Monday, 17 December 2012


I don't normally do this, but at the request of the fabulous Screenwriting Goldmine, I've been asked to post some of the feedback I've received over the years for my Script Doctor services.... I'm blushing...

Matt Percival

"Cracking script coverage packed with good advice to help make it the best it can possibly be! “

Andy Smith

"Have to echo all the comments on here, Si's input on two projects currently in development, has been invaluable and, to be honest, absolutely essential. Thank you Mr Spencer! "

John Ellis

"More helpful than anyone I've come across in the biz for improving my script -- including my professional "friends." If you need someone to guide you into the deepest parts of your story, Si is the man! "

James Power

" Si has a rare gift for encouraging other writers to hunt for what is most crucial and interesting in a script. His notes are highly perceptive, concise, full of humour and are always helpful. Si has given me a master class in tv and film writing. Since working with him on a number of projects, I have been accepted on to a BBC academy and have completed several scripts for Channel four and the BBC. I am also developing a series for Sky. It has been a privilege working with him and I hope to do so again in the near future. "

Margarita Felices

""Thanks for the critique - exactly what I needed. You have inspired me to think a little more outside of the box with my genre and I am back at the keyboard enjoying my manuscript once again.”

Cllr Keith Martin 

" I've had Si's help on shorts, treatments and a screenplay. It's a pleasure to work with him. His expertise and experience is obvious. I cannot speak highly enough of Si's professionalism or his friendly and supportive editing and criticism. He is the bee's knees!”

Keith Storrier

“Si is a lot better at reviewing scripts than I am at reviewing script reviews (which is good for me, not so for Si). But here goes anyway... Si's review of my feature script was both honest and encouraging. After reading his notes I was re-energized, educated, uplifted, motivated, and lots of other positive sounding adjectives, and I got the impression that he was SINCERELY interested that I produce my best possible work as opposed to "Thanks for the cash, here's your notes, now piss off". He addresses both the good and bad points of your script (because you need to know what you're doing right as well as what your doing wrong). His suggestions for improvement are clear enough to be understandable but 'hands-off' enough to allow you room to maneouver (i.e. he doesn't write it for you). I'd have no hesitation in using Si's services again and recommending him to my struggling screenwriting chums.”

Adele Kirby

"As a dancer I paid for dance classes from a great dancer who didn't really know how to teach. As a horse rider I have, at times, paid for riding lessons from people who were better riders than coaches, or better coaches than riders. But luckily as I writer, I pay for what is essentially coaching from someone who is not only an excellent writer, but outstanding critiquer as well.

Si has assessed both my prose and scripts, and has not been afraid to throw down the gauntlet in either case. That can sting, but his enthusiasm for books and television imbues his reviews, as does his wide-ranging knowledge of both. He is able to look not only at the project as it is presented, but in the context of current, past and possible future trends and markets - ie what might happen when you get the damn thing finished, and how to maximise your chances of making those things happen. He talks about your project, in the real world, and I found that both daunting and exciting.

It's always a nerve-wracking process waiting for critiques to arrive, but in the end, I have found that Si provides a constructive road-map forward, identifying and highlighting potential in the projects that even I have not seen. He asks me to think bigger and better, and those are the challenges writers must always remember it is our duty to rise to.”

Peter Finlay

"So you've written the script that's been in your head for all that time and you let the trusted friend read it and even say "Tell me what you really think". If you're like me, your ego's been treated fairly well, but what you do next is a struggle, because all you've been told is what you probably already knew. So get the script to Si!

... He knows what he's talking about. I learned far more about my script in the time it took me to read his two page analysis than I'd figured out over the previous year. He won't re-write it for you, but he asks the questions about your plot and characters that you should probably have asked yourself. Plus, he has the skill and experience to point out, fairly gently, where you, if you'll forgive the pun, have lost the plot. I went back to my story with my enthusiasm doubled and am now half way through a re-write that is surprising me by what it's producing.”

Alexander Stewart

" If you need fair, constructive, honest, sensitive and an often brilliant review on your work, this is where you need to get your report. Simon's honesty and advice is exactly what I was looking for - to push me and my script into much better territory. It all chimed with the voice at the back of my head. Highly recommended.”

