Friday, June 30, 2006

I heart Inspector Morse

On Monday I'm making a daytrip to Durham for a talking heads documentary about Inspector Morse. I've been interviewed for TV a few times over the years, even appearing BBC News 24 once [although nobody mistook me for an expert on the internet, strangely enough - or offered me a job in the Beeb's IT department]. The strangest experience was in 1997 when 2000 AD was publishing B.L.A.I.R. 1, a satirical swipe at the then newly elected Prime Minister. I wrote a spoof of the old 2000 AD series M.A.C.H. 1 [itself a less than subtle swipe of the hit TV series The Six Million Dollar Man], turning Tony Blair into a hyper-powered bionic agent controlled by an artificial intelligence known as Doctor Spin.

Back in 1997 the new Labour government was still enjoying its honeymoon period with the media, so 2000 AD's satirical barbs were both fresh and newsworthy. The comic got a lot of free publicity and even featured in an edition of Have I Got News For You. Anyway, Sky News wanted to film me in the editorial office, close to Russell Square. It was the depths of winter, dark outside and snowing, so the interview was set up bside my desk on the first floor. The OB van was parked outside with cables running up the wall and in through the window by my desk. To get the lighting and angle just how the director wanted them, I got wedged in an uncomfortable corner next to the open window, standing on one leg. I was given an earpiece that supplied me with the studio feed, so I could hear what the anchors were saying, along with the rantings of the Sky gallery.

By the time the interview began, I'd been waiting twenty minutes, trying to look calm, cool and casual. Snow was billowed in through the window and slowly covering my desk, threatening to short circuit my computer. The one leg I was standing on was frozen while my face was being baked by the glaring light mounted atop the camera. I could hardly hear the questions being asked and was painfully conscious of everybody else in our open plan office trying to get on with their jobs. Somehow I stumbled through the interview without making an utter prat of myself and it was over in about 90 seconds. My brief brush with fame vanished far quicker than the 15 minutes Andy Warhol promised we'd all have in the future. So not expecting Monday's excursion to Durham to be any different. Hopefully they'll let me sit down this time.

TV - not glamorous at all, sadly.

Heartily recommended: the WGGB blog

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain blog is a wonderful resource, packed full of interesting links and information about the state ofthe industry. Check it out for yourself by going here. That is all.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Voiceover Guy japery

Another funny Voiceover Guy link, courtesy of PJ - this time there's five for the price of one...

That gravel-voiced movie trailer guy

You know when you go to the movies and have trailers for forthcoming attractions? There's always that guy with the voice like gravel who does the narration. See him in action in this trailer for Jerry Seinfeld's film Comedian - hilarious. [Thanks to PJ for the tip.]

Omnibuses: three come along at once

Those lovely people at Black Flame have obviously got omnibus fever. Not only are my trilogy of Nikolai Dante novels being collected under one cover in the New Year, but my three [throat] ripping yarns featuring the Fiends of the Eastern Front are also getting the big book treatment. Before then Black Flame is gathering the first three tales in its A Nightmare on Elm Street series in a single volume, including my story Suffer the Children. That book will be a monster in every sense, more than 1000 pages long [no matter what may suggest in its advance listing]. Click the links at right to find out more...

Daytime drama returning to ITV

Broadcast reports that Britain's biggest commerical TV channel is set to bring back drama to its daytime schedules. The BBC has enjoyed considerable success in recent years with its mid-afternoon medical drama Doctors. Now ITV wants to get some of the some action:
The broadcaster will send out a tender document in the next week looking for "exciting" returnable scripted programme ideas for its afternoon schedules.

ITV is asking for proposals for a 30-minute consecutive weekday series – likely to be a soap or precinct drama – with a budget believed to be between £40,000 and £50,000 per hour.

ITV has not had an originally commissioned daytime drama series since it axed Crossroads from the schedules in 2003, but has always harboured hopes of bringing the genre back.

For those who don't know it, Doctors is a 30 minute drama set in a suburban medical centre. Each episode's A story features a new patient seen by one of the doctors. The B story tends to focus on one of the regular cast, developing ongoing serial elements, while the C story often offers some humour or contrast to the A story's themes. The show is notable for giving many new scribes their first TV broadcast credit in Britain. Doctors has acted as a stepping stone for numerous talents, helping them break in to the industry.

It's long struck me there's an obvious gap in the market for an equivalent to Doctors, set in a police station. Cops and docs are the two dominant professions in British workplace serials - witness the plethora of shows like Casualty, Holby City, The Bill. Alternatively, ITV might contemplate commissioning a low-cost legal drama, such as that 70s favourite Crown Court. [That's already been revived once before, but a good idea is still a good idea, isn't it?] Whatever wins the slot, it'll be interesting to see if ITV shows the same foresight as the BBC and uses the new show to groom potential writing talents...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hollywood does Aquaman. Sort of.

There's been a lot of japery of lot to do with fish-loving superhero Aquaman, thanks to a spoof ad for a film featuring the underwater avenger. Now see what would happen if Hollywood ever did try to make an Aquaman movie...

Fiends on the cover of the new Megazine

My Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad comic strip serial is featured on the cover of the new Judge Dredd Megazine, on sale from today. Issue 247 features episode three of the eight-part story, lovingly painted in monotone washes by Colin MacNeil. He's also provided the cover art, a brooding image that takes on an extra, chilling meaning once you've read the story inside.

The Fiends strip was originally commissioned bythen Megazine editor Alan Barnes as six parts of eight pages each. The first two scripts were already written when Matt Smith took over from Alan. A change in the Megazine's format meant Matt asked me to rewrite the existing episodes, shortening them from eight pages each to six pages per part. That wasn't too hard and I think they benefited from being tightened up. However, it did have the effect of turning the first two parts of the story into an extended prologue. With episode three, the tale gets moving.

