So (as with the cliché about historic events, good or bad) I remember where I was when - just over five years ago - Baghdad was invaded by US/UK Armed Forces. I was at a friend's house, Sky News was on, and the coverage was … well, its rather jubilant nature made it feel like we were watching Fox News, just with a Limey voice-over. "What do you make of all this?" my friend asked. "Blair, Bush - all this?" "I…" For once, I tried to choose my words carefully. "I question their sincerity," I said eventually.
And as I did then, I do now; five years on, and I don't believe they had a plan to liberate Iraq, any more than I believe that they genuinely believed that Saddam had weapons that he was hiding from them. I think the whole damn thing was a lousy lie (or a major error of judgment, but either of those is cause for resignation to my mind), with Bush trying to look butch after the security errors that led terrorists (initially trained by US forces in Afghanistan, remember) to attack the World Trade Centre, and maybe trying to finish off the job Daddy started. And Blair being weaselly and spineless and ignoring wiser heads (not to mention what was, I think, the biggest mass protest march in UK history) and putting UK troops in the line of fire for no good reason at all.
Five years on now, and the people who thought the war was wrong-headed and ill-founded can perhaps take slight consolation in the fact that they were right all along - though those of us who questioned the sincerity of the pro-war argument at the time have now found that pretty much everyone you speak to pretends that they took the same stance at the time; people I know who swallowed the line that 'anti-war' equated with 'Pro-Saddam' are now, once the true meaning of 'Mission Accomplished' has sunk in, claiming that they were against it all along. It's like the way aged cockneys claim to have been in the Blind Beggar pub that night, or Liverpudlians of a certain age claim to have been at the Cavern the first time a particular band played.
It's the kind of re-writing of events that I've railed against before, and will, I fear, find cause to do so again; just as people are pretending they thought and said one thing about Iraq five years ago when in fact they didn't, so China's political leaders pretend that they didn't invade Tibet in 1950, or that they didn't order the shooting of hundreds of students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 (I think you can guess where I stand on these issues, but if you can't, let me state: I'm on the side of the facts). And in the same way, people seem all too willing to forget that Donald Rumsfeld, one of the US politicians so very keen to go to war in Iraq (to the extent that he was thinking about a military strike in Iraq within hours of the 11 September 2001 attacks) met Saddam Hussein in December 1983 as an ally.
Relationships and allegiances change, of course, but I thought I'd post this picture here by way of pointing out that, despite what some people might have us believe, we have not always been at war with Eastasia.
Now, we all know that this was clearly a placeholder caption that was meant to be properly filled in later which (for whatever reason) wasn't.
But given the press's current obsession with Holly Willoughby's chest, it's a little unfortunate that the random keyboard-pounding for a placeholder produced a letter sequence which can really only be read aloud as 'Titty titty', wouldn't you say?
Apologies for the rather slight nature of posting at the mo - I have things to share (honest), but events keep intervening...
Anyway, to keep you entertained during the meanwhilst, I point you towards this, a bit of my scribbling which has just been published on a Channel 4-related site (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
Granted, it's probably a question of deadlines and unexpectedly intervening events, but the combined effect is to make the cover of the latest 'ES Magazine' (a glossy piece of bilge given away with the London Evening Standard) appear to be saying 'Another Minghella in the press'... which is more than a bit unfortunate this week, isn't it?
Now, I'm not any kind of expert on flirting (indeed, for some time I thought that, because of sharing the first three letters of the word, it was pretty much the same as FLIcking someone on the shoulder, albeit whilst adopting a come-hither look), but I do often find soap opera flirting almost painful to watch.
Much of the time, the dialogue's to blame - just a bit too knowing and arch, and it sounds strangely like a blend of Mamet, Sorkin and Harlequin Romance novels, if you know what I mean; the characters have ready answers a tad too swiftly, as if they're doing some kind of pre-rehearsed verbal dance. Granted, characters in fiction invariably talk quite differently from people you'll actually meet (I think it was screenwriter/director John August who said that characters in films speak as we would in reality if we had five extra seconds to frame our words), often because they're sneaking bits of exposition into the conversation or whatever, but sometimes it's just a stage too far removed for me.
