A Novel Journey [Pt3] Agents of destiny…

Once I moved to Devon it was always going to be difficult keeping up with the demands of writing for tv. My bread and butter tv writing was for Family Affairs, which had come to an end, and pitching for further work would involve frequent and lengthy trips back to London. It felt like the right time to pursue another long held ambition and really get serious about writing my first novel. I’d been playing about with a couple of ideas for some time and wanted to finalise plots and characters for two books.

I will blog further about those soon. What others may find useful is the extraordinary journey I had in trying to get the books published the ‘old fashioned way’. I’m sure it’s a tale familiar to some fellow writers and I’ve learned a lot from it that I’m happy to share. The short version is this: I have had, at various times, three of London’s top literary agents supporting me, these being  Kate Jones of ICM, who, alas, is no longer with us, Peter Straus at RCW and Broo Doherty at Wade&Doherty. All have kindly endorsed my writing by making some much appreciated positive comments.

Kate, who I’d met by chance, was a champion of my book ‘Dead Gorgeous’. It’s an offbeat crime thriller with a dark side and an uncomfortably awkward protagonist, Jim Harwood. She ‘got it’ straight away, seeing that it was in effect both a ‘romp’ and a bitter swipe at our malleable criminal justice system. In fact Kate was determined to get the book published and would have done so I’m sure had she not fallen seriously ill a few years ago. Tragically the cancer she once seemed to have overcome returned with a vengeance.

For a while I wasn’t sure what to do with the book. Kate had been a keen supporter. She loved the dark humour in the narrative and had always said that some other agents and publishers would be ‘scared of it’. ‘I’ll get it sorted for you’ she said, but it would prove to be our final conversation. I was rocked by her death and decided to put the book on the back burner for a while. When I did sit down to write again it was to finish my other novel which is now called ‘Kiss and Tell’. This is an unashamedly more commercial piece. Not so much in its hard hitting storyline, because it has something serious to say about our current drug laws, but more due to its likeable lead…

Jill Shadow is the opposite of Jim Harwood. You can warm to her and root for her. She is also penned as a returning heroine, someone with a few more stories to tell, and someone who can hopefully develop a following. The book was sent to agent Peter Straus in a previous draft and titled form, and Peter immediately took to it, contacting me whilst on his holiday. I’ve still got his scribbled note on the back of the draft. ‘You’re the next Sophie Hannah’ he said and ‘Jill Shadow seems a most bankable franchise.’

To be honest I was fairly ignorant at the time. I hadn’t come across Sophie Hannah but immediately started to devour her books to see if I could spot the comparison. I wasn’t that up on Peter Straus either. I knew he was an agent at the prestigious RCW but hadn’t appreciated just how well respected he was in the industry. He had been a publisher at Picador and editor-in-chief at Macmillan. I remember thinking ‘wow’ if he likes it that much then I’m bound to get a deal.

By that time I’d decided to submit Dead Gorgeous to another agent Broo Doherty. I also received a favourable response from her and there were optimistic soundings about getting that book picked up too… but as many a fellow writer will know, things are rarely that simple… [TBC…]


A Novel Journey Pt2 [Dream job to Dreamteam]

Having now officially become ‘a writer’ it felt like I had the dream job, but it was probably no more than the fulfilment of a long held ambition. I doubt that many writers would describe scriptwriting as ‘a job’ anyway. Essential elements are missing… regular pay and security to name but two, and of course the work itself is anything but guaranteed. If I was to try and make it as a writer I really needed to be represented, to have someone pitching my work to producers.

For my first Bill episode I’m pretty sure I was still unrepresented and the general advice was that I ought to try and secure the services of an agent. This was no easy feat. I’m not sure what the protocol is now but a few years ago most agents, at least those who represented screenwriters, wanted to read an original piece of work before deciding whether to take you on.

I had, at the time, started to write a rough first draft of a novel, one in fact which would ultimately turn into ‘Dead Gorgeous’ which will be my second fiction release. I used the base narrative as a template for a two-part tv drama… the first part of which, a script of some eighty pages or so, would be the opening section.

