Monday, September 29, 2008

On The Road Again

As I mentioned a few months ago, the BBC Writersroom are currently running a series of roadshows where you can hear more about what they do, say hello, and even save postage by handing in a script for their perusal.

Well, the latest venue to host the Roadshow is none other than Brighton, a town for which I have a lot of affection (indeed, I was there just over a week ago, dining at English's Restaurant to celebrate my lovely wife's birthday). The BBC Writersroom folks will be there on Thursday 4th December, 6.00-7.30pm, at the Sallis Benney Theatre, Faculty of Arts and Agriculture, Grand Parade.

As with all the most exclusive of gatherings, you need to get your name on the guest list to get in, and so you should send an e-mail with your name, and the subject line 'Brighton Roadshow' to

That's pretty much all you need to know, but if you want to make sure that I'm not just making this stuff up, then the BBC's version of the above information is here.

If you do go, please let me know how it went. And could you get me some chocolate-covered honeycomb from the sweetshop on the Pier, while you're there? Ta.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Raindrops Keep Me Smiling In My Head

One of the sights which I always found fascinating as a kid was that of raindrops clinging to cobwebs, making them look like a net of jewels.

Imagine my delight on seeing not one, but four such water-laden webs this morning, on some park railings.

Huzzah for my phone's camera facility, I say!

... And of course a cheer for nature, for making this phenomenon happen in the first place.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Higgs Boson Discovered On Day One : Particle Collision Info Leaked By Whistle-Blower

Click to enlarge and see the real reason the Large Hadron Collider has been switched off until next year.

(Is this offensive? Only, I think, to scientists who might not like to consider the possibility that they might be wrong. But if you disagree, that's what the Comment function is for...)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Celebrity Matchmaking

If Angus and Janette were romantically involved, they'd find their wardrobes doubled at a stroke.
Just a thought (mind you, she doesn't look too impressed)...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lipstick Traces

August 18, 2002: European release of tATu's single "All The Things She Said"

August 28, 2003: Madonna kisses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera onstage at 2003 MTV Video Music Awards

July 23, 2008: UK release of Katy Perry's single "I Kissed A Girl"

Remember: if you're going to pretend to be a lesbian to get publicity and sell records, do it during summer.

Free Booklets on 'How To Write'

As you may have heard, The Guardian newspaper here in Blighty is currently giving away free booklets each day on the subject of 'How To Write' - each booklet covers a different area.

However, for those of you who aren't close to a newsagent, and/or don't want to give money to the Guardian, the booklets are available online. And in the spirit of making sure you can all have a look without having to lash out 80p for a paper which you'll just lob in the recycling bin, here are the links to the booklets which have been issued so far:

How To Write Fiction

How To Write Comedy

How To Write Plays And Screenplays

Yet to come are booklets on Memoir and Biography, Journalism, and Books for Children. You should be able to find them online in much the same place, just navigate by date at the foot of the left-hand column ('Recent Editions of How To Write').

I've read the ones on Fiction and Comedy, and whilst seasoned scribblers might justifiably say that they cover well-trodden ground, there are some points in there which bear repeating. Well, they did for me, anyway.

Have a click and see what you think...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Charm Offensive

Many people I know have certain ideas of what they like, or think they'd like, in a partner.

This chap, though, seem to be taking things a bit far.

If nothing else, I'll wager all the software engineers who see his comments grind their teeth at how he's enforcing the very worst kind of stereotype about the folks in their profession. He makes Moss from the IT Crowd sound like Casanova, doesn't he ?

Factual, You Say?

This level of understanding as to what words, y'know, actually mean might be a clue as to why the 'London Lite' newspaper is given away free, as opposed to them asking you to part with the old hard-earned for it...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pay No Attention To The Men Behind The Reporter

In the wreckage of the international economy, the flower of love* yet blooms.

*Or, at least, lust.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It Fair Makes One Yearn For The Days When Symbols Like '$#!+' Were Used To Denote Swearing

I'm not much of a fan of Frank Miller's over-hard-boiled writing on 'All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder'; it's as if he's writing Sin City with capes, and given the solid work he's done on the character twice before, it's rather disappointing.

I find its over-the-top-ness mildly amusing, though - which is almost a shame, as if I actively disliked it I'd be able to use the phrase 'Wholly Crap Batman', but as tempting as that is, I have to be honest and admit to more of a 'meh' reaction.