I finished scripting the series just before going on holiday and am very happy with how it's turned out. While I've had some success writing comics for other countries, my scripts for the Megazine and 2000 AD had been poor received in the past. Fiends is getting a better response, with Colin's art a major fact in that. But I'd like to believe my writing is much improved too, thanks to the MA Screenwriting course and other learning experiences I had in the last year as a freelance scribe.

In the past I'd been guilty of dashing off a script, not bothering to put the effort into rewriting - and the results were ample proof of that sloppy attitude. The stories read like first attempts, lacking depth and development and subtlety. Hopefully Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad is evidence I'm leaving some of old, bad habits behind. In case anyone's interested, below is my script for the first two pages of episode three...



1. Full page image of Constanta as seen from behind, with panels 2-5 inset on the shadows of his cloak. The vampyr addresses his Panzergrenadiers beneath a full moon.

OCTOBER 1, 1942.


2. First of the four inset panels. A Red Army storm group advances through the shattered rubble of Stalingrad, moonlight their only illumination.


3.Three Russian soldiers wade through thigh-deep liquid in a sewer, each carrying burning torches to light their way.


4. Front view of Constanta. A 13-year-old Russian girl stands in front of the Rumanian, her face stricken with terror, Constanta’s hands on her neck.


5. Constanta sinks his fangs into the girl’s neck.



1. Constanta licks the blood from his lips.


2. Constanta stalks through the shocked Panzergrenadiers, among them Richter and a young, horrified soldier called Ulrich.


3. Ulrich points at the dead girl on the ground while talking to his comrade. Richter examines the sharp edge of his entrenching tool.



4. Richter walks purposefully toward the girl’s body, the short shovel clenched in one hand. He’s followed by the stunned Ulrich.



5. Silhouette of Richter swinging his blade through the air in an arc to decapitate the girl’s body on the ground.


6. Close on Richter’s blood-flecked face, the edge of the blade beside it.


MA Screenwriting at Napier: value for money?

Miss Read had some interesting comments to make after my gloomy mumblings yesterday about the vlue for money aspect of the MA Screenwriting course at Edinburgh's Napier University [click the headline to see them]. First off, congratulations to Laura on being accepted for the 2006-2007 intake. I remember how daunting it was going for the interview and the agonising wait that followed before hearing I'd been accepted.

Despite my moaning yesterday, I have gotten a lot from the course - but it's been mostly intangible, and certainly not financial. I feel the course has made me a better writer, though that's an entirely subjective notion. My attitude to writing has changed dramatically, and my knowledge of previously nebulous elements such as tone and theme is now much greater. Most important has been the networking aspect, coming into contact with people and getting access to events I'd never have encountered otherwise. But just as significant have been the validation I've gained as a writer and impetus to press on with projects I'd otherwise only take about, but never finish.

I suspect the new intake at Screen Academy Scotland will benefit from what the 2005-2006 guinea pigs went through. One of the underlyiing issues has been the vocational versus academic aspects of the MA Screenwriting course. Me, I applied for the course in the belief it was all about preparing me to work as a screenwriting. I have little interest in the academic approach to filmmaking - I want to do it, not talk about it. I couldn't give a toss about the auteur theory, the methodology of research methods or any of that Deep Thought stuff. I want to write, not indulge in cinematic onanism and publish papers that will be read by half a dozen other people.

The biggest shock the 2005-2006 fulltimers got came on the first full day of the first trimester, when they were told how much time they were expected to put into the course: 40 hours a week. Two full days at university and another three days of work outside the university. That sent a shudder through the class! In reality, most of the fulltimers had jobs and/or writing work to help support them.

If you want to get the best out of the course, you have to be prepared to put in the effort. The more effort you put in, the more time you devote to extra reading and extra writing and pushing yourself to extract the most from the experience, the better you'll do. Let's face it: if you're devoting a year of your life and thousands of pounds to this course [either in lost earnings or taking in debt via student loans], you want to get something back in return, right? Well, how much get is a direct correlationn to how much you put into it. You can let the course simply happen around you, or you can get stuck in and [hopefully] reap the benefits.

A bit like life, I suppose.

B5 creator's thriller next for Ron Howard?

Back in the early and mid 90s, Babylon 5 gave science fiction TV a good, solid kick up the arse. Creator J. Michael Straczynski proved you could take the layered complexity of a novel and apply it to the small screen. Despite being tucked away on minor US channels, Babylon 5 helped popularise the notion of year-long story arcs and serial storytelling on TV. [Steven Bochco's Murder One attempted the same thing in the mainstream and got burned after two seasons.] Such concepts are now massively in vogue, as evidenced by the success of 24, Lost and an ever-increasingly slew of clones. Since Babylon 5 ended Straczynski has continued working in TV and become a significant comics scribe as well. Now Variety reports he's making inroads with feature films too...
Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment have purchased J. Michael Straczynski's thriller The Changeling, which is being eyed by Ron Howard to direct. Project, to be produced by Brian Grazer, joins the shortlist of pics Howard is considering as his next endeavor.

Rest in Peace, Arif Mardin

Opened the paper this morning and was saddened to read an obituary for music legend Arif Mardin. He produced some of my favourite songs, albums and artists of all time, including Aretha Franklin's greatest hits for Atlantic Records in the 60s and Scritti Politti's biggest chart hits in the 80s. More recently he helped turned Norah Jones into a global sensation. The music world is that little bit less special today, without the prospect of any more albums produced by Arif Mardin...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Places names I love

Thanks to the wonders of Site Meter, I can look at a map and see where visitors to this blog are in the world. This facility throws up some wonderful places names, bizarre and bizarrely mundane. Here's my Top 10 place names of recent visitors, in alphabetical order...
Jyvskyl [an old favourite]
Sao Paulo

A Man of Distinction II: This Time It's Interactive

Spent my holiday on tenterhooks, wondering what marks I'd earned for the second trimester modules on my MA Screenwriting course at Edinburgh's Napier University. The scores on the doors were posted online last Friday but I was still in France at the time, sans internet access. In fact my screenwriting tutor emailed me the results last Thursday but, once again, I didn't see this until I returned from the continent.

