Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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

Gianni is probably spinning in his grave.

Er, I mean graev.

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Huh? As Opposed To Literature Soaps Or Cola Drinks?

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

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

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

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

All right, lesson learned.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And A Very Merry Christmas To All Of You

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Guess The Opposite of Update Would Be Downtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shocking, I think you'll agree.

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

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

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

Well, here's a newspaper hoarding from Thursday.

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Service Update

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

From Hull

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

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

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

Anyone have any idea why this is ?

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ah, But Is It Art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Outbreak III - The Virus Takes London

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why Should We Believe Your Stance This Time, Eh ?

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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

Oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cover Story

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

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

My money's on BTB, to be honest.

They Took The Words Right Out Of My Keyboard

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

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

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

...Nicely put, I feel.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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

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

You'd like to see them, you say?

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

Writers On TV, Talking About Writing For TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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