Friday, December 31, 2010

A Delay, Not A Denial

Just to update you on Persona : there's been a slight delay in the app being approved by Apple (this sentence may hold the blog record for the most uses of the letters 'app'), so the revised start date is currently 15 January 2011.

I will, of course, keep you fully informed.

In the meantime, though, more pictures from Persona - some from Jane's story - are available to view here.

This is likely to be the final post of 2010, so have yourself a cracking start to 2011, and may the year bring you everything you could hope for, and a few surprises (pleasant ones, of course).

If you're out tonight, here's hoping your evening doesn't lead to you looking or feeling like Lucy, the Persona character pictured here.

See you in 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Persona Update: Teaser Trailer Now Available Online

As I mentioned in this post, I'm one of the writers on the smartphone drama Persona, which is coming in January 2011 - and here's the teaser trailer:


It's the first time I've seen anything I've written being performed, and I can't wait to see Jane's storyline brought to life - I'm super-pleased to see Amanda Sterkenburg in the role, as she has exactly the kind of look I was hoping for in the character.

And is it childish that I'm amused that the Youtube 'freeze screen' shows Jane? Very probably... but it's true.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's Christmas Weekend, Right? So This Isn't Really Late...

A very happy holiday to you, my faithful and shockingly patient readers.

Hope you had a good day yesterday, and that any more time you have off between now and the end of 2010 is positively bottom-kicking.

I raise my steaming mug of tea to you, whoever and wherever you are, and wish you the best.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pedantry, Like Achievement, Is Often Its Own Reward

Spotted in the Reference section of WHSmith.

I think this might be an example of irony, but that's a word which has had its meaning diluted to almost homeopathic levels by that Alanis Morrisette song and other misuses, so I hesitate to call it such.

That said, though...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Not So Much A Forgotten Future, More An Overlooked One, I Like To Think


Recently, New Scientist ran a Flash Fiction Writing competition, which invited entrants to speculate about futures which never were, or could have been.

Well, I entered, but as the shortlisted folks have now been contacted and it doesn't appear that I was one of them, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share my entry with you lovely people. Waste not, want not, as they say, and hopefully it'll amuse you...


I Still Dream Of Orgonon

Deciding that Operation Paperclip had been very successful, in the mid-1940s the US government ran another operation collating scientific knowledge, once again targeting foreign nationals resident in the USA.

An admin error put Albert Einstein and Wilhelm Reich in the same group, but the two had met previously, and got on well. They talked about how Reich had fudged his figures last time, and Einstein candidly admitted that he'd pretty much done the same in introducing the cosmological constant, and they laughed, and set to work.

Within a few months, they announced that Reich had been right about Orgone after all, and whilst the UK set up a Health Service, the USA provided tax incentives for the mass manufacture of Orgone Accumulators. By the early 1960s, there was an accumulator in every home, and the average life expectancy had increased by 23 years.

Other countries followed suit; in 1983, the UK used Reich’s cloudbusting technology to improve their weather, and other countries used the same technology to counteract droughts and turn deserts into meadows.

Global population levels, but most notably those in societies with a strong religious influence, stabilised once it became clear that channelling sexual energy served the common good, and in many countries state-funded single-sex boarding schools for teenagers replaced power plants, boosting power reserves and education levels alike.

Einstein and Reich both lived to be centenarians, though tragically neither saw Project Iapyx, and the launch into space in 1999 of the first Orgone-powered spacecraft towards Barnard’s Star.

Iapyx I is expected to report back in 2012.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

She Does, You Know. She Does Kick Me.

Make my friends rich dept:

My old friend Ian, and his bandmates in Katalina Kicks, have just released a new single called 'Me', and it's available to buy via iTunes, for the very reasonable price of 79p.

Not sure if you want to trust my opinion on it, especially as I tend to write about books and writing as opposed to music? Okay, I understand. Here's the video:



What's that? Oh yes, it does rock. Told you so.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Coming Soon To A Phone Near You...

I'm pleased to be able to tell you part of the reason why I've been so absent from blogging recently, and it's legitimate and real and relates to actual writing and everything.

I'm one of the four writers on the daily smartphone drama Persona, which is coming from the lovely folks at App-Media in January 2011. There are three other folks contributing words (Phill, Ronnie, and Adam), and between us we've written the first 'season', which will cover the whole month of January.

It's been genuinely interesting writing my 'slice' of the show (the various strands weave in and out of each other, and new episodes - or, rather Appisodes - will be released on a daily basis. As I understand it, you'll be able to buy the app from the appropriate online place, and then you'll automatically get the new show delivered to you. Sounds a lot like the Cracked Reader for the iPhone which I have, and am very happy with.

As you can see from this set of photos, a rehearsal was held on November 27, though I won't say (or perhaps can't say?) which cast members are involved in the storyline I wrote. But if you want to see the character breakdown, it's here, and those of you who've followed the blog for a while will probably be able to guess which characters are ones I've come up with (clue: look for the usual verbosity)...

Shooting is taking place this week in London, and if you'd like to be an extra, I believe they're still looking for people to do just that. You will, of course, get to feature in a pretty revolutionary bit of drama, but more than that you'll get to meet the nice people involved (I can speak from actual 'IRL' encounters with them, they're lovely), plus you'll receive a credit and get food and travel expenses paid for. If you're available this week in London and interested, the best ways to get in touch with them seem to be either Twitter or Facebook. Tell them I sent you.

Anyway, it's been a genuinely interesting (and hopefully for all involved, productive) time writing the scripts for Season One (or 'January', as it's more commonly known), and I'm looking forward to being involved with Season Two - and, of course, seeing how the cast play the lines I've written. One thing which it's certainly reinforced in my mind is the fact that redrafting is vital for me, and as much as I might like to think it's the case, the first thoughts out of my head onto the page are very rarely the best. Even the brightest jewel, I like to think, needs a bit of polishing to shine (ahem).

I'll tell you more about how to view the show, and where to buy the app, and the like, as soon as I know more. And, of course, if you are an extra, do drop me a line and let me know how it goes, eh?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Canon And Balls

A few years ago, when on holiday in Morocco, I had a stomach upset.

Well, no, that's putting it mildly; on my return to Blighty, it was diagnosed as amoebic dysentery and an infection of the intestine, but what's relevant to this tale (which started charmingly, I think you'll agree) is the fact that it utterly scuppered my holiday and made me have to stay in my hotel room much of the time, visiting the bathroom literally dozens of times per day, and being unable to eat for a couple of days. Over the course of the ten days or so it lasted, I lost a stone and a half (but no, I would not recommend it as an approach to weight loss).

After a week or so of this, I'll cheerfully admit that my mental state was pretty strange; I was dehydrated and lacking in intellectual stimulation (you can only stare at the ceiling for so long before it starts getting boring - for me, about three days is my limit), and the vast majority of my interactions with other people (mainly hotel staff) were being conducted in French, leading to a slightly odd state where my mind was simultaneously translating my thoughts even as I was thinking them. In short, I was not a well chap.

