Features ~ music, art

Features ~ music, art

Victoria Wood

What a sad, sad day.

She was in a class of her own.
An exceptional talent.

A brilliant writer.
Great performer.
He comedy series were far better
than many of her of contemporaries.

She also knew when it was time to stop,
it is to her credit that she was never interested
in running her series until the material ran out
of steam. One series or two if you were lucky.

It is hard to choose only one of her series because she
was at the top of her game in each one.

She lived in the Lake District, kept away from
the London crowd.

I edited a film interview with her about her record collection.
Before the shoot the director chatted to me about where
to film her. We both both agreed on a piano repair shop.
Ursula, the director, found a great location in Preston.
The interview was shot there.

At the viewing the series producer asked us why had we interviewed
Victoria Wood in a piano workshop?
Stupid man.
That is what we had to contend with in Music and Arts.

Victoria Wood – smashing it to them – live – You Tube






“It’s Facebook and Google who came along and ate up all newspapers’ classified ads. Yet it’s the BBC, who run no ads, that gets the blame, while it’s Google and Facebook that get the helpful tax arrangements from HMRC.” – Guardian Edinburgh international television festival, 2015 – Armando Iannucci


Unfortunately the BBC has become an organisation which would not commission any of his programmes now. The talent has long ago sailed away from the BBC and the ship is not about to come back. Documentaries are dead. Original drama is dead. Music and Arts are nearly dead.BBC is truly a journalistic organisation now, it has always wanted to be that.     I don’t think there is any future for it.

The Tories will finish it off in the next five years.

The public will only defend it when it is too late. Sad but true.

Regarding drama one offs and series Netflix and HBO have replaced the BBC.

A few years ago HBO, against the trend, decided they would continue with original drama and Netflix decided to get into it having been a channel which only bought it. They have now moved into feature film production.

I recall the great speech which Kevin Spacey made a few years ago regarding original dramas and the need to back writers.

BBC was great while it lasted.

Ministers want BBC to consider ‘assisted suicide’, says Armando Iannucci


Kevin Spacey – speech at Edinburgh, 2013


Beach – film in a single day


Occasionally I like to set myself the task of making a short film in a day, using footage from one shoot. The limitations on how much I can shoot are the length of time the battery lasts and the amount of space I have on the iPad.

I have camera but I like the limitations mentioned above that force me to come up with succinct idea which doesn’t become major epic or a film which is going to take a few weeks to finish.

The music is a track I completed the other week, so for the purists, that is not something I did on the same day as the shoot.

Beach –  final edit.


Shoot and Edit Your Home Movies like a Pro (eBook with video examples + storyboards)


How to Edit Video on an iPad – assembly edit


Regardless of whether you are editing an indie feature, a wedding video, baby’s christening, your holiday in Florida or dad’s attempt to build a patio, the first thing you will need to do in creating your award winning movie is to get the footage you have shot into the editing ‘timeline’ so that you can start the real job of editing.

Having selected NEW PROJECT you then tap on MOVIE to open up your editing software.

TAP on Video, Photos or Audio to add your media to the timeline.


On the right hand side you will see the footage you have shot.


TAP on a shot then you will see this:


TAP on the ARROW which is pointing down and your shot will drop into the timeline.


Bear in mind that you will obviously shoot more footage than you need to tell your story.

When you do your ‘first edit’ just select the shots you like and place them into the timeline. Do not worry about which shots are too long. Just get all the shots into the timeline,  later you can rearrange the order of your shots and change the duration of each shot.

It the next edit you do will be more creative as you start to shape your movie in terms of pace, style, use of music and the adding of titles.

More on that in the next lesson.

One thing to remember, never worry about making mistakes. You can always unpick an edit to remove a mistake.

Enjoy your first assembly edit.

Here is a video shot and edited on an iPad.


Shoot and Edit Your Home Movie like a Pro – iBookstore

Grab a sample here:


Part Three: Dissolves and Cuts: https://slateone.wordpress.com/2014/

There is more to come in this series:

Editing – Getting music onto the video – Titles – Trimming shots – Audio mixing


How to Edit Video on an iPad ~ part one

I am a film editor with over thirty years of broadcast experience. I worked for the BBC for over twenty years and was freelance for ten.

