Not perhaps the most flattering photo ever taken of the actor Joel Phillimore, but this is a still from the set of the short film I bravely/rashly directed last weekend. It takes its roots from the classic spaghetti westerns and we even have an Ennio Morricone style score that really complements the film, but instead of going down the decadent Sergio Leone route of shooting in somewhere blissful like Tuscany or southern Spain, we went to a tiny village in the wild lands: the Suffolk/Norfolk border, a place forgotten by time…
If films like A Fistful of Dollars are spaghetti westerns, that must make Minchinhampton a roast beef western, or a Spaghetti East Anglian. Either way, I hope I’m right in saying that we had a lot of fun making the film, even if the process was absolutely shattering. I’ve just come back from the first stage of the edit, where a day’s filming from 8am til 5 was condensed into less than five minutes of footage. This was despite the fact that we didn’t need to do endless takes for dialogue-heavy scenes; Minchinhampton is a silent comedy. I am immensely grateful to the whole cast and crew, not to mention the villagers of Ilketshall St. Margaret for your hospitality and for the grab-your-torch-and-pitchfork scene at the end of the film.
The plan now, so long as the film looks good enough once the final edit is done, is to send the short out to festivals while work gets underway on another short I’ve written but is about five times the budget, and I won’t be directing it either. In other news, had some very encouraging feedback about an idea I’ve had for a Michael Hirst-inspired TV series and have been recommended to write a pilot for it, alongside my pitch document and treatment. First of all I need to get these latest (agent thinks we need to start this new character’s tale right in the heart of the story as I did with Caecina Severus) three chapters to wave under my editor’s nose. Priorities and all that. Writing retreat needed I think. Treehouse is great, as ever, but I reckon I need to get away from civilisation for a few days and just type. Not to mention get off Twitter/Facebook/blog; and on that note, adieu.
It’s May Day, which means back in Oxford hundreds of undergraduates are recovering from a night’s excesses, the Magdalen choir are getting some kip after their early start and the winding, cobbled streets will echo to the sound of jangling as the Morris dancers wave their bell-covered limbs and snotty handkerchiefs in the air. Each to their own.
Things in Suffolk may be less busy. HWA fans will know that Ben Kane, Tony Riches and Russel Whitfield are currently tramping along Hadrian’s Wall in full Roman battle gear for charity (£12,000 raised so far for Medicins sans Frontieres and Combat Stress, please give here: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/benkane). And what am I doing?
On the potential new series I’m doing my best to churn out not only the opening chapters but also some of the more battle-heavy chunks to give what my agent calls ‘a rounded impression’ of the character. No complaints, but I’m looking forward to talking to my editor about the story. But then again he may not like it!
Things are also progressing on the film front. May 18th is set in stone now for the short that I’m directing, called ‘Once Upon a Time in Minchinhampton’. I’ve cast two talented actors, Joel Phillimore and Sophie May Wake, and am talking with the agent of one of the stars from Merlin. Fingers crossed! It is going to be a low budget production that I’m funding myself so I’m going to be as poor as Blackadder’s church mouse once it’s done, but hopefully the experience alone will be worth it.
Along with the other short that my old friend Katie Blagden will be directing (once I’ve done the final polish on the script that she wants!) there’s one other project that I’d love to do but is a little beyond my pay grade. A pitch document has been sent to a Soho address; fingers and toes are crossed that they like the idea and like me enough to keep me on board if they run with this project. It’s a very long shot but if you don’t try for these things you’ll never get anywhere. That’s my philosophy anyway.
Will hopefully have more news on ‘Minchinhampton’ nearer the time. For now, scripts to polish and chapters to write!
If you look at my Twitter bio (@HenryVenmore if you’d like to follow) or you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll notice I’ll make the odd reference to something called screenwriting. Back in that long spell of waiting between signing with Transworld and the actual publication of The Last Caesar I felt a bit of a fraud calling myself an author. Screenwriting is much the same. You can write all the scripts you want, even if it cuts into your book-writing time, but until something of yours is actually put onto a screen no-one is going to take you seriously.
This is where short films come in. Budgets for shorts vary from practically free to thousands of pounds. The film industry really is a classic example of ‘it’s who you know’, and while I may not know any big industry ‘players’, I do know a bunch of young people who are on their way to the top. The first short film I wrote, Do You Love Your Country, is in pre-production at the moment. We have a producer and a director attached and now we’re assembling a crew to shoot a twelve page script over two or three days in London. Ambitious we know, but in this business there is no reason not to be ambitious. Except perhaps the fact that we are all penniless students/ex-students.
I’ve also written a silent comedy which is much shorter. It was born out of the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and a patch of villages on the Suffolk/Norfolk border which are a perfect double for the wild west. I’m being a bit suicidal and directing the film myself, mainly to see whether I’m cut out to be a director. It could all go horribly wrong but with enough planning and preparation touch wood it won’t be too bad!
Will update you when these projects when there’s more to report! Til then…
Oh and The Last Caesar is coming out in paperback on April 25th. And everyone needs a bit of TLC in their lives!
