad to think that soon I'll pass no more through this doorway on a Saturday morning. Deptford Town Hall, built in 1904 in 'Edwarian Gothic' style, is round the corner from Godsmiths College and is used as an annexe for teaching purposes. These two characters are called Tritons, some kind of mythological sea-gods.

It also houses the PACE offices - I think that stands for professional and community education. It's where I've been doing my Practical Journalism course since September and where I at last delivered my portfolio on Saturday. Apart from a get-together for a class party, that will be it, and I can't say I'm sorry, because although I've enjoyed the course and learned a lot I really want to get back to fiction writing.

One thing I have learned is that Journalism pays badly and is a very insecure form of employment. Whilst I've been attending the classes the tutor, Carole Woddis, lost the Glasgow Herald theatre-critic post she's had for fifteen years. I'm glad to say she's been successful in having a couple of articles posted on a theatre-related website called 'Rogues and Vagabonds' but she says the pay is diabolical.

It's a small class, only half a dozen of us left. Two people were already working as journalists; Carol, a forty-something freelance is currently writing minutes for the council on a two-month contract after being unemployed for a month. Another is an aspiring fashion writer, suitably pretty, who makes ends meet by living in a basement flat in her parents home and works with her boyfriend, who is a photographer. She's currently on a short-term contract with 'Eve' magazine and says her desk is right next t the fashion editor's, so she is pleased.

Apparently the best way to break into journalism is to work in however lowly a capacity in a magazine or newspaper office. One young woman works in the Goldsmiths press office and edited the 2006 prospectus, so at least she can count on a regular salary. There's a young man temping for an office agency who wants to write freelance articles for music magazines. When we did restaurant reviews he wrote a very funny piece about his local kebab shop.

A lot of the time in class was spent reading and critiquing one another's work, which was interesting, and I'm looking forward to the same in the Advanced Fiction class which starts in September. That's if I'm successful in signing on for it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The view from the living room window is particularly pleasant at this time of year, when the Horse Chestnut is in bloom.

I've completed my portfolio of work for the Goldsmiths Journalism course, althugh there are still a couple of Saturday morning sessions to go before the end of term. I cheated a bit on the last feature because I used my piece on Ang Lee, which I wrote for the Film Journalism course. Now I just have to concentrate on the last unit of the BFI Film Journalism, which is about pitching and then writing a feature. Today was the deadline for the pitching - emails to three different target publications related to a topic of our choice that has to be relevant to some current or future release. I have chosen to write about Jane Austen on film after I read an article in The Stage. It said Channel 4 is about to do remakes of the Jane Austen novels. A few months back I did some research on the topic as I was intending to teach a combined text and film course with my daughter but it never got off the ground. There was some mix-up over the proposal deadline. Anyway, I've still got the notes as a starting point. The deadline isn't until the 27th so there's plenty of time.

I don't want to restart on my other projects, the China book and the novel until next month, after I come back from the coach trip to Scotland on June 7th. In the meantime I think I can usefully practise writing film reviews. I've just posted a review of 16 Blocks to the WriteWords site, and I went to see Mission Impossible III with Roy yesterday. I really enjoy all the gadgets in the film, so I'll make that the focus of my review, I think.

I've also found a couple of short story competitions I can enter, one of them run by a new magazine called Senior Moments. That sounds promising. You have to be aged over 50 to enter, so that should cut down on the competition.

I've also been looking at the Goldsmiths Prospectus for next year and am tempted by an 'Advanced Fiction' course. It will be good to get back to writing fiction after all this journalistic stuff, although I think I've learned a lot. I've enjoyed the writing about film more than the news stories and other features, 'though, so that's where I'll continue. I'm thinking of embarking on a Woody Allen retrospective to tie in with the release of his next London-located film, or the one after.