Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oooh, The Original! I'm Fed Up With Getting The Second Pressing...

Gianni is probably spinning in his grave.

Er, I mean graev.

Look, I know it's pedantry, but when the name of the item is on the picture that's the centre-piece of your poster, I think it looks a bit shoddy to get the name wrong. You only have to look about an inch downwards to check it. I mean, come on...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Huh? As Opposed To Literature Soaps Or Cola Drinks?

Sainsburys going for the Nobel Prize For Signage there, then.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Was In Receipt, But I Hope They Kept The Receipt

Well, after all my recent posts about other people being unclear about gifts they wanted for Christmas, karma has come to bite me on the arse, and the pictures here show a DVD and book which I received yesterday.

Not the ones I had in mind, I have to say.

All right, lesson learned.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

And A Very Merry Christmas To All Of You

If you're reading this shortly after I post it, you really ought to go to bed - Santa doesn't come if you're still awake.

That consideration aside, I hope you have a good day, and that you spend it with people who you want to be with, and that you have fun.

I'm reliably informed that the actual translation of the latin phrase "et in terra pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis", because it involves the genetive case, actually means "Peace on earth to men of good will", but I think we can stretch to the usual mistranslation, and so I wish a whole bunch of high quality will (and not in the Nietzschean sense) to each and every one of you.

As Derek Batey used to say, be nice to each other.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yes, Yes, The Lesson Here Is Not To Leave Your Present-Wrapping Until The Last Minute, But That Doesn't Help Me Right Now

I thought that my previous problem with mixed-up gifts might get me in trouble, but all my notebook says for the presents for my sister and my niece alike is 'Circus CD'.

The items are on the table before me, and they need wrapping in the next few minutes. Looks like I'd better flip a coin...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Guess The Opposite of Update Would Be Downtime

Over the last couple of weeks, a number of people I know have started using Twitter.

If you're not familiar with it, it's arguably best described as a 'microblogging' site, where people post updates in very brief terms - about the length of a text message (which I think is probably how much of the updating is done), akin to the personal status thing in (hack, spit) Facebook.

Messrs Peel and Colgan are using it, though I doubt I'll be joining in - as regular readers will have realised by now, the idea of me being able to express things in the bare minimum of characters is extremely unlikely.

Still, when it comes to twittering, I think we'd all have to agree that this chap may well be the current champion. Cripes.

I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But: I Once Saw A Man Openly Reading A Hardcore Pornographic Magazine On The District Line. Clearly, This Is Far Worse

On the tube on the way home from finishing off my Christmas shopping the other night, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was reading a book - which is perfectly reasonable - but strangely, she was keeping it inside her bag as she did so... as you can see from the craftily taken picture here.

Having seen a man reading an adult art pamphlet (as referred to in the title of this post) on the tube before, and also a woman reading a 'ladies erotica novel' about bondage and spanking without any such sense of subterfuge, I was keen and eager to know what it was that she was trying to read without letting anyone know what it was.

She turned a page, I peered at the title at the top of it, and it turned out to be this.

Shocking, I think you'll agree.

(If nothing else, I expect the racy words used in this post to help bring in new readers via Google search.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

And, Let's Face It, Having The Word 'Standard' In The Name Is Asking For Trouble

Remember how, the other day , I suggested that the interplay between fiction and reality goes in both directions?

Well, here's a newspaper hoarding from Thursday.

Given that the next line in the report wasn't 'Time Vortex Undoes All Of History', I think one might politely (or less politely) suggest that the paper was confusing the actor with the role he plays.

(Though I guess they might have been referring to concerns that David T's health might endanger the filming of episodes, but I prefer to take the less charitable interpretation where the ES is concerned. It's a stablemate of the Daily Mail, after all.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Service Update

I'm sure you're worrying about it, so let me just put your minds at rest, my loves - here at John Soanes, "normal service" (by which I mean 'at least as many updates as there are working days in the week') will be maintained over the Christmas and New Year period.

So, that news means literally dozens of people will be able to sleep well at night, then.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

From Hull

Once again, the good people from the BBC Writersroom are holding a roadshow - this time in Hull on Wednesday 7 January 2009.

As with all the finest gatherings, you need to be on the list to get in, but it's free to attend - full details of the how, when and where can be found here.

And, though no details are given, a roadshow session in London is promised for 2009. I'm very unlikely to attend the Hull event, but London... well, that's my manor, innit?

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Couldn't Find The UK Version Of The De Niro Film Poster, But It's The Same In Language Terms












Sometimes in life we may face awkward questions, but surely that doesn't mean that we should be inherently afraid of question marks? For some reason people seem a bit keen to remove them from the titles of various media. as shown above.

Anyone have any idea why this is ?

Er, I mean, "anyone have any idea why this is"...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ah, But Is It Art?

Antony Gormley's Angel Of The North, and Walt Disney's Condorman.

Despite the obvious similarities, only one of them is considered to be a work of art.

Can you guess which, and why? Answer using your own words as far as possible. (25 marks)

As I Know He Reads The Blog, I'd Like To Acknowledge That My Brother - Though He's Not Imaginary Like Donald Kaufman - Also Does His Job Jolly Well

There's a poll currently running on the Writers' Guild Blog : "Do you believe in writers' block?"

The two answers given are 'Yes, it's all too real', and 'No, it's just an excuse to procrastinate', and if you want to, I think you can still vote, so if you feel strongly either way and want to make your opinion known, follow the above link and click away.

I've been mulling it over a bit, partly because of the question asked by the WGGB, partly because of this post by Andrew 'They Call Me Mister' Tibbs, though mainly because I've recently rewatched Adaptation, a good film which is certainly worth seeing (if you haven't already done so).

As you may well know, the film tells the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's struggle to adapt the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean into a screenplay, and interweaves the tale of the book itself with his writing struggles (with something that certainly looks like writer's block), to the point where the film is ultimately more about that than the content of Orlean's book (though that just be me preferring the tale of the storyteller than the flora-seller). In the film, Kaufman stares hopelessly at the blank page in his typewriter, wrestling with both problems of story and his own self-worth (made all the more prominent by comparison with his [imaginary] twin Donald, who has enormous success with his own more obviously populist script).

It reminded me rather of the post on Andrew's blog, which refers to the recent Charlie Brooker programme, wherein a number of writers talked about the importance of actually getting down to writing - Tony Jordan puts it most straightforwardly when he says 'A writer writes - the clue is in the name' - and quite a few of them talked about how they'd write without necessarily knowing where they were going with the story. Andrew wrote about how the opposite of this can be to want to plot everything down to the smallest detail, and how that can lead to constant procrastination from the act of getting words down on the page - which is part of Kaufman's problem in Adaptation.

I'm inconsistent in whether I plan things like mad or just dive into a story (though I invariably like to have an end in mind, lest I should go on writing for ever), although one thing I've realised is that it's better if I keep my story ideas to myself; not for fear of plagiarism, but for the more mundane reason that if I get all giddy and intoxicated with the tale and end up blurting it out (usually in a half-baked form), that tends to dilute the need to write it down because - even on that pathetic level - part of me feels I've told the story. God only knows how I reconcile that with pitching and query letters, but I tend to make sure my first draft is finished before I get to that stage.

Anyway, I don't really have an opinion as to whether Writers' Block is real, though in a strange way I suspect that's because I've rarely been in a position where my failure to words on paper has been like a kick to my sense of identity. I've only occasionally been called upon to write under that kind of pressure (well, outside of work, where the stuff I write about is usually non-fiction, though some might disagree). If I was a paid writer, I can well see that finding the well of inspiration had run dry would be akin to a bout of mental impotence - you want to do it, you know you can do it, but the more you think about it, the less likely it is to happen.

