Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's behind you!

This is my first round-up of a year since I only started blogging in April. And I already sort of did this a little while ago, though it covered my life in writing.

So, 2008.

This time last year I lost direction and wandered in the wilderness for 5 months as far as writing was concerned. I was working at random, treatment for a major Hollywood feature that no one had asked for, a feature script that was rubbish (okay, it's only first draft but it was totally unlike anything I've ever written before). Then I got back on track with my spec TV script Monsters and it got short-listed for Red Planet. Plus it has opened doors in the BBC, and someone is very interested in actually trying to get it made (the thing we all hope for but realistically have to know probably won't happen with spec scripts).

Day-job-wise I did pretty well, but I'm currently without contract which is worrying. I have to get a paying job in the next three weeks.

Most of the year I lived away from home and I am heading back to Reading this Sunday after spending all of December at home. Which was great.

My son moved to secondary school and is learning to play the saxophone. It sounds so cool when he plays, and he really likes it. He also plays the tenor horn in various brass bands, but he likes the sax much more, apparently the tenor horn is too easy. Plus he has been shortlisted as one of the teams to go on the TV show Bamzooki, and he's being used for something on the CBBC website (apparently it was noted in his BBC file that he has brilliant telephone manners, is very clear and easy to talk to). He amazes us.

My daughter did her AS level exams and came away with As and Bs, and if her acting career doesn't work out she's going for Zoo Biology, she's been accepted without interview to four universities and she didn't want to go to the fifth one really anyway. She's also auditioning at three drama schools. And has her first real boyfriend. I have been oiling the shotgun.

My wife continues to manage the entire Foundation and KS1 at her school, though she hates the bureaucracy and would prefer to just teach. Unfortunately she's too competent at management to be "just a teacher".

So, that's the year gone, tomorrow I'll be looking ahead.

What's on the turntable? "Revelation" by Gordon Giltrap from "Visionary" (music inspired by the poems of William Blake)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Man-flu and Multi-tasking

I've not been well for the past few days, having caught whatever it was my wife had. Some sort of nasty cold thing.

Being male this had a serious effect on my ability to function, and I was laid up in bed for half a day. But this morning I had a revelation, the apparent difference between men and women who have a bad cold or flu? It's down to multi-tasking.

Women can be ill and do other things, while men can only be ill. Obvious.

I watched a fair amount of TV, but not an excessive amount: The obvious, of course: Dr Who: The Next Doctor. Yes, quite liked it. Not ecstatic to the point of geek-gasm, but good. Essentially I was disappointed by the cyber-shades. And I felt there was some missing logic as to why the kids were operating the engine, but weren't needed after things got cooking. I like my logic to exist even if it's throwaway. (Perhaps I missed it.)

There is a brilliant line in Big Trouble in Little China, near the end where the good guys are escaping from the lair of the bad guy. They've been split up and somehow one group (A) have got much further than the group with the heroes in it (B). And (A) is in a position to rescue (B) from certain death ... but how did (A) get into their superior position? It's a problem and it needs explaining for the audience. The writer solves it brilliantly in two short lines:

B: "How did you get up there?"

A: "It wasn't easy"

Problem solved.

This issue also came up in the Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (been around a few years but I had't seen it) last night. In case anyone is wondering, this was an original story, not a Conan Doyle. I should know I've read them all. I also quite liked this although, as my daughter said, it was more like an episode of Criminal Minds. (By the way, I was a bit surprised when they referred to the CID Criminal Investigation Department, but it turns out the London CID was formed in 1878.)

The story contained many little splashes of genuine Conan Doyle which I recognised, but there were various issues, such as the fact Holmes never worked so closely with the Police. It needed justification. As did the throwing of the Ball by a family that had lost a daughter three days earlier and the mother in a sanitorium due to it. It just wouldn't have happened. And there were so many ways around it (Holmes insisting they hold it to trap the criminal would have made a nice scene).

But on the whole, I liked it.

I can't say the same about the new The 39 Steps. There was so much wrong with this, not least the machine guns mounted on the biplane in 1914, and the plane's insignia completely wrong. I'm not a plane buff but I know my Biggles. And used to thumb through Jane's Military Aircraft in our local library when I was young.


But the end: After the bad guys have either been shot or taken away Hannay is talking to Victoria, and one of the dead huns suddenly rises up and shoots Victoria, Hannay then shoots him dead, properly dead this time. Hannay spends time trying to find her body in the loch but fails. She's dead and gone.

Except she isn't. It was a trick, she's really alive and going undercover as a spy in Germany. What?

Look: How did they know the German wasn't really dead and was going to shoot her, so that they could set up her fake death? Did they put blanks in his gun to ensure he didn't actually hurt anyone? Or was he really a double-agent primed to pretend to kill Victoria? But if he's a double agent that makes the whole plot meaningless, and Hannay has just killed him.

It's utterly preposterous whichever way you look at it.

#### END SPOILER ####

I don't mind them doing their own version, book adaptations require changes, but at least let's have some internal logic. Read the book or watch any of the film adaptations instead of this.

Back to Christmas Day. Am I getting curmudgeonly in my old age? I felt there was something missing from Wallace and Gromit's A Matter of Loaf or Death. Compared to the others it felt superficial, there were the movie references which are always fun, particularly to Aliens at the end.

The household received dozens of DVDs and books this year, which was great, Mamma Mia was fun and you can't knock the music. Watching the DVD extras revealed the interesting fact that although the cast pre-recorded all the songs in the studio, much of what appeared in the movie was them singing live on set. Meryl Streep goes up another few notches in my estimation - there aren't many notches left. Pierce Brosnan is not a bad singer, it's just his voice isn't designed for ABBA songs.

The Dark Knight: Pretty good. Heath Ledger was impressive though I suspect he wouldn't get an Oscar is he wasn't dead.

Moonstruck: Cher deserved her award for this, she is superb and it's a brilliant movie. Very Italian. And a very young Nicolas Cage. The daughter had never seen it, and is now quoting it.

All the Indiana Jones: And then we watched them all back to back on Boxing Day. In previous years we've watched the entirety of the extended Lord of the Rings (set aside 12 hours), but decided to do Indiana this year. Next year we might do Studio Gibli...

Spirited Away: I can't decide which Gibli film I prefer.

Oooh, and Santa left me a copy of the Watchmen graphic novel, I read it when it first came out but hadn't seen it since. It stays with you. I do hope they get the movie right.

What's on the turntable? "Metteng Excuske V1.2" by Squarepusher from "Go Plastic" (I'm eclectic me.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

...and many of them

Merry thing!

So I spent a few days in Birmingham with friends and had a jolly good time. Came home to wife, kids, cats, rabbit, giant African land snails and dog. And have been working on various Christmas related activities ever since.

I had vaguely hoped to get some script written for the as-yet-unnamed new project, which for the sake of argument I shall refer to as UnitX. According to those that know it's a seriously commercial idea so I'm putting lots of thought into it. Unfortunately it involves a lot of research so that I get the feel of the period (post-WWII) and location (USA): Paranoia, Nazis, Commies, racism, sexism, post-War depression: luvverly stuff. And so Christmassy. So no script was written but I have managed some major planning on the pilot.

Here's to a happy Christmas for everyone. Remember to relax.

What's on the turntable? "Join together" by The Who, originally just a single but later put on the Rarities compilation

Thursday, December 18, 2008


There's a thing I say, which I might have got from someone else but I don't recall: "Ideas are the cheapest things in the universe". People have ideas all the time, 6 billion people having ideas every moment of the day (dreams are just ideas too).

Ideas also weigh nothing: Get a memory stick, weigh it, put every work of fiction, every work science, every work of art on to that memory stick and weigh it again: It's the same weight. Yet ideas change our world all the time, sometimes quite radically. They are simultaneously the most powerful things in the universe. (I could get very philosophical at this point and suggest that if that's the case then there must be something more to life than just "physics" - but that's not the point of this blog.)

So. Yesterday evening I had an idea about a TV series. It's new but also leverages existing productions and audience (that's management-speak for "spin-off"). It's also based in America. I'm not a student of US history (which would be required), but I know someone who is.

Then I started thinking about the argument that writers often have which is "which comes first plot or character?" (closely allied to the "which is more important plot or character?" which I gave my opinion on here, but can be summed up as: "Who cares? As long as you have a great story.").

