Monday, June 30, 2008

Are… Are These Words From The Future?

Given the 'posting date' at the foot of this review, and the slight vagueness around specific plot details and/or scenes, would I be overly suspicious to wonder if the writer of the review had actually seen the film?

I think there have been some press screenings, so I could be wrong, but the posting date certainly makes me suspicious. And not for the first time in recent weeks - this book review spends a lot of time talking about the background to the book, and makes very little reference to details such as writing style, pace, or dialogue, which rather led me to suspect that the book review was more likely to have been created from a combination of a quick skim and the information in Penguin's press pack.

I'd prefer to be wrong, but it looks a bit questionable to me. What do you think?

Why Don't You ... Switch Off Your Internet Connection And Go Out And See Some Writers Talking Instead?

This week, many people will be going to the Screenwriters' Festival in Cheltenham. I'm not going for time and money reasons, but if you are going along, do have fun, and try to bring me back some freebies.

For those of us left behind, there are still events of writerly interest taking place, and here are details of a couple which might be of interest…

Thursday 3rd July, 6.30pm : Sharman Macdonald In Conversation

Sharman Macdonald has written plays and films, and indeed her latest 'The Edge Of Love' is at a cinema near you right now, starring (unless I misremember) her daughter Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys. She'll be talking with Kate Rowland of BBC Writersroom (who I've seen doing these things before, and I think she does a good job of keeping it informative to the would-be writers in the audience), and there'll be a chance to ask questions afterwards.

It's free to attend, though you need to get yourself on the list - which you can do by clicking on the link above and following the instructions, or by sending an e-mail to
It's being held at the BAFTA building on Piccadilly in London's glittering West End.

Saturday 12th July, 7.45pm : Alan Moore And Melinda Gebbie

I've sung the praises of Alan Moore here before, and this is a chance to see and hear him talking (something he does very eloquently and amusingly, in my experience), along with his wife and co-creator Melinda Gebbie, about their recent work Lost Girls.

It's being chaired by Roz Kaveney, who I know as an editor and writer, and is being held as part of the London Literature Festival on the South Bank (specifically, in the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall).

Comics as Literature, eh ? There's progress in terms of critical acceptance - one day, it'll be taken for granted to the extent that there are none of those 'Pow! Zap! Comics Grow Up!' headlines in the papers, but I'm not sure we'll see that in my lifetime.

I've just realised that this post might actually prove useful or informative to some of you, and now I worry that I've set a dangerous precedent. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be back to being facile soon.

Very, very soon.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sometimes, Fewer Is More

Taking a highly selective trawl through the films of Eddie Murphy, and loading my argument, sure, but…

1988: Coming To America
Characters Played: 4
Academy Award Nominations: None

1996 : The Nutty Professor
Characters Played: 7
Academy Award Nominations: None

1999: Bowfinger
Characters Played: 2
Academy Award Nominations: None

2000: Nutty Professor II: The Klumps
Characters Played: 8
Academy Award Nominations: None

2006: Dreamgirls
Characters Played: 1
Academy Award Nomination: Actor in a Supporting Role

2006: Norbit
Characters Played: 3
Academy Award Nominations: None

… luckily, Eddie seems to have spotted the pattern I'm alluding to, and his next few films feature him just taking home one salary. Good for him.

Next time on John's unsolicited career advice: Mike Myers (hint: doing Austin Powers with an Indian accent doesn't constitute creativity, and may actually be a bit racist).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What I Did On My Not-Holiday, By John Aged 37 (And A Bit)

Well, it's been a rather thin few days in terms of content, but I plead a sudden surge of activity in the paying job (leaving me several shades of knackered at the end of the day) combined with a lot of writing stuff to do. To summarise, then :

BBC Sharps
I didn't hear back from Writersroom on Monday, and unless they sent me an e-mail headed something like 'Free v1agr@' and it got diverted to my Spam folder, I guess that means that I didn't make it through to the next round. A pity, but doing the script was actually rather fun, and it was something of a learning experience, so I don't feel it was wasted time on my part.

One change I might make to it, though, is to amend the name, as in an attempt to be clever and show it was purpose-written for the BBC Competition, I called it 'Sharpes' (after the pharmacy where the action took place), so I should probably re-name it for any future use. Then again, maybe that was part of the reason I didn't make it through, I may have built the expectation that there'd be a number of characters for Sean Bean to play, and the first ten pages offer nothing of that nature.

