Friday, October 31, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, I did warn you.

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

Creative Screenwriting

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inevitable Link About That News Story

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

Full story here.

Better Than Burning Them, That's For Sure

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Scarlet Letter

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Clickety Click, Extra Quick

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

REVIEW: 'Dreams on Spec'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Details of the fuss here )

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

Dead Set On e4 Last Night: Initial Reaction

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

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

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

Like A Mirror Reflecting Another Mirror Into Infinity...

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Wouldn’t Normally Change In Public…

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

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

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

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

Review: 'Bodyworlds - The Mirror Of Time'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Behind You!

As I may have mentioned before, I have a bit of radio presenting experience, and I like to think I'm fairly unflappable, and able to keep things afloat when a track doesn't begin, a jingle goes off when not expected, etc.

But this chap... wow.

Colour me impressed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Film Stars

A lot of posters for films, as you may have noticed, tend not to quote actual words from reviews nowadays, instead preferring to include stars. A little-known fact about the film industry is that the stars you see in film reviews are not stars in the Michelin-restaurant-acclaim fashion, but are actually asterisks that were intended to be included in the original review.

That being the case, you're probably wondering how to decode what the reviewer actually thought of the film. Well, here at John Soanes, we're nothing if not public-minded, so here's a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the real meaning of the stars you see on film posters...

Carry the above with you at all times, and next time you see a film advertised without proper words being quoted from the reviews, use the above and all will be revealed!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Review: 'The End Of Mr Y' by Scarlett Thomas

I talked back here about how pleased I was to get this book at a bargain price, and I'm even more pleased to be able to report that it's a cracking read.

The plot, put very simply, is that student Ariel Manto finds a copy of the rare book 'The End Of Mr Y' - she's pleased about this, as it's covered by a thesis she's writing on the author of the book, who disappeared. Like the main character in the book. And where exactly has her tutor vanished to?

The writing style is very readable, even when characters have to talk about some fairly in-depth theoretical stuff, and it's got enough twists and turns to keep you unsure what's going to happen next - it was, cliché as it may sound, the kind of book that made me wish I had just one more tube or bus stop to go before I had to stop reading.

My only niggle was that the slight romance sub-plot felt just that - slight - and I thought it was going to develop into something slightly more interesting than it did, but really this was just a disappointment in comparison to the way the other plot elements flowered so satisfyingly.

Definitely recommended, and if you're wavering, do bear in mind that the edges of the pages are all black, so as one carries it around it looks like a grimoire, or some other book containing mysterious knowledge. A book that's both a good read and physically well-designed? What's not to like?

One to own, and certainly read more than once, I'd say.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How To Annoy People - Lesson The Second

People who don't take kindly to sarcasm
They say: "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, you know."
You say: "Perhaps, but at least it's an attempt at wit, unlike parroting aphorisms."

People who try to make themselves sound like sexual adventurers
They say: "Well, pain is very close to pleasure."
You say: Nothing. Stamp on their foot.
And then ask, "Did you like that? Are you feeling frisky now? Are you?"

People who quote cliches to make themselves sound emotionally complex
They say: "There's a thin line between love and hate."
You say: "Only if looked at in a two-dimensional sense. If you take the bigger view, there's actually a vast plain between the two."

People who generalise on the subject of TV comedy
They say: "Of course, all the best shows end after two series - Fawlty Towers, Spaced, The Office…"
You say: "… Seinfeld, Only Fools and Horses, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Reggie Perrin, Peep Show…oh, hang on a mo..."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Housekeeping! (Need Any Towels?)

Three predominantly IT-based things I wanted to mention…

Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too - as well as being a denim-stylee patch I had on my jeans in the late 1970s, this might well be what I, like Brian Cohen, now have to say, as according to Blogger's dashboard, this blog has some 'followers'. Crikey.

Please forgive me if I don't return the compliment quite yet, I'm running a slightly older template for the blog at the moment, but I like to think I'll upgrade soon. In the meantime, consider me very flattered and pleased.

Speaking Of Upgrades - This weekend I bought myself a new laptop. And like many writers I am convinced that I finally have the tool I need to capture my words with the appropriate speed and accuracy.

Be it pens or notebooks or formatting software, those of us who like to scribble all too often seem to be on a never-ending quest to find the right item. Truly, writers are a creative, superstitious lot…

And Finally - I'm delighted to see that this very blog is now included in the roll call of writing blogs included in Scribomatic. If you haven't seen it before, it's a rather nifty little widget that lists recent posts by all manner of writers, and it's a fun way to find new blogs and stuff to read. I'll see about adding it to this blog - probably when I change the template, as mentioned above.