For part-time students on the screenwriting MA course, the second term was made up of two modules: Writing for Interactive Entertainment and Script Development Workshop 2a. Each of these was broken down into two pieces of assessed work, the first due in March and the second submission required during May. I'm still waiting on my assessment feedback sheets to find out what was thought of my second set of submissions for the two modules, but I now have my overall marks.

Napier has 15 grades for assessing student work, split into three categories. F1-F5 is a Fail, with F1 being the worst and F5 indicating you were just below the standard required for a pass. P1-P5 is a Pass, with P1 meaning you scraped by and P5 showing a high level of proficiency. D1-D5 are Passes with Distinction, suggesting a high level of proficiency with work getting close to a standard equivalent to that of a professional level. Student gossip suggests nobody ever gets a D5, as perfection is rarely achieved in a subjective field of learning.

So, what did I get? Back in March the premise and outline for my Script Development Workshop project earned me a P5. I was a bit disappointed with that, but the mark was deserved. I put a lot more effort into writing my ten minute script for the second piece of assessed work and that seems to have been reflected in my final score: D1. It seems I did enough to drag my overall mark up into Distinction territory. I'll be interested to see what the assessment feedback sheet has to say on my script. Alas, universities seem to wind down dramatically over the summer months and my tutor is now away on his holidays, so who knows when I'll see that feedback.

As for the Interactive module, my project outline earned a juicy D3 back in March. I had a strong, well defined idea and had clearly shown that in my six-page submission [much more than I did in that rather sketchy outline for my script development project!]. Our major piece of assessed work for the module was to prepare and deliver an audio-visual presention about our interactive entertainment project, supported by a written document. Most people opted for Powerpoint presentations, while a few used DVD Studio Pro. Being a Mac zombie, I used Keynote - Apple's user-friendly equivalent to Powerpoint. Happily, it all worked well on the presentation day and I was pleased with the results.

My final mark for that module was D2, a slight downtick from my initial level but also a fair reflection of the lesser effort I put into my presentation. I spent so much time on everything else I only had two days to toss my Keynote presentation together, using software I'd never tried before. Frankly, I'm amazed it worked at all and have to be happy with my final score. Again, the feedback will make interesting reading, but I have my doubts my immediate future lays in writing for interactive entertainment - especially when harnessing the creativity of writers appear to be an afterthought in that industry.

So, that's four completed modules on my MA Screenwriting course and I've received the following grades: D1, D3, D1, D2. Four Distinctions, no Passes and no Fails. Not a bad outcome for my first year. [Due to a scheduling quirk, part-time students on the MA Screenwriting course at Screen Academy Scotland have nothing to do in the third and final trimester of their first year. We're now in the midst of a 19-week hiatus, awaiting the signal to come back and start on year two.]

Despite my encouraging start, there's a long way to go on the course. Those first four modules are worth 15 credits each, so my first year has earned me 60 credits in total - only a third of the number required to secure my Screenwriting MA. When we return to Napier in September there are three more trimesters, four more modules and a major project to be tackled. Theoretically, future modules include From Script to Screen, Research Methods for Screen Projects and two more Script Development Workshops. However, there seemed to be doubt about whether some of these modules would be included in the 2006-2007 academic year - time will tell.

All things being equal, the new academic year should find us being taught in the new Screen Academy Scotland facilities - a pleasant change from the nomadic existence students faced this past year, being shuffled from room to room and building to building. Launching a new learning faculty will always generate teething troubles, but charging students thousands of pounds to study in inadequate facilities was cheeky, at best.

Napier's Personal Development Tutor system leaves something to be desired, too. The staff member assigned to be my Personal Development Tutor was someone who had no involvement with any of my modules during the academic year. The only time we came close to speaking was during a Student Staff Liaison committee meeting. According to the university guidelines and entitlements, all students should have:-
2. An interview with their PDT twice per year (omitting summer) and access to additional meetings to address urgent matters as they arise.
3. Regular constructive feedback on professional development and academic progress and achievement.

Frankly, I doubt my PDT could pcik me of a police line-up and they certainly never called a meeting with me, offered regular [or, indeed, any] constructive feedback, nor showed any interest whatsoever in my academic progress and achievement.

So, while the full-time students labour over their final projects, my goal for the next few months is to try and earn some money. Undertaking the MA Screenwriting course, even on a part-time basis, has cut my gross income by more than £11,000 pounds in the past nine months. That's before you take into account the course fees [over £1000 thus far, with another £2000 next academic year], travel costs in and out of Edinburgh every week, and buying set texts. [I could have borrowed them from the university library, of course, except it either didn't have them or only had one copy for which twenty students were all competing - bah humbug!]

Frankly, the MA Screenwriting course has been hugely expensive and I'm still not sure it represents anything resembling value for money...