I've been mulling this over because the 'flirty banter' in EastEnders has been seeming clumsy to me for a while now, to the extent that the on-screen conversations (and the creaking of the rather visible plot levers) tend to get drowned out in Chez Nous by me yelling 'Oh my GOD! That's not how people talk! Ugh!' at the screen whenever there's a would-be wooing scene going on.
There are two main offending types of EastEnders 'flirty banter', as far as I'm concerned:
1 - HARD-BOILED: As exemplified by Ronnie and Roxy, the purported sex-kittens of the Queen Vic. Obviously, nothing says feisty and smouldering more than names which echo well-known members of the East End underworld, but it's bolstered by the sisters acting less like femmes fatales and more like people who've seen too many Guy Ritchie films. The standard set-up tends to be that one of them (and you'll guess from the repeated use of that phrase that, offhand, I don't know which is which - the perils of having names that are so similar*) meets a chap who is, of course, a bit of a wide-boy and a geezer, not to be trusted, and so on. Thus, they are destined by fate and plot requirements to pair off, and the banter is usually something a bit like:
He: So what are you doing tonight, then? She: What's it to you? He: Just wondering, that's all. She: Well, stop wondering, it's none of your business. He: Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. How does your husband feel about you being in the bar all the time, with all the male punters? She: My husband's dead. He: Sorry to hear that. Boyfriend? She: Are you offering? He: Maybe I should be. She: Maybe you shouldn't. He: Maybe you want me to. She: Maybe I do. He: Maybe I'll do something about it. She: Maybe I won't be sitting and waiting. He: Maybe you won't have to.
I referred to Aaron Sorkin above, and yes, there's certainly an argument to be made that the speedy patter of characters in, say, The West Wing is unrealistic, but I think the 'walk-n-talk' sequences in that show are designed more to show the intelligence of the characters, who are able to assimilate information and respond in an unnaturally articulate fashion (plus, when you have a burgeoning romance between character in that show, it's at least a continuation of those speech patterns, as opposed to the residents of Albert Square suddenly sounding as if they're residents of Sin City).
Of the two styles of EastEnders flirty banter, this one is more prevalent - especially as EastEnders is full of characters who think they're well'ard (despite that being the dog's name), but a new strand has started to make itself known :
2 - ADULT-FEATURE-STYLE: Oh yes. Genuinely not that far from 'I'm come to fix the shower' or 'I'm the pizza delivery boy' school of flirting, this type of dialogue (so far) mainly seems to be allocated to the recently-returned character Clare, played by Gemma Bissix (who also played a character called Clare in Hollyoaks; I hope that isn't some kind of condition of her agent passing scripts to her). Now, given that EastEnders is a mid-evening show, it's unlikely to turn into an all-out nudey-romp-fest, and so the dialogue is less direct than in an adult feature, but it's still not that far off. It often seems to run along the following lines:
She: Oh hello, man under fifty years of age. He: Hello. She: Is that the launderette over there? He: Yes. Dot runs it, she'll look after you. She: Oh good, I need to do some washing. He: It's open seven days a week, I think. She: Mmm, I need to wash my underwear, it's all lacy and delicate. He: Er, yes, Dot can probably help you. She: Yes, my lacy g-strings and stockings need to be washed, or I'll have no underwear to put on. He: Well, as I say, it's just over there, on the left. Push hard on the door, it sticks sometimes. She: And my bras are so delicate and see-through I have to make sure I wash them properly. Don't want them tearing apart. He: In this weather, I can understand your concern. You don't want to catch cold. She: Oh, I'm so very hot right now. Mmm... He: If you go to the caff, Ian's probably got some canned drinks in the fridge.
… okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit there, but not really that much (from half-listening, Clare had at least two conversations about her underwear with male characters in her first week of returning to the soap, with the men looking as bewildered and scared as if Catherine Tremell had suddenly appeared and asked where the ice was), so please don't go thinking I'm constructing a straw man argument.