They say that if you don't use it, you lose it, so I decided to stop the mental rot, and do a bit of writing. I started well, coming up with a pretty decent 'Elseworlds' Batman story (that is, a story based in a slightly different version of the Batman set-up), but that was about it for writing, until the wooziness and general illness passed again and I decided to make a deal with the universe.

Yes, you read that correctly. Don't ask me to explain it, just chalk it up to me being profoundly unwell.

So, I made a deal with the universe, which went pretty much like this: if the universe let me live, and get well again, I'd finally get round to reading the key books by all the 'big and important' authors. The ones I'd always pretended to have read, but really I was just bluffing based upon having seen them referred to in other places, or having read the back covers or other synopses. Don't look at me like that, you've done the same sort of thing, whether it was about books, films, music, art or whatever. You don't fool me.

Anyway, I compiled a list of authors, and then against each name, put the most important or famous book they'd written (if you've never made such a list, I recommend it as an intellectual exercise - it'll make you realise just how daunting it is trying to read all the books that are supposed to be classic or important or both). And I made a solemn vow that if I got well again, I'd keep up my end of the bargain.

As you can tell by the fact I'm telling this story in the present day, I didn't get better - I died alone and unmourned in a Morocco hotel room, and my body was shoved into the wardrobe of the room, the better to frighten the next inhabitant of the room. Or, rather: I got better, and returned to Blighty, and there, once I was strang enough to leave the house, and the urge to sleep non-stop, along with the infection, fled my body, I set about buying the books on the list. And then, more importantly, reading them.

I'm not going to name the authors or books involved (well, with one or two minor exceptions; see later), but a lot of the authors were male, a lot of them were reviewed as groundbreaking and important, and a lot of their books were either boring or self-indulgent or pointless or all of the above. Several of the books featured self-absorbed male characters (I won't call them protagonists, for reasons Robert McKee acolytes would understand), wandering from one joyless and cold sexual encounter to another, full of loathing for, and a baseless sense of superiority to, the world around them.

It was hard work reading these books, and whilst with some of them I struggled all the way to the end, it was after about ten such tomes that I developed my reading rule, which I live by to this day, and which I think is worth your considering as well, so I'll put it in bold here and now: If I'm not enjoying a book, I will stop reading it after 100 pages, or one-third of the book's overall length, whichever is the shorter. Obviously, we all define 'not enjoying a book' in differing ways, but I think there are common ways in which the lack of enjoyment manifests: not remembering the character's names, not remembering story details, not caring what's happened or what might happen to the characters, staring into space instead of reading, having to read pages over and over again, looking at the page numbers and figuring out how much further you've got to go... that sort of thing.

I know a lot of people feel that once they've started a book, they have to finish it, and some are even thoughtful enough to say that the author probably worked hard on it, so they feel obliged to do do. I don't feel this way - I think there's an implied agreement that the author will try to hold your interest, and if they fail to do that, you can leave - and anyway, there are so many good books in the world that I'll probably never get round to reading that I really can't afford to spend time on ones I consider to be ... let's say 'not good'.

Interestingly, the male authors tended to be the ones who interested me least, and after feeling things were improving a bit with The Bell Jar, I found that next on my list was To Kill A Mockingbird. And what a relief it was to read: likeable characters, a moral centre to it, a mystery element, courtroom drama, issues of race and prejudice, and an ending which came as a bit of a surprise, despite it being referred to early on (if you've read it, you'll know what - or rather who - I'm referring to). A brilliant book. That's how you do it.

For me, working my way through the list of 'great books' was a bit of a chore, and because of that, a revelation. I remember being told at college* that the 'canon' of good books was heavily influenced by F.R.Leavis (who we all know best from his appearance in the Bridget Jones film), and whether or not this is strictly accurate, I certainly learned that it doesn't always do to take other people's words for it about books.

Bearing in mind that I haven't posted in a while, only to return with what appears to be textual diarrhoea (perhaps appropriately, given the opening paragraphs), I'd like to try and find some message or conclusion to all this, maybe even a lesson or two, so here we go - what I learned:

- If you're unsure about your stomach's resilience, don't have salad in Morocco
- Read books because you want to, not because someone else insists you must (unless you're a student)
- Some classic books may be respected because of the step they made at the time, not how they read now
- The library is your friend (as is Project Gutenberg if you're techno-hip and modern), especially for relation to books you may only read once (if that)
- To Kill A Mockingbird is a fine book, and if you haven't read it, I heartily recommend it.

I hope this has been helpful.

*I was, on the other hand, told this by someone who believed that books were the one and only valid art form (forget about painting, photography, film, or music), so I should perhaps have taken the remark with a kilo or two of sodium chloride. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Canon And Balls

A few years ago, when on holiday in Morocco, I had a stomach upset.

Well, no, that's putting it mildly; on my return to Blighty, it was diagnosed as amoebic dysentery and an infection of the intestine, but what's relevant to this tale (which started charmingly, I think you'll agree) is the fact that it utterly scuppered my holiday and made me have to stay in my hotel room much of the time, visiting the bathroom literally dozens of times per day, and being unable to eat for a couple of days. Over the course of the ten days or so it lasted, I lost a stone and a half (but no, I would not recommend it as an approach to weight loss).

After a week or so of this, I'll cheerfully admit that my mental state was pretty strange; I was dehydrated and lacking in intellectual stimulation (you can only stare at the ceiling for so long before it starts getting boring - for me, about three days is my limit), and the vast majority of my interactions with other people (mainly hotel staff) were being conducted in French, leading to a slightly odd state where my mind was simultaneously translating my thoughts even as I was thinking them. In short, I was not a well chap.

They say that if you don't use it, you lose it, so I decided to stop the mental rot, and do a bit of writing. I started well, coming up with a pretty decent 'Elseworlds' Batman story (that is, a story based in a slightly different version of the Batman set-up), but that was about it for writing, until the wooziness and general illness passed again and I decided to make a deal with the universe.

Yes, you read that correctly. Don't ask me to explain it, just chalk it up to me being profoundly unwell.

So, I made a deal with the universe, which went pretty much like this: if the universe let me live, and get well again, I'd finally get round to reading the key books by all the 'big and important' authors. The ones I'd always pretended to have read, but really I was just bluffing based upon having seen them referred to in other places, or having read the back covers or other synopses. Don't look at me like that, you've done the same sort of thing, whether it was about books, films, music, art or whatever. You don't fool me.

Anyway, I compiled a list of authors, and then against each name, put the most important or famous book they'd written (if you've never made such a list, I recommend it as an intellectual exercise - it'll make you realise just how daunting it is trying to read all the books that are supposed to be classic or important or both). And I made a solemn vow that if I got well again, I'd keep up my end of the bargain.