SJS: Snow Blind - "slushy" according to DWM

Doctor Who Magazine isn't exactly rushing to review the second series of Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas. The first two stories, Buried Secrets and Snow Blind, were both released in February this year but DWM has only just gotten around to reviewing the latter story. With this level of alacrity, it should get to Dreamland by Christmas. Still, here's what Matt Michael says about Sarah's Antarctic adventure...
At the end of the previous Sarah Jane Smith audio, Buried Secrets [see DWM 368], Sarah was going to head out to join her new friend Will Sullivan's expedition in Antartica. Snow Blind picks up as Sarah and Josh journey to the remote, ex-Soviet Nikita Base and discover that all is definitely not well.
Having complained that Buried Secrets focused too much on setting up a four-play cycle than telling a strong self-contained plot, it pleased this reviewed no end to hear a straightforward, well-paced mystery story. The ongoing plot threads are clearly there - from the opening news report on the continuing saga of the first tourist space flights and the theft of some nuclear weapon blueprints to the climactic pronouncements from the Crimson Chapter's Keeper - but they're well integrated into a play that can be understood and enjoyed even without the comprehensive recap Big Finish has kindly included.
Despite this, there's a slight staleness about Snow Blind that's perhaps because at times it feels like a trawl through Sarah's back story. After all, it's not as though she hasn't been temporarily blinded before, and she even comments on her previous Antarctic adventure.
Ultimately, Sarah doesn't really discover anything - she just turns up at Nikita Base and events unfold around her. She acts as a sounding board to the protagonists and plays almost no role in unmasking a potentially earth-shattering conspiracy. She might have retired, but on the vidence here Sarah has all the journalistic instincts of a strawberry. As a results, and in spite of some decent moments, Snow Blind ends up slushy.

Monday, June 26, 2006

...and we're back.

The great thing about being a freelancer on holiday is you finally get to do some guilt-free, non-research reading. 50+ weeks of the year, any reading I do is almost always invariably research for some project or another - World War II tomes for Fiends of the Eastern Front; books about myths and legends for the Phantom comic scripts I write for Egmont Sweden; even magazines and newspapers are diligently combed for tips, leads and articles that might spark a story idea. As a consequence, I rarely read fiction purely for enjoyment.

But on holiday I abandon guilt about non-research reading and let myself wallow. So while staying in the lovely gite pictured above, I read [and sometimes wallowed] in two Donna Leons, the latest Robert Crais, Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, The Lighthouse by P.D. James, The Inner Voice by Renee Fleming, The Imaginery Girlfriend by John Irving, The Girl From the Fiction Department by Hilary Spurling [or was it Spurlock?] and - after running out of things to read - made a start on The Camel Club by David Baldacci, having bought it at Paris CDG Airport.

Out of all those, the second of the Donna Leons was perhaps the most enjoyable, althought John Irving's wry memoir about wrestling [and some mentions of his early writing career] ran it a close second. Donna Leon writes contemporary crime novels set in Venice. They're enjoyable rather than challenging reads, some better than others, but all offer a quick dip in a world most of us can only imagine inhabiting. They're a cosy read, but never less than entertaining - and that suits me as holiday reading. Plus Leon writes some of the best food porn anyway, loving descriptions of Italian meals and food that feel like somebody just feed you one two many plates of the most delicious risotti in the world. [If you're interested, the most delicious risotti in the world can be found at a place in Bologna called Il Tartufo - but that's a tip from another holiday.]

The downside of being a freelancer on holiday is that not only do you spend too much money while you're away, you're not earning. Those on salaries get to have their holiday and be paid for taking it - us freelancers get to have our holiday and spend the next few weeks scrambling for work, trying to find some way of paying for our brief, guilt-stricken sojourn in the sun. The tax bill's due at the end of July, the credit car bill's due at the end of the week and - surprise, suprise - nobody bothered to pay me while I was away for the work done before I went on holiday.

But I chose to go freelance, so whining about it is disingenuous at best. Let's just say it was a lovely break, I feel refreshed and am itching to get on with some work. I've got two very different jobs to do this week: a 5000 word text story for America's Moonstone Books prose anthology about costumed hero The Phantom; and an article to write for the Judge Dredd Megazine. Plus there's a 100-minute interview with writer-artist John Higgins about his long career of work for 2000 AD, and no shortage of leads to chase up for future work. I even thought of an idea for a screenplay while I was driving to the supermarket yesterday, inspired by my holiday in the middle of the France.

Break's over; it's time to do some work.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Holiday... celebrate... holiday... celebrate!

Somehow, we always end up going on holiday during the World Cup. Four years ago we were in, um... [reaches over to passport, flicks through the pages to find the relevant immigration stamp] ...Madeira as England scored a penalty to get past Argentina and into the quarter finals. Four years before that we were in France as France hosted the 98 World Cup. Getting served in a restaurant on any night France was playing wasn't easy, you'd almost think the staff were distracted by something.

1994? I think we rented a cottage in Wales for our holiday that year, but before the World Cup started. Holiday cottages in Wales always seemed to coincide with the World Snooker Championships. 1990? I'd only just arrived in the UK from New Zealand, was still freelancing and couldn't afford to have holidays. Anyway, it's 2006 and we're off to France again. Fortunately, this World Cup is being hosted by Germany, so the service in French restaurants shouldn't be quite so slow - especially as France aren't playing that well so far.

Managed to finish off all my deadline-sensitive jobs yesterday, including the final script for FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT: Stalingrad. After months of penury I've spent the past few weeks earning some money, so that takes the stress out of the holiday. Now I've just got to finish packing, tidying and back-up the computer. Other than that, should be a nice, relaxed day.

Unsurprisingly, I won't be blogging while on holiday. The plan is to relax, eat some cheese, drink some wine and catch up on a year's worth of fiction reading. Thanks to all those who made suggestions of good books, I'll try to pick up a couple at the airport en route. I'll be back by Monday, June 26th, so everybody play nice while I'm gone.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

From Russia With Lust [apologies to Ian Fleming]

Black Flame is planning to publish an omnibus collecting my three Nikolai Dante novels under one cover. According to Amazon the book is due out in January and will be selling for a bargain price. Me, I don't get a penny, but it's kind of cool to know I'm going to have my own omnibus. Ahh, if only I still lived near Clapham...