And with that stuff out of the way, it's on, ON, ON into the week!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Yes, Yes, I Know: If I'd Put More Effort Into My Studies...

In the following flashback to an event from my college years, please imagine the first speaker as rather exasperated, and the second person sounding … well, frankly, exasperating.

Helen: Oh for God's sake John, I'm fed up with all your pedantisism!

John: Actually, I think the word is pedantry.

Perhaps appallingly, that is an entirely true story.

Anyway, I suspect that alleged trait explains why I find this website so very amusing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Make My Friends Wealthy: Two Of Two

I've mentioned the band Kyro before on the blog, and as a quick squint at previous posts will show, I think they kick bottom. And that I'm biased as their lead singer Ian George is a friend of mine.

Well, Kyro are no longer together (they went through a couple of name changes before splitting up, which makes me think of the fate of the band Dead Monkeys in the Monty Python Rock Notes sketch), but Ian is now a solo artist, and crikey o'blimey if he doesn't have a single, Number One Creation, out in collaboration with the group Remember. Have a look at the video here.

It’s really rather good, isn't it ? Ian's the chap at the podium, and I think he carries it off rather well - not just the singing, but looking like he's hectoring the audience too. Of course I'm biased as he's a good sort, but on the other hand since when we used to work together we'd try to make each other giggle in meetings by saying "Yeah, I'm dealing with that work Ian's passed me, but the information's kind of fragmented and …bitty", seeing him playing the role so well makes me even more impressed.

Anyway, he's a very talented singer and musician and a jolly decent chap, and the single's available to buy from iTunes for the piffling sum of 79p (unfortunately I don't seem to be able to provide a direct link to that or to embed the video, though that might be my techno-density at work), and I gather it'll be on Amazon and Napster soon too. So, if you like the video (and what's not to like? It's really rather different from so many promos, I think), or the song, or just want to ensure you make it onto my 'Nice' list as Christmas approaches, why not buy it?

And if you're feeling brave, you could even leave a comment on Youtube about the video - but if you do… well, you're braver than me. Folks who post comments there all too frequently seem determined to make Web 2.0 look like a chimps' tea party, it seems, so I hope you'll try to raise the standard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Make My Friends Wealthy: One Of Two

A quick glance at the column to the right will show the name Stevyn Colgyn, and regular readers will know that I've linked to comments and stuff on Steve's blog before (and he's reciprocated). What I haven't directly drawn your attention to yet is the fact that Steve has a book out, called Joined-Up Thinking. Though you might well have guessed that from the picture.

Yes, a real book, with a hardcover and a dustjacket and everything. And I can confidently - and honestly - say that it's a corking read, as I just finished reading my copy last night; Steve was kind enough to give me a signed (and indeed cartooned) copy a day or so ahead of publication, and even with my slow, finger-across-the-page reading style, I rattled throught it at a good old rate, because it's fun and addictive stuff, showing all sorts of connections between things which you'd never have known about otherwise (as a huge fan of Twin Peaks, I was delighted to see it connected to Les Miserables, to give but one example).

It's a lively read, and I heartily recommend it. Try not to be swayed by my bias - Steve's a thoroughly nice chap, and a friend - because it's good fun, and Steve writes well, especially when explaining the background to things. Oh, and one short chapter does a great job of debunking a number of urban myths, which I found particularly enjoyable (though maybe that's because I'm always the first one to hit 'Reply All' and type 'Urban Myth' when I get one of those e-mails warning me of some unlikely peril, or claiming that I'll get a gazillion pounds from Bill Gates if I forward it to ten people I know).

You can buy it online - here, for example - and in all good bookshops (yes, and some otherwise shoddy ones as well).

Go on, buy a copy (or more than one), and see why one reviewer referred to the book as 'Trivia Porn' (though that's a better pastime than Porn Trivia - after all, few of us can remember the names of the lighting crew on Naughty Gym Instructors I - VII)...

BBC Writersroom Roadshows - Manchester and Cardiff Dates Announced

As well as the previously-announced Brighton date, BBC Writersroom are going to be holding roadshows in Manchester and Cardiff, on Wednesday 26th November and Wednesday 3rd December (respectively).

They're free to attend, but you have to make sure your name's on the guest list - for details on how to do that, as well as the specifics of where and when, please click here.

