Recently, I journeyed to London for a series of brilliant talks as part of this year’s London Writers’ Week.
A couple of weeks ago was London Writers’ Week, an event I had never heard of until shortly before attending it. I first came across a mention of it a few days ahead of time on BBC Writersroom. My interest piqued, I took a look at the London Writers’ Week website. Hosted by the British Writers’ Council, the week-long event is essentially a series of talks and panels for new writers, discussing emerging opportunities and offering advice on avenues into writing professionally. And so, in a moment of spontaneity fuelled by the creative individual’s well-known fear of “proper jobs”, I bought a day pass and booked my train ticket to London (ridiculously expensive – time to nationalise it!).
My journey began early on Thursday with a bleary-eyed struggle into some vaguely appropriate clothes, a bus trip to the train station, and the essential cup of tea, all before a two-hour journey into the capital (boredom kept at bay with my copy of Trainspotting – well worth a read for so many reasons, but that’s a blog post for another day). Now, I adore London. I really do. I’m a city boy, through and through, and it doesn’t get any more ‘city’ than London. Unfortunately, what I do not adore quite so much is my own sense of direction, or lack thereof. After much muddling through tube stations, some dubious Google Maps skills, a last-minute dash to the event venue and a momentary mix-up with a barman who seemed to think I was there for a job interview (no, no, I have a degree in English Literature, honest work disagrees with me), I made it to the first talk just about on time.
This panel featured four writers working in the digital sector on projects ranging from interactive performance to social media campaigns. A standout speaker was John Robertson, the comedian and writer behind YouTube-based live-action video game, The Dark Room, which is worth checking out if you’re up for a good time being insulted and infuriated (more fun than it sounds).
Digital media, which was the overall theme of this year’s event and particularly this talk, is obviously a sea of brilliant new opportunities for us writers. It has never been easier to get your work out there. Not only am I writing these words on a blog that is visible to the world, which I started from the comfort of my own living room (well, relative comfort), but while I am yet to be able to call myself a fully-fledged professional writer, I have already released two books, countless short films and even two films that just about pass for feature length. The idea that someone could have such a portfolio of publicly-released work behind them without being knee-deep in the “professional” side of the industry would have been ridiculous twenty years ago. But then along came YouTube, Amazon and a whole host of other outlets that meant anyone and everyone could spew their own content into the brains of billions of people. It means, of course, that the competition is fiercer than ever and the demand for quality from big publishers and producers is higher than ever, but it also means that it has never been easier to get started and get your voice heard.
What particularly struck me in the first talk was the range of forms that creative content can take. When I think of writing and what I want to do with writing, I’m usually thinking of straightforward narrative storytelling. Whether that’s in a film or with the written word, I’m thinking of a set-in-stone storyline over which the reader or viewer has no control, outside of the impact of their own interpretation. It is something to be consumed and, hopefully, to inspire further thought. None of the projects being discussed by this panel were that simple. They relied upon audience interaction. This was writing that revealed different parts of its world to different members of its audience, writing that required the audience to come together to complete the story, that played games with its audience, that interacted with the audience’s environment, that went in different directions depending on what the audience decided, that relied on the thoughts, the debates, the ideas and the outrages of its audience. Thanks to the advances in digital media, in an age where everyone is carrying around windows to a wider world in their pocket, the ways in which writing can reach its audience and interact with them are limitless. It is becoming the role of the writer not just to create stories, but to create the ways in which those stories are told.
After the panel session on opportunities in digital media and a brief bit of exploring the local area, the second talk I attended was with John Kampfner, the CEO of the Creative Industries Federation, who was essentially discussing the damage the creative industries may be about to feel at the hands of Brexit. As political a person as I am, and as passionately as I believe it is a writer’s duty to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the political arena, I won’t dive into any of the issues and complexities of Brexit here, as this post really isn’t the place (and I don’t think I’ve got the space to spare!). Suffice to say that a greater division between British and European creative forces does little to help British creatives who are already struggling to break into the industry at a professional level.
A little later still and the final talk of the day was being delivered by David Evan Giles, a writer, director and producer, who was discussing how to direct and produce your own work. This was the talk I had been most interested in attending as someone with a bit of amateur filmmaking experience. Most of the time I spend on writing is spent on screenplays at the moment, with a view to turning them into independent films. I definitely count myself lucky to have had the chance to hear about the trials and tribulations involved in producing your own work, the reasons behind doing so, what is to be gained and what is to be lost, all from someone who has been there and done it in no small way – David co-wrote and co-produced Paradise Road, which was, at the time, the biggest budget Australian film ever made.
The topic of independent production brings me back to digital media and the impact it’s having on the creative industries right now. There can be no doubt that, for a while now, independently producing your own work has been the most readily available way to break into the film and TV industry. What the advance of the digital age means, though, is that this has never been easier. Information, resources, networks and platforms are all being provided through the internet and new technologies. None of this is intended to undermine the many difficulties that come with trying to produce your own work, but it is no longer the case that people who want to tell stories and make movies are utterly deprived of ways to get started. That is brilliant and that should give all of us daydreamers hope.
It is worth mentioning here that the proceeds of this year’s London Writers’ Week are going towards helping the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. While I was in London for the event, I caught sight of Grenfell Tower. As harrowing a sight as it was, it was even more unsettling to see the remains of such a tragedy so near an area of such obvious prosperity. The victims of the Grenfell fire were victims of a society forced into an unjustifiable divide, a society that has lost sight of people’s responsibility to one another. I only hope that, out of the tragedy of Grenfell, comes the wake-up call we all need and I hope that the money raised through London Writers’ Week goes some way to helping those who need it most.