As you can tell by the fact I'm telling this story in the present day, I didn't get better - I died alone and unmourned in a Morocco hotel room, and my body was shoved into the wardrobe of the room, the better to frighten the next inhabitant of the room. Or, rather: I got better, and returned to Blighty, and there, once I was strang enough to leave the house, and the urge to sleep non-stop, along with the infection, fled my body, I set about buying the books on the list. And then, more importantly, reading them.

I'm not going to name the authors or books involved (well, with one or two minor exceptions; see later), but a lot of the authors were male, a lot of them were reviewed as groundbreaking and important, and a lot of their books were either boring or self-indulgent or pointless or all of the above. Several of the books featured self-absorbed male characters (I won't call them protagonists, for reasons Robert McKee acolytes would understand), wandering from one joyless and cold sexual encounter to another, full of loathing for, and a baseless sense of superiority to, the world around them.

It was hard work reading these books, and whilst with some of them I struggled all the way to the end, it was after about ten such tomes that I developed my reading rule, which I live by to this day, and which I think is worth your considering as well, so I'll put it in bold here and now: If I'm not enjoying a book, I will stop reading it after 100 pages, or one-third of the book's overall length, whichever is the shorter. Obviously, we all define 'not enjoying a book' in differing ways, but I think there are common ways in which the lack of enjoyment manifests: not remembering the character's names, not remembering story details, not caring what's happened or what might happen to the characters, staring into space instead of reading, having to read pages over and over again, looking at the page numbers and figuring out how much further you've got to go... that sort of thing.

I know a lot of people feel that once they've started a book, they have to finish it, and some are even thoughtful enough to say that the author probably worked hard on it, so they feel obliged to do do. I don't feel this way - I think there's an implied agreement that the author will try to hold your interest, and if they fail to do that, you can leave - and anyway, there are so many good books in the world that I'll probably never get round to reading that I really can't afford to spend time on ones I consider to be ... let's say 'not good'.

Interestingly, the male authors tended to be the ones who interested me least, and after feeling things were improving a bit with The Bell Jar, I found that next on my list was To Kill A Mockingbird. And what a relief it was to read: likeable characters, a moral centre to it, a mystery element, courtroom drama, issues of race and prejudice, and an ending which came as a bit of a surprise, despite it being referred to early on (if you've read it, you'll know what - or rather who - I'm referring to). A brilliant book. That's how you do it.

For me, working my way through the list of 'great books' was a bit of a chore, and because of that, a revelation. I remember being told at college* that the 'canon' of good books was heavily influenced by F.R.Leavis (who we all know best from his appearance in the Bridget Jones film), and whether or not this is strictly accurate, I certainly learned that it doesn't always do to take other people's words for it about books.

Bearing in mind that I haven't posted in a while, only to return with what appears to be textual diarrhoea (perhaps appropriately, given the opening paragraphs), I'd like to try and find some message or conclusion to all this, maybe even a lesson or two, so here we go - what I learned:

- If you're unsure about your stomach's resilience, don't have salad in Morocco
- Read books because you want to, not because someone else insists you must (unless you're a student)
- Some classic books may be respected because of the step they made at the time, not how they read now
- The library is your friend (as is Project Gutenberg if you're techno-hip and modern), especially for relation to books you may only read once (if that)
- To Kill A Mockingbird is a fine book, and if you haven't read it, I heartily recommend it.

I hope this has been helpful.

*I was, on the other hand, told this by someone who believed that books were the one and only valid art form (forget about painting, photography, film, or music), so I should perhaps have taken the remark with a kilo or two of sodium chloride. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big Ups To All My Haters, As I Believe The Song Puts It*

Well now. It's been a while, hasn't it? If it provides any kind of justification for my absence, I've recently had a job which took me out of London (and away from easy access to a full-size keyboard), but now I'm back.

And what, you may wonder, have I decided is the best way to re-commence regular blogging activities? Why, tis nothing less than the perennial subjects of love and hate... well, kind of.

Love and hate, we're often told, are two sides of the same coin. Or there's a thin line between them. And so on. Basically, we're often fed the idea that the two of them are very close together - it's simple enough to see why, they're both extremes of feeling or opinion, and particularly in the field of emotion, disappointment and annoyance with someone we've formed an attachment for can easily cause us to become equally vehement in our negativity towards them; in films and TV shows, it's often quite common for characters who spend a long time being antagonistic towards each others to end up smooching, though I have to say that (relaxed licensing hours notwithstanding) I haven't seen that happen quite so frequently in real life.

If we're going to be honest about it - and I think we ought to, as life is often more complicated than simplistic presentations of emotional duality in programmes such as the Jeremy Kyle Show would have us pretend - there's actually a long distance to travel between love and hate, if we're using the words in their strictest sense. I love reading, and it would take quite a lot of negative reading experiences (that is to say, bad books or whatever) before that affection for the activity turned into hate. I'm sure you can think of things which you enjoy immensely - would it really take the equivalent of a coinflip, or a hop over some imaginary line, to make you hate them with equal intensity? I doubt it.

In reality, the line between love and hate, when viewed in three dimensions, manifests as a vast plane, with slight disaffection and indifference and irritation with at various stages between the two extremes. And if love and hate are sides of a coin, we should be honest enough to admit that it's actually more of a cylinder than a coin, with enough stages and distance from one side to the other as to make the particle acceleration corridors at CERN look like a cupboard for the electricity meter.

I increasingly feel that there's a problem with people presenting arguments or opinions in a way that suggests you either love something or you hate it; you're either a fan or a hater. And whilst we've often seen this used to simplify political debates - in 2002, a popular simplification was to suggest that any doubts about military action in Iraq equated with approval for the regime of Saddam Hussein - it also seems to be used increasingly in relation to more everyday issues.

Let's take an issue which, in and of itself, doesn't really matter, but which is often portrayed as some kind of ideological battle; the question of whether Apple products are better than PCs. To read a lot of review columns, or to hear people talk, you'd think that one was vastly superior to the other, and that using the opposition's products is the action of a seriously ill-informed person, whose brand allegiance (in whichever direction) is akin to that of a brainwashed dupe. The reality, of course, is a lot more nuanced - let's be honest, both have their merits (Apple's stuff is visually appealing, reportedly more stable [the iPhone 4 signal problems and iOS's tendency to eat battery life could be argued to have undermined this in recent times, though], and generally held to be technically superior; PCs are cheaper, and used in more workplaces and so more familiar) and their flaws. But the problem is, nowadays, you'd think that people either have an Apple or Microsoft logo tattooed on their heart, and this means that the discussions tend to be polarised - and this simplification means that facts get overlooked - such as the fact that Microsoft helped Apple financially in the 1990s by giving them $150m to bundle Internet Explorer with new Macs as the default browser; so, that big hatred and fighting between them you read about in the press? Probably more like business rivalry, but of course that's not so interesting, and it's more fun to portray their customers as engaged in some teeth-baring hatred.