I wish I was more advanced in my writing career than I actually am - and I'm well aware that I'm the only one, ultimately, who can do anything about that - but in a way it does mean that the pressure is lower; by analogy, if I can't be bothered to go out for a run (as has been the case more often than not since the clocks went back, and I have the waistline to prove it), I don't have a coach or team who I'm letting down, and who'll shout at me if I jeopardise my personal advancement, but if you're a writer by trade, there are a lot of people who you could feel you're letting down (as well as yourself). I can see why it could be a more pernicious situation if you feel you just can't find it within you to write (or indeed run), so I wouldn't want to say it's not real just because I (fortunately) haven't experienced it.

The main thing that keeps me from writing as much as I should, or should like to, is the tiresome and predictable issue of, you guessed it, time; again, I'm aware that I could squeeze in more writing and less loafing, and so for me at present this is a bigger challenge than Writers' Block, though of course that may change in the future.

So, in summary, my concerns: Writers' Block? Not yet. Writer's Clock? You bet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Outbreak III - The Virus Takes London

(Image nicked from Modern Humorist - not entirely germane, but I couldn't resist sharing.)

I'm almost ashamed to tell you this, but... well, I picked up a virus over the weekend.

No, it's not that kind of story - and my wife knows all about it - but it was kind of embarrassing. I downloaded a trial copy of WinRAR from a normally reputable source, but it turned out that it was a 'cracked copy' into which someone had inserted some nefarious code.

As a result I got a silly message popping up on my laptop every few minutes, and every time I tried to log on to the interweb I got redirected to some spurious-looking site which offered to sell me a security fix (for the problem it had caused). Tch.

Anyway, I resolved it - if you also suffer the 'intervalhehe' virus, you can sort it out by following Andy Greenwood's instructions here - but I was concerned for a bit that all the scripts on my computer were in danger, a prospect I was far from keen on.

So kids, learn from my mistake - if you're downloading files from the internet, make sure it's from a source you know you can trust!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

But You Don't Really Care For Music, Do Ya?

The latest series of TV show The X-Factor has just come to an end, and I have to admit to mixed feelings about the choice of song for the 'winner's single'.

I think Hallelujah is a genuinely beautiful song, and given that its creator, Leonard Cohen, had his retirement fund nicked by his (then) manager, it's a good thing that he'll benefit from the royalties, but... well, I'm pretty sure that it'll be so heavily played in the next few weeks that it'll end up like 'that Bryan Adams Robin Hood song'.

To be fair, the rendition of it by the winner, Alexandra, isn't bad at all (and is certainly better than the version by the runners-up), but I think my favoured performance remains that by KD Lang, which you can see and hear here.

Anyway, I like the irony of the third line of the song (quoted above) in a song performed by the winner of X-Factor...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why Should We Believe Your Stance This Time, Eh ?

In 1977, you say you're NOT; in 1995, you say you ARE.

Are you just going to change your mind again in 2013, Leonard?



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And Now, To Provide A Counterpoint To The More Serious Tone Of The Preceding Posts, Here's A Picture Of A Lovely Little Kitten

Oh dear.

Mind You, I Did Get A New Mousemat, So I Guess It Wasn't All Bad

As I may or may not have mentioned before, I used to work for a publisher, in their Customer Services team. It was a pretty good job, and I was pretty good at it.

It got more difficult shortly after I started, though, as they introduced a new 'order fulfillment system', which had a minor, niggling, teeny flaw - it was an active obstruction to getting books to customers. It tested my customer placating skills, I can tell you, and those of my colleagues alike - and one of those colleagues was my good friend Toby.

One day, Toby and I were in the kitchen at work, chatting.
"You watch," he said, "at times like this - when things are utterly chaotic - people tend to focus on the small things, and try to control them."
"Is that because they're the only things they can control?" I asked.
"Exactly," he said, and smiled knowingly.

A couple of days later, the manager of our department gathered everyone round. We hoped that he might be able to tell us that the (non)fulfillment system was being sorted out or replaced, but no: he smiled, and proudly told us they had new company mousemats for everyone.

Sigh.

Anyway, given that the general mood of the world is that an economic nightmare is inescapably descending on us all, and that it appears nothing is certain any more, I can't help but wonder if this is why people seem a bit too keen to complain about things on TV; a way of taking back control, as it were. Ross and Brand,a two-year-old episode of Mock The Week, and now there have been complaints about an advertisement for the children's charity Barnardo's, and it's been referred to the Advertising Standards Authority.

I've seen the advert a number of times (and I think it's viewable here), and I agree that it contains unsettling and upsetting material. But that's not what offends me - far more offensive to any 'ordinary decent person', surely, is the fact that in a supposedly civilised country, we even need charities such as Barnardo's or Save The Children or the NSPCC?

Now, I'm all offended and upset by the idea that people might want to complain about - if not shoot - the messenger. Who do I get to call and register my complaint?

Come Into The Lounge And Bring Your Backpack, I'm Going To Ramble About TV

There's an article about the Shannon Matthews trial on the Guardian website which I think makes for very interesting reading, and though it's quite lengthy, I urge you to have a look at it. Go on, I'll wait here…

It triggered two thoughts in my mind, the first of which is that it's perhaps revealing that the liberal Guardian should effectively be implying that the existence of a 'state support framework' can lead to some people becoming so reliant on it that they effectively become shielded from taking responsibility for their own actions. I can understand this, though - in a perhaps silly comparison, I think you can see this in any workplace or shared home, where some people don't wash up their mugs or whatever because they're so used to someone else tutting and doing it for them; on a wider level, I'm sure that there are people for whom more than mere crockery is involved, and who make a certain number of major decisions about their life - or don't make the decisions at all - on the basis that someone will probably be there to catch them if they fall. Not so much a Nanny State as a substitute Mummy state in some cases, I fear. Anyway, that's the social aspect of my thinking on it.

The other thought that it stirred was related to the effects of the media, and more particularly of the responsibilities of those involved, especially writers. The sentence in the article which triggered this was

"Her body language was borrowed from the daytime talk shows she rarely missed. She carried herself in court just as she would have done had she been on Jeremy Kyle's stage with a caption underneath her reading 'FIVE MEN LEFT ME WITH THEIR KIDS'."

Now, I don't know if this is entirely accurate in the case in question - it's more editorialising than reportage - though I think lurking behind it is a notion which has occurred to me more than once; the idea that programmes such as The Jeremy Kyle Show, by their presentation of the sensational as everyday, can give the impression that they're telling the viewer that "this is the way the world is".

If you watched shows like this all day (and even with the limited number of TV channels I have access to, it seems pretty possible to do so, with all the Trishas and Jezzas and Montels and Rickis and Sally Jesses circulating on the schedules), you could easily get the idea that the best way to deal with disagreement is to shout at each other, and that the world is awash with self-serving folks whose only ambition is to obtain money and fame and have as much sex with as many people as possible without any concern for the consequences (anyway, if there's a kid involved, then you can always have a DNA Test special to drag their 'deadbeat dad' into the spotlight).

There are quite a few people in the world who are like this, sure, but I'd like to think they're not in the majority - but the prevalence of them on TV could easily lead to the impression that this is how 'everyone else behaves'. And if everyone else is just going to try to screw you over (in whatever sense), what's the point in you trying to be honest, or loyal, or whatever? "If you can't beat 'em", and all that.

I'm simplifying, sure, but I think there is a bleed between items portrayed in the media and reality; not only within the news and factual programmes where you can see items become very important very quickly only to drop off the agenda with equally startling speed (remember how SARS was going to kill everyone?), but also in fictional programmes and films. On this side of the screen and in the streets, it's not tricky to spot people wearing Matrix-style coats, and large numbers of people appear to believe that they're in a music video at any given time, and indeed I think this relates to the way people interact as well - soap operas all too often portray arguing and shouting and throwing things as the only way to resolve disagreements, and fidelity as an option, and so on, and I do wonder how often people look at these portrayals of the world and this yes, that's how the world is.