Back when I was writing the first of my Nikolai Dante novels, The Strangelove Gambit, I was struggling to think of a good opening sentence. The book began with an extended prologue set at an auction in a gambling house known as the Casino Royale. Since Dante's adventures sometimes resemble a saucy sci-fi version of James Bond, I turned to Ian Fleming for inspiration. The first sentence of Casino Royale always struck me as a great opening for any novel - perhaps I could borrow it for my own, nefarious purposes? Fleming begins thusly...
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling - a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension - becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

With a few nips and tucks, that was soon transformed into the opening sentences of Nikolai Dante: the Strangelove Gambit...
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. But the Casino Royale was a different place at three in the afternoon. Its windows and doors were thrown open, allowing fresh air and natural light into the crimson chamber normally designated members only. Ashtrays were emptied and polished, carpets cleaned and deodorised, lingering fingerprint smears of desperation removed from the brass fixtures and fittings. The casino interior was being scoured clean with the precision of an abortionist’s curette.

Of course, by the time the copy editor had had their wicked way with my manuscript, what appeared in print was this...
The scent, smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. But the Casino Royale was a different place at three in the afternoon. Its windows and doors were thrown open, allowing fresh air and natural light into the crimson chamber normally designated Members Only. Ashtrays were emptied and polished, carpets cleaned and deodorised, lingering fingerprint smears of desperation removed from the brass fixtures and fittings. The casino interior was being scoured clean with a surgeon's precision.

Guess the copy editor didn't like my mention of an abortionist's curette - shame, as I think it evoked exactly the imagery I was after. Guess that'll teach me to turn my hand to purple prose. Alas, the Ian Fleming opening sentence also got mangled in the transition from my computer to the printed page. I wonder if Ian Fleming had the same problem with his copy editor when Casino Royale was being published in 1953?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Today's Playlist: June, Moon, Spoon

Musical magpie that I am, here's a random selection of tracks I've stumbled across recently that are all getting high rotation on iTunes from me...

The District Sleeps Alone • The Postal Service
Imagine • A Perfect Circle
The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze • Nora Zehetner
Sister Jack • Spoon
She Still Loves Him • Jellyfish Bellybutton
Against All Odds • The Postal Service
Baba O'Riley • The Who
Bizarre Love Triangle • New Order
Love Vigilantes • Iron & Wine
I Summon You • Spoon
Such Great Heights • The Postal Service
Dirty Blvd • Lou Reed
All 'Cause of You • The 88
The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine • Spoon
Such Great Heights • Iron & Wine
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight • The Postal Service
Mr Blue Sky • The Delgados
Skip to the End • The Futureheads

what are you listening to today?

Something Blue: Blue Velvet as a comedy

The latest in a long line of video trailer mash-ups, Something Blue turns David Lynch's sinister Blue Velvet into a Meet the Parents style comedy. You know the drill: click the headline on this posting to see for yourself. Warning: contains swearing!

Cover Versions: Vague & Jorge

I love bizarre cover versions. I enjoy listening to fresh interpretations of old favourites. I spend far too much time searching on iTunes for these quirky moments, hoping to find something joyous and wonderful. Yesterday I found two whole albums' worth. Last summer the BBC used Nouvelle Vague's cover of Just Can't Get Enough by Depeche Mode on a TV trailer. The track eventually appeared on iTunes, part of an album packed with 70s and 80s pop classics performed in a French jazz cafe style. Teenage Kicks, Gunsof Brixton, This is Not a Love Song - you name it, Nouvelle Vague did it, with style and panache.

Now the Continental covers kings are back with a new album and a fresh crop of crazy interpretations. Blue Monday turned into a bluesy kind of Monday? Check. Bela Lugosi's Dead as a late night cobbled street stumbler? Check. Billy Idol's ode to onanism, Dancing With Myself, as a wandering piano and tap dance spectacular? Check. Genius, the whole thing's utter genius. Essential listening for the summer, methinks.

Nicholas Pegg is one of the world's great authorities on David Bowie - his tome The Complete David Bowie is perhaps the finest reference book yet published on the Thin White Duke's many guises. Nick is also a man of many talents - his pantomime scripts are performed in professional theatres across Britain every Christmas, and he's also been a Dalek operator in the most recent incarnation Doctor Who. Anyway, in a recent natter he made mention of an entire album of David Bowie covers by a Brazilian folk singer.

The album in question is The Life Aquatic Sessions by Seu Jorge, a kind of soundtrack to the recent Wes Anderson film. Jorge performs a clutch of early 70s Bowie tracks, using just voice and guitar to recreate them in Portugese. Trust me, you've never heard Life on Mars, Quicksand or Ziggy Stardust done like this before - beautiful, charming and heartfelt, all at the same time. Highly recommended!

Right, time to pack the suitcase for my holiday. Off to France on Saturday for a week of fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Embrace your displacement tendency

The marvellous 2000 AD serial Fiends of the Eastern Front by Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra has just been released as a hardcover graphic novel, complete with a stunning new cover image. You can see how to order it from by clicking the headline above. It's a great little yarn and worth a read if you haven't see it before. That 44-page yarn has led to me writing a trilogy of novels and I'm currently scripting an eight-part FOTEF serial for the Judge Dredd Megazine.

I spent yesterday doing anything I could to avoid writing episode seven of Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad. You name it, I did it - sorted out the pile of clothes that was growing to Everest-like proportions in the bedroom; laid out all the things I want to take on holiday [four days before we leave the house, instead of my usual four minutes before we leave the house routine], paid this month's council tax [£175! That's nearly as much as our monthly mortgage payment, FFS!], got myself a heat pack to speed the healing on a muscle I damaged playing cricket more than a week ago, burnt some CDs to take on holiday... The list goes on. And on. All the avoid starting to write a simple six-page script.

Time used to be I'd beat myself up about this level of procrastination. I'd get so much more written if I could only knuckle down to the task in hand, rather than muck about with work displacement activities. But I've slowly come to realise that all these avoidance tactics are my subconscious telling me I'm not ready to start. If I know how I'm going to write something, I dive in and start. Hell, I wake up early in the morning with my opening sentences already forming in my head and my fingers twitching for the keyboard. When I'm ready, I'm ready. Yesterday, I simply wasn't ready.

