Friday, March 31, 2006

DWM reviews SJS: Buried Secrets

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine [#368, on sale now] includes a review of Buried Secrets, the first of the four-part Sarah Jane Smith audio drama series I've written. Here's what Matt Michael thought of the story...


"Collagen-lipped Pete Burns' recent appearance on Celebrity Big Brother sent his 1980s hit tune You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) rocketing straight back into the UK's Top Five singles. Big Finish is perhaps hoping that Elisabeth Sladen's reprisal of her performance as Sarah Jane Smith in the forthcoming new series of Doctor Who to similarly raise the profile of this spin-off range of CDs. Certainly, their timing couldn't have been better calculated to tempt thrifty fans to take on chance on Buried Secrets.

"The play begins with a radio news report that's more concerned with the first tourist flights to space than the disappearance of an archaelogical professor in Florence. This seems appropriate for what is very clearly the first act in a four-part series. While Sarah enjoys her semi-retirement following her recent globe-trotting adventures, her friend Nat is in trouble with the Italian police following the discovery of the professor's body i a sixteenth-century tomb, and the loyal Josh is busy stalking Sarah to protect her from danger.

"The first series of Sarah Jane Smith audios was one of Big Finish's very best Doctor Who spin-offs, successfully marrying an ongoing story with plays that could be enjoyed individually. Buried Secrets very much emphasises the continuing plot threads at the expense of the matter at hand, it is therefore difficult to rate this much on its own merits. That's a shame, because before it's subsumed beneath Da Vinci Code overtones and the machinations of a millennial cult (led by Blake's 7's Jacqueline Pearce), the Florentine murder mystery has the promising ring of a Sunday night detective serial. However, with a small cast it's quickly clear whodunnit - and why - as the listener realises that 'Buried Secrets' refers to the story arc as a whole and not just this particular play.

"As in the first series, Elisabeth Sladen gives us a Sarah who is recognisably a mroe grown-up version of the character she played in the 1970s, albeit one who still has a tendency to blub at inconvenient moments. The other actors all do a solid job of the t 'on the phone' acting that gives these plays a sense of immediacy as well as an audio-friendly storytelling device. Less dynamically, Sarah spends half her time in a restaurant with Harry Sullivan's step-brother, Will (City of Death's Tom Chadbon), apparently to set up next month's Snow Blind. It's a plot that allows writer David Bishop to re-establish the character at the expense of her doing very much. Fair enough as a hook for the series, less successful as a play in its own right, Buried Secrets is a bit of a throwaway effort."


Well, you can't please all the reviewers all the time. Still, two points in the review do stick out. Neither producer-director John Ainsworth nor myself had any idea Sarah was being brought back in the new series of Doctor Who that starts on April 15th. The fact this second series of SJS audio drama is coming out in the months immediately before the character returns to TV is purely coincidental. Secondly, Sarah has a grand total of two scenes in a restaurant with Will Sullivan. These take up a 8 minutes and 56 seconds of the play's hour-long running time, a fact that doesn't quite match Matt Michael's opinion. Perhaps subsequent stories in the series will be more to his liking?

Meanwhile on the Big Finish forum of Outpost Gallifrey, the Sarah Jane Smith audio Fatal Consequences is currently getting the top rating of Excellent from more than 70% of all those who've voted on the story's worth thus far. I'm finding the level of praise being directed at the SJS audios on the OG forum a little unnerving. Fortunately, I have DWM's review to keep my ego in check...

Rustboy - how a hobby became a star attraction

Rustboy started out as a pet project and turned into a wonderful calling card and star attraction for its creator. Hoepfully the man in question will be at today's Scottish Games Industry Recruitment Fair, talking about his achievement. If not, have a loot at his website charting the creation of Rustboy by clicking the headline on this posting...

Play it again, Fat Sam's

Today I am mostly going to the Scottish Games Industry Recruitment Fair in Dundee, so talk amongst yourselves. If you get bored, check out this URL:

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Day of Mourning: Crazy Jo got fired

A nation mourns... last night the most mentalist woman ever got fired from Britain's version of The Apprentice. Her name was Jo and she provided hours of horror-struck entertainment with her crazed cackle, capacity to burst into tears at any moment and whirling dervish personality. Barmy, barmy and barmy were the best ways to sum her up. In her final episode she took to chasing customers around a used car supermarket, to the point where they were running in the opposite direction to escape her. Jo provided many hours of entertainment, enlivening what could have been a rather dull series. Still, she did come back for the excellent spin-off show The Apprentice: You're Fired. If you didn't see that, you missed a treat - yes, she is apparently that large as life outside the confines of the main show.

Me, I want to put my money on Ruth, but worry she may lack the all round business savvy to reach the final. Still, she closes a sale like a piranha closes its jaw on a tasty morsel of flesh. That woman could sell sandcastles to sheiks. A bonus highlight of last night's instalment was the fact the winning team's members got in to an abusive screaming match with each other while enjoying the reward. That lot could pick a fight in a cemetary. Of them, head hunter Paul looks the man most likely to succeed. Paul versus Ruth for the job with Sir Alan Sugar? Now, that would be a final.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Put down those crisps and back away!

Regulator Ofcom is reportedly going to ban television ads featuring celebrities selling junk food from the hours when children most often watch TV. Is this honestly going to stop children eating junk food? When does regulation stops and nanny state madness begin? I certainly grasp that the power of suggestion goes a long way - that's why supermarkets pump the smell of fresh bread from their bakery section to the front door, for example. But the TV antics of gurning wingnut Gary Lineker have never once made me buy a bag of crisps - of any brand.

Of course, I'm an utter hypocrite when it comes to regulations that suit me. Scotland banned smoking in public buildings last Sunday, and I went to a local pub on Monday night to sample the smoke-free air. I could breathe, I could talk without coughing, and I could even see the colour of the ceiling [stained yellow by years of cigarette smoke, natch]. Better still, I walked out not stinking like a nicotine kipper and my clothes didn't reek of tobacco the next morning. Now that's what I call progress...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Life on Mars or Young Americans?

According to, Ally McBeal creator David E Kelley is developing a US version of the hit BBC series Life on Mars...

Alphabet lands on 'Mars' • Kelley gets 'Life' support at ABC

David E. Kelley is crossing the Pond for inspiration, landing format rights to buzzworthy BBC skein Life on Mars and setting it up at as a one-hour drama at ABC.

Mars, from U.K.-based Kudos Film & Television, revolves around a modern-day police detective who finds himself transported back to 1973. Kelley will write and exec produce the pilot via his company's overall deal at 20th Century Fox TV.

Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone of Kudos will also serve as exec producers. Alphabet has ordered a pilot for fall 2007, with a significant penalty attached if the project doesn't move to series.


I loved Life on Mars when it screened earlier this year. It'll be interesting to see how the show changes for a US audience - assuming the pilot gets picked up. A big slice of the show's appeal was its contemporary take on archetypal 70s cop show The Sweeney. What will Kelley use as his reference point - Starsky and Hutch, or the Streets of San Francisco? Actually, the latter sounds kind of cool, especially if each section of the show begins with captions announcing Act Three or Act Four.

Ahh, A Quinn Martin Production - I'm getting nostalgic already...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Lewis and Inspector Morse

Just emailed my revisions to the copy-edited manuscript for the new edition of The Complete Inspector Morse. Caught a bunch of mistakes from my original text and manages to add some new, up to date material to the book, such as the imminent release of the Lewis spin-off on Region 2 DVD. According to various online retailers, the disc is due out on April 10, possibly with an extra about the spin-off's filming. That's going on top of my shopping list in a fortnight.

With any luck the new edition of my Morse reference tome will be out by end of April, or not long after. The joy of Reynolds & Hearn being a small publishing house is its ability to turn projects around quickly, with a minimum of fuss. I've put a lot of effort into the new edition, as I want this book to stand the test of time, especially as its my first hardback. Rather than take a new advance for the work, I've opted to go straight to royalties once the book is published. Hopefully that decision will pay off later this year. If you like Morse, this is the definitive reference work - order your copy by clicking the link to the right of this page!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Season 5 finale of 'The Shield' [no spoilers]

Oh. My. God. Just watched the season five finale of The Shield, which aired on FX this week. I can't believe they did that. You know the sort of hype that gets put out to promote key episodes of TV shows - 'nothing will ever be the same again', that kind of thing. For once, a programme lived up to the hype. It's been a cracking season, a real step up from the last two years. Season 3 was about dividing the Strike Team, while Season 4 was about putting it back together.

But in Season 5 you get a real sense the programme makers know they are nearing the end now. Actions have consequences and the characters you love most are paying the price. There's another batch of episodes coming within the next 12 months, and those could well be the finale for The Shield. I hate for this show to finish, but it's almost worth losing the series to get this quality of drama. Outstanding.