Crikey, just realised that the Cardiff date is a mere day before the Brighton roadshow. I guess the Writersroom tour bus will be driving through the night like the Mystery Machine. Here’s hoping they don't break down near that old house on the hill where nobody goes any more...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This Is What Happens When You Watch Too Many Cartoons As A Child

First things first: I don't advocate cruelty to animals in any way. I've been a vegetarian for over half my life, I'm strongly against hunting and the like, and tend to avoid leather and other animal-derived products.

That said, over the past year or so, I've come to hate mice with a vengeance. Because they keep making appearances in our home.

Quite how, I'm not too sure, as we live in a second-floor flat, and since the first sighting I've gone round stuffing any possible entry points (around water pipes and the like) with steel wool, or that squirty-insulation foam stuff. We've invested in supposedly-mega-effective ultrasonic noise emitting things (which made no difference at all), sprinkled peppermint oil so liberally round the place it smells like a Trebor factory, and of course, put down poison; I'm not happy about the last as it means killing them, but the fact is, they're uninvited, and pests - and besides, the mice take their revenge from beyond the veil by dying in far-flung corners of the flat, so I start and go 'yahh!' when I find their lifeless little corpses. Oh yes, it's quite charming.

Anyway, yesterday, my lovely wife spotted a mouse, which ran into the kitchen and under the fridge. I thought I'd seen one on Sunday night (but hadn't been sure - it had been late and I was tired, and it could have been a shadow seen out of the corner of my eye), and so I got my torch and some bits of wood and cardboard (one of them a vast replica cheque - don't ask) and blocked off as well as I could around the fridge. I also got the vacuum cleaner.

Yes, you read that right - but what else was I going to do ? I wasn't going to stamp on it (if nothing else, they move with incredible speed), or try to bash it with a broom, though this latter's mainly because I don't live in a Tom And Jerry cartoon (and for the full effect I’d have to convince Mrs Soanes to jump onto a chair and start screaming, and she was busy doing other stuff).

I shone the torch down the back of the fridge, and saw definite movement - slow and casual, but definitely something living and not just part of the environment; one of the problems with hunting for mice in dark corners is, like watching a spooky film, you find yourself jolting at anything, such as when your torch casts a shadow. It's quite the cardio workout, but trust me, you're better off going for a run (which, in fact, was what I was planning to do yesterday evening before Mortimer Mouse came to visit). Anyway, there was definitely something there, so I lined up the cardboard and wood pieces and slowly started to move the fridge away from the wall.

A foot or so out from the wall. Nothing.

A couple of feet out, rotating the fridge on one corner and lifting as I went. Nothing.

I asked Mrs Wife to come and help me, and as I tilted the entire fridge forward she held the doors so they didn't open and spill all the food and drink onto the floor. Nothing.

"I don't get it," I said. "Unless it ran somewhere else - like under the cooker - while I was looking away, it should still be under the fridge. But I've moved the fridge right out from the wall now, so..."

"I know," she replied. "It doesn’t make sense. Unless it - ahhhhhhhhh!"

She pointed, and I looked. Almost casually, the mouse was making its way around the side of the fridge. The little… blighter had clearly moved to stay under the fridge as I lifted it, and only now was it deciding to emerge. And then with a sudden burst of speed, it ran into the cardboard barrier I'd put up.

I don't know what m'lady did at this point, but I'll testosteronily admit that I surprised myself at how fast I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and switched it on. To do this, though, I'd had to turn around, so had lost sight of the mouse. Where was it ?

There it was - trying to climb up the side of my oversized cardboard cheque (I said don't ask, all right?), and I swooped in, the vacuum cleaner on full power.

"Gotcha, you [expletive deleted]!" I shouted with frankly unseemly volume.

And indeed I had got it - we have a very nice vacuum cleaner (much like this one ), which actually has a clear drum to allow you to see inside, and there amidst the grey dust, I could see a small brown mouse. Still alive, but twitching nervously - I understand that mice have a very high resting heart rate, and I can't imagine that being sucked along a tube about 200 times one's body length at speed would have calmed it down at all. All things considered, if I was sucked along a 1200 foot tube when I wasn't expecting it, I reckon we'd be looking at loss of bowel control at the very least.

Still, the mouse was clearly still alive, which I felt better about, though it was startling to realise something so small was the cause of so much disturbance and irritation - though I'd imagine those of you with children are all too familiar with that notion.

"What do you think I should do with it?" I asked.

"Well, we don't want it in the flat," replied Mrs Wife.

