Reading 2000AD, I was always fascinated by the "Credit Card" accompanying each strip, which listed the writer's name. Who were Alan Grant, John Wagner, TB Grover, and Pat Mills? How come the artist didn't just make up the words too?
Doctor Who Weekly was particularly important to me, and it was - and still is, as Doctor Who Magazine - the only publication to really shine a spotlight on TV writers.
Planet of Death on the ZX Spectrum was the first game I remember playing which had a story, of sorts. A text adventure, it was potentially the first time I ever read a story told entirely through words. And, as a wise man once said - the pictures were so much better.
So, I suppose I've always had a fascination with writing and writers, but for much of my life it never seemed to me like something I could do, or would want to do. And yet here I am at the ripe old age of 83; a games journalist - of sorts - since the age of 21, and a TV scriptwriter since my late-20s.
I don't tend to write or talk about my day job very often. People tend to have one of two reactions - jealousy, as if the simple fact of saying you're a writer is somehow showing off - or fascination, as if it's the single most exciting job in the world.
The reality is quite different. And as I'd had a few requests from people asking about what we writers do, I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about how I got here, and lob in a few of the lessons I've learned along the way. I hope it isn't boring!!!!!
The fact I never saw myself as somebody who could write is perhaps why I've never allowed "writer" to become my identity.
Many writers I've met will place that at the forefront of who they are. No job has ever defined me, and writing - which really is my job, rather than my life - is no different.
There are a lot of bad writers working today, though. They think they can do it - and because they're dogged, they might get the work - but being completely honest it's not a job that everyone is suited to. It can be relentlessly battering, and I've known good writers who simply can't take those knocks.
However, I can normally spot someone who possesses that writing gene from something as simple as how they can construct a sentence. Yet it's rare to get someone who can do it, who will also be ignorant and stubborn enough, like me, to actually push through the negatives.
I don't tend to think my brain is wired any differently to other people, but many close to me have taken issue with that statement, when I've raised it.
Trying to look objectively, I'm clearly capable of juggling a lot of batons at once. Ideas do spill out of me, and - even if you just look at Digi2000 alone - clearly, I write copiously. For me, writing is just a method of conveying ideas, whether that writing comes in the form of a games review, a script, a comic strip, or prose. Once those ideas pop into my head, I have to get them out. It's how I imagine it must be to suffer from Tourette's syndrome.
TITTYBOLLOCKS! WOOF! OI!
At school, I enjoyed writing stories in English, but my grasp of language let me down. Plus I would rush, my handwriting becoming illegible as I tried to get the ideas out of my head as quickly as possible. And I still do that - thank Wozniak for word processing software, otherwise nobody would be able to tell what I was on about.
It's why I always gravitated more towards Art than English - back then, I found it quicker to portray an idea visually than through words. I finished my six hour Art O Level in about ninety minutes. And rather than draw a straightforward woodland scene, like we'd been told to, I put a creepy druid in it. Holding a dagger. And I did it in pastels rather than paint, because I knew it'd help me get out of there as quickly as possible.
Looking back now, I tended to avoid the obvious, because of my short attention span. I always wanted to create new stuff, rather than pay obvious tribute to things that already existed, which might bore me. When I entered a holiday camp fancy dress competition, my friend and I dressed up as a pair of super-heroes: Super-Twit and Dum-Dum. We didn't win, perhaps because the judges couldn't understand why we hadn't just dressed up as Batman and Robin or A Soldier like all the other kids.
The first scripts I wrote were weird little comedies that I'd record with friends on a cassette deck I got for my twelfth birthday.
Then I gravitated to cartoon strips, initially influenced by comics like Whizzer & Chips, Topper, Krazy and Nutty. Bananaman was a big favourite.
But then I started getting more peculiar with my ideas, feeling constrained by the concepts of other people. I created strips with names like Knife & Wife, Superflooseman, Norman The Foreman. I'd make fake newspapers and magazines, and get my dad to photocopy them at work.
I'd draw multiple comics on sheets of A3, and have the characters spilling out of the panels, interacting with one another. Inspired by the likes of Python and The Young Ones, I tried to break down the walls of the existing format, for my own entertainment.
In my last couple of years at school I began writing my Hoon Shows - full of Pythonesque whimsy, which my friends and I would put on in lunch breaks and end-of-term assemblies.
Once I left school, inspired by 2000AD and Deadline, I dreamt of being a comics artist, and drew strips almost constantly. But I told myself it was always about the art - at least consciously. Only now do I realise that I rarely drew or painted anything which wasn't underpinned with a story.