Ever since the arrival of Avid editing software in the early 90s, software and computer companies have done a great service to amateur and professional film makers.

Avid editing software on an Apple computer changed film editing forever, for the professional and the amateur.

The free software iMovie which is pre-loaded onto an iPad is an excellent piece of ‘kit.’

Whether you are  editing a Home Movie, Indie Art House film or a pilot for your Blockbuster, iPad can do the job.

Here is the first step on getting your movie edited….


Note: You need to have shot some video footage on your iPad before starting this lesson.

Select the iMovie App on your iPad


Tap  on Project then….


….. the + sign (top right hand corner) to start a new movie.





Then tap on Movie


Select a style for your opening title from Apple’s selection of themes …






… or tap in the right hand corner to select Create Movie. You can always add a style after you have finished editing.


Tap on one of your video clips, then tap on the arrow pointing down ..






…..and your video clip is loaded into the timeline.




Part Two – Assembly Edit: https://slateone.wordpress.com/


Coming soon: ‘How to Shoot and Edit Your Home Movies Like a Pro’ – part one / part two

Contains 30+ video examples. Storyboards by Peter Parr











Every Man is a Puzzle – art by Ron Taylor

JUNGLE by Ron Taylor

Every Man is a Puzzle is a term to describe the art I produce which explores the mediums of painting, photography, silk screen prints.

I only ever produce images as and when I feel like it. At times it is a passion and then my passion for words takes over and the ‘art’ has to take a back seat.

Trip on over to my Saatchi site. If you don’t like my art there’ll be another artist along soon.



Sheila Gallien – ‘ Don’t be in a hurry. Just do the work.’



I decided it was time to do a couple of interviews with people I have worked with in the film/TV business.

Sheila Gallien is the first out of the blocks.

Paul Bernard is a director/cameraman who shot behind the scenes documentaries for films as diverse as: Empire of the Sun, Gladiator, Harry Potter, Hugo and Fury (Brad Pitt) will be along shortly.


Sheila Gallien is a screenwriter, writer and consultant who worked for six years alongside Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. on projects including: Unfaithful, Cast Away, Entrapment, and Planet of the Apes.

A few years ago I bumped into Sheila Gallien online. I have worked with her twice. It made a nice change for me to be be asking Sheila the questions rather than trying to answer her.

Do you think there is one thing which marks out the writers who are successful in getting their scripts into production?

If you have a screenplay where the reader cannot stop turning the pages, you have a real shot.  No one knows the rest.   The market, the economy, and, I would argue, a mysterious  alignment of the heavens, will decide the rest.  I have not read very many scripts in my life that I could not wait for the next page, all the way through. Of those, some got entangled in the complexities of making a movie, and have not been made…yet, but have had actors attached, producers involved, money exchanged.

One that did get made was Hysteria, by Jonah Lisa and Steven Dyer. The draft I read was totally entertaining.  I read it in one sitting. Another may be turned into a TV show.  Another I read recently, in the faith-based arena, is going into production this month.  I don’t mean to sound flip, or to make it sound easy, but your script has to be loved by people.  If someone loves it, that someone might become your champion, or find your champion.  Then comes the process of putting together an extremely and increasingly complex puzzle to make a movie

How did you get your first job the film business?

I was laid up on vicodin after getting my wisdom teeth out and watched the major league baseball playoffs. I had been job hunting in the film biz for six months, with no success, and decided to answer an ad for a receptionist at a top sports agency.  In the cover letter, I made a clever and specific reference to a shocking loss, then mis-named the player “Dave” Eckersley instead of his correct name, “Dennis.” That quirky letter led to a meeting with the president of the sports agency. He later made a call to CAA and gave me a recommendation.

I started as an assistant to a writer’s agent, Bradford Smith, who then repped John Singleton. Then moved to Jon Levin, who repped writers, producers, directors and actors.  I left CAA to work for Bill Broyles, right as Apollo 13 started shooting.  It’s now been 21 years!

