Reality can be beaten with enough imagination

Don’t think so, Mark Twain. Sadly, I have to agree with Philip Dick, despite his name, that “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Distorted reality by Vladimir Kush

Distorted reality by Vladimir Kush

(A famous Caroline aside: “Why is it that I Google for images of reality and get this sort of thing?”)

So, the time has come for a reality check about the state of my creative writing.


Top and bottom, I haven’t been doing any. Not for a while now. I daren’t even speculate how long ago it was that I added a single word to the new novel, Falling Awake. 

I HAVE been a) unwell and b) very busy earning a living copywriting, so much so that my brain has been feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth at the end of the day…


and not at all inspired to produce additional words, as if by magic, from some deep dark recesses of somewhere.


A lot has been happening with work that I’ve written in recent times, so if I’m not inspired to continue now, I never will be.

Cleverest Thief - programme_print_hi res-page-001

On Saturday, May 16th, I was proud to go to London to see Libby Wattis perform the solo show about dementia that she asked me to write for her. Amazing! I’m lost for words, which is a great place to be for a writer.

AND, a monologue that I wrote as homework for my writing class was chosen by Debra Baker to go on her BBC Radio Drama showreel, so will now be heard by People Of Importance and suchlike. My work. BBC Radio 4. Dream come true. The piece, by the way, is called, My God and there’s a blackness and is about self-harm.

AND, I’ve been short-listed for a script-writing job for an immersive education company. Cross everything.

AND, a San Francisco film director called David Turner, whose work looks terrific, has requested some of my short screenplays. Cross everything again.


May I officially declare that, in reality, things are happening for me as a writer, and I’m allowing myself to be a teeny-weeny bit proud?

But you still haven’t written anything for ages, says Mr. Reality, which humankind cannot bear very much of, eh, T.S.Eliot? (And I bet he wouldn’t ever have ended a sentence with a stranded preposition. This is the sort of English up with which he would not put.)


“Competition is a rude yet effective motivation.”

Yes it is! Both a rude and an effective way of motivating me, competition is…

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I’m going to beat the girls AND the boys, nyahhhhh!

Ironically, or maybe NOT ironically, the quotation was written by someone called Toba Beta, in Master of Stupidity. So, how stupid is it to enter contests? (And here, I’m talking about screenplay writing contests in particular).

To answer my own question, I think it depends on how seriously you take them and what your expectations are.

If you think that either winning or NOT winning a competition is much of a reflection on the quality of your work, then you’re sadly deluded. If you believe that the standard of a lot of judging and the reviews you receive from them is going to be constructive and help you to reshape your work into something eminently… better… than the piece you submitted, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. I say probably – I’m just going on my own experience here.

I’m not referring here to the top banana contests like PAGE International and the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship – just most of the rest – and there are zillions of them. Zillions.

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I used to enter loads of contests and have to admit I used to get bent out of shape by them sometimes – anxiously waiting for the results, feeling that I was useless if I didn’t do well, railing at the unfairness of some of them – and that wasn’t just sour grapes, before you even think it. Sometimes, it may have been, but often it was not. I’ve been in contests where the most APPALLINGLY badly written, poorly spelled, incorrectly formatted, crass pieces of work have progressed when others (not even mine) which are aeons ahead in every way haven’t made it past the first round.

Judging is always subjective. It can’t be anything else. And mass judging of a competition where there are hundreds of entries, it has been my experience, is often carried out by…I don’t know, interns, students, children?… who wouldn’t necessarily recognise a good screenplay if it bit them on the bum.


My review for Round 2 of a recent contest submission referred to characters who didn’t even appear in my screenplay…however, they liked it enough to put me through to the next round. Ha ha ha…

I’ve just received the review for my entry into the semi-finals of the same contest.  This piece of work didn’t get me through to the finals. I had to write a comedy and what I did was a spoof of The Killing. Yes, risky, because would it work as a comedy if you hadn’t seen The Killing? Apparently it did, because I tried it out on several people who assured me it could stand alone because they thought it was ‘hysterically funny’ even though they’d never seen the aforementioned TV series.

The reviewer/judge plainly hadn’t either because the review made no mention of the (clever?) references – but hey…

The whole screenplay and its humour was built around the idiocy of the male detective. The reviewer completely missed the plot. He/she wrote:  “I think he needs to show some sort of competency otherwise his presence at a crime scene feels a bit jarring…”

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I DO realise, by the way, that it’s what someone reads rather than what I wrote that is the most salient thing…if I didn’t write it well enough for the reader to understand the plot and the subtext, then it’s largely down to me. But that somewhat rests on the reader possessing a certain level of critical acumen, too. I received stellar reviews for the first two screenplays, which didn’t merit it, in my opinion!