I'm not saying that TV programmes shouldn't present the world in this way - firstly, I wouldn't presume to say what should and shouldn't be done, and secondly I'm well aware that most of these elements are inserted into storylines to create conflict and drama (though the two should not be seen, as all too often seems to be the case, as being synonymous) - but I do wonder if this created world of never-ending conflict and rowing both presents an overly negative depiction of an ostensibly real world, and also means that dramas are constantly needing to up the ante to make things seem ever more dramatic; EastEnders famously had a huge ratings success with the Den-Angie marriage breakup story, which consisted of human-level actions (rows, presentation of divorce papers) played out in fiery language and with the occasional 'dramatic' scene (Angie's attempted suicide), but now the major storylines tend to involve more visibly dramatic events such as murder (Emmerdale's Tom King storyline, which I think is still unresolved after over a year), a man sleeping with his son's wife and being buried alive by his wife by way of revenge (EastEnders), and a character being mown down by a driver hired by a jealous love rival (Coronation Street).

It's fairly easy to poke fun at the glossy US soaps of the 1980s such as Dynasty, which had season cliffhangers featuring a wedding where terrorists broke in and shot (apparently) everyone, or where an alien spacecraft abducted one of the cast (okay, that was in the spin-off, but you know what I mean), and even to mock more recent soaps such as Passions or Night And Day for being 'unrealistic' and straying into the realms of the un-tetheredly fictional, but I think that you don't have to look at the more extreme cases before you can argue that the storylines in current 'reality-based' drama could be more in line with the lives people actually lead.

If - as often seems to be the case in soaps or 'continuing drama' - you want to tell a serious story which actually informs the viewer about (to take recentish examples) being the parent of a child with Down's Syndrome, or dealing with being HIV-Positive, then that's going to be all the more powerful if it takes place in a locale that has some resonance with the viewer.

Last night's episode of EastEnders focussed on their storyline about child molestation within a family unit, and whilst I think it was really quite well-written (with the exception of one line about being 'used and abused', which troubled me as I couldn't decide if it was in-character cliché for Bianca or just too 'on the nose'), I feel it's more plausible if this sort of storyline doesn't take place in a street where people bury their spouses alive or every third character has ties to the London Gangland (who, on the basis of recent episodes of Emmerdale, are opening branches - or at least nightclubs - around the country).

I'm not pretending to have any kind of well-formed solution to offer here, and I certainly wouldn't want to be prescriptive about what can and can't be put into fiction or media (other than to say "anything and everything"), and I'm sure I'm not saying anything new, but the above notions are currently churning round my mind like socks in a tumble dryer; I guess I'm perhaps driving vaguely towards the idea that writers may have 'reponsibilities to the audience' in some way, or perhaps that it's simply important for stories to have a certain consistency of theme and tone, but as I seem to have lost myself rather in the tangle of these notions, in lieu of some neat conclusion, I'll instead ask: what do you think?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cover Story

Here then, the covers of the latest copies of two similarly-themed magazines: the Fortean Times (issue 243, running since the 1970s), and Paranormal magazine (issue 32, founded... er, I dunno, but I'm guessing it's more recently).

Would I be out of line to suggest the similarity of design might not be an accident?

(Full disclosure: I've written for the FT before, but still...)



Friday, December 05, 2008

Sometimes I Put Books Together On My Bookcase To See If They'll Start Fighting

My money's on BTB, to be honest.


They Took The Words Right Out Of My Keyboard

In the light of the current trend for attacking the BBC, I was intending to write a strongly worded post on this topic, but it seems that the Writers' Guild of GB has rather beaten me to it.

I urge you to read their recent Response To Ofcom's Second Public Service Broadcasting Review - here's the final paragraph, which I particularly liked:

"Manufacturing industry has been decimated; shipbuilding, mining and
steelmaking have disappeared; construction is grinding to a halt; the railways are in chaos; the financial services industry has an uncertain future, or perhaps no future. Public service broadcasting – and in particular the BBC – is one of the last areas in which we can truly be said to lead the world. Today it is at risk as never before. If we allow public service broadcasting to collapse, the only activity left in which Britain excels will be in waging foreign wars."


...Nicely put, I feel.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No, Not The One from Sesame Street Who Lives In A Dustbin

In case the link I provided to the screenplay for The Dark Knight wasn't to your tastes, or it merely made you want to see more scripts, answer me this: how would you feel about access to PDFs of the scripts for the films fighting for the Oscar for Best Original Sceenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay?

You'd like to see them, you say?

Why then, clicken sie hier, meine kleine leser, and once again wander backstage at the magic show, and get a few insights into how it's done.

Writers On TV, Talking About Writing For TV

You might have seen it last night, but if not, I can heartily recommend the latest edition (3/6) of Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn, doing the rounds on BBC Four.

It's an extra-length episode, and instead of his usual incisive (and frequently rightly abusive) commentary on TV and media, Mr B chats to a number of high-profile writers, specifically:

- Russell T Davies
- Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong
- Tony Jordan
- Paul Abbott
- Graham Linehan

So, I think you'd agree, people who are worth listening to when it comes to the business of writing. They talk about ideas, dialogue, characters, and give a few bits of advice.

If you missed it last night, fret not! Tis repeated on BBC Four at the following times:
Friday 5 December, 11.45pm - 12.35am
Sunday 7 December, 11.30pm - 12.20am

And if you're all tech-knowledgy and have access to the BBC iPlayer, you can probably access it right now (if you inferred that I haven't installed iPlayer yet, you're quite right).

Definitely worth a watch if you have any kind of interest in writing for TV - or in writing generally, really.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Though We Should Never Forget That Mr Sheen Also Portrayed Greg Stillson In The 'Dead Zone' Film, Who Also Became President...

I try to avoid writing about dreams I've had on the blog, because… well, mainly because it's usually rather dull hearing about other people's dreams.

I invariably find that my dreams are just a tangle of events and fleeting thoughts from the day, as the mind winds down and shuffles its papers like a newsreader about to knock off for the day, but I thought I'd share the following. If nothing else, it'll give you an indication of the shape of the inside of my head, as unhealthy as it might be.

So: I dreamt that I was attending a writers' meeting for the TV show The West Wing, where we were all called on to pitch storyline ideas for the forthcoming season. Of course, since I have no idea what the majority of the writing staff look like, the other writers and the showrunners were depicted by members of the cast - as the head of things, Aaron Sorkin was played by Martin Sheen, and so on.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that although I think it's one of best-written shows in recent years, because Channel 4 burned off their episodes of TWW in all manner of strange places (different channels) and times (post-midnight at one stage, 8pm at another), I haven't actually seen it beyond the stage when John Goodman comes along. So the storylines I was pitching were all being put forward without any certainty as to whether they might already have been done - though as I was also aware that Mr Sheen, like Mr Sorkin, was not in the boss-chair towards the end of things, it was as if I was pitching at some point in the show's past.

Anyway, I woke up, and was amused by the fact that I had, in the dream, been pitching pretty good ideas at a moment's notice (I suggested one storyline for Will Bailey which had Joshua Malina nodding as if to say he understood), bewildered at the way that my mind had chosen to depict behind-the-scenes folks with on-set equivalents, and reminded how I'd promised myself that, once I've completed the Christmas shopping this year, I was planning on buying myself the West Wing DVD boxset by way of reward.

And then, less than an hour later, I opened a magazine and saw an advert saying the boxset is now 75% in certain locations.

All right, Mr Subconscious, I get the message. No need to hammer it home.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Red Planet Prize - Second Round Announcements

Well, I gather people have started hearing if they're through to the next stage of this year's Red Planet Prize.

I haven't heard anything, so I guess no news is bad news, right? But maybe it's a case of 'not heard yet', so I'll just keep clicking F9 to refresh my e-mail Inbox for a few more hours yet.