Writers' Event in Biggar this Friday

There's a special event for writers of all abilities and the general public this coming Friday in Biggar. Two prize-winning scribes from the Borders region of Scotland, Jules Horne and Dorothy Alexander, will share their work and writing knowledge at the Elphinstone Hotel from 7.30 pm. Admission to the event is three pounds or two pounds for concessions, pay at the door on the night. For more information, contact the 2006 Brownsbank Writing Fellow Tom Bryan on 01899 860 327.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

How do you get published?

A few days ago, a friend of a friend sent an email asking for advice about breaking into publishing as a novelist. Below is the essence of their request and my reply...

For some years I have wanted to be a writer and although my first novel has done the rounds and come up empty, I still write. I'm working on another novel now and I would also like to do some licensed fiction. I hope you might be able to give me some advice, tips, names, etc. on where to go to find out more about this work.

I would greatly appreciate any help you could give me on the subject and thank you for taking the time to read this email, I'm sure you get many asking exactly the same thing.


Well, the first question you need to ask yourself is why do you want to write novels? Most people’s answers tend to fall into one [or more] of five categories:-
• they want to make a lot of money
• they want to be famous
• they want to have fun by working with words
• they want to get published, see their name on a book cover
• they want to write, they need to write, they have to write – it’s a compulsion

If you want to make a lot of money, give up now. For every story you read about new authors securing six figures advances for their debut novel, there are literally tens of thousands of other scribes who never get published or who never make enough money from their writing to do it fulltime. A survey by the Society of Authors among its members put the annual average gross income at around 8000 pounds. Me, I make three to four times that much each year, so that means there must be two or three other society members making nothing each year to balance me out. You can make a decent living from writing, but rare is the author who makes that living from novels alone. Most have other strings to their bow. I also write radio plays, non-fiction books and articles, audio dramas, comic strips and short stories. Others teach creative writing, or become writers in residence or venture into other areas of writing. So, don’t expect to make a fortune from your writing – unless you last name is Rowling or Rankin.

If you want to be famous, writing novels is not the way to do it, either. There are more than 100,000 new books published in Britain every year. Obviously, they’re not all novels, but that’s a hell of a lot of competition. Adventure, excitement – an novelist craves not these things.

Wanting to have fun with words is a great motivation for writing, perhaps the purest of urges. That doesn’t mean you have to become a novelist, but if you don’t have a passion for writing and an enthusiasm for enjoying the process of writing, you’ll be a very unhappy scribe. If nothing else, writing novels generally involves a lot of typing. [Top Tip #1 – if you can’t touch type already, enrol in a night class that teaches it. Being able to type with all ten fingers is one of the most useful skills any novelist can have.]

Getting published and seeing your name in great is a thrill – the first time. Excuse the pun, but the novelty soon wears off. Getting published sadly does not guarantee literary immortality. I had four novels published in the 1990s, none of them remain in print. The internet and print on demand can help you sustain the life of your backlist, but that’s another discussion. Here we’re talking about getting started, not staying in print.

The best reason you can have for being a novelist is that you have no choice: you’re wired that way. It’s been a nagging urge at the back of your thoughts for years, even decades. You feel you’ve got a book in you, and more. You have to write, you get a little crazy when you’re not writing. You’ll need that slightly obsessive drive to write if you’re going to make anything more than a passing hobby of writing, especially novels.

Now, if you’ve already completed a novel, you’re already ahead of 90% of would-be writers. The vast majority of people believe they have a novel in them, but never start it. Some do start, but don’t have the stamina to finish it. [Top Tip #2 – stamina in crucial for novelists. Me, I’m a sprint writer. I am to produce 4000 words a day when I’m bashing out a first draft. Cutting and polishing is where the raw material becomes worth reading, but that’s second draft. Even producing 4000 words a day, five days a week, it still takes a month to produce the first draft of a relatively short novel. If you’re only able to write part-time, it’ll take a lot longer. Stamina is crucial.]

So, you’ve completed a novel and tried shopping it around without success. Why didn’t anyone bite? First of all, your novel might simply not be good enough – not a pleasant notion, but it’s a possibility. It’s hard for you to objective about that, and the same applies to your family and friends. If you can find one locally, join a writers’ group and get some of the members to offer you feedback. Don’t ask them for suggestions on how to make the novel better. You have to train them to give feedback by asking questions. Why did that happen? Why didn’t that character do this? Why do that take so many chapters? DON’T answer their questions, don’t get into a debate, and don’t argue with them – these people are doing you a favour, after all! Instead, take a note of their questions.

Once you’ve got feedback from three different people, look at the questions they asked. What questions came up time and time again? Chances are, if two or three people from those giving you feedback identify the same thing, it’s a flaw in your novel. If only person strongly objects to a character, a choice or whatever, you can take their opinion with a pinch of salt. Personal taste is always an issue. Ultimately, this is your novel, not their novel – you have final say about what stays, what goes and what changes.

Let’s say your novel is good enough to get published – why didn’t it find a buyer? Depends on whom you sent the novel to and how you marketed yourself as a potential novelist. There’s a lot I could tell you about this, but the best thing you can do is some market research of your own. There’s two books I strongly recommend you buy and read in depth. From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake [ISBN 0333714350] is a brilliant guide to getting yourself published. It’s particularly good for writers of commercial fiction, but most of the advice the book offers is as applicable in other areas. The other book is The Writers’ Handbook by Barry Turner [the 2006 edition’s ISBN is 1405041544, the next edition is due out in August], a great guide to the ins and out of the industry, replete with contact names and addresses for agents, editors and publishers.

You might want to take a workshop on marketing yourself as an author. These are often put on at book festivals and literary festivals, such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Find out where your nearest book festival is and check out what’s on offer there. I did a workshop with Alison Baverstock and she offered some great tips on how to make yourself a more attractive prospect for publishes and editors. She’s got a good book on the subject too, Marketing Your Book: An Author’s Guide [ISBN 0713659653]. This may seem like a lot of homework, but if you want to sell your book you have to know your market and whom to target with your work.

Licensed fiction: I know quite a few writers with great careers who got their start writing licensed fiction. Paul Cornell wrote the Father’s Day episode of Doctor Who screened on BBC1 last year – his first book was a licensed fiction tome. There are many other examples, but I won’t bore you with those. In the 1990s Virgin Books gave a start to dozens and dozens of previously unpublished authors via the Doctor Who range of novels. They paid a decent advance, you kept the copyright on your work and royalties on sales, too.

Alas, the licensed fiction market has gotten somewhat more cutthroat in recent years. The BBC reclaimed the Doctor Who published licence in 1997 and that book range is pretty much a closed shop at present. Those companies in Britain who are publishing licensed fiction have less attractive terms. The likes of Black Flame, the Black Library and new imprint Abaddon Books all expect authors to surrender their copyright, pay them a flat fee and there’s little or no prospect of royalties either. Crucially, they will look at submissions from previously unpublished scribes. So what else are the advantages of going down this route? You get a novel published with your name on the cover. That can be valuable in proving to other publishers you have the ability to get a book in print and shows you’ve been through the filtering process with another publishing house.

In other words, it’s a start and you get some money for your efforts – but not much more.

If you want to write for a US publisher of licensed fiction, such as the Star Trek at Simon and Schuster or the Star Wars range at Del Rey Books, you’ve got a much harder road ahead of you. All I can say there is… good luck. Email and the internet should make the Atlantic an invisible barrier, but the reality is you’re fighting against 250 million more wannabes if you’re trying to crack the US market. Yes, it can be done, but it’s harder.

If you want some contact names and email addresses, you can begin with Christian Dunn at Black Flame [ ] and Jonathan Oliver at Abaddon [ ]. They’re both very busy men, so they may take a while to respond. Send them a polite email, expressing interest in their ranges and asking for their writer guidelines. Don’t bore them with a lot of biographical detail about you. Right now, all you want to know if what they’re looking for. After that, it’s up to you what you do with that information…

Best of luck!

David Bishop.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Having been brought up a Catholic, I've pre-programmed with certain thoughts, feelings and expectations. For example, I always crave fish and chips on a Friday. The Catholic church had a thing about not eating meat on Friday, so fish and chips became the default meal for that day, especially during the six weeks before Easter. At my primary school eveery pupil looked forward to Friday because it was fish and chip day - a nice change from sausage rolls or savoury mince [in essence, mince with onion - cooking was a more innocent, uncomplicated cuisine in those days]. Going to college, I find myself contemplating having fish and chips, but the mind rebels - because it's a Thursday and my whole week'll be out of kilter if I do.

Ash Wednesday? That's the day a giant in colourful robes comes to smear burnt dirt on my face. Palm Sunday? We didn't have palms locally, so we made do with Douglas Firs. Now whenever I brush past the Douglas Fir in our garden I get Palm Sunday flashbacks from the scent of the tree.

The other big memory from Lent or Advent or whatever it's called these days is having to give something up for the six week period. Usually it was chocolate, in adult life it became beer - always something you really enjoyed, as a sign of what you were giving up.

