Friday, April 28, 2006

40 days to my first broadcast credit

Back when I started this blog last year, one of my goals was to secure a broadcast credit. Now it's happening - and I've still got another 17 months to go on my MA Screenwriting course! Today I got the final script for my first commissioned radio play, Island Blue: Ronald. It's being recorded on Tuesday, May 9th, and gets broadcast on BBC Radio 4 twenty-nine days later on Wednesday June 7th. Unlikely as it seems considering the sort of stories I've had published previously, my first broadcast credit will be a drama broadcast during Woman's Hour. The play gets repeated nine hours later from 7.45pm on Radio 4. For all those who miss it on radio, you'll have a week to hear it online via the BBC's Listen Again service. That's especially good news for me, as it means friends and relatives in others countries can hear it too. The title role in my play is being played by Crawford Logan, an actor whose longtime Doctor Who fans might recall as Deedrix in a late Tom Baker story called Meglos. Never actually watched Meglos myself, so that's no use to me!

Speaking of Doctor Who, a new episode called School Reunion is on BBC1 tomorrow night. It brings back the character of Sarah Jane Smith, who appeared alongside the third Doctor [played by Jon Pertwee] and the fourth Doctor [Tom Baker] between 1973 and 1976. Thirty years after leaving the TARDIS, Sarah Jane encounters the latest Doctor [played by David Tennant]. Normally, I'd be excited by seeing the favourite Doctor Who companion from my childhood back on screen. The fact I've spent the past year writing four hours of audio drama about Sarah's life after the Doctor makes the forthcoming TV episode a somewhat bizarre experience. Still, can't wait to watch it!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Back to school, back to surreality

After two weeks away for the Easter break, this morning it's back to college for week 10 in trimester two of my part-time MA Screenwriting course at Edinburgh's Napier University. [As a seasoned hack, the mind rebels at typing such a long, clumsy sentence, but needs must and all that...] Feels like a lifetime such we broke up for Easter. Spring has well and truly sprung, whereas we were still getting snow flurries at the start of April locally. In the interregnum I've had my first radio script signed off, bashed out a Phantom script, written my script for part three of Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad comic serial and attended the 2006 CWA conference. Happily, my ankle is well on the mend, but I'll still be taking it easy at college today.

Only three weeks until we have to hand in our final pieces of assessed work for trimester two. I'm already well into writing the second or third draft [I lose count] of my ten-minute script for the Script Development Workshop module, but haven't much progressed my final presentation in the Writing for Interactive module. So, that's a job for my copious spare time in the next three weeks. Along with more Fiends script, plotting a Phantom short story, getting Sweet Charity ready for openign night on May 9th, learning my lines, practising the dance routines without further hurting my right ankle, attending the recording session for my radio play and a bunch of other stuff.

No rest for the wicked, eh? Although, if the wicked get no rest, how do they even have the time [and energy] to be wicked? Anyway, it's Thursday - open up and say argh...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Genius: the Face of Bo action figure

An eBay item that has to be seen to be believed. You know the drill: click the headline or paste the following URL into your browser...

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Ident

Saturday night's episode of Doctor Who, Tooth and Claw, opened with a spectacular sequence of kung fu monks fighting and flying in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stylee. Their bright red robes immediately brought to mind BBC1's series of station idents that feature various dancers from around the world doing their funky thing, all clad in bright red outfits. Inevitably, some wag has put the two ideas together and uploaded a version of this to the world wide weird. Click the headline on this posting to see what I mean, or paste this URL into your browser and enjoy:

My foot's on the mend - still sore and stiff, but no great swelling.

And get your mind out of the gutter, that wasn't what I meant...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Yes, that's the sound of me walking. Turned my ankle over last night during rehearsals for Sweet Charity and am now somewhat less mobile than usual. Certainly haven't broken anything, but my right foot is stiff and sore and doesn't like taking my weight for any length of time. So I'm taking anti-inflammatories, trying to keep my foot elevated and fretting about whether I'll have recovered before the run begins - two weeks from today. Argh. So much still to do and now I'll have to shout from the sidelines, rather than pitching in personally. Time to hone my delegation skills, methinks.

In other news, my radio play has achieved final draft status. Producer David Ian Neville sent me the latest version, incorporating a few tweaks to establish continuity across the five plays [of which mine is the third, to be broadcast on a Wednesday]. He also made a couple of other minor dialogue changes, all of which improved the final script - only wish I'd thought of them myself! Still, I'm very happy with the script - it's still the core story I pitched back in December but is now much improved, and I've learned a lot over the four drafts it took to reach this status. The play is due in the recording studio in a fortnight [the same day as Sweet Charity opens, natch!] and will be broadcast as part of Woman's Hour in early June. Don't worry, I'll be boring you all with exact details of how and when to hear it.