For me it seems to be neither, it's always setting that comes first. I think of settings that can have interesting characters and lots of plot. So where do my settings ideas come from? Anywhere, random thoughts, whatever. Last night I mis-heard what a couple of friends were talking about and a whole string of thoughts went through my head like an express train. And I ended up with an idea. Then this morning, as I was getting up, I refined it, added the "spin-off" factor and realised I suddenly had a very saleable product.

I have absolutely no idea how to proceed with it, but that's what connections are for. E-mails to follow.

As for the week's resolutions: I finished the wine pages yesterday, have almost finished the coding I needed to do on my pet project, but haven't touched "Air" yet.

Off to Birmingham later today for a weekend with friends. Not sure whether I'll get time for any writing but my office will be going with me, though it'll probably be back to "Rubbish Internet" (tm).

What's on the turntable? "Monday Morning" by Pulp from "Different Class"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to succeed

This is not about me, this is about all of us.

I was inspired to write this entry because of Danny Stack's final posting about how to succeed in writing, which has rather less to do with talent than some people might hope, and rather more to do with keeping at it, and keep pushing despite every barrier life puts in your way (and it will).

There was a certain serendipity about it because I had just had an e-mail from my novelist friend Roger Ellory, I'd been telling him about my bits of luck and he'd been telling me about his, zooming all over the place, selling lots of books, lots of new distribution contracts and so on.

Let's face it, Roger is a success.

But he wasn't always. He told me once how it began for him I shall summarise the writing bit here, but the full story is on his website. (Though I have some information that's not there.)

In the late 80s he started writing. He wrote 22 novels in six years, mostly supernatural thrillers, he even got an agent or three. but the rejections just piled up. He kept 300 of the most interesting rejections. Can you imagine how many rejections he must have got to have kept 300 of the most interesting? I have no idea but it's a scary number.

Then he stopped, for almost 10 years. Then began again, but things were different.

He was doing a job that most people would regard as having unsocial hours, working with people who needed help. But for one hour every day when he got home (usually after 10pm), without fail, he would write. His wife made sure he had the space and the time to do it, even though at the time they were living in one room in someone else's house and had a son.

And he got his breakthrough, only 5 years ago, now he has an ongoing contract for a book every year, though as you can imagine, he could write a lot more than that. The rest is a tale of success, his popularity and readership grow, his books are tough, uncompromising and a joy to read. (But that's just a fan talking.) One day I'd like to have the honour of turning one of them into a feature film.

On the bio page of his website it says this:
Recently he read a book called 'How Not To Write A Novel' by David Armstrong. His favourite quote from this book went along the lines of 'The harder you work the luckier you get'. He agrees with this principle, and thus has no intention of retiring from anything, ever.
Which finally brings me to what Roger wrote in his e-mail:
When I am asked at events what it takes to get published, it's just one word: persistence.
And that's how to succeed.

What's on the turntable? "Train Song" by Pentangle from "Basket of Light"

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Hard Day's Night

Which was a surprisingly good film considering it was a vehicle for the Fab Four. It has some brilliant talent in the supporting cast, but it's the writer, Alun Owen, who deserves the credit for building a real story into something so blatantly commercial. Owen has an impressively huge list of TV drama credits in a 30 year writing career, as well as being an actor. It just proves you can do a good job even when faced with major constraints - he was nominated for an Oscar for the film. And it was a taste of things to come: a mockumentary.

But that has nothing to do with this blog.

Last week I said my main concerns were: Job interview; finishing and sending the 1p pitch for Winter; promoting myself as a writer; and writing 13 x 300 words on French Wine for a website.

The job interview did not materialise (the company decided they could do it themselves), so I've been applying for jobs again, hum-de-ho. I did finish the Winter 1p pitch and sent that - I was told it was fine and passed up the line, so I need to forget that for now. I did the promotion thing (two producers and Red Productions), received suprising and good news from my old producer friend and I also got a rejection from an agent (I have no problem with the rejection, but I was amused by the irony that he felt he couldn't represent me because "Monsters" was too "youthful" in style, not his thing, when I happen to know he's 20 years younger than me). Finally I have written eight of the French Wine pages, which my business partner has popped up on the website. Oh yes and, not in my list, I have been working on my pet programming project, preparing it for launch.

Why is this blog titled the way it is?

Yesterday I drove 450 miles, waking at 5:30am and on the road within the hour. It was the annual Christmas present run, so with wife, kids and dog packed into car we headed south. But the first stop was way beyond my parents house, as I went to Reading to pick up clothes and other stuff from the flat - including my notes on the Air script. We reached Reading at 10:00am (one short stop on the way).

Must say that our dog, still a puppy but now a "medium sized" dog was very good and slept most of the time.

We spent half an hour trying to escape from Reading. I've only driven in Reading twice before and I don't know the one-way systems. Every time I tried to go in one direction I ended up going a different way. Eventually we left by a completely different route.

Spent quality time with my parents, saw my younger sister, husband and kids: The puppy was by now hyper, luckily my parents have a good garden which is puppy-proof so we were able to give him a run in the garden.

I have had three sisters: The younger one is an optician, she's 10 years my junior and we have always got on. It was her husband who was part of the crew who made my 10 minute, really bad, short. (Actually, he was the crew.) My next sister, Caroline, is 10 years older than me (yes, really) and she is an artist in Australia.

I had another sister, Susan, a year older again, who also lived in Australia, but she died of Pancreatic cancer. The particular trouble with this form of cancer is that by the time it's noticed it's usually untreatable and kills relatively quickly.

Anyway. We had a nice chat, a delicious dinner and came home by a slightly more direct route. We drove past a very nasty multi-vehicle crash on the other carriageway somewhere near Nottingham. It was a long, tough day especially as my driving muscles are out of shape. I was shattered and had an early night.

So, this week: Apply for more jobs (though I'm not hopeful this close to Christmas and I'm in Birmingham Thursday to Sunday visiting friends); Finish the wine pages; Get the first draft of Air wrapped up to the full number of pages; finish the amendments to the Pet Project; watch the DVDs I ordered for research purposes.

What's on the turntable? "Guitar & Piano" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey", a brilliant album originally but this is a rehearsal extra which contains all the themes from the entire album played in one go on piano and guitar (surprisingly). Complete with the occasional bum note and Gordon saying the entries and key changes.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Not a game anymore

I am not a serious person. (Though I like to think I am a sincere person.)

But I was thinking about this screenwriting lark last evening and reviewing what's happened with me in the last few years.

I had toyed with scriptwriting a few times in my life, but really done nothing serious. The end of Buffy had prompted me to write a series bible for a British replacement (just as the end of Blake's 7 in the 70s had prompted me to write the outline of a proper final episode). I hawked it about a bit, there was some faint interest, but I had no idea what I was doing. So I did nothing else for a few years.

Then Heroes came along and I was inspired. I took my series bible and started writing. I researched, I read, I joined online screenwriting groups. It was April 2007 when I used Scriptfrenzy as the impetus to make me finish four full episodes of Monsters, the complete story.

I had to know that I could finish a script, and I did.

That's when I contacted Lucy to script read (How many pages?!! was her comment [dramatised]) and I began to work in earnest. I felt there was something good about Monsters. Then I entered it into Red Planet 2007 and didn't make it past the first cut.

After that I went through a bad patch. I wrote a novel during Nanowrimo 2007 which made me feel better. But Monsters went on the backburner, I did work on it but I wasn't a happy bunny. I messed around with some other stuff and wrote a feature film during ScriptFrenzy 2008.

It was about than I started this blog.

In May 2008 I contacted Philip Shelley and got the most astounding feedback: He thought it was good, he thought I could write. To be honest I was quite rude to him, because I didn't believe it. I mean, I knew I could put one word in front of another in a way that made sense, but to be good at scriptwriting?

So I worked on the script with him as well, and pulled in David Bull too. And he liked Monsters as well.

Then it got shortlisted for Red Planet 2008.

Then it got me into the BBC.

Now another experienced TV guy is interested in it.

I can't ignore what's happening. I can't pretend this is just a game anymore. I have to take it seriously.


Anybody got any idea what that means?

What's on the turntable? "Nocturn" by Kate Bush from "Aerial"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh. My. God. #3.5

Only my first post today. I'm trying to cut down.

