Friday, July 31, 2009

Mind You, Which Of Us Hasn't Wondered What Our Teenage Selves Would Make Of Who We Are Now ?

For reasons far too obscure to mention, I was trading silly e-mails with m'colleague when Feargal Sharkey was mentioned, specifically his hit A Good Heart. Feargal, as you may know, is now a spokesperson for the UK record industry, often quoted in debates about piracy and the like.

Of course he's not the only person from an entertainment background to have taken an interesting career turn - bestselling science writer Michael White used to be a member of the 80s group Thompson Twins (leaving before their success), and if you've ever wondered where Bob 'Spit The Dog' Carolgees is now... well, I don't know about you, but I didn't expect him to be "just off the B5152 from Frodsham to Delamere".

Life, I feel, often takes us strange places, to do things we could never have guessed at. Not that I'd ever have it any other way, of course.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'll Be Honest: If You're Not Interested In Comics And / Or Intellectual Property Issues, This May Not Be The Post For You

There's a currently a lot of excitement in the comic world following the announcement last week that Marvel Comics has purchased the rights to the character Marvelman.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the character - and that'd be understandable, as he's had only two main bursts of popularity, in the 1950s and then the 1980s - the hook of the character is that he's Mickey Moran, a young orphan who, by saying the word 'kimota' (read it backwards to see the origin of that word), tranforms into a Superman-level superhero, with great strength and the power to fly and all that.

In the original incarnation in the 1950s, Moran was a child, but in the celebrated 1980s revival, Mike Moran was an adult who had only vague memories of having been Marvelman, and the 1980s run showed what happened when he remembered who he'd been, and set out to find why and how he'd forgotten (amongst many other things). As you can tell, the revived version was a lot more reality-based, and indeed was one of the comics during this decade which genuinely pursued the idea of 'superheroes in the real world', along with Watchmen, which you'll be unsurprised to hear was written by the same chap.

Since the early 1990s, the Marvelman character has been trapped in an insanely convoluted tangle of ownership and copyright disputes; I won't go into them here, though I like to think I'm fairly well-versed in who owned what percentage of it and when (if indeed any of them ever did after the original publication run ended - that's the kind of uncertainty that reigns), to the extent that on occasion when I've been having trouble getting to sleep, I've been known to run through the ownership issues in my mind. I'm not proud of that, but believe me, once you get to the late 1980s or so in reviewing the copyright ownership of Marvelman, the brain tends to shut down out of sheer bewilderment and sleep is pretty much inevitable.

Anyway, one of the stranger aspects of the whole messy business is the fact that, as demonstrated by the fact that the above-linked announcement was made at all, Marvelman was not published by Marvel Comics. In fact, at the time the character was first in print, I don't think Marvel as an entity actually existed (they came into being in the 1960s if memory serves), but there wasn't any kind of legal objection from Marvel until the late 1980s - the argument being (logically enough) that it might be believed that Marvelman was a Marvel character. This led to the suspension of the revived series for a while, under the cloud of legal uncertainty (Marvel, unlike the then-publishers of Marvelman, had lots of money to spend on lawyers) until the character's 1980s stories were first reprinted and then continued in a series published in the USA, but for the sake of legal safety the character was renamed Miracleman.

This, of course, removes the oomph of it being a revival of a beloved 1950s character, and all the callbacks to the original series become fairly meaningless and robbed of their narrative power. Imagine if the recent TV series had been called Bottlestore Galaxion for legal reasons, and you get an idea of how the 'impressive revamp of a slightly cheesy old idea' was weakened. Add in the fact that a character called Miracleman had actually appeared a few years previously - albeit for a mere handful of panels - in a comic which actually was published by Marvel comics, and was by the very same creative team as was handling Marvelman at the time Marvel was sending letters threatening legal action in the 1980s, and I think that you can see how fractal and recursive and frankly bonkers the whole situation is.

So, under the name Miracleman, the series ran into the 1990s, until the publisher went belly-up, precipitating even more confusion about who owned the copyrights on the characters. These stories were very well-received, and were written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, whose names are well-known outside of the comics world; you know those films V For Vendetta, Coraline and Stardust? Based on their work (to varying degrees of success, but we all know that's often the case with adaptations). The copyright uncertainties meant that the single-volume reprints of these stories went out of print pretty swiftly, so they remain more of a legend than a known quantity for a lot of comic readers - though the pedigree of the writers, and the artists (Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Rick Veitch, John Totleben and Mark Buckingham, to name but a lot) has meant that a lot of people are keen to see the stories brought back into print.

It's far from clear from Marvel's press release whether they actually have the rights to reprint the Moore-Gaiman era of the character, though the pictures on the above-linked page suggest not; the symbol on his chest is different from the 1980s-era image I've reproduced here (of which, more in a moment), and the fact that the release refers to Mick Anglo, the character's creator and original writer/artist makes me suspect not. There have been suggestions that Marvel will be talking to the various writers and artists who've worked on the book; Marvel has a good relationship with Neil Gaiman, and as far as I know pretty decent relations with Alan Davis and Rick Veitch, and as the very talented John Totleben is unfortunately suffering from a degenerative eye condition (a horrible thing to happen to anyone, and made all the more vicious a twist of fate by the fact that Totleben's artwork is so detailed) may mean that he'd be amenable to his work being reprinted if permission was sought.