I guess the underlying problem is that the real-world ways people banter and flirt aren't actually very telegenic; people meet in pubs and bars or at work or in nightclubs, and the way they sound each other out and find they have similar outlooks or interests or whatever aren't as dramatic as the TV camera, and the narrative drive, demands. Whilst it might be realistic to show people meeting at a club where the music drowns out all their dialogue to the extent that they're more conducting dual monologues than having a proper conversation, it's not necessarily going to make for good TV.
Which is probably why instead we see a lot of scenes like the above, which is a shame, as I think that actually properly showing some characters getting to know each other, and realise they get on, would make for a greater degree of audience empathy with them - something which EastEnders is wholly lacking to my mind at the moment, as there are very few characters who aren't in some way stupid or venal or worthy of come kind of contempt; okay, maybe there's Dot or Bradley, but her bible-bashing and sanctimony makes her hard to care for, and his refusal to move out of the Square after his dad slept with his wife looks less like the behaviour of a stable character and more a case of plot necessity.
And I genuinely believe that with likeable characters comes audience 'support' for them, so that they'll have an emotional connection with them and want good things to happen to them. I appreciate that may sound simplistic, but I think it's absolutely vital for an audience in some way to feel a connection with the protagonists. Whether it's wanting Peggy to be made a Yellowcoat or Tony Soprano not to be gunned down by an old enemy, I believe that the audience has to - on some level - feel engaged and connected with the characters. Without that connection you're trying to get an audience to spend their time watching a tale of things that never happened to imaginary people who the audience doesn't care about, and thus has no emotional attachment to, so if they're laughing or crying or flirting, it's irrelevant, as the audience doesn't give too hoots about the outcome, and may well be long gone before the resolution hoves into view.
I've perhaps strayed a little off the point here, but before I end this post, I want to make it clear that I think it's entirely possible to have on-screen flirtation which makes you feel that the characters are both getting along and growing closer, whilst still speaking words that could come out of the mouths of actual people - there are many examples of it around, but perhaps the best example that springs to mind is the relationship between Jack Foley and Karen Sisco in the film 'Out Of Sight'. Great performances by both the actors, and a terrific script too (I'm sure you can think of other films with good romantic banter or flirty stuff - feel free to post them as comments), showing that it most definitely can be done. And given that all you need for on-screen flirtation are two actors and a script, there's no reason why TV soaps shouldn't be able to create the same sort of sparks between characters as, say, Bogie and Bacall did. Budget should not be an issue.
Unless I'm missing something? If so, post a comment and let me know. Maybe I'll listen. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll agree. Maybe I won't You like that repetitious banter, eh? Well, wait until I start talking about my underwear, you'll be twice as giddy. Apparently.
*And, for my money, also the reason the band Tony! Toni! Toné! never quite made the big time.
Secret [see-krit] - noun. Something kept hidden or concealed; a mystery, reason or explanation not immediately or generally apparent; a method, formula, plan, etc., known only to the initiated or the few. - adjective. Something not on the cover of a tatty celebrity magazine.
(Shared in the interests of adding to the sum of human knowledge)
1. If you're going to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Dome in London, make sure you take along a Waterstone's loyalty card, as this allows you to jump the queue (apply for a free card here).
2. As well as making beautiful beds, the customer service supplied by Warren Evans is top-notch. And I speak as one who used to work in customer service, and worked hard at being good at it.
3. However, the camlocks and the like supplied for constructing furniture purchased from Next are feeble and not fit for the job at all. My screwdriver set is far from the strongest in the land, and it broke several of the camlocks. And the instructions contain errors - how, I ask, are you supposed to put a camlock into a piece of wood if you've already screwed another bit of wood over the appropriate holes? You can't, and given that it took me more time to construct a wardrobe last weekend than it did to complete the London Marathon last year, Next will be receiving a letter of complaint in the near future. A very hoity one at that.
4. The free podcasts by Adam and Joe from BBC Radio 6 are a lot of fun, and worth your time.
5. Unless you relish the possibility of disinfectant or other people's urine on your fingers, you should always check your shoelaces are tied before entering a public lavatory.
This picture, taken last week, shows you the oh-so-luxurious segregated check-in area allocated to members of a famous hotel chain's loyalty scheme. A lovely rope separates members from the proles, and they get the privilege of standing on a small mat as they check in. To be honest, I'd feel kind of guilty lording it up so much over the lower orders if it was me, but I've always been quite sympathetic to the finer feelings of my servants.
