Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Unlike Him, I Can't Quite Put My Finger On It

I can't quite shake the feeling that this picture might have been manipulated in some way. Not exactly sure what it is, but something about it isn't quite right...

Taken from p4 of this, in case you think I'm making it up (as I so often do).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just How Does Inflation Apply To The Cost Of Entertainment Media?

For pretty much as long as I can remember, the cost of CDs by the Beatles has been pretty stable - generally hovering around £15 per album (in shops, that is). It's probably because they're classics and perennial bestsellers, and it's a good solid source of income for everyone involved. It's also the reason I don't have as many Beatles albums as I'd like.

Anyway, I was driven to think about this when I saw that one can now get the entire Monty Python TV series* for less than £16. Back when I was a teenage boy learning Python sketches off by heart instead of getting out in the sunshine or snogging girls, the VHS boxed sets of Python would set you back something in the region of £40 a series - so you'd probably be lucky to get the lot for less than £100 (though I know Mr Lomax got a decent deal on a set of all of them). And then they released the series on DVD recently, at about £15 a throw, which is way less than the VHS cost for a much better quality of image and sound. And then the deal linked above makes it possible to get all 45 episodes for £16. Presumably they'll come out on Blu-Ray soon, and cost about £2.53, though for an extra tenner Eric Idle will come round and do your washing-up.

The same happened with Friends - the VHS tapes had 4 episodes per tape, and were about £10 each, so you'd be looking at something like £60 per series, or £600 for the whole run of the show. And now you can buy a boxed set of the DVDs for about £50. And it's similar for The West Wing.

So, I'm rather bewildered; Python, Friends and The West Wing - which (I think it's fair to say) are all still held in high esteem and rated as 'classics' of their genres - seem to have tumbled in cost over the years, and yet Beatles CDs - equally well-respected - don't seem to have shifted much in price. And if it's a question of the media involved (I can see how DVDs involve fewer working parts than a videotape), how can it be cheaper to produce a DVD than a CD? Less information, I would have thought. And why is it that boxed sets of The Wire are more like the Beatles CDs in cost? That doesn't seem consistent.

Oh, my head hurts. Any of you good people have any idea why pricing seems to vary so much? I'm not being sarcastic or facetious here (for a change), I'd really like to know why it's so unpredictable. If you can enlighten me, please use the Comment function to explain - words of one syllable are often best. Thanks.

*No, I'm not going to refer to it as Monty Python's Flying Circus, because the acne-riddled teenage pedant in me is aware of the name change for Series 4. Oh yes.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

You'd Think Being A WWII Super-Soldier Might Mean You Were Out Of Touch. Not Captain America, He And Beyonce Have Something In Common...

... unfortunately, like
Paula Radcliffe and many a late-night reveller in a CCTV zone, it's having your image captured whilst 'going toilet'.

I'm John Soanes, and this has been your Sunday morning dose of sophistication. Coming up next, a CD of Parzifal which makes it look slightly as if the titular character has his winkie on show. Four years studying Law , and this is how I spend my time? Believe me, I too shake my head in despair.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

After A Particularly Harrowing School Field Trip, Substitute Teacher Captain America Snaps And Goads Dyslexic Pupils

(Click to enlarge as required)

Copyright Marvel Comics, obviously.

Interestingly, this semi-francophobia featuring one of American comics' most patriotic characters was written by a Scotsman and drawn by a Brit. They clearly know how to please their audience.

Captain America Weekend: Prior Warning

To commemorate the announcement that Captain America is not dead after all (which, to long-term comic readers, is not really a surprise), I present Captain America Weekend here on the blog: pictures of Cap with infantile captions, going for a cheap laugh, pretty much for the simple reason that I can.

If that doesn't sound like your sort of thing, normal service (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) will be resumed on Monday.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writer's Blog (See What I Did There? Oh, My Ribs)

Just a brief but self-indulgent post to share how I'm doing with my entry for the BBC CBBC writing thingy.

I'm making fairly good progress with it, I think, and hope this weekend to sit down with Mrs Soanes and have a 'table read', as 'twere a proper script for screen or stage.

As I go along, I'm painfully aware of bits which need work (exposition, though a necessary evil, will need to be pruned - or, rather hacked right back with a metaphorical scythe), but I'm ploughing on, and reminding myself that the fun of redrafting lies ahead - as I keep saying to myself, "get it written, and then get it right" (a saying I'm sure I've nicked from someone else, but offhand I can't recall who it might have been).

Whilst the script's flaws are currently all too visible to me, one thing I've been quite pleased with is the interaction betwene the two main characters - though I'm painfully aware that dialogue can easily be overwritten and end up being more fun for the writer and actors than the audience, I think I'm doing an okay job of capturing the speech patterns of two young people - two girls, no less, as I'm always keen to try to refute the assertion that men can't write female characters (I don't believe it any more than I believe the reverse to be true).

Anyway, back to it - how's everyone else doing? Has anyone sent theirs in yet? I know I'm cutting it fine-ish with the deadline being Wednesday, but I like to think mine won't be the last entry to arrive at the BBC...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

REVIEW: 'Calendar Girls'

I was slightly wary about going to see this play, as it could have looked as if I was sloping into the theatre in the hope of seeing a burlesque show starring women of my mother's generation, so I wore my hat strategically dipped below one eye and my scarf covering my face, and nobody seemed to notice anything amiss.

Anyway, as you probably know, this is the stage version of the film adaptation of the true story of a Women's Institute group in Yorkshire, who posed nude in 2000 for an 'alternative WI calendar' to raise money for a sofa in the visitor's area of a nearby hospital. The women were prompted to do this following the death of one of their husbands. The calendar was an immediate - and ultimately international - success, raising millions of pounds for leukaemia research. In fact, a tenth anniversary calendar will be produced for 2010.