Waterstones 'What's Your Story?'
My entry's still on the gallery for this (page 13, last time I checked, or you can search by my surname), and given that over 4000 people have entered, the odds are rather against, but it was a fun thing to do (and my method was like something from 'Take Hart' or, for the younger amongst you, 'Art Attack'), and who knows, I could be one of the two over-18 winners. I'll probably post the jpeg of my story after the results are announced, so as not to dilute or jinx things, as it were.

Regardless of that, the book of all the authors' postcards (plus the three winners) is for the dually worthwhile causes of Dyslexia Action and English PEN, and as it's a mere fiver, I strongly urge you to go here and order a copy. Go on, it's a good thing to do. You know you want to.

10 Word Crime Story
I didn't have time to post about it here before the deadline of 5pm on Monday, but I managed to get a couple of entries in for this. It was a fun thing to do, and the small wordcount made it pleasantly restricted in terms of what you could write about - my usual logorrhoea was very much held at bay. I think the results are due in a couple of weeks, so I'll share my entries after that, I suspect.

...So, as you can see, I haven't just been doing nowt and making token gestures at posting here. But anyway, the hectic period seems to have passed, so we should be back to the usual frequency of posting (and probably the usual kind of content - sneering at adverts, book covers, and dodgy journalism; the very heights of sophistication) now.

Anyway, enough about me, how have you been?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Did You See This In The Evening Standard Yesterday?

I had a go at it, but of a possible ten, I only got three answers right.

(Is this remark in bad taste? Very possibly, but I think we know who trivialised the issue with their idiotic choice of words.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How Do I Feel About The Paucity Of Updates Over The Last Couple Of Days?

Very much like this chap, though thankfully with less threat to the safety of others.

More content coming soon, I promise. But in the meantime, why not take a look at the excellent blogs listed in the column to the right?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sharps Update

Waiting to hear if you've made it through to the next round? Me too… but take a look here.

Two hours, then.

I recommend a cup of tea while waiting...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Words. In Scripts, E-Mail Inboxes, On Webpages, And On The Printed Page. Words. Oh, How I Love Them...

Officially speaking, today is the day when folks who've got through to the next round of the BBC Writersroom Sharps competition will get that bit of good news. So I suspect I won't be the only person who'll be checking their e-mail Inbox a fair bit today. Fingers crossed, and good luck to everyone else who entered - do let me know if you get through.

As David points out, the odds are actually quite good for Sharps entrants - Writersroom received around 600 scripts, and with 20 places in the next round, on a mathematical basis alone that gives each entrant a 1 in 30 chance. Inevitably, I liken this to being the one child chosen out of your class for something special, though that estimate of class size might just show how horribly out of touch with the kids I am.

However, as I said when Sharps was announced, I do wonder if Writersroom might have set themselves a very tight timescale in relation to notifying the next-stagers - the deadline was noon this Monday, and people are due to be told today if they've got through, which certainly needs a swift turnaround. I've had some reassurance in that they sent me an e-mail to acknowledge my script had been received, but I know that some other people (such as Lucy) haven't yet heard - indeed, the Writersroom blog has actually asked that people who haven't heard by next Monday let them know as much. I am, though, a little bemused how this will work, what with today being Announcement Day... hmm. Anyway, I guess they must have found a way to make it so folks aren't penalised due to postal hassles. Certainly have to hope so.

In other BBC writing-related news, it seems that the aformentioned Writersroom is going on tour - click here for more details (though once again it was on David's blog that I first read about this. Credit where it's due).

If you can't be bothered to click the links (which is understandable, as I'm well aware this post's awash with them - and there'll be several more before it's over), then Edinburgh-dwelling writers should be aware that the BBC Writersroom will be visiting the Traverse Theatre next week, on Tuesday 24th June, between 5pm and 6.30pm. If you want to go, you need to be on the guest list, which you can do by e-mailing

For non-Edinburgers like me, there are also roadshows planned for Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Leicester, London, Manchester and Sheffield, so it'll be a case of keeping an eye out for announcements on the BBC Writersroom homepage, but I think it'll be worth it. I certainly intend to go to the London one if I can.

Moving into the realms of non-BBC writing stuff, my entry for the Waterstones 'What’s Your Story?' competition is now available to view online. Click here and then go to the Gallery, where you can either see it on page 13 (well, that's where it was last night) or you can search for it by my surname. If you do the latter, then I also recommend you search for the entries by Jason Arnopp and Laura Anderson, two friendly folks from the world of the blogternet who, as you can see, are not exactly shabby when it comes to the ol' writing business.