Anyway, I had to stay overnight in a hotel last week, for a meeting the next morning. And within a couple of hours of arriving there - despite it being a reputable chain (though one of its heirs seems determined to sully that legacy if possible) - I could understand why Willy Loman and Alan Partridge alike loathed being away from home so much.
The setting and reception were pleasant enough, but when I checked into my room and dumped my bag on the bed and looked around, I felt a sinking feeling; there was a TV, an ironing board and iron, a selection of menus and other bits of information for guests, and (oh yes) a Corby trouser press. I had, I suddenly realised, become that cliché, the chap who stays away from home overnight for work. I was thankful I'd travelled there by train and taxi, rather than driven there in a car with a suit hanging in the back and 'Top Gear Driving Anthems 2' on the stereo, that would have made the picture unsettlingly complete.
Deciding to eschew the bar or restaurant, I instead ordered some room service food, and settled down to see what was on the TV, by way of a mental sorbet. The standard terrestrial channels were there, along with a number of on-screen adverts for the fact I could pay £8.50 to watch Beowulf in glorious normal-sized-TV-o-vision. I decided that I'd rather either see it at the cinema for that cost, or even buy a copy of it for slightly more, and instead opted to watch a Batman cartoon which was on (for reasons which elude me, they had the Cartoon Network in addition to the usual channels).
The food, for the record, was fine, and a bit later on I chatted to my beloved on the phone, which made things feel a bit less grim, but there was something strange about the overnight experience; I was reminded of the narrator in Fight Club talking about his apartment building being a filing cabinet, and the food on planes being single-serving. The hotel felt the same - the room was functional but not luxurious or welcoming, and the miniature toiletries were like a plastic soap-filled summation of the transient nature of it all.
I slept all right, but when I went to breakfast the next morning, there were a couple of chaps in shirts and ties sitting at a table already, eating breakfast and talking about their sales targets. Just overhearing them, I swear I could actually feel my soul shrivelling like a slug in a saltstorm.
I took my tray, and its single-serving breakfast, and sat in the furthest possible corner of the restaurant.
I completed the Silverstone Half-Marathon on Sunday, though not in any kind of impressive time (apparently, there’s a connection between training for physical exercise, and being able to do it. Strange, that).
Anyway, since I seem to have acquired some new readers recently, I thought I’d publish this (admittedly rather low-resolution) picture of me running on Sunday, so you can put a face* to the blog, as it were.
*As Victor Lewis-Smith put it, “it must be a face - it’s got ears”.
In this post earlier this week, I made what Lucy immediately labelled a shameless attempt to bribe the judges of a competition - the aim of the competition being to script, storyboard or even shoot an advert for the new Patricia Cornwell paperback.
However, if you scroll down a little further on the page in question, you may well spot a familiar name. Go on, have a look, I'll wait right here… back now?
I'm rather pleased about it, to be honest - especially as I've never written an advert before in my life. Like getting a rejection letter back but with some promising or supportive remark in it, it's stuff like this that helps keep me motivated, silly as that may sound.
If you want to see my entry, called 'Names', it's here.
As you may know, today (Thursday 6th March) is World Book Day. Granted, I'm not the main target for this promotion, but I still think it's a good thing and worthy of drawing to your attention, especially if you have children.
The main element of the scheme is that children (usually via their schools) are given a £1 Book Token - not much use, you might think, but there are nine books which have been published for the occasion, all at the bargain price of - you guessed it - a quid. So kids with the £1 tokens can get a book for free.
Why do I think this is a good idea? Well, not simply because I'd like to be a published writer of books and because I want to feel there are actually going to be people who might be interested in reading them, but because, on a more fundamental level, I think that people being able to read, and wanting to do so for pleasure, is a good thing.
I know there are various celebrities who make odd semi-boasts about never having read a book in their lives, and that the average person reads something like four novels a year (I think it's higher for women), but one of the reasons I think being able to read a book is something to be aspired to is because, as well as being a pleasant way to while away the hours, reading a novel is a good way to increase your sense of empathy or understanding of other people and their lives.