Back in "Oh. My. God. #1" I had some excitement over the reply given to me by someone I knew from years ago - I just wanted to see if he could pass Monsters to someone who might be interested if he knew anybody. But he was interested.

After that I got complete silence. I wasn't downhearted, that's unfortunately how this business can work. So I decided to pop the script over to him anyway, with a note saying that I understood he was probably busy.

That was five or six weeks ago. Then today, up popped an e-mail from him apologising for the lack of communication and asking me to call.

Now, I'm not getting over-excited here, we had a chat. He said he really liked the Monsters script and that he'd like to work with me at some point in the future, but he's just sorting some things out. Might be sooner, might be later and, of course, it might be never. But the thought is pleasant indeed.

That's why this is only a semi-OMG, but it's a very nice one.

He did leave me with an interesting tidbit of information which I shall pass on: in this age of limited budgets and global markets you are far more likely to get backing for a TV project if it has international appeal. And the things that have international appeal are the so-called (I grit my teeth[1]) genre stories: SF and Cops mainly.

[1] Read this to explain why I grit my teeth at calling SF a genre.

What's on the turntable? "Somewhere in Between" by Kate Bush from "Aerial"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bite me

The WGGB blog has a poll on writer's block, as I write this 7 people have voted and none of them "believe in" writer's block. And I'm one of those 7.

(I'm apostrophising before the 's' because I'm interpreting it as the block of one writer, as opposed the block of many writers.)

Back in October in my Inspirations #4 blog I mentioned, in passing, that I'm a bit unsympathetic towards people who say they have writer's block. I should probably qualify that as being unsympathetic to people who become "helpless" in the face of "writers block" as if it's a disease. Partly because I come from a journalistic background which doesn't permit such luxuries and partly because misnomers annoy me.

I want to make it clear that I am aware of the apparency of writer's block and how upsetting it can be. The following is my opinion of what it really is and what you do about it. Feel free to disagree.

I was writing a fantasy novel and hit "writer's block", I got stuck, I just couldn't move forward even though I knew where the story was going. Now I didn't go "oh I've got writer's block, I can't write", it's not in my nature to be stopped by things.

Instead I analysed the situation to nail down exactly what the problem was. Eventually I realised that I couldn't write because I didn't know what to write - it wasn't that I couldn't write at all.

In my fantasy story the protagonist had arrived in a society that was utterly different to human society, and I hadn't worked it out. I had no idea how the characters in this society would behave, what their architecture looked like and so on. So I spent some time deciding on the important details of the culture and suddenly the words flowed again.

The next time it happened I knew what I was up against, and quickly solved it. It has happened more than once when writing screenplays since then: If I'm stuck then there is something missing from my understanding of the world I'm creating (doesn't have to be fantasy, it can occur in any writing).

The solution to not knowing what to write is: find out.

It might be research, it might be creating a society, it might be watching some TV for "inspiration" (I'm not a huge believer in inspiration either, though we do need original creativity obviously). Whatever it is, it is something to fill in the blank so that you can keep moving forwards.

It works for me, perhaps it could work for you if you have this problem. So next time you get stuck, work out what it is you don't know, find out, then move forwards. It's worth a try.

What's on the turntable? "Perfume Exotico" by Vangelis from CD3 "Bladerunner 25th Anniversary CD set"

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Ticket sales are now open for SWF09.

Apparently I'm the first person to buy a ticket.

What's on the turntable? "Furry sings the blues" by Joni Mitchell from "Hejira"

No return

Just a quick update, the one pager for Winter is now on its way to the BBC.

I hate that moment of clicking "Send". I had read and re-read the text a dozen times, tweaked it here and there, removing one word lines from the end of paragraphs; re-editing bits to sound less pompous. (Pompous? Moi?)

But there comes that moment when you carefully compose the precise wording of the e-mail to imply you're totally confident with what you're sending - but if they want it done different you're happy to do that.

Then there's that final moment, the decision to click send. Then remembering to actually attach the document otherwise you end up looking like an unprofessional prat when they ask for it.

Then that final moment (again). Pointer hovering over the send button as your finger hovers over the mouse button.


It's too late to do anything else about it now. For better or for worse it's on its way.

Many years ago a friend was working in our computer room (we've always owned a lot of computers) and wanted to plug something in. She yanked an existing plug out of the socket - and all the machines crashed. Desperately she shoved the plug back in, as if she could save the moment...

But there's always that point beyond which you cannot return.

What's on the turntable? "Visionary" by Gordon Giltrap from "Visionary"

Rejection is just business

Well, other people are doing stuff about rejection (Lucy for one).

Most advice boils down to "it's not personal" and "it does not reflect on your skill". Which is right.

I thought I'd mention that at one time I was on the other side of the fence, though in a slightly different area: I was an editor of computer magazines in the 80s and 90s. There was a time when we would get contributions of articles and computer programs (these were the days of "type-it-in-yourself" computers).

There was a percentage, about 90%, which were rubbish, most of the other 10% fitted into the "we've already got or had one of those", some were effectively replacements for regular columnists so could not be allowed, and maybe 1% were usable. And of those most needed re-writing, either for style or English. Sometimes we rejected because their programs, even though they worked, were so badly coded they would be bad examples.

So we had a standard rejection letter with the most common reasons for rejection listed with tick boxes, a space for the name and the article. And we would spend time each week going through the submissions, reading them, testing the programs and sending back the rejections.

We did not care who the people were, and we appreciated the fact that they wanted to contribute but we couldn't take them all, even if they were good enough. Every industry has its financial constraints, many people thought we could just "add pages" to make the magazine bigger to fit their articles and programs in. (It really doesn't work like that.)

Yes it's true that every now and then something would come through that was so appalling we would make jokes about it. Sometimes there would be the arrogant bar stewards who thought they were god's gift and we owed it to them to use their work. In those instances, where we could tell, we would reject because their attitude implied future trouble, no matter how good they were. But they were few and far between.

So we sent out our standard rejection letters, we never ignored people (unless they forgot to put in their address, it happened). I'm sure some of them took it personally, but how could it be personal? We didn't know them, the judgement was based purely on whether the submission was something we could use or not; and even if was brilliantly written it still had to be appropriate for the magazine.

As an aside, my wife was also a magazine editor at that time (we worked closely for 13 years while married, and loved every moment of it - we only ever had one domestic in the office, it was amusing watching people backing away). Anyway: She launched a new magazine intended to educate parents about computers with respect to children. It was announced in Writers Magazine with a very clear statement of intended content, which did not include stories (it was a techie/education magazine at the end of the day). Yet she received handwritten stories about cute little pussy cats and whatnot. Unsurprisingly they were rejected - one of those rejected authors actually complained. (Living in the real world, not.)

I made some great friends during that time from the submissions we did accept and people who wrote for us regularly, and by a strange quirk of fate one of those people is also a finalist in the Red Planet Competition: William Gallagher. If he wins, I taught him everything he knows. If he doesn't, he wasn't listening. (For the avoidance of all doubt, the preceding sentence is a joke.)

So that's what it's like on the other side of the rejection fence. It's just business.

What's on the turntable? "Ricochet" by David Bowie from "Let's Dance".

So far so good

I've sent out the first ten pages of my Monsters script to the producers I have on my list. I decide to have a rummage around for other possibles and discovered that Red Productions in Manchester (Queer as Folk, Clocking Off, Casanova, Second Coming, and loads more really good stuff) have changed their policy on unsolicited submissions, so sent them the whole script.

Must admit I almost didn't want to mention Red, thinking "but if I tell people then they'll all be doing it and reduce my chances" - as it turns out I can't be that selfish. Besides, if Red don't like Monsters, or my style, they won't use it anyway - doesn't matter how many other scripts are there. And there are plenty of people better than me (I am now allowing myself to consider the possibility that I can write scripts), if they get a chance then that can only be good. (Dig that karma, baby.)

So that's one step of my week's priorities dealt with.

The job interview continues to be vague, which is irritating. I think they're probably prevaricating until after Christmas. Question is: would I prefer a job in Milton Keynes as opposed to Preston? If they do delay until after Christmas then that will be the choice.

I had some feedback from Philip Shelley on my one page pitch for Winter which means that it needs a bit of re-working. You might ask why I paid for feedback on a one page pitch? Because I hate writing them, which makes it so important that I don't put a foot wrong. I don't know enough to know what to say and what not to say.