I once created a Dark Knight-esque take on The Wizard of Oz, which featured a Munchkin Town populated by miniature Doctor Who actors. I showed it off to the editor of 2000AD at a comics convention, who was kind enough to invite me to his office, where he gave me a Judge Dredd spec script to illustrate.
Which I then ballsed up in spectacular style by overthinking it; something I've done more than once when given a big break. The story was about a demonic motorbike, with a malfunctioning AI - it eventually appeared drawn by a different artist, if you want to track it down.
I got a job as a graphics artist, for which I made silly little cartoons rather than the straightforward animated horses they'd required... and then another, and then another - this time for Teletext. Somehow it never dawned on me that I'd ever be a writer, or would ever want to be.
And then I stumbled into Digitiser. And discovered what had been staring me in the face all along: that I loved writing more than I did drawing.
The first script Tim - you know him as Mr Hairs - and I wrote together was called We Two Vets.
It was a shamelessly dark and weird radio sitcom about a megalomaniacal vet and his idiot assistant. Fairly wanton with its animal abuse - in one scene, and entire herd of cattle is chewed up by a combine harvester - there was no way it was ever getting made.
Pretty much every broadcaster and production company turned it down... apart from Planet 24 - where it had been read by one Robert Popper, and a man called Mark Freeland. I owe both my writing career. If they hadn't enjoyed the script enough to buy an option in it - £250 shared between Tim and I - I wouldn't have continued. Even though it never got produced, selling my first proper script was sufficient encouragement to keep me going.
When it was clear that it wouldn't get made, we wrote a couple of other scripts; one about a detective agency (Husk & Hornblower), and one about a pre-Yewtree 70s celeb trying to make a comeback (Bobby Carr is Coming Back).
I thought Tim and I would continue as a writing partnership - working with him, I thought, was what I enjoyed, rather than the writing itself - but when he disappeared to write his first travel book, I continued alone. And, surprisingly, found myself still enjoying it, once I got over the shock of abandonment.
What happened next took years, during which I continued with Digitiser, and Robert and Mark both continued to take chances on me. Robert - by then working at Channel 4 - commissioned me to write an animated Knife & Wife pilot for their Comedy Lab series (beautifully animated, but I lost my nerve and the writing wasn't up to snuff), and Mark - at Sky by this point - commissioned me to write a screenplay for a film called North of Watford. He also got me an agent into the bargain.
Then Robert put me in touch with a friend of his who was producing Sooty, and everything changed. From there I got work on My Parents Are Aliens, and that's when my career took off; those two shows really helped me to understand the language of script writing. By this point I'd fallen in love with the process, the rhythm of words. And in particular, I fell in love with writing for kids.
So, I've been lucky. I've worked on a lot of interesting shows, been up for some awards - and won some - and got to do some interesting things and meet some interesting people. But... I've worked for it. Really, really bloody hard. Because you have to.
Writing tends to get romanticised. Some writers play up to that tortured writer myth. Wandering on mist-shrouded moorlands, wracking their souls for inspiration. Cutting open their chests, and letting their heart bleed onto the paper.
Many writers are so consumed by the notion of writing that it's all they can write about - how many Stephen King stories have featured writers? How many movies are about writers?
Maybe it is a grand, meaningful vocation for some, but for most of us at the coalface - trying to make a living out of it, trying to pay mortgages and support families - it's just hard graft, like any job where you have to keep paddling to stay afloat.
There's a limited talent pool in the UK, and it's even smaller in kids TV where I do most of my work. Jobs are hard to come by, and so it's difficult to turn them down when they do arise. The first six months of any given year tend to be eyewateringly relentless - most kids TV shows film during the school summer holidays, see - while the latter half of the year is anxiety-inducingly barren. It often makes for a very insecure existence.
Which, y'know... isn't a whinge. Lots of jobs have the axe hanging over them. Pretty much any freelancer knows what I'm talking about. And at least I'm not working at an actual coalface.
But there's something about writing which induces insecurity; that mix of writing scripts being hard, with the fear that you'll never work again. Throw in script notes which scream that you can't do your job, coupled with trying to second-guess what's going to please your producers - rather than writing what pleases you - and it can prove toxic.
Most of the time, with a relatively successful career behind me, I don't suffer from the self-doubts which plague many writers; that sense you hear mentioned of "Waiting to be found out".