Today I shall mostly be writing The Phantom. After a week of mulling, I finally figured out how to turn the plot supplied to me into a script. I always like to have a strong, striking opening and have now [hopefully] identified that. I've started near the end of the story, creating [hopefully, again] mystery and intrigue while setting up several plot points for the resolution. Now the script is plunging back 11 years in time to where the story begins...

Monday, April 24, 2006

We came, we saw, we contemplated murder

Spent the weekend in Ireland at the 2006 Crime Writers' Association conference. The vent was based at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, a coastal town not far from Dublin. Flew in on Friday afternoon and got a surprisingly cheap taxi from the airport. I say surprisingly cheap because not much else about the Emerald Isle is cheap. Had a gawk in the windows of an estate agency and staggered back, gasping at the prices for a two-bedroom apartment. Food, drink and most other things seem remarkably costly across the water.

The only thing that is cheap in Eire is life, judging by what one of our guest speakers had to say. We had a fascinating cross-section of talks during the weekend, the last of which was investigative journalist Paul Williams. He filled most of the delegates with horror at his talk of gangland slayings, Glock 9s and the millions of euros in drug money sluicing around Ireland. Bear in mind, this is a roomful of people who make their living imagining crime and murder on a daily basis. Fiction is one thing, but brutal reality is quite another. The cosy world of crime prose is far removed from the harsh life and death that is organised crime.

Coming back from these events is the worst part, as you just want to be home. Instead I got to spend five hours hanging around the hotel lobby and another four killing time at Dublin airport. The latter was nice enough, but there's nothing inviting or homely about airport terminals. The clue is probably in the word terminal - you feel your life slowly draining away as you wait for the call to be flung into the sky. Finally got home at midnight, grabbed five and a bit hours of sleep and then got up to go running. Now knackered, knackered and knackered some more.

Back to college on Thursday this week, so need to knuckle down and get some paying work done in the next three days. Some more Fiends of the Eastern Front in Stalingrad comic scripts would be useful, but more pressing is the need for a Phantom script [based on a plot by artist Hans Lindahl] and a plot synopsis for a Phantom prose story - both of which are due by the end of the week. Deadlines - the motivation that keeps on giving [stress].

Friday, April 21, 2006

Her name's Smith. Sarah Jane Smith.

The forthcoming issue of DWM interviews Elisabeth Sladen, who returns to the new Doctor Who TV series as Sarah Jane Smith later this month. The character was a travelling companion for the 3rd [Jon Pertwee] and 4th [Tom Baker] Doctor in the mid-1970s. She returned to the show in 1983 for its 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors. Now, nearly quarter of a century later, Sarah Jane Smith is coming back to TV - and she's bringing robot dog K-9 with her. You said nostalgia isn't all it used to be?

The DWM feature should make for interesting reading, especially after all the work that went into the Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas. But Lis was probably interviewed on set, and since the TV episode was filmed before the Big Finish plays were recorded, I'm guessing they probably won't get much of a mention, if any. Hey ho. I've now had a chance to hear the fourth and final story in the series, Dreamland. It's quite emotional stuff, with a lot of emphasis on character, rather than the usual race against time plotting I tend to write.

For the most part Dreamland's been well received online, but the ending has polarised listeners. I won't spoil it here by describing what happens, but the final moments have definitely produced a love it or hate it response. I suspect those who hate it might grow to appreciate what we were trying to achieve - and some will never forgive us. I was hoping the way the script was written left the ending open to each listener's imagination and interpretation. Apparently, that's not enough for some people. As a wise person once said, you can't please all the people all the time. That may have become a cliche, but it still happens to be true.

Right, time to pack a suitcase as I'm off to the Crime Writers' Association annual conference. This year it's being held in Ireland, so I'm flying to the emerald isle this afternoon for a weekend of murder, mystery and intrigue. Should make for an interesting contrast to the science fiction convention Concussion in Glasgow last weekend!

Lost man to boldy go: J.J. Abrams reviving Trek

Variety reports that Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams has been chosen to produce and direct the 11th Star Trek feature film. Abrams is helmer for next month's Tom Cruise xplodo-fest Mission Impossible III. To make the Lost connection even more trasnparent, Abrams' producing team of Damon Lindelof [who also co-created the hit TV series] and Bryan Burk are helping produced the untitled Trek movie. Apparently the film will focus on the early days of James T. Kirk and Spock, including their initial meeting at Starfleet Academy and first mission into outer space.

All of this is good news, in my humble opinion. Abrams has shown a lot of nous with Lost and his previous TV creation, Alias, plus there's a lot of positive buzz on MI:III. Let's face it, any director with the wit to employ Phillip Seymour Hoffman as its antagonist [just before his Oscar bandwagon got rolling for Capote] deserves some kudos. And, frankly, Star Trek needs the help. Without someone fresh to perform a Russel T Davies-style resurrection, the sci-fi franchise was going to spending a long time out in the wilderness. The new film is scheduled for 2008 - let's see if it can save the Federation from oblivion...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Send in The Badger

And then there were five. I speak, of course, about Britain's version of The Apprentice. Nine of the original 14 contestants have now been ceremonially culled by Sir Alan Sugar, leaving four contenders and Syed. It's a miracle Syed has got this far, but his time must be coming soon, surely. Meanwhile Ruth "Send in The" Badger continues to impress. She looks like she could play linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, but she could sell sand castles to sheiks. I've got my fingers crossed for Ruth, but fear her heart could be broken before the show finishes in three weeks' time.

