Hazel Marshall, story consultant

 31 August 2016

Hazel has been writing since the young age of 5. She set up her own story consultancy business to work with programme makers and production companies. She explains what her days as a writer and story consultant look like and offers 3 tips for becoming a writer.

"The way to become a writer is to make sure you finish a project."

Hometown?

I’m from and am based in Scotland but I work throughout the whole of the UK.

What job do you do?

I’m a writer and a story consultant.

How did you become a writer and story consultant?

It’s hard to say when I became a writer as I’ve been writing stories since the age of 5. I was first published in 2004 with my book Troublesome Angels and Flying Machines.

When I’m starting a first draft, I normally aim to do 3 hours or 2,500 words

I set up my story consultancy Distilled Story in 2014.  I decided to set up my own business as I had a lot of experience in running script and story courses from when I worked at the BBC.

I also worked as a story consultant and a radio producer whilst at the BBC. 

Being a story consultant meant that I had experience of working with lots of production teams and being a radio producer gave me a very clear view of how a story worked across a range of different mediums.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a degree in history from University of Edinburgh and a postgraduate diploma in professional writing from Falmouth College of Arts.

What do you do for your job?

When I’m writing, it involves me sitting at my desk and keeping myself going for a set number of hours or words. When I’m starting a first draft, I normally aim to do 3 hours or 2,500 words.  Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less but that’s the average.

When I’m at the editing stage – when the bones of the story are there and I’m adding, subtracting or changing – I can work for a more regular 7 or 8 hours.

Read, read, read or watch, watch, watch.

The story consultancy work can vary widely.  Sometimes it’s working with an individual or team on their idea for a programme.  For that for I use a questioning technique to help pull out all the ideas as well as adding my expertise.

At other times I might be running a training course or giving a talk at a conference or event about writing stories.

What is the best thing about your job?

The variety of the work and that I am sharing something that I love. I love writing but I also love that the story consultancy gets me out and working with other people and influences.

And the worst thing?

The worst thing is probably the unpredictability of the work and, with writing, the fact that you can spend months or years working on something that might not sell. 

But that goes alongside the freedom and the doing something that you love.

How do I become a writer?

1. Read, read, read or watch, watch, watch. Writers are lovers of the medium they work in so if you want to write a book, make sure you read lots.  Or if you want to write a TV or film script watch lots of them. If you don’t love the medium you want to work in, it will show.

2. I did a postgraduate course in writing to give myself more structure. The course helped increase my portfolio work and give me space, discipline and contacts. I’m not advocating that you have to do a course to be a writer but sometimes it can help with speeding up the whole process. 

I love that story consultancy gets me out and working with other people and influences

It can also be a way to get good contacts or find out a bit about how the whole business works. It doesn’t need to be a postgraduate course - a good evening or summer or online course will help.

3. This is going to sound like the first tip, but the way to become a writer is to make sure you finish a project. If you’re an ideas person then you’ll always have ideas swirling around your head but the important thing is to get them down and accept that, on the page, they will look nothing like they did in your head.

That’s when you have to rewrite and keep going until you get to the end. Finishing your first book or play is a great feeling (even if you do often have to go back and rewrite it over and over again). Writing a book takes a lot of time, effort and determination - the creative equivalent of running a marathon!


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