As it happens, in just those few paragraphs, he spotted my recent arbitrary addition to the plot (that's experience for you) and pointed out the story is, in essence, a retelling of Frankenstein which I hadn't even noticed. But which was excellent and allowed me to remove the unnecessary additions and streamline it conceptually.

And that's why I pay for advice on a one page pitch. As was commented at last year's Screenwriters Festival, the job of a script reader/consultant is to help the writer find the story.

Getting back to the week's priorities, I haven't done any of the wine pages for the website yet, I'll finish up Winter today and write a wine page or two. That's the plan.

What's on the turntable? "Fair Wind" by Childe Rolande from "Foreign Land". You can read about Childe Rolande here, I happen to know of them because their lead singer, Alice, is the wife of a friend. There's always room for folk-rock in my world.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Domestic bliss

Well I'm settling back into home life, and it's great to see wife and kids every day instead of just occasionally.

Trouble is I'm not writing as much even though, theoretically, I have loads more time. Reasons for this include:

(a) snow, kids and wife at home half of last week;

(b) finding a job, which is looking promising (I have a job interview some day this week but they're not sure exactly when);

(c) dog, he's still just a puppy really though he's big, and very demanding. I read the puppy book yesterday so things should be a little easier - he keeps trying to challenge my authority as alpha male, I hate having to slap him down but it's for his own good;

(d) business partner wants me to write 13 web pages about wine (I have a website here which generates some cash that I am developing with an old friend);

(e) web developing my pet project which is nearing readiness;

(f) being generally domestic (washing, cooking, ironing - I can do all these things).

However I have been working on the promotional side of my writing, an important aspect of the business, and I have let a few more contacts know about my Red Planet success, plus I have the addresses of two producers to send "Monsters" to. I also have the one page pitch for Winter to send off to the BBC.

I have to buy a couple of DVDs featuring Parkour as research for the project with the working title "Running", this is for a contact I made at the last Scriptwriters festival. And I still have to wrap up for first draft of "Air", trouble is the copy of the script that I made all my notes on is in the flat in Reading and I'm not there. (We've decided that, on the way to see relatives next weekend we'll swing by the flat and pick up stuff - I hope the car can take it all.)

So my priorities this week are: Job interview; Winter; Promotion; 13 Wine pages; that should do it.

Speaking of ironing: I was working through a mountain of it yesterday and watching the "making of" DVDs that come with the 25th anniversary Bladerunner boxed set. This is really good stuff, it's actually interviews with people today and nobody is hiding any of the trouble that went with the production of, what I believe is, a seminal cinematographic work.

What's on the turntable? "See me Feel me" by The Who from "Tommy". Cool.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Watch this

Got this from Laura Anderson, every hopeful TV writer should watch this.

I wish Graham Linehan hadn't compared writing to having a poo - it's such a perfect analogy I shall never be able to forget it.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink, I'm watchin' telly.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Snow Day!

For the first time in 20 years we were nearly snowed in. The boy stayed home because it was easier and the girl made her own way to college which involved a lot of walking, and sitting in buses that weren't moving. (Though she only has one lesson today but it's English which she loves.)

I've been meaning to put a picture in the blog of the view from our house. So here is the view from the back...and the front...

The front is nicer, especially when the back isn't covered in snow. What you see (or don't see due to low flying cloud) is the Pennines. There are a couple of houses on the hill but after that it's moors for the next 20 miles.

That's actually a main road out front (the van belongs to next door) but even during the rush hour it's not what you'd really call "busy".

The line running left to right, going up, is another road heading up to a cricket club. On the side of the hill. (They did find a flat bit.)

What's on the turntable? "The Remembering High the Memory" by Yes from "Tales of Topographic Oceans".

The story goes that Rick Wakeman had so little to do in this work (he left the band shortly afterwards) that on one occasion he ordered a curry delivered to him on stage at the Corn Exchange in Manchester. But he tells the tale slightly differently, he did say he wanted a curry and said so to a roadie, who brought it. But Rick actually meant
after the performance.

Monday, December 01, 2008


Yup, it's snowing here at home. The real home. Situated high in the mountains. (No prizes for recognising the reference in the title of this blog to snow, but if you don't know it the answer is at the end.)

Bit of a Monday morning ramble...

My most recent contract is complete so now I wonder: Do I try and get another contract before Christmas, the money would be useful, or do I stay at home and go back to being a house-spouse?

Must admit I'm at a bit of a loose end. It's not that I have nothing to do: Apart from the writing, there are numerous house things, plus dog-sitting, and my pet web project which is pretty near ready.

No, it's the fact that the house runs like clockwork without me. I'm not needed, no it's worse than that - I don't fit in. It's very weird. If I had a car it would be different because I could be taxi, but we got rid of the second car as (a) it was falling to pieces but (b) it wasn't needed and was just an unnecessary expense.

Oh, it's stopped snowing now and the sun is coming out.

We had a French guy staying with us a few years ago, Gael (pronounced Gayle), lovely chap. Anyway he didn't understand when we said "Britain has weather, not climate", until the day it did everything (rain, snow, hot sun, storm).

Guilty pleasures: I like X-Factor because I like to see people with talent succeeding. I'm not interested in talentless weirdies or people with unpleasant attitudes, and the way the production team try to add "stories" I find gauche and irritating. But I like seeing people with talent.

Like Diana Vickers; after her first song my attitude was: "If she had an album out tomorrow I would buy it." This is still my attitude, and I'm getting really impatient, I want an album! (Of course, I like Kate Bush and Tori Amos, 70s prog rock and other strange stuff.)

I shall also admit I used to really like Blind Date, but I didn't watch it for the silly questions and answers, or people filled with hate, I watched it for those rare moments when two people really liked each other.

I can be such a softie. I cry watching movies and TV.

Which brings me to Survivors: I like it. It's not perfect but it has some really excellent moments which are left beautifully unexplained. The instantaneous hug between the mother Abby and the boy Najid; Al bursting into tears in the chicken run. That was good writing; and the Abby/Naj moment brought a tear to my eye.

Then there's Apparitions: I think I like it. The second episode got a bit boring in the middle, I was watching online so I let it run while I did other things, coming back to establish the scene. Still, it's different, the acting is very strong and the writing is clearly well-researched.

In our family we have noticed something. The quality of a film or TV programme is reflected in the degree to which we talk about it afterwards - the better it is the more we discuss it.

Wall-E left us almost silent, Space Chimps had us chatting all the way home (yes, I know, Wall-E is suppose to be great and Space Chimps is the poor relation, sorry, we don't agree). National Treasure we talked about well after we got home.

Survivors has us talking a lot about the characters, the plot, what would happen if... (I'm the only one talking about Apparitions, as the others haven't watched it).

And finally: "Tiddly-Pom" is from the little "hum" that Winnie-the-Pooh made up about snow in the story about Eeyore's New House. As recited by Pooh with Piglet doing the Tiddly-Pom bits in between.

What's on the turntable? "Lucifer's Cage" by Gordon Giltrap from "Visionary" (based on the poem by Blake)

Friday, November 28, 2008

How many Red Planet finalists?

Being the "why bother wondering when you can ask" kind of guy that I am, I asked.

And the answer was...

We have just over 70 finalists.

The standard was excellent this year.

So there we go. The Scribospheric Bloggers make up just under 13%.

Reasons why I'm unlikely to win: Lots of people are better than me (and clearly a lot of them entered); and my dystopian future world involves a 'flu'[1] pandemic that decimates (literally, I know what the word means) the world's population. Unfortunately who's going to want that after the Survivors remake?

Best get back to Winter and Air, and I have a premise for next year's competition to get started on.

[1] Misplaced emphatic apostrophes just for the Dancing Arnopp.

What's on the turntable? "Haunted" by Evanescence from "Fallen"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Script secrets

Bill Martell is great, he really knows his stuff. His daily script secrets are great too, that's where he reveals all the stuff he knows.

I spent the evening working on my One Page Pitch for Winter (see Adrian Mead's How to Make it as a Scriptwriter, Chapter 8 - honestly I don't get a commission).

Actually I am quite pleased with the way it's coming together, although the antagonist needs work.