Largely, I know I'm decent at my job - and that's not arrogance. It's a simple fact that I have to be at least half-good in order to continue working, same as a bus driver needs to be decent at driving a bus.
But occasionally the doubts creep in, and all it can take is a couple of tricky scripts. Last year was a case in point. I had three scripts across two different shows that just weren't working. It didn't help that I think I was exhausted and burnt out from the previous year - in which I'd taken on far too much - and was worried about the questions swirling around the future of the BBC.
As a result, my usual mental resources weren't available, and I started to wonder whether I was ever going to write again. I became paranoid, insecure. And when that happens it has a knock-on effect... and it started to affect all the other scripts I was working on. I don't think I produced a single script last year that I was proud of. It was horrible.
Fortunately, the quiet Autumn which followed allowed me to regain some equilibrium. This year I'm working well, producing good stuff, and haven't taken on too much.
So, lots of people want to write, it seems. I can't speak for what drives them, their passion - that was never in me. But I can talk about what has worked for me. If all of the above hasn't put you off giving it a go... see how you swallow this lot - my tips for being a TV scriptwriter:
Write what you know.
The best writing has some degree of truth in it. Some emotional hook for the writer. To do it well, you'll end up strip-mining your emotional baggage, wringing dry every last anecdote, and writing versions of people you know into your stories. Even surreal comedy derives from personal experiences; you take what you know, and pump hallucinogenic drugs into it.
Read other scripts.
In my early days, everything I wrote read like a Bruce "Withnail & I" Robinson script. I loved his use of language, his poetic stage directions. Nobody else writes like that - as I soon realised - but through copying his style I learned to find my own voice.
Say yes to everything.
At least, say yes to everything early on. If I hadn't taken on Sooty - a job that some friends couldn't believe I'd accepted - I wouldn't have a career today. Also, the more work you do with different people, the more contacts you build up. Something I've learned from producers is that they like to work with the same people again and again.
The more producers and script editors you know - who like working with you - the more work you'll have. And the more work you have, the more secure you'll be. I don't know about other writers, but I write better when I'm happy and safe.
Don't be a dick.
Be easy to work with. Don't challenge every note. Don't miss deadlines. Don't dominate every meeting because you like the sound of your own voice. Don't gossip. Don't let your insecurity get the better of you. At least look as if you enjoy what you're doing.
It's important that people trust you to deliver the goods, important that you're a pleasure to be around. Working in TV is awful enough as it is without having to work with difficult writers. Being a professional writer will make you paranoid regardless, so try not to give yourself extra reason to be paranoid.
Buy the Final Draft software.
Seriously. Don't bother even trying if your scripts aren't properly formatted. It's unprofessional, it'll look like you don't know what you're doing.
Don't expect to be an overnight success.
It took me about six years, perhaps longer, to be able to make a proper living out of writing for TV. And during that time I was, for the most part, writing scripts every day. I was just on the verge of giving up - I'd stopped writing and sending out pilot scripts - when I got the call about Sooty. Make sure you keep writing - it's the only way to improve. If it's really what you want to do, don't give up.
Brace yourself for unemployment.
I'm never totally employed for 12 months of the year. I try to set enough plates spinning that I usually have something in development, but that can take years... during which time you might not earn a lot of money. When the phone doesn't ring for a while, it's easy to fear you'll never work again. Having something as a back-up can be useful.
Also, it's worth noting that I don't know a lot of old writers... I'm certainly at the upper limit of the age demographic. Not sure what that'll mean for me going forward. See? It's an insecure business.
Live your life.
It's a shame that holidays aren't really tax deductible - unless you can somehow spin them as "research" - because it's important to feed that creativity. I know when I'm a year away from my last holiday, because my batteries start running low.
Whenever I get back from a trip - particularly a place or an experience I've never seen before - it tends to sustain me for months. Having been away at Easter this year, which I don't normally do, I've noticed the positive affect it has had on my work. Try to stuff your life with as much experience as possible. Do new things. Go to new places. Feed your brain and soul.
Hollywood is mental.
I've had a couple of experiences with Hollywood, and both times I've come away reeling; "Whu... whu... what jussss happen??". Everything you've heard is true. One day they're telling you you're going to be the next big thing. The next they're not even answering their phone to you. Literally. It's bonkers.
And that's it, off the top of my head. That's all the advice I have. Let me know if you want me to talk about this stuff again, and whether this has been useful and interesting. I got a ton of it.
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - Part One by Mr Biffo