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Podcast – Screenwriter Debra Oswald: Offspring & developing The Family Doctor

Author, playwright and screenwriter Debra Oswald reflects on Offspring, the writing process and developing her new novel for screen.

Debra Oswald headshot, image from television program Offspring

Debra Oswald, Offspring

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

There are many shocking moments seared into the consciousness of Australian TV viewers, and for fans of Network 10’s Offspring they will remember all too well that episode at the end of season four.

In the episode (spoiler alert, but also, it’s been seven years) the beloved character Patrick, the love interest of Nina Proudman (played by Asher Keddie) suddenly dies, just before their daughter is about to be born. The furore and heartbreak that poured out online was immediate, and Offspring creator Debra Oswald is still asked about it to this day.

“We knew there would be a reaction, but we did not know it would be as intense as it was,” she says on the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast, noting how she even had to write an op-ed in the Herald after it aired to explain.

“I love my characters like they’re my friends. I cry over them and I worry about them and I feel bad about the things I do to them. So the idea that out there, there are a number of people who care about them as much as I do - it’s like you’ve got a beautiful child and others think your child’s wonderful too.”          

She says Offspring also hit a real sweet spot in the pre-streamer era that encouraged that kind of online discussion.

“We had maybe one of the last shows where it was scheduled TV… and the first real wave of television audiences commenting on Twitter, so we had this wonderful thing where on Wednesday nights our story that we [had] agonised over would go out to people and in real time as it was on air, we would hear people’s response.”

Throughout the podcast, Oswald also talks to her career from Police Rescue to now, her writing process and developing her new book The Family Doctor into a six-part television series with producer Joanna Werner and writer Michael Lucas.

Oswald says between finishing the book and waiting for the March publication date The Family Doctor received development funding from Screen Australia and she was able to begin work on a pilot episode and bible.

“It was kind of good in a way. My head was still in the book, but I couldn’t do anything about the book, so I worked with producer Joanna Werner on how can we do this for television?” she says.

“In a weird sort of way, I was more prepared to play fast and loose with story events than if I were adapting someone else’s book. I think if I were adapting someone else’s book I would be much more reverential and careful. I guess because I feel confident I know what’s important about that story.”

For feedback about this episode, please email Podcast.

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Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. On this episode of the podcast, we're joined by screenwriter, author and playwright Debra Oswald, the creator of Network Ten's hit series Offspring, and the show's lead writer from seasons one through to five. Debra is also adapting her latest book, the thriller The Family Doctor, into a six-part TV series. The show, which received development funding from Screen Australia, is being written by Debra and fellow Offspring writer Michael Lucas and is produced by Joanna Werner of Werner Productions. Throughout the episode, Debra talks about her career from Police Rescue to now; developing The Family Doctor for screen; her writing process; approach to research; advice for writers; and her takeaways from creating Offspring, including how she feels looking back at the passionate online reaction from fans to the death of a major character. Before we get to the chat, remember for the latest Screen Australia podcast episodes, you can subscribe through Spotify or iTunes. And while you're there, feel free to leave a rating and review. You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia news, where we'll send you updates, funding announcements and more from the local screen industry. If you have any feedback, send it to [email protected] . Now, here's screenwriter, Debra Oswald. 

[00:01:37] Caris Bizzaca Debra Oswald, welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. 

[00:01:39] Debra Oswald Thank you very much, Caris.

[00:01:39] Caris Bizzaca And just to start with, can you tell me a bit about your background in the industry and the projects you've worked on? 

[00:01:46] Debra Oswald Oh, good Lord. I'm enormously old, so I've been a full time writer for 40 years, starting out in theatre, but started writing television, when I was in my early 20s, so I wrote Palace of Dreams, Sweet and Sour, lots of Police Rescue the original one, Bananas in Pyjamas. So I've been around in television for a long time. Lots of feature film projects that got written and never got made. I don't think I'm alone in that. And then about 10 years ago I did, which is shocking to say 10 years ago, I wrote the telemovie for a TV series called Offspring, and I was the head writer on that for five years. 

[00:02:28] Caris Bizzaca For the five seasons. 

[00:02:29] Debra Oswald For the first five seasons. Yeah. I was a sort of creator/head writer on that and... well, that'll do it for now. (Laughs) 

[00:02:37] Caris Bizzaca (Laughs) Yeah, that'll do for now. Yeah, for sure. And so, as you said, you know, you're a playwright, you worked in theatre, you also are an author of various novels in different genres as well as a screenwriter. But what came first then in terms of, you said you started in theatre, but then what came next? Was it screenwriting or the novel writing? Did it all happen at  the once. 