It doesn’t often happen, but I’m multi-tasking today. Sometimes I wake up in a writing mood, other days it’s research (which can easily lead to YouTube if I’m not careful). Today I’m writing, editing and having a tinker with the blog. The page proofs are in for The Sword and the Throne, which means a final check to see if any anachronisms, e.g. talking about minutes and seconds, have slipped in, and to make sure the story is as tight as it can be. It’s also the very last bit of work I have to do with Caecina Severus. Probably. The plan was always to tell the cracking story of the Year of the Four Emperors over two books, and as ever I’m thrilled Transworld decided to stick their necks on the block and sign up for two novels from an unheard of, unpublished chinless wonder.
Which all means that I need to set my sights on a new story. The first thing that I decided that it wasn’t going to be Roman. There are too many fantastic authors whose books were flying off the shelves long before TLC was published. Ben Kane and Hannibal spring to mind, Manda Scott, Doug Jackson and Robert Fabbri covering the 1st century AD from every imaginable angle, Robert Harris and Cicero, Conn Iggulden and Julius Caesar, as well as Harry Sidebottom, Tony Riches and Nick Brown roving around the 3rd century. One of my teachers once described me as an intellectual butterfly, and then a don at Balliol wrote in his term report that I was too often tempted into ‘intellectual pooh-sticks, floating down the stream until the next thing snags his interest’. Academia was never really going to be an option.
Author, editor and agent put their heads together to try and decide on what the next project is going to be. I can’t give too much away, especially as neither Simon (editor) nor Peter (agent) has seen the first three chapters for Book 1 yet! What I will say though is that my writing will always gravitate towards ‘kings and battles’, and that readers of The Last Caesar and The Sword and the Throne shouldn’t find the change in place and period too disconcerting. There will be battles, betrayals, seiges, spoils and stratagems galore.
The quicker I finish these chapters and (hopefully) persuade Transworld to keep a space in their publishing schedule for me, the sooner I’ll be able to tell you more…
Whew! Nearly a week’s solid writing and the screenplay I’m working on is very, very nearly done. After all the hours I’ve spent out in the treehouse, a script that clocks in at around 100 double-spaced pages doesn’t seem like all that much compared to the hundreds of pages needed for a novel. But that is part of the attraction of screenwriting, for me at least. The phrase ‘show, don’t tell’ is verging on becoming a cliche, but it is a golden rule of writing nonetheless. I don’t think for one moment that after reading a few books and writing a few scripts I know all there is to know about the ‘screenwriter’s craft’. But, I do know that showing rather than telling is not only essential in a good screenplay, it is also very enjoyable.
One of the joys of writing The Last Caesar and its sequel in the first person is that I can show the reader exactly what my (anti)hero is thinking, like Francis Urquhart’s asides in the wonderful House of Cards TV series. Not that I as a 23 year old should know so much about political dramas from the early 90′s! But writing for the screen allows you that much more subtlety. A hand gesture or even a silence can be more telling than a whole page of dialogue.
I’m rambling a little, forgive me. Blame it on the giddiness of nearly finishing what I hope is a good story. Now the question is whether the producer enjoys reading this rewrite of my Glasgow gangs piece as much as I’ve enjoyed hammering the story into shape. Wish me luck!
Just a quick word to say sorry for the lack of blog posts for the last few weeks. I’m in the lucky position of having several projects on the go, but all are at too early a stage to go public with any news. Sorry about that!
In other news, I’ve been given a publication date for TLC’s sequel: 20th June 2013. The working title at the moment is “The Sword and the Throne”, but that may change depending on how it looks on the cover.
I’ll post more news as and when I can. Til then!
Hello one and all! Shattered after the last three days at the LSF up at Regent’s College, going to sessions with iconic British screenwriters and directors such as Simon Beaufoy and David Yates, hoovering up their advice and meeting dozens of people who share the same aim: to become professional screenwriters. But the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly the Great British Pitchfest.
Various agents, commissioners, producers from the US, UK and Europe took part in a glorified speed-dating session, meaning that we had 5 minutes to pitch our scripts and/or ideas. As one of the younger delegates I decided to bring along a copy of TLC to show that I had some sort of track record then set about pitching. In hindsight I shouldn’t have pitched to Jason Taylor (from the team that brought you Valkyrie and X-Men First Class) first as I haven’t pitched in a while, but as one of the last in the room the other delegates had decided to practice pitching first so I took advantage of the lack of a queue for his table. Happily I had positive discussions with the other four producers that I met, all of whom requested material for a range of projects.
Wanting to strike while the iron is hot, or at least tepid, I’m busy firing off treatments and log-lines to those who requested them, while in the back of my mind the edits for Severus 2 (as my editor calls it) are mulling, with a mid-November deadline looming, even though I promised to have them ready earlier than that. I need deadlines to function you see, and with one more sample chapter to write for a new trilogy I have in mind, at long last I am nicely busy. As my best working hours are at night, I get the strange feeling that my body clock is about to be absolutely ruined…
A big heads up and a big thank you to David Headley who hosted a magnificent History in the Court last week. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Goldsboro Books before to sign some copies of The Last Caesar and for Anthony Riches/Giles Kristian’s joint launch a few months back. This time was something special though. Turning up to those events I had felt something of a fraud, a waiting-to-be-published author. I may not have the sales figures or the reputation that the likes of Ben Kane and Robyn Young enjoy, but at least this time I felt a little more like an equal.
