Monday, December 26, 2005

Special brew

Wasn’t Doctor Who - The Christmas Invasion great? From the beefed up theme tune to the preview of Season Two (K9! Cybermen!), it was just chock-full of absolutely wonderful moments, both light and dark. I loved it, every minute - it was just so perfectly Christmas.

I suspect we’ll be getting one of these every year for quite some time, especially if the commentary is to be believed. Woo-hoo!

Category: Movies and TV

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Down tools

Hasn’t been much activity this month, has there? And I’m afraid there won’t be for the rest of it. Hopefully all of you will also be relaxing, and enjoying the festive cheer too much to worry about your blogging endeavours.

You’re all welcome to come back as soon as you become sick of the sight of of turkey sandwiches, stilton, whiskey and Quality Street. I grant you that, in my case, that may take some time, but I’ve got a raft of entries prepared for the new year, and much, much work to do and blog about throughout ‘06, so please do keep popping in.

Until then, Merry Christmas!

Category: Uncategorised

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tales from the coalface

If you ignored Alex Epstein’s advice to check out Valuable Lessons, then click on the link now. It’s a black, bleak, brilliant, bitter book that has not a single kind word to say about working in the American television industry, and if you can read through it and still want to write, good luck to you. I'm fifty pages in and want to scrub myself with a wire-brush, the world Andrew Nicholls describes is so thoroughly repellant.

Of course, I’m in Britain, so none of it applies here.

Category: Movies and TV

Monday, December 19, 2005

Faultless hospitality

If any of you ever happen to be travelling through Chipping Norton, I recommend a quick stop off in The Blue Boar.

Tonight, the power went off within a two mile radius of Over Norton. Between 7.15 and 9.30pm thousands of homes and a lot of local farmland went without electricity. I went for a bit of a stroll through the streets, and very eerie it was too. I was nearly run over half a dozen times. I couldn’t help noticing the weight of cars parked outside our Masonic Lodge and wondering if they had anything to do with it.

Well, I found myself in the Blue, where the ever generous Mr Wilkes was treating his half a dozen customers to some wonderous free Stilton and delicious port. And not stinting on either. I’ve just arrived home, and having made myself a coffee, put the sugar in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard. I suspect I will have to clean my teeth three times before I get into bed.

I’m absolutely shit-faced and thought you’d all care for some reason.

God bless you all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

2005 in review

Please, God let this year be over. In 2006 there will be weddings. I will be a best man. It ought to be a lot of fun.

        What did you do in 2005 that you’d never done before?
                attended a funeral. I enjoyed it so much I went to another one two months later.
        Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
                I’ve made the same resolutions every year for the past six. Write more, earn more, learn to drive, find a flat and fall in love. Well, I learnt to drive last year, so it’s off the list. Write more and earn more will be with me till the day I die. I still need a flat, and so far have been denied true love. Altogether now...“Tough shit!”

        Did anyone close to you give birth?
                my cousin gave birth to Poppy, the third of her brood, a whopping nine and a half pounds.

        Did anyone close to you die?
                sadly yes. More than once.

        What countries did you visit?
                goodness me. I haven’t left the UK since 1995.

        What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?
                sex. And a six-pack.

        What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
                June 25th. I started this blog.

        What was your biggest achievement of the year?
                learning to use a pair of clippers to cut my own hair. One more reason to interact with live humans off the list!

        What was your biggest failure?
                not quite getting an allotment.

        Did you suffer illness or injury?
                no. But don’t tell my boss.
        What was the best thing you bought?
                my Nan had a set of postcards of movie stars from the thirties and forties. I paid to have them framed and they now hang above my desk, looking awesome.

        Whose behavior merited celebration?
                oh, I don’t know. Ellen MacArthur?
        Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
               Ah, well, that's a bit personal, so I'll take the fifth.

        Where did most of your money go?
                pills. Whiskey. Whores.

        What did you get really, really, really excited about?
                um, Doctor Who.

        What song will always remind you of 2005?
                “She Will be Loved.” For cheesy and sentimental played-at-a-funeral reasons.

        Compared to this time last year, are you:
                i. happier or sadder? - bizarrely happier; despite some terrible shit having happened this year I feel far more focussed on my own wants and needs than ever before.
                ii. thinner or fatter? - probably the same, thank god. A miracle, really.
                iii. richer or poorer? - richer. Now be off, peasant.