In the past I've been guilty of writing scripts and stories too fast, not giving myself enough time to find the best way of telling the story. As a consequence, I often produced work that wasn't good enough in my haste to finish a job and collect the fee. That's the road to hackwork and I've done my fair share of it. Now I'm trying to set my sight a little bit higher, taking my time and endeavouring produce work that's a little bit more considered, more polished, more professional.

Of course, there's a danger in embracing your subconscious displacement tendency. Some days you really are simply being a lazy git, mucking about and pissing your life away when you should be writing. The tyranny of the blank page is a terrible thing, but you've got to be capable of recognising when you're ready to write and when you're not. A couple of weeks back I heard about the Write a Screenplay in 14 Days challenge. It's designed to get procrastinators off their arses and motivated enough to write a 90-page screenplay in a fortnight. Nobody expects the finished work to be Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but finishing a project to such a strict deadline does generate a palpable sense of achievement.

I seriously contemplated having a go, but decided against for two reasons. Firstly, my overdraft tells me to concentrate on some paying work before going on holiday. Grud knows doing the MA Screenwriting course at Screen Academy Scotland is making enough of a hole in my finances. The last thing I needed this month was a two-week holiday from earning followed by an actual week on holiday. There's a tax bill looming at the end of July - to pay that, I need to earn money during June.

Secondly - and most importantly - I didn't have enough time to prepare. A few hours here and there is not enough to get you ready for writing a screenplay. Dive in with a great idea and that might get you to page thirty. Hell, if you're stubborn enough you might even finish the damn thing - but chances are it'll be a piece of crap. I'd rather give myself a chance of doing a decent job, something with the potential to be developed further, a script that might one day work as a calling card for what talents I possess. Excreting 90 days for some imaginery deadline is not for me, not right now. So I decided against flinging myself at the challenge.

Every now and then I'll see an opportunity to get a foot in a door somewhere, an opening for writers trying to break in. Sometimes I'll pursue these, like the radio drama writer's mini-lab in Dundee I got accepted for last July or the MA Screenwriting course I'm on now. Other times I'll decide against, simply because I won't have a submission ready in time that I believe is strong enough to represent me. I'd rather not throw my hat in the ring at all than present a half-baked, thrown-together effort.

Last year Channel 4 announced it was involved with The Play's The Thing, a search to find a new play for London's West End. I thought about having a go, but decided against. As much as I enjoy the theatre, it's not when my writing passion has sent me. But I enjoyed the first episode of The Play's the Thing on Channel 4 last night and hope to catch more of the four-part series, holiday permitting.

Here's another opportunity for fledgling playwrights in Scotland that's just been announced: EMERGING WRITERS - The Traverse is looking for up to 20 of the most promising writers to take part in a 10 day residency aspart of the inaugural emerging artists season at the Traverse Theatre. Each writer will be offered a fully paid residency with script development, masterclasses and mentoring by leading playwrights. CLOSING DATE Fri 14 July 2006, 10am. If you want to find out more, paste this URL into your browser:

Again, that's not for me - but for all those who do decide to have a go, break a leg!

Finally, an update: last month I posted about applying for a mentoring scheme whereby writers based in Scotland can be mentored by an experienced scribe in their chosen field. I got shortlisted for interview and gave it my best shot. Happily, I've been offered a place on the mentoring programme to further develop my screenwriting. The identity of my mentor and how the process will work has yet to be confirmed, but the email offering me a place with a lovely surprise at the end of last week. I've already got an exciting idea [or four] I'd like to develop as my project with the mentor, whomever they are.

Best of all, I can't wait to get started on it - perhaps my subconscious is trying to tell me something?

Monday, June 12, 2006

I heart Target Books

Growing up in New Zealand during the 1970s, I feel in love with the TV show Doctor Who. The first story I ever saw was Spearhead From Space, Jon Pertwee's debut as the third Doctor. This was originally broadcast by the BBC in 1970, but didn't reach NZ for another three or four years. By this time, a British company had begun publishing novelisations of Doctor Who's television adventures, books aimed squarely at children. Target Books started by reprinting three novelisations from the 1960s, before moving on to adaptations of more recent stories.

Joyously, many of those early Target novelisations include a handful of illustrations to help bring the story to life. These are hilarious in retrospect, but the earliest efforts have a retro kitsch charm. For Doctor Who fans of a certain, pre-VHS or DSVD age, stories were relived via Target Books rather than bozed sets with commentary tracks. These illustrations were all we had to help us envisage the stories, along with the words of Dicks, the redoubtale Malcolm Hulke and the splendid prose of David Whitaker. I suspect my writing style was borne of those 128-page thrillers and subsequently shaped by five years as a daily newspaper journalist. Purpose prose and lengthy descriptions are beyond me, as a consequence.

Like a lot of kids growing up in the Commonwealth during the 70s and 80s, Target Books based on Doctor Who were my first real exposure to science fiction in print. I started reading some sf books, including everything I could find by an author called John Christopher, such as his Tripods trilogy [long before it became a TV series], and other titles including the Guardians and The Lotus Caves.

But I remained loyal to Target Books. Whenever I saw a new book with the Target logo on the cover, I'd pick it up. If the contents seemed even vaguely interesting, I'd buy it with whatever pocket money I possessed. [My granddad gave me a little for helping him with odd jobs, before I graduated to delivering newspapers and pumping petrol at the gas station my dad co-owned with his cousin, Roy.] As a consequence, I bought and read all manner of odd titles I'd never have tried otherwise. Who remembers Swedish detective Agaton Sax? At least, I think he was Swedish. Illustrated by the wonderful Quentin Blake, the great sleuth's adventures are now ludicrously expensive to buy second hand.