The major problem I have with this situation is the way it reduces everything to a non-discussion, and removes any possibility of people conceding that their so-called opponent has a point (watch the way politicians will invariably try to ignore facts or events in debates, even if empirically and provably true, which don't make their argument look entirely true, as opposed to the best-guess opinion it really is). It means you can't point at flaws in anything without being labelled a 'hater' or 'anti', even if you're only trying to say that something has weaknesses in certain areas (cases in point: Lady Gaga is really not as stunningly original as many people insist, and Steig Larsson writes a lot of exposition).

As I've mentioned with tiresome regularity on the blog, my favourite TV programme of all time is Twin Peaks (it is my equivalent of Mark Kermode's love for The Exorcist), but I'll cheerfully admit that it's got flaws (the second season loses its way, certain storylines are just risible, and it's painfully clear at certain points that they're just making it up as they go along). As long as the catalogue of weaknesses in something doesn't overwhelm the things we like in it, then there doesn't seem to be any problem in liking it, but there's equally no problem in admitting it's not perfect - very few things are unimprovable (despite what the most vocal supporters might say).

Am I asking too much? Is it really now the case that you're either a rabid fan of something or a hater? I'd like to think not, and I'd also like to think that it'd be possible to see discussion of topics (and by 'see' I mean 'encounter', though if televised debates - on whatever topic - would like to actually show people admitting the strengths in their opponents' arguments and the weaknesses in their own, I'd welcome that) which actually reflect that there are many waystations between the positions of support or loathing for something, whether it be a political stance or a work of art or a brand of cola or whatever. Much of the time, opinions on things fall into the median, grey band of 'meh', and it feels to me that pretending that you have to pick a position at one end of the spectrum and fight it doggedly with closed ears and mind is oversimplifying, and doesn't actually enable a proper discussion to take place.

Although - ahem - I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that I'm not so convinced of this that I don't welcome discussion of it. That would be hypocrisy, and of course the Post Comment button exists for your input (and not just about Apple, Gaga or Larsson, ideally)...

*That would be the number "They Know", by Shawty Lo Featuring Ludacris, I believe. Not really a fan, but it seemed appropriate to refer to it, by way of illustrating that merit may lurk where we don't expect it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Am Not Dead

... and nor is this blog, I assure you.

So, apologies to regular readers for the hiatus in updates - consider this, if you will, my summer holiday - and there will be a return to regular blogging soon.

After all, if I didn't post my idiotic and fleeting notions here, they'd just be lost to time and memory, and that simply would not do.

Thanks to those of you who've been so sweet as to send me a message asking if I'm okay - I assure you I most definitely am - it's just proving difficult to find time to blog in recent weeks. But that may change soon, and who knows what nonsensical thought-posting, its hour come round at last, slouches out of bedlam to be typed? BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Like Ted Striker In Airplane! All Over Again

The instructions from a box of Optrex, but I can't help thinking it looks more like a deliberately mischievous series of diagrams telling a new drinker what to do with vodka shots...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Yes, I Know: The Only Frequent Thing About This Blog Is This Kind Of Posting

A Buffy image, from the best part of a decade ago, and the cover of a vampire book which I saw on the shelves just today.

Hmm.



Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Should Really Get Someone Else To Help Lace Up, Like That Bit In Titanic

The book was released a month or two ago, and the film's just come out.

So, if you're a fan of fiction involving people wearing tightly-fastened masks, it's a good time for you.

And you might want to chat to a medical professional about that. There's a lot of interesting other stuff out there.



Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Have No Mic, And I Must Speak

Back in the 1980s, my family went to stay with some relatives for New Year's Eve. I don't remember much of the festivities itself, but one thing I do remember - for reasons that will become clear - is that nearby, about five minutes walk away in fact, was a comic shop.

Now, I'd been reading comics for a while, but my 'local' shop in Sheffield wasn't very local at all - it was a couple of bus rides away, and of course that kind of travel ate into the potential spending money (this was after Sheffield's insanely cheap bus fares had been abolished - boo! A flat fare of 2p was a fab thing to a cash-starved kid), so I tended to walk there with my friend Simon. Which took about an hour there and an hour back, so you can see why a shorter walk was so appealing.

This comic shop - I don't think it's there any more - had a pretty decent selection of recent comics, and also, as was often the case back then, also sold a lot of paperbacks (mainly SF, fantasy and horror), which you could then sell back to them for half the price in credit. So, being a bookish child and having a bit of Christmas money, I bought myself a book and a comic: All The Sounds Of Fear by Harlan Ellison, and the Warrior Summer Special (both pictured). Small pressies to myself, as it were.

I think I can, without fear of exaggeration, state that it was the greatest couple of pounds I ever spent, and that the combined effect of the two did strange things to my brain for which I will always be grateful.

The Warrior comic featured some stories by Alan Moore, whose work I was already starting to look out for (from the cover-date of that comic, I guess I was something like 12, and was just learning that certain names recurred on the credits of things I liked), and other writers as well, all of which made it a pretty heady brew, and then when I started to read the Ellison, my noggin was permanently bent out of shape.

If you've never read anything by Harlan Ellison... well, obviously, I think you should, but there's a fair chance you don't recognise the name, especially in the UK; this is pretty odd really, given that he is one of the most-recognised writers ever, but he tends to fly under the radar for a lot of people. Still, have you seen that original Star Trek episode with Joan Collins in? He wrote the screenplay for that? Seen The Terminator? Yeah, he provided (ahem) 'inspiration' for that. What about Babylon 5? He consulted on that, and the new version of The Twilight Zone and heaps of other stuff - and that's just his filmed work, his short stories are allegedly among the most reprinted in the English Language. So yes, I think you should read his stuff - it often has futurist backdrops, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's science fiction. Cos it isn't.

Anyway, I read the collection of stories in All The Sounds Of Fear, and whatever else that new year brought, it certainly opened with me having a new and strange outlook on just what the written word, when combined with imagination, could do. It's probably very much one of the reasons that I started writing - not because I sought to emulate his work, or anything so straightforward, but rather because it suggested there was a place in the world for writing down the more spiky and awkward of ideas, if you could do it. And that's why I cite him as my favourite writer, when asked - it sounds wilfully obscure to most people, but I like to think it's actually the truth.

Jump forward many years (past 1986, incidentally, when The Singing Detective made me realise just how unlimited the medium of TV could be), to last Friday night, on London's Southbank; it was raining, and England were playing a World Cup match, and that's why there was a limited turnout at the screening of Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a film about Harlan Ellison.

There were probably about 30 of us, plus screenwriter and friend of Harlan Ellison James Moran and the film's director, Erik Nelson, but the limited numbers weren't any kind of damper on the event - the film was funny and smart and showed HE in what looks like a fairly balanced light. Yes, there were scenes where he was a bit short-tempered, but there were others where he spoke about writing and literature with a passion, and when he read sections from his stories the talent was painfully evident. So yes, it was a good film.