Do I now think that the screenplay was poor?

No, I don’t. I’m proud of it.

Do I think it was a waste of time entering this competition?

No I don’t. It motivated me to write three new screenplays. I had fun doing them. It got me back into this form of writing, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Do I think that the feedback was valuable?


Will I enter other contests?

Yes. In fact, I’m in the quarter finals of a feature length competition. The great thing was, I had completely forgotten I’d entered…the best and most healthy way to be.

This is me:


Distraction-free writing

I’m not sure how long it’s been available (I must have been too distracted to notice!) but WordPress kindly provides me with Distraction-Free Writing mode for this very blog.



How useful is that? As Henry David Thoreau once said, obviously referring to stuff like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.” Indeed.

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So – how useful is the Distraction-Free Writing mode? This started as a rhetorical question, but I shall answer myself anyway.

Not very.

Like Zen Writer, it does wonders for my computer screen, blanking the navigation bars out on both margins, so I’m left with a pleasing Shade of Grey – one of Fifty available?

The trouble is, it doesn’t have any power over my internal state, as described so eloquently by George Eliot last time we met: “Her little butterfly soul fluttered incessantly between memory and dubious expectation.”

Kesin by Zoe McIver-Underwood

Kesin by Zoe McIver-Underwood

Last weekend, I embarked on a 48-hour writing challenge where distraction-free writing was a necessity. Friday midnight EST, I received a genre, setting and object, (Comedy, A Public Library, A Prescription Medication Bottle) and had the next two days to craft a screenplay. Admittedly, only 5 pages (only?) but anyone who’s ever written a short will know that it takes a long time to compress an entire story satisfactorily into a mere five pages – beginning, middle and end, scene setting, character arcs and all.

I noticed how I operated. All day Saturday, a typical Caroline Coxon poor-planning demonstration, I was occupied with other things, – well, my body was and some of my mind. The rest was feverishly planning my screenplay.

Sunday, after the animals were fed and exercised (to be honest, I didn’t exercise the chickens) I sat down to write. I’d do a few lines, then be so wound up trying to find the right word or action for the next bit that I couldn’t even stay seated at the computer and had to rush downstairs and DO SOMETHING, anything – and then, magically, my mind processed the jumble and the right word popped out and I would rush back upstairs and do some more.

Stair carpet. Worn threadbare. Me. Fit.

Hilary Mantel wrote this, 25 February 2010, in The Guardian. It made me feel better.

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

It worked.

I finished


Distraction-Free Writing?


Distraction-ASSISTED writing.

Finishing – the new beginning

What is it about finishing a writing project that’s so charged with emotion? There are lots of wise words, not so wise words and downright stupid psycho-babble written about fear of finishing.

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(And that image reminds me of one of the best jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe this year: “My name’s Fin. Which means it’s very hard for me to end emails without sounding pretentious.”)

FEAR of finishing? FEAR?

I tell you what my main emotion is upon finishing a substantial piece…

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Almost immediately followed by EVEN HUGER

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There are a few other downsides to finishing a project, which I freely admit.

Here’s a quote from another writer called Daniel Swenson. (Maybe a comma would help that sentence?) Another writer, called Daniel Swenson.

“Finishing closes a door. It makes a commitment. It says “okay, that’s the best I can do” — whereas shoving an unfinished piece of writing in a drawer says “well, maybe I can do better later.” And that’s perfectly valid, assuming later ever comes.

But an unfinished work can take on its own sort of romance, if we let it. A mediocre book is just a mediocre book, but an unfinished, unwritten work of unalloyed genius, well, that’s a joy forever, isn’t it? But if you’re serious about being a writer, I suspect you don’t want your body of work to consist entirely of imaginary books.”

Yes, finishing a novel, a screenplay or a theatre piece means that, unless you shove it into a drawer, virtual or otherwise, there are CONSEQUENCES…

1) You open yourself up to being evaluated – which could mean rejection and criticism. (Why do I always assume it WON’T mean praise and acclaim?)

2) You have to embark on the often soul-destroying task of getting the work out there which, to me, is far more difficult than actually writing the thing in the first place.

3) You’re now in a position to start something else when you’re probably feeling a bit like this:

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I often turn to Neil Gaiman.  I don’t think he noticed yet.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” 

So here’s to glorious failures.

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And to finishing stuff.

And to starting new stuff so you can go through it all again.


Screenplays: The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress

…said Philip Roth.


I’m guessing Roth’s talking about his novels and stories, because though a few were adapted into films, I’m not sure he wrote the screenplays.  (I just checked Portnoy’s Complaint and the writing’s credited to Ernest Lehman, for example).