Anyway, it turns out that the latest issue (10) of the book has been pulled and pulped by DC Comics, because it featured Batgirl and some criminals sparring and swearing - with the black bars (in the speech balloons) which were there to obscure the naughty words not being dark enough to actually, um, obscure the naughty words.

Want to see the pages, and see Batgirl saying and being called rude things? Well then, brace for strong language and click here.

It's mildly amusing, sure, but it does seem to raise some questions about the production process involved - why actually go to the trouble of having someone letter the words into the balloons, just to impose black bars over the top of the letters? Why not just put in a bar of appropriate length? Given that much comic lettering is done on computers anyway now (offhand, I think that this title's computer-lettered by Comicraft, though I could be wrong), why not just save yourself the potential hassle? It's all rather strange.

It's hard to imagine that DC Comics are deliberately trying to stir up the publicity here, as they're very conservative when it comes to the characters they own, and so I don't see how this is anything other than a rather silly production error. Still, given that the book stars the comic character who's this year's biggest box office draw, you'd think a closer eye would be paid to such things, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Winter Non-Warmers From Bennetton's Winter 2008/9 Collection

Blue lips are, as you may know, one of the symptoms of hypothermia.

Probably better to buy your winter woolies from somewhere else, then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

And Doesn't Melvyn Bragg Evince His Oft-Expressed Love For Cumbria By Spending Much Of His Time In London?

Sean Connery's new book, 'Being A Scot' there. Critics have suggested it's disappointing in that it reveals fewer details about his career than they might have hoped.

Speaking purely for my puerile self, I find the subject of it a bit odd, given that he's lived in the USA for the best part of three decades. And, it seems, I'm far from the most high-profile person to have commented on this.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Familiarity (With What You're Talking About) Breeds Context

I was thinking yesterday about context - or, perhaps more accurately, about how recently-lingering memories or experience can colour an opinion or reaction to things, as well as seeing items within their background.

Oddly enough, the thing that drove me to think about it was hearing a singer in a pub yesterday afternoon. The chap was called Dave Brooks (can't find an online link for him, but he did a decent job) and he was singing the Eric Clapton song 'Wonderful Tonight'. To be honest, it's not really a song that does a lot for me, and I think this is partly because the first time I ever heard it fully was when it was being played at a friend's house, and the father of the house was miming along with it and making as if he was singing it to his wife. It was kind of cheesy to my teenage eyes, but also a little bit unconvincing, as the husband was one of those people who (generalisation ahoy) was more concerned about his work than his wife, and as if to salve that he also claimed that the song 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' was about her. I suspect she might have preferred him to dedicate more time and attention, and fewer songs, to her, but there you go.

Anyway, that kind of left me feeling a bit ambivalent about the song, but yesterday in the pub, as Dave sang it, I noticed a chap who was - yes - singing along to the woman he was with, and as he did so, they held hands tightly and she was smiling broadly. Forget my own ambivalence, it was clear that she was really taken with him associating the song with her, and really liked it, so I had to admit to myself that whatever I might feel about the song, it's pretty clear that for some people, it's really rather romantic.

And this, in some strange no-I-dunno-how-either way, set me to thinking about how you have to see things in their context; 'Wonderful Tonight', when fake-sung by an inattentive husband, seems like a slightly nasty attempt to get Eric Clapton to do the hard work of being nice, whereas when mimed by another partner, seems like a cute, if slightly twee, gesture.

Thinking about context led me to muse how insane the media appear to have gone over the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin; for those of you who've been lucky enough to miss the ludicrous amount of coverage which has been spilling out of every news outlet over the past couple of weeks, during a speech at the rally at which she accepted the party's nomination for V-P, Mrs Palin made the following joke:

Q: What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?
A: Lipstick.

Now, it's an okay gag (though it has a touch of ambiguity that allows the possible interpretation that pit bulls wear lipstick), but to judge from the reaction of the crowd in the hall, and indeed the news media generally, you'd think it was, without doubt, the funniest joke ever. I think it's fair to say that it isn't - yes, humour's subjective, but I'm sure you can think of better jokes - but to my mind, the fact that it's received as the greatest rib-tickler of all time suggests that one has to look at the context; it stands out as a great joke because, let's be honest, politics is a pretty unfunny business.