Afterwards, Messrs Moran and Nelson asked the audience to come nearer the front, as they were going to do a link-up to LA, where they'd ask Harlan some questions. I moved down as requested, and indeed got a front-row seat, which I was pretty pleased about. They linked up okay, and asked him a few questions, and then they asked if anyone in the audience had any questions. There was a pause, and then I realised that my hand was up, and they were nodding towards me.

I'll freely admit I was quite nervous about asking my question, not because I was speaking in front of a small crowd (as anyone who knows me will be aware, I'm a hopeless attention-seeker), but rather because this was probably likely to be my only actual interaction with Harlan Ellison, whose work I've enjoyed for over a quarter of a century. If there's anyone whose work you admire, imagine how you'd feel in a similar situation. Yep, there you go, now you get it.

Anyway, with both the film and my own personal 'history with HE' (recounted above at length - and you probably just thought it was the usual self-indulgent rambling, but hopefully now it reveals itself as the vital backstory it was intended to be) in mind, I asked my question, which came out in a slightly gabbled and nervous way, and sounded something like this:

"We see you in the film speaking to college students, and a couple of people in the film say that your work should be taught in schools - what, do you think, would be the ideal age for people to first read your work? When would you most want to get hold of their fragile minds? Teenagers? Ten? Eight? One?"

As those of you who can read will probably note, this is actually a series of questions, mainly because I was gabbling to fill the gap caused by the satellite delay, and I didn't actually have a microphone, so it was a bit uncertain to me whether Harlan could actually hear any of what I was saying. But he'd heard some of it, it seems, because he asked "Was that a question, or a diatribe?"

Erik then summarised the question, and Harlan answered it, giving a solid and considered answer - but then again, I probably would say that, as he seemed to suggest that the age of 14 or so was about right, thus making me ahead of my time as a child - and I was suitably pleased, on a number of levels.

And as the second - and only other - question was about the long-delayed third volume of Dangerous Visions, which is decades past its due date, and HE tends to get a bit fed up with being asked about (and showed as much on this occasion), I think that I probably did all right, all things considered.

Apologies for length here, but I was really rather chuffed about it, and wanted to record the event in what, I guess, is probably the closest thing I have to a diary. Given that I've met Alan Moore a couple of times, and that Dennis Potter has been dead for a number of years, I guess I've completed my interaction with the people whose work remoulded my thinking in the 1980s, which feels oddly satisfying.

One final point: if you want to see a terrific example of HE's writing, read the short story I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, from which the title of this post derives. The title's remarkable enough, but the story itself... well, to say "it lingers in the mind" is several kinds of understatement.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Future And Past: The Name May Be Its Future Chart Position (1), And The Form In Which It Would Have Been Sold Until A Few Years Ago (45)... Perhaps.

Longtime blog readers with appallingly long memories will recall that a friend of mine Ian is a singer by trade, and lookylook, his band's video is available to view online (ignore the fact that the frozen image below appears to show him doing an impression of the Joker, he's actually a very presentable chap):



That's rather good, innit? The single's out on 5 July, and will be available from iTunes and other places like that. If you like it, please buy it. And even if you don't like it, please buy it just to please me, for my wrath is great and far-reaching and painful for those who displease me.

As the aforementioned longterm readers will also be well aware of.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

And That Explains Why Lol Creme (Of Godley and Creme) Never Signs His Text Messages

So, as Mrs S and I returned to the car after a bit of shopping the other day, a chap came up to me in the car park.

"I'd like to congratulate you on your parking."
"Sorry?"
"You scratched my car," he said, and gestured to a car which, I then realised, had been parked next to ours, but which was now slightly further away.
"Well, I'm sorry if I did, but I didn-"
"Just be more careful in future, all right?" he said, and then went away pretty quickly (leaving me to wonder if he was telling the entire truth about the alleged damage).

As Mrs Wife pointed out, it hardly seemed worth sticking around to make the point, and I also had doubts about the claim of damage (it had been close, yes, but when I'd got out of the car, my door had only touched that rubber strip thing which most modern cars have along their sides - for just that reason). But it also made me think about something which is relevant to writing, and certainly to life in general: the need to express yourself clearly.

I'd been thrown off by his opening gambit because it just hadn't made any sense to me, coming as it did from a rather obtuse angle and then suddenly switching to the main point. I mean, I know full well that a great way to throw an argument a bit off track is to shift from discussing the opinions at the heart of it to the method of discussion ("look, you don't have to shout, all right?" etc), but if you're trying to make a point to someone in the first place I think it's probably key to express that pretty clearly.

I think we've probably all had experience of disagreements which begin with you being wrong-footed by a bewildering opening - something like "I think you've got something to tell me, don't you?" - which kind of leaves you feeling a few minutes behind as you try to catch up and figure out what you're supposed to be discussing, or what you've allegedly done; I guess that's partly due to the fact that the person initiating the (ahem) discussion has had more time to mull it over in their mind and try to figure out the sharpest and snarkiest angle of attack - which lets you know that they're not happy, though not necessarily what they're not happy about. Which probably isn't the ideal way to communicate.

In a similar fashion, I often find myself slightly bewildered by slang and text-speak and the like, which is obviously a sign that I'm an old fart, but I think that sometimes it almost seems like the point of the slang is less about getting your point over, and more to be seen to be using zOMG, LOL, dat, 2day, and the like. In this situation, I guess the medium, or at least the method of communication, becomes the message.

You see slang and invented languages used a fair amount of fiction, too; A Clockwork Orange is a pretty good example, though if memory serves that gradually adds more and more of the invented lingo until you suddenly realise, towards the end of the book, that most of it is in Nadsat. Quite a lot of books written in not-quite English (or at least, not quite English as we know it today) are off-putting to the reader, and are often reviewed with comments to the effect that 'persevering pays off', though I think there may be an argument to be made that in the opening stages of a book, care should be taken not to alienate the reader; it's a case of setting out your stall or being on your best behaviour in the early stages of a relationship, to my mind, though of course you don't want to make your beginning so smooth and easy that it misleads about what's to follow (whilst I haven't read beyond the first Harry Potter book, I gather that the series gets darker as time goes on, and deals with far less innocent stuff), or so cautiously tailored to avoid alienating anyone that it ends up appealing to no-one.

I guess the point of all this rumination is that there's some truth to the idea (which I'm not claiming to have originated) that the quality of your communication is the degree to which it's understood; if you want to be understood clearly, so that you can proceed (with your story or argument or whatever), I guess the key thing is to rein in any tendency to elaborate or approach from a clever angle, and just to get to the heart of the matter as directly as possible.

I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's advice about writing, which I think applies: "Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

...Which also goes to explain why so many of my blog posts are published as written. Hmm.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Abnormal Service Will Be Resumed Soon

Apologies for the lack of updates in the last few days, I'm hurrying to get an entry together for this - why not have a go yourself, if you're not already doing so?

Anyway, back soon - in the meantime, nano-blogging takes place on my Twitter account, if you're that keen on seeing what's inside my head at random stages during the day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Okay, You Two, Level With Me - Are You A Couple, Or Not? Yes Or No? What Is Your Situation, Eh?