[00:03:01] Debra Oswald So after I finished university, during which I wrote radio plays to earn a living, so I was sort of already making a living as a writer, partially. I went to the film and TV school for a year and did what was then a one year screenwriting course. 

[00:03:17] Caris Bizzaca At AFTRS? 

[00:03:18] Debra Oswald Yes, at AFTRS. And so from that point on, I was trying to do both television and theatre right from the beginning. By choice, I mean, I really love the fact that I get to jump between the different genres... well not genre, the different mediums. And I started writing novels. I published my first kids book when I was 28. So that's a long time ago now. So I've got nine kids books and three grown ups novels, so I've always done all three and arguably I just jump to whichever medium wants me, wherever I can get. I no longer write theatre, but I still always want to do television and always want to write books if people will let me. 

[00:04:02] Caris Bizzaca And is it hard juggling television? Are you working on sometimes television as well as books at the same time? 

[00:04:10] Debra Oswald If I am, it's fine. What's great about jumping between the two is that with television you have all that great camaraderie which I really love, and the kind of creative fellowship of being in a room with people and bouncing ideas and assembling other people's talent together. Well, not me, but other people's talent is assembled together to make something new together, which is great. Then again, fiction: I have complete control. I'm not answerable to anybody. I mean, I'm answerable to the readers ultimately. But when I'm writing it, I can just take an idea and think 'I wonder what will happen if I tell this story this way'. And so from a kind of mental health point of view, it's great to have both. 

[00:04:52] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, definitely. Because as well, being in a writers' room, you can kind of bounce ideas off each other and things like that, whereas fiction writing is so solitary. 

[00:04:59] Debra Oswald Then again, no one tells you that character wouldn't say that line. And that's pretty good. (Laughs). 

[00:05:04] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Very true. And so what do you feel like was your big break in screenwriting? 

[00:05:13] Debra Oswald I don't know. I mean, obviously Offspring was its own thing. Like I have no illusions about the fact that there's a lot of luck in the right project, the right assemblage of creative people, and the right moment when an audience wants a certain kind of thing. I know how lucky I am. I know that that's a huge blessing in my life. But I'd been a writer for 30 years before Offspring happened, so it didn't mess with my head the way it might have done when I was younger. And up to that point, I felt I'd had lots of great moments. I mean, Police Rescue was, I wrote like 13 episodes of Police Rescue, like it was a really great show with, for the time, an amazing budget and I really enjoyed the material, the sort of life and death and the sort of emotional - even though there was action, for me I always wrote the very emotional episodes. So, I mean, something like that was enormous fun. I mean, obviously there's sadness about all the projects I've worked on that haven't happened. You know, where you've sort of poured your heart and soul into something and other people have helped you, too. And then it doesn't get made. That takes its toll. Then again, that happens to everybody. And I had the huge piece of luck of Offspring. So, you know, if that never happens to me again, I should shut up, you know, like I should just consider myself a lucky duck. 

[00:06:38] Caris Bizzaca Well, in terms of Offspring. So it's my understanding you wrote on The Secret Life of Us...? 

[00:06:44] I only wrote one episode. I wasn't. I mean, that was (screenwriter) Judi McCrossin and Chris Lee's baby. And-

[00:06:50] Caris Bizzaca Okay, so it wasn't the John Edwards link then that led to Offspring, because John Edwards also produced Offspring. 

[00:06:56] Debra Oswald No, I wrote um, Police Resuce was for John and Sandra Levy. So I'd known John for a long time and I pitched Offspring to him years before and everyone turned it down. So that was in, you know, the great pile of dead things until years later, he found some little crack for it to squeeze through. And we're all used to that. I mean, everyone in television knows that experience. And John and I worked on various other things that never went anywhere as well. 

[00:07:25] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, okay. And so then, you know, looking back on that Offspring experience, what do you feel like with some of your big takeaways from working on that series? 