At college last week the talk turned to what we were giving up for the Easter period. My answer? This Lent I'm giving up abstinence.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Let's workshop

Yesterday was week 7 in trimester 2 of year 1 of my part-time MA Screenwriting course. Much of the morning was consumed by the Student Staff Liaison Committee meeting, followed by a brief session on our interactive entertainment projects. Alas, having more than 20 people in an overheated glass box is not conducive to great work. I was struggling to hear what the person next to me was saying and found myself staring at everybody's lips, trying to pick up as many communication signals as possible.

The afternoon was much more satisfying. While the fulltime screenwriting students joined the producers for a session with guest speaker Andrea Calderwood, the part-timers were workshopping our ten-minute script projects. We took turns to read aloud our outlines, before the other students got a chance to ask questions and offer suggestions. This is exactly the kind of peer review and idea brainstorming that I like, the chance to contemplate alternatives and throw fresh light on a project.

One of the most interesting suggestions was to take one project, a story in two halves, and reverse the order in which the halves appear. The events themselves would not be altered, but simply by changing the sequence in which they appear, the emotional outcome for the audience is completely reversed. I don't know if the writer whose project it is will follow that suggestion, but it was an inspired notion and something I doubt would have occurred to anyone outside the workshop environment.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

This is class...

See The Incredible Hulk's online diary. Check it out for yourself by clicking the headline or visiting

SJS Fatal Consequences arrives

Hurrah! My copies of the third Sarah Jane Smith audio Fatal Consequences arrived this morning. I've already loaded it into my iPod for a listen en route to college tomorrow, but couldn't resist sampling the conclusion to the story. It's all rather gripping and exciting, even if I say so myself - so many plot elements pay off in this story and the guest cast is delicious. I knew what part Jacqueline Pearce would be playing before I wrote the script, so made such to give her character some extra juicy lines of dialogue. My personal favourite? "I'm not a monster." Bwah-ha-ha-ha...

Love The Shield? Check this out...

As previously stated, I love US cop drama The Shield. It features a lead character aptly described as Al Capone with a badge, but Michael Chiklis's portrayal of Vic Mackie is so charismatic you want him to get away with murder. The first half of Season 5 finished in America last night with a 90-minute finale. After a few weeks off the show's makers return to filming next month to shoot another 10 episodes. Whether or not The Shield will come back after that remains undecided...

In the US the show is broadcast on cable network FX, while in the UK it airs on Channel 5. Alas, where we live in Scotland you need a satellite dish to watch Channel 5 - something we don't possess. So our enjoyment of The Shield depends upon importing the latest release on DVD. If you want to know more about The Shield, paste this URL [] into your browser or click the headline on this post. That should take you to an interview with The Shield's creator, Shawn Ryan.

He's been working with acclaimed playwright David Mamet on a new TV series called The Unit that's getting good numbers in the US. It's about a special unit carrying out black bag operations, and about their families back home, how the job affects the people they love. The interview is with both scribes talking about The Unit at first, then shifts to focus on Ryan and The Shield. Illuminating stuff, especially when Ryan talks about how he uses interrogation scenes in his show.

The two writers hooked up after Mamet wrote and directed an episode of The Shield, a real corker it was too. I can't wait to see what Mamet and Ryan have cooked up working together on The Unit. The new show stars Dennis Haysbert, best known lately for playing President David Palmer on 24. [Please, no spoilers about Season 5 of 24, okay - I don't want to know what happens!] Anybody seen The Unit, want to share their opinions of it? Grud only know when it'll reach the UK...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

First Fiends novel reviewed: 'Cool!'

My first FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT novel, Operation Vampyr, has just been reviewed on the 2000adreview website - and very positively, too. Click the headline on this posting to find out more, including two delightful anecdotes from the reviewer. All credit for creating the Fiends concept is, of course, due to writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Carlos Ezquerra. Me, I'm just the person Black Flame asked to turn a 44-page comic strip serial into three novels containing a total of 210,000 words of prose...

Fiends 2: The Blood Red Army - out now!

An unexpected treat arrived in the post this morning. The lovely people at Black Flame sent my author's copies for FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT: The Blood Red Army. This is the second volume of my Fiends trilogy, but you don't need to have read the first book [Operation Vampyr] to enjoy this one. The Blood Red Army is told from a Russian soldier's point of view during the Siege of Leningrad, as Rumanian vampires try to enforce the German blockade of the city near the Arctic Circle.

The book is written in the first person, a method I hadn't used for a decade, not since my first and best Doctor Who novel, Who Killed Kennedy. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed writing in the first person. It frees you from the shackles of trying to describe everything or give an accurate overview of events. Plus first person storytelling really gets you inside the head of a single character while enabling the author to hold back information they don't want the reader to have yet. It's a wonderful way of building mystery - no wonder pageturner scribes like Dick Francis used it so frequently!

Anyway, The Blood Red Army is officially published in April, but it isn't far away...

Godfather game: offer they couldn't refuse?

Electronic Arts is about to release a videogame version of that classic Mafia movie The Godfather. The obvious question: why? The obvious answer: money. EA must have paid a bomb for the rights from Paramount and it's reported the games developer sunk another 15 million US [about 8-9 million pounds] into building the game. I don't know if this figure includes marketing costs - if not, that's another million or three. Sheesh, that's a lot of large.

The original creator of The Godfather, Mario Puzo, is dead, so we've no way of knowing what he'd think about this. But the screenwriter and director of the acclaimed gangster movies is less than impressed. Francis Ford Coppola has publicly said he disapproves of the game, especially its use of violence. He turned down a chunk of change to be a consultant on the game. Al Pacino passed on doing voice work for the film, but all the other main actors contributed, even Brando before he died. The actors were paid for likeness rights and their voice work but they don't get any residuals on sales, under an agreement the Screen Actors' Guild agreed last year.

So, what about the game itself? Apparently it's got an M rating and uses the sandbox approach so popular in the Grand Theft Auto game franchise, enabling players to roam around an open world, choosing where to go and what they want to do. You play as a new character making their way in the Mafia, but you also get to interact repeatedly with the movie's story and characters. That includes famous scenes like finding the horse head in the bed, the massacre at the tollbooth and Michael's restaurant hit. [How does the horse head scene work? Do you have to carry the head around and stick it in the bed yourself? The mind boggles.]

Unsurprisingly, EA is hoping for a string of sequels, to make other crossover franchise hits like James Bond and Lord of the Rings. More games based on classic films are in the works, including Scarface and Dirty Harry. How far they get will depend in some part on how The Godfather does. The next few months should provide some interesting food for thought in the world of interactive entertainment...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Coming soon - Sarah Jane Smith: Dreamland

Big Finish has just published the cover for Dreamland, the fourth and final story in my quartet of Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures. You can hear a trailer for the story [in wmv format] on the Big Finish site - either click the headline on this posting or paste this URL into your browser:

According to the Big Finish website, the third SJS audio Fatal Consequences has now been released. I haven't had my copies yet, but this story was the only one for which I attended the main recording day, so I've a pretty good idea what it sounds like. Plenty of surprises, twists, turns and betrayals await Sarah Jane Smith...

Things on my Make a To-Do List

It's another Monday morning and time to review the things I have to tackle this week, the things I want to tackle this week and thinks that'll probably end up getting nudged onwards for another week. I know, I know, carpe diem and all that crap, but temptation bites hard and ambition is low some days. Anyways, lets examine the list, shall we?

Things I Must Do This Week:

Write and submit the outline of my Interactive Entertainment proposal, the first piece of assessed work on the Writing for Interactive module of my MA Screenwriting course. Spent several hours scouring the web for competitor products last night, distilling hints and tips from the last six weeks of group sessions with tutor Mark Grindle about what he expects in the outline, and generally getting geared up for this task;

Research and write a 1-page proposal for a 95,000 word novel. That's the opportunity that fell into my lap last week moments after I decided 2006 was my Year of Non-Fiction. This could be an exciting opportunity, but I need to find a framing device, some parameters for the setting [both grographically and in terms of time] and narrow down the thrust of the story's themes and tone. Themes and tone - not something I ever gave much thought to before starting the MA.

Write and email a ten-minute script for my Script Development Module at college, so it can be analysed in class this coming week. Can't decide whether to take a first pass at the story I proposed in my outline document last week, or if I want to revive the story concept that helped get me on the course in the first place. The latter is an idea that came to me in a dream one night [yes, that really does happen], but like a lot of dreams it has a warped internal logic. Plus, I've no idea what the premise of my story is, indicating it may need more thought...

Prepare notes and comments for the Staff Student Liaison Committee meeting on Thursday at Napier University. I've somehow become student rep for the part-time screenwriters, so have been gathering feedback from my fellow part-timers on the course. Guess I should probably iron a shirt too, or at least wash one that doesn't crease [or, better still, need ironing].