        What do you wish you’d done more of?
                talking to people.

        What do you wish you’d done less of?
                talking to myself.

        How will you be spending New Year’s?
                probably with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s.

        Did you fall in love in 2005?
                no. It’s still on the list.

        How many one-night stands?
                absolutely none at all.

        What was your favorite TV program?
                I. Can’t. Choose. Veronica Mars. Battlestar Galactica. Doctor Who. Bleak House. The Shield. Deadwood.

        Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
                no, but I haven’t forgiven anyone either. That’s right, you fuckers, you’ll get yours.

        What was the best book you read?
                Ian McDonald’s River of Gods.

        What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?
                I’ve listened to The National A LOT this year. They’ve got some truly great hooks on Alligator.

        What did you want and get?
                a trilby.

        What did you want and not get?
                certain people have not been replying to my e-mails. It makes me quite cross. Oh, and a PSP. And I certainly didn’t get any better at driving.

        What was your favorite film of this year?
                of the very, very few that I’ve seen: NightWatch.

        What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
                this year I was twenty-nine. It was three days after my Nan’s funeral. I didn’t really do anything. I’ll be glad to get this rotten decade behind me; roll on being thirty-something.

        What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
                immeasurably? Having the true nature of the universe revealed to me.

        How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?
                fake it till you make it.

        What kept you sane?
                arrogance and ego. And blogging.

        Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
                none of them, honestly. Well, maybe Rachel Nichol’s breasts.

        What political issue stirred you the most?
                wasn’t there a General Election this year? I think that would probably be it. And my take on the whole fucked up, negligent response to Hurricane Katrina most likely created an Echelon flag.

        Who did you miss?
                my nan. Mark. Lisa.

        Who was the best new person you met?
                ask me again next year. This was a year of goodbyes.

        Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:
                everything takes longer than you think.

        Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
                I'm staring out into that vacuum again,
                From the back porch of my mind.
                The only thing that's alive,
                I'm all there is.
                And I start attacking my vodka,
                Stab the ice with my straw,
                My eyes have turned red as stop lights,
                You seem ready to walk,
                You know I will call you eventually,
                When I wanna talk,
                Till then you're invisible.

                Cause there's this switch that gets hit,
                And it all stops making sense,
                And in the middle of drinks,
                Maybe the fifth or the sixth,
                I'm completely alone,
                At a table of friends,
                I feel nothing for them,
                I feel nothing!
                        – Bright Eyes: Hit the Switch

Category: Uncategorised

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Welcome to New-Path

When I see it’s been a week since my last entry I start to feel like a ghost. Reading my own blog is like being Fred viewing Bob Arctor through a scanner darkly. Uncomfortable questions arise: what has he/I been doing, where has he/I been, what’s on his/my mind? Why do I have no recollection of the last seven days? Have entries been erased, and if so, who by? I have my suspicions. You wouldn’t like them...

Actually, it’s been a non-descript type of week. Reading: Coalescent by Stephen Baxter, The Babylon Five Scripts of JMS: Volume Two, and everyone else’s blogs. Viewing: Between the Lines on DVD. Writing: a wee spot of outlining. You know, more or less the same life as led by everyone else, where exceedingly little tends to happen over short spans of time.

Got some of the second set of dents out my car, too.

Work’s Christmas party last night, so I missed the end of Bleak House. Thank heaven for the omnibus tomorrow. And one week till Doctor Who!

Good party, too.


Category: Meatspace

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Overpromised and underdelivered: The Ghost Squad

I'm getting a hell of a lot of hits from people searching the web for torrents, or information about The Ghost Squad, C4s new, disposable, pop cop drama.
In my previous post I wrote about how excited I was by the potential of the show’s premise, only to lace this with a wary appraisal of the first two episodes, which didn’t actually deliver very much.

Five episodes in and the series has continued to underwhelm this viewer. Despite my own thoughts, it’s nevertheless winning plaudits from the TV press, who compare it, to a man, to Garnett’s The Cops. The comparison is ludicrous; especially so, since a far more obvious candiate for the show’s “inspiration” exists. I’m talking about Between the Lines, whose pips The Ghost Squad is not qualified to shine. This is not mere nostalgia talking. Season one of Between the Lines is out now on DVD and rocks hard. In contrast, favoured comparison piece The Cops hasn’t been seen for over half a decade. While we’re on the subject, where the hell are my DVDs of Buried, and Tough Love/Lenny Blue?