It could be argued that humour has little place within politics, but I'd disagree; the ability to take in something that's been said or done and to articulate a response which highlights an irony or folly that lies at its heart would seem to show a ready intelligence, and surely that's a trait to be wished for in anyone in our power? Instead, most political 'jokes' are pretty weak, and instead the mere fact that a politician has tried to make a joke seems to make the often-mediocre puns seem to be received as if they were the best of Wilde or Swift.

It is, I'd say, a question of context - the world of politics is so lacking in humour (possibly, I suddenly think, because much of it is either at the expense of others or self-deprecating, both angles which could be feared to make a politician 'lose support') that anything remotely resembling a jape is given far more treatment than it would deserve. Indeed, during the 1997 comedy show The Election Night Armistice, this point was proven by a number of comedians performing politicians' jokes verbatim in a comedy club, and getting what could generously be referred to as a poor reception.

Oddly enough, this kind of thing applies not only to comments made, but also to Mrs Palin's appearance; the Sun newspaper refers to her as a 'beauty', though as far as I know they've never said that about Tina Fey, to whom she bears more than a slight resemblance, though that could be to do with the old nonsense about funny women not being attractive (well, not attractive to men who dislike the idea of a quick-witted woman, but I think that reveals more about the men than anything else). In much the same way, the British press was in a right old state when Carla Sarkozy (nee Bruni) visited the UK the other month, like a bunch of sixth formers meeting the pretty new French teaching assistant or something. How much coverage did they give her when she released her second album, a year before marrying Monsieur Sarkozy? Not so much.

It's all rather questionable and strange, and I suspect I'm not necessarily making any kind of blazingly new insight here (though I guess that implicitly I'm suggesting that you can get away with being dull-witted in politics, hardly a new idea) but it was just one of those moments when my brain made a little connection between a couple of apparently unrelated topics... and in the same vein as my chum Steve's book, I realise that I can bring things full circle by pointing out that Carla Bruni, as referred to in the paragraph above, was once romantically involved with Eric Clapton, whose song started me thinking on this topic, as described way back at the start of this post.

Almost enough to make a person think I plan these posts out as I go along, isn't it ? But then again, looked at in the context of this blog as a whole, I think we all know the truth...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me...

... Actually, I think it might be you, but let's not get into that now.

Anyway, just a quick note to apologise for not updating as much as usual this week - the paying job's been hectic, and in the few hours between that and sleep I've been focussing on my entry for the Red Planet Prize, which has left me rather shy of both energy and blog-thoughts, but I'm hopeful that things should be back to what we here at John Soanes rather laughingly call 'normal' soon.

In the meantime, as ever, I refer you to the list of links to the right, and urge you to visit some of my virtual pals...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Please Avert Your Eyes While I Change

Whilst I'm sure precious few of you are holding your breath waiting for the oft-promised amendments to my website, just a quick note to say that - as you can see - changes really are afoot, so please tolerate the holding page while I shuffle the new stuff into place.

What's coming, you may ask? Put briefly, more actual content and fewer pictures of me - which I think you'll agree is definitely an improvement.

In the spirit of keeping you as updated as the website I will, of course, let you know when things are up and running.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Mind You, Compared With Iggy Pop's Phallocentrism, This Is Positively Dignified, Isn't It?

Perhaps rather ungallantly, Phil Jupitus has said that in recent years, every time Madonna sings something 'raunchy', all he can hear is the phrase "Come and give your Auntie a kiss".

For my part, I find it far more disturbing that so many of her videos and publicity shots seem to be rather emphatically ... well, let's say groinal. It might be that as the mother of several children, she's quite intoxicated with the life-creating power of her womb, but in a strange parallel with Mr Jupitus, when I see recent pictures of Madonna, almost all of them make me hear words in the same vein as the following...

"Look at my crotch! Look at it!"

"I don't care if you want to look or not! Look at it!"

"LOOK AT IT! And then, buy the album and tickets for the tour. Thanks."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Yes, It IS A Pathetic Attempt To Ride The Coat-Tails Of People Who Are More Talented. Still, At Least I'm Aware Of It, Eh?

If you feel - as I obviously do - that there just aren't enough books available to buy which feature my name, then you may be pleased - as I am - to know that Jess Nevins's latest book of annotations on the Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill comic series 'The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen', "Impossible Territories", name-checks me on page 12 amongst the people thanked for their help with the content of the book.