The stage version features an impressive cast (Patricia Hodge, Linda Bellingham, Julia Hills, Brigit Forsyth, and other familiar names) and they seem to have a lot of fun with a funny script, and everyone performs well, though arguably - and perhaps inevitably - the scene where they're posing for the photos gets the biggest laughs, but it is very cleverly done. I'm not any kind of expert on these things, but the set and scene-changes were smoothly done too.

I might quibble slightly with the way a couple of obstacles in the second half seem to come up rather without warning, as if there's a need to create some conflict, but to be honest that minor complaint is more than outweighed by the overall quality of the show, and I should add that I was particuarly impressed by the way that the husband's death which is the catalyst for events isn't milked for every last ounce of emotion, which would have been an easy route.

Definitely worth a look, I'd say, and a good example of a very 'English' kind of comedy, if you know what I mean - witty, and a little bit bawdy, but unlikely to offend (though two people in our row didn't return after the interval; can they really have come to see the play without knowing what it was about and been that shocked?).

Ironically enough, this play about women taking off their clothes is running at the Noel Coward Theatre in London (until September, I think, though the run may have been extended). You can get tickets at good prices (we were right up in the balcony, and could still see all right) from the usual online places.

And just to reassure my male readers, no, it wasn't like an oedipal burlesque show. You can safely attend without danger of feeling all strange in that way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

William Akers Is In London To Help You Spot Mistakes In Your Writing

I got an e-mail the other day from a chap called William Akers, asking if I'd mention his forthcoming talk on the blog. Given that Will's a writer with actual produced films to his credit, PLUS the fact that he worked on Eerie, Indiana and Lois and Clark (two TV programmes I like), it would have been churlish to say no. And whilst I'm frequently childish, I like to think I'm not churlish. Well, if I can avoid it. anyway.

So: Will's talk is called Fatal Errors New (and experienced!) Writers Make! and it's being held at Met Film School (Ealing Studios, Ealing Green, London W5 5EP) on Thursday 2nd July between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Entry costs a mere £15, which you can pay on the door, though you need to book ahead of time by e-mailing beka[at]metfilm.co.uk. Let's face it, you could easily spend that on a round of drinks (or a couple of coffees at London prices), so it's quite the bargain.

You can find full details of the session here. Definitely worth going along if you can make it, I'd say (I'm already booked that night for a family event - pah).

Will is also the author of the attention-grabbingly-titled Your Screenplay Sucks!, pictured above, which you can read more about here, and buy from the usual places (and some of the more unusual ones too, I'd wager). Will also has a blog, which has solid advice on matters writing-related, such as the following on the idea of selling 'an idea' for a film:
Someone who has sold screenplays for lots of money can sell an idea, if they have a famous actor attached. Have you sold screenplays for lots of money? Have you got a famous actor attached?

If the answer to either question is “No,” then shut up already and write your script.
With that in mind, I'll shut up and get back to writing. Hope that you can make it to the talk, though, it sounds like it'll be useful - if you do, be sure to let me know all about it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

By Way Of Sharing: Some Writing Links

Merlin Mann on getting started (via John August)

Billy Mernit on why your first draft may well resemble food after it's been digested and expelled (via David Lemon)

And Neil Gaiman's advice to authors:
"How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write."

And whilst I wouldn't really recommend watching the film pictured here, its title can be seen as a prompt as much as a play on words. Oh, and it does mean I include a picture of Sherilyn Fenn, which may not be a bad thing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Although I Do Like The Idea Of The Gallagher Brothers As CEO And COO Of A Multinational Company

A still there from the latest TV ad by the not-Manchester-based soft drink, Oasis.

It's quite an elaborate ad (backed by a suitably jargon-filled 'integrated' marketing campaign), built around the tagline 'Oasis. For people who don't like water'.

Would I be the first to point out that if you look at the label of a bottle of Oasis, the first listed (and therefore most prevalent) ingredient is water?

So, if you really don't like water, this might not be the best drink for you to choose. Mind you, if you're really anti-water to that extent, you probably don't have time to buy soft drinks because you're spending all day trying to avoid the 71% of the planet that is covered in water, or - and this is where the challenge sets in - the 65% of your body which is, on average, water.

I guess drinking Oasis because you don't like water is probably like buying The Daily Star because you don't like words.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recycle - It's Good For The Planet

Those of you who've been reading this blog for longer than is psychologically healthy may remember I trekked to the top of Mount Ararat a couple of years ago.

At this time, I wrote an article on the trek for an outdoorsy magazine, though unfortunately they decided against using it; embarrassingly, this was said to be because the accompanying photos weren't good enough, but on the other hand it wasn't any kind of slight on my writing.

Anyway, so that the words won't go to waste - and also because it's a sunny Sunday afternoon and the balcony beckons - I thought I'd share this tale of travel and trekking with you, my loves. So, complete with the punning title that may have been the real reason it was bounced, here it is...

Ararat's The Way To Do It

The eight of us caught a plane in Istanbul, and a couple of hours later, landed in the town of Van.
Appropriately enough, we then boarded a van, and after travelling for an hour or so (on roads of varying quality), chatting as we went, Mount Ararat loomed into view.
There were patches of ice and snow on its sides, and the first time we saw it, the top was obscured by cloud.
The van stopped, we stared up at Ararat, and a few minutes later we were en route again, continuing our journey towards the town of Dogubeyazit.
I think it’s fair to say conversation was slightly subdued, as we all mulled over the prospect of the as-yet-unseen summit.