Markus Wills

"Was very impressed with the review, and most of all the honesty and advice that was given on all different aspects of my script. It’s the kinda stuff you wanna hear and learn off to make it as a writer, and it delivers just that.”
Mason Phillips

"The best aspects of Simon's appraisal were the honesty and insight. I don't want anything sugar-coated as that's not going to help me but I do want a tough message delivered with sensitivity. He's Good Cop, Bad Cop and Parole Officer rolled into one.”

Tara Byrne

“I was given my first commission by Si Spencer. I was nurtured through the process by him but he didn't make me feel like the 'new writer' or highlight my newbie mistakes. He encouraged me to put what I wanted to into the episode while he steered the structure and story to the best place”.

Sean Ryan

“Your review (of my work) was very detailed and very well written and much appreciated”.


P. Maher


“I am so grateful for the material you sent. A Master Class in screenwriting… your ideas are really resonating and hitting some very true notes in my mind… blooming genius”.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


I was an early reader, and a voraciously precocious one - Huxley and Orwell, Salinger and Asimov before the age of ten, intercut with Professor Branestawm, Uncle the Elephant and Molesworth. At puberty I discovered Catcher in the Rye and its infinitely more relevant and enriching British counterpart Billy Liar. In retrospect, in my current 'fine and joyous mood', those two books probably changed my life for the worse  more profoundly than if I'd been hit by a car or contracted polio.

There's a lot written and said in defence of books (and from hereon in, please assume the word to include all literature, art, comics and music), but increasingly in recent years I'm beginning to think they've ruined my life far more than any narcotic I've ever dabbled in, more than of my other dubious lifestyle choices. Indeed, I'm convinced that without books, I wouldn't have got anywhere near those unsavoury practices in the first place. Books are a gateway drug and sure, like cannabis, many people can happily read books for many years with no ill effects, but for a few of us, books and all those bastard siblings mentioned before are a life-destroying addiction.

I'm not being flippant here - I was an academically bright kid, above bright, I was in the top three of my peers and not merely artistically. I was a brilliant mathematician for my age, chemistry and biology, physical geography, geology and astronomy - I was well versed in all of them way above my years as a youngster. It was the astronomy that did it. Without the astronomy I would never have fallen for a small collection of short stories called 'The Golden Apples of the Sun'. Ray Bradbury, you horrible fucking mind-poisoner, you lied to me! I expected rockets and gravity and mechanics and you gave me murderers and relationships and religion and magic and hopes and dreams way beyond a normal person's aspirations. And you talked about Twain and Poe and Lovecraft and Shakespeare and so many other pushers of your twisted fantasist genre and sucked me deeper and deeper into your shooting gallery of dissolute strays.

Since then I've been bingeing on the lies of people who tell me that life is so much more dark or beautiful or sinister or kind, more glorious, more depraved, more rich and more infinite, in short more interesting than it actually is. They have reprogrammed my expectations till I now believe in ultimates of good and evil, that beauty exists, that honesty, decency and kindness are universal traits throughout humanity, but at the same time duplicity, corruption and self-interest are just as prevalent - worse I believe these things have structure, patterns and logic. I live in a life of narrative, light years from any concept of reality, just as sure as if I was permanently hallucinating on some psychotropic drug. I've dabbled in most narcotics to some extent or another (of course I have! Books told me it was okay! Books told me they were cool, sexy, enlightening!), but even during a brief dalliance with heroin, there were periods of lucidity and when it began to infringe on the reality of my social life and income, I gave it up with relative ease.... Oh but not this...

 Books never let you go; they're in your bloodstream all the time, more potent and more dangerous than any drug and while they feed you incredible highs and what feel like genuine emotional experiences, once you let fiction under your skin it takes over. Soon your politics, your emotions, your spiritual beliefs, your opinions on friends and all your human relationships become tainted by the disease. I do my damnedest to behave the way I believe my favourite characters will behave and am constantly amazed when the world responds differently.