Writer Alan Moore has a much more chequered history of relations with Marvel, to put it mildly, and although things appeared to be thawing slightly recently when he agreed to let them reprint his Captain Britain run in a collected volume (including the 'Miracleman' panels alluded to above), even that was soured by a production error which meant that a note giving a specific creative credit at Moore's request, was left out of the reprint. Still, it was suggested that Moore had agreed to the reprint in the first place to enable his co-creators to earn royalties from sales of the collected volume, so there remains a possibility that he'd be willing to let Marvel reprint it, though the fact that they're the same company whose actions caused the strip to first be suspended, and then undergo a name change, could well cast a cloud over the discussion (I think it would for me, frankly).

There's a fair amount of excitement about the prospect of these comics being reprinted, which I can fully understand, but I'm not entirely sure if they'd be republished in a straightforward fashion, for the following reasons:

- Firstly, as you can see from the panel above, the re-named reprints of the series would need to be re-lettered to give the characters back their original names. A minor-ish task, I'd imagine, but still something that would need doing, and I don't know if Marvel - or anyone else - would have easy access to the original artwork, or film of the art, to do that in a professional way.

- Secondly, and also visible from the panel I've reproduced, whilst the original chapters of the revived series were in black and white, the US reprints of the series were coloured (the vast majority of US comics are in colour). And as you can see above, they were not coloured very well - our hero appears to be flying from SatsumaWorld to a Mr Greedy-shaded planet, though at least he'll fit in there, as he's the same colour. Again, re-colouring the strips shouldn't be a particularly challenging task, though it inevitably raises the question of who the colourist should be, and the opening chapters by Garry Leach are so obviously oriented to black and white that you could argue that they shouldn't be coloured at all.

- Thirdly, and oddly enough this is the topic I have seen least discussed online, is the issue of content; a lot of the revived series was adult in tone - the final chapters of the second volume feature scenes of graphic childbirth, and there's an issue in the third book which is based around a disturbing depiction of a supervillain running amok in London - he doesn't rob a few banks and then kidnap the hero's girlfriend and sit and wait to be beaten up and arrested, he turns the place into a burning, blood-drenched laboratory of cruelty and destruction, with human skins flapping from flagpoles as maimed children traipse the streets screaming for their parents (okay, I'm working from memory there, but do you get the idea that there was imagery in the issue which stuck in my mind?). It's genuinely unsettling stuff, and made all the more so by the fact that the story's heroes don't behave wildly nobly in order to defeat their enemy - for these gods, it seems their Olympus will be built on a foundation of death and destruction.

Is this, do you think, something that Marvel comics is likely to publish without any changes? It's a far from easy fit into their existing 'universe' (Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man et al), and looks far more like a 'mature readers' title, and given the way that the stories ended, it's not able to be set in the 'Marvel Universe' generally, as events in the title clearly place it in a very different setting. So even if Marvel do have the rights to reprint the existing revived material, would they do so without editing it? And if they did, would they then continue to use the character? And would that be in a more mainstream manner, or similarly adult-themed? For consistency, you'd imagine the latter, but Marvel's not as oriented to comics for older readers as its competitor DC, and it would be moderately pointless to bother acquiring the character only to put him on the margins. Though of course having the material from the 1980s onwards just in reprint form would be a good earner in itself.

Given the use of the 1950s version of the character's logo and the comments from Mick Anglo in the press release, my gut feeling is that Marvel have bought the rights to reprint stories of the original incarnation of Marvelman, and possibly to create new stories featuring him, though possibly not ones which continue from, or encroach on, the Moore-Gaiman work. The original stuff is quite charming, and fun, but I have to say I'm far from sure how much appeal it would have to modern readers, unless Marvel were to pitch it to a younger audience (which wouldn't be a bad thing; there are too many comic readers my age, and not enough new readers coming in).

My suspicion is that Marvel have bought the rights to the Mick Anglo version of the character and nothing else, and that it may well be a case of 'a sprat to catch a mackerel' - starting off an involvement with the character, with an aim of trying to get full ownership (which would seem possible as Marvel have previously paid Neil Gaiman for work via the company Marvels and Miracles LLC, which Gaiman set up with the stated aim of resolving the issue of copyright of Marvelman), and the rights to reprint the work by Moore and Gaiman.

That's my guess, anyway - but I'm open to counter-speculation or correction, especially on any of the facts which I've outlined in my semi-history given above; I like to think I know a fair amount about this subject, but I'm all too willing to believe that I've got confused on more than one point.

Let's face it, it wouldn't be the first time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swiping From The Thieves, Perhaps?

Those of you who've been reading this blog for longer than is recommended under HM Government health guidelines may vaguely recall this post, in which I (rather clumsily, now I re-read it) suggested that the scams of the TV Series Hustle appeared to extend to the meta-theft of the tagline from the film Bowfinger.