[00:07:36] Debra Oswald Find clever, talented people like Michael Lucas and Jonathan Gavin to be on the writing team. That would be my biggest tip. I really loved the fact that we got to carry characters over a long time. Because we wrote the series with 13 episodes, which is rare now, and I was involved for five series plus a telemovie, so that's 67 television hours. And there's something wonderful about taking characters, throwing stuff at them, they change a bit and then you see what happens next. And that kind of development of people over time is much more reflective of life, which is that, when there's a big romantic moment and you kiss in the transport hub, that's not the end of the story. And the great thing about long form relationship drama is that you get to follow that through and there's a kind of eloquence about what life is like, that's possible. I don't think you can really do that now. I think series are so much shorter and there's more pressure for it to be juiced up and for there to be a murder and for it to be like a puzzle or for it to be... I think there's more pressure that it needs to be something more. I don't want to say gimmicky because it's not always gimmicky, but just straight relationship drama is much more difficult now. 

[00:09:02] Caris Bizzaca It has to be kind of condensed as well-. 

[00:09:05] Debra Oswald Or have a sort of twist on it or something. And I get that. But I think there's things that are lost because of it. And also it was the last, maybe one of the last shows where it was scheduled TV, you know, it was Wednesday nights and we had the last wave of scheduled TV and the first real wave of television audiences commenting on Twitter. So we had this wonderful thing where on Wednesday nights our story that we, you know, agonised over would go out to people. And in real time, as it was on air, we would hear people's response. That was cool. But that's gone now. I hope there's still a chance for people to tell stories about a group of characters and a group of human adults wrestling with life together. I hope so.

[00:09:54] Caris Bizzaca And I mean, John Edwards has said that relationship dramas are more difficult in some ways, you know, to make, to sell overseas. Why do you think that is? 

[00:10:08] Debra Oswald I think you have to trust, particularly in the early development stage you have to trust that the team, the writers and producers and the acting cast that you're going to assemble, will make it something special. And that's much harder to be confident about than something where you say, 'here is the fabulous story hook'. I think people are scared. It's hard to know what's going to work and what's not going to work. So if something seems to have this kind of grabby premise. Then that's safer, I suppose. And I don't think, you know, the people making the decisions are sort of evil, I just think it's hard. And we got to make a telemovie. That doesn't happen anymore. We got to make a 90 minute telemovie to say to people, 'this is the show, these are the people, this is the world, do you like this? Oh, OK. Then we'll make 13 episodes of it'. Like that was such a luxury. And I think relationship dramas need that because it's all about what it looks like, how it feels. I mean, just to say 'it's a story about a doctor and her family'. It doesn't tell you anything. So yeah, I think that's why. 

[00:11:19] Caris Bizzaca And you know, you mentioned, of course people watching on the Wednesday night and commenting on Twitter in real time, and so it would be remiss of me not to mention the big shock of Offspring, which was at the end of season four, when of course, Nina, the main character's love interest, Patrick, died very suddenly. When you look back at that decision and that moment and kind of the conversation that happened then online with people, how does it feel? 

[00:11:54] Debra Oswald It's really wild. We knew there would be a reaction, but we did not know that it would be as intense as it was. I mean, there was an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald. I had to write an op-ed piece in the Herald afterwards. I mean, I'm still living in witness protection because-. 

[00:12:14] Caris Bizzaca Do people still - I mean I'm obviously bringing it up today, but do people still bring it up? 

[00:12:14] Debra Oswald All the time. All the time. And it's funny because whenever before that we would say, 'oh, what what would you like to happen in the show?' People would always say, 'oh, please let Nina be happy'. And we'd think, well, 'we' meaning the producers and the writers, we would think, 'well, that would be a very boring show'. And the decision to kill that character did not start with us, there were actor availability issues. But actually, I think it was really good for the show because we'd been going for, by that point, nearly four series. And I think it was time to kind of throw something really big into that world and see what would happen to those characters. And I am really proud of what happened from series four to the end of series five, because I think it was really interesting stuff. And to see, one of things that I loved about the show was the mixture of comic tones, almost farce sometimes, and silly stuff, and sexy stuff, and quite meaty emotional stuff. And I love the way we could flip tonally. And that's where actors like Asher Kiddie and Kat Stewart make your life easier for you can write something like that and know that they will absolutely do it brilliantly. But what's the ultimate? To throw this huge loss that our main character and see if we can still have a world where there is joy and there is silliness alongside the acknowledgement of this pain. Because that's like life, isn't it? Like we're all dealing with this mixture of good and bad things. So to me, the ultimate thing to try to do in drama is capture that. And I think we did? I mean, it felt pretty good to me. And look the idea that people felt so attached to that group of characters that the death of one of them affected people so much that they still bring it up with me is delightful. You know, when you're creating... I love my characters like they're my friends. You know, I cry over them and I worry about them and I feel bad about the things I do to them. So the idea that out there, there are a number of people who care about them as much as I do it's like you've got a beautiful child and other people think your child's wonderful, too. It's like that. 