For six years you worked with screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. (Apollo 13, Castaway, Entrapment) Did you ever think about setting up your own agency?

No, honestly, having worked with the most successful agents in the world, I realized I didn’t have the drive for the business aspect of Hollywood that I would need.  And I need too much sleep.  When I worked at CAA, I interviewed the really successful agents. They all slept 4-5 hours a night.  They started their mornings reading, had coffee meetings, rolled calls on the way to work, worked all day, lunch meeting, dinner meeting, screening, gym, read some more.  You cannot believe how hard these people work.  I thought about producing, because I love working with the writing, but after working on set on Entrapment, around the clock, watching the producer and her endless, tireless drive, working 20 hours a day, sometimes more, never giving up, I didn’t feel that was my place either.  Unless, maybe, it was my own project.  I am a writer at heart.  I am grateful for the birds-eye view I have had in the business, and you never know what will happen. There was a CAA t-shirt when I first started.  On the back it said, “what I really want to do is direct.”  You never know.

You have been in many script meetings with A list actors and producers. What did you learn in those situations? Is there any one aspect of script development which continually rears its head in those meetings?

I keep referencing how hard people work. How relentless they are. How absolutely tireless.  The script meetings on Entrapment, which was in production, with two different directors, would go for eight to ten hours.  There could be an hour spent on four lines.  Brainstorming, arguing, reinventing.  Whole chunks of story will be dumped just to imagine a different, better way.  The writer will ultimately have to make sense of it all.  It is an amazing balance, to be open to totally reinventing, to not be attached, but to hold the structure and backbone, however it shifts, and make sure all those creative minds don’t explode the piece.  So I would say you have to be masterful in the story process, totally open, totally unattached, but know that you are the one that will have to make it work. You have to have unwavering confidence.  Then, when everyone has gone home, and you hold your head in your hands, you have to have chops, commitment, and courage.


What would you say is the weakest part in the majority of scripts by new writers? Tone, structure, character, pacing, scene length, description, introduction of characters?

There is the problem with story, then there is the problem with execution, and they are, of course related.  I would say, in general, what I see is a problem with the lack of compression which comes from a deep understanding of your story and characters.  This is why rewrites, and distance, make writing so much more powerful.  This is true even for seasoned writers, but it is really true for newer writers. A “seasoned” writer’s first draft, is the cumulative product of thousands upon thousands of hours of practice. Even then, a “first draft” is usually, for a pro, more like a fourth, or sixth, or tenth draft.  The first challenge is constructing a story that has power.  It starts with the heart of the idea. What does the character go through and why do I want to see the movie?  What will it do for me?

I think we forget to imagine ourselves in the theater and wonder, am I enjoying this movie?  Am I holding my breath?  What scenes do I see? Am I going to run home and tell my friends about it? Will I laugh or cry?  It comes to scope, in a sense.  This is why producers and buyers want loglines and the “one-sheet,” the picture of the movie.  It’s not because they don’t want complex stories.  They want the crystallization of the story.  I think, number one, writers don’t think big enough, grand enough, and REALLY see their movie on the screen.  It doesn’t have to be a “blockbuster” story.  Little Miss Sunshine is a classic example of a small story that made a big movie.  The scenes were entertaining, surprising, moving.  What it really means is questioning if your story will really MOVE people.  Entertain them.  Capture them.  If you have that story, that is the beginning.  You should have studied structure enough, through screenplays you love and books that speak to you, to have internalized how to create the story, then you learn by trial and error as you go.  You build it, and things happen as you build it, and surprises come, and you find out more about your characters. The story changes.  Then you refine it.  You test it against the structures you understand.  You can use Aristotle, Chris Vogler, Save the Cat, your own poetics.  Everyone has their own process.  Some people can do this in their heads.  But most writers stop far short of refining their work until it is so compressed the story literally bubbles out of the scenes.  I actually think screenwriting is more akin to poetry than it is to any other kind of writing, because done well, a picture paints a thousand words.  I love this quote from Stephen King: “An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”  

To directly answer your question, all of those things you mention:  tone, structure, character pacing, scene length, etc…these are all the tools of the trade, and you have to be good at all of them.  That said, I would probably rank tone as the least realized aspect of writing for new writers.  A great writer friend of mine said, “tone is the fence within which you build your story.”  If you don’t know your tone, you don’t know what your story is about, you don’t know who’s telling it, you don’t know your genre, you don’t know what you expect people to feel, and I would say you don’t know how YOU feel about your story.  I have spent many a conference devoted almost entirely to answering those questions.