I also bought and cherished a copy of The Adventures of Rama, a retelling for children of legends and myths about, well, the adventures of Rama [including the noble Indian prince's heroic battle with Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka]. I loved that book to pieces - literally. By the twenthieth time I'd read it, the cover was falling off and the pages were kept in place by willpower and careful finger placement. I'm not sure I'd even met an Indian person when I read The Adventures of Rama, but they sounded like good people to have on your side in a fight, with a strong grasp of heroism and battle tactics. Cowboy icon John Wayne had nothing on Rama, in my humble opinion when I was ten.

Was there a point to all this rambling? Probably not. But I've bought myself another copy of The Adventures of Rama and plan to take it away with me on Saturday as holiday reading. What novels made the most impact on you when you were growing up?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ken Levine flagellates 'The Da Vinci Code'

TV sitcom writing legend Ken Levine has posted a typically droll critique of The Da Vinci Code on his blog [click the headline on this post to read the critique in full]. Within the barbed comments is one that applies to all stories that tackle questions of belief:
Since this was a movie about questioning faith, it would have been nice if the protagonists found themselves in a situation where their faith was challenged. Even once.

By coincidence, last night's episode of Doctor Who featured the Doctor and Rose battling a creature that called itself the Beast and was summoned by the numbers 666. But did The Satan Pit really challenge the Doctor's core beliefs? He certainly showed his faith in Rose, but I never felt the Doctor's own beliefs were under threat. Still, it was nice to see an extended cameo by the Lord Slough Feg from 2000 AD's classic fantasy series Slaine: The Horned God, standing in for the Devil...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Nine hundred and fifty six days

That's how long George W Bush has left as President of the United States of America. But his status for much of that time will be settled in November, when mid-term elections determine who controls the two houses of the American legislature. Both currently have Republican majority, making Bush the most empowered President for more than a decade. But is the US a better place for have GWB as its leader? Most American seem unconvinced, judging by Bush's approval ratings. The war in Iraq is in danger of becoming this generation's Vietnam - a long, painful conflict fought far from home that brings no end but offers plenty of false dawns. The significant difference between Vietnam and Iraq is the lack of conscription this time round. Had the draft been reinstated to find sufficient troops for the conflict, US public opinion would have reached its current state much sooner, I suspect.

It's possible the Democrats could wrest one house of the legislature from Republican control, but unlikely they'll gain both. For that to occur would require a massive electoral landslide away from the president's men. It has happened before - back in 1994 Bill Clinton's Democrats take a kicking in the midterms. If Bush suffered the same reversal, it would make him a lameduck president for the rest of his second term in office, unable to get many new policies enacted into law. I doubt that will happen, but am certain the next few months will make entertaining viewing for US presidential election junkies like me. Hell, it's not long until campaigning starts in earnest for the 2008 White House race. Let the fun and games begin...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Listen to my radio play online!

Well, my first radio play has now been broadcast [and repeated] on Radio 4 here in the UK. If you missed Island Blue: Ronald, you can still hear it online for the next six days by virtue of the BBC's wonderful Listen Again service. Either click the headline on this post or paste the following URL into your browser:

Not much else to report at the mo. Had lots of lovely emails and phone calls from people who heard the play yesterday. I've been given the nod for a couple of projects, but won't consider them to be real until I've signed the contracts. Three episodes of the Fiends in Stalingrad still to be scripted. Second part has now been published and is still getting a strong, positive response - mostly thanks to Colin MacNeil's stunning art. The first two episodes are more like an extended prologue, I can see now, but the pedal hits the metal from part three and stays there.

Started researching a new story idea that could be interesting to write. Not sure if it's best suited to radio or a more visual medium, but am letting the ideas bubble away while I progress other jobs. Off on holiday from Saturday week, so I've got seven working days to finish all urgent tasks before then.

Holidays are the only guilt-free opportunity I have to do some non-research reading, so I'm looking for suggestions about what to take with me to France. Anybody read any good books lately? What do people recommend as their favourite novels? I'm open to most suggestions...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

My first radio play is broadcast today: panic sets in

As I type these words there are two hours until my first radio play is broadcast by the BBC [see posts below for relevant links, etc]. Having emailed the world and his civil ceremony partner, am now convinced the play in questioned is utter pap and I'll never be allowed on the radio again. At least I can't suffer a long, dark teatime of the soul about this, as Island Blue: Ronald is on at 10.45am on Radio 4 - so have opted for long, dark morning tea of the soul instead. Actually need to do some work today, but doubt that will be possible until after the play's been broadcast. Perhaps I'll tidy the house while I'm waiting, or bite my nails, or buy obscure cover versions on iTunes to kill some time.

Favourite obscure cover version of the week: Gnarls Barkley tackling The Violent Femmes' Gone Daddy Gone. Second place goes to The Violent Femmes covering T Rex's Children of the Revolution. And the bronze medal is taken by Litmus doing Joy Division's Atmosphere. In an ideal world, that last track would have accompanied Island Blue: Ronald, particularly the last two minutes of the play. But, as we all know, this is not an ideal world.

More's the pity.

Coping with rejection: the flugel horn solution

There's an hilarious clip on YouTube aimed at would-be authors about how to react to having your manuscript rejected. It wins points for two particular reasons: it's inventive use of the flugel horn and for helping to popularise the phrase 'piss midget'. Almost as funny are some of the comments from credulous types, who seem to believe the character involved is a real person. Or are the comments some kind of triple-clever double-think? You be the judge. Click the headline on this post to see more...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

One day until my first radio play is broadcast

Tomorrow I achieve my first broadcast credit. My 15-minute play Ronald will be transmitted twice by BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday June 7, firstly as the Woman's Hour Drama for the day at 10.45am [British Summer Time] and secondly in an evening repeat from 7.45pm. Thereafter it'll be available online for a week as part of BBC Radio's marvellous Listen Again service. Here's the official programme listing for my play...
Island Blue
Set on a remote Scottish island, five plays about people who visit and work at a retreat.
By David Bishop.
Retreat leader April, finds one of the guests particularly challenging. Ronald's like a fish out of water, so why's he there and how can April get him to stop disrupting the other guests?
Ronald ...... Crawford Logan
April ...... Rose Mcbain
Dorothy/Tracy ...... Lucy Paterson
Shonagh ...... Lesley Hart