[00:14:30] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And like you were saying before, with that decision, you got to write the 'what happens next'. I mean, it was at the end of season four, but then you could explore all of what happens after. 

[00:14:44] Debra Oswald We were very careful. Luckily, we'd been commissioned for series four and five together, which is rare. Like normally we would end a series and have no idea if we were going to get another series. So we would have to end the story in a way that it was satisfying if that was the end, but still had throw forward if we were going to get another series. But four and five Channel Ten commissioned as a set, which was really wonderful for us because it meant we could take the audience to quite a dark place, although with a birth at the end to give everyone a little something to cling to - something joyful to cling to. But knowing we had a time jump for the characters, which I think really helps because you've got permission to be happy again, if we understand she's had six months of grief. But we also had a whole series to see how this woman is going to rebuild her life after that. And that was the plan right from the beginning of season four, that we would do that. 

[00:15:39] Caris Bizzaca Hmm. And so then looking at, you know with Offspring, we're talking about kind of a world of doctors. And you mentioned like something like Police Rescue - with these kind of shows or characters that, you know, have occupations: doctors, journalists, police officers. Where does the research kind of come into it? At what point is the research coming into it? Are you just running with a storyline and then figuring out how that research fits in? 

[00:16:11] Debra Oswald Good question. Look, I love doing real world research. So for police rescue, for example, I used to ride around with the police rescue guys sometimes and then hang around their office and talk to them and pick their brains. And then when I was writing a script, I'd ring them up and say, 'this is this is the accident. I'm thinking we'll do this and this and this'. And then they correct me and forth and look, arguably for Offspring, I was impregnated twice and gave birth to two children, so that's the ultimate research. For the telemovie there wasn't time. Like the telemovie, I had three weeks to write the first draft because it was the sort of little window we could produce it in. So that was terrifying. I would argue also liberating because I had to get out of my own way in terms of self-doubt and there wasn't too much fiddling with the script because there was no time. And I think that actually... I mean, I know this goes against all the orthodoxies about scripts need lots of development. I argue quite often the the juice is developed out of things. But anyway, that's another story. So for the telemovie, we just had to kind of gun it and do our best. My sister's a doctor. I would ask her questions. And then on set there would be midwives helping out, making sure the actors were holding babies right way up. Then once we knew we were going to get a series, I ran out and spoke to lots of particularly young female obstetricians about their life and real estate agents, about their life. But then again, we used to joke in the writers' room that 'Offspring was a show unburdened by research' (laughs). I mean, you wouldn't want to have your baby in that hospital, let's just say that. I mean, it wasn't a naturalistic show or it lurched between naturalism and something a bit more heightened. Like a comic-

[00:17:57] Caris Bizzaca Well you had like daydream sequences. 

[00:18:01] Debra Oswald Yeah and it wasn't... I mean, there can be truth in something without it being naturalistic. So it wasn't a natural depiction of the life of an obstetrician, but hopefully moments about what it's like to be with a patient when their baby dies or when you've got a sort of traffic jam of births all on the same day - those experiences, I think, were true to the essence of that experience. But we weren't, we didn't worry too much (laughs). The internet's very helpful. I mean, I was writing for decades before the Internet. I don't quite know how I managed it. 

[00:18:37] Caris Bizzaca Well, you know, talking about kind of writing process. So when you're not under the pump with a deadline of a telemovie draft in three weeks, what's kind of your process? Are you, do you want to write every day within certain hours or a certain number of pages of words or what? 