Do you think a writer can learn everything from one source / influential writer or do you feel writers are better at being scavengers, grabbing what they can from anywhere?

Read screenplays.  Lots of them.  Read great ones.  Read them all from one writer, and then read more.  Watch movies.  Break them down..


During those years working with William? How did a normal day work out?

Bill cut his teeth as a journalist, and has a tremendous work ethic.  I kept regular hours, 9-6, Monday through Friday.  During regular research and creation time, his hours were similar, structured around meetings, research, initial writing, ideas.  I had assignments, and would put together chunks of research for him, depending on what we were working on.  We worked on lots of projects that didn’t get made–westerns, World War II movies, a Vietnam movie, a story about teaching creationism in the schools, a submarine movie, and others–as well as Cast Away, Planet of the Apes, Entrapment, Unfaithful.  As he would get closer to building his early drafts, he would work in greater, longer spurts, often before I got there, and long after. I would find a draft on my desk when I arrived in the morning, completed in the wee hours. Sometimes he would ask me to read specifically–for one character, a story arc, a story line.  Typically, though, he would just say “read for everything.”

As for his process, sometimes the studio wanted an outline, sometimes not.  He wrote in chunks, sometimes acts, sometimes other sections.  He would print it, read it, take another pass, give it to me.  I would read it, give notes, give it back to him.  It was a loop.  Then he would add more, go deeper into the story.  Finally it would turn to whole drafts, and the whole process continued, in an expanded version, usually up until the very last deadline.  Bill is a layering writer.  His early drafts are more sketches, then the characters and story deepen as he goes. After he turned in a draft to the studio or producer, he would get notes, and I would do notes on the notes.  I was privy to the vision of the studio, the director, producer, and Bill, and my job was to try in any way I could to support, remind, or, possibly, gently suggest if something didn’t seem to be working. Bill thrived on deadlines.  We would work until the very last moment on every script, and I can’t tell you many times, I am not kidding, I literally chased the FedEx driver down the street to catch him in time to get Cast Away off.  When we were in production, as on Entrapment, it was totally different.  Fox flew us to London, twice, where we had story meetings with the actors, producers, directors. They might go, as I said, 10 hours.  We went to locations.  Bill had personal meetings with different principles.  We worked until 3 in the morning, up at 5, back at it again.  Then back to meetings, more feedback, more ideas.


The film ‘Castaway’, you have written about the many drafts that were written for that film. What was it that nailed the final version? 

Cast Away was a very complex movie to make, and a lot of factors contributed to its ultimate production.  The very first draft Bill turned in was “greenlit.”  That draft was beautiful and poetic, but not enough of the story was externalized.  Tom Hanks responded to every draft, as one of the producers.  He knew he had to carry the whole movie.  I have said there were a hundred drafts to Cast Away, and there were.  When I read it now, the pieces are just so incredibly compressed, explosive.  In earlier drafts, we saw Chuck try to kill himself.  In the shooting script, it is told in passing, as Chuck has to go to the scariest place he knows, the scene of his own near death, to find not only the metaphorical strength but the material goods to fight his way off the island. The scene, structured this way, gave his character something to show in conflict, by arguing with Wilson, by revealing.  It took an actor of Tom Hanks’ caliber to play these moments.  There are many more like this.