Like many a writer I’m sure, I delved into the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to suss out which agents to send my work to, and preparing a  short-list would prove vital. At the time I was concentrating on tv scriptwriting so needed an agent who specialised in representing writers for tv and film, rather than say novelists. I also wanted someone who liked crime based stories and if possible legal or courtroom stories too.

‘Dead Gorgeous’ is part courtroom drama part thriller, and one laced with a discernible thread of black humour. In fact I always thought it had the ‘marmite’ factor, and of course wanted someone to love it rather than hate it.

As it transpired two of the agents I wrote to offered to represent me. One was Valerie Hoskins Associates, though for the life of me I can’t now remember the other! Anyway I recall meeting Rebecca there in a rather cramped Charlotte Street office. The mood was upbeat and I was hopeful of being pitched to a number of ongoing tv drama series.

I soon realised what a competitive environment it was. Not so much due to the nature of writers, more so because at the time the number of broadcast drama hours were decreasing on terrestrial tv. There were only four channels back then, with CH5 about to come into existence. Drama is usually the most expensive in terms of tv production and there were already musings that some slots would make way for cheaper light entertainment.

Nevertheless with patience, determination and a thick skin [all prerequisites for writers] I eventually found myself writing for a number of tv dramas. London’s Burning came along as did Bad Girls and other shows like Night and Day and Sky’s Dreamteam, which followed the ups and downs of a fictional premiership football team.

Another show I had considerable involvement in was CH5’s Family Affairs. I was there right at the beginning and on and off through its various incarnations. The show finally ended around 2005 and I’ve often thought it a shame that it did. It was just reaching its peak but alas CH5 decided to sell the slot and replace it with cheaper imported drama… a decision many were saddened by as the show had just won its first drama awards the very same year. Had the show been on one of the more established channels I think it would still be going now.

Whilst all this had been happening I was also dovetailing a career in advertising copywriting. I had always been fascinated by the more creative side of advertising and was forever coming up with my own versions of slogans and straplines. I joined a freelance agency in London and will blog about that side of things a little more in due course…

TJCooke’s debut novel ‘Kiss and Tell’ out this autumn.


A Novel Journey Pt 1 [how ‘nasty’ Nick Cotton helped]

I’m going to blog first about how I came to be a writer, and the journey to where I am today.

Writing has come in many shapes and sizes. I’ve written articles for magazines and press, adverts for television, radio, press, billboard and web. I’ve also written scripts and storylines for television dramas in the UK and abroad; and two recent novels, the first of which is available soon.

My writing career started back in the 1990’s, following a meeting with the producer of BBC’s Eastenders. I had previously worked in the criminal law arena and they were looking for someone to become the programmes legal advisor. They were about to embark on a storyline which would culminate in a murder trial for the character Nick Cotton… tv’s original ‘Nasty Nick’. My job was to advise on the script and set, and make sure that within the parameters of dramatic license the trial was as authentic as possible.

It was a first for me as I’d never previously been involved in television drama. I had though always had an interest in writing, and can still remember spending many a maths lesson at school writing a ‘secret script’ under my desk. I’ve no idea now what it was about, but can recall furtively passing it around the back row to a few other mates who would contribute some character lines. I was never over enamoured with the tedium of academic study, and was often on the lookout for a creative outlet… as soon as I walked onto the set at Elstree I knew that burning desire to write would be ignited again.

I wasn’t there to write though, I was there to advise, but I took every opportunity to talk to actors and writers about how to get into the business of writing for tv. I spent a fair bit of time with John Altman who plays ‘Nasty Nick’, the lead role for that particular story. John was really helpful, as was his ‘screen mum’ June Brown who introduced me to a few other Eastenders’ regulars. After a while I was introduced to one of the shows principal writers and got a few tips about how to go about pitching for an episode of the show.

At around the same time, and on advice from the very same writer, I submitted a draft script to The Bill as well. It was an equally popular show and one I felt a touch more comfortable with as I was used to dealing with the police through my old criminal law clerking days. As it transpired The Bill replied to me quicker than Eastenders, so it was off to their studios in Merton, South London for an interview with the show’s producer. From there I submitted a further original trial script and some storyline ideas and after a couple of months found myself penning my first ever episode of broadcast tv drama.

TJCooke’s debut novel – ‘Kiss and Tell’ – out soon.