According to the bible (specifically Genesis 8:4), after the flood, Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat.
The mountain we today know as Ararat is in Turkey, where it borders Armenia. Until just over five years ago, for security reasons, the Turkish authorities refused access to climb the mountain. Today, you can climb Ararat if you have the appropriate permit and guide. And if your legs and lungs are up to it, of course. It may not be an accident that the mountain is known locally as Ağri Daği, or ‘the mountain of pain’.

We checked into our hotel in Dogubeyazit, and had a meal on the roof terrace, which gave us a view of Ararat.
The clouds had cleared from the top, enabling us to see the summit, which was surprisingly flat-looking, like a boiled egg with its top removed, or a de-walnutted Walnut Whip. We looked at it, and talked about the Ark, and the claims that parts of it had been found on the mountain.

The next morning, we set off from the hotel, stopping en route to collect our permits.
After a minibus trip to the small village of Eli (2200m), we continued on foot, but not before being introduced to a man who - rather surprisingly - claimed to be the owner of Ararat. He said this with a smile, so I guess he didn’t want us to take his claim too seriously. Shame, really, as I’d been practising my scissors-paper-stone technique over the previous weeks, and was wondering if he might be willing to gamble. Ah well.
Backpacks on, we trekked for about five hours, and here, at the base of Ararat itself, the veins of ice and snow which we’d seen the previous day came into human scale, looking a lot larger and more daunting than they had from a distance. But I’d have to say that was true for the rest of the mountain as well.
We arrived at Green Camp (3200m), where we’d be spending the night. It lived up to its name, with tents pitched all around on soft grass, and horses and the odd goat grazing nearby. During the night, the horses whinnied occasionally, and sometimes I heard them running around a bit. Just harmless horseplay, I thought, and turned over in my sleeping bag, hoping bad puns weren’t a symptom of altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is, of course, something to be avoided at all costs – particularly if you’re in a group, as one sick person could start to jeopardise the others – so we spent the next day acclimatising.
Not that this meant we took it easy, mind you, and we walked up the increasingly rocky terrain to just under 4000m, where we could see High Camp (insert your own Graham Norton joke here), which would be our next port of call.
We made our way back down to Green Camp, and as the rockiness gave way to grass once again, I decided that the after-hours gambolling of the horses was a small price to pay for the springiness underfoot.
A quick health check of our group proved encouraging – nobody seemed to be having trouble breathing, though there were one or two uncertain stomachs. Generally, we seemed in good shape, which was reassuring.

So, the next day, we trekked back up the previous day’s route, and on to High Camp.
The grass and flowers gradually disappeared until I realised we were walking on a mixture of rocks and gravel, which made it harder going. The tents at High Camp had actually been pitched amongst the rocks, and when we gathered for our evening meal, it meant hopping from one rock to another to get to the kitchen tent – a bit of an effort, and an unwelcome one when we really needed to be saving our energy for the next day, when we’d head for the summit.
Starting at 3am. I think I speak for the group when I say, on the subject of that start time: urgh.

Mindful of the pre-dawn start, we turned in early.
For fun, the wind decided to make getting to sleep into something of a challenge, rattling the sides of the tent just often and loudly enough to wake you, and of course once you’re awake and realise you really need to get back to sleep as soon as possible, that’s pretty much the last thing you can do.
As it inevitably would, though, 3am came, and by the light of a full moon and our head torches, we groggily ate some soup and pasta before setting off.
There’s something unreal about trekking at such an hour; the brain’s foggy from lack of sleep, the near-dark makes it all feel vaguely dreamlike, and the body’s not so keen to be up and exerting at such an hour. Your visual input is (initially, at least) limited to the light cast by your head torch, and all you can hear around you is ragged breathing and the crunch of feet on scree, and … well, I’d say it’s no surprise that it all feels a bit less than real.
Which could be seen as a hint of altitude sickness, but I’d argue it was just fatigue.

The gravel and rocks underfoot became mixed with ice – we were attempting the summit before dawn so the scree and water would be frozen and easier to walk on – but as we continued our plodding progress upwards, the rocks and gravel became less present, snow took over, and we stopped and strapped on our crampons.
The sun was rising behind Ararat, casting a shadow over Dogubeyazit, and we shed our head torches. As we continued, the sunlight twinkled on the snow all around us, as if a glitter lorry had shed its load.
The summit was close by now, my tentmate said, though when I looked upwards I had a notion it was lurking over the brow of the highest visible point. When you think you’re almost done, there’s all too often a bit further to go: this is as true on mountains as it is in life generally, and so we steadily traversed the snow in the area known as ‘the saddle’, because of its shape, heading for the pommel. Er, I mean summit.

The wind was starting to bite, and my leg muscles were complaining, but up ahead, I could see some other members of the group waving, so I knew the summit must be close.
I’ll freely admit I felt quite emotional as I wearily took the last few steps – my eyes misted over as I thought about the members of the group who had come to Ararat for religious or cultural reasons – and there was a round of congratulatory hugs and handshakes as we stood there, at the top of Mount Ararat, 5137m above sea level.
There was no shelter from the wind on the summit, and it jostled coldly, so we lingered just long enough to check out the view from all angles (Little Ararat does seem to live up – or down –to its name when viewed from the summit of its larger sibling), to take some photos (though that meant removing gloves, which was less than fun), and then we started to descend.

It’s said that the majority of accidents and injuries occur when descending, and it’s easy to see why; the adrenaline rush lingers even as the fatigue starts to kick in, inviting carelessness, and there’s the unbreakable law of gravity as well, so we were careful and slow to descend, especially as the ice underfoot was starting to thaw out in the sun.
We made it back to High Camp just after noon, and stayed there long enough to have some tea and chocolate and a hint of a breather before going on down to Green Camp. Arriving there mid-afternoon, it was a relief just to stop moving, and I realised we’d been on the go for about twelve hours.
It won’t come as a surprise if I tell you we all turned in early that night, and slept well.