There used to be a Good Chuck/Bad Chuck on the raft.  All of those fears and conflict got rolled into the scenes on the island, just bubbling out.  The first draft took Chuck through all the stages of creativity, including music, not just cave painting.  In the shooting script, you see the weight of the senselessness of his creativity if no one is there to experience it.  The whole series of paintings shows his endless long days, and how long it had been since he gave up.  Other pieces–visual pieces–added so much to the story.  Bob Zemeckis drove by a truck full of portapotties on the 101 near Santa Barbara, and called Bill to tell him he had the inspiration for the sail.  The irony that the waste of humanity, in every form, would save Chuck, is just nauseatingly delicious. It also gave a nice story point, why then, why was he able to escape then?  Years of development, six of them, distilled the story until every scene, especially on the island, crackled.  Not all of the drafts were productive. I am sure Bill would tell you it did not always feel like it was moving in a good direction.  It was painful.  But the details just kept getting stronger.

When I was on the set and saw Chuck swimming up from the airplane crash, and saw he had only one sock, I was awestruck. It was so visceral, to know that he would be facing four years with only one sock.  No socks.  Bare, naked, tender feet. When Chuck has to take Al’s shoes, the shoes of a dead man, and cut them so his feet will walk in them…these moments are, I think, what made the movie work. They are powerful story points, but the metaphor creeps inside of you.  It was there from its first draft, but the powerful, visual details that had to emerge, the compression and explosion of the story, that moved it forward.  And yet, even when the script was there in every way, the movie fell apart again.  It took the creativity of the business side of filmmaking to make the movie happen.  I won’t pinpoint who deserves the final credit for this, but the producers and filmmakers finally realized that the real stopping point was in the physical production.  How can they shoot a movie that requires such a huge weight loss, that is not gradual?  The lightbulb went off, the earth shook, and they put together a deal for Bob Zemeckis to shoot a movie in between, giving Tom Hanks the time to make those changes.  It was a miracle.


In your own work, how many weeks do you spend on research before you start to write? I find that one can prevaricate by spending another day or week in the library.

I tend to research as I build the story. I have written so much that is personal, so much of what I already know, that I don’t always do much initial research.  I research as needed. Nothing is more satisfying to me than struggling for a line or an idea, googling it, and nailing it!  It might be more useful to know how Bill Broyles did it, as he is a master.  He had an amazing capacity for absorbing material.  He also, perhaps because of his journalist background, had a very strong radar for what he needed.  He was incredibly disciplined and did not waste time on what he did not need.  He did not get distracted.  I learned so much from him that way.  I developed a laser sense of what I need for a story, and it translates to a sense of what the story needs for itself.  I would say do not spend more than three weeks researching.  Then get to work, and you will find what you need.

When you worked in Los Angeles you must have seen a script or two going nowhere turn into something exciting? What was it that ignited the script? A new character, a single scene … A simple addition to the plot?

Actually, I can’t say I saw that happen. Mostly I saw really good scripts that couldn’t quite find their way to financing.  What I did see was the power of tenacity.  When I first started at CAA, the Farrelly Brothers were hip-pocketed clients, and Dumb and Dumber was a script that was trying to find its footing.  The producer, Charles Wessler, was an absolute ramming machine.  He had a great script, lots of people loved it, but it couldn’t quite find the right packaging, and was not being prioritized.  He was relentless.  The agents worked at it, but he found an ally in one of the assistants.  She has her own story and I won’t tell it here.  Suffice to say that with a great script, and the power of tenacity, Dumb and Dumber went on to be the blockbuster we know it as.

What is the biggest mistake made by writers who are trying to break in?

Thinking it has to happen right now, that you are running out of time, that you are getting too old, that other people are taking your place.  That belief is what gets everyone in trouble.  Think about how you would approach screenwriting if you did not think you were running out of time? Or that someone would steal your idea?  You would read great scripts, lots of them. You would see movies. You would break them down.  You would see the ones you love over and over.  You would steep yourself in the craft of it.  You would invite your movie idea in and enjoy it, roll it around in your head. You would sit in the movie theater and imagine your scenes up on the screen.  What do your characters need to be doing that will thrill your audience?  You would take the time to write the story you love, know your characters.  You would not be afraid to change things, let go, rewrite.  You would believe in yourself.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Just do the work.  Deeply.