Add in the fact that reading a novel might increase your attention span, thus enabling you to read texts which might advance complicated theories or cover events spanning decades, and I think you can begin to see why I think people being able to read, and wanting to do so, is a good thing.
A lot of the coverage of the Harry Potter phenomenon has mentioned how the books have increased the number of children who read for pleasure (and I sincerely hope this is the case, though I have a niggling doubt that some children might want the book on its release date more as a status thing, an 'object of desire' than for reasons of reading it), and I like to think that World Book Day plays a part in promoting reading, and the accessibility of books generally, in much the same way.
So, if you have kids who've been given a £1 token (and even if not), I hope you'll encourage them to visit a bookshop and pick up one of the specially-produced cheap World Book Day tomes. And even if you're an adult, you could do worse than to pop into a bookshop over the next couple of days and have a browse. Chances are you'll find something you like - and if you buy something at this time of year, publishers and booksellers may well see a 'sales spike' as being the direct result of the World Book Day promotion, and decide that it's worth continuing with.
Which would, I think, be a good thing for writers, publishers, booksellers and readers alike. And given how broad the four groups I've just mentioned are, I think it would be little exaggeration to say: Everybody wins.
Given the previous post , I thought I it was only right to post an update on what writing I’ve been doing since… well, since the last time I posted about what's on my writing list at present.
It’s not quite as busy as it could have been, but just last week I submitted my entry for a competition to write an advert for the new Patricia Cornwell paperback – in fact, you can view it here. The decision-making process is now underway, so if any of the judges are reading this, hello, I hope you’re well, and can I buy you a drink? Just being friendly, it’s not a bribe or anything, of course (actually, it looks as if a few people have already looked at it, and given me some votes, which is kind).
Throw in the novels I've started (although one of them is, I found out over the weekend, similar to a well-respected foreign film in terms of several story beats, hmm), the novel I've finished and intend to start throwing at agents again, and the radio play which I really do have to get finished and off to the BBC Writers' Room , and I like to think that's about enough to keep me busy, at least for now.
Plus, of course , the 9-5 job and the arrangements for getting married in less than six months. I wouldn't want to give the impression that I'd forgotten either of those.
And no, I didn't just add that previous sentence in case my boss or my beloved looks at this post. Honest.
I've recently been reading Paul's Rainey's (brilliantly titled) 2000AD Prog Slog Blog, in which he works his way through 1,100 copies of the British weekly comic 2000AD (home of Judge Dredd). If you're even remotely familiar with 2000AD, I'd recommend it highly - and indeed, the rest of Paul's site is worth your time, especially The Book Of Lists, which features some very funny stuff.
One theme which I think comes through rather well in Paul's write-ups is the discovery (or, as appears to be the case, re-discovery) of how the names of certain writers pop up in the credit boxes for the stories. This rang a bell for me - from a moderately early age I recall noting the names of artists (Terry Bave, Sid Burgons and the like) and writers (Tom Tully) in the comics I read. I knew I liked certain authors of books - Enid Blyton or Nicholas Fisk, for example - but in comics it seemed that there were fewer opportunities to figure out who was writing or drawing the strips, and this was something that I was interested in (please don't take this as some kind of innate insight into the nature of publishing on my part; for some time, I believed that the copy of Krazy comic which was delivered every Saturday was actually drawn by the artists - so the above isn't any kind of brag at precocity).
As I grew older and lost interest in humour comics (and the comics I liked merged into each other, trimming down my choices), I started to read superhero comics and adventure comics such as Tiger or 2000AD (and latterly the relaunched Eagle). I don't recall offhand if there were credits in Tiger, but I noticed that certain writers in 2000AD and Eagle (John Wagner, Pat Mills, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, to give key examples) were responsible for stories I enjoyed, and I started to look out for their names.
Attending a comic convention in (I think) 1986, the then-editor of 2000AD, Steve Macmanus, said that they were very keen to attract new writers, and probably motivated more by the idea of seeing my name in my favourite comic than any realisation that I had a deep-seated need to communicate with people, I started sending things in to 2000AD. I was using an old, smudge-prone typewriter, and at the start I was definitely formatting scripts in a rather haphazard way, and the pages were as spotted with Tipp-Ex as my teenage face was with acne, but I was writing, and enjoying it.