The oddest thing was to be in the company of authors whose books I read when I was growing up. I adored Tim Severin’s viking trilogy as a boy, and lo and behold ten years later I’m shaking hands with a dapper Christopher Plummer lookalike! At the other end of the scale I was delighted to meet James Aitcheson, a very bright cookie and another I guess who finds it a trifle daunting to meet and greet his fellow historical writers. But then being five years his junior, that could just be me! Thanks also to Angus Donald and Robert Fabbri for being wonderfully entertaining, and to Robyn Young, who I think I owe a couple of glasses of wine…
In other news, I’m meeting this producer again next week to discuss a script I wrote on spec, set in the gangs of Glasgow. The producer is herself a Glaswegian, so no pressure there then! I was staying with friends in Northumberland, running around the hills for ten days or so, and I decided to take my ageing red Polo, 6 months older than I am, into the depths of Easterhouse. The idea being that a Suffolk boy could get a better idea of what life in the schemes is like. I’m happy to report that I survived, and more surprisingly so did the car, despite a spur of the moment road trip to Ben Nevis and back!
Take away the cat, the postman and the Royal Mail sticker and that’s essentially my car!
I’ve also sent a pitch document to my agent for a TV adaptation of a book that I adore, the rationale being that the book is long out of copyright and also well known enough that producers might overlook the fact that I’m still rather new to the business of screenwriting. Hey ho, fingers crossed!
Lots of little dribs and drabs of news over the last couple of weeks really, none of them really big enough to warrant a blog post of their own. So here’s what’s been going in sunny Suffolk:
A couple of weeks ago was the local launch for The Last Caesar, kindly hosted by Mary and John James at The Aldeburgh Bookshop. Many thanks to the family and friends who were able to make it, especially those who were willing to part with cold, hard cash for copies of the book. I tried to follow the old cliche of how a speech should be like a dress: long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting! Thanks also to my parents for helping to organise the event.
I’ve also had my notes back from my editor, Simon, as well as the original manuscript for the as yet untitled sequel to TLC. I have my own ideas for the title but for the moment it’s simply known as Severus 2. One interesting thing that I’ve taken from the (very generous) reviews on Amazon is that there are quite a few readers out there who enjoyed TLC on its own merits, but weren’t sure if they could give it 5 stars as they didn’t know if there was going to be a sequel. I can confirm that whereas TLC covered the events of AD 68, Severus 2 will depict the actual Year of the Four Emperors, AD 69, and then that’s it. Finito. When I started writing Severus’ story, it was really the story of the chaos, the battles and the backstabbing that followed Nero’s suicide which I wanted to tell. Severus just happened to be the perfect narrator, an ambitious nobleman who was caught up in the events, but within a matter of months came to be shaping them. A few tweaks have to be made to Severus 2 of course, but I hope you’ll find it an enjoyable and pulsating read when it hits the shelves next year.
As for my other projects, I’m now trying to build up a portfolio of screenplays in an attempt to diversify; I realise of course that I’m being ridiculously ambitious to aim for a writing career so soon after university, but my feeling is that if you don’t aim for the stars you’re never going to reach them. I’m really enjoying the process of screenwriting. It’s a very different craft to writing novels, what with the different story telling techniques, new genres, structures, and a format that demands a more concise writing style. At the moment I’ve written one short (i.e. a ten page script) that I’m aiming to make with friends from Oxford, as well as two feature scripts. One’s a dramedy set in the gangs of Glasgow, the other is a romcom/satire that follows a love-struck monk in the Vatican. As you do. Of course trying to break into the screenwriting business on this side of the Atlantic is a tricky business, but hey, I love a challenge!
No, The Last Caesar isn’t going to be made into a film, at least not yet. I’m a bit embarrassed that I haven’t blogged for nearly a month, but this is the first time I’ve been near the computer for a bit; my fingers are too big to do an entire blog-post from the Blackberry!
As the title suggests, I have been having a holiday of sorts out in LA. Screenwriting is something I’m very much hoping to move into, alongside the novels of course, and LA really is the centre of the universe for these things. So when a college friend is prepared to give you a spare bed for a spell as he’s doing a summer program at UCLA (thanks Tom), you leap at the chance. I’ll try and post some pictures soon, like my first baseball match, Venice beach, that sort of thing.
I don’t want to say too much in case nothing comes of it, but I did manage to get some meetings with some very kind people in “the biz”, from managers to producers to development executives. At the other end of the scale an Oundle and Oxford friend who has produced some phenomenally successful student theatre has agreed to produce a short film if I write something he likes. Aidan, if you’re reading this I’m looking forward to reading your notes!
And on Saturday August 25th I shall be giving a talk after some drinks and nibbles at a belated The Last Caesar launch in Suffolk. People are more than welcome to turn up on the night, 6pm at the Aldeburgh Bookshop, no more than about 10 miles from the nearest train to London (at Saxmundham). Public speaking is not my favourite thing. Free alcohol helps though…