Here’s how Channel Four punt the skein (listen to me and my fancypants jargon):

The Ghost Squad stars Elaine Cassidy as Amy Harris, a young and idealistic undercover detective, whose work soon becomes a sinister and violent journey of discovery.
Recruited to the Ghost Squad by the tough Detective Superintendent Carol McKay (Emma Fielding), her new and powerful boss – they soon clash when Amy doesn't tow the party line. Amy's shadow and support in the Ghost Squad is Pete (Jonas Armstrong), a thrill-seeker with a dangerous edge. Depending on each other in the edgy world they inhabit, theirs is a relationship that is always electric.

Undercover for weeks or months on each case, the set ups are costly, and Amy can't afford to fail. But what is success? In the complex world of political expediency nothing is clear cut.

Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Let’s look at it in a little more detail. “Amy doesn’t tow the party line?”. Hiffle. Pete’s “a thrill seeker with a dangerous edge?” Piffle. “Nothing is clear cut?” Old plum pud. Yes, that’s all the detail it deserves.
I had a joke about how fitting it is that a show called The Ghost Squad should be so anemic, but worried it was a cheap shot. But fuck it, I’ve got no good will left. This is a miserable, bloodless excuse for a show. I don’t know what the writers think they are doing, but so far they haven’t introduced a case whose outcome hasn’t been clear within the first five minutes. The plots are simplistic, their resolutions unsubtle. There’s no tension, no conflict, no suspense; nothing that happens will come as a surprise to anyone who’s switched on a television at all in their lifetimes. There’s not enough intrigue, not enough violence, not enough sex. Even last week’s lesbian clinch was dull. It’s come to something when it takes me so long to suspend my disbelief I miss the scene of girls snogging.

Look, it ought to be simple. You’ve got these undercover cops who infiltrate dodgy firms to put away corrupt officers. You can investigate any rank, for any reason, anywhere in the country. Before you even start, there are intriguing questions about loyalty, honesty, identity, and etranger you can make your characters face. Plots can revolve around what it’s like to live someone else’s life for months on end, whether it’s better to be an honest crook than a bent copper, or if you fight someone’s corner or hang them out to dry. Every episode should be a mystery that makes us curious about the characters: is he bent or isn’t he? will Amy’s cover be blown? is McKay simply furthering her own political aims? will Amy have to compromise her beliefs to get a result? is Pete in any way useful?

Instead we cruise slowly along, every single beat marked by a thousand galley slaves pulling on the oars of a bloody big ship, too fucking huge to miss, with no question at all what direction it’s headed in.

What a waste. But it’s no damn good complaining. If I’m so convinced there’s a potential for great stories in the setup, it’s up to me to find them. I am taking up the Stack challenge, of writing a spec for an existing British TV show. It may not be as sexy as Alias in its heyday (and I mean Alias as in the gestalt of the show, not J. Garner, who I’ve always thought has the features of a rough Gary Erskine sketch), but it’ll be mine.

Category: Movies and TV

What's in the box?

I had somehow missed that Christopher Nolan's next project was an adaptation of Christopher Priest's The Prestige, with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johanssen.

Priest is one of my favourite writers, and The Prestige one of his finest novels, a haunting, gas-lit mystery involving two duelling Victorian stage magicians and the gothic secret which haunts their families for the next hundred years.

Brilliant, better than Carter Beats the Devil, the second best book ever about rival prestidigitators. In the words of John Clute:

... as an exercise in narrative control, in pretending to propound illusionary matters while never actually, I think, telling an actual untruth, The Prestige is exemplary. It is a lesson to us in the joy of story.

Bloody marvellous.

Category: Movies and TV

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Feel the ripples

Denis McGrath follows my perfunctory referral to Jane Featherstone's Guardian profile with a great post about the potential benefits to both the UK and Canada of teaming up in order to move away from the predominant six episode serial model. There are very good reasons to do this - longer running shows stand a greater chance of making back their budget in foreign sales, and provide training ground for new writers, something the UK is in real need of right now. At the moment, Featherstone states, most of our TV writers train in theatre, or on soaps, making their name in an environment which actually provides very little preparation for the move to working on a drama series. The writing talent is out there, but it is not well nurtured; moving towards a format that can actually provide a means to develop new talent is better for everyone - the writers, production company, TV stations, and the audience.