You see it's like this: Bill didn't like Indy IV and I wasn't overly impressed by it, Indy II wasn't great either but Indy I and III were cracking tales. Why? Was it because I and III had Nazis in them? While II and IV didn't?

Mr Martell says yes and no. It's not because they were Nazis that they made great antagonists, it's because, as antagonists, the stakes were clear. The viewer understands why it would be really bad if Hitler got hold of either the Ark or Immortality.

In II and IV the stakes either weren't high enough (II, yes it was bad what they were doing to the kids but what would actually happen if they got all the stones?) or too vague (IV, so the Commies wanted psychic powers ... okay ... so what?).

This is one of the problems I have to fix with Winter, the antagonist has his evil goal but if he succeeds ... so what?

This is the "So what?" rule which is expressed by my other favourite screenwriting adviser, Jeff Kitchen in his "Writing a Great Movie" and I quote:

Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures, ran his development process as follows: He would sit his writers down at a conference table and ask for their ideas. The first writer would lay out his idea and Cohn would respond, "So what?" The next writer would pitch his idea and Cohn would shoot it down the same way. An idea had to pass Cohn's "So what?" test before he was willing to pursue it.
I need a motivation and consequences of the antagonist's actions that answer the "So what?" test. Currently it's way too vague and ephemeral "something bad will happen".

The other thing that needs dealing with is the theme. Now it's true that theme often doesn't reveal itself until you've finished. But there are ways to divine the theme without writing everything, in this both Bill Martell and Jeff Kitchen agree:

1. How the protagonist resolves the story.


2. The main philosophical difference between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Which, for reasons I can't reveal, makes working out the theme in Winter quite hard, but I'm sure I'll prevail.

It's funny how things work out I had been wondering about theme (because Adrian Mead suggested I should for the One Page Pitch) and then I looked at Bill Martell's daily script secret which, if you don't know, you do by going here and then just waiting (don't click "Enter").

I got tip #144 which didn't excite me, so being a naughty hacky type lad, I deleted the "1" from the URL and pressed return. And lo! I got Bill Martell's take on Theme. The fates were with me this eve.

Writing blogs is a great way of prevaricating when you don't have anything to read.

What's on the turntable? "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell from "Hits". I love this song.

The Morning After

I must be turning into a real writer. Having a couple of days off work I went out this morning into Reading town centre and sat in a coffee shop planning.

I wanted to go into a coffee shop in a bookshop, there's a nice Waterstones in Reading, but surprisingly they don't have a coffee shop. I paused to admire Roger Ellory's paperbacks in the crime section thinking "He's my friend, he is, and he's got books in a bookshop." And he's got a redesigned website I notice.

Then went to WHSmith's which has a Costa Coffee.

I then made one of the biggest mistakes of my entire life: I had a large Mocha Flake. If any beverage deserves an OMG that certainly does: It's huge and very chocolatey with four flake chocolates on the side. Oh dear. And after the celebratory bar of 70% Green and Black's last night I am completely chocolated out. I alleviated the richness slightly with an Innocent Smoothie.

Anyway sitting in the coffee shop I got out my notepad and thought about the thing I need to create for the BBC and managed to get a few ideas down. I've based it on a short I did a treatment for a few years ago but never scripted (let alone had produced). It's got some tasty emotional opportunities, it's quite twisty and turny (like a twisty turny thing) and I added an extra antagonist to make it longer. It's a bit "coincidental" currently so that will need work. The code word and title for this project is "Winter".

(Originally I, very derivatively and very cornily, called it "A Winter's Tale" but I won't do that now, too many words. I like evocative single word titles.)

Now I need to send an email or two, send off the full script of Monsters to Red Planet along with the other bits they asked for and get on with some new writing.

What's on the turntable? "Weightless" by Mike Oldfield from "Tubular Bells 2"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh. My. God. #3

Thicker than the thickest of thick things, the OMGs do march upon the Earth.

The real OMG is listed further down the page but first things first...

Had my meeting with the BBC person today, nice person, nice meeting, nice soup. I really can't say much because even saying a little would instantly give away the subject but I seem to be in a very good position because of my experience, both in writing and other areas.

However the next stage is to translate that experience and knowledge into something that the BBC want to take forward. That's the real test.

They're talking to a few writers, then they'll select some to take their ideas forward to script (and pay them for it) and then choose one to produce. So, we shall see.

I have to say that Adrian Mead's monograph "How to Make It as a Screenwriter" (Chapter 17), was a huge help. It gave me sufficient understanding of the process that I didn't feel too nervous[1]. The meeting lasted about an hour which is a good time for something that informal and over lunch. (From previous experience in another life, formal meet-and-greet meetings are good if they run from 1-2 hours.)

The real OMG: My script "Monsters" is a Red Planet finalist. (I haven't quite absorbed this yet.) Loads more info at Jason Arnopp's Bloggery-Pokery: In The Red.


[1] Who am I trying to kid? I wasn't even slightly nervous, I've had enough meetings to last me a lifetime. It was just another one. But Adrian's stuff did help.

What's on the turntable? "Rain and Snow" by Pentangle from "Light Flight"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tension rises

Hopefully next week we'll find out who is and who isn't through in the Red Planet.

And tomorrow I have my meeting with the BBC person. Couldn't get more exciting.

What's on the turntable? "Quest" by Gordon Giltrap and the Birmingham Philharmonic, from "Perilous Journey". The CD has some interesting additions like GG playing Heartsong without just one guitar (except it sounds like three), Quest with the orchestra, and a 20 minute version of the entire album on Guitar and Piano. Cool stuff.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Elementary, My Dear Watson

This evening I lost another procrastinary device: I finished the 1,408 pages of the The Complete Sherlock Holmes Stories.


I originally bought it because of a collaboration/competition thingy on Shooting People, someone looking for an original Sherlock Holmes story. I needed to research so bought them in order to get a feel for the style.

It's actually a fascinating historical document, and there are some cracking good stories, although watch out for the longer stories, the second halves are always the back story which can be pretty tedious, even if they are historically interesting.

In my blog this particular piece of writing was referred to as the Bohemian Project. It came to naught and a good chunk of the reason for that was me not reading the brief properly. I completely failed to notice that the company wanted something very dark and possibly supernatural. Mind you, Holmes wouldn't stand for that, read "The Sussex Vampire" story.

It's a crime I shall never be guilty of again, because I mean to win.

Back to Holmes, as I mentioned in a recent blog the word monograph comes up reasonably frequently. However there were turns of language that surprised me by their modernity, such as referring to the USA as "the States", and (I know it's not very recent but still...) a criminal saying "It's a fair cop".

What's on the turntable? "Heartsong" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey". Heartsong was his only charts hit, and it's a lovely tune. Gordon Giltrap tells stories in music without words.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ego Googling

I love the Royal Armouries in Leeds, I'm not a fan of war but I am a fan of History. Particularly Japanese history and they have a lovely Japanese section where I and the rest of my family will sit down and drool over the weaponry, costume and armour.

Discontinuity #1: About 20 years ago I was walking through the centre of London wearing medieval costume along with many friends similarly and dissimilarly dressed. (One of them wore beautiful fibreglass Ashigaru armour, the Japanese tourists loved it.) We passed a bookshop and my eye was caught by my name emblazoned across a book. A book about Samurai, which I hadn't written.

Discontinuity #2: Today, just for fun, we (the family that is) indulged in a little ego-googling (where you Google your own name). My wife's name comes up a lot, and much of it is actually her, she's had two major careers and made a significant impact with both. But there were others, of course, including a sculptress.

My daughter's name comes up too. Her name is quite unusual but there are others in the world, but again 50% of the entries are for her. (The boy was playing on his Wii, that he saved up for all by himself.)

Then I did mine. There are quite a lot of me. One of me is a sculptor in Australia who does some wonderful work, another is a web designer in Canada; both could be close relations as I have relatives in both those places.

And then there was the author of the book on Samurai. Who, it turns out, lectures at Leeds University and has a lot to do with the Royal Armouries.

The Jujitsu daughter (Jujitsu being the self-defence art of the Samurai) has come over all Wushu and wants to learn Kung-Fu. She's also discovered a Martial Arts competition she can enter.

What's on the turntable? "Never Be Mine" by Kate Bush from "The Sensual World"

The DVD Meme

I visit your house/apartment, and you spot me looking at your DVD/VHS shelf.