    Sheila Gallien:


     Consultancy offer:

http://sheilagallien.biz/2-for-1-consult-special-til-   jan-7

‘Forward To Camelot’ ~ interview with Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn

What drove you to write ‘Forward to Camelot’; was it to get at the truth or simply that it would make a good story?

Susan: This was definitely something I was driven to do. On some level the assassination has been part of my deep consciousness all my life (I was six when it happened), and after seeing Oliver Stone’s JFK the desire to write about it just burst out of me—specifically, the desire to go back and keep it from happening. I don’t think we ever thought about getting at the ultimate truth—though we did research in depth, and I think we found a lot of truth there; but to me, the more important truth was finding a way to save the president through the confines of what we knew—all the danger, all the fear, all the forces ranged against him.

Kevin: I don’t think there is any way we’ll ever know the full truth about who did what or why.  I was really in this for the story, since a treasure a hunt for a rare artifact linked to the most memorable day of the 20th century is a great hook.  More so, I grew up with the JFK legacy and always saw him as larger-than-life, a great leader who had incredible character in the time of crisis.  The chance to write about him and explore that character close-up was also a big reason for taking on this project.


How many weeks did you spend on research before started to write? 

Kevin: Oh, we wish it were only weeks of research!  Susan and I spent almost four years researching Forward To Camelot, all of it done in the days before the Internet. We did phone interviews, tore through newspaper archives, read almost every book on the assassination we could find, spoke to historians and key figures of the day.  We were determined to have our facts right, and most importantly, we needed to know as much as possible about the historic figures we were using as characters.  We had to understand JFK, Lee Oswald, Jackie Kennedy and LBJ as PEOPLE before we could properly use them as characters, otherwise our readers wouldn’t be emotionally connected or invested in the story.

Did you go to Dallas during the research?

Susan: Yes, I’ve been to Dallas several times, and met Marina Oswald and others who were involved in these events. I was in Dealey Plaza in 1993 on the day they dedicated it as a historic site. To this day, whenever I’m in Dallas I always go to Dealey Plaza, to pay my respects.

Kevin says: For this edited version, I went to Hyannis in Cape Cod, where the Kennedy’s grew up.  It was surreal, this small summer town that hasn’t changed very much.  I felt as if any moment I would see Jack and Bobby Kennedy walking down the street or to the small church where they worshipped. It was both an eery and inspiring aura, something I’ve never felt before or since.

How easy it for two writers to work on the same novel? Where you e-mailing each other or both in the same room?  

Kevin: Susan and I both lived in New York when we began developing the concept, so at first we were together often. Susan moved to Chicago and I also moved, so after that it was a lot of extremely long hours on the phone talking plot, story and character.  The creation of email made things so much easier but we were already well into the process when that happened.

There are good and bad things about writing with a partner.  When you’re both going good, things are easy and sometimes one partner can carry another if they’re having a bad day.  Then there are days when you’re both spinning your wheels but suddenly one good notion can turn a bad session to great one.

The hardest part of collaboration is for one writer is to give up creative control.  There may be two writers but there can only be one voice. Since we had a female protagonist, it was a natural choice Susan would be the final voice.  So you have to know going in that at some point, everything you do will be re-written and maybe cut if it doesn’t fit that voice.   The same applies to choosing plot or story. Whoever has that voice is going to have the final say.  There has to be someone to break the ties and there are no referees in writing.  Neither partner always gets their way, and coming to a creative compromise can trigger battles.  They happen in the best of partnerships.  The most emotional scene in ‘Forward To Camelot’ was the result of the most hard-fought, months-long creative conflict Susan and I have ever had.

Did you write a treatment or a plot outline for Forward to Camelot?

Susan: We had to, for this book. Though I like flying by the seat of my pants for most novels, the plot for this one was so complex and we had such a stringent timetable to adhere to that we needed the safety net of a well-planned outline. We had characters moving all over the place, and we had to be sure of who was where at all times. We also had many plot points to tie up. The outline was a must but it took Kevin and me a couple of years just to get that done. We went over every single step of the story and character development before we wrote a word of the manuscript.