The End of the British 6-Pack?.

Category: Movies and TV

I Am Alive and You Are Dead - a speculative biography

Second hand bookstores had the most subversive influence on my young life. They conceal, in full view, devastating thought-bombs; hidden in musty pages, behind gaudy covers, a negligible cost pencilled on the title page to reassure you that you are actually buying an object, whereas this is in fact a smoke screen - you are exchanging ignorance for awareness, and you can never tell who's getting the better deal. I’ve never felt the same shameful tingle of discovery browsing through a library, or in Waterstones, as I felt when exploring the dark, narrow passageways of the second hand store on my way home from school. I shouldn't have been there, but there I was, again.

From the Belgariad to The Glass Bead Game, by way of The Brentford Triangle and Mythago Wood, second hand books, randomly selected and carried home in secret, have shaped my life.

It was above the newsagents I used to deliver papers for that I lost my innocence, aged fourteen. In one afternoon, seduced by their dark pulpy covers, I picked up Dr Bloodmoney, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Now Wait for Last Year, A Maze of Death, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I was never the same again. And all for three quid. Phil Dick changed my world.

Until that day, I had read books featuring kindly narrators, genial storytellers who were on the side of their protagonists. Suddenly I was reading about isolation, madness, betrayal and damnation as inescapable facts of life, the best we can hope for. Glen Runciter finds a coin imprinted with Jo Chip’s profile, and suddenly no longer knows if he is alive in the world, or dead, trapped in the mind of a teenaged psychopath, and that’s practically a happy ending, yes?

This Dick guy was fucked up. And he was addictive. I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to know what kind of a man could write such stories. Now, almost twenty (yikes) years later, along comes a book which, as befits my status in adult life, I have been able to purchase new, and in hardback. Golly.

Subtitled A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, I Am Alive and You Are Dead is not your ordinary biography, not a work of scholarship, of pouring over birth records, school reports, correspondence, interview transcripts - the primary evidence that gives shape to a man’s life in this objective reality. Carrere is not concerned with such minutia, and if you are the sort of reader who obsesses over such bagatelles, I suggest you look at Lawrence Sutin’s far more sympathetic, traditional biography, Divine Invasions. Sutin is as big a fan of Dick as Carrere, but both have radically different approaches to telling the story of his life, and both ought to be read to experience a full account of Dick’s madness/genius. One will tell you of the traces Phil Dick left in the world, the other attempts the more thankless task of telling you how he experienced it.

Not everyone gets there is a difference.

I've read reviews of this terrific book bemoaning the lack of an index, angry that there are too few citations, gypped there is no bibliography, no objectivity or way to tell if the author is presenting facts or supposition. Sad, really. The central questions of Dick's life's work were what is human? what is real? and it's fitting that this book should invite the reader to ask the same questions on every page. Is this an accurate portrait? Was Dick's idios kosmos really as skewed as the koinos kosmos presented in his books? Is this biography or fiction? I tend more towards reading this as a novel. A psychological thriller about a sci-fi author who suffers a nervous breakdown and comes to believe his stories are true.

It’s a pretty terrifying tale, which, like its subject, may have only the barest of relationships with objective reality. It's the story of Dick's life seen through his own eyes - a blameless man, persecuted by his government, harassed by a succession of castrating, shrewish wives, a target for secret KGB psychic experiments, prone to debilitating visions revealing the truth about our universe, his greatest fear that he is merely one of the many simulacra he portrays so movingly.

Carrere, too, often writes very movingly about Dick’s obsessions and paranoia, most beautifully in the chapter dealing with the genesis of Ubik, but also later, recounting Phil's stay in Canada, and later still, watching over his subject’s mad scribbling of his Exegesis, the eight thousand page paperweight no-one has ever been brave enough to read.

Despite both the fine writing (translation supplied by Timothy Bent) and Carrere’s undoubted affection for Phil, one can't help coming away from this book with the total, consuming impression that Dick was, well, a dick. Selfish, needy, insecure, untrustworthy and paranoid, he seemed to spend his life demanding more and more of people while offering less and less of himself. Impossible to live with, terrified of being alone; parts of the book are almost painfully uncomfortable to read, particularly when detailing the way he treated his wives. One keeps reading, both unable to tear away from this train-wreck of a life, and vainly hoping for some kind of redemption at the end of it. No such luck. Sadly, it seems, the man was an ass.

