A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

What writers can learn from watching TV and films – by Martin Griffin

Learning from Locke

The night I sat down to write this post (early January, freezing, foggy…) I was alone in a hotel room many miles from home. Underneath the battered wall-mounted TV was an old curiosity – a DVD player – and down in reception were a lot of terrible films for guests to borrow. So I thought I’d watch something and write about it. Because my TV was tiny I figured I’d go small and intimate rather than choose a Hollywood epic with exploding cities which I figured might lose something on a screen barely bigger than a phone.

Hunting through the trash I found a gem: Locke.

Locke is one of my faves, a truly remarkable movie. It’s written and directed by Steven Knight. Its one actor, Tom Hardy, is always on screen. It has one location – the interior of a car. It is about ninety minutes long. For an hour and a half, we’re travelling south on the M6 while a single character makes phone calls, his life falling apart. It ends on the outskirts of London.


As I was watching, I kept thinking about my current WIP, a YA heist thing called Takeback. Not because of any similarity in subject matter though. My wife always gets to read first, and some months ago I’d given her a hotel-chase scene in which a porter liberates a suitcase from a penthouse apartment, escaping down flights of stairs through a maze of corridors and out onto the delivery bay via the kitchens. There, he meets a mysterious girl who hits him on the head. A conversation ensues. When I asked for feedback, my wife (clever and measured as always) said “It gets good when the talking starts.”

I kept thinking about that as I watched Locke. So much of visual media seems to be caught up in an arms-race towards the ultimate boss-battle; entire stories built around supposedly killer last-act set-pieces in which New York burns. Clearly I’ve a tendency to plot books the same way. Locke represents the best of what scripted drama can do because all we get is talking. The conflict is in conversations and the gaps between conversations. We watch a man struggle with his conscience. At moments of anger or release, he monologues to an imaginary father sitting on the back seat. Then he makes or receives another call, staring at the road ahead and gripping the wheel.

When you’ve got a character as rounded, deep and flawed as Ivan Locke, you don’t need exploding cities, disintegrating planets, collapsing skyscrapers or hair-breadth ‘scapes in th’ imminent deadly breach. You just need conversations.

Bet I’d not have learned so much from the other DVDs sitting down in reception. Blade: Trinity, anyone? The 2012 remake of Total Recall perhaps? OK last offer: what about Transformers: Rise of the Fallen?

No, didn’t think so.

(p.s. Since I wrote this, Steven Knight has written for Tom Hardy again. If the BBC’s Taboo is half as good as Locke, we’ll be in for another masterclass. Let’s hope so…)


Martin Griffin writes sci-fi and fantasy adventures for young readers. His debut novel, THE POISON BOY, won The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition in 2012 and somehow managed to get shortlisted for Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Award, the North East Book Award, the Leeds Book Award, the Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year, the Kent Themed Book Award and the Branford Boase Award, without winning any of them. A teacher at the time, he wrote using the name Fletcher Moss to keep it secret from his students. He returns to his real name for his second novel, LIFERS, a super-dark contemporary prison-break adventure, his first novel for teen readers. Martin lives in Manchester with his wife and child.


This entry was posted on January 15, 2017 by .

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