Well now, take a look at this film poster which I saw repeatedly whilst in India last week:

From the USA to the UK and now on to India, this phrase seems to be making its way round the globe in an easterly direction ... if you spot a version of it from Japan, do let me know.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

At Least One Of You Is Demonstrably, Provably, Better Than Me. Come On, Admit It. I Can Take It.

I have to admit I'm kind of surprised how few people I've seen blogging (or otherwise writing online) about having made it through to the Workshop stage of the CBBC Writing Competition.

Can it be that nobody with an online presence has made it into the final numbers ? I should be fairly surprised if that's the case, but then again, maybe the winners spend less time online and more time on writing... hmm, there may be some kind of notion there. Ah, I'm sure it's nothing.

Anyway, if you - or anyone you know - has been invited to the workshop (which, I suddenly realise, is taking place this very day), do let me know, I'd be keen to know how it went.

And finally on this topic, if you haven't already seen it, there's a post on the BBC Writersroom blog which gives more information about the judging process for the competition, how many entries there were, and the like, which I think is worth a look (including the comments - the original poster, Paul Ashton, returned to reply to comments from entrants).

Monday, July 27, 2009

On The Other Hand, I May Just Be Relieved That The Oft-Suggested Mel Gibson Version Didn't Materialise

It's been a bit of a frenzied few days in terms of pop culture news, what with the San Diego Comic-Con taking place, but I think one of the more interesting items that's floated out has been the trailer for the AMC/ITV remake of The Prisoner, starring Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel.

Here, have a look:

It appears more obviously action-oriented than the original version, but it looks as if they've genuinely tried just not to lean on the goodwill people might have towards the McGoohan version, but instead to come up with a story in its own right. I mean, I'm far from certain there's any kind of burning need to redo the show in the first place, but at least there seems to be have been some effort put into this one (yes, The Avengers film, I'm looking at you).

Actually, thinking about it, there was an interview with Bill Gallagher, the writer of the new version in the Writers' Guild GB magazine, UK Writer, a couple of months ago - and lo and behold, it's online here. It does seem to show he took it seriously, which is reassuring.

Anyway, it could be awful, but for the moment, I'm cautiously optimistic. Given ITV's current financial troubles, lord only knows when it'll air here in the UK (it's a USA-UK co-production), but on the basis of the trailer, I'll probably give it a go.

A tip of the hat to Dan Owen, whose excellent blog Dan's Media Digest was where I found this video. His original posting of it can be seen here - and while you're there, have a look around. He's a very good writer, and there are many things there to enjoy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On The Rack Next To The Design Featuring Bart Simpson Smoking A Reefer

Perhaps it says more about me than anything else, but doesn't the Allergy UK Seal Of Approval look like the sort of thing you'd expect to see on the front of a t-shirt?

One of those t-shirts they sell on Oxford Street, 3 for £12?

All right, a tenner for the lot, but I'm making a loss here. Tell your friends, all right? We've got a new batch of I Love The Pope - The Pope Smokes Dope shirts in, and the kids always love them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

He's Back... And You Never Even Noticed He Was Gone

Well, the ongoing updates here should have meant that you didn't even know I was on holiday - that's a professional level of service, I know - but I have been, and now I'm back.

Where was I, you ask? I'm glad you asked...

That's right, Mrs Soanes and I went on a rather belated honeymoon to India. I'll post more pictures, and some simply gripping travellers' tales, over the next few days.

In the meantime, you may have seen about the longest total solar eclipse of the sun this century which took place this week. We were there, and it was awe-inspiring; our view of it, over the Ganges in Varanasi, was as you can see at about 0'29" in this BBC video:

Because, y'know, nothing says 'romantic honeymoon' better than the sun turning black and darkness cloaking the face of the earth.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Online - As In Reality - My Housekeeping Comes In Fits And Starts

I'm painfully aware that there's little so self-indulgent as blogging about blogging, and the following skates perilously close to it, so I'll keep this short:

If you've sent me an e-mail in the last couple of days and not had any kind of reply, sorry about that, but I'm having some problems with my e-mail settings. Remember kids, don't try to reset your e-mail account if you don't know what you're doing. The world of POP3 and SMTP is not for the dilettante.

I've set up a revised, Flash-based, version of my website, which can be seen here. I quite like the look of it - it's obviously more professional - but I'm not entirely sure that the Flash-based nature of it is a good idea (I know not all machines can access such sites). If you'd care to have a look at it, and let me know what you think, I'll see if the general consensus is that it should replace my site, or if I should get on with updating it in some other fashion. Thanks.

This blog
I'll probably be doing a bit of tidying up round here this weekend, including removing links to sites which are infrequently updated, that kind of thing. I'm also inclined to remove the Followers section from the sidebar, as it looks - as M'colleague has said in the past - a bit like the sort of 'people collecting' that Facebook, Myspace and Twitter seem to encourage, and I'm not at all comfortable with that. I genuinely appreciate people being kind enough to follow the updates to this blog, but I'll probably hide that section in future, much as I appreciate your support. Unless, of course, there are violent objections. Do let me know.