Things I Want to Do This Week:

Earning some money would be good. I currently have no outstanding invoices, meaning I've been paid for all my recent work. There is the promise of money in my future, but I need to do some paying work soon, otherwise the bank account will look rather forlorn sooner rather than later. Probably the quickest method of achieving this relates to my next task...

Resume writing my Fiends in Stalingrad comic strip. I wrote the first two episodes last year, back when it was planned as six episodes of eight pages each. A chance of format at the Megazine means the serial will now appear as eight episodes of six pages each. New editor Matt Smith kindly gave me the opportunity to edit two pages each from the first two episodes, and they're much tighter as a result. But I now need to find more plot for the extra two episodes the story has gained. It's written in a modular style, meaning each episode needs to stand alone while also advancing an overall plot arc. With issues of the Megazine being published four weeks apart, discrete vignettes work better than a fast-flowing single narrative.

Still waiting on feedback about my radio play, but that could come this week and I'm eager to learn how the producer-director thinks it can be improved. The endings's not quite there and scene 4 feels redundant at present, so that's two obvious things that need fixing. But I'll be interested to discover what other areas I need to improve. Editing somebody else's work is so much easier than editing your own.

Things I'd Like To Do This Week:

I feel the ground has lain fallow on my Warhammer proposal for too long, it's time I got that project going again. The situation isn't as pronounced on my historical murder mystery pitch for radio, but again I need to give that a fresh nudge.

Other Things:

Not sure how much I'll need to do my way of tweaks on my Inspector Morse reference tome; got a couple of short stories for which I need to get creative; still waiting on final contracts for a non-fiction project; and a bunch of other stuff.

Right now, some fresh coffee is needed - and then some bloody work!

PS: Snaps to scribe Lee Thompson for a comment on my last posting. Go check out his blog at where Lee's got a fistful of links to websites with various TV screenplays available to read and/or download.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coming to some conclusions

At college on Thursday, many of the other MA Screenwriting students were making plans to attend a student filmmaker event in Glasgow on Friday. Several asked if I was going. I had no plans to go and said so. For a start, I needed to finish and submit the outline for my 10 minute short film project, the first piece of assessed work due in this trimester. Plus I'd promised to write an extra few hundred words for the epilogue of Twilight of the Dead, the third book in my Fiends of the Eastern Front trilogy. That was due on Friday and gave me the opportunity to insert a slower curtain ending to the novel. I have a tendency to rush the final chapter and epilogue of any novel, simply born of an eagerness to finish the project and some laziness on my part. So fixing that right up improved the end of the novel, something that makes me feel better.

But there was another reason I didn't want to go to Glasgow. I'm coming to the conclusion that I want to be writing for TV, not films. For a start, there's a lot more work in TV writing [if you've got the talent, craft and contacts], so I can hope to make a career out of that. Secondly, TV writers get a lot more respect than most screenwriters. There's an appreciation of the contribution TV writers make and - it seems to me - a lack of appreciation for what TV directors do. The converse appears to be true in films, where peddlers of the auteur theory would have us believe the director is the author of a film. Excuse my French, but what bollocks.

Dozens, often hundreds and sometimes thousands, of people contribute to making a film happen. The author of a novel is a true author, and even they don't act alone - the editor is also party to the achievement. To call the director the 'auteur' of a film seems unfeasibly arrogant to me. I could be wrong about that, but it's how I feel on the subject. Writer-directors have a far stronger claim to being auteurs, but that's another part of the same debate, in my humble opinion.

Anyways, my tendency is definitely drifting towards writing for TV, if I can. So the prospect of going to see a lot of student filmmakers talk about their fledgling work didn't entice me to pish away most of a day getting to Glasgow and back. If I'd already known any of the people involved, that might have swayed my decision. But I didn't, so I didn't go. Far as I'm concerned, my goal for the MA Screenwriting course is to build my craft as a wannabe TV scribe. [I want to write for radio too, but since I've already got a toe in that door, I don't consider myself a wannabe radio writey anymore. A novice, a tyro, all but a virgin, yes, but not a wanna anymore.]

There are a lot of screenwriting blogs out there, but not quite so many from the POV of TV scribes. One of the best I've found thus far is that of Jane Espenson [to be found, natch, at ]. She's written for Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Gilmore Girls and Tru Calling. Her blog is chock full of helpful hints, particularly on writing spec scripts for US TV series. Of course, that's field of specialisation is not much use when you live in Scotland. However, her simple notes on how not to write on the nose dialogue are revelatory. Best of all, the methods she suggests work and they're so easy to apply. Thank you, Jane!

She also gave a great tip on a recent posting. It can be problematic getting copies of real screenplays for current TV shows. Occasionally the top shows like The Sopranos or The West Wing will spawn a script book, but these are often tidied up versions of the real deal. I've been searching in vain for a cost effective way of securing copies of current US television series. Purely as an aside, Jane made mention of Script City [ ], a website where you can order pdfs of thousands of scripts for TV shows, TV movies, films, treatments and even storyboards. For 40 US dollars I've gotten scripts for the pilots of Deadwood, The Shield, an episode of Sports Night and the episode of CSI that introduced the Miami spin-off. [When the script for that episode was written, they didn't have a last name for Horatio Caine, so he's called Horatio Staff throughout.] All emailed direct to my inbox, no extra costs for shipping from LA, the primo stuff in original formating.

That's my top tip for the weekend - Script City.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What's on the desert menu?

I heart Apple's movie trailers web page. It's amazing how often you can deduce how bad a car crash a film is going to be simply by seeing the trailer. Of course, some trailers utterly fail to sell a great film and some trailers [especially for comedies] do a great job of hiding how bad a film is. But, generally speaking, a halfway decent trailer tells you all you need to know about a film. Best of all, a great trailer can get you interested in a film for which you'd normally have no time or inclination to find out more.

Trailers for A Scanner Darkly seem to have been round for ages, but the film itself isn't far away now. What to know more? Click the headline on this posting and check out the latest trailer for yourself. Alas, the combination of mind-warping sci-fi and Keanu makes this seem like cartoon version of The Matrix, but I think it'll be a very different proposition from that. As always, the presence of Robert Downie Jr adds something to a film it could never achieve otherwise, the guy is a human wild card.

Ditto Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Mission Impossible III - now that's some savvy casting. The fact he nabbed the Oscar for Capote ain't gonna hurt either, but he's always been a class act - Magnolia, Dead Poet's Society, you know it, he's improved almost every film he's been in and rarely gives a bad performance.

Most disturbing trailer on the Apple site? Hard Candy. That looks... worrying.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hat trick of Commonwealth gold for NZ Rugby Sevens

Congratulations to the NZ team that won its third consecutive gold medal in sevens rugby at the Commonwealth Games. A Kiwi team has won all the golds for this event since it was introduced in 1998. Remarkably, the NZ side has never lost a sevens match at the Commonwealth Games.

Still no news on the condition of Aussie player Scott Fava, who went down injured during the bronze medal playoff with Fiji and started having convulsions on the pitch. Let's hope the news is good and he makes a full, quick recovery.

Fiends of the Eastern Front: behind the scenes

Need to get some work done today, so here's a piece I wrote for's Connect service about my trilogy of WWII vampire novels...

Fiends of the Eastern Front follows in the grand tradition of other alternative history fiction, taking a moment from the past and twisting it to create a new reality. To be honest, I don't know who invented this kind of story. Maybe Len Deighton, whose 1978 novel SS-GB told the tale of a detective solving a murder in 1941 Britain after Hitler had won the war for Europe.

Wars and particularly WWII have become a particular focus for this kind of fiction. Fiends of the Eastern Front details the titanic battle between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army along what German troops called the Ostfront. But there's a wild card in the mix - a cadre of Rumanian vampyr from the region of Transylvania, led by the enigmatic Constanta. This intriguing concept was originally created in 1980 for a short-lived comic book serial by writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Carlos Ezquerra. Now has been developed into a trilogy of novels, beginning with Operation Vampyr.

When my editors at Black Flame first suggested transforming Fiends into a novel [hopefully the first of several], I was initially sceptical. The original comic strip was only 44 pages long - how could such a slim slice of source material sustain itself through three novels and nearly quarter of a million words of prose? But when I began to research the battle for the Eastern Front, I soon came to realise a trilogy would only scratch the surface of the war between Germany and Russia.

The first volume of the trilogy is already available via and Operation Vampyr details the first few months of war along the Ostfront, the advance called Operation Barbarossa by the Wehrmacht. The novel's events are seen through the eyes of three German brothers - one a Luftwaffe pilot, another a Panzer commander and the third an infantryman. They realise to their horror that the Rumanian allies who fight so well are actually the undead, servants of darkness who have their own agenda for this savage war. Eventually the three brothers decide they can longer accept having such fiends on their side, setting the stage for an almighty and unholy battle royale.