But is any of it true? Is any biography? Is the truth of a man's life to be found in records of his actions - where he lived, who he married, what he said; or in the artifacts of his imagination - 150 short stories and 50 novels; or in the analysis of his fears and nightmares? And if Phil Dick himself were merely a creation of someone elses' mind, if he died aged six months and what we think of as his life was the imagining of twin sister, Jane, what can that tell us? What does the world Dick lived in tell us about her? About us?

Whoever, whatever, Dick truly was, his tragic attempt to find truth was positively, nobly, Quixotic. In his constant search for answers to the questions of what is human? and what is real? Dick produced some of the most challenging and influential literature of the twentieth century. Sure, he was never a great prose stylist (to put it kindly), and given his abuse of every type of prescription drug under the sun (and then some), a certain lack of consistency in his work is to be expected. But the man left us with a legacy that includes The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik, A Scanner Darkly and VALIS. He left me, aged fourteen, with a completely rewired brain.

Then again, if we take I Am Alive and You Are Dead at its word, then Dick's books were real, and Phil Dick himself was Palmer Eldritch. Carrere’s book is either Ubik or Chew-Z; innoculation, or the ultimate bad trip, abandoning the reader to Dick’s malign influence. Certainly, by the time he dies, at the end of this remarkable “biography,” I felt only relief that, finally, I was free of his malevolent world-view, the trip was over and I could go back to my own, mundane, life.

And yet now, every coin I spend bears the imprint of his features.

Category: Books and Comics

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Of all the...

Sunday afternoon, me and my dad spent about two hours working out how to get the door panel off my car and then pushing dents out.

By the time we finished it looked almost as good as new.

Today, I backed into a wall. Same side. Same door. Whacked the same exact spot.

There are worse things that could happen. Fewer more embarrassing.

Category: Meatspace

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kudos to you, ma'am

Guardian Media today ran a profile of Jane Featherstone, producer of Spooks and Hustle, who has this to say:

We are going to have to start producing longer-running series...We are going to have to start the shift to US-style 26-part series. The audience are ready for it, and to have C4 without drama at the heart of its schedule can't go on.

Too right.

Here’s the link - but beware, sign-up required.

Category: Movies and TV

Friday, December 02, 2005


The side of my car didn’t look like that this morning.

But you should see the post I drove into. Ha! Oh.

I park like Frank Drebin.

I did this at my local petrol station, just as I was pulling in to get diesel. I really needed to fill up as well, otherwise I would have driven sheepishly away. No, I had to get out of the car and pretend like nothing had happened, while everyone else - and this was at 8:45 this morning so there were lots of people about - all politely pretended not to have seen anything.

I really appreciated their tact.

Category: Meatspace

Thursday, December 01, 2005

You will never work again

Thanks to Wired for alerting me of new game Bugs on Ferry Halim's utterly joycore games site Orisinal.

All of the Flash games therein are awsomely addictive, but it's the design - the music and artwork that keeps drawing me back in.

Try it - but make sure you've got some spare time first.

Category: Gaming

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Perseverance furthers

You’ve got a brilliant mind, but you’ll never get anywhere in life because you’re a lazy fuck-wit.

So said Carson Bergstrom, my old eighteenth century literature professor, and author of the nattily titled The Rise of New Science Epistemological, Linguistic and Ethical Ideals and the Lyric Genre in the Eighteenth Century, setting me a fine example as he crashed my housemate’s birthday party, showing up out of nowhere at 3a.m., pissed out of his mind.

How unerringly accurate that turned out to be. Carson, you had me pegged from day one, old pal.

• My script progress has stalled.

• Blog entries have become uninspired, and are dwindling.

• I’m experiencing a complete lack of motivation at work.

• And a distinct lack of joy in life.

• All in all, my general physical and existential well being are currently in question.

Oracle - how can I get my buzz back?

Hexagram 53: Development (Gradual Progress)

Is given in marriage.
Good fortune.
Perseverance furthers.