As a sometime writer of screenplays, ‘works-in-progress’ is my middle name. (Here, I’m talking about my screenplays which have been optioned by a film-maker or production company, rather than screenplays that are themselves works-in-progress.)

A film-maker contacts me. “I love your script XXXX. May I have your permission to make it?”

After checking out the guy/girl/company and putting a few provisos in place, the main one being, ‘please keep me in the loop,’ I almost always say,  ‘Yes, I’d be honoured!’

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And then, time goes by…and more time goes by…and sometimes, my emails aren’t answered any more…and…

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It seems strange to me, and not at all courteous, to show such an interest in someone’s work, to be given (usually free) permission to use it and then neglect to keep me (the writer) informed if plans change – and they so very often do. Believe me, I know stuff happens which makes progress impossible. What is NEVER impossible is to be in communication.

I chased one guy up recently, who’d said he’d hear by the end of January whether or not he’d get funding for making one of my scripts. He hadn’t succeeded but hadn’t bothered to tell me.


Tsk tsk

There’s a guy in Toronto who asked to make one of my short screenplays, then also talked me into writing a longer screenplay based on his ideas – which I did, for no fee because it seemed certain it would go ahead. (At that time I was dead keen and unblighted by weary cynicism.) He seems to have disappeared off the radar – at least, when he gets communication from me. I shall keep trying…

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(not as by Justin Bieber)

But yesterday – success with one of those works-in-progress.

I saw the girl’s name on LinkedIn. She’d just set up her own production company. I contacted her. She was very apologetic and said how bad she had been feeling, and if I would allow,  could she make my script as her very next short film?

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’d be honoured.’

Writing despondency: but, “When one door closes, another door opens…”

First, I didn’t know Alexander Graham Bell was responsible for the quotation.

Second, I didn’t realise it had more to it: “…but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”


Therein arises the despondency. Writing despondency, in this context.

A couple of months ago, I got an email out of the blue from a senior film student at Boston University, saying how much he loved one of my scripts and asking permission to make it.

Great that he asked. So many don’t.

A sort of whoo-hoo from me – but only fairly luke-warm. A great compliment, but been there, done that, got excited, then got let down. Didn’t get the T-shirt. Certainly didn’t get the DVD because there never was one.

Please excuse my cynicism but it’s borne out of experience.


A few days ago, not having heard from him again, I felt strong enough to mail him. The script wasn’t selected so he was unable to make it.

Writing despondency crept up on me like a rat.

Ten minutes later. TEN MINUTES!

…I received a message from a script-writing-acting-film-making friend in Iowa.  Wes Worthing by name. See his profile on IMDb.

Sorry to get side-tracked here but I’m hooting with laughter. I Googled for an image of Wes Worthing and Google said: ‘Do you mean West Worthing?’ (a seaside resort not far from here!)

So here is the image…


ANYWAY – Wes asked if he could make one of my scripts in the summer!

As I said to him, I was so honoured and delighted that I almost spelled honoured like an American by mistake.

Writing despondency vanished in an instant.

Fickle creature that I am.



Fake sUCKs! – safeguarding your work on the internet. Is it possible?

Thanks to Toba Beta for the first part of the quote. (See, I DO TRY to acknowledge every single person from whom I borrow (steal?) words and images for this blog.)

I put links to the artists’ or writers’ websites, where possible, hoping that it will generate more interest and traffic for them – leading to purchases? If I don’t put links, it means the work is unattributed.

Imitation…the sincerest form of flattery?

From Lolha

 Stealing other people’s work and calling it your own. NOT.

There’s always that dilemma when posting your creative outpourings online – and here my experience is with screenplays, but it could just as well apply to anything you’ve ever written.

Looking for ways to protect your work? Here’s the bad news!

You can’t…not really.

Sure, you can register it with Writers’ Guild of America or copyright it – but even so it’s not difficult for someone to take it, change it (or not) and claim it as his own.

I’ve seen it happen.

By the way, forget that urban myth that you can prove ownership by sealing it up in an envelope and posting it to yourself.

“As the copy you post remains in your possession, the other party can easily show that you had ample opportunity to tamper with the contents, and of course once opened it could not be used as evidence in any future claim or appeal.”(The UK Copyright Service)

Counter-intuitively, the very best way to ensure that your work isn’t used without your permission is to post it in as many places as possible. That way, the ownership and date it was written is very visible and verifiable.

 Actually, I should re-phrase that – the best way to ensure that if your work IS used without your permission you are more likely to find out about it and be able to do something about it is to post it in as many places as possible.

A number of screenplays I know of, written by friends of mine, have been used without their consent and appeared elsewhere on the internet, either as screenplays with the author’s name changed or as completed films on YouTube. Not the end of the world, but seriously annoying and unnecessary.