I know David has made it through, any other folks heard good news? Congratulations if you did.

UPDATED TO SAY: They sent an e-mail this afternoon, which is good, as it stops me wondering if I'd missed a vital e-mail. A nice touch, I think, as whether it's yes or no, it prevents me waiting needlessly.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Post For Those Of You Who Hail From The Americas

Just a quick note to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving - if you're reading this, after all, you have access to the internet, in what I presume is a safe location, and you probably know where your next meal's coming from, so indeed you (and, being in the same position as I type this, I) have much to be thankful for.

Have some roast potatoes for me!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sliced Penguin

Penguin Books have made the first chapters of a fairly impressive number of books available for free download, under the name Penguin Tasters (presumably a poetry will soon do a similar range called 'Poetasters'... hmm, maybe not).

Anyway, they're available here - they're PDF files, but if you have an eBook reader or similar, you can download eBook versions here.

Incidentally, if you do have a Sony eReader or Amazon Kindle or the like, what's it like? Every time such an item is launched I see various reviews and promo pieces, but I don't think I know anyone who's ever actually used one. So, a first-hand report would be interesting - anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Okay, Maybe He Didn't Say It, But…

Quoted on the Guardian Media site today, Barry Norman says in a recent interview:

"People started coming up to me saying, 'And why not?' and giggling. I was always baffled. I never said it! Rory Bremner said it when he was impersonating me on his Channel 4 show. I still defy anybody to find a programme where I did use it…"

Writing in 2003, Barry Norman 'said':

"And Why Not?"

Not entirely unkeen on the phrase, then.

Six Days To Write Six Words - Six Words To Sum Up A Lifetime

In case you hadn't seen it, or had forgotten that the deadline was looming, just a quick note to remind you that The Guardian Six Word Memoir competition closes on midnight on Sunday.

I've entered it (though I don't think I can provide you with a direct link to my contribution, the site seems slightly oddly set up), and I found it fun, though it is actually slightly challenging - though it's tempting to put something irredeemably flippant (which, some might say, would be in line with my life as lived so far), I also felt slightly as if I ought to try to do it properly… whether I succeeded in this, I guess others will ultimately decide.

Anyway, if you haven't had a go yet, why not do so?

(Link swiped from Laura, I should confess.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sex! Sex! Sex! (...Yep, That Should Bring In The Google Traffic)

If you want sex - good sex, hot sex, steamy sex, the kind of sex that makes your insides tingle and your brain feel like it's been squeezed tightly by an ice-cold hand, well… well, you've come to the wrong place. This is only a blog, after all, and it's early on Sunday morning.

What I can offer, though, is Bad Sex. Well, details of this year's Bad Sex In Fiction Award, anyway.

You want it? Then put your 'pointer' here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to roll over and go back to sleep.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Touting Myself, and Pimping A Friend

Well, after much promising and even more delaying, the new version of My Website is up and running. I won't pretend it's a state-of-the-art cutting-edge site, but hopefully it'll prove useful for people who are trying to track me down or scout me out for writing purposes.

More exciting, though - and certainly much prettier to look at, with pictures and everything - is the news that my friend and wedding photographer Toby has had some of his pictures made available for sale online. For a very reasonable fee, you can buy a royalty-free image of one of his photos, and use it to your heart's content.

Toby's stuff can be seen and bought here, so if you're looking for a good picture for whatever reason, it's worth a look. In fact, if you're looking for a photographer for whatever reason, I can heartily recommend Toby - he's a friend, yes, but that's because he's friendly, as well as being very skilled with the lens. You can contact him via the above links, I believe, and please do tell him I sent you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

BBC Radio Drama Q&A

So, as mentioned last week, last night was the BBC Writersroom Radio Drama Q&A, at a BBC building near Marylebone here in London. It was being recorded, and a transcript was mentioned, but in the meantime here's my report on it - it's not a full breakdown, but hopefully it's of interest.

The event was hosted by Kate Rowland of the BBC Writersroom, and featured Sarah Daniels and Kwame Kwei-Armah, both of whom have written extensively for radio as well as stage and screen. Both of them were articulate and amusingly candid, and gave a lot of useful insights into the business of writing. Talking about how he got into writing in general, Kwame said that as an actor he realised the best way to play the roles he wanted would be to write them, and that he had a need to create the stories he wanted to see.

Sarah, in reference to the radio medium, said that she felt it was the best medium to write for, because as a writer you had the freedom to take the story anywhere in space and/or time, as there's a sound effect for everything you could possibly write. She stressed, though, that it was important to focus on writing good drama rather than thinking in terms of writing for radio, as there could be a tendency to overdo the FX side of things.

Kwane echoed this, adding that due to the absence of visual cues on the radio - he cited the example of one character looking at another knowingly - he enjoyed the challenge of 'negotiating the medium', and finding words to convey emotion and the like.

Talking about the opening moments - and for writers, this would equate to the initial pages - Sarah urged everyone to make sure that there was something, no matter what it was, to hook the listeners' attention within the first couple of minutes. She pointed out that whilst someone who wasn't enjoying a play would probably wait until the interval before leaving, with the radio it's all too easy for a listener to switch channels, so you need to hook them in quickly.

Both writers agreed that one of the huge benefits of working in radio was the fact that you invariably worked with one person as Script Editor / Producer, compared to the multiple levels involved in, say, TV. Kwame used the phrase 'multiple frustrations' to describe the way that he'd previously had contradictory notes on his non-radio scripts, especially when they came from the same person.

Kwame pointed out that, as opposed to necessarily having to paint some kind of aural soundscape, it was possible to make a radio play very intimate, and he drew attention to how Sarah's work contained what he called 'space around the words', which I thought was a rather evocative phrase (reminds me of the comment about music being the gaps between the notes, which I think was said by Debussy).

Sarah admitted that she'd never been good at getting up early in the morning, and said that one of the best things about being a writer is that "you never have to do 'really early' again", a comment which drew laughter from the audience, even if it was probably slightly tinged with envy.

Discussing the issue of self-censorship (for example, when basing characters on, or portraying, real people), Sarah told about how she'd once removed some rather barbed material from a play she'd written, and it had actually been better for it, though Kwame had a contrary experience; to prevent his central character being too purely and unfeasibly heroic, he'd needed to add in some 'human foible' to the character, and had worried that this might have offended the last living relative of the person in question (it hadn't). He suggested that it was a question of negotiating your overall agenda as a writer - if you have a specific stance or point you want to voice - and how this could be balanced with the needs of the story and the characters. In a similar vein, Kate Rowland added that it was an important skill for writers to be able to self-edit.

Tying in rather nicely with his ealier remarks and bringing things full circle, one of Kwame's closing comments was that a good question to always ask yourself is "Is this something I'd enjoy?"

And that's my summary of the event. It was interesting, and did - as I'd hoped - spur me on to get on with the radio play which has been sitting on my hard drive, half-done, for… well, too long. Certainly glad I attended - it cost nothing to do so, and they were dishing out free drinks and notebooks - though it was amusing to spot, as I have at such events before, that my preferred choice of notebook, Moleskine, was very much in evidence. I think they're really good notebooks, but they do seem to be fairly ubiquitous amongst writers (though that might be testimony to their usefulness).