Arse, I've just realised the final episode clashes with a performance night for Sweet Charity, the musical I'm directing and appearing in at the Biggar Theatre Workshop. Thank Sony for my DVD recorder.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Phantom: The Underground Murders

I contribute scripts to Fantomen, a comic published by Egmont in Scandinavia about the adventures of costumed hero The Phantom. After each story is published, I prepare some notes on how my script came about for a Norwegian website. I'm not sure these notes ever get seen in English, so I figured they might as well appear here. An English language version of The Underground Murders will be published in the next few weeks by Australia's Frew Comics...

Looking back at The Underground Murders, it’s hard to remember where the inspiration for the story came from. Certainly, Team Fantomen was eager for more stories featuring the 18th Phantom and his half-brother Chris Sommerset. The son of the Pirate Queen had relocated to London in a previous story and married Anna, Kate Sommerset’s former first mate. I think the title, The Underground Murders, probably came from Team Fantomen – the Phantom’s editorial staff often supply story titles as a jumping off for writers. The setting of late Victorian London immediately brings to mind the era of Jack the Ripper. Although the prostitute killer’s last slaying took place in 1888, newspapers were full of scare stories about copycat cases for years afterwards and people claiming to have deduce the true identity of the Ripper.

One such report was published in a paper called the Sun, claiming a man called Thomas Cutbush was the Ripper. Cutbush was arrested in Spring 1891 for stabbing a woman and attempted to wound another woman, both in South London. The accused had escaped from Lambeth Infirmary where he was detained as a lunatic. Cutbush was subsequently found to be insane and imprisoned indefinitely. His uncle was a superintendent in the Metropolitan police at the time. Charles Henry Cutbush committed suicide five years later.

Around this time the London Underground was becoming established in England’s capital, although it was a primitive version of the Tube found beneath the city today. Combine this evocative setting with the idea of a Ripper copycat killer, the historical fact that an insane man known for stabbing women was loose in London at the time and his uncle being a police superintendent – and The Underground Murders was the result. The two-part story tweaks historical fact for dramatic effect, but considerable effort was put into supplying visual reference from the period to make the story look as accurate as possible.

Cesar Spadari has drawn nearly all the stories in the Sommerset family saga and he does a typically sound job of these scripts. But my personal highlight has to be Hans Lindahl’s wonderfully evocative cover for the second part [see above], published in Fantomen 09/2006 – quite stunning!

Below is the original synopsis submitted to Team Fantomen for this two-part tale. As you’ll see, quite a bit changed in the telling of the story. Any Frew readers who haven't seen the published story yet should stop reading now to avoid spoiling themselves for forthcoming issues...

January 1891: The son of the Pirate Queen, Chris Sommerset, has married to his mother’s former first mate, Anna. She is pregnant, so the 18th Phantom travels to London hoping to see his first nephew. But he arrives to find the British capital gripped by fear – women are being attacked on the London Underground and newspapers are full of speculation that Jack the Ripper could be responsible. He terrified the city during the Autumn of 1888, murdering five prostitutes in the East End before abruptly stopping his killing spree. Could the man known as Leather Apron be back?
The Phantom and Chris discuss the case and decide the case is quite different from that of Jack the Ripper. He murdered prostitutes, mostly in the open air and late at night. The fiend terrorising the underground is attacking honest, decent women on trains in the early morning or around dusk. The case is complicated by arguments over jurisdiction – any crimes committed on the underground is investigated by the Metropolitan Railway Police, but Scotland Yard always wants to get involved. Mr Walker escorts Anna’s maid safely on to a busy train, but she is slain less than an hour later, distressing Anna greatly. The attacker has now escalated to murder, but each slaying will not slake his hunger for spilling blood. He must be stopped, before other innocents die!
Chris and Mr Walker go to the police but their aide is unwanted. Scotland Yard is being overwhelmed by hoax letters, would-be sleuths and psychics claiming they can solve the crimes. Chris and the Phantom decide to investigate for themselves, see what they can discover. They study evidence the police have ignored and recognise a pattern. The first widely reported attack happened at Whitechapel, the stalking ground of the Ripper, but other, previous unconnected attacks took place along the line between New Cross Gate south of the Thames and Whitechapel, starting at New Cross Gate. Could the killer come from south of the river?
The Phantom decides to ride the trains, see if he can stop the attacks or the attacker, while Chris comforts Anna. The Phantom frightens one woman alone who thinks he is the killer, so she switches carriages. He thinks he spots the killer soon after but it is merely a lover’s quarrel. A scream cuts through the air – the Phantom clambers out of one carriage to the next and interrupts the killer in action. It is the woman who got scared of the Phantom before. He makes sure she is alright, then pursues the fleeing killer – but is stopped by the railway police, who think he’s the killer! Despite this, the Phantom hears the killer command a hansom cab driver to the Lambeth Infirmary. Mr Walker is arrested and charged with the attempted murder!