[00:18:54] Debra Oswald Look, I've never had a real job. And I'm a very sort of a conscientious, guilt-ridden person. So I've always been very disciplined about, you know, you're at the desk by a certain point in the morning. I mean, I might not write nine to five because I think in the afternoon you can often lose your brain capacity, but I'll certainly be sitting at the computer for many hours and I'll often when I'm working, whichever medium I'm working in, whether it's telly or theatre or books, I'll write story beats on file cards and lay them out on the dining room table. And I think sometimes these methods are just tricking your brain with a physical activity while you just calm down and your subconscious solves problems that you can't solve. But it also is quite handy to kind of see the whole show, say a whole episode laid out like a diagram on the table and it stops you getting lost in the sort of, the verbiage on any given page. It helps you think that event is happening too late, or could I swap these two moments? What would happen if I do that? So you can kind of experiment without getting caught up in the actual nitty gritty of a draft where you can, you know, think that something has to happen in a certain sequence because you've written it that way when it doesn't necessarily. So I'm a big believer in the file cards, either at the beginning of the process or as a troubleshooting mechanism. If I'm stuck in something, I think, what's my problem? What sort of locked in idea have I got that's actually not helping me. And sometimes getting the cards out will solve it. But it's also just about getting up from the desk and wandering about. 

[00:20:37] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, well the cards though give you that that bird's eye view almost in a way, having kind of a summary of a scene or a beat on a small card. And you can move them around-. 

[00:20:50] Debra Oswald Yeah you can slide them around. Look and I remember an English writer friend of mine was counselling me when I was in a desperate state about something and said, 'calm down, go and buy stationery'. And of course, that was the best advice. You know, I went and bought stationery and then I felt... because we have no other tools, what do we have? The other thing that really helps is walking, like if I'm stuck on something and my dog needs a walk I'll go walking. And I mean, I think there's research about this, about the way the brain moves and the way you breathe and how it can unlock things. I mean, in the one sense, it's not a mysterious process. And on the other hand, it can feel mysterious. So you need to kind of trick yourself out of stuck thinking and self laceration. I think most writers are pretty eaten up with self-doubt, and I was going to say it's not helpful - I think it can be helpful because it's part of making you question yourself and attempt to make things better. But it can also be paralysing. 

[00:21:50] Caris Bizzaca Find that happy medium between the two.

[00:21:54] Debra Oswald Yep (laughs). 

[00:21:54] Caris Bizzaca And so then The Family Doctor, can you tell me a bit about The Family Doctor? What is it about? 

[00:22:00] Debra Oswald So The Family Doctor is a novel that was published on the 2nd of March. And it's a sort of thriller. It's not a puzzle. It's not a mystery thriller. But it's a suspenseful character drama, I guess, about a dedicated beloved Sydney GP called Paula, who comes home to find her best friend and the best friend's children murdered by the estranged husband. So she's traumatised about having found the bodies and about the guilt that she didn't save them. And then in her work life, she's seen women that she has good reason to believe are in danger from violent husbands. So she becomes obsessed with this idea that she has to protect women and children to the point where she is tempted to use her medical skills to kill a violent man without being discovered. So it came from my anguish about the violence against women and children, and I never thought there would be a way that I could write about that until this idea kind of formed in my head. And I thought this is a way to write a kind of transgressive daydream. You know, I'm not advocating murder, obviously, but I think that sort of extreme plot is a way to express the desperation that a lot of people, particularly women, but a lot of people, feel about that situation without necessarily saying that that's the right thing to do. 

[00:23:31] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, yeah. And I mean, you said it released at the beginning of March. It also has development funding. It's being developed into a television series. What is that experience like of releasing a book while also developing it for television? 

[00:23:50] Debra Oswald So I've written a pilot and a bible. So I wrote that during the time that we were waiting for publication - the publication of a book is you do all the work, everyone fiddles with making it better and doing a cover. And then there's this long time when you wait for the release date. So it was kind of good in a way. My head was still in the book, but I couldn't do anything about the book. So I worked with producer Joanna Werner on how can we do this for television, on Zoom sadly, you know, that's life now. 

[00:24:22] Caris Bizzaca So it was kind of before it even being published though, the rights had been [sold] for screen? 

[00:24:26] Debra Oswald Yeah. So we had the draft of the book to show people and say, 'what do you think?' And Joanna was keen and I really like working with her. So yeah we've started the process. 

[00:24:42] Caris Bizzaca And you said there are some benefits in that you were already in that world and you knew the characters so well, but what have been some of the challenges of adapting your own project? 

