With this year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival (2018) just around the corner, I thought I would share my first and only experience of the festival, or more precisely, a singular event that occurred whilst I was there which has meant I have never been back since… Until now.

The year is 2009 and the London Screenwriter’s Festival does not exist. What does exist is the Cheltenham Screenwriter’s Festival, a precursor to what we have today, the only real difference being its location.

With a couple of features and several shorts already written, I had decided that I ought to get myself down to Cheltenham in search of my “big break”. Easy, right?

I’d done all the prep – Speaker research, 1-page outlines, loglines, the 1st 10 pages of my screenplays, business cards, etc etc. I had even bought myself 20 or 30 very snazzy memory sticks, each one loaded with all my work, just in case anyone asked to see it.

“Asked” – An important word, but one that I decided wasn’t that important.

On the evening before the festival, there was this big pre-festival drinks get-together – A room full of would-be writers desperately trying to make eye contact/small talk with the various agents & producers that were milling around. I’d met up with a few other hopefuls and had started to discuss my memory sticks – The group were insanely jealous and were furious that they hadn’t thought of such a wonderful idea. Note: Sometimes the memory can play terrible tricks on a writer and they might not have been that impressed…

This is what happened next:

THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT.

Me: Swanky eh?

Bob: Wow. Nice memory stick. I’m insanely jealous.

Bill: I’m furious.

Bert: What a great idea. Wish I’d thought of it.

Me: I know, I know. I am brilliant.

Bob: So what ya gonna do with it?

Me: I’m going to…

Me looks around the room and spots a face he recognises.

Me: I’m going to give it to her.

Bill: But… but… but… She’s… an agent!

Me: So?

Bert: We’ve survived by hiding from them, running from them, but they are the gatekeepers, they’re guarding all the doors, holding all the keys… *

Bob: Little piece of advice:  you see an Agent, you do what we do; run.  Run your ass off. *

Me: Not today, boys. Not today.

Me heads off in the direction of AGENT SMITH who quickly averts her gaze, but too late.

Bill: What is he doing? *

Bert: He’s beginning to believe…*

Me: Hi. Agent Smith, right?

Agent Smith: Yes… And you are?

Me: Only the greatest script writer of all time.

Agent Smith: Of course you are…

Me: And to prove it I want to show you something…

Me reaches into his pocket

Agent Smith: Please don’t…

Me: This!

Me pulls out his very swanky memory stick.

Me: It’s got all my work on it!

Agent Smith: Okay…

Me: And I want you to have it! And read it!

Me offers out the stick. Agent Smith hesitates and then, with trepidation, takes the stick.

Agent Smith: Thank you?

Me: You’re welcome! Let me know what you think! My email’s on there and I’m here for the next two days so email me asap. I mean, obviously finish your drink before you start reading it but, you know, like I said… Next two days.

Agent Smith backs away with no sudden movements.

Me strolls back to the gang.

Me: That’s how you do it, boys. Now let’s have another drink.

Suffice to say I was feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. I’d plucked up the courage to approach “Agent Smith”, given her my life’s work and it had only taken 4 pints of extra strong lager (It was probably only half a lager – I am a terrible lightweight when it comes to drink.).

This was going to be a fantastic festival.

The next day, one of the opening speeches was given by Julian Friedmann, co-founder of The Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. Towards the end of the speech, Julian produced a list of “What not to do at Cheltenham” ­ – sage advice to all the budding writers out there.

His key point?

“And under no circumstances, no matter what, no matter who you think you are, never, ever, force a memory stick into the hands of one of our unsuspecting agents…”

Oh. Fuck.

Nine years of twice weekly therapy and I am finally ready to return… And no, I won’t be bringing the memory sticks this time around.

* Yeah, I started going all “Matrix” and couldn’t help myself…