Challenged - Cecilia Peartree

 With hindsight, I’m not entirely sure why I signed up to the ‘Scriptly Writing’ challenge, run by an organisation called The Literal Challenge: . They also run other writing challenges, such as February’s ‘28 plays later’, in case others are interested in torturing themselves. There was something tempting about the fact that it was due to begin on the day after I retired from my day job. I suppose I had a feeling that I might need a project to fill the gap – apart from all the million and one other things I have to do, that is! There’s no doubt that taking part in this gave a kind of structure to my days which would otherwise have been completely missing once I stopped working as a database manager. It’s only now, in the weeks since Scriptly Writing finished, that I’ve had the time and head space to consider what I want to do with myself from now on, although maybe putting off contemplating the emptiness for a while was a good thing in itself.

The challenge consisted of writing a new screenplay every day for 14 days in response to a prompt that arrived by email every evening at 10 pm. There were 36 hours to complete and submit the screenplay for checking, to see that it met the criteria. There was no expectation of feedback - you could either opt to enter for a share of a communal fund, or just for the hell of it (the 'Creative' route'). One of the most interesting aspects of the whole thing was a Facebook group where people shared their thoughts and ideas and in many cases the actual scripts.  A few particularly brave participants went on to post movie footage.

The worst part was that I found that my knowledge of screenplays and even of some film genres was surprisingly sketchy. I didn’t even know how to set out a screenplay but fortunately MS Word came to my rescue with a template. Using this was frowned upon by many of the other participants, but I didn’t want to have to waste my energy learning new software.

The very first challenge turned out to be particularly problematic, because the prompt had something to do with dancing. Not only am I one of the world’s worst dancers, having specialised while at school in causing chaos during Scottish country dancing classes, but I’m not all that keen on watching people dancing in movies either, with a few exceptions such as ‘Billy Eliot’ and some of Fred Astaire’s films.

From there the prompts just seemed to get more and more impossible. All the days began to merge together, and I only vaguely remember now what some of the screenplays were about. There was a script for an animation, which turned out much better than I thought it would, and the first episode of a series, which was even worse than expected. There was a rom-com, and something called a ‘trash movie’. Despite never knowingly having watched an example of the latter, I still managed to put a script together. It involved a hen party, a train and a sea monster that suddenly rose from the North Sea somewhere between Golspie and Helmsdale, wreaking havoc with train timetables among other things..

Somehow, in the middle of all this, I managed to finish editing the 21st in my mystery series and publish it. Editing was rather restful compared to screenwriting, I found. By the time this post goes live I will be immersed in National Novel Writing Month, but one advantage of having completed Scriptly Writing is that no other writing challenge holds any terror for me. I suppose it was worthwhile from that point of view, anyway.

Incidentally I now have even greater respect for my son and his film group, who took part in the 48 hour film project on many occasions and won an international prize one year for ‘best use of line’. It’s one thing just writing a short screenplay to a tight deadline, but writing, filming, editing etc all in 48 hours seems even more impossible to me now!

As well as having a new novel ('Unsafe Distances') of my own just out, I have a short story in an anthology, 'Criminal Shorts', published by the UK Crime Book Club in aid of charity. The printed book is already available from Amazon and the ebook is on pre-order at the time of writing.


Peter Leyland said…
A very interesting piece Cecilia. Retirement is such a challenge so it’s great that you handled it creatively with the writing screenplay course, although it does seem you have lots of other writing projects on the go. I recall now after retirement staying with my sister in Cambodia and returning the day Obama was elected. I then almost immediately got a part time job with the WEA. Into such gaps fall new beginnings.
Thanks Peter - it sounds as if you know all about new beginnings!
I doubt if I will ever be offered another actual job, although I'm having to stop myself from volunteering to help locally with digital inclusion, or remotely with transcribing some Scottish family records.
Umberto Tosi said…
Congratulations, Cecilia. Most impressive!

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