In part two Mr Walker struggles to prove his innocence, thanks to Chris’s intervention. Mr Walker was not even in the country when the attacks began. Yes, but he knew the first victim and he scared the second. The survivor eventually regains her senses and says Mr Walker saved her life. The real killer had a hook nose, furtive eyes. Chris and his half-brother visit the infirmary and discover it has an insane asylum attached. The Phantom is introduced to the asylum’s director, Dr Cutbush, and believes he may be the killer – but can they prove it? The police will not listen when Mr Walker and Chris put forward their theory – a doctor would not be responsible for these vile crimes. Besides Dr Cutbush is the brother of one of our superintendents!
The Phantom and Chris resolve to take turns keeping watch over Dr Cutbush until they can catch him in the act. But he seems to lead an innocent life – could they have gotten the wrong man? They don’t realise they are observed by the real killer. He hunts the hunters, following one of them to the Sommerset family home. return to Chris’s home to find Anna being held at knifepoint by Dr Cutbush’s son, Thomas. He is the Underground Killer, a patient at the asylum under his father’s care – that explains the family resemblance. Anna fights her way free, refusing to become the next victim, but her baby is coming. Cutbush flees, so Chris stays with Anna while the Phantom pursues the killer. Cutbush dies beneath the wheels of an underground train, killed by his chosen mode for murder…


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Searching for Michael Fleisher

I'm trying to track down a clutch of creators who have contributed to legendary British science fiction title 2000 AD over the year. Some date back to the weekly's earliest years in the 1970s, while others were active contributors to the comic in the early 1990s. There are a few more who were part of 2000 AD's editorial team at various times, or who were responsible for overseeing the comics's content. [The photographs above illustrate a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to 2000 AD's Command Module during the late 1970s. Among those pictured with the Duke are bearded editor Kelvin Gosnell and the weekly's management overseer, Bob Bartholomew, while IPC's comics publisher John Sanders lurks in the background.]

So, if you know the whereabouts of the individuals listed below, please contact me via one of my email addresses: - here's the list in full...

Tom Tully, writer
Alan Hebden, writer
Hilary Robinson, writer
Michael Fleisher, writer
Peter Milligan, writer
Roy Preston, 2000 AD editorial staff
Bob Bartholomew, IPC publishing staff
John Purdie, IPC publishing staff

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Off to Eastercon/Concussion in Glasgow

Today I'm planning to visit Eastercon, the UK's annual science fiction convention. It's being held in Glasgow this year, which is handy for me. With a bit of luck, I hope to catch up with Doctor Who scribe Paul Cornell, best-selling Black Library author Dan Abnett [both of whom wrote for me, on the Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000 AD respectively], and maybe enough Black Library Publisher Marc Gascoigne. In the meantime, it's now less than twelve hours until the new series of Doctor Who begins on BBC1. Must remember to set the timer on the DVD recorder before I go out...

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Easter Egg incident

When I was growing up, we didn't have hollow chocolate easter eggs in our house like other families I knew. Some genius of a doctor had decided it was chocolate that tended to give one of my elder brothers migraines, so the whole family went without chocolate most of the time as a gesture of support for him. At least, that's how my memory recalls the explanation I was given. To me, it just seemed like a cruel wheeze designed to deny me chocolate and turn Easter into a time of slow, painful torture. While other kids were looking forward to gorging themselves on big, fat, hollow chocolate easter eggs, we had to make do with rubbish imitation eggs made out of marshmallow with a paper-thin chocolate coating. These marshmallow egg-shaped substitutes tasted vile and the chocolate around them was cheap and nasty, never a happy combination for a kid.

So, one Easter, I plotted my revenge. I found the family stash of marshmallow easter eggs and secreted myself behind a sofa while I eat the chocolate off the outside of at least half a dozen, if not more. When I was eventually discovered, surrounding by half-masticated marshmallow blobs, I was feeling ill and sickened by my guilt and gluttony. I don't think I get any marshmallow eggs that easter as punishment, but then I've never been able to eat one since. Just thinking about them turns my stomach - bleughhhhh.

A few years later I got a paper round and saved up enough money to buy myself a hollow chocolate easter egg, like the kind every other kid at school seemed to have. It was good, but the aftertaste of all those marshmallow imitations spoiled the triumph of finally getting what I'd always wanted.