Jess is, as the book ably demonstrates, a very smart chap whose talents are well-used in annotating the series, but I also like to think that he realises that even his terrific tome can only be improved by the inclusion of my name. Mr N, I doff my cap to you. Truly, the pleasure was all mine.

I've got my copy of the book, and jolly good it is too - if you want to let the world of publishing know that there should be more books referring to my rampantly egotistical self, you can vote with your money here.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

LINK : Virtual Words And Aural Pleasure

Very much in the same vein as this post, if you click here, you can download a free copy of Neil Gaiman's novel 'Neverwhere' (though apparently it'll expire after 30 days), or - if you want to hear sounds instead of staring at words - you can download an audio version of the Gaiman short story 'A Study In Emerald' here.

Don't say I never give you nuffink, all right ?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nick Hornby, Tom Stoppard, Richard Curtis, Me, And - If You Wish - You

The Forever Story is an online collaborative story which aims to raise £50,000 for charity, and you can take part. It'll cost you nothing at all, and you can literarily (as opposed to literally) rub shoulders with the likes of the writers named above.

Interested? I thought you might be. Here's a smidgin more info…

'The Forever Story' opens with 35 words from Nick Hornby ("For the first nineteen years of his life, Johnny Razor wasn’t Johnny Razor at all. He was Malcolm Weatherly, and he was born in Mile End Underground station on the night of 17th September 1940.”) and after that, like a creative game of pass-the-parcel, anyone can join in and make their contribution. The nifty bit is that every time someone adds a bit to the story, the internet folks TalkTalk have agreed to contribute £1 to Treehouse, an autism charity.

So, I'd politely urge you to click here and make your contribution to the story - it's for a good cause, and if you take the time to read (or, as is also possible on the site, to listen to) the story so far, you can see that it's wiggled rather amusingly along the way.

If you're wondering which bit I did, you can probably find it by doing a search on the site for the word 'paralysis'. And if you think my contributions's garbage, then I'd politely suggest that you put TalkTalk's money where your mouth is, and write something better. In fact, I positively encourage you to do so.

I Would Have Posted This Pair Of Twins In 2003 If I'd Had A Blog Then

And the strangest thing is, I'm pretty sure that both adverts appeared, mere pages apart, in US comics of the time.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Small Actions, Big Stage

There's an interesting writing competition run by Channel 4 and Amnesty International here - with quite an impressive prize.

All you have to do is write a pitch for a sketch, in no more than 160 characters, on the theme of 'Small Actions'. They then take the winning idea and expand it into a full sketch which will be - and this strikes me as the good bit - performed at the Amnesty International 'Secret Policeman's Ball' Concert which is taking place in London in October.

The ultimate winner will see their sketch performed on the night (and they get another ticket so they can take along a friend), and also receive a copy of the DVD of the show. Ten runners-up will receive copies of the DVD (though it should be noted that the small print does stress they can't guarantee that the winning sketch will necessarily be on the DVD, or in the TV broadcast of the concert).

The last time they ran a competition like this, the winning sketch was performed by Chevy Chase and Seth Green, so it certainly seems worth entering.

To my mind, the challenge is the fact that you can only submit up to 160 characters in your pitch (pretty much the length of the previous paragraph) - and the deadline is only a week away: Noon on Tuesday 9th September.

So you have to be both brief and swift, but in all honesty I know those are traits which I could certainly stand to develop in my writing (and, I suspect, in other areas of my life), so I think it's worth a go.

Submit your pitch-ette via this page - and if you do enter, let me know, eh ? When you go on to win and writerly stardom* beckons, I'd like to be able to claim I traded virtual conversation with you "way back when"...

*Yes, I'm all too aware that, with a few notable exceptions, "writers" and "stardom" tend to go together about as frequently as skateboards and olives. But I'm sure you know what I mean.

Now That I've Got Your Attention

This week's award for best attention-grabbing opening in a book goes to Vince Flynn, for the first line of 'Protect and Defend'. Take it away, Vinnie-baby!

Mitch Rapp ran his hand along her smooth, naked thigh, up to her waist, and then down along her flat stomach."


Monday, September 01, 2008

As Was Once Said Of The Radio, "The Pictures Are Better"

Oh, all right then - click here to see more pictures from our wedding, this time on the Flickr account of our rather talented photographer.

If you want more, you can always try to be-friend my lovely wife on Facebook, but I'd imagine you've probably seen more than enough of the day by now, right?