Worse still, like one of those ridiculous ghosts or aliens that these horrible purveyors of unreality peddle, I've become part of the whole sick machine; my DNA is now programmed to think in narrative, character and structure. After 25 years of writing professionally, I genuinely can't even eat without it; it literally puts the food on my table... I'm a pod-person inhabited by the need to carry on the cycle of lies. Instead of being a doctor, or a chemist, or a pharmacist or a marine biologist or astronaut or any of the myriad of useful things that were potentially in my life's path before Books, I spend my days locked in my head constructing perfect murders, ideal fucks, imaginary people falling in imaginary love before their imaginary hearts are broken, I slice and dice, lick and suck and wound and savage and destroy... and then foist it on others to feed their habits. I live in a world of ghosts and mermaids and beautiful owls and demons and magick and endless similar bullshit while outside an entirely different universe kicks me around from pillar to post failing to grasp why I'm unable to comprehend it.

In short, I'm beginning to believe that Books have destroyed my life and my sanity and I fear that unlike other drugs, there is no withdrawal, no treatment program or rehabilitation.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Saturday, 12 November 2011



Thursday, 29 September 2011

100% Dynamite - Part 4

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
Okay, this one is unusual on many levels, not least because it's the first in the project that I'm not reading in translation, but also because Ms Lessing has a massive body of work behind her, so the choice was a little harder to make. I plumped for this - her 1950 debut novel and the one that instantly made her name, so for the first time (though obviously not the last) I'm reading something for this project with a substantial amount of age to it.
For the first time on this mission, I'm having to skew my perspective to a different generation, something that's especially important when reading 'The Grass is Singing' because it's written from the English perspective of a woman trying to expose racism and colonial exploitation at a time when even the concepts were still radical and fresh. It's very easy to be shocked by Lessing's casual use of the derogatory language of fifties Rhodesia, but at the time there simply was no other vocabulary for what are loosely seen as workers, but in effect are little more than indentured slaves (is that the right word? Or have I just given these slaves false teeth?). So a word of warning then; for all Lessing's clearly apparent political standpoint and her indictment of colonialism, this is a novel of its time and some of its language and attitude reflects that.
The rosy eye of hindsight aside however, the great news is that this is a real novel, in every traditional sense of the world; no imagined biography, no post-modern reinterpretations of mythologies; this is a structured story about people and events with a coherent narrative that uses a simple tragedy to highlight a greater injustice - it even starts with a murder.
In technical terms, this is well-familiar ground - a body dripping blood, a grieving husband and cops bundling a slamdunk perp into the back of a paddy wagon in handcuffs. This is 1950, and I suspect Lessing is as much enamoured of the writings of James M Cain and Dashiell Hammett as she is the political stance of Orwell and Huxley. In fact, speaking of Cain, there's something of the Mildred Pierce about the central character, Mary, albeit in a tragic and grim reversal of her story arc, the arc which the novel then elegantly and movingly lays out in front of us as back story, with the reader constantly aware that this is not going to end well.
As contemporary as the language, structure and style are however, there's clearly a sense that Lessing is tapping all the way back to the height of the English novel's development when it comes to character dynamics. There is much that harks back to the Brontes and Austen in the story of a woman of relative sophistication dragged from the best that Rhodesia has to offer as society into the bush through an unsuitable marriage. Similarly, we can recognise the twisting sexually-charged sado-masochistic power exchanges of Heathcliffe and Kathy or Rochester and Jane Eyre in Mary's relationship with houseboy Moses. Similarly, the relationship between Mary and her Jonah of a husband, Dick Turner is a shifting interplay that echoes back from the harridans and wounded heroines of Hardy and the weak patriarchs of Dickens.
Ultimately, that relationship and its repeated failures form the core of the novel - for all that the 'Grass is Singing' has some brutal lessons to impart about colonialism and the appalling treatment of subjugated indigenous human beings in the dying days of Empire, its true strength is in the paradox that the very people who are (quite literally) wielding the whip are as much victims of the great imperial lie as its more obvious sufferers. It isn't the blatant brutalities and sins of colonialism that bring the protagonists down though; there's no great revelatory moment of cruelty or revolution, rather a slow drip of unfortunate circumstance, imagined slights, minute human errors, each one slowly eroding the security and well-being of the central characters, clawing them downwards into catastrophe.
Dick has been raised to believe in the invincibility of the power of the English, the agri-technology of the industrial revolution and the god-given supremacy of the white man; Mary has been raised to believe that civilisation is ice-cool movie theatres, elegant doilies and a house full of children to prolong the long pink shadow of the empire. Thrown into a barely finished shack on barren and intransigent land with a surly work force who smell independence in every nation around them and a financial system weighing Steinbeck-like on their backs ready to foreclose and steal their land, the imperial dream becomes a sweltering fester of disappointment, impotence and infertility. It's a very human and familiar story that seems to play out decade after decade around the world; an epic dream sold as manifest destiny that ordinary real human beings could never possibly fulfill.
And yes, there's a bigger picture behind the failing farmstead; an allegorical overview of the imminent self-implosion of colonialism, no more vividly apparent than in Mary's death, but this is a work free from polemic; the characters whose attitudes and beliefs are loathsome when viewed from this side of a new millennia are frail sacrifices to their own false expectations and dreams and so hugely sympathetic as a result. Given its time of writing, this is an astonishing and subversive approach to Lessing's core message; the Britain of 1950 would never have countenanced or cared about a simple diatribe suggesting that colonialism was bad for Africans; the genius of the seemingly conventional and familiar melodrama of The Grass is Singing is that Lessing is warning the reader that imperialism diminishes the oppressor as much as the oppressed.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