One slightly disappointing aspect of the event for me was that various people seemed to be less keen to take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions of the proper, living, breathing and more importantly professional writers in front of them, and a bit too keen to ask Kate Rowland questions about the process and policies of the BBC Writersroom - specifically, about issues relating to the rejection of their script, the background of the Writersroom readers, and that kind of thing. I thought this was misjudged, and I actually felt bad for the two writers, as they were sidelined in the overall discussion whilst Kate replied, explaining things which I felt she shouldn't have had to get into in that forum. There's enough information on the Writersroom site to answer most general questions, and if you've got a specific question about it, that's something to ask Kate afterwards - like the writers, she was available to chat with afterwards - and as there was a limited timeframe, I felt that this was a waste of time and opportunity - perhaps this is the self-editing so vital in writers that was referred to? (He wrote, at the end of a lengthy paragraph, as the words and irony weighed down on him…)

Anyway, it was a good event, and I even got to chat to Mr Beckley (who's not one millionth as terrifying as his profile photo might suggest), and bumped into an old workmate (hello Jessica, if you're reading this), which was a pleasant surprise, as when I worked with her I hadn't known she was interested in writing.

So, all in all, I'm very glad I went along.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Importance Of Clarity In Gift Requests

My mother-in-law and my neice have both asked for a CD called 'The Promise' for Christmas.

I shall have to be very careful with the gift tags, or great disappointment may ensue...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pay Some Attention To The Man Behind The Green Curtain. Er, I Mean 'Black Cape'...

Apologies if this is old news, but for those of you who felt that 'The Dark Knight' was a very good film, you can now download a PDF copy of the script. Given that it's hosted on the Warner Brothers site, and it's a WB film, I'm pretty confident this is legit.

So, to see how it was all done, click here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear Television Santa

Dear BBC,

I gather that the character of Nick Cotton is due to return to EastEnders at Christmas.

Please could you arrange it so that he doesn't appear at the end of the Christmas afternoon episode, say "'Allo, Ma" before the doom-doom-doom drums, with the scene being continued in the evening episode?

If nothing else, it would be worryingly similar to the "Hello, Princess" return of Den Watts in 2003.

Lots of love,

John

The Persistence Of Memery

Well now, I seem to have been memed, by the ever-charming Mr Hale. Let's have a look at the question:

Sod Richard and Judy. Sod Oprah. What would you advise people to read? Name your favourite:

(a) Fiction book
(b) Autobiography
(c) Non-fiction book
(d) A fourth book of your choice from any genre.

Explain why the books are essential reads in no more than 30 words per book.


There's a challenge, but let's see if I can answer (almost certainly, I'm an opinionated swine), and do so within 30 words (almost certainly not, it's painfully obvious to everyone that I suffer from logorrhoea)...

Fiction: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A clear storyline, and strong characters make this a book to get lost in.

Autobiography: Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig. Often difficult and complex, but never dull, you might argue it's not really an autobiography, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Non-Fiction: History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. I was on the dole for a while, and reading this bent my brain out of shape, which was just what I needed. A slog, but worth it. Honest.

And any other book: The List Of Seven by Mark Frost. A well-written thriller, with theosophy, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many other aspects rolled into one. Full of clever twists, I could read this over and over. In fact, I have...

Just like Chris's reply, this is my list for now, and could well change if you asked me again... ooh, in three minutes. That said, I do urge people to read the above books.

And I hereby pass the baton of this meme to Jon, Laura, and Lara. Would be interested to know your recommendations, folks!

Gilliam Of The Damned

Is it just me, or does the poster for this 1963 film look like a Terry Gilliam animation for Monty Python's Flying Circus?

Friday, November 14, 2008

As Penelop Pitstop Might Say: Hay-elp! Hay-elp!

I'm once again calling on the techie expertise of you good people, I'm afraid, but you're smart folks, and I like to think you might be happy to share your wisdom...

Can anyone out there recommend any writing templates which are compatible with Microsoft Office 2007 and Vista? The freebie BBC Scriptsmart templates, good though they are, seem to be incompatible with this set-up, and I'm having a hard time finding some comparable templates to download.

(Yes, yes, I know I'm a fool for not having a Mac, and I ought to splash out on Final Draft or something similar, but I have a PC and thus have to live with it, and I'd rather not lash out the £100+ on FD this side of Christmas.)

Any assistance much appreciated - I'll owe you a drink (tea or something stronger, your choice).

Thanks!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Within A Mere Twenty-Four Hours! Oh yes!

In case you thought I was being a bit excessive here, I would politely point you towards the front cover of today's Sun...

If only I could turn this power to the lottery numbers, eh?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

BBC Writersroom Event: Radio Drama Q and A

You might already have seen about this, but if not (and I hadn't until this morning), next Thursday (20th November), the BBC Writersroom are holding a free event on the subject of Radio Drama.

In attendance will be two writers who've written for radio (and stage and TV), Kwame Kwei-Armah and Sarah Daniels, and they'll be answering questions.

The event starts at 6pm, at the Marylebone Conference Centre in London, and you have to book a ticket (though, as I say, they're free) - full details on how to do this, and more information about the writers attending, can be found here.

I think I'll be going along - anyone else likely to be there ? Do let me know...

Press Release: To All UK Tabloid Newspapers

From: PR Office, ITV Productions
Subject: I'm A Celebrity… 2008

Dear All,

By now, you should have received yesterday's press release confirming the details of this year's line-up for I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, and we're sure you're just as excited about the new series as we are! (If, for some reason, you didn't get the press release, you can download it, and the rest of the press pack, by clicking here).

All the information you need to run coverage of this year's show is in there, so you should be able to get a good two or three pages' worth out of each episode. And whilst we try to answer all questions you might ask about the show as soon as possible, we realise that, what with there being three blonde women in the show this year, it does mean that some of you are quite rightly asking "Which woman are we supposed to write about when she takes a shower on day two this year?"

As we can't predict which of our three lovely ladies will provide you with some bikini-based cheesecake, we hope the following template will cover all possible eventualities (delete as appropriate to create the paragraph to accompany the picture, which should be at least two-thirds of a page, as in previous years):

Headline:
IT'S CARLY ZUCK-AHHH / DANI BARE / NICOLA Mc-CLEAN !

Text:
Saucy Carly Zucker / Dani Behr / Nicola McLean sent temperatures sky-high yesterday in I'm A Celebrity as she stripped down to a skimpy bikini to take a shower!

The sexy WAG / TV Presenter / WAG took the cold shower to cool off, but instead steamed up the camera lenses with her antics! A show insider said "She's a sexy girl, and when she just stripped off and started showering, the boys in the camp - and the crew - could hardly believe their eyes!"

Carly / Dani / Nicola 's partner is a footballer / restaurant owner / footballer, so she probably can't wait to get home to their mansion / eat some proper food / their mansion, but in the meantime it looks as if she's getting used to life in the jungle. Experts say she's tipped to be in the top four, but we'd say she's in the top Phwoar!

Hope this helps!

Best

ITV Productions

PS - If you want to take a more alternative angle, you can find one of the contestants pictured after a rather different kind of shower here

Monday, November 10, 2008

"But Surely," He Said, "The 'X Factor' Is A Simpleton's Way Of Referring To Einstein's Cosmological Constant?"*

Anyway, let's take a look at the previous couple of winners of ITV's song-based talent contest:

2006 Winner: LEONA Lewis
2007 Winner: LEON Jackson

It's 2008, and the final draws nigh (so I gather - I'm not following it). Is there an entrant called Leo this year? If so, worth a tenner at the betting shop, surely?

*Yes, yes, I know it's lamda, but if Albert can fudge his equations, I can do the same with my post titles.

Yes, I Know That Some Sources Say It Was 616

Welcome, all, to post 666 on the blog.

Whether this is necessarily somewhere where you can get your kicks, as the picture suggests, or if that a person who has understanding will count the number of the blog to be 666, I don't know.

Either way, I hope you don't find the blog to be evil in any way, and that if you can't get your kicks here, that you may at least find something of interest.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday

Something I've discovered - which I didn't know last Remembrance Day - is that my great-grandfather fought in World War I.