Tch, I should have known better than to try to get a straight answer out of a book-TV pairing.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Wow, Have You See Who's In This Film?

I can't wait for this film to come out!

I love the work of Bruce Tracy and Willis Morgan!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Am I Telling You About A Writing Opportunity, Or Just Finding A Way To Justify Using This Picture, Which I Find Aesthetically Pleasing?

The answer is, of course, both.

Anyway, instead of biting your nails with anticipation for the shortlist for the Alibi Crime Writing Competition (you did enter, right?), why not put your fingers to more productive (or, at least, creative) use by entering the Perfectly Formed Short Story Competition, being run by Waterstones, Pan Macmillan and the Arvon Foundation.

Stories can be in any genre as long as they're under 2000 words, though (the opposite to the BBC writing Academy) if you've had fiction professionally published you're not allowed to enter.

The prizes seem pretty good - the winning story'll be published in a forthcoming issue of Books Quarterly, Waterstones's promotional magazine, and you get to go to a lunch with some folks from Pan Macmillan and on a week-long Arvon course (all about writing and the like), as well as winning some Pan Macmillan books. There are a couple of runner-up prizes too.

So, worth a go - nice short wordcount, and with online entry, you don't even have to buy a stamp.

Full details at the link above, or, if you can't be bothered to sweep your mouse up the page a bit, then here it is again, lazybones: tch, you appal me.

EDITED TO ADD: Oops, forgot to say, the closing date is 1 July. I appal me.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Used To Work With Someone Whose Parents Wouldn't Let Her Watch Magpie When She Was Young On The Grounds That It Was 'Common'...

... but looking at this LP from one of the presenters, I think that they were probably just trying to shield her from the wanton perversion simmering below the surface of a seemingly innocent children's TV programme.

Shocking, it is. I'd write to my MP if I was confident he could read.

Hands away from the swimsuit area please, Mr Robertson.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Got A Book About How To Break Away From The 9-5? Need To Design A Cover For It?



Stick some text at the top, a silhouette of someone reclining in a palm-tree supported hammock (make sure they have one leg crooked), and you're done.

Take the rest of the day off. Again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Got A Film With The Word 'Boy' In The Title? Need To Do Some Marketing For It?

Blue background, title in big yellow letters, and your lead character front and centre.

Job done, take the rest of the day off.



Friday, May 07, 2010

A Historic Occasion, Indeed

That's right, yesterday was the first UK General Election since I started this blog.

Anyway, despite the fact it's still all rather up in the air, thought I'd share a few stray thoughts about it, in no particular order:

  • Nick Griffin of the BNP didn't win the seat he stood for, despite vigorous campaigning over the last year or so, including appearing on BBC's Question Time. In fact, the BNP share of the vote was down from the last election, which leads me to conclude that the BNP might have been better off campaigning less, as it seems the more people see them, the less support they have. Certainly suggests that they shouldn't be censored or banned in case it leads to a huge increase in their support.
  • During the campaign, a lot of play was made both in the press and online about David Cameron's background, calling him a toff etc. There's certainly a point lurking under the personal attacks - that he may not be able to relate to other sections of society, etc - but I'd imagine it would be unacceptable to suggest a candidate from, say, a very poor background would be unsuitable for office? Inverted snobbery is, let's not forget, still a form of snobbery.
  • It almost feels a bit like 1992, when the polls were fairly far off the mark; in the same way that 1992 voters seemed to say they were going to vote Labour and then get into the polling booth and vote Conservative, a lot of voters said they were going to vote Lib Dem and then didn't do it when that X needed to be made.
  • Increased coverage of the actual mechanics of the UK voting system, which I think is an interesting angle: questions about voting reform and the flaws of the current or proposed other systems, and even, on the day, concerns about voters being unjustly turned away from their polling stations. Good to see the system not just being accepted 'because it's there'.
  • Distinct lack of canvassing in my constituency, really - leaflets from Labour and the Lib Dems, nothing from any of the independents, and not a single ring on the doorbell to ask about our voting intentions. It's probably my cynicism about these things, but I like to feel wooed a bit, made to feel special.
  • Thought the BBC coverage was pretty good, and the ITV stuff I saw seemed very hesitant and uncertain (with a lot fewer people; seemed the BBC had thrown all its recognisable news staff at the evening). I was fading at around 1am, I don't know how Paxman and Dimbleby managed it. Does the BBC News department endorse polyphasic sleep or something?
  • Finally, and let's put any kind of partisanship to one side and face it: none of the parties should try to claim this election shows a ringing endorsement of them or their policies, or any kind of mandate. Thankfully, none of them have done so.
    • Anyway, we do live in interesting times...

      Tuesday, May 04, 2010

      I Am Now Max Clifford

      One of the problems facing writers is their anonymity; the old joke in Hollywood used to be that an airhead actress was so keen to further her career that she slept with the screenwriter.

      And in a way, it remains that way to this day; for every Jo Rowling or Stephen King that you might recognise, there are a hundred writers who you wouldn't recognise if you tripped over them in the street (where, I guess, they'd be lying due to the writerly tendency to seek solace in the bottle, but that's a subject for another time).

      And of course there are the Salingers of this world who actively avoid publicity and camera lenses - fine for writers, but not the sort of thing you can really do if you want to be an actor or member of a band (The Residents and The Art Of Noise have dedicated, but let's face it limited, fanbases).

      It's an inevitable consequence of being the one who puts the words into the heads or mouths of other people, of course, but in an increasingly personality-driven age, where celebrity (of no matter how nanoscopic a level) is the great leg-up to success, what can a writer do to increase their chances? What, what, what?

      I'm glad you asked that question. I've been thinking about this a lot, and in fact I spent the whole of last night looking through my collection of Grazia and love it magazines, and I think I've figured out two of the best ways to get famous quick. They seem to work across a whole bunch of forms of entertainment, so I don't see any good reason why they shouldn't help writers (then again, I am an idiot).

      Anyway.

      1) Have a tragic story to tell

      Maybe it's schadenfreude, or maybe it's schwarzwalder kirschtorte, but people love to hear tales of terrible tragedy. If your parents kept you in a sack in a box in the cellar even though they lived in a bungalow, then you shouldn't shy away from writing or talking about it.

      In all honesty, even if you didn't have a tough childhood, you shouldn't be afraid to make it up like James Frey did. Once you've sold millions of books, you might have to apologise, but by then you've banked the money, and apologising on the Oprah show is all the more bearable when you can go home to your gold-plated mansion in the Caribbean.

      Be careful not to go too far, though; whilst we all know that the audience for tragic memoirs is always keen to hear more tales of childhood neglect and abuse, know the limits: claiming to have beaten to death by a cruel step-parent might make your offering of a manuscript hard to swallow, as might getting too far into the world of make-believe; only the most gullible of publishers would stick 'Non-Fiction' on the back of the cover of your memoir of how you suffered in Narnia under the Snow Queen, or how your home in Helm's Deep was affected by a nearby battle.