1. What's on there that you instantly force me to borrow, because it's a great movie and you figure I haven't seen it?

"Casablanca" not enough people have seen this film.

2. What you do also lend me, because even though it's not considered a classic, it's a personal favourite?

"Undercover Blues" Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner as spies on holiday with Tom Arnold and Stan Tucci, what's not to like?

3. What movie is on there that you have no rational explanation for owning, and which you try to slide under the couch while I'm distracted?

"Miss Congeniality #2". I love Sandra Bullock. But this is a monstrosity. Actually I don't even own it, but that's only because I discovered it was rubbish just in time.

(Hm, not a SF/F among them. Curious.)

What's on the turntable? All very quiet.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chapter 17

"No one trains you for this." - Adrian Mead, "How to make it as a Screenwriter".

I spoke to the producer in the BBC today and arranged a meeting for next Wednesday evening, somewhere in London (venue to be confirmed). An informal " get to know you" type meeting, which roughly translates as "I like your writing but are you someone I can work with?"

Chapter 17 of Adrian Mead's monograph[1] is entitled "Meeting Script Editors and Producers" and contains the above quote as the second paragraph. He goes on to say:

This [meeting] is rarely about making your script. Most likely they are meeting you for
one of the following reasons:
  • They liked your work and are interested to see more ideas.
  • They are checking you aren’t a neurotic type to see if you’re suitable for one of their existing TV shows or film projects.
You will do dozens of these meetings at the start of your career and it will seem like nothing comes out of 99% of them.

Well, I'm certainly not neurotic - arrogant possibly.

The truth is that nobody trains you, until now. Adrian spends the rest of the chapter explaining how to prepare for, and how to be professional in, the meeting; thereby increasing the likelihood that something does come of it. (Is [less than] ten quid really too much for this sort of information? Especially when the profits got to Childline.)

So I shall prepare well and behave in an appropriately relaxed but professional manner.

[1] "Monograph" is a sadly under-used word nowadays, yet its definition perfectly fits Adrian's little book: "a detailed and documented treatise on a particular subject". I have been, over the last few months, on and off, been reading the complete works of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle. And the word monograph pops up every now and then. I read the stories picturing the amazing, iconic and sorely missed, Jeremy Brett, who made the role his own in the 41 stories he appeared in.

What's on the turntable? "Suspended in Gaffa" by Kate Bush from "The Dreaming". Reminds me of this: You only need two things in this universe Gaffa Tape and WD40. Gaffa is for stopping things moving that shouldn't and WD40 is getting things moving that should.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oh. My. God. #2

The OMGs are coming thick and fast.

And I really can't talk about this one but I shall be having a chat about drama with someone who has the word "producer" in their job title at the BBC in the coming week. Of course, it may all come to naught. But it's the first real bite.

The opportunity has arisen from the person reading "Monsters", it's what spec scripts are made for.

On another matter, it's funny, one of the things people (successful scriptwriting type people) say is that writers should have a go at directing.

And I always think: Nah. Not interested.

Then I remembered, I already did. A few years ago I wrote and directed an action short featuring my martial arts daughter (the boy got a look in as well). I also played various monsters and the person needing rescuing.

Of course it was rubbish. Filmed in a few hours on a family camcorder without even a separate microphone. My brother-in-law was camera/sound/continuity guy. He also edited it over a year.

We keep a copy so that one day, when the daughter is famous, we can blackmail her out of her fortune under threat of revealing this early example of her work. Or sell it the highest bidder.

And then I thought some more. And remembered making a film (with real film) with a school buddy of mine. We made models and filmed them in the deep darkness of my parent's cellar.

No editing at all. And no sound.

So I've already done that bit.


What's on the turntable? "Shadows and Light" by Joni Mitchell from "The Hissing of Summer Lawns"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Air

Goodness me. I just completed the first draft of the first episode of Air.

I'd had a sticking point where I couldn't see how to introduce the father of the family that Air ends up staying with. Then I was thinking about it on the train coming home this evening and it came together, so I jotted down the entire sequence of scenes in my little black book as we trundled from Clapham Junction to Reading (actually it only took me from Staines - when I got a seat - to Ascot).

Having got in I made my dinner, handled some important money things, made a couple of phone calls, read a Sherlock Holmes short story, and with all the procrastination dealt with I sat down and blasted out the 7 pages in a little under 90 minutes.

Discovering various things as I went like: the bad guys are called the Witchbrood, and the people in our world are assuming Air has run away from an abusive home, taking refuge in fantasy. An amusing irony.

I'm pretty economical in my writing so I've still got another 7-8 pages to fill, which is great because I can put more emotional content into it.

The sticking point I resolved had some interesting features (I think). Initially I had made the Dad a Professor of History. This meant that I had to bring in Police to deal with the lost soul that is Air, and then have Dad be chosen as the person to take Air home.

It just wasn't working, I could not get my head around any sequence of scenes and dialogue that could make that work smoothly. So my first brainwave (last week) was to make the Dad a Police Detective himself, cutting out the middle man. Excellent.

Then I had to somehow make Air, as the Protagonist, do a protagonistic action in order to make the Dad take her home. I needed her to manipulate the action without that manipulation being "conniving" which is, of course, the trait of a baddie.

It was when I had the Dad walk into the scene wearing full plate armour (which fits the setting perfectly) that the solution flowed off the end of my fingers - naturally Air would look for a protector, a knight, and he just walked in through the door.

Problem solved: She chooses him, and he is duty-bound to accept. (It even works in the real world, Social Services don't work weekends so Air would have to be dealt with by the Police alone, and if she were 16, Social Services wouldn't even be remotely interested, so I get a free hand.)

It's true that I wrote down a whole load of stuff in my little black book but, in truth, I didn't write what I put in the book. But my initial inspiration would have worked, it just wasn't as good as what I ended up with.

Of course there is loads more going on, I have the two other major plot lines running through as well, all linked and interconnected so I'm quite pleased. I'll print it up tomorrow and work through making notes and seeing where it can be appropriately expanded.

What's on the turntable? "Refuge of the Road" by Joni Mitchell from "Hejira"

Monday, November 17, 2008

The solution...

... to yesterday's puzzler: What is it that links the films Silent Running (1972) and National Treasure (2004)?

Valley Forge.

The name of the spaceship in the former, the password in the latter (confused by the fact that it has duplicate letters hence the computer couldn't solve it).

I thank you.

What's on the turntable? "Sister Disco" by The Who from (in my case) "Greatest Hits"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quanta of Solace, Solitude and Soul-searching

How do you like your Bond?

I was in two minds about going to see "Quantum of Solace", although I really liked Casino Royale, critics have a lot to answer for. Luckily Bond is critic-proof. I thought QoS was superb - Paul Haggis does it again.

If you insist on your Bond having gadgets, or don't understand the words in the title, or a simple plotline, then I guess you might not like this film. The nonsense about "having to have seen Casino Royale" is exactly that: nonsense. There are references but nothing that makes the story impossible to understand - but it is a more complex Bond plot than your average. And I see that only as a good thing.

The sequence set against the music of Tosca in the opera house was magical; and how many people got the relevance between the fall from the building at the end of the sequence and the end of Tosca? Precious few I'll be bound. Not that it detracts if you don't get it, but it adds so much if you do.

Speaking of which: the first episode of the second season of the Sarah Connor Chronicles (so glad this got renewed, it is excellent) was an example of excellent and logical plotting but completely understated.


A group of the main characters are stranded in the desert and the nearby cell-phone mast has been destroyed deliberately. As they hike through the desert they meet a truck coming the other way. Lucky coincidence?

Not at all.

Completely unmentioned in the dialogue but this is the cell-phone mast repair truck, it says so on the side. Love it. Completely logical.


I like my long train journeys usually, (back in Reading from my nice weekend at home), but not today. I usually take a seat in First Class (cheap upgrades on Sundays) where no one can look at what I'm doing, it's bad enough if I'm programming, but I can't have people reading my scripts over my shoulder as I write, horrible thought.

Ten minutes before the train is due to leave, 5 times as many people get on as usual. Really, the train was packed, not even standing room anywhere. Killed my writing opportunity, and I had really been in the mood. So I spent 3.5 hours being annoyed at everybody crowding around, even though it wasn't the fault of the travellers. Not my worst-ever journey but it was bad. (See what's on the turntable.)