I'm still researching it further, but from what I've gleaned so far, he joined up in 1914 as one of the 'Pals Battallions' which were formed in Liverpool. As I understand it, these were formed because Lord Kitchener believed that the key to winning the war was sheer force of numbers, and so it was made possible for people to sign up with their friends and work colleagues, and serve alongside them. This was a very successful idea, as within several months over 3000 people signed up, and it appears that my great-grandfather was among them.

It's obviously rather lame - though probably predictable - that knowing one of my ancestors served in WWI has made it feel slightly closer to home, but I think that's probably for two reasons, really; firstly, reading about him and trying to track down further details of my great-grandfather has meant I've learned new things about events of his life (and indeed lifetime), which has made me more aware of them, and brought them to life for me.

Secondly, and less personally, I think it's often the case that we learn more or feel more about major events by looking at it on a personal or human level; for me, one of the reasons why Anne Frank's Diary Of A Young Girl is so powerful a document is because it speaks so clearly of emotions and feelings which we can all understand and relate to - fear and loneliness to name but two - and then, when you consider that her experience, and worse, was one which was shared by millions of people, it's like a punch to the gut.

So, in the past few months, I've perhaps felt a greater empathy for those people who are brave enough to fight for their country, and a greater realisation of how we owe them a debt we can never truly repay. In tandem with this, unfortunately, I feel a growing sense of anger that all too many politicians seem to see war as little more than a way to gain approval points or political prestige - many of the improvements in the country set up after WWII (such as the NHS and education) are constantly being whittled away, and it seems all too clear that all of the 'WMD' nonsense before the invasion of Iraq was simply that - nonsense - to justify going to war. I find myself wishing that the bravery of those who are willing to fight in wars was in even partly matched by honesty on the part of the political masters who put them in harm's way.

I respect anyone who's willing to fight for their country, as it's something I'm not so certain I could do. In remembrance of those who have fallen, and as a parting shot at those who seem all too willing to incite conflict, I'd like to leave you with a quote from Rudyard Kipling, specifically his Epitaphs Of The War:

'If any question why we died,

Tell them, because our fathers lied.'

If you, or those you care about, have served in the forces, or are currently serving, I'd like to express my admiration and thanks - the comfort and safety of my daily life, I am all too aware, was bought at a high cost.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Multiplying Natures Of Villainy*

To my mind, one of the few disappointments in all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes tales is the introduction of his nemesis Professor Moriarty.

Professor James Moriarty first appears in The Adventure Of The Final Problem, in which Holmes is revealed to have been thwarting the plots of 'the Napoleon of Crime' for some time. Holmes and Watson flee England to escape retribution from Moriarty and his men. The two of them travel to Switzerland, and whilst walking near the Reichenbach Falls, Watson is called back to their hotel to assist someone who's been taken ill. This is a ruse, and when Watson realises and returns to the mountain path, he finds a note from Holmes saying as much, and that he expects both he and Moriarty will fight to the death. Watson sees signs of a struggle on the path, and concludes that Holmes and Moriarty, whilst fighting, have fallen to their deaths.

I'm summarising it there (and inevitably losing a lot of the original tale's skill and charm; if you haven't read it, I urge you to do so), but that's the general gist. It's not a bad story in and of itself, and it's pretty well-known that Doyle was trying to kill off Holmes in an impressive way so he could write other things, Holmes having become a millstone, albeit one which was a nice earner. The main problem - as opposed to the Final Problem - I have with it is that the introduction of Moriarty as Holmes's polar opposite, and his demise at Reichenbach, all occur within the one story. Whilst Holmes is portrayed as having been aware of Moriarty's nefarious ways for some time, the reader hasn't really had much chance to sense that an arch-foe is on the move, and though later stories build the mythology of Moriarty's wicked ways, we can only take Holmes's word for it. Well, Holmes's comments as reported via Watson through Doyle, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I've been thinking about this recently because the novel I'm currently working on (more in my head than on the page at the moment, granted) The Body Orchard, features a return match between a deeply villainous chap and the detective who caught him last time. Part of the problem I've been mentally wrestling with has been that of establishing the stakes involved, and the backstory. I'm taking my cue somewhat from Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, wherein the reader hears much about Hannibal Lecter from his opposite number, Will Graham; Graham's portrayed as an intelligent if troubled man, whose references to Lecter make it very clear that he's a man who should never be underestimated or trusted, even for a moment. In much the same way as Holmes tells us that Moriarty's a baddie of the highest order, we learn about the villain from a character who we've already started to root for or empathise with. Granted, Holmes is less human than Graham, but I think that the comparison's a reasonable one. And there are other examples of characters, or events, being made portentous by more virtuous characters - Yoda's line "You will be" in The Empire Strikes Back, and the Doctor's look of panic at the end of the Doctor Who episode Turn Left, spring to mind, and I'm sure you can think of others.

So anyway, this is something that I've been mulling over recently - the challenge of making it clear that a villain is someone to be reckoned with, without having to show them running over blind orphans with a combine harvester. I'm feeling fairly comfortable with the solutions I've come up with, but now I have another question: since my villain is supposed to be so very clever indeed, how do I demonstrate that in a fashion that doesn't look token or unconvincing? Holmes and Moriarty were only ever as smart as Doyle, and Will Graham and Lecter as intelligent as Thomas Harris (and in the book Hannibal, Lecter appears to have lost a lot of his intelligence, but I was ferociously disappointed with that book, and I won't get into that now).

In exactly the same way, my characters always have the disadvantage of only ever being as clever as me, which - as is abundantly clear to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis - means that if I portray them as, say, walking upright or using tools, they're already pushing at the boundaries of my knowledge.


*With apologies to Bill Shaky (Macbeth Act 1, Scene 2)

I Said Goggle, Not Google

Neil Patrick Harris as Dr Horrible, and Jack Knight as DC Comics' Starman.

One baddie. One goodie.

And, it seems, one goggle supplier in common.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just How Decadent Is Life In London?

That's right, even the lampposts are made by Chanel.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Some Fireworks For Guy Fawkes' Night

I, for one, certainly see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.


(Pictures taken from our wedding firework display)


Sometimes I Read Things That Make Me Want To Shout "Yes!"

...This is one such thing.

In an interview for the Writer's Guild Magazine, writer James Moran aims a well-deserved kick at the groin of one of the most irritating and pervasive cliches about Doctor Who:

Question: Was it the old cliché of hiding behind the sofa as a kid?

Moran: […] while I did get scared a lot, I never hid behind the sofa (it was impossible, because our sofa was against the wall.) I don't know how all these people claim to have hidden behind their sofas as kids, unless they all lived in massive, Friends-style apartments with the sofa in the middle of the room. I suspect many of them didn't actually watch the show and are retconning their own childhood to jump on the bandwagon.


Mr Moran, I salute you.

What with this, and the fact that it's now known by an audience of millions that Daleks can go upstairs, it must be a hell of a challenge for a lot of journalists to write about Who nowadays, eh?

Sometimes I Read Things That Make Me Want To Shout "Yes!"

...This is one such thing.

In an interview for the Writer's Guild Magazine, writer James Moran aims a well-deserved kick at the groin of one of the most irritating and pervasive cliches about Doctor Who:

Question: Was it the old cliché of hiding behind the sofa as a kid?
Moran: […] while I did get scared a lot, I never hid behind the sofa (it was impossible, because our sofa was against the wall.) I don't know how all these people claim to have hidden behind their sofas as kids, unless they all lived in massive, Friends-style apartments with the sofa in the middle of the room. I suspect many of them didn't actually watch the show and are retconning their own childhood to jump on the bandwagon.

Mr Moran, I salute you.

What with this, and the fact that it's now known by an audience of millions that Daleks can go upstairs, it must be a hell of a challenge for a lot of journalists to write about Who nowadays, eh?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The IT Crowd: Watching The Defectives

As m'chum Steve has already recounted, on Friday night he and I went to see a filming of the Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd. His post says a lot about the shows, so this is my more self-absorbed version of events (ahem).