And now, before I start telling you about the oh-so-funny thing my cat was doing this morning, I'm off. Proper update tomorrow, honest.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Open Letter To All British TV Channels

Dear Television

How are you? I know I haven't been watching you so much recently, but that doesn't mean I don't wish you well. Lord knows we've had some good times, you and I, and there's loads of credit in the bank, so don't worry too much.

Anyway, this is just a quick note to make a request - quite a specific one, and nothing too onerous; certainly not as major as, say, asking you not to constantly provide me with 'coming up' and recap sections within half-hour programmes, or even asking you to stop the chaps on Celebrity Masterchef from shouting all the time. So, as it's a wee thing, I was wondering if you could do it for me.

Is it possible for you to stop the continuity announcers from thinking that they're part of the programme? I understand it must be a bit dull for them being sat there all day or night with a copy of the TV schedule and a microphone, but a lot of them seem to think that the closing titles of a programme are in some way improved by them saying "Oh, looks like he's in trouble now!' or "I don't know how he'll get out of that!" after a tense ending to a programme. And oddly enough, I don't need to be told what's just happened in the programme, as I've got eyes and ears, and I was, well, watching the programme.

It's just a minor thing, and shouldn't be too difficult to do - if it's something you've started to do to indulge the announcers, maybe you could turn their mic off and let them think their comments are going out? I don't want to hurt their feelings or anything, but if they think their words are the main attraction, maybe radio would be the appropriate medium for them? Just a notion.

As I say, it's a small thing, but I'd appreciate it. I'll see you soon, I'm sure, but until them, stay well, and love to the family!

Best regards


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Music Downloads, Without The Guilt Or Fear Of Legal Reprisals

I think I've mentioned Adam and Joe's 6music podcasts here before - they're very funny, and free, which never hurts.

Over summer, their show's on holiday, but like true professionals they've ensured service continues, and so they're currently running a series of podcasts which include the silliest songs from their weekly Song Wars feature. And they explain how the songs came to be, and that sort of thing. I recommend you have a listen by going here. They are very silly men.

Even better, you can download the songs themselves, shorn of all the chat and creative insight, from their blog, which is here.

No, I'm not on their payroll or on commission or anything, I just think their stuff's funny, and thought I'd share. Despite what you may have heard, I'm nice like that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You May Find The Image Accompanying This Post Offensive... Or Deeply Erotic. Or Both.

I wasn't a fan of his Ali G character (mainly because it seemed to end up being the item it seemed intended to parody), but Borat made me admire Sacha Baron Cohen for his sheer willingness to make himself look stupid or just awkward for the sake of a joke. Which is something I always admire.

But I've just found out that in his latest film Bruno, he taunts members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Oh, Mr Baron Cohen, assuming you're on some kind of points, you will be receiving some of my money soon. I say bravo.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Money Can't Buy You Happiness...

... nor, it seems, a decent understanding of contraception.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

(Don't You Dare Close Your Eyes)

It's an obvious target, granted, but I still find the reviews for this item - particularly the first one - rather amusing.

And what the jiggins is going on with the third item that customers also viewed? Very odd.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Even Better Than Christopher Cross Or Edward Woodward

I think this chap has one of the best names I've ever seen.

Whaddaya mean, I'm easily pleased? Tch, you're harsh sometimes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bear In Mind That I Am A Huge Admirer Of Alan Moore's Work. And I Don't Just Mean I'm Increasingly Sizey

In the short story A Second Chance, published in 2000AD Prog 245 (Jan 1982), and written by Alan Moore and drawn by Jose Casanovas, the world's ravaged by war, and a man and woman crawl from the wreckage.

They realise they have to start humanity over again, and the man says:

"Mavis," she replies.

All rather amusing, I thought at the time, and I still do now. My expectations were confounded and from thence the humour arose.

However, have a look at this, the last three lines of the post-apocalyptic story The Voice In The Garden, written by Harlan Ellison in 1967, where a man and a woman talk about how they have to restart the human race:

He touched her hand. "I love you, What is your name?"
She flushed slightly. "Eve," she said. "What's yours?"
"Bernie," he said.

I'm genuinely not accusing Mr Moore of nicking this idea, I think it's probably one of those cases of 'morphic resonance' or an idea occurring independently to separate people at separate times, like Tesla and Edison. But I have to say that, given how popular both of these writers are. I'm surprised that I haven't seen this comparison made before... can I truly be the first person to have spotted it?

Art from 2000AD (c) Copyright Rebellion Inc, 2009. Quote from The Voice In The Garden (c) The Kilimanjaro Corporation 1967, 2009. No infringement is intended, especially as I'm so keen on both the authors' work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It Has Been... Oh, Nearly Three Decades Since I Should Have Made This Confession

Back in 1981, I was a contestant on the children's TV quiz show Runaround. That's right, m'dears, at the tender age of 10, I first saw the heady heights of fame... or, at least, was on a networked TV programme.