The second volume, The Blood Red Army, is due out in April 2006. It covers the period from January 1942-January 1943 and focuses upon the Siege of Leningrad. Unlike the first volume, this novel is told from the Russian point of view as they battle against both the Wehrmacht and the vampyr.

The last book in the trilogy, Twilight of the Dead, leaps ahead to August 1944 and the battle for Rumania, before playing out the final days of the war in Berlin. But as the fight for Europe is coming to an end, the vampyr masterplan is just beginning. Soon all of humanity will be fighting a war of survival, a war of blood, a war of attrition aganst Constanta's vampyr army - unless the fiends can be stopped.

Twilight of the Dead is coming this summer and it's a cracking finish to this blood-soaked saga of death and honour, blood and betrayal, horror and heroism. If you enjoy writers like Sven Hassell or Kim Newman, then I think Fiends of the Eastern Front might be your kind of story...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hooked on The Apprentice

It's tragic, but I've become hooked on The Apprentice. This week was a low key effort by Mad Jo, the fist-pumpin', giga-gurnin' monsters of curls. Instead pushover Alexa got, well, pushed over by the boys. But my favourite part of The Apprentice has to be the aftermath post-mortem, You're Fired, hosted by Adrian Childs [pictured here with chef Gordon Ramsey]. He makes almost anything watchable, bringing a droll wit to Match of the Day 2 on Sunday nights and frequently hosting The Money Programme not long after lunch on weekdays.

As for The Apprentice, I'm eager to see the tough-talking northern woman who vaguely resembles Kathy Bates in Misery step into the spotlight. I doubt she'll take any of the crap Alexa suffered...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Biggar news - writing events, local writers

Change of pace from my usual postings, but I figure these events are worth mentioning here. While this blog attracts readers in Mauritius, Iceland and Australia, there's also plenty of visitors from closer to where I live. So, a couple of quick announcements for anyone who's interested...

Dunsyre poet Vicki Feaver will be reading for the Poetry Association at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh on Wednesday 22 March from 7.30 pm. Like me, Vicki is among the scribes contributing to the same five-day serial for Radio 4 - she's writing the Monday play.

Scribes Jules Horne and Dorothy Alexander will be sharing their writing secrets at the Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar from 7.30 pm on Friday, 31 March. Jules is virtual writer in residence in Dumfries and yet another contributing writer on the Woman's Hour serial, in her case the Thursday play. [Tickets: £3 and £2 for concessions] You can find out more about what Jules does by clicking the relevant link on the menu at right.

I'm hopeful I'll get along to the event at the Elph, but I'll be coming back from an interactive event in Dundee, so time may get away from me - we'll see...

Song delays PS3 launch by six months

Spotted this news item online, something that will have major implications for games developers and publishers worldwide. It does have a silver lining for European gamers, however...

The release of the much awaited PlayStation 3 (PS3) games console has been postponed until November, Japanese electronics group Sony has announced. Technical hitches related to the console's Blu-ray DVD disc drive had forced the delay, Sony said.

Sony games chief Ken Kutaragi said they were still finalising agreements on disc copy protection technology. Sony had been aiming for a spring launch for the successor to best-selling PlayStation 2. The news was announced at a hastily convened news conference, after reports of a delay appeared in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's main financial daily newspaper.

Sony has dominated the market for home consoles, with its original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 having sold more than 200 million units. It is now talking of a simultaneous November release for the PS3 in Japan, the US and Europe.

Writing for computer games

The more writers I talk to about working in the games industry, the more obvious it becomes there's yawning gaps in the marketplace - both for a decent agency that specialises in working with writers and computer games companies, and for some sort of industry-wide standard of payment. Here's what Jonathan Clements had to say in the comments section of an earlier posting on this topic:

"I know of a *bad* agency, but no good ones. I'm not surprised that the computer games industry employs more than TV and film here. There are some writers around in it. I think I've worked on around a dozen games in the last five years. The money can be very good, but there's an incredible amount of wastage -- almost as many stalled projects as in the film business.

"Also a great variant in producer expectations. I've worked for producers who pay Writers Guild scale, and for others who have a barely contained horror of the concept that this is a job that Jeff the Tea Boy couldn't do for them for a fraction of the price."

That got me thinking - what is the Writers Guild of Great Britain scale for computer games? A quick scan of the guild website wasn't that informative, especially as the site's being retooled at present. The Guild has a fistful of publicly viewable agreements and rate cards, such as the BBC Television Script Commissioning Agreement, the PACT/WGGB TV Agreement, ITV/WGGB TV Agreement for series and serials, Radio Drama Agreement Rates (August 2005), TMA (theatre) rates, TNC (theatre) rates and Animation Guidelines. I'm guessing the Animation Guidelines are the closest thing the Guild has to a scale of payments for computer games (somebody correct me if I'm wrong here!).

Here's the WGGB Animation guide rates (which date back to 2002, by the way)...

A) Bible development fees range from £2000 - £8000+
B) Scripts up to 5 mins @ £1000 - £1500+
C) Scripts up to 10 mins @ £1500 - £3000+
D) Scripts up to 22 mins @ £3000 - £6000+
E) Scripts over 22 mins negotiated on a case-by-case basis
F) Storylines (1 page) @ 5% - 10% of full script fee.
G) Beated Outlines/Treatment (4 – 6 pages) @ 33% of full script fee.
H) Re-writes requested after the final polish stage should be paid for. The fee will depend on what is involved.

Of course, applying this is computer games is problematic, to put it mildly. I've down a tiny amount of work in the industry, such as scripting cut scenes for an update of an old arcade game, and determining rates was a vexed issue. I guess the easiest way to equate computer game time to screen time on an animation project is to apply the old one page of script equals one minute of screen time rule. So if you have to write 50 pages of script to dialogue all the scenes in a computer game, that's equivalent to writing a script for a 50 minute animated film.

IIRC, I charged the company involved a day rate and any expenses involved in working with them, such as travelling to their various offices. Of course, they wanted a full-time in-hosue writer and I wanted to stay freelance, so I was just a stop-gap.

Like I said, there's an obvious need for some sort of industry-wide payment standard. As Jonathan noted, the difficulty is any idiot come conceive an idea for a game. Since most people can turn on a laptop and launch Microsoft Word or Final Draft, they think that makes them writers. I wouldn't dream of trying to create a code for a game, simply because I've spent some time playing on my Game Boy Advance. Yet some within the games industry believe that because they can type, that makes them writers. The years of craft acquisition and depth of talent required to be a good writer are immense (I wish I had both, but at least I'm working on improving my craft skills).

I could be wrong, but it seems some games developers see writers as an afterthought, somebody to come in and do the tedious job of putting words into mouths of NPCs. (Another great piece of industry jargon - NPC equals Non Playing Character, ie a character who appears in the game but one the player can't directly inhabit. It's like a talking equivalent of the NSE, the Non-Speaking Extra. I love watching characters in TV dramas who act their little socks off but aren't allowed to speak, as that means the actor would get paid more. The West Wing's often full of great NSE, or background artists as they're also known.)

If games developers involved writers from the earliest stage of conception - particularly writers who play games and displays some scribe skills - then the end result might just be better written games. All too often, my working experiences in games development boiled down to "we've got all these great ideas, we just need you to do some typing and magically turn them into a legible pitch document".

Anybody else want to share their experiences of writing for computer games? Don't worry, you can be vague about the names of the games, developers and the publishers - no need to violate your NDAs. I want to know more...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Post 101 meets Room 101

In the UK there's a TV show called Room 101 where minor celebrities talk for 25 minutes about the things they hate. If they convince the programme's host, the offending item is put into Room 101 - a bottomless hell from which nothing ever returns. The Room 101 concept is loosely inspired by the same numbered chamber in George Orwell's novel 1984, where prisoners are taken for merciless interrogation. Anyway, since this is my 101st posting on this blog, here's a few of the things that I hate...

Brussel sprouts - a vile, pointless vegetable that tastes as bad as cabbage but in a much more concentrated form.

The Daily Mail - a repugnant, petty-minded newspaper that exudes smugness and a knee-jerk hatred against anything that challenges its pus-riddled worldview.

Bank holiday clip shows - you know the sort of thing, the Top 100 Films that Include the word The in their Title, giving a bunch of pointless individuals the chance to bore us rigid with their banal observations about the bleeding obvious. Get yourself a blog if you want to do that sort of thing!

Endless reruns of The Simpsons - I love The Simpsons, but when BBC2 was screening the show they only seemed to have about 40 episodes to choose from. Now Channel 4 is screening The Simpsons, but they insisted on repeating the same episodes the bloody BBC has already screened half a dozen times. Enough of that bloody Monorail episdoe, already! Enough! Do you hear me? Enough!

Foods that begin with the letter Q - just because. I mean, honestly, how many great foods can you name that begin with the letter Q?