My entry, I hasten to add, features a guest appearance from the left hand of my lovely fiancee; her engagement ring is just visible, which I hope will help scotch those rumours that I got her a ring from a gumball machine outside the newsagent. Though oddly enough, she seems to feel that giving her more shiny trinkets would be a good thing. Hmm. Anyway, as 4200 people entered that competition and there are only two slots for adult winners, the odds are slightly less favourable than 1 in 30, but it was an interesting exercise anyway. Can't hurt, I like to think...

And finally in this post about the written word, I wanted to draw your attention to the fact that if you buy a copy of The Times from a High Street branch of WHSmith this week, you can also pick up a copy of the novel, 'The End Of Mr Y' by Scarlett Thomas for a mere £2.99. That's a full fiver off the cover price, which can't hurt given the current economic climate, right?

In the interest of honesty, I should say I haven't read my copy yet, but I've thoroughly enjoyed Scarlett's last three books*, and as she seems to be developing as a novelist with every successive book, I have no reason to think this one will disappoint. Granted, you have to buy The Times, which may not be your thing (it's hardly mine, though some of the Review sections are pretty decent), but you can always lob that in the recycling box.

The offer only runs until Sunday, after which I gather another book will be offered in the same fashion. Not a bad way to try out unfamiliar authors, I'd say, or a bargainous way to buy books by those you already know and like.

*I'm not being overly familiar here, I like to think; Scarlett was kind enough to reply to an e-mail I sent her about her novel 'Popco', so I feel using her first name is okay. And anyway, this is a blog post, not an academic text, so ner.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oh, And I Guess The Receptionist In 'Casualty' Fits Somewhere In This Sequence

The passing of a mere three years, and I think we all have to agree that Stephen 'Tintin' Duffy looks really very different.

Amazing what they can do nowadays.

(In case it worries you, I'm not having a go at the Duffster at all; her album's a great listen, and I certainly like it as much as her surnamesake's work with The Lilac Time and the like. But as regular readers will know by now, I'm not going to let the fact I actually like someone's work get in the way of a cheap and puerile post.)

Me Me Meme Me Me (Not Egotism, It's The Sound Of A Singer Doing Warm-Up Exercises)...

Emerging from her blog-hibernation, Lianne has reassured the world that her radio silence wasn't due to bad stuff (which is good to hear), and as if to prove it she's thrown a 'meme' towards seven people, myself included. It goes like this:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to".

It's my first time being tagged in this way (though there's another similar post which I've been meaning to do for a few weeks, and hopefully which will surface in the next couple of days), so please be gentle with me if I make a fool of myself, but my answers are…

1. 'November' by Steven Lindsay - From the album Exit Music, which (along with his more recent album Kite) was looping as I did a lot of writing last week. It's a beautiful song - very melancholy, but Lindsay's voice is great, and the arrangement is perfect for the overall feel of the song. To my mild amusement, it reminds me of the U2 song 'October', and I was wondering if it was possible to create a playlist of songs with months in their titles, but I ran pretty dry after these two. Any suggestions? Please let me know.

2. 'Alive' by Meat Loaf - From the not really very good Bat Out Of Hell III, this is probably the only decent track on it that's not written by Jim Steinman; in these apparently-sensitive times, I'm impressed by the use of the couplet 'I'm a runway train on a broken track / I'm a ticker on a bomb that you can't turn back', and there's a nice breakdown bit towards the end. It's as ridiculous and overblown as you'd expect from a Meat Loaf song, of course, but I like it.

3. 'Join With Us' by The Feeling - I feel a combination of surprise and disappointment that this is being used in a car advert, as it struck me as an obvious choice for a single, but I guess in these downloadin' days the idea of single releases is kind of limited to the songs they make a video for, and maybe they see the advert as a similar promotional tool? I dunno, but I've thought this was the best song on the album of the same name, mainly because of the frankly ludicrous lyric 'Ring Ring, beep beep, ah-ha', which I think is delightfully stupid, though of course it does rather invite criticism for being, well, nonsense. But I like it.

4. 'The Beat that my Heart Skipped' by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - This is a strange one. This song was one listed as part of the soundtrack for the latest issue of the comic Casanova (first issue to read free online here - fourth row down), suggested by the rather talented writer, Matt Fraction. It's a pacey little number, awash with lyrics, and my first hearing of it made me think it was kind of positive and romantic, and the title inevitably made me think of m'lady. However, having looked at the lyrics, I have to say that it's far more ambivalent about the object of his affection. Oop. Anyway, I think it's a good song regardless of this.

5. 'Foux du Fafa' by Flight of The Conchords - Is stuck in my head a lot at the moment, mainly because of the utterly ridiculous lyrics. I love the exchange 'Ou est le discotheque?' 'C'est ici, bebe!' but that may be because I am little more than a child. I genuinely urge you to listen to the whole album, it's a great deal of fun - even if the impressive sales of it do rather undermine the joke that the 'Chords (as they're known by, er, nobody but me) are a failure as a group. Though for me, that makes it even funnier.