"No," I said, "but I'm reluctant to put it in the bin outside the building, it'll probably just come back in. I mean, I don't know if they're that clever, but…"

"… no sense in taking the chance."


I thought for a moment - mainly trying to figure out what to do, but also wondering if my manliness in catching the mouse had impressed her. Probably not, I decided, as it had involved the use of a vacuum cleaner, which is not entirely butch.

Inside the drum of the vacuum cleaner, the mouse was still alive, moving around in the dust.

"I know," I said, "I'll take it down the road, find a bin, and empty the cleaner into it. That way, the mouse isn't likely to come back."

"That sounds okay," she said and nodded, "but you'll look pretty weird walking down the street carrying the vacuum cleaner… then again, you have no shame."

I do have no shame, that is true. And so it was that last night I walked about half a mile through London's glittering East End, carrying a vacuum cleaner (and occasionally lifting it up to have a look and make sure that the mouse was still moving). My life, I was reminded, often takes me in unexpected directions.

I did exactly as planned - I found a bin, and emptied the drum of the cleaner into it. And as I did so, I heard a scrabbling sound, so I'm pretty certain that the mouse was still alive. Granted, I don't know if he'll survive if the bin is emptied into a dustcart, but I like to think that like Fox Mulder leaving Krycek in a silo, or Johnny Alpha leaving Nelson Bunker Kreelman in a time-loop, survival isn't an impossibility.

And I walked back home with the hose of the vacuum cleaner slung over my shoulder, trying (and not always succeeding) to resist the temptation to whilst that 'oo-ee-oo-ee-ooo-wah-wah-WAH' music from the old Clint Eastwood films. I ignored the stares from people I passed - for, as the laydee said, I have no shame.

But enough about my evening; how the jiggins are you?

Monday, October 13, 2008

In Which We See Cross-Platform Marketing Fail To Synergise For This Potential Consumer

My eyes, and my mind, boggle:
Surely this is the least likely film-to-theme-park-ride conversion ever?

My eyes roll skywards:
This tatty cash-in is also available on download, for which we should be grateful - because, if nothing else, it means that charity shops up and down the land won't be full of discarded CD copies in a month's time when the joke inevitably goes stale - as was the case with, say, I'm Gonna Be (500 miles) and Vindaloo - the video for which, I now realise, featured Mr Kay's brother, ha ha.

Oh, my ribs! Hey, does anyone remember the 1980s? Rubik Cubes and Deeley-Boppers? Eh ? Eh?

Sheesh, tough crowd...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Would Have Let This One Pass As 'Homage', But...

...then I saw the names of the actors above the title.

Alec Baldwin and Scarlet Johansson together in a film? Wow, that might be - hey, hang on a minute, they put the forenames of the cast in smaller type in the hope I wouldn't notice! The swines!

And that mendacity of marketing is enough to make me think nope, it's a swipe.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Three Is The New Thirty, It Seems, But Is Cookery The New Underground?

Whilst most people would agree that it's pretty risible that John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) is currently appearing in an advert for butter, let's bear in mind that it's over 30 years since the Pistols were at the height of their infamy. So, three decades before being utterly absorbed into the mainstream.

As opposed to something like three years in the case of MC Harvey of So Solid Crew.

Cookery? Seriously?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

You Are Currently Reading Words I Have Written About Writing, And About Me Thinking About Writing… For Now. But I Seek Your Opinion.

Rather embarrassed to find that, despite it occupying a fair amount of my waking hours, I haven't really said much about writing recently. Which is odd, because - as regular readers (or even those with constipation) will know - things rarely spend time in the tumble-dryer of my mind without receiving some kind of airing, howsoever tangled, here on the blog.

Anyway, questionable laundry analogies aside, here are a handful of writing-related thoughts from recent days:

Firstly, I did enter the Red Planet competition this year, as threatened; my entry was called 'Reader', and features a chap who starts to see ghosts - rather annoying for him as he doesn't actually believe in ghosts, but life's often like that, isn't it ? I'm quite pleased with the premise of it, and I'm also very grateful to Chip Off The Ol' Blog for taking the time to look at the first ten pages and to give me some feedback. All his comments were perfectly sensible, and as more seasoned folks know, the aim of notes is to help you make the work better, which has to be a good thing. I've certainly learned from the whole experience.