The next morning, we walked down to Eli, at a relaxed pace, and we were met by the minibus, which took us back to Dogubeyazit.
If we wanted, our guide said, we could see the Ark the next morning. Of course we said yes, though I must admit I was a little disappointed that it seemed so easy – the Ark, it appeared, was neither lost nor in danger of any raiders. Or was that another Ark I was thinking of?
When in Rome and all that, so a group of us used the free afternoon to visit a Hamam, or Turkish Bath, in Dogubeyazit. We spent a couple of hours jumping in and out of water which was alternately boiling and freezing, and for a small extra fee I received an expert pounding at the hands of the masseur.
I stepped out onto the streets of Dogubeyazit feeling cleaner than I had in days. A local child approached me, carrying a set of bathroom scales, and offered to weigh me for one lire. Never mind any health-related effects of the trek, I had the sneaking suspicion that in the last few hours I’d shed a few pounds in grime alone.

The next morning, after a brief detour to see a ‘meteor crater’ which looked suspiciously like a large hole in the ground, we arrived at the Noah’s Ark National Park Visitors’ Centre. No ifs, buts or maybes, this place was confident it was the real deal.
The Visitors’ Centre was just that – a room with displays and newspaper clippings about the location, manned by a friendly chap called Hassan who’s known as the ‘Guardian of the Ark’. Outside the building, a path led through some trees to a vantage point overlooking a valley, where we could look at the Ark.
Or, at least, the fossilised remains of the Ark – which rather resembled a stretched oval-shape in the earth. They say it’s made of stone, though from the viewing point it looks more like an indentation in the ground.
Is it the Ark? I wouldn’t care to say, though it’s hard to forget it’s certainly not on Ararat – though some of the other evidence presented makes for a moderately convincing case, and the more you stare at it the more you can see what they’re talking about in terms of the shape.

Perhaps most telling, though, was the fact that, after we’d left the Visitor’s Centre and were in the minibus once again, the group was quiet, as if each of us was thinking about our reaction to what we’d just seen, and reaching a conclusion.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Posted A Father's Day Card Yesterday, And Had To Lick The Back Of A Unicorn

This week saw the release of a set of stamps in the UK on the theme of 'mythical creatures' (pictured) .

I wouldn't normally blog about stamps, but I think these are of note because they were drawn by Dave McKean, a staggeringly versatile and talented artist, and they're accompanied by (very) short tales written by his oftentimes-collaborator Neil Gaiman. There's a presentation pack available which includes the stories, but they're also available online to read, here.

I like these stamps, I have to say - but given that the only living person who's supposed to be depicted on stamps is the Queen, it does rather mean that the giant, pixie, mermaid and fairy must be dead. Which is the sort of thing which could upset a small child , and possibly even make them cry.

Quick, find a small child who collects stamps and tell them!

Yes, I know: I am an appalling man.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How To Get Ahead In The Clouds, If Not Advertising

Many of you are more tech-savvy than I am, so you may know about this already, or indeed be using something similar if not better, but I thought it was worth sharing just in case...

There's a fair amount of talk about 'cloud computing' at the moment, with a lot of businesses looking into (if not necessarily venturing into) using services over the internet, as opposed to running the locally; in practice, a lot of us do it on a daily basis - in fact, I'm pretty much doing it now, using Blogger's setup over the internet as opposed to having blogging software of my own on my computer.

So a fair number of people - especially those who work for themselves, on the road or whatever - are looking into the idea that they don't necessarily need to have a computer which can do loads of things, as they could access the various facilities over the internet instead. So, instead of having a PC or Mac with 500GB of memory, you can have far less capacity and access a number of services and programmes over the web. Well, that's my typically basic understanding of it, anyway.

The reason I'm posting about it here is because - a year or so after it was made available - I've just discovered about Skydrive, which allows users of Windows Live to store up to 25 GB of files online for free. I've started using it as a virtual briefcase, as it were, shuffling documents from one place to another, but without the fuss of memory sticks or CDs or e-mail attachment limits. I think you can open up certain folders to other users and the like, but I haven't played with any of those features yet.

I'm thinking, though, that this may be useful to some of you (as it is to me) as a way of backing-up scripts or other files. As I say, I'm no techy-type, but plonking a script 'in the cloud' could be a good way to avoid losing a long-laboured-over bit of work just because your computer has 'a moment' or dies altogether.

Anyway, thought I'd share this with you - I'm referring to the Windows version of it here, which may be useful if you have a Hotmail or Windows Live account, but I'm sure there are other items available on iGoogle and the like, and I know there are certainly services like this which you can pay a monthly fee for. So it might be worth you having a gander to see if there's something of this nature which might be useful to you... assuming, as I say, that you're not already doing this sort of thing already.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Mirror Seems Unable To Reflect Upon Itself

The cover of yesterday's Daily Mirror there, with a report on the proposal to impose a £6 levy to pay for a national standard of broadband access by way of charging landline owners 50p a month.

A proposal, the Mirror's cover suggests, which has sparked FURY.

As you can see in the masthead box just above this news item, the Mirror costs 45p.

You can see where I'm heading with this, right?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Snake In The Past

Presented for your comparison: the cover of Warren Ellis's novel Crooked Little Vein (2007) and the logo for Glenn Beck's Common Sense Comedy tour (2009).

Mr Ellis is a noted writer, especially in the field of comics. Mr Beck presents shows for Fox News. You can probably guess whose work I admire more.

There is, I realise, the possibility that the snake image is based on something pre-existing - it does, for example, look a bit like an olde worlde map drawing of a river - and that the above snarking is missing a fundamental point. Put me straight, by all means - that's what the Comment function is for.