6. 'True Faith' by New Order - I used to share a house with a chap who was a huge fan of New Order, and the following dialogue took place more than once:
Me: Come on Jason, you must know the one I mean.
He: No, I don't.
Me: You MUST. It goes 'de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-dee-dee-dee, something-something-something, rising sun'
He: No, I don't know what you're talking about. Stop going on about this.
...After I found out what the song actually is, I discover it's one of New Order's bigger hits. Makes me wonder if he was a fan at all. Anyway, I think it's a really strong song (in either its original or its 1994 remixed version), and if I get another tune stuck in my head - an irritating one, I mean - I tend to focus on this one and push the unwanted one out. Might sound mad, but it works for me, probably something to do with the drums at the start. Oh, the sound of drums…

7. 'Only Myself To Blame' by Scott Walker - I was reminded of this song after hearing the similarly-titled 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' by Beth Rowley (which is also rather good), and it's a smashing recent re-discovery. I've heard Mr Walker referred to as 'God's Tonsils', and the sheer breadth of his voice on this song shows why. Oddly enough, this song is from the soundtrack to the Bond film 'The World Is Not Enough', but I'm not quite sure how it's supposed to fit in with the theme of the film, as it's brimful with regret and melancholy, and not so much about boat chases down the Thames. Not that it really matters; the song's fab, in my opinion.

… so, then, those are my (currently) magnificent seven. I think they should all be easy enough to find and download through the wonders of the internet, so you can always make up a mixtape or playlist and give it some witty variation on my name like 'Danger Soanes'. Oh all right then, don't. Suit yerself.

Now, I'm supposed to tag seven people with this, so I will - lord only knows if they'll even see this or respond, but I want to do my bit for the spread of the meme, since I was amused and slightly touched to be tagged in the first place. And so I hereby tag M'colleague, Steve, Fwengebola, Marie, Angie, Elinor, and lastly but not leastly Jon (this last is a thinly-veiled attempt to check Jon's all right, as he seems - as Lianne recently was - to be blog-hibernating. See how I returned to the opening theme there? Ah, life and its cycles…).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

From The Desk Of Derek Marchant, CEO, Formoline Ltd

To: Trevor Stephens, Marketing and Communications
cc: Paula Hennings, COO
Subject: TV Advert

Dear Trevor

Many thanks for sending me a preview DVD of the new advert. I gather we've booked a series of TV slots for this one, mainly during programmes aimed at the female viewer.

One question, though: are you actually aware of what an advert is meant to do? In case you're not sure, it's meant to make people want to buy the product, which usually involves actually saying what the item is, what it does, and minor details like that.

Instead, you seem to have wasted our ten seconds, and the not inconsiderable budget we gave you, on stating the company name, and doing a little play on the name - which might have been quite witty if you'd actually made the name up, but you didn't, and we knew full well that there was a homonym element to it when we named the company.

As I don't know what you think you're doing, or where the money's gone, I've instructed IT to disable your system logon as of noon today, and security have been told to remove you from the premises if you're still at your desk then.

Please make it easy for all of us and leave with some dignity, and we'll all pretend that this never happened - I can't imagine it's something you'll want to include in your showreel.



Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tunnel Vision

Got to design the cover for a thriller this summer?

Why not take the 'dark figure in a corridor' design from the front of The Da Vinci Code, and change it so the spooky figure's walking towards you instead of towards the left?

Nobody's ever thought of it before!

Job done, knock off and head to the pub. Well done!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Isn't There Some Saying About The Cobbler's Children Going Barefoot? (Or Is That A Load Of Cobblers?)

It's been a very busy week, what with the 9-5 job being hectic, and the run-up to the deadline for the BBC Sharps competition, but in a way, it's kind of interesting to see just how far my brain can bend before it snaps.

I'm almost done with my Sharps entry now, with a final read-through and formatting sort-out tonight before it goes in the post tomorrow (along with Father's Day stuff - consider this reminder a social service). I've rather enjoyed a lot of the work for the Sharps script, I have to say - I was slightly worried I might have left it a smidgin too late, and that I’d feel I was turning in something sub-par (which always allows for the line 'ah, well, if I'm honest it wasn't my best work' in the face of rejection, though that's a pretty limp consolation really), but I've actually been enjoying the process of writing it (barring a few format-related hassles); having let the ideas and characters stew in my head for a week or so, it's really felt like a case of just typing it out.