For those of you who don't remember Runaround, it was essentially a multiple-choice quiz; a question was asked, with the possible answers shown on the wall at the far side of the studio. When the host - Mike 'Frank Butcher off EastEnders' Reid shouted "G-g-g-g-g-g-g-go!", the contestants would run across the studio and stand in front of the answer they thought was correct. After a few seconds in which you could change your mind, the answer was revealed by a light being shone on the contestants who'd got it right. If you got it wrong, you went into the 'Sin Bin', and were out of the game until... er, I forget, but if you got it right, you picked up a coloured ball. The contestant with the most balls at the end of the show was the winner.

Look, I know it sounds basic, but it was a simpler time, all right? We didn't have crack cocaine and Nintendo iPlaypods, we had to make do with simpler pleasures.

Anyway, this was all filmed at the Southampton studios of now-defunct regional broadcasters Southern Television. To get contestants, they'd come to nearby schools and ask a number of questions - I, strangely enough, got in because I was able to show I had a name beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet, and also had a particular number of pets at home. I didn't lie about either of these things, but I probably could have. Still, they weren't looking for Mastermind contestants, I guess, just kids who could read and run, so the entry requirements weren't too stringent. Eventually, they had enough contestants from the school (four or five, I think), and a date was set.

The day itself was pretty exciting - we were given a bit of a tour of the building (peeping into a room where they were recording something for How), and taken down to the studio where we'd be filming that afternoon. It was a pretty big studio, and so they filled it was coachloads of schoolkids from the surrounding area, including the schools the contestants were drawn from. Then there was a bit of hanging around, and we changed into our specially-personalised Runaround t-shirts and went down for the filming. To say I was excited was an understatement.

At the start of the show, the contestants (the four or five from my school, plus an opposing team from another school, though it was more about trying to win for yourself than any kind of team effort) would run out through a tunnel-shaped opening, and so as the filming began, we were lined up in the tunnel. And this is the point where I make my torrid confession, here on the interweb, to you. Have you ever been in a TV studio, maybe to watch the filming of a show? Well, if you have, you may have seen a lot of the cameras have small spiral-bound pads clipped to them, giving the camera operators a rundown of the places to focus on, etc. In the tunnel before the show started, there was a camera, and on the running order there I could see that for the first question (about how many days there are in July, I think) answer B was circled.

Yes, I'm not proud of it, but I went for B on the first question, and it was indeed correct. I cheated. Not a good thing...

... but there was pretty much instant karma, as I quickly got the next question wrong and spent a lot of time in the Sin Bin, and didn't come anywhere near winning, so verily cheats did not prosper that day. And rightly so. Who knows how different it might have been if I'd got the first question wrong?

Anyway, whilst I didn't win the top prize - a portable TV - when it came to the tiebreaker between two boys from the other school, I did have my first insight into the wanton trickery of the televisual medium; the tiebreak question was "What is the fourth month of the year?" and it took them about seven guesses to get it right, but when the show was broadcast, the boy who won appeared to have replied pretty much instantaneously. Oh, television editing, you are misleading.

My prize, for those of you who are interested, was a then-top-of-the-line digital watch; which meant that it told the time, date, and - brace yourself - seconds. About five years later, it was pretty much the sort of watch they'd give you free if you bought £5 worth of petrol, but that's the march of progress for you.

So, having learned a salutary lesson about cheating, I made my way home, with my watch, Mike Reid's autograph on the back of one of the question cards (we moved house several months later, and it was lost in the move), and of course my personalised Runaround t-shirt.

Speaking of which, writing about the experience has inspired me to dig out the t-shirt and put it on for old times' sake. Of course, I was a lot smaller then, but let's see if I can still get into it...


Looks like I've grown a bit in the last 28 years, then.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New BBC Roadshow Date - And Why One Shouldn't Send Messages In Anger

In case you hadn't seen the post by Piers on the BBC Writersroom site, there's a new Writersroom roadshow being held - this time in Birmingham, on the evening of Tuesday 18 August. Full details can be read here - if you live in Brum (or close by), you might want to see about going along.

Speaking of writing and using the internet, what's all this about people hassling writer James Moran online because they don't like the way the story went in Torchwood? It seems he's being accused of a homophobic element to the story, which seems a little odd when you consider it was co-plotted with Russell T Davies... but frankly that's by the by; James has been very open and forthcoming in his online presence, and very enthusiastic about writing generally, and now it seems that people having a go at him is likely to cause him to withdraw somewhat, which I think is a shame.

I mean, I've seen TV shows where I haven't liked the direction the story's taken, but sending Twitter messages and the like to the writer (or one of them) is obviously excessive, and it's pretty clear from James's reaction that he found a lot of them rather insulting.

That's going too far, and is a desperate waste of the potential for communication offered by developments such as the internet. I'm reminded of the people whose online hectoring led to the cancellation of a writing competition in future years back in 2007; remember, just because you have the means to tell someone (or indeed everyone) your current emotional or mental state, it doesn't necessarily mean you should.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oh, And It Features Music From Black Lace. I Kid You Not.

I know that the TV excitement in the last week has mainly focussed on Torchwood, but I haven't seen that yet (planning to watch it all in one big chunk), so I can't comment.