EDITED TO ADD: the ever-vigilant Piers has pointed out that it's derived from a common source - a woodcut by Benjamin Franklin from 1754. I am suitably chastened.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Maybe She's A Giant Who Lives In The Flat Downstairs And Has Smashed Through

I can't be alone in having spotted how many adverts or pieces of packaging seem to feature smiling or laughing people.

The implication, I guess, is a pretty straightforward one: Look, the good-looking people in this picture are in close proximity to this item and they're smiling! If you buy this item you'll smile too, and you might become a bit more good-looking! Straightforward to the point of insulting your intelligence, really.

As a result of having deconstructed this aspect of advertising in my head, I find myself often a bit bewildered by billboards and print ads, and asking questions like 'who are these people?', 'why are they just laughing?' and things like that. It's very disconcerting, especially for the chap who was stood next to me when I saw the pictured item in Currys yesterday.

I appreciate that it's tricky to try to make adapters particuarly appealing, and so Devolo's packaging people have decided the best thing to do is to put a picture of a pretty lady on the box, but... but what the hell's meant to be going on in that image? Is she supposed to be lying on the floor down by the socket and looking over her shoulder coquettishly? If so, her elbows must be resting about three inches below the level of the floor.

I think about these things too much, don't I ? I think I'd better go and get a cup of tea.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Oh Ho Ho, It's Magic, Y'know? Never Believe It's Not So

As it's just over a fortnight before the CBBC Writing Opportunity closing date, I thought I'd just ramble a bit about - er, sorry, I mean share - the thought process behind my entry-to-be, which currently rejoices in the title of 'Title to be decided'.

The target audience is 6-12 year olds, and so I set to thinking about what kind of thing would be suitable for them; my gut feeling was that whilst it needed to be something which would be relatable in terms of setting, making the focus of it about school or family life might make it a bit too close to reality. I'm probably showing my age here, but I was thinking in terms of the general tone of the programme Jonny Briggs (which is not about the actor from Coronation Street, it's a TV show from the 80s).

That said, I liked the idea of one aspect of it being a bit strange and somehow fantastical, in case it be more like a mirror than a viewing-glass, as it were - and that Alice-ism isn't entirely accidental; I read a quote from Bryan Fuller on Dan Owen's blog about how he wanted to get Heroes

"back to the basic principle of ordinary people in an extraordinary world and how these characters are relatable to us and what we would do if we were in their situations, and really grounding it in that conceit"

... which doesn't quite ring true to me (though I stopped watching it at the end of the first season), as I thought the hook of Heroes was that it was extraordinary people in an ordinary world: the old cliche of real-world superheroes (well, it's a cliche in comics since the mid-1980s, anyway, slightly less in other media).

Anyway, I feel I want TTBD (as nobody's calling it) to be real-world-grounded (so I don't have to spend forever on the setup), and maybe have something a bit unusual happening to an ordinary character, so we see him or her react in a way we might react ourselves. In a way, I guess, this is a bit like those novels which are referred to as being 'Magic Realism', which (from my limited knowledge of such things) tend to feature the real world with a slight twist.

Mind you, as Gene Wolfe pointed out,"Magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish", so perhaps I shouldn't kid myself that there's anything all fancy about my idea.

On the other hand, the CBBC Q&A tonight may well mean that I dump the notes that have resulted from the above, and end up having to start all over again and send in something a bit more rushed and unlikely to win... see what I did there ? I set up my excuses early.

Or, as writers like to call it, I foreshadowed a later event.

I only hope that's not the full extent of my storytelling ability.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Looking At That Logo, I Bet The RAF Wish They'd Copyrighted Their Roundel

As you know, I'm a huge fan of specious use of language or ill-considered turns of phrase, and so it's a delight to come across another.

The British Music Experience is an exhibition about the history of (no surprise here) British music, and it's located in the building formerly known as the Millennium Dome, in London.

I haven't been, so I don't know what it's like, but the publicity for it (posters around London, and their website) contains the following quote:
"A comprehensive, conceptually flamboyant Wikipedia history of British pop music" - Observer Music Monthly

Now, I can only conclude that this means that if you disagree with the content of any of the exhibits, you're entitled to clamber into them and make the appropriate corrections. Or, indeed, that you can remove entire exhibits if they don't meet notability requirements, or if they fail to reference reliable sources.

Well, either that's what the use of the word 'Wikipedia' signifies, or maybe someone at the Observer needs to stop and think before dropping zeitgeisty words into sentences to make sure they actually mean something.

After all, that Twitter kind of attempt at unfounded hipness Crunk from a writer just looks Audioboo embarrassing.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

More Child-Ish Than Plain Childish, I Feel

Just over a year ago, I posted a pair of book covers which I thought were rather similar, one of which was a novel by Lee Child.

In fact, I've referred to Mr Child's books a number of times over the lifetime of this blog - probably because I enjoy his Jack Reacher novels, and tend to keep an eye out for new ones.

Mind you, it looks as if book designers are still under orders to tailor their covers to catch the eye of people like me, as the pictures here show (the Child book came out in hardback last year, and the Hilton book has just been released). When it's that blatant, though, it tends to push me away rather than reel me in.

Which is a bit of a shame, actually, as the Hilton book sounds like it might be a fun read. As the groovier websites might put it: book design FAIL.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It Could Be Another Picture From That Oh-So-Controversial Annie Leibowitz Vanity Fair Photo Session, I Guess

This picture is currently being used to promote Miley Cyrus's concerts in London this December.

However, I can't help but think it looks more like a still from an episode of CSI.