And when the actual process of writing is as straightforward and enjoyable as that, it reminds me why I love to write; the the words just flow from noggin to page (or monitor), and I start to see connections between plotlines I had previously thought were unrelated, ideas for jokes seem to come out of nowhere, and it's one of the finest, and funnest, feelings in the world. Granted, there are many times when it doesn't go like that, but this week it's been fun (apart from spending all day in front of a computer and then going home and spending the evening in fr - ah, you guessed it). That does mean, of course, that I've been slightly less mentally and physically able to post extensively here - the paradox of being fired up and excited about writing in all its forms, but a little bit too tired to actually sit and post much to m'blog in the last day or two (hence the title above).

Anyway, my Sharps item will go in the post tomorrow, and apparently those who've made it to the next stage should know within a week or so. Which is a pretty fast turnaround, and suggests that they might well be going by the standard practice of reading the first ten pages to assess whether or not to put the script through. If that is the case, maybe I should do a check and make sure that the first third is mind-grabbingly terrific… or perhaps I should affix some kind of irresistible bribe to one of the first ten pages? A fifty quid note, perhaps? A small chocolate bar? Maybe even a small, but saucy picture from my portfolio?

Actually, no, that last idea's not appropriate, is it? After all, I want to advance on the basis of my writing abilities, not because of my appearance, people can be so catty if they think that's how you've got where you are in life (see, no matter what you might have heard, I DID learn something from all that time at Law School).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What A Wonderful World

Make sure your monitor is fully maximised and free of dust, and then join me in being impressed by the photos here.

Need I say more? I think not. Quite, quite beautiful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Adventure Of The King's Shilling

I bade a cursory 'good morning' to Mrs Hudson, and hurried up the seventeen stairs to 221B, where my old friend was sitting facing the window.

"Good morning, Watson," he said without turning around. "I gather there is some item in the news you wish to discuss?"

I shook my head slightly as I walked into the sitting-room. One might have expected that time would have made Holmes's deductive skills less surprising, but the singular nature of his mind never ceased to startle me.

"Holmes, how did -"

"You know my methods, Watson," he said, and turned to face me. "Attention and reason, nothing more. If you consider the sequence of events immediately preceding your entry into this room, you may well be able to duplicate my conclusion."

I paused for a moment, retreading that familiar path in my mind. Holmes had cautioned me to pay attention to detail many times before, and yet there was little of note about my arrival in our shared lodgings; or so I thought.

"Once again, I am at a loss, Holmes," I said, collapsing into the vacant armchair, and glad of the warmth of the nearby fire. "You will save us both time if you explain how you came to your conclusion - which is, I must add, quite correct."

"Well, Watson," he said, and leant forward, with a look in his eye that I had often seen before. "I have heard you enter this building many times, and therefore the sound of your footfalls is known to me. The overall pace and stride changes little, even if it is cold or wet outside - I know that, as a gentleman, you will always pause at the door to wipe your feet or dispose of your umbrella should it be snowing or raining."

"That much is true," I agreed, nodding slowly.

"On this occasion, however, you did not stop - as, once again, a gentleman would do - to greet Mrs Hudson with your customary warmth, and nor did you ask her for tea or any other form of refreshment. Clearly, you were in something of a hurry to speak to me, and considered you had something of considerable importance to discuss. A notion which was made all the more evident by the manner in which you ascended the stairs."

"Yet you knew it was an item from the news I wished to discuss," I pointed out, only now producing the torn-out section of that morning's Times from my trouser pocket. "How could you have known that?"

"There are many sounds in the city, and I have made it my place to know as many of them as possible. The sound of the ragged edge of a torn piece of newsprint in a man's pocket - especially one as well-lined as would be expected in a suit from Saville Row, Watson - is as distinctive to me as the sound of a man's voice. The rough susurrus is not, I might add, unlike that of the wind through sere grass in the Himalaya."

The reminder of Holmes's time abroad, when I had thought my friend dead, was an unwelcome one, but his point was well made; I had been faintly aware of the sound of the piece of newspaper in my pocket, but had paid it no mind. It was this insistence on attention to details - details which others might have ignored as being commonplace - which made Holmes peerless in the field of investigation.

"So, Watson," he said, "what news is it that you wish to bring to my attention?"

"Grave news, to my thinking," I said, and unfolded the section of newsprint. "There are plans afoot to sully your name."

"Really?" he asked drily, arching an eyebrow. "An attack on my reputation and standing? Interesting."

