My favourite talk at the weekend's CWIG conference (see Back From The CWIG Conference) was by William Nicholson, probably best known in the children's book world for Seeker. But did you also know that he wrote the screenplays for Gladiator and Shadowlands, as well as many other books, Hollywood films and TV dramas?
He was, despite this, a warm, modest and witty man, who told us how he had spent years dragging himself kicking and screaming from his earlier, unreadably pompous, clever-clever and entirely unpublishable novels, to the rather more successful place he finds himself today. He also warned about the emotionally draining world of Hollywood. It seems the rumours are completely true, that Hollywood pays an author to write a script, which they regard purely as inspiration for the final film, re-writing it as a matter of course, pretty much from scratch, regardless of its merits and, in most cases, not for the better. And then they rarely get made anyway! William's advice to the hopeful Hollywood screenwriter was: 'Live in the moment and forget where your work is going. And think of the money!'
He also spoke about the difficulty of writing a project like Shadowlands: a fictional story based on real people and events. He had problems with a living relative, who disputed a section of the play and tried to get it stopped, on the grounds that 'it 'didn't happen like that'. Things were eventually resolved, but William says his method and justification for what he is forced to invent, is to write the 'emotional truth', always imagining the real character was sitting beside him, and asking himself, 'How would they feel about this?'