Had you decided how your story was going to play out or did your characters’ choices change as you did the research?

Kevin:  Our characters’ choices changed as we’d write.  We’d write something or consider a plot point, then say ‘wait, that can’t happen that way‘ because it would conflict with something we’d already written, didn’t ring true to the character, or quite often conflicted with the actual history of the time.  We stuck to actual history and timeline as much we possibly could and that mantra often restricted character choices or plot decisions.  In the end it paid off, for the blending of fact and fiction is almost seamless.

Who was the most difficult characters to write?

Susan: By far, the toughest characters to write were President Kennedy and Lee Oswald. We found in our research that they were both elusive men; they weren’t easy to know, even though we had photographs and film and audio footage of both, along with hundreds of books and articles. We were truly trying to write them as they were, which was made more difficult by the contradictory accounts we read. It was especially interesting that people who met Lee Oswald casually or knew him apart from the assassination all said more or less the same thing: he was polite, well-spoken, well groomed and intelligent.  Only people close to the assassination in some way painted him as violent and crazy.

With JFK, revisionist historians have essentially told us he was shallow, soft, a product of his family’s PR machine, a serial adulterer and more. Except for the adultery, the rest is so not true. But if you can make him look worthless, then why does it matter how he died?

It’s especially interesting how much alike JFK and Oswald were. They were both avid readers, thinkers, passionately interested in politics, dominated by a parent (Oswald’s mother, JFK’s father), ex-military, involved at some point in ONI (JFK during WWII, Oswald during his military service and probably afterward), both in unhappy marriages but genuinely loving fathers. If they’d ever met, I think they’d have liked each other, and in our story, they do.

6 – Had you worked together before starting this novel? 

Kevin: We’d worked together as screenwriters and shared a great sense of story, so we were always comfortable working up ideas as a team.  Our writing styles compliment each other well, where Susan is strong on characters and I’m strong on action or emotional beats.   Our devotion to story always carries us; if something doesn’t work for the story, we won’t use it.  That’s an unwavering rule for each of us individually and as a team: if it doesn’t work for the character or the story, it doesn’t work at all.

Did you split responsibilities 50/50 as you wrote? Did one of you write while the other chased research? 

Kevin: We split the research evenly, and sometimes we’d overlap each other as far as what we’d discover.  For the early drafts, Susan worked mainly on character & character scenes while I handled the development of the action sequences, like the rescue at Love Field, the time travel concept and the final scene in New Orleans.  I tend to write more thrillers and action-based sequences, so this was natural for me.  While Susan did the yeoman’s work of actual writing and re-writing to maintain a singular voice & style, I took on the burden of editing when it came time. So each of us had a turn at the main chair in addition to the elbow to elbow work.

‘Forward to Camelot’ was first published in 2003; you have rewritten it for the 2013 edition. What, if anything, did you change for the new edition? Did you unearth new research?

Kevin: Shortly after original publication, we learned the true whereabouts of JFK’s Bible, the artifact that triggers the entire story.  The Bible had been secreted away among President Lyndon Johnson’s personal possessions and wasn’t discovered until after his death.  An offer to return the Bible to the Kennedy family was declined, so the Bible now sits on display in the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

The odd caveat is that through all our hard work and research at the Kennedy Library, The Library of Congress and countless other sources, no one could tell us where the Bible was.  Seeing our missing treasure featured as part of a trivia question on the game show ‘Jeopardy!’ was a bizarre but hilarious ending to our quest.  We address this in more detail during a new Afterword in Forward To Camelot (50th Anniversary Edition). That was the major piece of information added to the new edition.

The writing is a fast paced style which doesn’t hang around each scene too much. Do you write all your novels like that or did you adapt your style to the story?

Susan: Every story demands its own style, though I believe in keeping things moving, no matter what genre you’re in. This is true of my love story, ‘Stealing Fire’, and my self-help novel (co-authored with Ron Doades), ‘Realizing You.’ You know what your point is, get to it quickly and get on to the next one.