I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

SJS: Dreamland is out

Apparently the last of my Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas has just been released. I say apparently because I probably won't get the finished product for a few days yet, due to the vagaries of life and the postal service. The first few responses on Outpost Gallifrey's Big Finish forum have been positive, so that bodes well as the earliest of early indicators. Of course, anyone hoping for a happy ending with everybody having a group hug really doesn't know my writing at all...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"It's duck soup for you vegs."

Liking the look of this new movie, Brick, that's currently creeping across America. Freaky noir for the chemical generation, David Lynch does Veronica Mars - a real brain jagger of a soundtrack too. Check it by clicking the headline, peoples.


Well, the San Diego Padres have started the new baseball season playing the way I've been feeling of late: like crap. After winning their opening game, the Padres lost four in a row. They're gotten one back with a win over Florida, but 2 and 4 is not the best way to get a season started. My health this week has been much the same. Felt okay on Monday morning, ready to do some productive work. By late Monday afternoon the wheels were starting to come off, as I sucked the Olbas pastilles like they were going out of fashion. Got through a production meeting for the musical I'm directing [Sweet Charity - not a show people tend to recognise instantly, but you'll know several of the songs anyway: Rhythm of Life, If They Could See Me Now, Hey Big Spender]. Came home, collapsed into bed and stayed there for the next 36 hours. By ten this morning my hips hurt so much I had to get up, so I went downstairs and listened to the commentary on my In The Line of Fire DVD. Nothing like hearing people talk about assassins to perk you up. Feeling better this afternoon, but still not at my peak.

In case you're wondering about the picture, it's a spoof of the album cover for George Michael's Faith, featuring camp vampire comics character Devlin Waugh. The artist is the unfeasibly talented Sean Phillips. No great reason for posting the picture here, but, you know, what the hell. Shockingly, it's ten years since the image was published on the back cover of the 1996 Judge Dredd Megazine. Ten years! Times like this I wish I was better at Yiddish, now there's a language that can do exclamations...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Four days to new Doctor Who

Doctor Who returns for its second series this Saturday, starting on BBC1 at 7.15pm. Seems strange typing that, having followed the programme for most of my life and yet been without almost any new Who on TV from 1989 until last year. Now the show is white hot, the most popular it's been as a pop culture icon since 1964. Like a lot of Who fans who suffered through the slings and arrows of the 16-year gap, this second coming doesn't seem quite real. I guess we should simply enjoy the ride while it lasts this time.

The new block of 13 episodes includes the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, the first human character from the original series to appear in the new version. By a happy coincidence - and it was no more than that, believe me - the last of my Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas is due out on CD sometime between now and April 29, when SJS returns to Doctor Who in the episode School Reunion.

The penultimate SJS audio, Fatal Consequences, effectively paid off an awful lot of plot threads the stories had been setting up. The last in this series, Dreamland, resolves the cliffhanger left from its predecessor, before setting off in a new direction, as Sarah Jane goes boldly into... But that would be telling. Suffice to say, SJS comes face to face with the greatest dilemma of her life, and what she decides will have far-reaching effects.

I've no idea how Dreamland will be received by its listeners. The first of the new SJS audios, Buried Secrets, got an extremely positive response in most quarters, while Snow Blind was thought to be good, but not great. Fatal Consequences has easily been the most popular of the series. Now I'm worried that Dreamland will be a big let-down. Then again, if its predecessors had flopped, I'd be worried whether Dreamland could turn around perception of the series. Basically, I'm always worried. I cried twice while I was writing Dreamland. Hopefully it'll engage the audience's emotions too - time will tell.

Got to stop typing now. My head's spinning like dervish thanks to some lurgy I've acquired in recent days. Urgh, fell like crap...

Monday, April 10, 2006

24: Three more days in hell for Jack Bauer

Variety reports that Kiefer Sutherland has signed on to stay with top TV thriller 24 through to the end of Season 8. For anyone keeping count, good old Jack Bauer is currently surviving his fifth day in hell on US TV - that means three more apocalyptic incidents that only the hardest working man in American Intelligence can stop. I haven't seen Season 5 yet, but I've heard murmurs about a massive cast cull taking place through the 24 [natch] episodes. One wonders who'll be left alive for Season 6, let along 7 and 8. Bring back the cougar, that's I say. Meanwhile, hurry up and release Season 5 on DVD, please!

Lewis DVD postponed

It seems the DVD release of Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis has been postponed. Up until last week online retailers amazon and play both had the Region 2 disc due out today, April 10. But now amazon is suggesting a release day of July 8 while play is talking about December this year! No doubt the truth may resemble one of those dates, but not both. It did seem rather odd to rush release the special less than three months after the special was first broadcast, even taking into account the impressive ratings Lewis garnered back in January. With plans afoot for a series of four Lewis specials to be shot this summer and screened next January, it makes more sense to hold back the DVD release until later in the year, when it can act as a stalking horse for the new series.