A whole new world of jargon

As part of the Writing for Interactive module at my MA Screenwriting course, I'm learning a shelf-load of new jargon. Here's two things I know now that I didn't know a week ago:

Instancing - apparently this happen in online gaming to alleviate the problems that would arise by having players around the world all attempting the same task at the same time. When a player enters a certain environment [say, a building] for a specific mission, they are effectively teleported into a virtual pocket universe where they play out the game that occurs within that environment. Once they're done, they leave the environment and return to the shared online game environment.

MMORPG - this stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, where thousands of players can interact in a huge, online world. Big business in Korea, apparently.

To call that the tip of the iceberg is understating the case a tad.

But here's a strange thing: there are more people employed creating computer games in Britain than there are people working in the British film and television industries com bined. Yet how many of those people in computer games are writers? How many agencies are there for computer game scribes? What courses are there specifically aimed at finding and nurturing future games scribes?

The answer to all of those questions seems to be - bugger all. The lack of a good agency that specialises in writers for computer games seems like a huge hole in the marketplace.

If anybody knows of any such agencies, post a reply in the comments section, ideally with an URL for the relevant website. Let's share some information, people!

Free sex? Where?

Consider this blog entry a scientific experiment. Apparently, the use of phrases like 'free sex' encourages traffic to your blog as people who should know better search for dubious subjects on Google and other search engines. Let's see who turns up in the next 24 hours and where they came from, shall we?

The mystery of the ALCS

As a dues-paying member of the Society of Authors, I automatically became a member of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society Limited. From what I can deduce, it's a bit like the Public Lending Right. That estimates how many copies of an author's books have been borrowed from British libraries in the past year and gives you a few pence for each one, in compensation for the potential sales you lost as a result of having your books borrowed from a library. The ALCS is similar, but mostly seems to relate to people photocopying your books in other countries - at least, that's where I make most of the money I get from the ALCS.

This year I've been sent a whisker under fifty quid for me doing, well, nothing really. This was broken down into photocopying in Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Spain, (unspecififed) Overseas and non-title specific, whatever the hell that is. Obviously, my statement probably comes with a long explanatory letter. But being a man, the idea of reading any set of instructions, directions or explanations is anathema to me. So, err, thanks to the ALCS for my 49 pounds and nine pence. I've put 12 pounds and change of that aside for the taxman, so that leave about 36 quid.

Must try not to spend it all at once.

Our garden has a time delay

There seems to be a two week time delay between what happens in other people's gardens and what happens in our garden. The first day of spring is a week away and we've still got snow drops in full bloom, while the green shoots of daffodils are just now sprouting from the ground. Admittedly, a blanket of snow that fell here over the weekend didn't help matters, but that effects everyone's garden, not just the one outside my window. When I was at college in Edinburgh last week, the daffodils were in full bloom in some gardens. They haven't got that far in our town yet, but even when they do I can guarantee they'll bloom later and last longer in our garden than almost everywhere else nearby. Odd.

Speaking of odd, no sooner had I posted yesterday about how 2006 was turning into My Year of Non-Fiction than an editor phoned to offer me a 95,000 word novel. It's an exciting project, but one that'll require some researching before I can advance it far. Still, what with that, the short story opportunities and my non-fiction tomes it looks like this year will be fairly fertile when it comes to work. Plus there's my MA Screenwriting course to be worked on. Had a good long natter to fellow scribe Big Jim Swallow yesterday about the computer games industry. He's done a fair amount of work in that area and plays a lot of games too. Me, I never got past the Game Boy Advance. Having a competitive nature, I know allowing a Playstation or other console in the house is a recipe for missed deadlines and lack of sleep. So I picked Jim's brain for intel about competitor products to the sort of games ideas I'm mulling over for the Interactive Writing module on the MA course.

Today I need to nail down a few synopsis, send out some ideas and generally get things rolling again. Work ground to a halt last week and I need to find some traction, get the wheels turning again, otherwise finances will suffer come the end of April. Plus I get hinky after a few days if I'm not write. Gotta scribe!

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Year of Writing Non-Fiction

2006 seems to be turning into a year where I'm writing a lot of non-fiction. I've already delivered the massively revised and updated manuscript for The Complete Inspector Morse to Reynolds & Hearn. Publisher Richard Reynolds tells me the new edition is already attracting a healthy number of advance orders. The book is now entering the editing process, something that'll no doubt require more input from me. R&H is a small, taut operation. That means small advances but also means the company can publish books within a matter of weeks, rather than the elephantine gestation process of big publishers. With plans afoot for more episodes of the Lewis spin-off, it's crucial to get the new edition out ASAP for maximum sales.

Meanwhile I've provisionally agreed a deal for one of my long standing non-fiction projects to be collected under one cover. Again, there'll be a lot of rewriting, revising and updating to be done, but it's a relief to believe I might finally see this piece of work presented in its entirety in one mighty volume. The money involved isn't great, but this project isn't about the money. It feels like the capstone on something that's occupied a vast amount of my working life. Hopefully, twelve months from now I'll have a copy of the book in my hot little hands. Of course, until the contracts are signed and the book is printed, this is all just wishes and hopes. Fingers crossed they'll become reality.

Last week was something of a washout work-wise, but it did beget a bright, shining idea for another non-fiction tome. I've done some investigating since and it appears the publisher I would most obviously target with my idea is fond of acquiring the copyright in all the tomes it puts out. I've signed away the copyright on all my Black Flame novels, but they weren't my characters so it didn't seem like a big sacrifice. I've resisted all blandishments to do the same with my non-fiction books up to this point. Now I have to make choice: target the logical publisher for my idea and accept the fact I'll hae to sacrifice my copyright, or keep developing the concept but pitch it at other publishers. It's a shame, as I'm gagging to do this book and discovering the potential terms has blunted my enthusiasm a little. Hey-ho.

Meanwhile I've got a copy of short fiction irons near a pair of interesting fires - not much money to speak of, but both offer chances to exercise my rarely-used short story chops. Plus one of them could offer a toe in the door with a new, overseas client who's resisted my approaches up to now. Now I just need a couple of cracking ideas to secure me the relevant writing gigs.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Too many ideas in my tiny brain!

For the MA Screenwriting course, one of our modules is Writing for Interactive. Our tutor keeps stressing this is not just about writing for computer games and the rise of new technology is bringing massive change to the way film and television content will be delivered in future. How much difference that will make to storytelling is another matter. In the meantime, we have to come up with an idea for an interactive entertainment as part of our coursework. My problem is I've got half a dozen cool ideas I'd like to develop - all of them for computer games, natch. There's a racing game, a nihilistic detective drama game, a thing with monsters and gangsters in 1930s Chicago, and a bunch of others swirling about in the old noggin. Which to do first?

In the meantime, I've submitted the second draft of my radio play for Woman's Hour. It's for broadcast this summer and will be my first broadcast credit, a significant step forward in my quest to become a bona fide screenwriting, not just some wannabe with a blog, a big mouth and enough money to pay for a MA course at university.

I did a significant amount of rewriting on the second draft, taking into account the notes I got from my producer-director David Ian Neville, but also seeking to go beyond those notes, to see if I couldn't make it better still. Then I invited three women from the local theatre workshop round for a table reading on Wednesday. Mary is our resident choreographer, a larger than life personality from Liverpool - that made her perfect casting for Ronald, the gay Liverpudlian iconoclast in my script. Hazel could do any accent you can think of at the drop of a hat, so she became April, the slightly prim owner of a new age spiritual retreat where Ronald is staying. My first draft had six characters, but this got boiled down to four in rewriting, as I endeavoured to tighten the script's focus and drive. So Linda was playing two parts at the table reading, dodgy cook Shonagh and a glamorous young guest called Trace.

I got them to read the script aloud once, so everybody could get a sense of their characters and to resolve any mistakes or confusions. Two bizarre pieces of bad typings leapt off the page - Ronald protested he didn't need to get his charkas realigned (perhaps he'd been in touch with Charka the Otter?0, while Shonagh announced she was planning to serve fresh soap and bread for lunch. Wash your mouth out, young lady!

I recorded the second read-through on mini-disc and was horrified to discover my 15 mintue script was taking 20 minutes. I knew it was probably a touch long, but not 33% over! Fortunately, I'd been taken notes of little nips and tucks that could be made during the second reading. Hearing the script twice in quick succession made the dull, flat patches vividly obvious and my cast of three had several sharp-eyed observations about where the pace needed to be picked up.

Once everybody had gone, I did another cut and polish, removing a goodly chunk of the draft that had been used at the table reading. The new, much improved second draft is now lurking at BBC Radio Scotland, but it's already gotten some positive feedback from David Ian Neville, so hurrah for that. The ending still isn't quite right and scene 4 feels utterly superfluous at present, but I think the third draft should retain a fair chunk of what appeared in my second draft. Feels like I'm learning...