Presumably Billy Ray Cyrus will manage to snag the role of grieving father, weeping over the perforated autopsy table.

After all, as well as appearing in the recent Hannah Montana film, he has demonstrated his range in other roles.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If You Hand Them A Script In Person, Don't Write The Name Of The City On The Envelope Lest It's Mistaken For A WW2 Acronym - First Impressions, Etc

In addition to the dates I mentioned last week, the BBC Writersroom Tour has added an extra date, this one in Norwich.

It's on Wednesday 16 September at the Norwich Playhouse, and runs from 5:30pm - 7:00pm. As is usual, the way to get in is to get yourself on the guest list, but it is free, and all you have to do is send an e-mail asking if you can attend.

Full details of the Norwich date, and other forthcoming Writersroom sessions, can be found here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cylons And Sensibility

Priding myself of being ahead of the game in many regards (reading Watchmen as it came out in monthly chunks in the 1980s, listening to Dido's No Angel CD on import before we all got heartily sick of it), I also often try to avoid things when they're atop a wave of publicity, in the hope I can experience them without being distracted by the attendant hype.

Well, anyway, that's my excuse for only recently having watched any of Battlestar Galactica. As recommended by pretty much anyone who likes it, I started with the mini-series (or backdoor pilot, as some people prefer to call it - oh, the cynicism), and I thought it was good stuff. I'm told, though, that the series meanders and rather loses focus a bit in the middle before coming to an unsatisfyingly deus ex machina ending - can anyone tell me if it's worth pursuing?

The thing is, though, that whilst watching it, I didn't feel that I was watching a science-fiction TV programme, but more a drama which happened to be set in space. Oh, sure, the conflict and drama was ultimately rooted in technology and the like, but the main focus is frequently on emotion and interaction, which is why I suspect it's popular - the backdrop may be unfamiliar, but there are people loving and hating and scheming and being heroic in ways that all of us are familiar with. It's probably the reason why Shakespeare's plays are so popular and perennial, despite the changes in society - going even further back, it could well be why Jesus's parables still resonate.

Anyway, it occurred to me that, in a broader sense, stories such as Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek are effectively contemporary dramas but with different sets and costumes; no matter what the setting, the story tends to find a wider audience when it doesn't require an in-depth, in-universe knowledge of made-up interplanetary diplomacy, but instead shows people acting and reacting in ways which we could imagine we might.

So, taking this a thought-step further, it occurred to me that if the most successful SF is that which most resonates with our current emotional and interpersonal states, the same may well be true for fantasy, and indeed costume drama, which, though invariably set in the past, tends to deal with relationships and disputes which we all recognise. One example of a costume drama which went down very well in recent years was Bleak House, which emphasised the drama as much as the costume, and even played to our modern sensibilities by being presented in a format akin to that of a soap opera.

I say all this because it's occurring to me that some story ideas I have could work just as well if I set them in the past or the future; my natural tendency is to set stories in the present day (I said earlier I'm prone to miss trends until they're over - it may well be that I'm a New Puritan a decade late), but I'm now feeling that certain tales might be more effective if set in other eras, be they historical, imaginary or a combination of both.

Mind you, a combination of future and history, or science fiction and costume drama, isn't impossible either; case in point, the forthcoming (and superbly-titled) film Pride and Predator...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

We'll Be Moving Our Anna Karenina Update To The Docklands Light Railway So We Can Shoot The Final Scenes

If you live in the London area and have somehow missed it, just a quick note to alert you to the impending London Underground strike.

Unless something happens in the next couple of hours to avert it, then the entire tube network is going to be pretty much dead from 6.59pm tonight for a period of 48 hours.

In theory, this should mean that tubes will be back up and running from 6.58pm on Thursday, but given how good London Underground are at meeting timetables at the best of times, I wouldn't be expecting to see any trains rolling up to platform edges and opening the doors until Friday morning.

All pretty ho-hum really, but one line in the Transport for London press release on the strike amused me:
"Among other things, the RMT has also demanded ... improved travel facilities"
Yes, RMT, I think a few million other people may have asked for better travel facilities in the London area over the years. Good luck with that request!

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Film Adaptation, I Guess, Will Feature Shirley Bassey Singing The Monty Python Song Finland

People often underestimate the quality of Ian Fleming's writing, and if the reviews for Goldfinger are to be believed, the setting and themes are a bit more involved than you might think as well.

Nuns On The... Er, Gun

Apropos of pretty much nothing, I wanted to share the image to the left - the cover to the original paperback edition of Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman.

I'll freely admit that I've never read the novel (nor seen the film version that came out, though people I know said it wasn't a patch on the book), but I've always felt that it had one of the best, and most intriguing, covers I've ever seen.

Why is the nun so glammed-up? Why is she carrying a dog in one hand, and pointing a gun at the viewer with the other (her left hand, no less)? I genuinely think it's a terrific image, I have to say, and it's a shame that the more recent edition doesn't catch the eye in the same way.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Not To Be Confused With The Beverly Hills 90210 Spin-Off Series Of The Same Name

Sometimes, US comic publishers do things which are designed to gain publicity or mainstream press coverage, and hopefully increase sales.

A recent example would be the way Marvel Comics put President Obama on the cover of an issue of 'Amazing Spider-Man'. Any sales increases from this sort of thing tend to be pretty short-lived, rather akin to the effect of including a free gift with a magazine, but in the current financial climate, I guess publishers are probably willing to accept that.

However, one of the more questionable (if not downright risible) publicity stunts of recent months has been the announcement that the forthcoming Marvel comic Models Inc (pictured) will feature Tim Gunn of the reality TV show Project Runway. I can understand that he's amused at the idea of being drawn into a comic - it's kind of flattering, I guess - but I don't really know how Marvel think that this slightly gimmicky thing will translate into publicity or sales.