[00:24:52] Debra Oswald It's really interesting because one of the things I love about novel writing is that certain things are a lot more straightforward. Like if you want to know what a character is thinking, you just tell the reader. One of the things that's kind of interesting. One of things I love about novel writing is you can really play with point of view. You can be in somebody's head. I mean, the book is written in the third person, but we are section by section either in the head of Paula the doctor, or Anita, her friend who's a court reporter. And there's something really wonderful about the control of information that one character knows something that the other character doesn't know, but also about perspective. And it's the assumptions people make about what's going on or what's going on in somebody else's head. And I love that because that's like life. You know, we're all the time seeing everything from our point of view. And we're doing our best to guess and we get it wrong. And sometimes the sort of funny stuff and the painful stuff is in the gap. So you can play with point of view on screen a bit. I mean, arguably in Offspring, because we had the thought track and then the reality of the scenes, we were playing with that. But it's more difficult. So you have to find other ways to make an audience sit with 'okay we're with this person now. We're seeing the world through their point of view.' You, the audience member, know other stuff. But this character doesn't know that stuff. And that's kind of tricky. And I feel like I hope I've approached the business of adapting it as if I were adapting a book written by somebody else. 

[00:26:25] Caris Bizzaca Did you try and keep that separation from the material at all? 

[00:26:28] Debra Oswald Well, we had some brainstorming days with with Joanna and with Michael Lucas, who's a wonderful writer and a friend of mine. It was good to have somebody else's point of view on it and to think about screen devices to tell the story that you can tell in a book one way in and on screen the different way. So I played around with different devices that would work. And whether we've got that right, it's early days, but it's fun to to try. But I think in a weird sort of way, I was more prepared to play fast and loose with story events than if I were adapting someone else's book. I think if I were adapting someone else's book, I would be much more reverential and sort of careful [instead of] like 'whatever'. I mean, I guess because I feel confident that I know what's important about that story. And if the way to tell it on screen means concentering these events or cutting all that material, I feel confident to do that because I know what's... I mean again who knows if I've done it well or not. It hasn't been tested yet, but I've found it kind of a fascinating process. 

[00:27:36] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Because if it was someone else's book you would be interpreting kind of the major themes that they had been wanting to say. But because it's your own you know exactly what you want it to say. 

[00:27:46] Debra Oswald Yes and I mean, I've adapted, I've got two projects that I've adapted from novels for television that haven't happened. So I've kind of done this before. Whether this one will finally make it to the screen, you know, please everyone cross their fingers. So I've had this experience before, and it's interesting, but it's fun. 

[00:28:09] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And it's a six part television series. What kind of made you decide on the six part number of eps? 

[00:28:17] Debra Oswald Look, I think it's partly that six part seems to be the structure that a lot of broadcasters and streamers want. It fell pretty well into the six parts, like I kind of road tested that I mean, I haven't plotted out all six, but it felt about right. I don't want to spoil it, but the book ends with absolutely potential for the story to go on. And so this wouldn't be a one off series. I mean, ideally, you know, you could continue on. So if it suddenly  became a longer series, I've got more story I can use. One things that I find problematic with a lot of the stuff that's on Netflix say is that it's often to me a four or five hour story that's been stretched to 10. And I say this as someone who's been involved in plotting 13 hour series. I know how hard it is to kind of sustain it and have that arc work, and when I see somebody do it well, I mean, when I think about Friday Night Lights, which most screenwriters love, you know, series three and four of that, the way they control the arc over 13 was bloody masterful. And I know that it's tricky. And I see some Netflix series where they get to episode five or six and I can think, 'oh, I see. Actually, the show should end now,' but they've got to suddenly do a sideways swerve and introduce another whole sort of plot complication that doesn't really belong in order to stretch it out and get to ten. And I really don't want to do that. 

[00:29:47] Caris Bizzaca And what's your advice then for people that are in that development phase? You know, maybe they are working on kind of a 10 part or something like that? 

[00:29:56] Debra Oswald Yes. I don't know, because in the end, people have got to do what's going to get their stuff made. I mean, I'm not a purist about it. And when I say there are Netflix series where I think the story is stretched, it doesn't mean that I haven't enjoyed those series and they're not worth making. So maybe I'm a terrible old... cynic's not the word is it... realist maybe, that if stretching the story a bit means your story gets on the screen, well, that's fine. I think what I really don't like is drama plot that depends on withholding information in a phoney way, in having suddenly some whole plot element that actually we should have known about at the beginning in proper narrative terms is revealed, like the program actor's been holding something behind their back and then suddenly whip it out. I don't like that. I really don't like that. But this isn't an advice because arguably that's the way to get stuff made. Don't listen to me. But if you're wanting to please me as an audience member, don't do that. Like if you want something to last longer, go deeper, introduce another character, don't do phoney reveals of information that actually we should have known at the beginning, that's really common now. 