      2) Claim there was chemistry between you

      This is an old showbiz trick, often used in films - if the film isn't getting very good reviews, a few well-placed leaks about some on-set shenanigans between the leads can help increase press coverage. Obviously, this is rather dependent on the film - Two Weeks [sic] Notice and, more recently, The Bounty Hunter saved a lot of money they'd have had to spend on marketing by pretending the leads had "more than just on-screen chemistry, know what I mean, nudge nudge", but it's less believable when stated of the cast of Monsters Inc, and so blindingly obvious as to not even be worthy of claiming about the cast of Suburban Shagfest 3 - Spank You Very Much.

      However, to do this you'll need to have someone to claim to have chemistry with. This is fine if you're married co-writers like Nicci French, very wrong if you write with a family member like PJ Tracy, but as most writers work alone, to avoid accusations of being in love with yourself (an allegation often levelled at more solipsistic writers, who tend to be at the literary end of the scale, or bloggers), it's best to find someone else in the process to pretend to have been having an affair with.

      For many writers, this will have to be an agent or editor, though this of course means you have to have been accepted (and not in that way) by them prior to this stage; it's not likely to help your submission very much if the query letter has a PS saying "if you take me on I will do things which are illegal in several EU countries" unless you're very confident both of your manuscript and of your own attractiveness, regardless of whoever opens the submission. And you'd probably need to send a picture to prove your point. A nice one, tastefully lit. With the top button undone, just to make sure. Yeah, you look good like that. Oh yeah baby, you know what I like. Uh-huh.

      Um, seem to have strayed from the point a bit there, but if you're going to go down the chemistry route (either real or faked), it's probably best if you, or the person you're working with, is a known quantity to the world at large. In most writing instances, that's not likely, and even if it is the case, it may not work - Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, but if she saw it as a way to get a foot in the door of writing plays, it doesn't seem to have worked.

      Anyway, those are my two theories, and if you give either of them a go, do let me know how you get on. You might think I've made a mistake by telling you how to do it, but I've already started to use these approaches as a leg-up into being published, and am hanging round literary agents' offices with my shirt unbuttoned down to the waist. And if that doesn't work, I plan to write a misery memoir about my traumatic years spent trying to make it as a writer.

      All the bases covered there, I like to think.

      Sunday, May 02, 2010

      Up Above The Streets And Houses

      Despite the usual Bank Holiday weather, this morning Mrs Wife and I went for a brief helicopter flight along the Thames. Here, by way of proof, are pictures from mere hours ago...



      The Excel Centre in East London. I think you can see the queues for the next series of The X-Factor at the right of the building (seriously - they're holding auditions there this weekend).



      The Tower of London, with Tower Bridge in the bottom right corner (with the skid of the helicopter)



      The mother of Parliaments was the turn-around point for our trip, so it necessitated the mother of all steep turns. No, it wasn't just me being all artsy with the framing of the shot, this is how it was.



      And heading back out towards East London, and Soanes Towers, we see the Dome and Canary Wharf. Not everyone's cup of tea architecturally, either of them, I know, but to me being this close to them says one thing: I'm almost home.

      On which note, I shall get back to enjoying the Bank Holiday Sunshine, which is currently dripping down the windows. Hope you're enjoying this Now With 50% Free weekend.

      Tuesday, April 27, 2010

      I'm Still Alive!

      (Which, coincidentally, were the words I texted to friends and family late on Saturday afternoon.)

      By way of proving that the claim to be a 'mountain-climber' in my profile on the right of this page is true, and also explaining the lack of posting here on't blog in the last few days, I respectfully offer the following:

      That, m'loves, is me at the summit of Ben Nevis on Saturday. So that's the highest mountain in the UK ticked off my 'to do' list.

      Not sure what chunk of earth will be next, but the freshness of the air and the scenery has reminded me just how much I enjoy the mountains, so there will be another. Oh yes.

      Monday, April 19, 2010

      Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society Use Unwitting Kidnap Victim In Their Advertising?

      Unless the design of her car is staggeringly modern, I have to respond :"No, sorry, you really aren't..."

      Thursday, April 15, 2010

      Learn From My (Almost) Mistakes

      So, on Tuesday night, the external hard-drive thingy attached to my computer died. It's a cute little thing, about the size of a passport and about 300Gb, and thus the ideal place for me to store all my music and video files and the like (not to mention my writing).

      But the computer suddenly stopped acknowledging the drive even existed, and so iTunes and other programmes were looking for information that wasn't there. Yeek.

      The fortunate timing for me was that this drive-death had happened within hours of me backing everything up onto another, bigger drive, so after buying another portable drive I was able to get things pretty much back to where they'd been. Okay, time and a bit of money wasted, but a small price to pay in comparison with losing all my tunes and videos. As the Young Ones put it, "Phew! That was close!"

      Anyway, I'm telling you this not just because I treat this blog like some kind of online confessional/notebook, but also because the moral of my tale is one which has been said many times before, by better folks than I, time and time again: back up your stuff.

      They often say you never know when a drive's going to die, but the chances are that it'll be when it's least convenient for you (not in my case, but I've always been a freak), so save your stories, assignments or whatnot in a good location, and then save them again somewhere else.

      If you've got a Mac, there's the Time Machine software; if you're signed up to Windows Live, you can use their 'Skydrive' facility to stash stuff online, or there are other services such as Dropbox which offer free online storage and access (and if you use that link, we both get an extra 250Mb free space), or you could just use plug-in external HDs or memory sticks or whatever you prefer.

      But I strongly urge you to back stuff up, and get a routine going to do so, so that you can avoid the possibility that, as mine did the other night, your stomach suddenly goes cold as you realise that you may have lost all your funky music and draft writing...

      Monday, April 12, 2010

      BBC Writers Academy - 2010 Applications Invited

      If you're interested in writing for TV, chances are you've already heard about this, but if not...

      The BBC Writers Academy application process for this year opens today, and if you get one of the (up to) eight places, you'll get a pretty cracking grounding in writing for TV, particularly Continuing Drama (which covers programmes such as EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty).

      You need to have a drama credit - and that means a paid commission for stage, screen or radio - and to submit a sample script as well as the application form etc, by 5 May 2010. There are, as I say, only a handful of places, but it's a terrific opportunity to learn about writing in a professional environment, and that certainly can't hurt.

      Full details are available here, and there's a transcipt of the recent BBC Continuing Drama Q&A session here - wherein I spot that an online drama credit, as long as you've been paid by someone else for it, also makes you eligible to apply. Groovy.

      Anyway, as I'm not yet in possession of a drama credit, I can't apply, but if you are and you do, please let me know how you get on, eh ?