Bigmouth strikes again

Somewhere along the way I volunteered to be the Staff Student Liaison representative for the part-time students on the MA Screenwriting course I'm doing at Edinburgh's Napier University. We're now five weeks into our second trimester (what genius decided to equate our creative progress with giving birth - the twit deserves a slap) and the SSLC is meeting in a fortnight to assess how the course is going. We're the first intake to tackle Napier's MA Screenwriting, so there's a whole guinea pig of doom thing going on with us. In other words, sometimes you very much get a sense the tutors are just making things up as they go along. I guess it's kind of approriate, since that's what all the students want to do for a living, but it feels wrong.

As preparation for the SSLC meeting, one of our tutors invited us to express any strong feelings we've developed about the course to date. Talk about asking for a kicking. Once a few people got the ball rolling, the vitriol started coming thick and fast. It was quite a cathartic experience, in a way, like lancing a boil or squeezing a big, fat spot that's been festering for several days. The problem is that once you open the Pandora's Box of discontent, it can be hard to shut it again.

When I was editing comics at a company called Egmont Fleetway in the 90s, the managing director decided we should be involved with a prestigious programme called Investors in People. If a company is admitted to the programme, it demonstrates the firm is a good place to work and committed to helping its staff gain skills and get the most from their working life. Unfortunately, our company actually had to do that before it'll get accepted on to the programme, it can't simply say that's a good idea but not do anything to make it happen.

So Egmont Fleetway had to go through a big consultation process, whereby staff could pass judgement on their bosses and managers, saying exactly what they thought about those in charge. This didn't lance the boil, it was more like a surgeon popping in for a quick exploratory procedure and discovering the patient was riddled with cancer. One or two senior staff were dismayed to discover most of those under their leaderhsip hated them and had absolutely no respect for their abilities as leaders. By the time the whole process had run its course, several key figures from the upper echelons got the chop and any attempt to become part of Investors in People was abandoned as simply impractical - the company had too far to go to achieve what was necessary for acceptance anytime soon. As one MD said to me at the time, the word 'management' had taken on the connotation of 'mother****er' at Egmont Fleetway.

Happily, things weren't quite that bad during yesterday's blood-letting session at college. I've put together 500 words on why the part-time screenwriters feel left out, excluded and disenfranchised, and that's now with the other eight part-timers on the course for their contemplation. We represent 40% of the screenwriters students, but we certainly don't feel like we're getting that amount of care and attention from the tutors. Still, things are improving and hopefully the SSLC process will further the progres that is being made to address our concerns.

Ooh, I feel all militant. No wonder I read the Guardian most days.

Got those No Post Today Blues

When you work from home as a freelancer, life becomes a series of tiny rituals and habits, signposts that help you navigate a way through the day. Once you become self-employed, it's all too easy to let a day fritter away into nothing. You surf the web, you read your emails, you surf the web again in case anything's changed or happened in the last ten minutes (inevitably, nothing has), you plan lunch, you agonise about your procrastination (a particularly self-defeating form of procrastination, if ever there was one), you decide to have a mid-morning snack, on and on the last goes, all to stop you going quite barkingly insane due to the absence of having anybody else to talk to. (You also find yourself writing endlessly long sentences without aid of punctuation, and using brackets and sub-clauses like this one far too much - see what I mean?) Infinite recursion beckons like two mirrors facing each other in a confined space. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you can remember what the point of what you started writing in the first place was...

All of that is a terribly long-winded way of saying I didn't get any post delivered today and feel utterly bereft as a consequence. Is that how you spell bereft? It doesn't look right now it's in front of me. Hang on, I'll check the dictionary... Yes, it is. In fact bereft appears just before beret in my dictionary, a piece of headwear that only looks good on Frenchman and particularly cute women. Claire Grogan in Gregory's Girl - now that was one saucy use of a beret. I once interviewed her when she was a present on BSB, in the days of squariels and the like. Didn't have the nerve to say I fancied her something rotten as a spotty teenage youth growing up in New Zealand. Probably because I was a spotty journalist in my twenties when I met her. Plus she had a scar on her face (from a car crash, I think) and I spent all my time trying not to stare at it while singularly failing to do so, like Austin Powers meeting someone with a mole. Bollocks, I've wandered off the point again.

My dictionary has two words at the top of each page, the one on the left telling you what's the first word defined on that page and the second word telling you - well, you've guessed the rest by now. On the same page that features beret and bereft, the last word is beriberi - a disease that seems to have fallen out of fashiion. Do diseases have fashions? You could have Paris Disease Week. Models parading along catwalks, displaying the latest, coolish trends in ill health. This season's hit tip - leprosy is the new bird flu. Or maybe not.

The first word on this page of the dictionary is bentonite. For you long-serving Doctor Who fans (I refuse to call them Whovians, what a crap word that is), bentonite is not some obscure reference to Sgt Benton from the UNIT years. At least, I don't think it is - you be the judge: bentonite n. a clay that swells as it absorbs water; used as a filler in various industries. ORIG after Fort Benton, Montana, USA, where found.

Sorry, what the hell was I talking about? Oh yes, got no post today blues. So, yes, I'm feeling the absence of my daily delivery of platinum credit card offers, pointless catalogues from stationery suppliers and the life. I've been trying to console myself with Poor Man's Bruschetta: toast two slices of bread, spread them liberally with butter, slice some tomatoes that actually possess flavour (unlike the vast majority of fruit and vege found in supermakets) on top of the toast, then sprinkle with fresly ground salt and pepper. Yummy.

Am now eating a banana. Ho hum.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Top 10 David Bowie Covers

We all know the drill by now - ten cover versions, no particular order, all heard and boggled at on iTunes UK store. I struggled to find decent versions of some of these (DB himself turns up on two of them) and was gobsmacked to find nary a cover of The Jean Genie on iTunes. A gap in the marketplace, if ever I saw one. All the songs are from the early part of Bowie's hit-making career...

1. Space Oddity - The Neanderthals
2. Life on Mars? - Arcade Fire
3. Ziggy Stardust - Ahn Trio
4. Changes - Butterfly Boucher
5. Suffragette City - Mary-Kate Olsen & Wakefield
6. Diamond Dogs - Beck
7. Rebel Rebel - The Lounge-O-Leers
8. All the Young Dudes - Moot the Hoople
9. The Man Who Sold the World - Nirvana
10. Starman - Culture Club

Steve Foxon: genius at work

Got my complementary copy of Sarah Jane Smith: Snow Blind on Monday and promptly uploaded the audio drama to my iPod, but I didn't get a chance to listen to it until last night. Some great performances by the cast, with Tom Chadbon doing wonders in the role of Will Sullivan. Director and producer John Ainsworth made some very canny casting decisions and get the best from his actors in the studio, so props to him. It was good to hear Big Finish stalwart Nick Briggs in a straight acting role, rather than providing voices for Daleks and Cyberman as he does on the new TV incarnation of Doctor Who.

I was particularly impressed by Steve Foxon's sound design for Snow Blind, an element that's all but unnoticeable when it's done well. Snow Blind contains a lot of challenging aural elements - fire, blizzards, planes, gunplay, death and lashings of action. Steve managed to bring all of those to life in my ears, but his work never drew attention to itself. Big Finish obviously has a fistful of very talented sound sculpters. David Darlington did wonders on my story Test of Nerve from the first series of Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas. Now Steve Foxon is creating Antarctic wastes and Florentine street scenes in pure sound. What a clever sod!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Top 10 Covers of songs by The Police

Just for fun, here's a list of ten very different covers of songs by The Police. Some are sublime, some are ridiculous and some are plain odd. All are available for audio preview on iTunes, should you be bothered. Oh, and Sting? Put some socks on. And don't lean back in your chair like that - it could break at any moment. Health and safety, mate, you need to be thinking about the health and safety implications. Now, to the list, presented in no particular order...

1. Can't Stand Losing You - Feeder
2. Walking on the Moon - Doug Wamble
3. El Tango de Roxanne - Ewan McGregor, et al
4. Message in a Bottle - Machinehead
5. Every Breathe You Take - Shirley Bassey
6. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic - Lee Ritenour
7. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da - The Cartoons
8. Wrapped Around Your Finger - The Paper Chase
9. Don't Stand So Close to Me - Kevyn Lettau
10. King of Pain - Alanis Morissette

Write fast, rewrite slowly

I had half a million words professionally published last year, in one form or another - novels, audio dramas, comics, articles and the like. I'm a sprint writer, particularly at first draft stage. On a novel I aim to produce at least 4000 words a day when I'm thrashing out the initial version. When it comes to rewriting, I try to take my time, because the more time I take, the better the end result.

Unfortunately, I'm also a lazy writer. For all my discipline when it comes to a first draft, all in the past I've been all too willing to drag the chain on subsequent drafts. It's particularly true when I'm writing other people's characters and I know I'll never see a royalty. Once I've done enough to earn my work for hire fee, a small part of my brain begrudges the effort required to do any more. It's a bad habit and a terrible trap into which to fall: hack writing at its worst.