Apparently Euston Station was closed and people were trying to find alternative routes into London.

Anyway I got back to the flat and spent abut half-an-hour writing out some planning for Air and then writing a difficult scene which will no doubt change. (It's got way too many new characters in it: Huwie, Louie and Dewie - well, Hugh Bland, Hang Po and Dorothy Keen.

Apropros nothing at all: Huwie, Louie and Dewey were, of course, Donald Duck's nephews (you all knew that, didn't you?) They were also the names given to the little robots in the terrific SF movie "Silent Running". Which, incidentally, allowed me to guess the password used for the lift in "National Treasure", even though I'm not an American.

And if all that seems obscure. That's probably because it is.

What's on the turntable? "Reflections & Despair" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey". How appropriate is that?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Halloween pictures

I forgot, okay?

I promised to post a picture of me and I thought I'd throw in the kids as well. The first picture is me with our little puppy, Toby, he's only about 8 months old. He can be a pain in the posterior but he can also be very cute.

Some might say including my kids pictures is a bad idea but honestly there's far more risk in crossing the road. And the news media seems to exist largely to terrorise the population - and I refuse to be terrorised.

Besides the girl is 2nd Dan Jujitsu and knows half a dozen ways of killing someone, never mind breaking bones and dislocating joints - and the boy is also a black belt Jujitsu so knows quite a few of those methods too.

Unlike some martial arts real Jujitsu is not a sport and is intended as serious self-defence - how to disable an attacker with minimum effort and swiftly, it covers everything from distance attacks (kicks and strikes) to ground fighting (half a dozen exits from strangulation, for example), and how to deal with knife attacks.

Besides, this blog is semi-anonymous, it's not impossible to find out who I am - if you don't know already - but it would take a bit of work. (Do you think I've justified myself enough?)

So the second picture is them in their costumes (they don't look like this normally). All the costumes and much more besides, is kept in our cellar ready for events like this.

The final picture is the kids looking cool, as done by professional photographer, John Nichols, when the daughter went to get some headshots done.

What's nice is that they almost never argue, and get on well.

I'll stop procrastinating now and get back to Air.

What's on the turntable? "Bright Evening Star" by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band from "Ringing the Changes"

Just a moment

I'm on my lunch break (cheese and ham baguette from Upper Crust) so I thought I'd take 5 minutes from my punishing schedule to throw out a blog. Plus the fact that accesses to my blog reached the lowest in ages yesterday so I thought I'd better write something.

In my day job I'm a contract web developer, the funny thing about developing websites is that most people have no clue as to what is difficult and what is hard. The usual rule of thumb is that non-techies think the easy things are hard and the hard things are easy.

Bit like writing really. I mean the actual writing bit isn't that hard, it's the planning and deciding what to write that's tricky.

Which brings me to Air - my kids TV fantasy series - I actually got down to some serious writing the past couple of evenings and I'm 7 pages in, a quarter of the way through a half-hour episode. Now that I've finished Russell T Davies's book I have no "research" excuse for procrastination.

I threw away my opening again and wrote a new one. Same basic stuff but just done in a different way, with the protagonist more at the centre of things, being more decisive. (And cut out a whole bunch of unnecessary speaking parts into the bargain, so keeping the budget down).

Then moved on to the protagonist's arrival here in the real world. It worked really well, not the way I originally thought it would play out but I like it - lots of action and emotion.

I can see people thinking this is "too heavy" for kids so I'll need something to lighten it up I suppose, but Tracy Beaker was pretty serious at times, so I'm aiming for that kind of level.

Anyway, better get back to work.

What's on the turntable? They never have music here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Oh. My. God.

It's who you know. Or, at least, it might be.

Just in case something actually happens, I have to be very careful how I say this:

I remembered I knew someone who had become a one of the top people in a TV Production Company. (I knew him properly years ago in another life, as it were.)

His company does not produce fiction TV but, hey, he might know someone who'd be interested in my work. Nothing ventured...

So I e-mailed him at 9:00pm, thinking that he might possibly get back to me tomorrow, if I was lucky, after he'd had a think about it - I was pretty sure he wouldn't just give me the brush off because he'd always been free with his time and advice before.

At 9:30pm I got an e-mail back: he's involved in something relevant, call him tomorrow.


Must. Control. Excitement.

Girlie. Scream. Escaping. Lips.

(Not much writing in the last few days, still adjusting to my new job schedule, up at 6:00am , into work at 9:00am, work solidly until 5:30pm, home by 8:00pm. Knackered. Spoke to the landlord who's okay to let me leave as soon as they can find someone to replace me here. And then I'll find somewhere closer to the new job. But having said that, I've done some good planning for Air while sitting on the train.)

What's on the turntable? "An Architect's Dream" by Kate Bush from "Aerial". Yup, still listening to it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale - a review

Oooh, that sounds posh. Once upon a time, when I worked on magazines, I used to write reviews all the time. Not so much in recent years.

I knew I had to buy this book, in its glorious hard-back, heavyweight and glossy paper configuration. It just exudes quality. But that's just judging a book by its cover (and production values).

I am a fan of Dr Who and my watching goes back to the second story in 1963 - the Zarbi made an impression on me. Not an obsessive fan, you understand, just someone who has enjoyed watching and would go out of his way to watch. (Except towards the end of the original run.)

Of course, Russell T Davies's revival of the series has created whole new generations of fans, recreated "appointment TV" and revivified family watching on a Saturday evening.

But these things we knew. And I've wasted valuable minutes telling you things you already knew.

So what is this book? It is the e-mail (and occasionally mobile phone text) correspondence between RTD and Benjamin Cook (journalist) through a year of the production of new Dr Who's season 4. It reveals the trials and tribulations of the show runner and chief writer, with excerpts of the scripts as they evolve; views of the production process that are seldom seen elsewhere; and a personal study of RTD as a writer.

Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know what happens in the Christmas 2008 special do not read this book. There are references to it in various places but mostly at the end. There is also some stuff on the special episodes for 2009 and Stephen Moffat's 2010 series (but not much).

I won't say this is an easy read. It's over 500 pages of fairly dense text. Though it is interspersed with illustrative photos from the episodes and scripts being discussed, it's tough going at times.

And heartbreaking in places. Such as when the actor who played Donna's Dad dies during filming; And if you cried at the end of the fourth season you'll cry again as you read the Bad Wolf Bay scene as it goes through three or four different versions until it becomes "true".

Does that sound pretentious? If there's one thing to learn about RTD's writing process it's the truth of the script. Or, less pretentiously, does it make sense? Are the characters obeying the plot or being themselves? RTD isn't pretentious at all, but he knows his way around a script. He hasn't read any scriptwriting books (he says) but you'll find that he agrees with many of them.

Which is good news for those of us who have read some. It will also tell you which of them are the better ones - because they agree with him.

As an "as-yet-unproduced" screenwriter I read it from the viewpoint of how useful this is to me. I haven't bothered to mention the missed deadlines, the writing through the night, the writer tortured by self-doubt and such like. But it does make the story more human.

But this book is unique. It's a year-long interview with one of the most effective, and most powerful, TV writers in the UK. If you think you want to write for TV then you are missing a fundamental piece of research by not reading it: Honestly? You'd be an idiot not to read it.

In his "Making it as a Screenwriter" Adrian Mead recommends "It’s essential that you constantly update your skills and knowledge of the industry". And there is nowhere that you'll get the information revealed in this book, short of firsthand experience and even then it would be better to read to prepare yourself.

Give yourself an early Christmas present, or make sure that somebody buys it for you.

If you're serious about TV writing you must read this book. If you just happen to like Dr Who, then it's a lovely book anyway.

Get it here. Buying from the big link will give me a commission if you buy, using the text link won't.

Oh yes and I was just reading the reviews on Amazon (after writing mine) and I forgot to mention that many of the illustrations are cartoons drawn by RTD. Damn him, he's a brilliant cartoonist as well! And this book is definitely not for kids - need a 15 tag I would say.

What's on the turntable? "King of the Mountain" by Kate Bush from "Aerial". I have all her albums, this is undoubtedly the very best (so far). Though, in truth, I love them all. Even the less popular ones (like "Red Shoes") always have amazing tracks.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Playing the role

I have a friend.