However, one TV show in the past few days which I found rather exciting was the fourth episode of Psychoville, written by and starring two of the League of Gentlemen, and lo and behold this episode features a guest appearance by the other onscreen member (so, not Jeremy Dyson).

If you've ever seen the Hitchcock film Rope and marvelled at the long sequences between cuts, then this episode will impress you in the same way; from what I could see, there's only one cut, at about the 20 minute slot, which is something you really don't see very often in TV. The episode is very much like Rope in structure and content too, and is quite clearly a homage - in the proper sense of that word, not the cut-and-paste-swipe sense all too often used nowadays. That said, I reckon you could probably watch this episode without having watched those before it.

But John, you may be asking, how can I watch it now? The wonders of the BBC iPlayer, I say in reply, and point you to this link, which should enable you to watch the episode on your computer. Wonderful what they can do nowadays.

I have to say, I think Psychoville is a very solid show so far - the central mystery of it is unravelling well, and the cast of characters are suitably horrifying and/or funny (often both at once). Worth looking at the whole series so far if you're not already following it, I'd say.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Neither Like David In Appearance Nor Able To Create David

As the week draws to its end, I just wanted to share with you, my lovely readers, one important lesson which I've learned in the last few days:

Unless you actually are a sculptor, or have a hand as steady as a professional stonemason, do not attempt to remove ice from a freezer compartment with a screwdriver and hammer.

Yes, I am an idiot. Still, the new fridge-freezer looks good in the kitchen.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shouldn't They Be On A Coach Trip To Gloucester Or Something?

When did it become cool for popular music artistes to be named like my grandmother and her friends?

I only hope they don't smell of Parma Violets and carry their handbags everywhere.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Results Are In

So, I didn't make it to the next round of the CBBC Competition. Ah well.

I did, however, get a friendly e-mail from the BBC Writersroom, saying that my script had made it through to the second reading stage, and encouraging me to send stuff to them in future, which was nice.

And, of course, it was good to find out either way, on the appointed day. Well played, BBC, I say.

But enough of me; you're a bunch of talented sods out there, surely at least one of you has been asked to go along to the masterclass? C'mon, share the good news, that's what the Comment function is for...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

On Showgirls, And Marcus Aurelius, And How They Are Connected

I referred to the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition Sketch the other day (in this post), and that led me to think about its appearance in the film Sliding Doors. Hey, that's how my mind works.

For those of you who haven't seen this film (and I've only seen it once, at the time of its cinema release), John Hannah recites lines from the Spanish Inquisition sketch to a table of hysterically impressed friends, including Gwyneth Paltrow - in fact, his Python performance kind of forms part of his wooing of her character in the film. The people around the table are laughing a lot at this bit in the film, including women, which didn't ring true for me, as I was the kind of spotty indoorsy teenager who'd learn Monty Python sketches off by heart, and as much as women like a laugh and like comedy, very few of them are particularly keen to hear you recite other people's comedy material. Especially a sketch as reliant on visual aspects and incidental music as that one.

Anyway, as an aspect of the film in which we're supposed to think Hannah's character's funny or likeable, it didn't work for me. In a similar way, I once found myself watching Showgirls to see if it was as bad as it was said to be (it was), and about twenty minutes in (I think - it was just before the first ad break, and I switched it off then) there was a big song and dance number. The main character, played by Elizabeth Berkeley, watches this show on stage, and is utterly captivated by it. I, on the other hand, thought it was a pretty risible sequence featuring semi-naked people cavorting amidst model volcanoes.

I turned off the TV at this point, as it seemed pretty clear that the main character was going to be inspired to want to do this kind of dancing, and I would find myself laughing at it, and that would just be mean. Well, if I'm honest, I wouldn't have minded a laugh, but as I was sharing a house at the time, I didn't want anyone to come into the lounge and think I was watching it for the nipples instead of the giggles.

Hmm, those last three paragraphs make it sound as if I'm just having a go at other people to make my point (and I do have one), so let me share a similar confession about my own writing; some years ago, I wrote a novel (unpublished, and with hindsight that's probably fair) called Fall From Grace. It was essentially a re-telling of the fall of Lucifer, set within a modern-day Evangelical Broadcasting Network - members of staff rebel against the existing regime, get kicked out, seek to take revenge, that sort of thing.
However, in order to make the rebels into underdogs, I needed the evangelical TV station to be successful, and try as I might I just couldn't write the details of the broadcasts in a way that made this seem likely. Mainly because deep down I couldn't see a way that, in modern-day England, such a venture would have enormous success - and as a result, the story pretty much asked the reader to take it on trust that, no, really, I promise you, it was very popular. Unfortunately, that creates a situation rather like this:
Reader: These religious broadcasts don't strike me as that awe-inspiring.
Me: Well, they are. Trust me.
Reader: They wouldn't convert me.
Me: Well, the people in the book are quite taken with them.
Reader: I don't know why.
Me: Look, they're really impressed. Take my word for it.
Reader: I suppose I have to, for the story to make sense.
Me: Yes, you do.
Reader: Hmph.
It doesn't really matter if a story contains a minor element that doesn't quite ring true, but if it's a plot element or a catalyst or a personality trait which actually affects the direction of the story, there's a more fundamental problem; like watching one of those fight scenes in films where the cuts are just so insanely fast that you can't tell what's going on until one person's left standing and the others are on the ground, you end up just having to accept that it's happened, even if you don't know how or why, but of course it introduces a seed of disbelief into your mind, and much of the time stories require that disbelief, like the Brooklyn Bridge, to be well and truly suspended.