SWALC - LORD CLYDE, ESSEX RD N1 SEPTEMBER 10TH 1PM - 6PM ( for contact details)

Book signings are like boring speed dates, conventions are just weird. Here's a chance to meet a bunch of writers and artists from a wide gamut of genres, media and backgrounds in a natural environment - the pub - and just sit and have a chat about their work.

Top writers, artists, comedians and musicians will be milling about happy to talk at length (within reason) to anyone about their work in that most wondrous of British traditions, the local pub, with great beers, good wine, excellent food, games, performances, competitions, bookstall and a convivial atmosphere with no walls between creators and guests.

here's the list so far...

Gail Renard - author of 'Give Me a Chance', her autobiographical account of spending 8 days at the John and Yoko bed-in as a 16 year old.

Nick Harkaway - author of 'The Gone Away World', an award-nominated masterpiece of a debut SF/fantasy novel, mixing political satire, high concept SF, comedy, killer mimes... breathtaking.

Rufus Dayglo - acclaimed artist on the still-going-strong cult classic comic heroine Tank Girl and keen taxidermy collector and illustrated man.

Jeff Povey - award winning short-film maker, novelist and staff writer on Eastenders, Holby and loads more.

Philip Gladwin - writer and editor and brains behind the brilliant writing program and website, Screenwriting Goldmine (its like Script Doctor, but professional and proper like)

The makers and some of the cast of Peacock Season, an astonishing feature-length comedy starring the cream of the british stand-up scene and made for an amazing £38 and a lot of favours.

The Comic Book Alliance - a whole swarm of Britain's comic artists signing their magnificent new anthology book 'Spirit of Hope', a fabulous creation raising money for earthquake victims in NZ and Japan.

Abigail Blackmore and the Blind Date crew. Blind Date is a brilliant short film that we'll be airing and its already won Audience Awards at the LA and Austin, Texas short film festivals.

Some idiot called Si Spencer who's done Grange Hill, Eastenders and the Bill as well as loads of comics inc. graphic novels The Vinyl Underground and Hellblazer: City of Demons, the first page of which is actually set in the snug bar of the venue

Webley Wildfoot, who was there at the birth of a 'well known spin off to a popular family SF TV show' and has documented the traumas of the event in his 'entirely fictional' work 'Torch, Wood & Peasants'.

There's music from Paul Mosley, without a doubt my favourite contemporay musician; imagine Nick Drake singing Tom Waits songs to the music from Bagpuss with a bit of electropop and Hi NRG thrown in.