If you're like me, chances are you'll never be sufficiently organised to listen to the play as it's actually being broadcast. That's where the Listen Again service is so invaluable, giving people the opportunity to hear radio drama [and, indeed, other radio programming] at a time convenient to you. To find out more about any of this, click the headline on this posting or paste the following URL into your browser:

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Unbearable Soreness of Being

Spent yesterday afternoon playing cricket in Scotland. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Cricket in Scotland, making wine in England, eating ice cream in Iceland [the country, not the supermarket chain - you'd probably get arrested if they caught you eating the ice cream in a supermarket, though that doesn't seem to sto some people selecting a bag of grapes and munching them as they traipse round the aisles]. Anyway, yesterday was the first game for the Biggar Cricket Club and I somehow ended up in the team, having played cricket about five times in my life [most of them badly]. For non-Americans, watching US-created sports like baseball and American football can be an impenetrable maze of jargon. Well, get ready for some cricket jargon, sports fans.

The opposition hit 219 for 2 in forty overs, while we replied with 170 for 6 in our forty overs. Stunningly, I took the first wicket for our team, trapping one of the opposition's batsmen leg before. LBW isn't given that often in amateur games, so the batsmen had to be absolutely plumb. The stunning part stems from the fact I was spraying the ball all over the place while bowling. You name it, I bowled it - full tosses, wides, balls so short they were rolling along the ground by the time they reached the batsmen. In the four overs I bowled I must have gone for at least 20 runs. I think the bowl that claimed my wicket must have been almost the only straight one I got on the right length all afternoon. Still, it was a joyous moment. [My batting was no great shakes, scoring six or seven before getting clean bowled - annoying.]

This morning I am suffering for it. Five hours of running, diving and tumbling have left me stiffer and more sore than a very stiff and sore thing. Both hands are bruised, I took one ball in the left cheek, another in my right forearm and bruised my right breast. My whole body is one big ouch. I'll be fine by Wednesday, but the next two days are all about pain and misery. This sporting life is bloody hard work.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

SJS: "Big Finish at its best"

There's an extremely positive review of my Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas in the new edition of Starburst [issue 338]. David Richardson gives Snow Blind, Fatal Consequences and Dreamland a collective 5 out of 5. I love a bit of praise, but can't help feel these kind of reviews don't give enough credit to the director - especially on a project like SJS, where John Ainsworth [as director, script editor and producer] was so crucial to shaping the stories, getting the best performances and guiding the post-production. Anyway, here's what Starburst says:
Now we've had the Doctor Who story School Reunion to remind us how marvellous Elisabeth Sladen is, it's definitely worth getting your hands on this second series of Sarah Jane plays. Complementing the recent TV story more perfectly than its makers might have imaginaed, it finds the Doctor's former companion targeted by rival factions of a religious cult, which believes she is the herald of global apocalypse. The continuity to past TV stories is unnecessary baggage, but Bishop has fashioned a great yarn, taking in a trip to the Antarctic, a deadly virus in rural England, and the first tourist flight into Space. Each separate play stands on its own, yet played together form a larger, satisfying narrtive. It's a shame the conclusion is left so open-ended, but this series remains an example of Big Finish as its best.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Handbags at 30 paces - the T-shirt!

In a follow-up to my post from a couple of days ago [see below] about New Zealand's fearsome rugby warriors literally fighting each other with handbags, Chevyc very kindly sent me a link to this brilliant T-shirt design. Commemorate one of the more ludicrous moments in All Black history with this snazzy top - click the headline above to see more...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Warning - obscure pun ahead: Mentor as Anything

For the past couple of years the Scottish Book Trust's words@work team have been running a mentoring project, in which scribes are various stages of their careers are paired with a personal mentor for nine months to help them achieve an individual writing goal. The scheme is not just for authors, nor is it merely for first-time writers. Among those who have been mentors in the past are top Scottish writers, editors, rights agents, dramatists, playwrights and screenwriters. Projects tackled have ranged from finishing an unfinishable novel to creating a new stage play to moving from book illustration into writing drawing illustrated stories.

Last month words@work opened the doors to applications for the third year of the scheme. All you had to do was send in a brief CV and a letter detailing:-
• the project, change of direction, or area of work with which you would like to work with a mentor
• other assistance you may have had so far (creative writing course, advice from writer in residence, writers’ workshops etc)
• what you hope to achieve at the end of the mentoring project
• your ideal mentor (fellow writer, editor etc)

Well, I'm never one to miss an opportunity if I think it could be useful - and this sounded invaluable. So I put together an application letter, brushed up my CV and fired it all off. I always assume I'll never get short-listed as a way of insulating myself from too much disappointment - a bit like buying travel insurance. It won't help that much when things go awry, but you'll have the comfort of having expected the worse and done something to prepare for it.

Happily, words@work invited me for an interview and I went into Edinburgh for that yesterday. Due to a miscommunciation I arrived at 2.30 for what was apparently a 2pm meeting, but they managed to squeeze me in between people who had gotten their timings right. I've no idea how the interview went or whether I've got a cat in hell's chance of being one of the six fortunate people selected for the project, but it was an interesting experience. With any luck I should know by this time next week.

Having finished my Warhammer synopsis and submitted that [after a year of procrastination brought on my endless, consecutive deadlines], I'm giving myself the day off - sort of. I've got an appointment with the accountant to talk tax bills at 4pm, followed by drinks to celebrate the end of Year One on my part-time MA Screenwriting course. Let alcohol be free-flowing and hangovers avoided...