Otherwise, you end up just having to take other characters' word for it; John Hannah's character is funny, the show in Showgirls really is impressive, and in my personal example, millions of people do tune in every week to watch a religious TV show... and if you don't believe what the story wants you to believe, or feel the reaction that you're apparently expected to feel, you'll be jerked right out of the experience of the story, and that's never a good thing.

Looking at how this should be done, I watched the first episode of The West Wing again yesterday, and - possible spoilers ahoy - we don't get to meet the President himself until very near the end of the episode. Instead of the viewer being told for the best part of an hour that he's quick-witted, supportive of his staff, and articulate, we're shown it - President Bartlet demonstrates this in a couple of minutes, and at the end of the scene (indeed the episode) you can see why his staff are so loyal to him. That, as Mr Punch would say, is the way to do it.

The Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said "Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one", and I think the same applies to aspects of plot or character as detailed above. Is a character meant to be funny? Show them being funny, not other people telling them they're funny. Is something in a story meant to be amazing or startling, and send people's lives in a new direction? Then the story needs to show it being amazing or startling.

In his (very good) screenwriting book Save The Cat, Blake Snyder stresses the importance of making the reader/viewer care about the main character as early as possible by having them do something funny, likable or heroic in the early scenes - by having them, as it were, 'save the cat' on page one, and I think he's spot-on about this.

As is so often the case, I won't pretend that I'm making a devastating insight about a requirement of writing here; however, I was quite pleased when all the above churned around inside my head, and I finally realised that all of the examples which sprang to my mind all point to one fundamental principle of writing: Show, Don't Tell.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

It's The Question That Keeps Bookbinders Awake At Night...

... which seven-volume fantasy series which began with a fairly slim first volume got more and more lengthy as the end drew nigh: Jo Rowling's Harry Potter or Stephen King's Dark Tower?

Let's find out! Potter's in Blue, the Tower is Purple...

So - perhaps appropriately enough - the Tower has the highest numbers.

Here's a thought: how different would the current state of Bloomsbury publishers be if the Potter books had each been 324 pages long, and the series had run to ten books ?

I know that books, unlike many media, can be as long as they need to be to get the story told, but I'll wager that somewhere, a publishers' accountant has asked exactly the same question, though they probably followed it with a sigh, and then returned to crunching numbers.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I Really Wish I Could Explain Why I Find This So Amusing, But... Well, See For Yourself

(Found in a number of places on the internet.)

Well, it makes me laugh.

And that's why I shared it - because if there's one thing this blog is all about, it's spreading laughter and joy and love and peace and tea and biscuits. Oh, and it's about writing. But that's still one thing, if we use the Inquisitional numbering system.

Speaking of matters writerly, it seems that the CBBC Competition had over 700 entries. Crikey.

Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed... though if I do get through, I won't hurry to claim it's a case of the cream rising to the top - after all, the scum also rises, as Hemingway nearly put it.

Still, we'll see how things go, and of course if I get invited to the next stage (a workshop), I'll be sure to talk about it in the usual self-hyping fashion here on the blog. Because if there's one thing this blog is about, it's... ah, you guessed it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

I'm Glad They Spelled 'Professional' Correctly - This Is Not A Subject Which Benefits From Bringing Professionalism Into Doubt

Like many people with a letterbox, I've become accustomed to coming home to find myself dazzled by a shining sea of glossy junk mail - pizza menus, flyers for estate agents and repair firms, and party political newsletters and the like.

I've become kind of jaded to it really, so my immediate reaction is to ignore the stuff - the exact opposite of the hoped-for result, I'm sure - and it takes something quite startling to make me actually pay attention to unsolicited mail.

Which is why the flyer which you can see here (scanned in from the original, hence the scuffmark across the middle from my shoe) caught my attention when it arrived. I'm well aware that there's a market for this service, but ... well, I'd kind of hope that people would do a bit of research beyond waiting for a leaflet on the subject to come through the door.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Even If Karl Marx Does Look Rather Like An Unshaven Timothy West

Despite having lived in London for over a decade, yesterday was the first time I've ever been to Highgate Cemetery.

As the chap at the gate said, the main draw for many visitors is the tomb of Karl Marx:
But there are many other graves to see, and it's a quiet and somehow relaxing atmosphere - well worth a look if you have the time and are in North London.

Though I have to admit that several times in the visit I heard David Tennant's voice in my head...

"Whatever you do, do not blink!"

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day, USA!

We can put the whole tea-wasted-in-the-harbour thing behind us, right?

And as if the universe is giving you a present, look at this...

Anyone else think she's jumping before something unsavoury emerges?

Friday, July 03, 2009

I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing...