Secondly, I've now finished reading Adrian Mead's e-book 'Making It As A Screenwriter'. And re-reading it, and reading it again, trying to digest every nugget of information from its virtual pages. If you haven't heard of this book (and I'm rather late in posting about it, I'll admit, compared to many other bloggers), you can buy it by clicking here, and it only costs about £9 including VAT. Very good value indeed for money, especially as all profits go to the charity Childline, but more to the point it's one of those books where the number of useful bits of info and advice make it worth its weight in… well, if not gold in this unstable economic climate, then certainly chocolate.

It's not one of those theoretical books which turns screenwriting into a mechanical process, telling you to put a reversal of fortune on page 37 and that sort of thing, it's a refreshingly-real world book about the business of writing, the practicalities of submitting material and getting to chat to other folks in the same boat, from someone who knows the business. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and as you can see if you click on the link above, I'm not alone - proper writers who've written some kick-bottom TV shows say the same thing. And it's made me think a lot about my approach to writing - particularly the way I've been submitting material - and suggests some actions which I hadn't thought of, so it's proven very useful indeed to me, and I think it would for most writers.

Thirdly and finally, one thing which I've been mulling over in the last couple of weeks is that of intent; not the old pseudo-academic thing about authorial intent (and whether the author's aims necessarily count for anything ), but rather that of one's own aims as a writer - whilst I've previously realised that I'm better off writing stories I'd want to read (and more, importantly in motivation terms, to write) than trying to write a self-consciously 'literary' work, I've recently been thinking about the way that this manifests in terms of the themes I choose.

Oddly enough, this was provoked by seeing the poster for (though not having seen it, nor read the book) The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, the film adaptation of John Boyne's book. Perhaps I'm over-impressed by the way that the film poster suggests the contrast of the simplicity of children's friendship and the horrors of the Holocaust, but it set me to wondering why it is that I rarely (if ever) seem to find myself writing stories which deal with big, weighty, issues of this nature.

I may well be incapable of writing work which doesn't simplify or trivialise such things, but my 'writing reflex' often seems to be towards the smaller and more personal aspects of things. I wouldn't want to write something preachy and heavy-handed which was little more than a rant (yes, I know - that's what the blog is for, ha de har har), but given that bad things like war exist, I've been wondering exactly why it is that I don't find myself wanting to say something about it - in a manner more akin to, say, Slaughterhouse 5 than Stalingrad. The same for prejudice, intolerance, the injustice of the fact that people are starving in the world, and other bad stuff like that.

Granted, most of us want a healthy measure of entertainment in our books and TV shows and films, but I don't think that 'telling a story' and 'raising points to ponder' need necessarily be mutually exclusive, as long as you can avoid it turning into a polemic. Maybe I'm over-simplifying it, or even under-estimating the issue, so I'll open it up to you good people; if you write, what's your approach to this sort of thing ? And even if you don't, do you prefer your entertainment to be just that - entertainment and nothing more - or do you like it if it comes with the odd idea or notion to take away with you?

I'm genuinely interested in other folks' opinions on this, so please do click the Comment button below, and let me know where you stand on this. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I'm Built Upside-Down - My Nose Runs And My Feet Smell

I don't write about running that often on the blog - though some might argue that this is because I don't really go running all that often either...

Anyway, on Sunday I was booked in to do a half-marathon here in London, but when I woke up it was lashing down with rain, and I had one of those poundy-temple headaches, so I decided against it.

And by crikey, I'm glad I did; runners are a pretty lot - after all, it's ultimately their choice to go pounding the ground in all weathers - but it seems I missed a bad 'un; according to posts from runners on Run To The Beat's own webforum, it was a mess from start to finish - transport difficulties getting there and back, a delayed start, bands not lining the route as promised, timing and distance inaccuracies, limited toilet facilities, and even the t-shirt which was supposed to be in the finishers' goody bags appears to have been absent. Not exactly what you want when you've paid thirty (or in the case of some charity runners, fifty) quid to be there, is it?

Sometimes, a little voice at the back of my head tells me that rather than leaving home, I'd be better off staying at home with my lovely wife and drinking lots of cups of tea. It's not always possible to listen to that little voice (there seems to be some correlation, for example, between me showing up for work and getting paid for it), but on this occasion, I'm very, very glad I did.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Fairy Story (Or An UNFairy Story - You Be The Judge)

Once, a boy was playing in the garden with his older sister.

The boy had a red balloon, and he puffed and puffed into it. Soon, it was as big as his head.

"That's good," his sister said, "but be careful you don't burst it."

The end of the balloon still in his mouth, the boy nodded, but nonetheless, he inhaled and blew again. The balloon swelled, and was soon as large as a space-hopper.