"It's not interesting, surely, Holmes!" I blustered, unable to understand how he could remain so calm. "As a Consulting Detective, much of your income derives from the public perception of your character and abilities. This perception is endangered by the plans of which I speak."

"A reputation as fragile and easily destroyed as you suggest," he replied, reaching into the nearby slipper for his tobacco, "is one which appears to be of little merit. What are these plans, that I should be as concerned as you seem to be?"

"There is an intention," I read from the section of newspaper, "to take your name, and your well-regarded skills, and portray them in a fashion more befitting a common brawler, in a medium most vulgar and unseemly."

"You speak of the moving picture, I fear," said he.

"Indeed," I replied. "Financiers are even now emptying their coffers to provide backing, and a man of questionable reputation and ability has agreed to take the reins of this ill-considered venture."

"A man willing to do such a thing," Holmes said, stuffing the last of the tobacco into his pipe, "must have little to lose. He may well be a man who has known success, tasted and delighted in its fruits - including the adoration of womenfolk - but who has started to fail. A man for whom the memory of the good fortune, now seemingly out of reach forever, must cause restless nights."

"You know of the person involved?"

"I know his kind," Holmes said, striking a match and holding it to the pipe until a warm glow emitted from the bowl. He puffed twice. "I know of the effects of fame, and the artificial world of the moving picture, on a man. Especially a man who may have but one tale to tell, one song to sing. When that has been done and his mental resources and creative abilities are exhausted, he will seize on any apparent opportunity to earn his money, or to cling to the last vestige of success."

I said nothing. In my fashion, I was relieved that my old friend had not been as alarmed as I, and that he seemed confident that no matter the words said about him or his characteristics, the lasting memory of Holmes would be that of a man whose brain was always to the forefront, and whose fists were a last resort.

"Tell me," Holmes said suddenly, "what is his name, this man? I'll admit I should ideally know it already, as I know the names of criminals, but the world of the moving picture makes a man's status rise and fall with shocking speed - to keep track of such individuals would require a greater memory than even I possess. Who is this man, who would deliberately seek to portray me as other than I am, in order to gain a few pounds, a few more paragraphs of coverage in the London News?"

"His name," I answered, offering Holmes the germane section of newspaper, "is Guy Ritchie. "

"Ah, Ritchie," Holmes said with a rueful shake of his head. "I suspected that this time would come, sooner or later."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Yes, I Judged The Mag By The Cover, But I Don’t Judge The Look By The Lover*

It doesn’t often happen, but sometimes a certain magazine, book or comic cover will catch my eye, and make it inevitable that I’ll have to buy the item (something which might surprise you, given how often I post lengthy rants about derivative book covers, but it’s true).

Just the other day, the cover to the current New Yorker magazine, pictured here, did just that; I’ve don’t live in New York, I’ve never read the magazine before, and all I know about it is that it has a reputation for very rarely having typos or grammatical errors – something which I have no problem with, but it did make me wonder if the magazine might be rather self-regarding or austere to read.

I know what you’re wondering: is it? And I say in reply to your thought-question: I don’t know, to be honest. I bought the magazine the other day, and I’ve briefly skimmed it a couple of times (it seems to contain short pieces by Nabokov and Murakami, which isn’t exactly shabby), but I keep being drawn back to the cover, which I think is a wonderful bit of art (you may need to click on the image to get the full effect).

It’s by Adrian Tomine, who I know does comics work as well (as does Chris Ware, who also does covers for the same magazine). I don’t think I’ve read his comics work, but whatever I’ve seen of his art has always appealed to me for its clean lines and nicely-drawn people; you can see many more of his illustrations – including some more on book-reading themes which were also New Yorker covers – on his website, by clicking here.

I don’t have any particularly searing insight to offer here, but I just wanted to share some art which I thought was elegant and attractive. Hope you like it as much as I do.

[The image above is, of course, © copyright Adrian Tomine 2008.]

*I know that doesn’t make sense, but blame ABC, not me, okay?

Want To Be As Cool As Me? Of Course You Do. And One Way To Do This Is To Copy Me, And Buy This

Back in March, I mentioned that Sarah J Peach was pulling together a book by bloggers in aid of War Child.

Well, just yesterday, the Peachster announced that the book has been compiled and completed, and is now available for your reading pleasure. It’s called ‘You’re Not The Only One’, features over a hundred bloggers sharing tales of things that have actually happened to they themselves personally, sports a rather spiffy cover, and is available to buy from by clicking here.