It was a lot of fun, and the first time I'd seen a studio sitcom recorded in… hmm, come to think about it maybe it's the first time ever, so it was fascinating to see how it was all done. It was filmed at Pinewood Studios, and it was startling - in the best way - to see how the offices and other rooms in the show look in reality and on screen.

Steve and I were the guests of my friend Sean, who's IT Consultant for the show, so after Sean and the other cast and crew members had done the hard work, Steve and I stepped onto the set to help Sean with de-rigging, as it was the last show of the series. This felt kind of odd in itself - I've followed the show since it began, and so to be crawling round on the floor behind Roy and Moss's desks and helping pull cables through the wall made me feel like I wasn't quite in the real world any more (I felt like Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when he goes into Toontown).

Anyway, after we'd helped Sean do what was necessary, we were taken into the green room, where various members of the cast and crew were having a well-earned drink. Just inside the door, and looking surprisingly relaxed, was the writer-director Graham Linehan, who Sean kindly introduced me to, and explained to Graham that I'd contributed to one of the show's websites.

Graham - and I'm going to call him by his first name because he's a friendly chap and I don't think he'd take offence - asked us if we’d had a good night, and specifically what we'd thought of a particular scene in the last episode, and it was very interesting to see that he'd thought of an angle on it which I hadn't; very much a case of the creator being so in control of the material that he's able to see things which someone who's less steeped in it (me on this occasion) would miss. But he was friendly about it, and it was a genuine shame that I had to leg it early to get the last train home, as it would have been good to chat more.

I've barely touched on how funny the shows were - mainly because Steve's covered them in more detail, and also for spoiler-related reasons - but they were very strong episodes, and all in all it made for a cracking night out, and I'm mega-grateful to Sean for getting us on the guest list.

If nothing else, looking at the size of the sets, all the lighting overhead, the cameras and mics pointing at the cast, and the number of people who were hard at work, it made me even more keen to continue with writing, given that everything in that studio was there because once, Graham Linehan sat down and typed 'INT. OFFICE - DAY'...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Calling On The Tech-Savviness Of You Good People

Evening, all. I have two quick techie questions which I'd appreciate assistance with...

1. Does anyone know where I can get hold of the Russell Brand Radio 2 show as broadcast on Saturday 25 October? This isn't the show with the Andrew Sachs calls, it's the one after it, in which he alludes to the Daily Mail's nazi-sympathising past whilst apologising to Sachs, and strangely enough the BBC didn't release it as a podcast (and indeed they've removed all the old shows from iTunes and the show-related page from their website). As I used to enjoy listening to the podcasts, I feel I'd like to hear the final one by way of closure, so any links to appropriate locations would be very gratefully appreciated.

2. On a slightly more involved note, could anyone advise me how to set my 'From' address in Outlook 2007? I've got a number of e-mail addresses which feed into the programme, and I want to set it so that it shows a particular e-mail address as it goes out, and not the slightly less elegant-looking one which is the default setting. I can do it manually, but if there's a way to do it automatically, that would be handy.

If you know the answer to both or either of the above, you're smarter than I am, so if you want to share the wisdom around, please use the Comment facility, or you can e-mail me at ohJohnyoureallyarealuddite(at)johnsoanes.co.uk.

Thanks!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

National Novel Writing Month 2008

I've written about National Novel Writing Month here before, and crikey o'blimey if November hasn't come round again.

For those of you who haven't heard of it, the basic idea is - yes - that you write an entire novel in a month; for the purposes of NaNoWriMo (as it's known), a novel is anything upwards of 50,000 words, which works out at about 1500 words a day.

I've never really done it properly - I usually cheat and use it as a springboard to get on with a novel I'm already working on, and even that with mixed results - but I think it sounds like a great way to just get the ever-problematic first draft done, and there are lots of people around the globe doing it at the same time, which removes the isolation that often comes with writing.

It's based in the USA, but it's more International than National, with groups meeting up for 'write-ins' all over the place (there were definitely meetups here in London last year, for example).

So, if you fancy taking up the challenge, click on the link above to find out more - it costs nothing to participate, and all you need is something to write on/with and a willingness to be honest about your wordcount. I won't be doing it as I have non-novel writing (there's an ambiguous turn of phrase) to get on with, but if you do join in, let me know how it went - I know Laura's taking part, but are there any other takers?

NaNoWriMo runs until the end of November, so (glances at watch) you've only lost a minute so far (and we could attribute that to the time taken to read this post, right?)...

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Is Halloween, This Is Halloween, Pumpkins Scream In The Dead Of Night…*

Well, outside my window the day is starting to turn to night, as as the light curdles and turns to dark here in London, it feels about the right time for a Halloween-related post.

I actually want to share something quite startling with you, an image which may well make some of you declare "well, that's just sick", and turn away from your screen with your hand over your mouth. I'm not looking to shock you for sheer effect, but I think that this is one of the few days of the year when we take a particular pleasure in being frightened. As Clive Barker once wrote, "there is no delight the equal of dread".

Given that this week's posts have been quite heavy on the text and links and slightly lighter on the images, I wanted to post this particular picture on the blog, but it did occur to me that it could be rather off-putting for the more sensitive, so - against my initial impulse - I've decided to post a link to it, rather than run the risk of someone coming across it by accident and then complaining that it was presented without warning.

Anyway, enough of my explanations, let's see if we can't get on with the item in question - an image which I find repulsive at first sight, and yet there's something vaguely hypnotic about it; as if I've made the mistake of looking at Dracula's eyes, somehow I… just... can't... seem... to… look…away…

Ready? All right, then. Brace yourself, for the horror of which I speak lurks but a mouseclick away. Tremble, mortals, for the terror is here

Hey, I did warn you.

*With an admiring tip of the hat to Mr Danny Elfman.

Creative Screenwriting

I wish I could claim that this post was going to live up to the promise of its title, and tell you absolutely everything you could ever need to know about screenwriting in a creative fashion, but brace yourself: it's more of a pointer towards a site which not only rejoices under the above name, but which also offers a number of freebies of interest if you're a writer.

Creative Screenwriting is a magazine, based in the USA, but sold in various locations around the globe, but if you can't find a copy near you, you can still benefit from it, particularly in the following two ways…

Firstly, there's a free weekly newsletter which you can subscribe to here. It tends to focus on the content of the current issue, but it also has the 'headlines' of writing-related news, and links to issues of interest. Certainly worth giving it a quick skim every week to see if anything in there catches your eye, I feel.

Secondly - and arguably more usefully - the magazine also issues regular podcasts, featuring interviews with a number of well-known writers. Specific ones I've enjoyed this week have been Q&As with the writers of Hot Fuzz, Zodiac and the Dark Knight, and I'm looking forward to the fruits of further rummages through the archive. You can find them at the magazine's blog page, which is here.

On the basis of the material mentioned above, I fully intend to pick up a copy of the actual real-world magazine as soon as I find it, but of course it could well be that you good people already know all about it, and the above is very much a case of teaching one of your parents' parents to produce a vacuum on the external surface of an unfertilised fowl ovum.

So, if the above is old news, then I apologise - but if not, well, then, I suggest you take a clicky-look!

The Inevitable Link About That News Story

To no-one's complete surprise, one of the BBC's most popular stars has announced he will stand down following allegations of misuse of telephone equipment.

Full story here.

Better Than Burning Them, That's For Sure

If you - like me - have what might be classified by some people as 'too many books', and you hate the idea of throwing them out, you might find some alternative uses for them here...

Strangely attractive, I feel, though they don't go so well with a comfy chair and a cup of tea.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Scarlet Letter

Apologies if you've seen this before - but you may well join me in feeling that the oddest news story to come out of the US Elections is this one.

