Storytelling With Tim Loane

The screenwriter on the risks and rewards of creative writing ahead of a masterclass at Cinemagic

'In many cases, I try to discourage people from pursuing a career in creative writing.' It is, perhaps, not the kind of line you want to hear from your creative writing teacher, but then Tim Loane understands the game better than most: the pressures and pitfalls, the impact of rejection, the intermittent success. It’s not an easy life, he stresses.

‘You have to be realistic. I often say to people, "Yes, you can dabble in creative writing for a laugh, but don’t expect that you’ll be taken seriously". There are so few careers in it. Like anything that involves the arts,’ Loane adds, pensively, ‘you certainly should not do it for financial reasons.'

And this coming from the man who created and wrote the decade-defining comedy drama Teachers for Channel 4. Loane has also written plays for stage and the silver screen, and directed the Dave Duggan penned Oscar-nominated short film, Dance Lexie Dance.

But then Loane is not talking down the line from a condo in Beverly Hills. He is, rather, recording his latest play for radio, working hard, collaborating with others, ensuring that the creative juices keep on flowing and that the jobs keep ticking over.

Yes, talent has played a large part in his success thus far, Loane admits, but hard graft and an enduring reliance on what he calls the ‘building blocks’ of the creative writer’s armoury have ensured that, whilst others have long since logged off and dropped out, Tim Loane has kept his foot in the door. Inspiration does not come to those who wait, he asserts, but to those who perspire to achieve it.

Loane has only begun teaching creative writing (scriptwriting) at Queen's University within the past year, but he has developed some solid theories on the subject in that time. 'You can teach the building blocks, and that's all you can do,' he proffers, and of aspiring writers: 'You must really, really want it.'

All too often, sceptics side with the students, arguing that creative writing cannot be taught, and dismissing the tactics and techniques employed by tutors. In the end, however, no matter what anyone thinks, students leave classes with an experience of feedback and in the knowledge that collaboration – with editors, with friends, with whoever under the sun will read their work – can and does make for a better, sharper writer.

But what, if anything, does the tutor get out of it – aside, of course, from a pay cheque at the end of the month?

'I have experienced the odd eureka moment,' says Loane, 'mainly at the start of a term. They are few and far between, I must admit. But success and a voice comes with hard work. It's like anything else, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. And to see my students work hard, sometimes that is its own reward.'

He will again stress that hard work and dedication are essential when he gives a 'creative storytelling' masterclass to secondary school students at the Cinemagic International Film Festival for Young People in Belfast on November 30. Those young guns in attendance, however, should not be put off by Loane's stark warnings. For Loane, ultimately the idea is the thing.

'Of course, the more life experience you have the deeper well you have to draw from when trying to articulate thoughts and feelings. But that’s not to say that a great idea can’t come from a young person who hasn’t done a lot of living.

'I would say that what makes somebody a good writer is discipine, and having a genuine interest in how to write. You're not writing to expose your soul or to try and articulate your darkest thoughts or innermost fears, it’s about being interested in and excited about the idea of writing. Life experience is one thing, imagination is another.'

Loane came to writing for television after writing for the stage. In 1988, he co-founded Tinderbox Theatre Company, one of Northern Ireland's most experimental companies, which remains 'dedicated to new writing'.

Acting has also helped Loane to better develop and portray the nuances and idiosyncrasies of his chosen characters on screen. He believes that an involvement in the performing arts, at whatever level, can provide aspiring writers with a sound jumping-off point.

So how does a typical day at the writing desk pan out for Loane? All writers come to the table at different times of day, and under different circumstances, as history shows.

Charles Dickens, for example, would follow his morning's work, holed up in his comfortable study, with a strict 13 mile walk to clear the head and maintain the figure. The likes of Stephen King (in the early days, at least), or any of the Beat writers for that matter, would invite the muse by drinking vast quantities of liquor or ingesting other intoxicants. Quentin Tarantino, meanwhile, began writing screenplays whilst working in a video shop in LA, with customers coming to and fro and his boss well out of sight, one would presume.

Loane, as you might expect, adopts a more prosaic approach. 'Very workmanlike,' he confirms. 'I have worked at home before, but now I work from my office, because I find that it helps to relocate to that work environment.

'I do the nine to five, because when you are writing for television there is always a deadline looming, so you need to put in the hours. Sometimes that discipline works, and sometimes it doesn't. One day you might write 20 pages, and on another you might write half a page – and realise the next day that it wasn't even worth the effort! But, as I said, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. There's no substitute for hard work.'

Creative Storytelling with Tim Loane is followed by a screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and a Q&A with Patrick Doyle at Odyssey Cinemas on November 30. Students attending must be 12 - 18 years of age, admittance £5.