... by which I mean I don't usually point out writing competitions which charge you to enter, but I thought this one might be of interest.

Manchester Metropolitan University are running the Manchester Writing Competition, which has an impressive first prize of £10,000.

The deadline is 7 August, the entry fee is £15, and entries are limited to 5000 words, but other than that restriction it's pretty much a case of write what you like... something which longtime readers will know is one of the tenets of this blog.

I'm not entirely keen on the fact that you have to pay, but then again it's a college, so they probably don't have loads of cash to spare - though on the other hand being a college should also ensure they don't do a midnight flit with all the dosh, what with having buildings and students and being fairly well-established and everything.

Anyway, hope this is of use - not sure if I'll enter myself, but if you do, good luck!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Harrison Ford Appeared In The Episode Mystery Of The Blues, Though Those Bookends Weren't Cut (Not Entirely Surprisingly)

As it was - notionally - Henry Jones Junior's 110th Birthday yesterday, and following a recent re-watch of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, I thought I'd just mention a recentish Lucasfilm re-edit of existing material - less glaring than Greedo shooting first, granted, but still rather strange, to my mind.

The 1992-1996 TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles wasn't a wildly popular show - probably, I suspect, because it often came over as an uncomfortable mix of entertainment and historical fact; the young Jones meets a lot of historical figures (Lawrence of Arabia, Hemingway, Picasso and so on), and if you don't know who they are or know their historical significance, it's kind of reduced as a show.

Anyway, it was shown in various slots on UK TV, and I rather liked it, partly because episodes were often bookended by 'present day' (that is, early 1990s) encounters between people and an aged Indiana Jones, played by George Hall. As you can see from the picture accompanying this post, Jones in his 90s appeared to have lost an eye, which of course leads to the question of how, suggesting a story yet to be told.

And yet, rather inexplicably, Lucasfilm (presumably with the blessing of George Lucas - also pictured, he's the one without the fedora) have edited out the 'Old Indy' aspects of the show for the DVD release. It's not fatal to the story by any stretch of the imagination, though I rather liked the suggestive nature of the missing eye and facial scar (even as it does remove the suspense of the films, as we know that Jones will survive to a ripe old age), but it does strike me as rather symptomatic of a tendency to tinker which Lucas (and his pal Mr Spielberg) seems unable to resist.

Ultimately, the films etc are Lucas's baby, and so I think that one has to concede that if he wants to add or delete stuff, then he's free to do so; the usual excuse given is that it takes it closer to the original vision, though I must admit that if I was responsible for some of the most well-loved films of the last 50 years or so, I'd probably tend to leave well enough alone - however I suspect it's the fate of creative types to only be able to see the flaws in their work, whilst if it finds an audience, they will probably focus on the merits.

I'm increasingly feeling that there is a tacit agreement between creators and their audience, though most of my feelings about this boil down to simple commandments (thou shalt not deus ex machina, thou shall know where thy story is going, that kind of thing) than to the exact nature of 'entitlement' within the relationship; as Neil Gaiman recently pointed out, the creator "is not your bitch", and in the final analysis I suppose it'd best just to pretend there isn't a new film or book or revamped version of the old one if you don't like it. I know that's easier said than done, and sometimes it's bewildering how a creator themselves seems to lose sight of the aspects of their work which resonate with the audience, and indeed which made them popular (examples which spring readily to my mind would be the novel Hannibal, and Jewel's album 0304). But - as Gaiman again points out - we're talking about other human beings here, and they're as prone to making errors of judgment as you and I.

It may be the sunshine outside, or the fact I have a cup of tea to hand, which is making me less snarly about this subject than usual; on the other hand, it may well be the fact that the excised Young Indiana Jones material has been lovingly compiled by some kind folks and placed on youtube in chunks such as this, and by sticking the letters 'pwn' before the web address, it's possible to download the footage.

Um, you do know about that 'pwn' trick, right? If not, then I hope that me imparting that to you has made it feel like it was worth wading through the above rambling nonsense...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It's Wednesday, It's Just Past Five, It's...

... a handful of minutes past the deadline for the BBC CBBC Writing Competition.

So, did any of you fine people enter? According to Royal Mail (yes, I know - hardly the most reliable of sources), my script was delivered this morning, and I know that Lawrence, Antonia and Dom have all entered too, so that's at least four people. Any more?

Like many of the folks linked above, I rather enjoyed writing my script - which is called, at Mrs Soanes's suggestion, The Secret Life Of A Bookworm - and was fairly pleased with how it turned out, even if, what with it being the first of a possible series, I had to get some exposition out of the way before I could get to the action. Still, I hope I did it pretty well, and I keep my fingers crossed about hearing back from the Beeb for the next stage, a workshop on Tuesday 28 July for the select(ed) few.

On the subject of hearing back, I see from the BBC Writersroom site that they intend to let people know if they're through to the next round on Friday 10 July - that is, next Friday. Quite soon, then, but that's certainly better than keeping people waiting.

And now this deadline is past, it's on, on, ON to the next bit of writing! To the novel, and don't spare the clauses*!

*Grammar, I mean, not Santa's family.