Friday, August 10, 2007

Red ready to read

Right then, that's my Red Planet ten pages written. How're you doing with yours?

I've also just written up my next Radio 4 proposal. Twice a year, by long tradition, I pitch something to Radio 4 and they turn it down. They like to kid. And while I'm not trying to knock my chances, straight statistics are against me and if I didn't love Radio 4 so much I'd look for an easier life.

But there is an unpalatable fact, or at least there has been for me, in these offers rounds. I can't remember how many I've been through, I could tell you a couple of horror stories along the way, but each time you do have to come up with something new. Many, many Radio 4 producers tell me this isn't true: they've often liked an idea of mine enough that they've recommended putting it up the next time. But if you're in this position, don't waste your shot: no matter how much the producers mean that today, when the next round comes by, your once-failed piece will be up against brand-new, exciting offers and there will be an inescapable whiff of staleness about yours.

I'm not saying you should abandon an idea forever; there's one I swear to you is not only good, not only perfect Radio 4, but also impossible to do anywhere in the world except on BBC Radio 4. My producer on that one still speaks fondly of it and has faith it will get somewhere. Sometime.

But actually, none of the ideas I've ever put forward are that bad. Usually I hate something the second I've entered it, and certainly when it's been rejected. And yet unless I'm mentally blocking out the worst ones, which is far from impossible, then a quick mental flick through the back catalogue is quite encouraging. Plenty of things I wouldn't do the same way now, lots of topical stuff that wouldn't fly today at all, but good and smart ideas.

And that's the unpalatable bit. Many times I honestly think R4 should've gone for a piece of mine - I did get a message back from an editor once saying that she regretted not commissioning me - but each time they reject you the pressure mounts to do better next time. And each idea I pitch is genuinely better than the last.

So I've been in a strop the last month or two, prevaricating over Red Planet, fretting over a book, worrying that I can't cap the R4 idea I tried last time.

But I think I have. It's actually far too early to say that, I've just written a one-page pitch and not a single page of script. But I can hear that script in my head and in reaching to do better, stronger, deeper, I have just ended up with a paragraph that chokes me.

Of course you might read it and only be able to smile politely while backing away, but I've never before gone for choking and it feels like when I move up a level in Scrabble on my Mac. Harder to win, yes, but the easier levels have irrevocably lost their appeal.

I cannot decide if this is a good or bad thing.


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