"Wow! That's huge!" said his sister, and she turned and shouted. "Mum! Dad! Come and see this!"

Their parents came out of the house, and their eyes widened.

"That's incredible!" said their mother.

"How is he doing that?" asked their father.

The boy couldn't answer, because he still had the end of the balloon in his mouth. He just shrugged, and then gestured to let the others know he was going to blow some more air into the balloon.

"Oh, don't," said his sister. "You'll burst it. Just tie the end off now, don't blow again. It'll burst and you won't have your balloon any more."

"Yes, it's not designed to get this big," said his father. "I don't know how you got it this far. Best to quit while you're ahead."

His mother said nothing.

The boy frowned for a moment, thinking, then took a big breath in through his nose, and blew more air into the balloon. It swelled and inflated even more, and soon it was huge - bigger than the boy, and bigger than either of his parents.

"That's incredible!" said the sister. "How did it get that big?"

"I really don't know," said the father, "it shouldn't be able to expand that much. I -"

Suddenly, the balloon burst, with a BANG which they could all feel in their stomachs. The boy was shocked - at first by the noise, and then as he realised what had happened: his balloon was ruined, and lay in tiny pieces on the ground all around him.

Tears filled the boy's eyes, and he began to cry.

"Oh," said his sister. "That's a pity."

"Yes," agreed the father. "Still, it was amazing while it lasted, wasn't it?"

The boy couldn't hear their words over the sound of his own sobs, and he ran crying to his mother. He clung to her legs, and she reached down and stroked his hair, trying to calm him.

"Don't worry," she said softly. "I'll buy you a new balloon."

"But -" said the sister.

"I don't know about that," said the father. "I mean, he knew what he was doing, and the balloon - "

"Shh," said the mother, "not now. Can't you see he's upset? If we don't do it, it's pretty obvious that he's going to be really miserable for a while, and that'll cause problems for us too."

"That doesn't seem fair," said the sister. "It's like you're rewarding bad behaviour. I mean, Dad said that he should stop, but he kept on doing it."

"She's got a point," said the father.

"We can talk about that sort of thing later," said the boy's mother, "at the moment, how and why it happened isn't really the problem."

And with that, she took the boy's hand and led him into the house. The father and sister watched them go, not sure what to say.

"I bet…" said the sister thoughtfully, "I bet that he just gets a new balloon, and that's the end of it. We won't talk about how and why, will we?"

The father said nothing, but the look in his eyes said no, he did not expect that there would be any discussion.
And the moral of the story is… er, well, you tell me.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Damning Indictment Of The Uncaring Nature Of Society

A mother of five suffers a stroke live on international television, and no-one bats an eyelid.

Well, except her, obviously.

Friday, October 03, 2008

How To Annoy People - Lesson The First

Homophobes Who Quote The Bible
They say: "Yeah, well, it's not natural - after all, in the Bible, it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."
You say: "Ah, but the Bible clearly advocates incestous same-sex relationships."
They say: "What?"
You say: "Well, the first children born were Cain and Abel, not Cain and Mabel."

People Who Use Words They Don't Understand
They say: "Are you inferring I'm [whatever it is they think you're implying]?"
You say: "No, but I'm certainly inferring that you don't know the meaning of the word 'infer'."

People who are trying to scare you into not doing something
They say: "If you do [whatever], there'll be hell to pay."
You say: "Well then, I hope Satan takes Mastercard."
(And then you go ahead and do [whatever].)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gifts To Astound And Amaze

Sweet Jesus!

Hot, sweet Jesus!

... and if you're wondering how I found these items, well, I was looking for a nice Christmas present to give to you. Oh yes.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Reporting Lottery Wins With An Undercurrent of Sex? What Next? Erotic Bank Statements?

To my mind, the silliest news item currently is the tale of Ianthe Fullagar, an 18-year old lottery winner. The story's all over the papers at the moment, but if you've missed it, here's the BBC report.

Now, maybe I'm just getting old and jaded, but it seems that there's a weirdly sexual slant to the reporting on this one - possibly fed by the winner's comments, or possibly because reporters have been inspired by her age and appearance to try and make it a little bit racy.

To take the most choice quotes:

"[My Mum and I] were both screaming so loudly that my dog, Brock, didn't know what was happening and bit me on the bottom."

I'm sorry Miss, it sounds as if your dog has a tendency to attack people, and he may have to be destroyed.

"The 18-year-old, who hid her winning ticket in her bra…"

I dread to think what she'll do with the cheque.