The crazy thing is that if ‘the thief’ had only emailed the writer, permission would almost certainly be granted without a second thought! Writers are invariably delighted to know their work has met with approval.

Tomorrow’s blog – a brilliant tip which allows you to keep track of your work online, thought up by Techie-Meister Tim Coxon, Number One Son, of whom I am so proud. It really works!

If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.

You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree…said Michael Crichton, and that’s much how I felt having watched Lincoln last night – wanting to see for myself what all the fuss was about, prior to The Oscars.

I was horribly confused by Democrats and Republicans in that film. I was sure in my own mind, based on following current affairs, that it would have been the Democrats that were the Abolitionists, not the Republicans. More study required…

Spot the real Lincoln…Daniel Day Lewis was simply mind-blowingly incredible in the role (and I tried very hard not to be swept along by the hype – but it was impossible not to be in total awe.)

I loved what Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian film reviewer, said: “And what a feat from Day-Lewis: the nearest thing a 21st-century biopic can get to a seance.”
As a screenplay writer myself, she says, laughing hollowly at considering herself in the same breath as, in this case, Tony Kushner, I was interested in its history. The screenplay’s history, I mean, as well as Lincoln’s.
Based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,  the screenplay was first written by John Logan in 2001, then another version was commissioned, this time to be written by playwright Paul Webb, around 2006. Spielberg was still dissatisfied. In 2008, I think, Tony Kushner was hired.
His first draft was FIVE HUNDRED PAGES (a screenplay is usually about 100-120!) 
He joked he was on his “967,000th book about Abraham Lincoln,” and finally narrowed the plot down to the two months in Lincoln’s life when he was preoccupied with adopting the Thirteenth Amendment.
Filming must have taken place in 2012 – more than ten years after the first screenplay was written.
I think perhaps I get too impatient too quickly!
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I have a very firm grasp on reality…

I can reach out and strangle it any time! 

So – as promised yesterday – if only to myself – a reality check about my work.

Of Night And Light – the novel – still waiting to hear back from the commissioning editor.

Dancing With Elephants, The Wilful Child, Belief in Cod, One Of Our Pies Is Missing, Little Red Riding Hood and The Granny Confusion – still waiting to hear back from the animation company.

Filth – short film – at final edit stage.(London) To be taken to Le Marché du Film, Cannes, Short Film Corner.

The Other Side Of Silence – short film – original shoot date disrupted by the snow but apparently it is imminent. (Whitby)

Downtown Abby – short film – script approved and scheduling shoot with Eastenders actor attached. (London)

Caught In The Act – short film – (apparently) to be shot this year. (New York)

 Just For A Moment – a short film which has, apparently, been “on the point of completion” for over two years, (Leeds) – so I will chase it up, now I’ve remembered its existence! UPDATE: Answer to my query ‘Any progress?’ – “Sadly no. It’s still ongoing. Will be finished though. I promise.”

Creep Like A Rat – 22 page short – script approved – (apparently) to be shot within  the next eighteen months (New York)

The Colour Of Her Scream – longer short – loved by director but wants to seek proper funding in order to do it justice. (London)

The Last Assassin – a short script commissioned by a producer, in progress (London)

(The apparentlies in brackets are because I’m relying on the word of a director whom I’ve never met…)

Aside from all that – I have three feature length scripts complete, another 30 plus shorts, and Quirky Tales – a series of stories for young children, two of which have been broadcast on FunKidsLive, and Earthbaby, an audio story for babies, and Milo Saves The Circus – a long-time-coming interactive iPad story for young children.

So – quite a lot! And quite a lot needing to be done to get that stuff off my computer and out into the big wide world.

Inner Essence Designs

“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.”

One day, I had to quote from Anthony Robbins. Today is that day.

Yes, I’m grateful, there is abundance…and other weird cosmic things.

It seemed as though the minute I accepted the fact that I DO want to be a full-time creative writer, the universe took that on. Good old universe.

Or, to put it another more worldy way – misquoting Wendy Cope from Serious Concerns – a favourite anthology:

Bloody Film Directors
Bloody film directors are like bloody buses
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
(By the way, none of the aforementioned film directors are in the slightest bit bloody, either literally or metaphorically!)
SO a week or so ago, my script Filth was produced. The director is coming down next week to show me the rushes and discuss future projects.
AND I received a mail out of the blue from a director in NYC asking to option Caught In The Act. He has also asked me to write a script for him from one of his ideas
AND I received another mail out of the blue from a young film maker wanting to make The Other Side of Silence
AND a good film-making friend of mine wants us to create a film for next year’s Raindance Festival.
by Henry J Cowdery