The Marvel publicity stuff about it suggests he's going to be in a story involving Iron Man's armour, which for me seems to sum up the problem here; it falls between two stools. Tim Gunn in a story about Iron Man's armour isn't necessarily what fans of Project Runway are interested in seeing, and fans of Iron Man probably don't want to see some chap off a TV show who doesn't have any superpowers (as far as we know) in an Iron Man story . It's neither fish nor fowl, as it were (though as a vegetarian, neither of those possibilities is quite my thing).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against Marvel (or anyone else in comics or any other medium) trying something to reach a new audience, and I'm not anti-Mr Gunn (not that I've ever watched Project Runway, of course, though he's always polite and well-dressed on the show), but I just think this is the kind of publicity trick which someone thought of without then stopping to wonder if it was necessarily going to have any kind of useful effect. Because I can't really see the Gunn/Iron Man crossover story making the headlines which, say, The Death Of Superman did in 1992, or leading to many new readers buying it out of curiosity.

That's not because I think casual readers won't be amused and lured in by the fake-magazine cover aspect of the presentation (though there is a 'variant' cover showing Messrs Gunn and Iron Man), but because I understand that, like the vast majority of US comics nowadays, Models Inc will only be sold in comic shops - what's known as the 'Direct Market'. So the only people who might see the comic are people who'll be in a comic shop anyway, and I'm not too sure how many of them will be enticed by the cover depicted above, or the prospect of seeing a chap off the telly, into buying the comic.

Maybe I'll be proven wrong, and this comic will exploit that valuable Iron Man/Project Runway demographic, but since that's probably about fourteen people, they may not live close enough to comic shops to make this publicity stunt pay off.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

BBC Writersroom Event: CBBC Q&A

Please forgive the acronym-laden heading for this post, but hopefully it'll prove useful; if, like me, you're planning to send something to the CBBC Writing Opportunity I posted about here, you may be interested to hear that the BBC Writersroom are holding a Q&A event with the Steven Andrew, the new head of CBBC Drama.

It's being held in the evening of Monday 15 June, at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Exact time is to be arranged, and you have to send an e-mail to get on the guest list, but it is free to get in, and could prove useful... even if attending does mean a risk that one might realise that the draft script needs a complete and utter re-draft in the light of things which might be said.

Still, worth attending, I'd say, and you can get all the information here.

I'm planning on going - anyone else game for it ?

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Dangers Of Divination By Using The Bookshop's Crime And Thrillers Section

For some indefinable reason, I have the feeling that tomorrow could be a somehow dangerous or otherwise troubling day.

No real reason, just one of those feelings, y'know?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tiananmen Ghost Square Dance

I don't know if you've seen the film iThree Amigos! or not. It's not particularly good - it has its moments, but overall it's a bit obvious and feels somehow self-indulgent. Still, there are far worse things you could see on TV.

My own feelings about iThree Amigos!, though, are rather coloured by the first time I saw it. It was round at a friend's house, where we watched it on video, and as the film ended and we all agreed we thought it was only so-so, one of us pressed STOP, bringing up the default TV channel, which turned out to be a BBC channel.

Onscreen, Kate Adie was speaking over live footage of people being shot in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It was 4 June 1989, twenty years ago to this day, and under orders from the government, the army were shooting protesting students. Any lingering traces of feeling lighthearted or flippant after watching the video dropped away pretty sharply.

The exact number of people killed that night is unknown; some reports have it in the thousands, whereas others suggest that hundreds died. Whatever, it's a matter of historical record that a large number of students died for protesting that night, as a result of an order from their government. Officially speaking, on the other hand... well, it's pretty much as if the events didn't occur.

Which is, to my mind, an intellectual insult to physical injury (and far worse); attempting to erase these events from history, as if the past were an Etch-A-Sketch is just plain daft. And given the evidence that it occurred, pretending it didn't is akin to a government pressing its hands to its ears and singing ner-ner-ner can't hear you. Though that's pretty much the overall attitude to human rights from the ruling party in China, it seems (ask the Tibetan people).

I've written before about my dislike for the habit of 'rewriting events', and I still find it frustrating to this day (mainly because it means a choice of some sort to ignore things which happened in favour of things which didn't happen), but when it manifests on a national scale, it's even more alarming.

Granted, the UK isn't immune to this either - from the way people carry on, you'd think that the nation did nothing but venerate the Princess of Wales constantly before her death, and that nobody at all was fooled at the time by the lies about weapons in Iraq - but it doesn't tend to end up with tanks rolling into the middle of a protest zone and hundreds of teenagers dying of bullet wounds, only to have their blood and their memory wiped away as if it had never been.

This post, along with a lot of other online information, may not be available to Chinese readers, for which I apologise, though in a way I feel it backs up the point made.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

No, I Didn't Say About Writers Being Coarse (For Many, That's A Given)

There's a fairly interesting article-cum-review on the New Yorker magazine's website this week, about the history and nature of creative writing courses in US academic institutions.

The article's essentially a review of a book on the subject, but it's opened and closed by some interesting history of the growth of such courses, and of course a fair amount of discussion of the time-honoured question in relation to creative writing, and indeed one might say writing in almost all its forms: can it be taught?

My personal feelings in relation to this are mixed, and you'll be unsurprised to learn that this is very much a result of my personal history; my grandfather was a very good storyteller, and my parents encouraged me to read from an early age, and so it was that at about the age of 13 or so I found my brain bent out of shape by reading the work of Alan Moore, Harlan Ellison and Dennis Potter, and the growing realisation that you could do pretty much anything with words.