It only costs £12.50, and over half of that goes to War Child – in fact, if you’re all tech-savvy and like downloaded books, a whole £10 of that goes straight to the charity, which has to be a good thing, right? Tell all your friends about this, and do make sure to buy a copy yourself, as it sounds like a good read for a good cause.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, yes I did send in a submission for the book, but I didn’t make the final cut. Then again, Sarah’s recently announced she’s pregnant, so I think we can safely assume that the strange hormones which are now coursing through her system made her temporarily so woozy in the head she was unable to recognise it for the great writing it obviously was. Ahem.

Anyway, what are you lingering here for? Get on over to this page and buy yourself a copy (and then come back here, of course. I miss you so when you’re gone).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Spotted On Wednesday In The Capital City

Taking these two in order:

Firstly, I think we can conclude that the Evening Standard believe that the time to be alarmed when you see someone carrying a rucksack is now over. Good to know.

And secondly... well, do I really need to say anything about this headline? 'Menace'? I mean, come on... 'menace'?

You Know That Recent Doctor Who Episode Set In Pompeii?

Well, it was written by James Moran, who's also written for Torchwood, and wrote the film Severance, and is doing stuff for Primeval. So, it's probably fair to say that he knows things about writing for the screen (and about writing in general) which many of us who are trying to make a living by scribbling could learn from.

Fortunately, he's shared a cluster of insights on his blog, and I heartily recommend you read it - go lookypoos, by clickykins here.

I Also Seem To Recall It Being 40 Minutes Long Back In The Late 1970s - Or Did I Dream That?

It's become a bit of a tradition in many blogs to embed or link to a music video on Friday afternoons. Perhaps it's some kind of cyber-echo of the fact Top Of The Pops moved to Friday not too long before its demise (and in my opinion hastened that demise; in my young day, we'd watch it on Thursday night, talk about it on Friday at school and then, having had our opinions approved or changed by the consensus of the classroom hive mind, go and buy a single or two on a Saturday), or perhaps it's because as the weekend draws nigh the urge to lob up some original content is on the wane, or perhaps (as is usually the case with my suppositions) it's some other reason altogether.

Here at John Soanes we'd like to follow the crowd, but we've never been very good at it, so on a similarly musical theme here are two links to free music downloads. I wouldn't presume to say if the tunes in question will be your bag, but who knows…

Here, you can download seven tracks from Jack Johnson's new Brushfire label. I'm not a huge fan of his stuff myself, though I know lots of people are, so it'd be churlish of me not to share it. You have to register, but I did so and have since failed to confirm my e-mail address to get regular e-newsletters, and yet I was still able to get the mp3s. Check me out, eh? I'm such a rebel.

And if you don't care for that, then click here to visit a page where you can access samples of the Minder theme, which is perfect for playing loudly as you strut around the room with your thumbs hooked into your trouser beltloops.

It’s not just me who does that, is it?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sharps - The Writer's Cut (Get A Bandage)

So, how are other people getting on with their entries for the BBC Sharps competition?

With just over a week to go before the final posting date (entries have to be in by noon on Monday 16th June), I think I've finally got the content of mine sorted out in my head, though taking that swirly mass of ideas and actually getting it into some vaguely coherent string of words on paper is, of course, the big challenge.

I don't know how other people work, but I usually like to scribble down all the bits I want to put in a story in list form, then once I've come up with the story idea or structure that I think fits it best, and hopefully allows me to put in all the bits I like, then I decide the order of the scenes by shuffling them around until it all feels kind of right. Sometimes this is on post-it notes, other times on bits of card, and if the stationery is in short supply, then sometimes it's just the 'what goes in' list modified to some kind of running order.

I'm roughly at this stage now - I know who my main character is (her name's Carol, since you asked), the opening and closing lines of the piece, and pretty much what happens in between, but I need to put more flesh on this skeleton. Given the way my waistline's expanded in recent years, this doesn't appear to be a problem in literal terms, but I suspect it'll be slightly more work in a metaphorical sense (though both processes share the feature of me needing substantial amounts of tea and cake). I'm hoping to finish off the structuring bit of it by the end of today (Thursday), and that leaves me a week to pour the words and events out of my head, which I think should be feasible - they've been percolating there a while now, after all.

The above isn't always the way I work, mind; it tends to vary depending on a whole number of circumstances such as time and availability of tools and of course the nature of the piece itself, but at the moment, this one seems to be functioning okay for me. I'd be interested to know what methods you folks out there tend to use - longhand, straight to screen, lists, post-its, or are you all geniuses like Mozart who can just throw it down on the page and it's exactly as you envisioned without the need for any changes? Do let me know, I'm genuinely curious…

And finally (for now) on this subject, I was privileged this week to cast my baby clues over a draft of Chip Smith's script for Sharps (with his permission, I'm not some kind of weirdo… well, all right, I am, but not that kind of weirdo), and jolly good it was too. The standard, methinks, should be pretty high (not least because of the fairly broad nature of the brief allowing some imaginative leeway), so I think I shall have to try to bring a game, rather like on the last day of term at school..