[00:31:08] Caris Bizzaca And just talking about the development process, from your experience - I suppose it's how long is a piece of string - but how long has it taken for that kind of development process with some of the projects you worked on? 

[00:31:24] Debra Oswald Oh, look, I mean, Offspring was nearly four years as a treatment that no one wanted and then suddenly three weeks to write a telemovie. And then the first series was greenlit after we made the telemovie, so very quickly. But after years of it being a sort of thing that didn't even sprout out of the ground. But then on the other hand, I've got one project that I started working on just after my son was born - my youngest son, who's now 28. And every now and again, it lurches to its feet and it seems to have a bit of life in it and then it dies away again. I'm pretty over that. I'm pretty sick of it. And I don't think, I wouldn't advise other people to be sick of it because I'd say that's the business, just keep going. But I feel like my capacity to suck up that kind of disappointment is - 

[00:32:20] Caris Bizzaca In terms of projects nearly getting off the ground and then not. 

[00:32:24] Debra Oswald I don't know if I can handle it anymore, and that's just exhaustion. I don't think you get a thicker skin. I think you get worn away, which is why if I had an idea that I really loved, I would write it as a book first so that I can just tell a story the way I want to tell it. And it will be out there and readers can find it. And and if it gets made into something for television later, great. But at least it exists as a story. 

[00:32:52] Caris Bizzaca And there's a lot out there that, you know, especially in screen that is built on existing IP now. You know, from a book to screen. 

[00:33:01] Debra Oswald Yes. But having said that, I love sort of traditionally developed telly. Like a roomful of people. You've got an idea. I mean, I love that and I miss doing that, but I don't know that I have the emotional stamina to keep throwing stuff against the wall and having it slide off again. It's just punishing. And now I'm worried that I'm standing too downbeat for people, because if I were younger, I wouldn't feel like this, and I would think anyone under 50-. 

[00:33:34] Caris Bizzaca It's maybe just something for writers out there to know that it comes with the territory. 

[00:33:39] Debra Oswald Yes, that's right. And the only answer to it is to just keep writing good material. That's the only answer to it. And work with good people and work with people with a process that is going to be fun because who knows if there's ever going to be an outcome. And a good writers' room is the most fun a human being can have. Well, one of the things that is the most fun and I would urge people if they have the chance to get into a good room and watch, and play if they can, but if they're just there as an observer, still wonderful. 

[00:34:12] Caris Bizzaca And so on that note, just to finish up with, what would be some of your key pieces of advice for any writers out there? 

[00:34:19] Debra Oswald Try and create your own original stuff. I mean, especially early on in careers, you're going to be in other people's rooms and telling other people's stories, and that's really valuable. And you will learn a lot doing that. But don't let your own original ideas kind of shrivel away. Try to make time, you know, like almost like... I used to sort of buy myself time. I would write, you know, x number of episodes of something to buy myself the time to write a book or a play or a television project of my own. I think that's really important. I sometimes, this is a really weird thing, I used to sometimes write a kind of mission statement about a particular project. At the moments, you know those moments when you're feeling really confident about something? Those moments. Write that down because those moments when if somebody said, 'what are you working on?' And you're excited about it and you can write about it in is really great confident way. And put that away as sort of insurance against your own despair, so that if there's a day when you think, 'oh, this is shit', you can get out that piece of paper and remember, 'oh, at one point I thought this about it'. And you can be reminded of the reasons you thought an idea was a good idea in the first place. Find ways to get your own original stuff out there, like make web series, write it as a play, write it as a novel. And if it gets turned into television, hooray. But don't let the television mechanism decide on your creative life because it can happen really easily.

[00:35:49] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, great. Well, thank you so much for joining us on podcast today and talking to us all about writing. 

[00:35:53] Debra Oswald Thank you. I hope I wasn't too grim (laughs)

[00:35:58] Caris Bizzaca (Laughs) Not at all. Not at all. 

[00:35:58] Debra Oswald Ok, thank you very much. Bye. 

[00:36:02] Caris Bizzaca That was screenwriter Debra Oswald and a reminder the book The Family Doctor is out now and you can catch all seasons of Offspring on Netflix. Remember to subscribe to this podcast through iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter for all the latest updates from the local industry. Thanks for listening.