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.