Just by arranging words in a certain order on the page, or saying them aloud, you could elicit reactions, hold people's attention and convey information and more, and this still appeals to me to this very day. It's pretty common for people to say that school wasn't very supportive of what later becomes their passion, but I have to say that my secondary school, whilst sorely lacking in many regards, was never actively un-supportive of me wanting to do creative writing; there were two English teachers who helped me to do the creative writing option which was available to do as an adjunct to the English Literature A-Level, though with the 20-20 vision of hindsight it's clear to me that I should have strayed out of my comfort zone a bit and taken English Language as a subject instead of Literature, even if that meant doing the class at the 'rival' school down the road.

So I started to write things, mainly for my own amusement at first, and then I started submitting scripts to comics (a bit of the reason for that is given in this post), and I guess that was when I started trying to think about writing in a slightly more technical way, as I guess might be taught in classes and courses.

Much of my approach to writing remains kind of instinctive and gut-level, stemming from basic 'what if..?' ideas, but the actual practice of it is a bit more technical now, with conscious decisions about character development, actions being consistent with characters' personalities, and stuff like that. But as these are usually the fancy icing on the instinctive cake, I suppose I have some kind of uncertainty about whether creative writing courses will focus on the creation or delivery of story, which I tend to see as two different (and at times potentially opposing) things.

That said, I think it's entirely possible to sharpen the saw, as it were, and there are many very good books written by popular and successful writers about the business of writing (as well as books written by people who've arguably been less successful as writers, but some of them are very astute on the technicalities of what works and the like, so they shouldn't necessarily be dismissed too speedily). I've read a few of the good ones, and a couple of the bad ones, and in a strange way the latter are still kind of useful in an way, as they make you feel a bit more certain about your approach to things, even if it's only because as you read and disagree with the text you're forced to articulate to yourself just why you don't agree.

As the New Yorker article alludes to, a 'workshop' environment is often used in Creative Writing Courses, and I have to say it's not something I'd feel necessarily comfortable with; people can take courses for a lot of reasons, and have very different beliefs about what a specific assignment is, or should be, trying to achieve, and so you can end up with a document not written by, but instead critiqued by, committee, which is ... well, not necessarily an entirely productive position to be in. And it's a fairly stark contrast to the TV Writers' Room environment, which many writers (myself included) would like to see increase in the UK, even if it's very much a production- and economically-derived situation, for the simple reason that it's a room full of people who are meant to be pulling in the same direction (oh, and the more important reason that it would make writing a less solitary activity).

I have my doubts about the environment, then, and as I don't know exactly what's taught on these courses, I'm rather vague on the content too; the article suggests there's quite a lot of introspective work, perhaps even adherence to the maxim 'write what you know', and having written enough ropey self-absorbed poetry as a teenager (by which I mean a handful of poems, but believe me, that was more than enough), I'm not sure if that's the way to go. But that's probably my ignorance of what's involved manifesting as suspicion.

So, I'd be interested to hear of your experiences of creative writing courses, and assessment of whether, ultimately, they were a good thing for you, and were well-run by people who knew a lot about the nature of storytelling and the like. I'm unsure whether I think they're best for nurturing a nugget of innate writing tendency or not, really (not that it has any material impact on things; I'm not currently proposing to quit work and take a writing course), so input from people with proper experience and knowledge here would be welcome.

In relation to the sprawling narrative above, I was thinking about my one and only experience of attending a writing group. It happened when I was on the dole for a while, and a friend suggested I come along to the writers' group arranged by her partner; I did so, and the way it panned out amused me at the time, though I suspect it'd now turn out quite differently.

After a number of people had read out their pieces, many of which were about emotional traumas or relationship upsets or staring out a train window and wondering what life was all about, I read out my offering, a short tale of a man coming across a book which detailed the events of his life, including events yet to come. It was a slightly fantasy-based piece (and might even qualify as 'magic realism', though that's not a term I have much certainty about), and as such it was greeted initially with a slightly awkward silence, and then with some guarded and uncertain but polite comments, leaving me feeling that I'd rather misjudged my offering (and this muted response may well be why I didn't go to any of the group's meetings ever again).

Imagining this taking place in the very-different present, though, and given the way that fantasy and science fiction are seen as mainstream if not quite cutting-edge in terms of fiction, I suspect that the person who'd be stared at blankly in such a group today would be the one who read out the emo-style poem about their depth and sensitivity, and the way that the world just doesn't understand them.

Mind you, being treated as the pariah would be good fuel for that day's journal entry. Or perhaps even another poem.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Do You Live In Plymouth? You Do? Get Out!

... by which, of course, I mean that you can go out tonight to a roadshow event hosted by the BBC Writersroom. It's rather short notice, I know - which is why I've taken that inappropriate and peremptory tone, to attract your attention - but you may be able to make it.

It is, in fact, one of a number of events which the nice folks at the Writersroom are holding over the next few months - here's a list:

Tuesday 2 June
Plymouth Theatre Royal

Wednesday 17 June
Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

Wednesday 1 July
Liverpool Everyman Theatre (part of Festival)

Friday 3 July
Nottingham Broadway Cinema (part of festival)

As is usual with these events, you need to make sure that you e-mail in advance to get on the list, but they're all free, and in my experience of the bashes they've held here in London, well worth going along if you can.

Full details - including more info on times and the addresses of the venues - can be found here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

They Say Everyone Has One Book In Them...

... although looking at the page count of Kanye West's humbly-titled forthcoming book, it seems he's only got half a book in him; he involved a co-writer.

For a book which totals 52 pages.

Is that even a book? More like a novella, surely. Then again, releasing it in a spiral-bound format will make it look a bit more substantial an item.

Coming in August, order now. It's clearly the perfect Christmas gift!

For people you don't really like that much, I mean.