In the meantime, I've signed off the final pages on the new edition of The Complete Inspector Morse: From the Original Novels to the TV Series. With any luck, the mighty tome should be in the shops sometime in the next few weeks. Don't believe any online retailers whose sites state the book had already been published - they are wrong. Yes, the new edition was originally due out by March 31 this year, but got delayed a month to enable some last minute tweaks and twiddles. The interior pages look great, very classy, and the whole thing now runs to almost 300 pages - my kind of hardback. If you want to order a copy, click the link at right or the headline on this post.

What's he like? What is he like?

Been hankering for some Neneh Cherry lately, so I've just uploaded her debut to my iPod from the CD. Raw Like Sushi may be 17 years old (!), but it still sounds good to me - So Solid Crew and all the other Brit rap posses old a massive debt to Neneh for proving you could rap in a British accent and make it sound real.

Apologies for going MIA the past four days, but I've been staying off the computer to do other things. Thursday was spent at college, a real end of term effort as we're now now for two weeks as Napier closes down for Easter. Mucho mix-up on getting back our first pieces of assessed work for trimester 2 on the MA Screenwriting course. I ended up with the 10-Minute Script Development module feedback sheet for another David [at one point we had four Davids in a class of 30, including the producers]. Fortunately, the other David spotted the mistake and kindly sent me my feedback sheet. I got a P5 for the outline of my 10-Minute script. You always hope for Distinction, but the outline was somewhat anorexic on detail, so I guess I got what I deserved.

By comparison, my outline submitted for the Writing For Interactivement module was a six-page monster and probably contained more detail than I'll need for the final presentation. As a consequence, I apparently got a D3 for that, although I've yet to see the final feedback sheet to confirm that. A good start, but the interactive module hits a lot of my buttons and previous experience sits well with it. I did some work for now defunct games developer Viz Entertainment in 2002-2003, including cut scenes, IP development and in-game scripting, so I've got a bit of a headstart when it comes to the interactive module.

Friday I was back into Edinburgh for a script conference with BBC Radio Drama producer David Ian Neville. He'd called me a few days before to say we needed to meet about my 15-minute script for Woman's Hour. Essentially, my central character and premise are strong, but I've probably been guilty of stacking the deck in that character's favour. By shifting the focus more to his antagonist, making the story seem like it belongs to her, it should make the script much stronger. We had a very positive session on Friday, after which I felt energised and couldn't wait to get started on rewrites. However, I've been guilty of rushing into rewrites before, so instead I deliberately have left the project simmer in my subconscious for a few days. Today rewrites begin in earnest, with a new draft due in by Thursday.

One of the first things I said when I sat down with David was 'So, how can we make this [the script] better?' I used to be terribly arrogant, believing the first draft of anything I'd writtern would be the best draft, thinking that rewriting was for wimps who couldn't get it right first time. When somebody came back expecting rewrites and polishes, I made it obvious I considered that a chore and resented having to go back to a story I felt was already finished.

My attitude has changed completely in the last year. Maybe I'm growing up a little as a writer, but now I see rewrites as a chance to make my scripts and stories even better. I've learned to welcome input, to understand that so much of what I do is just one step on the journey. Live and learn, I guess.

Besides redrafting the radio script, I've got to finish the third script for my Megazine comic serial, Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad. I've also been sent he plot for an issue of The Phantom that my editor at Egmont Sweden would like me to script, so that's something I'd like to get down before Easter. I've also agreed to act as an editorial consultant for a guy working on a comics project, and he's been patiently waiting nearly a fortnight for my feedback on his first script, so that needs to be addressed too - it's coming, Robert, honest!

There's probably other stuff that needs doing this week, but that's enough to be going on with... Time to get to work!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sunshine on a rainy day

Love this picture on director Danny Boyle on the set of his new film, Sunshine. It's a sci-fi thriller about a team sent into space to stop a solar apocalypse, from the same creative team of Boyle, Macdonald and Garland that brought you the freaky 28 Days Later... The site for Sunshine is loaded with cool stuff [or shoudl that be hot stuff?]. You know the drill by now - click the headline or paste this URL into your browser:

Why time begins on Opening Day

I love baseball. I love watching the game. I love movies about baseball - The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out. I enjoy reading great writing about baseball, such as Thomas Boswell's seminal works like Why Time Begins on Opening Day. I love baseball for its metaphorical qualities, its intrigue and its elegance. [From Bull Durham: "This is a simple game - you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball."]

Unfortunately for me, I live in Scotland. The new baseball season may have just begun, but it's still snowing here, off and on. Try watching baseball on TV in Scotland without a satellite dish - you can't do it. You can sort of follow games via the internet, but even that's less than simple. Why? Because the team I support, the San Diego Padres, are eight hours away in time zones. Even when they start an early afternoon game at home, it's long past midnight here before that finishes.