Oh, hold on, the phrase is 'bring my A-game', isn't it? Ah well, I'm sure you know what I mean.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I Didn't Find Any 'Man Stroke Woman' Fan Slash Fiction, Though

Slightly spinning out of my thinking for this post, I was thinking about fan fiction - partly prompted by my recent discovery of the existence of the book depicted here.

The Killing Zone is not a particularly well-known James Bond 'continuation novel' - for a very simple reason; it seems that the author published it at his own expense and pretended it was officially licensed by the estate of Ian Fleming, which it wasn't (and it seems unlikely it would have been, given that Bond dies in it - you can read the text of the book here). So really, it was little more than glorified fan fiction.

Fan fiction is something I find both understandable and mystifying; if you like to write and you like certain characters, I can see why you'd want to write stories using those characters (I mean, I have notes for an 'Elseworlds' Batman tale on file), but if you're that keen to see the stories printed and they involve characters owned by someone else, I think you'd probably be better off trying to actually get them published either as stories with new characters or - if you're hardworking and a little lucky - maybe even as part of the 'canon', as opposed to sticking them on the internet or similar. Sure, it's all good writing practice to put one word after another in whatever form, and I've seen examples of fan fiction which have been genuinely good writing, but I can't help thinking that some of that effort could be just as (if not more) profitably put to use in the creation of new characters.

Got an idea for a Bond story? Why not re-tool it with your own character - if the plot's compelling enough, surely it would stand on its own merits, and you'd be free to do whatever you want without the constraints of 'playing with someone else's toys' - or, as I think Warren Ellis once called it, "servicing copyrights". Speaking of whom, Ellis did just this (aided by the terrific art of John Cassaday) to great effect in his comic series Planetary, which features a combination of out-of-copyright characters (Holmes and Dracula, for instance) and altered versions of characters, such as Doc Savage, who are still owned by other people or organisations. And of course these altered characters can have different traits from the originals as required by the plot.

One area of fan-made fiction which simply mystifies me, though, is 'slash fiction'. When I first heard of it, I assumed it was rather grisly, like a slasher film, but in fact it comes from the punctuation involved; slash fiction is fan fiction which focuses mainly on romantic or sexual relationships between characters in an established setting, and the 'slash' is usually placed between the names - for example, Kirk/Spock. I gather it's mainly written about male characters, and often by female writers (shades of Yaoi there). And a quick search of the internet for examples of it left my head a-spinning, quite frankly.

Kirk and Spock stuff was pretty prevalent, but if SF's not your thing then you'll be glad to know you can easily find another Shatner onscreen persona in contemporary garb in slash fiction about Boston Legal, and for those of you with longer memories for TV shows there was slash fiction detailing sex between The Equalizer and his former CIA boss. It was odd stuff to read - though I have to be honest and say that I didn't read much of it for too long as my head was all confused by the motivations behind it: it was capably enough written (although a lot of the time the dialogue was dodgy), but my mind was pulled in two directions as it tried to reconcile the idea of these characters as having a 'secret erotic life' with the general themes of the 'canonical' stories as I understand them, and I just couldn't align those things in my brain.

Though, thinking about it, I may simply have over-dosed on Shatnerian homoerotica whilst researching this blog post. Maybe that's why the whole thing rather weirds me out.

As, in fact, did just typing the phrase 'Shatnerian homoerotica'. Still, could make for some new visitors arriving here via strange searches on Google and its ilk. Hello, new and rather-niche-interested readers!

Monday, June 02, 2008

It May Be Mere Coincidence That It Appeared To Have Been Taken Down Several Hours After I Took This Picture

This picture, then, is of an advert for the new Chris Ryan novel, which I spotted at an Underground station in central London. Two things about it that make me go hmm:

1. Isn't that first rule of engagement suspiciously similar to the line in David Mamet's screenplay for 'The Untouchables', wherein Sean Connery's character says "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun"?

2. Given the current concern about people (especially teenagers) stabbing and killing each other in London, are the references to carrying guns and knives entirely appropriate for tube ads? I mean, I don't want to sound all newspaper editorial, but...

Model Citizen ... Of The Future?

I'll be honest - having only seen the film once, I don't know which character in Metropolis is featured on the poster, but I doubt Erin O'Connor portrayed her (unless she's startlingly well preserved for a centenarian).