To my mind, the main clue that she made it all up was, of course, the fact it was the wrong way round... does it make anyone else think of Mr Finch's case-winning argument in To Kill A Mockingbird?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Clickety Click, Extra Quick

Click here before the end of the day to download Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook talking about their joint work 'Doctor Who - The Writer's Tale'. As you may well know, this is a massive tome dealing with RTD's work on the most recent series of Who, and this is an interesting talk about it. Simon Mayo hosts, and my opinion of him went up a bit on listening to this, as he asks some decent questions.

But be swift - this is the last of the seven days when the podcast's available!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

REVIEW: 'Dreams on Spec'

Dreams on Spec is a 2007 documentary which follows three writers as they work on spec film scripts.

The three writers - David, Joe and Deborah - are at different stages; David works at a talent agency and has sold one of his scripts, Joe's been working on a script for a number of years whilst day-trading and looking after his autistic daughter, and Deborah used to work for a creative agency and is now trying to find funding to film her first script. As well as being at different stages in their careers, their screenplays are on wildly diverse themes - David's is a modern take on the slasher film, Joe's written a coming of age piece, and Deborah's film is described as a 'gory commitment comedy'.

We don't get to learn too much about the content of their scripts, but the focus of the film is more on their attitudes and perseverence; David's concerned about losing control of the script as it goes into production, Joe's meetings with a script advisor suggest it's almost ready to be sent out, and Deborah is trying to pay the bills whilst hoping that money's forthcoming to make her film. Intercut with their three tales are short 'talking head' spots with established screenwriters like Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher and Ed Solomon, all of whom talk in a realistic way about the nature of working in the film industry, and the ways they've been treated by studios in the past.

The film's about 90 minutes long (plus an extra 30 minutes of material featuring the established writers), but I found it seemed much shorter than that, as it was very engaging; it's an interesting insight into the often mundane reality of writing (that is: re-writing, and re-writing, and so on), interspersed with some very amusing insights. The three writers were well presented - for example, it's hard not to feel for Joe when he asks his wife to read his latest draft, and she sharply replies that she's already read several drafts for him.

The direction, editing, and general film-making on this documentary are pretty much perfect - by which I mean that it's as good as invisible; whilst it's very professionally made, there are no flashy or obtrusive directorial tricks, and so it just gets on with telling the story - and it's a story which, if you're interested in writing, is an interesting one. In a way, the film could be seen as a bit of a litmus test to establish whether writing's for you - given the stated unlikelihood of succeeding (it's likened to the chances of winning the lottery), the film makes one either feel that there's little point in applying pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), or rather stirs the feeling that trying harder is the way to go (you can probably guess which camp I fell into).

I don't know if this film has been shown on UK TV (More4 or BBC4 seem the most likely channels for a broadcast of it), but it's available to buy on R1 DVD, and I certainly recommend it - if nothing else, it's nice to see that there are people in the same boat as you are. You can buy the DVD from the official website, or from Amazon, and I think it's well worth watching.

Numbers Which May Or May Not Be Relevant To The Current Fuss About Brand And Ross's Phone Messages To Andrew Sachs

(Details of the fuss here )

- The age of Mr Sachs (78)
- Number of complaints received before press coverage (2)
- Number of complaints received after the Daily Mail covered the story (4700)
- Number of days which it took for the Mail to cover the story (8)
- Number of semi-dressed pictures of Andrew Sachs's granddaughter in the Daily Mail coverage of the story (5)
- The salaries of Ross and Brand (seven figures and six figures respectively)
- Number of answerphone messages left (4)
- Number of people involved who left Germany in 1938 because of Nazi persecution of Jews (1)
- Number of newspapers involved who supported the Blackshirts and Nazis between 1934 and 1939 (1)
- Number of comedians whose apologies referred to Daily Mail support for Nazis (1)
- Number of uses of phrase 'full transcript' to describe an edited version of the messages (1)
- Number of times I laughed whilst listening to the podcast, prior to press coverage (>1)
- Probability as a percentage that there are more than two possible opinions to hold on this matter (>50)

Dead Set On e4 Last Night: Initial Reaction

Did you watch the first episode of Dead Set last night? I did, lured in by the fact it was written by Charlie Brooker.

And I enjoyed it - more drama than comedy, but I thought it worked, and the high production values certainly helped. But…

But was I alone in thinking that the scenes of the infected people running amok in the production office corridors looked like a blood-soaked version of the recent promos for Channel 4's Generation Next talent search (the ones which featured young people bursting into meetings at C4 HQ, onto the set of the news with Jon Snow, that sort of thing)?

Like A Mirror Reflecting Another Mirror Into Infinity...

Is it just my imagination, or could this book be seen as slightly self-referential?

No offence intended to the author - I haven't read the book so I'm not really passing comment, but you can see what I'm driving at, right?

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Wouldn’t Normally Change In Public…

… but as you may have noticed, the blog template changed over the weekend.

This is to bring it more in line with the overall colour scheme (that is to say: blue) of my not-quite-revised-yet-but-nearly website, which is shockingly close to ready, I promise, and hopefully will be online by the end of the week.

Hmm, thinking about it, both Stephen Fry and I have revamped our websites within mere weeks of each other. What good company I find I am in.

Do let me know if there are any changes to the blog you feel strongly about (either pro- or anti-), and while I'm on the subject, do hop over and have a look at Mr Fry's new site.

Review: 'Bodyworlds - The Mirror Of Time'

'The Mirror of Time' is the latest incarnation of the 'Bodyworlds' series of exhibitions, run by the anatomist Gunther von Hagens. And yes, the Bodyworlds exhibitions are the ones with real dead bodies preserved by a process called 'plastination'.

Let's just deal with the issue of looking at dead bodies first; I have no problem at all with it - I don't consider the human body, even stripped of its flesh, ugly or scary or gross or anything like that, though I understand that a lot of people might feel that way. That's fine, though I do dislike it when saying 'I don't like it' gets conflated with 'ah, but were the bodies obtained legally?' and the like. I'm absolutely fine with the idea of something I'm interested in not being to someone else's tastes.

As an aside, I think part of the reason that such sights might creep people out is because the only times we're generally likely to see the human body with its musculature exposed, or nerves poking out, is in a horror film (example: Hellraiser) where it's not exactly presented in a good light. And its sheer lack of familiarity (to most of us, anyway) makes looking at such sights feel like looking at one of those lifeforms from the bottom of the Marianas Trench - just too outside of our frame of refence to be immediately comfortable, basically.

Anyway, all that aside, I thought this was an interesting exhibition. It starts off showing the stages of development in the womb, and then shows various stages in the lifecycle, with particular emphasis on aging and other ways that our internal organs change and decay over time. There are several other plastinated forms which don't really fit in the 'chronology' really - a plastinated horse and giraffe, for example - but the overall theme just about holds, and I was genuinely surprised at some of the items, such as the size difference between a healthy and a diseased liver.

This was the first time I'd seen one of these exhibitions, and thus the first time I'd been within such a short distance of a dead body. I have to say that, even knowing that these were real people who'd once been walking and breathing and eating and pooing like you or I, after seeing the first one, I didn't really focus on that aspect of it, but instead was more intrigued by the way you could see the nerves or whatever. Which, I guess, is the point of the exhibition.

I did come away, though, with a renewed sense of being impressed at just what a clever device the human body is; fragile in some respects and yet resilient in so many others, and whether you believe that the form developed as a result of some divine intervention or evolution or some other route, it's nonetheless an incredible organism, and the mere fact that you're able to see these words and read them and interpret them as having some meaning is, in itself, the result of a number of biological processes in a system that we could all too easily take for granted. That said, Mrs Wife and I did go on to the chip shop afterwards, so one might argue that the respect for the body was short-lived.

If you don't find the idea of the plastinated forms off-putting, there's some informative stuff to be gleaned from this exhibition, and I'd recommend it.

It's on at the (now post-)Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London, until August 23, 2009.