If any Americans are reading this, perhaps they can settle something that's been nagging me - is it my imagination or are the Padres a stunningly uncool team to follow? Not that it makes any difference to me, I'm perfectly happy to support a team that's the baseball equivalent of Millwall. Hell, I've been following the fortunes of Scunthorpe for twenty years and they're not exactly the epitome of cool.

One day I hope to get back to San Diego and see the new home of the Padres. Last time I was there you had to get a taxi out to a stadium that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Now the team has shifted into town, getting to a game should be much easier. Anyway, for what it's worth - go Padres!

Race For Life: do your bit!

The wife has signed herself up to take part in Race For Life, where women across Britain run five miles to raise money for Cancer Research UK. It's a great idea and a good cause - let's face it, who hasn't lost somebody they care about to cancer? If you want to sponsor the wife and her workmates, click the headline on this post or past the following URL into your browser:

In Edinburgh the runners are going around Arthur's Seat, a rather spectacular rock formation in the centre of the city, but one with plenty of hills and dales involved. As a consequence, the wife has gone into training for the next eight weeks, and I'm training with her as moral support. Three times a week we're getting up before dawn and going running - not something I ever thought I'd be doing! I keep remembering the pre-dawn running scene from Rocky. Fortunately, we don't have to swallow five raw eggs before we take to the streets.

So, if you've ever gotten a smile or a useful piece of information from this blog, now's the time to pay up! Click the link and get sponsoring -

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Read the book, see the film, eat the pie

This is genius. Somebody has taken every letter of the song lyrics to Bright Eyes [from the film Watership Down] and - using the power of anagrams - turned them into the recipe below. See more such madness by clicking the headline.

WARNING: What follows is probably not for animal lovers or vegetarians, otherwise they also have a sick sense of humour...

This dish needs:

One dewy-eyed wiggly-eared bunny (how adorable)
One huge onion
One sizeable celery stalk

First catch your rabbit. Horribly slaughter the tiny bastard with a great big huge hammer, skin and wash her gory dead body. Soak the bunny (without her head) under brine in the fridge all night. Dry, stew with highly diced celery/onion (a good two or three hours), before hewing the soggy meat from her smashed bones and laying it on your thirty-centimetre dish, while lightly salting. Add gravy*, top with the bikkies then bake (I suggest three hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit, one whole hour in duration).

*GRAVY needs:
Hen bouillon and seasoning
One (not-so-big) onion
Boil stock, bouillon, onion. Strain. Thicken with flour and water, season.

Yield: eight good helpings.

Afterwards, why not try a good haunch of venison?
First we slaughter Bambi, then...

Tom Baker sings 'How Soon is Now?'

Back in February I stumbled across a website where some genius was creating freaky karaoke with BT's new service that lets you send friends messages using the electronically sampled voice of former Doctor Who Tom Baker. First out of the blocks was an hysterical cover version of Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star.

Now others have got in on the act, with our Tom doing a version of Pulp's Common People. A good idea, but William Shatner's already covered that song, with hilarious consequences. My new favourite has to be Tom Baker intoning the miserable Smiths' classic How Soon is Now? Either click the headline on this posting to get a link, or else paste this URL into your browser to hear it...

Catching up on my movie viewing

Time, energy and enthusiasm mean I rarely get to the cinema these days. It's an hour's drive away, plus another hour back, plus you've got to park and put up with idiots nearby who talk and fidget and have bladders the size of a thimble. Going to the cinema certainly brings out the misanthrope in me. Fortunately, the advent of DVD and online shopping means I can savour what I want when I want where I want.

This weekend I was playing catch-up on some of the best picture Oscar nominees. I'd already seen Crash and Walk the Line on long haul plane flights, and Brokeback Mountain isn't available on DVD yet. But kindly souls in the US have released Good Night, and Good Luck and Capote on Region 1 shiny disc recently, so both films got a spin on Saturday and Sunday. The Clooney film looked great - nothing like black & white to give that instant classic feel - and I loved the soundtrack. While watching the movie, the story it told seemed all too relevant and meaningful for the sometimes hysterical world in which we live now.

But the more I think about it, the less satisfied I am by the film. The subplot about the couple who have to hide their marriage was, ultimately, completely extraneous. I kept expecting it to pay off in some more meaningful way, but it never did. McCarthy was built up as this massive threat, yet no sooner had the Murrow show stood up to him than he seemed to melt away. And what was the significance of the black woman who worked in the code room and got accused of having communist links? Without watching the supplementary material on DVD, I was left rather scatching my head. I should be able to enjoy a film on its own merits without needed to have read or watched a primer on the background to the story being told, shouldn't I? Perhaps I simply wasn't paying enough attention. The thing Good Night... most reminded me of was All the President's Men, another story about crusading journalists taking on powerful politicians. To me that's a superior effort, but I'm far more familiar with the circumstances surrounding the story, so I'm probably biased.