This summer, during the revision of ‘Camelot’, Kevin helped enormously by telling me I tended to write everything twice, and he was right: I did it once for setup and then again for dramatic effect. Just eliminating all that unnecessary repetition did wonders for the pace of the book.

Kevin: I’ll always write ‘long’ for an early draft of a script or novel, just let the writing flow and whatever comes out on paper, so be it. Editing is a strength for me, honed from screenwriting and long days in production, where video & film editing creates a whole new perspective on trimming a story. While many writers nibble or prune at their work and consider it ‘editing’, I’m able to look at a piece objectively, then cut and slash without losing any of the story’s core or flavor.  As Susan often hears me say, ‘we can’t drain the swimming pool with a straw.’   So it’s really a process for me, writing, cutting and re-cutting until everything is lean and tight.

Any tips for new writers embarking upon a historical novel? 

Susan: Have a working computer and a good Internet connection—research is key to writing a great historical. Use as much fact as you can, and only invent fiction when you have to. We found amazing bits of history no novelist had ever used before, just because we were willing to keep plowing. The more you let your subject lead you, the better your novel will be.

Kevin: Do your homework. Research is vital.  You’ll find great pieces of history or character you can use to flavor the story, and make the reader feel as if they’re really part of the time you’re writing about.  True facts can also be great doorways into your fiction; For us, Lee Harvey Oswald never met JFK, but uncovering the little-known fact that Kennedy was protected by firefighters in his hotel on the night before his assassination (his Secret Service detail had snuck out to a local bar for a few drinks) provided the chance to bring Kennedy face to face with his would-be assassin.  With the facts supporting the fiction, it became plausible and we made it believable. Be wary, though, for two reasons:

You don’t want to use so much historical fact that your story bogs down or loses it’s edge completely. Nancy Bilyeau (“The Crown”, “The Chalice”) is great at blending fact with fiction into her narrative. Susan and I made the conscious choice to stay as close to factual history as possible in the plotline, and frankly it drove us nuts.  We always made our fiction fit the facts, but there were some bouts of sheer madness trying to make the pieces fit and still be logical.

Your first duty is to the story.  Never let the facts get in the way of a good story; take creative license when you must so long as it is not too far-  fetched. Accuracy will help people learn about the era or people, but ultimately novelists are storytellers first, not historians.

The Warren Commission into the assassination of JFK is 899 pages. I suspect you didn’t plough your way through every statement?

Susan: The Warren Report is pretty much a lie from beginning to end, so we didn’t spend much time on it. What’s important about the Warren Commission is the amazing data they gathered and published (some of which directly contradicts their own Report). In addition to the Report, the Commission also published 26 volumes of supporting documents. Those documents are gold. The Commission pretty much counted on no one ever reading them, but people did, and their doubts about the lone-assassin theory just grew and grew.

Researchers have found tons of amazing evidence in the exhibits, including the fact that Oswald was taught Russian in the military—but as he was a radar operator, why would he need it? (The fact that Oswald later defected, supposedly on his own, and lived in the Soviet Union for two years, is some huge coincidence? I think not.)

How about the testimony of Bobby Hargis, the motorcycle cop who was riding to the left of and slightly behind the presidential limousine?

At the moment of the head shot, Hargis was hit on the right side of his helmet with blood and brains so hard he thought for a second he had been shot. If he was behind the president and to JFK’s left (and it’s in the Zapruder film), and the fountain of blood sprayed at him from the right front, then by the laws of physics, the shot itself could ONLY have come from the right and front as well (ie, behind the picket fence on the Grassy Knoll). That proves there had to have been a 2nd shooter; all that is in the Warren Commission exhibits.

Kevin: Susan told me the Warren Report was one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced.  I skimmed some pages and decided she was right.

Review of the book here:



Ron Taylor, November 2013

The Day the Houses of Parliament set on Fire


The Houses of Parliament were on fire in 1834. It is possible that Turner (painter), Constable (painter), and probably Dickens (writer) were all on a street corner watching the place go up in smoke. Imagine those three, as they watch it burn, chatting about who would get a creative work about the fire out first ….

I think Turner won that one.