Well, I have a lot of friends (I suppose) but this particular friend is someone I have known for nigh on 30 years (gosh). I met him at the Manchester University D&D Society and we've been playing table-top role-playing games since that time. We have a group that's met almost once per week for the last 20 years and played a multitude of games (mostly not D&D as it happens).

In 1987 I had the bright idea of starting a live role-playing game company. So we did (along with my wife and others). It lasted about 7 years but we always loved live role-playing. There's nothing sordid about this, we're talking about running around the countryside having mock-medieval adventures complete with magic and sword-play. Like re-enactment, only it's enactment, it's improvisational (although the adventures are scripted the players have no idea what will happen - a bit like murder mysteries).

This is all, in fact, relevant to Halloween. I'm coming to the point soon.

So my friend Steve (let's call him Steve because that's his name) likes to do things proper on Halloween, so he dresses up his house, has a graveyard in the garden, a smoke machine, atmospheric effects, lots of skulls and such like. And then he dresses up and scares all the kids that come trick or treating (some of them not so little).

Ths evening was the first evening in all these years I've had a chance to join in. I love it. You get the costume on and you're in character - an ogre in my case - I scared dozens of kids this evening, Brilliant. My daughter, who is a professional cackler (she's done two semi-pro pantomimes as the witch), let rip with her superb cackles which do not damage her voice (she could give masterclasses).

Even the boy, who was not even in a scary costume, managed to scare a few by simply emerging unexpectedly from the shadows. The wife, who also loves the dressing up, wasn't feeling too good so gave it a miss this year.

But it wasn't just us: we had two skeletal pirates, a Countess Dracula, a superb Death - and that was just the adults. The kids were brilliant too: a Corpse Bride (who kept insisting that her husband was buried in the graveyard, she was 10 I think), zombies, mini-witches all decked out in quality costumes. And even sweet little Summer dressed as a witch, she was about 2. That's what you get for being born into families of live role-players: decent costumes and a willingness to play the role.

We had a brilliant time, and so did the kids that came to visit. Steve, as a skeletal pirate, had this line "Come and get your treat, if you're brave enough". And the memorable "I'm not brave" came wavering through the dark from some young girl ... but she was, and she got her treat. Other phrases like "this is the best house ever" and "better than Alton Towers" came back to us. Steve's house is always the talk of the neighbourhood for the next week.

Next year we're thinking in terms of a castle frontage. I'll pop some pictures in tomorrow.

I haven't had so much pure fun in years.

What's on the turntable? Quiet as the grave.

Yes, dear reader,

I got the job.

Amusingly, I had applied to the same company 7 months ago and said exactly the wrong thing in the interview. So didn't get the job then.

I reminded them of this fact. Oh, how we laughed.

And I still got the job.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Well, last day on the current contract today and it's all over. Tomorrow I have a job interview which apparently I'm 95% likely to get, so much so that they wanted me to start work immediately. I refused ... assuming I got the job ... my family come before any of that and I have a Halloween party to go to.

So I do the interview and then go home. And hopefully start work on Monday. Excellent.

I had decided I wouldn't do that personality test thing where you draw a mountain and it analyses it for you. This was mainly because I'd seen other people's and they appeared to be coming out all very similar analyses.

But procrastination is a bitch, so I did it:

drawing personality
What does your drawing say about YOU?
  • You tend to pursue many different activities simultaneously. When misfortune does happen, it doesn't actually dishearten you all that much.
  • You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way.
  • You like following the rules and being objective. You are precise and meticulous, and like to evaluate decisions before making them.
  • You have a sunny, cheerful disposition.
Which isn't really too bad an analysis, the same as all the others, and doesn't really achieve much apart from some wasted time. Course I didn't read the instructions carefully enough and didn't realise I was supposed to only draw one. I wanted a whole range, and a forest, and path that went the other way to everybody else's. The thing on the left is supposed to be a waterfall, and just round the corner is Eustace's dragon cave...

In other news my daughter went for new headshots today, she's keen to be an actress (though she's training to be a zoologist, and is hoping to go to Borneo next year to push baby orangutans around in a wheelbarrow). She had an extra's part with an extreme close-up in The Street 1.3 but has mostly done stage work so far. She does have an IMDb entry as "herself" because of a TV documentary about a pantomime she was in last year.

Anyway, with 2 hours of the photographer's time available and it really doesn't take that long for her, it was decided that the boy would have shots done too.

Damn it the camera loves him.

He's indicated that he wouldn't object to making a few quid from acting or catalogue work - to pay for the games he'd like to buy. Daughter is jealous. She knows that he stands a much better chance of getting work than she does: fewer boys want to act and there are more parts available for boys.

We shall see, I shall speak to daughter's agent.

I've been thinking about my opening to Air and the rubbish scenes I talked about yesterday. they need to go completely. Enough with the scene setting and backstory, I can get that out in a few lines just before the thing happens that throws her into our world.

These walks to and from work have been very useful. If I do get this new job I shall have the same walk plus a long train journey. I hate long journeys to work. I used to do the whole commute thing, I thought I'd lost that for good.

Still, money is money.

Why did I call this post "Breathing"?

Apart from the fact it's one of the best songs Kate Bush ever did?

Actually that's the only reason ... and I'm still breathing.

Out. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Out. Out.

What's on the turntable? "Haunted" by Evanescence from "Fallen".

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Digging into Air

So I had another go at Air this evening, and made a bit more progress. Wrote the first bit of dialogue which doesn't include Air.

Then I went and read some more of Russell T Davies's "A Writer's Tale".

Then went back and realised that the second scene is currently developing into rubbish ... because it's going nowhere. It's a typical problem when you've writing something that sits in a completely different world. You have to communicate all the world's rules without it being obvious exposition.

I ultimately achieved this in Monsters by cheating: I wrote the credit sequence to be a complete info dump on 50 years of history - in just 4 lines of script space.

I don't have that kind of freedom with Air, plus the fact that after the credits we'll be in the real (i.e. our) world. I've got 2-3 pages to set up an entire fantasy world and the protagonist's goal before throwing her into a completely different realm. Talk about making things easy for yourself.

And the second scene is useless. Oh well, it'll come to me.

On the subject of RTD's book I'm so pleased that I agree with him on so many points, like having to write a script in order ... he does it that way, couldn't do it any other way. I'm the same, I have ideas about future scenes but could never write them out of order. As RTD says, each scene is informed by the ones that go before.

This is such an important book for budding TV writers, I'm not saying that we should all get into the panics over deadlines the way he does. That would be bad. But the insight into the whole production process in addition to his experienced view of the writing process as it applies to TV, makes this a masterclass in very nicely produced book form.

I said I wasn't going to write a review until I'd finished it. Too late. And I'm only halfway through.

What's on the turntable? "House Carpenter" by Pentangle from "Light Flight". Another tale of lust, betrayal and ultimate doom. Good stuff.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Busy but not writing

Okay the 5 top methods of procrastination meme:

1. Reading blogs (I call that research)
2. Reading e-mails
3. Reading, currently Russell T Davies's "The Writer's Tale" (very enlightening, I call this research too)
4. Working on my pet website project (I call that "future income")
5. Getting a new job. Contract ends this week and I need a new job.

Tried to work on "Air" tonight and wrote a few things but really couldn't get into it, the "need to get a new job" thing is a bit pressing.

Got a nice e-mail back from BBC Wales complimenting my writing, and viewing my script as a serious commission (gosh, I wasn't expecting that). Got some very sensible reasons why they wouldn't commission it. It was interesting.

Still awaiting responses from the first round of agency submissions.


And did Danny Stack really mean it when he said "2 months"? We have to wait another month before we hear on Red Planet? I hope not.

I'll review RTD's book properly when I've finished it, but it's really making me think about budgets ... yes, I know, writers aren't supposed to ... but why not deliver something that is well written and works to a budget as well?

For instance the opening of Air originally took in 4-5 locations in a castle for the same number of scenes. Yet, with a little thought, I made it two locations without losing anything else. Also, particularly since Air is for kids, I ought to think about the number of characters. Can't really have that many.

Right. Stopping now. No more quick thoughts.

What's on the turntable? "Omie Wise" by Pentangle from "Light Flight". This is a very cruel story of a man who tricks a girl into running away with him, has his wicked way with her, then murders her. After her body is found much later, he is arrested, tried and executed without evidence. Luckily they got the right man.