Shooting schedule allowed, the brilliant Justin Edwards (Thick of It, Sorry I've Got no Head - everyting) singing a couple of comic songs, plus more music, some poetry and a Lennon singalong at the end... and I'm STILL waiting to hear from more folk, so it could get even bigger.

There's going to be a bookstall, so you can buy stuff and get it signed, but also a book drop - bring a novel you don't want, take one of out of the box for free. I'll try and organise a few games too and it would be BRILLIANT if people came in fancy dress as a fictional character. There'll be yummy-licious bar-snacks on sale all day and weather permitting a barbecue in the elegant seclusion of the beer garden.

All you've got to do is rock up and just chat to anyone you like. No formal signings, no lectures or seminars, just a day in the pub milling about chewing the fat, drinking of the beer and relaxing. And it's all FREE!!!!

Friday, 19 August 2011

100% DYNAMITE - The Nobel Project 3

The Desert by J.M.G. Le Clezio

So once again, I’m reading intercut dual histories, set many years apart, but Desert is a very different book to ‘The Way to Paradise’, dealing as it does with two anonymous and fictional unknown protagonists, their lives several decades apart somewhere in North Africa (and more on that ‘somewhere’ later).

The first narrative (which essentially forms a framing device for the second, longer story) concerns Nour, a young tribesman on an immense Saharan trek, following their Imam/tribal patriarch as many tribes flee white colonial oppression in the North to rendezvous at a sacred place to muster for an uprising. It’s an immense and incredibly moving story, a macrocosm rendered comprehensible by being seen through the eyes of a small boy, and it’s an all too familiar story of one of colonialism’s many ‘Trails of Tears’. Thousands upon thousands, dispossessed and unable to fully comprehend the futility of their situation, march in quiet optimism behind a leader who has never failed them – there’s a grim inevitability to the story as starvation, thirst and in-fighting slowly morph the optimism to desperation to nihilistic acceptance.

The second story takes place some decades later in a North African coastal shanty town, where a young girl, Lalla is undergoing an another all-too-familiar trope, the rite of passage from girl to woman. There’s no sense of hope here initially, only browbeaten resignation to the misery of the battered, fly-ridden shacks, the relentless heat and unchanging poverty. But Lalla dares to dream; she listens to the stories of the old fishermen who have travelled the world, she runs to the desert to the tribal vagabond kid she calls the Hartani and she dreams of the eyes of the mythical, mystic Blue Man.

Essentially the two narratives play as elegant counterpoint to each other; the slow erosion of hope and identity under biting desert winds played against the shanty girl whose imagination soars with the gulls and drives her to find an escape. And the links between the two characters, while never exactly delineated, are always clear. Lalla is a foundling, the daughter of a desert woman, Nour is among the last of the nomads. Le Clezio never fills in the precise drawstrings that connect the two, and the novel is all the better for that lack of exposition, because this is not a story about two heroes, but about nations, cultures, belief systems and histories – Lalla and Nour are simply our entry points and our exemplars.

But therein lies what was to me, a bothersome flaw to the novel. Le Clezio has chosen an epic, sweeping writing style, grandiose and majestic but deceptively simple in vocabulary. If Mueller uses the personal one-on-one familiarity of the classic fairy tale narrative, Le Clezio’s writing embraces the style of The Saga, or the Greek epic, where small stories are buried like mileposts in a vast plain of narrative. The problem with this style is that leaves no room for pesky little trifles like context and historical perspective. There are no dates, no recognisable place-names, no western historical indicators to tell us when and where this is happening. I absolutely understand that to have included too much of such detail would have been deleterious to the narrative style, but I found myself frequently wondering what the context was, which armies people were fleeing and when, and even where Lalla lives. It’s disorienting to be without a map or timepiece when you’re reading and while I applaud Le Clezio’s courage in rejecting these details, it made for a tough read – a two page foreword would have helped.

But that’s a minor quibble; this is a scorching novel, powerfully evoking the elements as human metaphor, personalising the political and painting the minutiae into a much broader tragedy of colonial evil.

Next Up: Hopefully more familiar ground with ‘The Grass is Singing’ by Doris Lessing