Now, if this was a memoir by a writer who'd made it big, this is the point where I'd talk about the rejections and the first sale and the further sales and so on, but I'm still plugging away at writing now, two decades on, with only a small degree of success. Then again, I've been ‘writing around’ college and latterly work, and not always giving it my full commitment, so perhaps I should be grateful even for that small degree.
But, reading Paul's comments on spotting recurring names in 2000AD, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. We'd written a number of comedy sketches for TV (and I still feel they're pretty good, even if he has now fled the UK for Spain in what appears to be a belated attack of shame), bundled them into a pretty spiffy series proposal (if nothing else, I can honestly claim that my formatting skills are much improved since the early days) and whilst they were being mulled over by a TV Production Company, we were talking about them in suitably cautious but optimistic tones.
We fell to discussing what would happen if the series was made, and did well, and so on, and m'colleague said, quite firmly (and to my mind rightly) that he didn't want to be famous. Not, we agreed, that writers tend to get famous in the same way as actors or even directors do (cf the old gag about the wannabe actress who was so stupid she tried to get a better part in a film by sleeping with the writer), and in fact we concluded that even if you could make a good living as a writer the chances were you'd be able to walk down the street without any kind of attention being paid to you at all. Which we both agreed we liked.
I said, though, and I still feel it now, that I'd like to write things that might make people look out for my name in future, seeing it as a mark of something that could be of interest to them. So basically, I want to write, and reach a level of recognition where people would see my name as a kind of shorthand for stuff they might like. There are all sorts of elements to what I'd like to write and why (novels which receive acclaim and sell by the palletload which make points which people hadn't previously been inclined to consider or discuss, screenplays which make children cheer and adults cry, comics which repay re-reading, and so on*), but what I'm talking about is the point at which I'd like to think I'd actually feel I'd 'made it'. It's less a thing of income, but more a level of recognition. And I'm painfully aware that wanting people to say "John Soanes? Didn't he write that 'Human Noises' book? I liked that one", in the same way that I do about other people's work, is tantamount to me saying that I'd like to be noted as a writer by the kind of people who note the role of a writer. Which might be the same as saying I'd like to be recognised by people like me, a rather frightening notion.
And, I suddenly realise, not necessarily a million miles away from saying "John's work was very popular amongst people who like that kind of thing". Uh oh...
*Yes, yes, I'm painfully aware that these things actually need to be written by me for this to come to pass, but I'm talking in the abstract here. At least for now.
Spotted in the London Paddington branch of WHSmith.
I like to think that the near-obliteration of the A and the subtle amending of the G into an O is entirely deliberate.
And while we're taking cheap shots, is it just my imagination, or is that one of the least convincing photo-montage jobs of all time? Sergeant Pepper's looked more like all the people were actually there, and that was in 1967 or so.
(Note to my American readers: don't be fooled by Morgan's appearance on various TV shows over there, he's not any kind of representative of the UK; for example,not many of us Limeys have been fired from our newspaper editing jobs for publishing fake photos purporting to show British servicemen urinating on Iraqi prisoners. In fact, the number of British people who are on record for doing so is very slight - just 1 in something like 60 million.)
I've enjoyed the work of Simon Pegg for many years (yes, including his work in 'Faith In The Future'), and reading his interviews and the like, it often feels like he's very much an example of someone who loves comedy, almost like 'one of us' (by which I mean the audience) who's made good. As a result of this - perhaps wildly inaccurate - feeling, I'd like to think that Mr Pegg wouldn't forget about his colleagues, or where he's come from, or any of those other things that people who've had a hearty degree of success are legendary for doing.
Which is why I was so pleased to read this, which - if the report is accurate - suggests that one of the key reasons why he's upset about the issue is because, all other aspects aside, of the bad manners involved.
London-based writer, runner, mountain-climber and constant drinker of tea.
And, if the photo on my profile is to be believed, occasional Oscar Wilde impersonator.
I'm now blogging here - please come and visit!