      Thursday, April 08, 2010

      What A Difference A Hyphen Makes

      For some years since the character came into the public domain, the world of literature has seen a number of books featuring Dracula, such as this one from 1997:

      As you may have read, last year the Stoker estate authorised a sequel, co-written by Abraham's great grand nephew Dacre.

      Strange, then, the choice of title for it...

      Ah well.

      Wednesday, April 07, 2010

      You Know, Aside From In Comedies Or Repeats, I Don't Think I've Seen Flashbacks Signified By That Wibbly-Wobbly Screen Effect In Quite Some Time

      Crikey, a few days between posts there. Anyway, hope you had a good Easter Break.

      So, I've been thinking about flashbacks; mainly because the novel I'm currently writing - at a glacial pace - features two 'strands' of narrative, one of which is a flashback for the main story, providing background detail for it.

      I was watching the TV series Jekyll the other day, and - as is often the case with his work - the writer Steven Moffat does some interesting things with the structure, flashing back to scenes (either familiar or unseen) to provide information about the current story. In one of the episodes, a tough-looking military chap is introduced, and then we have several minutes of montage-style flashbacks showing him being tough in various situations before he engages with the main character. It works pretty well, but in the hands of a lesser writer (like me), it could just be a way to introduce a character or plot element and retro-fit them into the story to plug a gap; the good guy's cornered by a horde of hooligans, but then we see a flashback of him picking up a taser as he leaves home, and so he deus ex machina-s his way out of the predicament.

      There's a problem for me with the film Kill Bill Part 2 as a result of this (and after this parenthesis, there be spoilers); in the second film we see a sequence where The Bride is being trained in certain techniques, and then we see her using them a little later in the film; all fairly normal, but of course this is the second of two films, and if Tarantino wanted us to 'almost forget' that she'd learned the wood-breaking technique or whatever and then go 'ah, right, of course' when she uses it, I'd imagine he would have buried (pun intended for those of you who know what I'm on about) that sequence in the first film so you would have nearly forgotten it. I'd imagine that if the film had been released in one chunk then that sequence would have been earlier in the running order, though that's just my guess.

      On the other hand, if you release a film and there's a period of time before the completion of the story, it means keen fans may see it more than once and spot scenes which are possibly setting up pay-offs in later instalments (cf the hoverboard in the Back To The Future films), but you don't necessarily want the audience to spot that something is clearly setting up a later event. It's a fine thing to balance - some stories can be sufficiently involving that you forget the key plot element (I'd nominate the boiler plot point in The Shining), or there can be so much going on - such as many possible suspects in a murder mystery - that you're not sure which clues are relevant or not. On the other hand, flashbacks can suddenly appear and inform the current situation with such plodding obviousness as to remove the suspense or mystery from the story.

      I remember a chap I worked with who said he didn't like the flashbacks which started to appear in the second series of The West Wing, because he felt that it showed they'd run out of story, and were resorting to making up stuff that had happened before the show started; I didn't think that was the case, but I know what he means - it's a fairly frequent occurrence in film sequels or long-running TV series for one of the main characters to suddenly encounter an ex-wife or mentor or adversary, and depending on how it's handled it can add a bit of depth to the characters, or just look like they're bolting something on to the existing setup in the hope it works.

      As is so often the case when I'm talking about the specifics of writing, I don't have any kind of definitive conclusion on this, but it's certainly something I'm mindful of at the moment, when writing and or reading and when watching TV or films alike; flashbacks, at best, should contribute something to the characterisation or plot, but at the same time they're best when they don't scream 'look at me, I'm important!'. Better, I think, that the flashes should are discreet; my aim in my novel is for them to intertwine with the 'present day' events like a background harmony (appropriately enough, the example which comes to my mind is the 'Frere Jacques' bit in The Beatles' Paperback Writer), but as with most things I'm involved in the creation of, I'll probably be the least qualified to judge whether I've been successful or not.

      Still, one of the benefits of writing a self-contained story is that I can go back and insert things to make it look as if I knew what I was doing all along, and not just making it up as I went along; that's what all the drafts after the first draft are for, really.

      Or, if I can't be bothered to do that, I'll point to this blog post and say see, I did think about the flashbacks, even if I didn't really make them work.

      Thursday, April 01, 2010

      Les Poissons D'Avril

      Given the date, I can't really post anything you'll believe, can I ?

      That being the case, here's a picture of a (not unconnected) fish.

      Tuesday, March 30, 2010

      Basically, I'm Saying "Don't Worry, Daddy Still Loves You Just As Much"

      In an example of my usual skill at being ahead of the curve, I've just started to tinker on Twitter (as promised last year, I gave it some time, to see if it was just a pash in the flan) - you can see me here.

      Not entirely sure if it'll prove to be a lasting thing, though I'm finding it quite diverting so far.

      Anyway, I'll still be blogging - and don't worry, there are actual content-rich posts in the pipeline, not just 'ooh, doesn't that look a bit like that?' ones - so this is not any kind of farewell. You don't get rid of me that easily.

      That said, I still think I'd have to sustain some kind of head injury before I'd consider signing up to Facebook.

      Sunday, March 28, 2010

      I Think I'll Get Some Pick N Mix Too

      Obviously, it's subliminal advertising - you know they make more money from selling snacks than from sales of cinema tickets?


      Wednesday, March 24, 2010

      Two Comic Covers From 1984

      Normally, I'd suggest plagiarism, but these were both drawn by the same chap (Brian Bolland), so I'll just chalk it up to a similar approach taken to both the pieces of work.

      No criticism here at all, by the way; Bolland's an absolute master of comic art: if you want clean lines, he's yer artist. And I particularly like the way that the design plays on the left-to-right approach to reading, drawing the eye across the image to make you wonder just who or what is firing at the characters.

      Anyway, this slight coincidence freaked out my 13-year-old self, so I thought I'd share it.

      Monday, March 22, 2010

      As The Saviour Of Humanity In The Matrix Put It: "Whoa!"

      I've linked before to the ever-amusing Photoshop Disasters blog, wherein they point out under-'shopped bits of advertising and promotional material.

      But like any tool, Photoshop itself isn't a bad thing, it's a question of how it's used, and here's something created by Eric Johansson, a craftsman who need not blame his tools:


      Clever, innit? You can see more of his work here - prepare to have your ever-lovin' brain bent out of shape (or, at least, for your eyeballs to be tickled).

      Enjoy.

      Saturday, March 20, 2010

      I'm Using The Internet As A Message Pad, Yes. What Of It?

      Just a quick message to wish my brother a very happy birthday - he's a jolly good egg, and has been a longtime reader of the blog, and is always one of the first to comment when posts become fewer and further between.

      So, have a good day Bro - and if you're reading this on your phone in the usual way, I guess you'll be needing this in a minute or so:

      To the rest of my readers, I can only apologise. And I do.

      Thursday, March 18, 2010

      I Am, Quite Literally, A Dancin Fool

      ... oh, hang on, I can't find a film called Cardboard Box.
      Ah well. Better kick off my dancin shoes.
      As you were, everyone.