Ian Drury - Sheil Land Associates Ltd. - 52 Doughty Street - London WC1N 2LS

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Stories Unfold

Okay, here's where we're at.

I've sent off my latest drafts of the two premises or pitches for TV Drama. One is kind of a local story - contrasting village life during war time with the same village today - and the other is a political thriller.

These are my third run-throughs of the ideas. To my great surprise (and delight), both ideas in their original forms (two sides of A-4, slightly double-spaced, each) appealed to my executive producer contact (ex-colleague), and at my meeting with her in London we were able to chat over these ideas.

Redrafted versions of the two story ideas were submitted just before I went away on holiday (about which, more anon). Rightly, my exec spotted a few weaknesses in both, and I've now expanded them. The first, about the local village (two dramatic periods in the lifetime of one ageing farmer), I would see ideally as a three-parter. The idea now runs to four pages on that one. The other - what happens when high-profile 'fat cats' start being murdered - I would love to tackle as a five-part serial.

My exec expects to get back to me within a week or so. If these ideas are strong enough, she'll take them to the next level. Basically, she'll be bidding on the basis of these for the go-ahead to commission treatments - detailed plans for each project giving character information, episode storylines and other supporting material. So, if one or both of these projects goes to treatment stage, I'll be a BBC employee again, for the first time in twelve years ...

It's been odd, trying to readjust after the holiday. What I've come to feel is that the research trip to Ulva was symbolically the end of the road for my Arthurian studies. It was on the nearby Isle of Iona, my spiritual home, that I resolved to write my Shakespeare and Arthur books, fully four years ago.

Since then I have researched both subjects at great length and in considerable depth. I have acquired a leading literary agent, lost him, and picked up another. I have tested the material out on 'Authonomy', and in both cases scored something of a hit with the international writing community. And, okay, so, we've hit an obstacle. Publishing is a rabbit frozen in the headlights of economic uncertainty, the advent of e-books, competition from other sources, etc., etc. Nothing seems to be happening.

But the Divine Kim (who's not all that well, just at the moment, sad to say) has given me permission to investigate self-publishing. So I can work on my Arthur book, having visited the spot where the story ends, writing it my way, in the knowledge that even if we don't get a publisher on board in the New Year, I can still go ahead with a publishing arrangement.

So it's all systems go ... sort of.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


Well, I'm back. And yes, I found what I was looking for (even though it took a walk of some 10 or 12 miles over some pretty unforgiving terrain - but the views were magnificent!!).

Cille Mhic Eoghainn is actually a graveyard for the MacQuarrie clan ('Sons of Guaire') whose township was the ruined village of Ormaig. The graveyard is about as isolated and remote as you could hope for. But the village ... well now!

Ormaig, apparently, comes from the Norse for 'Bay of Serpents'. Now, 'serpents' was a common enough term for Druids (they were referred to in Welsh, for example, as Naddred - 'Adders'). And I suggested in my previous post that the name of the island - Ulva - might derive from ullamh dha (literally, 'Wiseman to him'). Of course, I'd forgotten that a Hebridean folktale, seemingly collected from Tiree (very close to Ulva), casts Sir Gawain of Arthurian legend as 'Sir Uallabh O'Corn' (Sir Wiseman of the Horn). This Sir Uallabh is the nephew of Arthur, just as the son of the original Guaire was Arthur's nephew. In the early legends, the son of Guaire is named Gwalchmai, a name which passed through the prism of medieval literature to reappear as Gawain.

Gawain, then, was originally the son of Guaire and the nephew of Arthur. The sons of Guaire formed the clan MacQuarrie, who lived at Ormaig and were buried at Cille Mhic Eoghainn on Ulva. In the Hebrides, Gwalchmai or Gawain was known as Sir Uallabh, or 'Sir Wiseman'.

In Gaelic, Ulva is Ulbha, so that the name of the island might indeed derive from ullamh (a sage or learned man) or, for that matter, from Uallabh (ditto). It could, then, be uallabh dha - The Isle of the Ullamh, or the Druid Isle.

And guess what? The now ruined village of Ormaig (population in 1841 - 52) once hosted a famous school for pipers run by the MacArthurs.

Seems that the family ties weren't lost after all!

Anyway, that was all fun, and I had the best oysters I can ever remember on Ulva. Fascinating place. Oh, and I stood on the grave of Arthur, too. So, all in all, a productive vacation.

But now I'm home. And, well, I'm pretty dissatisfied with the way all the work on the books (Shakespeare and Arthur) has been going. I'm still beavering away on a TV drama idea or two with my exec producer at the BBC - that's all going fine - but the publishing side of things is a right stinking mess.

It feels about as bad as TV did a decade or so ago.

And one of the problems, from my point of view at least, is that I've been concentrating on the first three chapters and a synopsis because that's what publishers use to base their decisions on, in the case of non-fiction. Except that they're not. Because they're not making any decisions at the moment. So I've been concentrating on the wrong shape of project to suit an industry that isn't actually doing anything right now.

So here's my resolution: I am going to commit to writing a minimum of 2,500 words a day on my Arthur project, until I have a complete manuscript which I am happy with. Then, I am going to see if there are any publishers out there who are interested. I am not going to fart about with three chapters when I can, and should, be writing them all.

If there's one thing I've learnt over the years as a writer, it's this: sooner or later, you have to start doing things your own way, because too many people will try to get you to do things their way, and that, my friends, hardly ever works.