Doing the MA Screenwriting course has made me buck my ideas up. If I want to improve my writing, if I want to move on from writing other people's characters, if I want commissioning editors and script editors to take me seriously, I first have to take this job seriously myself. Be professional if you want to become a professional. Not being a British national, I'm not eligible for any financial assistance to help pay my way through college. [That's not to say I'd have gotten any, even if I was eleigible - a lot of people on my MA applied and didn't get much or any help.] I'm spending thousands of pounds trying to improve my grasp of the craft and graft required to make it as a screenwriter. It's time to put the same level of effort and committment into my work outside the course.

For example, I'm working on the second draft of my radio play for the BBC. When broadcast, it'll only last 15 minutes and the script's not mean to be more than 3200 words in total. But I'm busting a gut to make everyone of those words count. I'm questioning the value of every scene, every story beat, every line, every word. And that takes time - a lot of it. But I want this script to be the best I can write, in the hope it'll help me secure a new commission, and then another.

Commissioners are looking for talent, skill and professionalism, but ultimately they're also looking for unique voices, writers with something to say and the craft to say it. Have I found my voice yet? Maybe. Anyway, I need to get back to my final scene. I'm hoping to have an invited read-through of the radio script tomorrow night, to identify places where it's not quite working and find solutions. To make that happen, I've got to finish this draft. Time to go.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lesson of the Day: Do Unto Others

I like to think I was brought up well, taught to respect others and treat them as I would like to be treated. Alas, I managed to shame myself over the weekend by posting an ill-informed and thoughtless comment online. Let's not to go into the details of how and where, as that only helps propogate and compound my assinine stupidity. Suffice to say, I forgot to think before I hit the send button. I guess I could blame the speed with which the internet allows you to put both feet into your mouth, but that's no excuse. The medium is not at fault, I am. All I can do is apologise - which I have - and try to learn from my mistake. I doubt the person whose work and integrity I impugned is reading this, but if they are: I'm truly sorry.

When I watch films and TV programmes, I've always hated it when there's a neat little homily worked into the story's conclusion. I prefer that episode of The Simpsons where - IIRC - the family ends up with a big, stone head in their living room. Marge is trying to tease a moral from recent events, but Homer keeps shooting down her attempts. He says something like, 'Maybe there is no moral. Maybe it's just a bunch of stuff that happens!' That's tended to be my approach to life - it's a bunch of stuff that happens. Judging by my online blunder, I need to pay more attention when people explain the moral of the story...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Trailer for my new SJS audio now online

Big Finish has updated its website today and the trailer for the third Sarah Jane Smith audio can now be accessed online [click the headline on this posting to discover more. You can see Lee Binding's stunning cover art for Fatal Consequences directly above, another lovely piece of design. The trailer's a gem too - creepy, intriguing and suspenseful. This particular story was the only one from this quartet of tales for which I managed to attend the recording. [You can read my impressions of that day in the studio by visiting November 2005 in this blog's archives.]

In other news, the second of my new SJS audios - Snow Blind - has now been released and is attracted positive notices. I haven't actually heard it yet myself, due to the vagaries of the postal system and suchlike. [What a wonderfull word suchlike is, almost as satisfying to type as somesuch. I wonder if they're related?] Meanwhile, I'm wading through four set texts, as homework for a module called Writing for Interactive on my MA course. Thus far David Freeman's Creating Emotion in Games seems the best of the bunch - shame it's also the longest!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Top 10 Bizarro Cover Versions

Inspired by a discussion on the 2000 AD message board, here's my Top 10 Bizarro Cover Versions for today, in no particular order. You can hear previews of them all on iTunes's UK store and, I guess, most other iTunes stores globally.

Trust In Me (from The Jungle Book) by Siouxsie and the Banshees
Don't Stop Moving by The Beautiful South
Hurt by Johnny Cash
Guns of Brixton by Nouvelle Vague
No Surprises by The Section Quarter
Sexual Healing by Kate Bush
Creep by Scala
Easy by Faith No More
That's Entertainment by Morrissey
Bare Necessities by Michelle Shocked

So, what's your favourite [but somewhat unlikely] cover versions?

Friday, March 03, 2006

What a talented bunch!

Yesterday at college, I finally got to experience the writing of my fellow MA Screenwriting students. As an exercise for our Script Development Workshop, we each had to write a monologue for a character whose personality and outlook are the opposite to those of the lead character in our story. I took the tutor at his word and bashed out 1500 words, typing anything and everything that came into my head, imagining what the second lead in my story would say about the lead. She's a new age woman into spiritual healing and enlightment, he's an arch gay man who likes smoking, drinking and having a laugh. The exercise was quite revelatory, uncovering things I hadn't given much thought to previously, so that was useful.

Then the tutor asked us to take turns reading our monologues aloud. I quickly discovered many of the others had spent their time honing and polishing their monologues, some of which were only a few sentences - so much for stream of consciousness! But more interesting was the chance to hear what the other students' writing is like. We've been doing the MA for the best part of six months and its the first time I've really been exposed to what the others can and do write. One guy proved he can write brilliant comedy, one woman provided a stirring historical speech for her second lead, while others kept it short and pithy. There are some great characters and writers on the course, something I hadn't really grasped up to me.

As for my piece, I choose to read from the final section of my monologue, which was set after the story has finished. Big mistake. The writing felt flat and lifeless, lacking in passion. In trying to avoid on the nose dialogue, I ended up writing something that said nothing. I shouldn't be afraid of going for it in a first draft - I can fix the worst excesses in rewrites, that's what they're for, improving on the basic, raw material.

Anyway, for next week's class we've got to transform our monologues into a 60-second speech, with a sense of its having a beginning, middle and end. Then these will be recorded on audio in class and played back as podcast, enabling us to review what worked when spoken aloud - and what didn't. Frankly, I think I'm going to have to start from scratch, as my monologue was just stream of consciousness rambling. All in all, an illuminating exercise. Best of all, we actually got to do some writing of our own. It's seems bizarre to have come this far on the course and only now getting to do that...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More iTunes wackiness - Charlton Heston reads Bible!

A few decades back, Charlton Heston had a neat sideline recording LPs of Bible readings. Go to iTunes and search for gun-tottin' Chuck and the title Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Hear the man himself intone the word of God, accompanied by the Robert DeCormier Chorale. Priceless - or 79 pence if you live in the UK. Or you could just listen to a 30 second sample and get a flavour of the mesmerising amazement. Good choir, by the way.

Total Eclipse of the Heart on Kitchen Appliances

Yes, really - see it here:

Let's Go Bluegrass! Let's Get Nuts!

One of the things I love about iTunes is the ability to search for entirely random cover versions of familiar songs. Regular readers will recall my joy at discovering The King, an Irish postman and Elvis imitator who only sings songs by dead rock stars. Recently I stumbled across the Okra All-Stars, a Bluegrass ensemble with a love of twang and torch. Why was I looking for when I found them on iTunes? Prince cover versions. The Okra All-Stars' version of Purple Rain has to be heard to be believed. If you've got iTunes, search for it - your jaw will drop in disbelief...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Is this the dodgiest sound effect ever in a comic?

Words fail me when I see something like this, words utterly fail me.

New date for Adrian Mead's Sell Your Script seminar

Last month I went to a one-day seminar led by screenwriter and director Adrian Mead in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, pitched at people who want to write TV drama. The seven-hour session was a blast, chock full of good advice and enthusiasm-enhancing moments. Now Adrian is putting on another class, this one about Selling Your Script and the 1-page pitch document. It was to be held on April 22, clashing with the Crime Writer's Association 2006 conference in Ireland. Happily for me, the seminar's shifted dates to Saturday, May 6th, meaning I can attend the CWA conference and the seminar.

For anyone who's interested, here's the blurb about the seminar...

Every day overworked Film and TV execs, Agents and Commissioners receive an avalanche of scripts from new writers. Faced with the impossible task of reading them all, the first thing they reach for is the one page pitch document that should accompany the script. Of course you do always provide a highly professional and attention grabbing one page pitch document, don't you? The one page pitch doc is industry standard. Failing to provide one marks you as a poorly organised amateur and your script will hardly get a glance. A badly executed document instantly consigns your months of lovingly crafted work to the reject tray unread.

This class teaches you how to –
• Grab the attention of the overworked reader and inspire them to pick up your script instead of your competitors.
• Understand the function and writing of treatments.
• Banish forever the terrors of verbal pitching.

If you are serious about getting your work noticed and breaking into the industry this is a class you cannot afford to miss. As this is a highly focused and practical day numbers will be limited. Book early to avoid disappointment.

DATE: Saturday 6th Mayl. 10.00 am to 5.00 pm. VENUE: St Columba's By The Castle Church Hall, Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh
COST: £65 (inc VAT and refreshments) • E-MAIL: or call 0131 554 4539