Watching Good Night..., I was constantly stunned by how much everybody in the cast seemed to smoke. The same reaction occurred when I watched Alien a few days later. It's the future, yet they're all smoking like chimneys. Here in Scotland smoking has just been banned from enclosed public spaces and workplaces, so it seems anachronistic to see people smoking on spaceships. Perhaps a non-addictive, non-carcinogenic cigarette has been invented in the future? Now half-way through Aliens and Ripley is smoking up a storm again. Those things'll kill you, Ripley!

I can see why Capote was Oscar-nominated and Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a stunning performance as the eponymous Truman. Catherine Keener was in cracking form as Harper Lee, but I struggle to recall a bad performance by her in anything. Perhaps the finest performance in the film was given by Clifton Collins Jnr as the killer Perry Smith, something that seems to have gone unheralded during awards season. He was, by turns, charming, pathetic and chilling.

Capote had great music too, by Mychael Danna, if not dissimilar to the music of Thomas Newman in films like The Shawshank Redemption and Road to Perdition. Sadly, the Capote score isn't available on iTunes yet, as I'd download it in a trice. You get the film score, plus extracts from In Cold Blood read by the late Truman Capote. That would be something worth listening to...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sometimes it Snows in April

On the album Parade by Prince and the Revolution, there's a rather wonderful song called Sometimes it Snows in April. When I first heard that, I lived in a New Zealand city called Auckland that hadn't seen snow in my lifetime. the idea that it might snow somewhere in April seemed quite bizarre and difficult to imagine. Now I live in Scotland and there's no imagination required. Hell, it's been known to snow on Gala Day where I live, and that's usually celebrated in June - supposedly the beginning of summer!

My Top Ten favourite film scores

I love film scores. They're great background music for writing, particularly genre film scores that strike a particular mood. Now, I'm not talking about soundtrack albums here, the sort of song-based compilation efforts that swamped the charts after the success of movies like Footloose and Flashdance. [Saturday Night Fever is arguably most to blame for that phenom, but SNF has a lot to answer for in other areas, too.] Sadly, certain composers only seem to possess a single style or musical motif, one that repeat over and over again.

Film score composers are not afraid of borrowing from classical music for their themes. I was surprised to find the score for Downfall [the movie about Hitler's last days in the bunker at Berlin] seemed to replicate the most famous aria from Purcell's Dido and Aneas almost note for note. Similarly, the wonderful, soaring score for The Last of the Mohicans is remarkably similar to a theme from a work by an early music composer whose name escapes me for the moment. Still, it's not like I've never borrowed an idea and developed it in a different setting myself. My Doctor Who novel Amorality Tale was, in essence, the plot of The Long Good Friday transferred to fog-bound London in December 1952, with aliens taking the part fulfilled by the IRA in the John Mackenzie film. I've yet to see a single review notice that, so I guess I developed the idea sufficiently to take it beyond easy recognition of its initial inspiration.

Anyways, just for fun, here's my Top Ten favourite film scores of today, presented in no particular...

ROCKY • Bill Conti
THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS • Randy Edelman, Trevor Jones
MAGNOLIA • Jon Brion
BACKDRAFT • Hans Zimmer
LEON • Eric Sierra

So, what are you favourite film scores?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Royalties - good. Source material - bad.

It's that time again, when publishers send out their royalty statements for book sales during the period July-December of the previous year. Freakishly, I actually got a cheque with one of my statements, instead of the more usual selection of statements informing me I need only sell another four thousand books and I'll be making money. BBC Books very kindly sent me a cheque for a whisker under fifty quid, which is good as I didn't issue a single invoice during March.

Unfortunately for my pride, the royalties are for sales of possibly the worst novel I've ever written. The book in question is Doctor Who: The Domino Effect, a rather witless alternate reality tale about an Earth where the invention of the computer has been deliberately suppressed. Of all the novels I've written in the past ten years, I find it embarrassing that my worst effort is the only generating royalties. Of course, the nine books I've produced for Black Flame were all on a flat-fee, no royalty basis, so that's a factor in the equation.

Apparently my Fiends of the Eastern Front novels are doing rather well for Black Flame, as evidenced by an interview with publisher Marc Gascoigne on the Emerald City website. You can see the whole interview by clicking the headline on this post, but this is the bit that's relevant to Fiends...

"Black Flame’s biggest recent success has been the three-book Fiends of the Eastern Front series by David Bishop, where good old Sven Hassel-style WWII mayhem meets vampires, and goes for the jugular (sorry). It’s Commando war comics meets The Bloody Red Baron, and why not? It seems readers worldwide have got the joke and are clamoring for more, a noise most joyous to any publisher."

Just a shame I don't make royalties from this success, isn't it? Still, I knew the terms when I sign my contract, so moaning about it now does nobody any good. You never know, if the Fiends novels do well enough, Black Flame might decide to extend the franchise. Das Vampyr Boat, perhaps?