On Not Working In Britain, Where I Live
I’ve been absurdly lucky in my work, and find myself in the bizarre position these days of being co-producer and sole writer on a hit streaming television show. So when someone sent me this story about the BBC throwing a big party to persuade people that the BBC is a better choice than Netflix and asked if I knew anything about it, I had to smile. I don’t get work in Britain.
At a lavish party at London’s Sky Garden bar, overlooking some of the capital’s biggest landmarks, the BBC attempted to lay down a significant marker as the competition for Britain’s brightest creative minds becomes increasingly intense.
BBC director of content Charlotte Moore appealed to the audience to bring their best work to the BBC, where she said they will be rewarded with a big platform, risk-taking and unrivaled creative freedom.
With an eye on the streaming giants, she said the BBC’s TV channels and “human”-curated iPlayer, “won’t let your work disappear without a trace down the back of a global VoD library.” And in a nod to the mega overall deals, Moore added that “we don’t want to own you” – instead, she said, “you get to own your program and your IP.”
She continued: “We’re not driven by commercial imperatives. We’re here to back the stories that, frankly, the market isn’t ready to support.”
That does sound nice. Just like it was nice that one time I went to a book launch in London (Nick Harkaway very kindly invited me to the launch for GNOMON) and I met some agents who said they had heard of me and were very nice to me and did a good job of seeming very confused when I explained that, no, I am not published in the United Kingdom, because no UK publisher wants to publish me.
I mean, GUN MACHINE was a New York Times bestseller, NORMAL was an Amazon Top 100 book for its year, I’m doing okay. This isn’t a poor me. Probably 20 million people watched season 2 of CASTLEVANIA in its initial launch window (some analytics say 24 or even 28 million, but I am skeptical). My usual line, when asked, is “I can’t get arrested in this country.”
Just the other day, a young man emailed me to ask how I got work with DC and Marvel in the US when, like him, I’m based in the UK. And the actual answer to that is, well, they were the only people who wanted it. A British comics editor had told me that I was “kind of competent” as a writer but should consider a career elsewhere because I was never going to be good enough for comics. I’m sure many people still agree with that assessment.
The BBC is one of the great wonders of the world and I love it and always daydreamed of creating something for it, but I can’t help but wonder: if you’re throwing a fancy party for the famous people in the same club as you, what are the odds they are all already famous enough to have their own Netflix deals? I guess that was the point of the event. I wonder how many people like me there are, who never found out about the club, never got invited to enough book launches, and just went where the work was.
Even my British-based works get picked up for development by US television companies.
So I’m invisible in my own country. When BBC 6Music asked me to come on, I had to check they didn’t mean the other guy. (It is, in my defense, usually the case.) (It’s fine!) And I made my peace with that a long time ago. But it is a little weird to be sent an article like that, and know that you’ll never be invited to that party; that you’ll never count as one of them.
Which is why I just concentrated on being me instead, running my own shitbox empire from out here on the Thames Delta, just about an hour and fifteen minutes away from the Sky Garden.