The development of events that leads to a girl’s following a man to his home proceeds slowly. The various formalities must be disposed of before the marriage can take place. This principle of gradual development can be applied to other situations as well; it is always applicable where it is a matter of correct relationships of co-operation, as for instance in the appointment of an official. The development must be allowed to take its proper course. Hasty action would not be wise. This is also true, finally, of any effort to exert influence on others, for here too the essential factor is a correct way of development through cultivation of one’s own personality. No influence such as that exerted by agitators has a lasting effect.

With the personality too, development must follow the same course if lasting effects are to be achieved. Gentleness that is adaptable, but at the same time penetrating, is the outer form that should proceed from inner calm.

The very gradualness of the development makes it necessary to have perseverance, for perseverance alone prevents slow progress from dwindling to nothing.

Not exactly a direct answer, but damn, that book knows its stuff. Thank you, Oracle; once again you have cut through the soft-shit of my poorly phrased address, and told me exactly what I need to know in this moment.

Truly, I don’t know how you do it.

Category: Meatspace

Monday, November 28, 2005

Chipping Norton, three days late again...

It’s snowing! At last! Yay, snow - fat old chunky flakes settling all around!

Just as the town's put up its pretty, pretty Christmas lights.


Category: you’re joking right? It’s snowing! Categories are broken.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The mysterious edits of fans

I’ve just got hold of a curiosity entitled The Matrix UnZionized. This unholy entity is an attempt by certain parties to right the wrongs visited upon them by the Wachowski brothers and their hideously mis-stepping Matrix sequels.

It is these “fans’” understanding that everything wrong with the films can be blamed upon the decision to spend more time focussed on the perils of Zion than on Neo’s journey towards messiah-hood.

Edited together, supposedly with all the crap removed, Matrices Reloaded and Revolutions still demand more of your time than they deserve: a hair under three hours. Really, I’m sure I could have got it down to at least thirty minutes, and still kept most of the story’s heart intact. Hell, less than that.

But what would be the point? I suppose it must be kind of empowering to take a shit-hundred million dollar movie and declare that you can make it better. Hubristic too. But also refreshing that someone is willing to wrest control of The Matrix, or Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings - there are plenty of these things about - from its creators and declare their intention to re-write canon for the benefit of a (misbegotten?) community.

Sadly, in the case of The Matrix R&R, you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. If a couple of crappy dance scenes and wardrobe leftovers from the original Battlestar Galactica were all that was wrong with these films, then mere excision could indeed make right these incoherent examples of cinematic guff. Neither film is improved by the edits, except in that they are both made shorter, and it seems to me that in simply choosing to remove a sub-plot the group of re-editors have merely made the movies’ many flaws even more evident.

In fact, now that I think of it, maybe I’ll just run it through Final Cut myself. If we can all be editors now, why bother writing?

Category: Movies and TV

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What a crappy week

George Best - dead
Mr Miyagi - dead
Snow - but not here

And somewhere, in a warehouse in the depths of England, thousands of copies of Zenith are still just sitting in crates because Grant Morrison never invoiced Fleetway for the scripts.

It’s a harsh world.

Category: Uncategorised

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I aten't dead

I’m still here. I just have a mild winter cancer and can’t be arsed to write anything much just now.

As soon as I’m recovered, I’ll be back at it.

Category: Meatspace

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Weekend shot to hell

I know, I shouldn’t have done it. I’ve got too many other things to get on with. But I treated my X-Box to Half-Life 2 this afternoon, and blessed be, it’s rather good.

Alright, so it lacks the resolution and the frame-rate of the PC version, but I don’t have a PC so I don’t miss these things. And having lived with a PS2 for five years, I can honestly say the stuttering’s not that bad. It’s an acceptable trade-off for being able to use a decent computer.

So far, I’m completely baffled and don’t have a clue what’s going on, but I get to blow loads of shit up, and the bad guys look like Cyphermen, and, hey, it’s Half-Life 2 on the X-Box, so I’m happy.

I will try to squeeze in something other than gaming tomorrow, but at the moment, I’m busy.

Category: Gaming

Friday, November 18, 2005

Retooled once more

Slow progress this week, and not only because of my return to work and the inevitable psychic drain that results.

I’ve been putting in my daily two hours (well, alright, that’s a little white lie - but near enough, honest) but, even so, there’s little to show for it. At first I put this down to having, thus far, worked in very broad strokes. I had the grander arcs of my characters, settings and story figured out; who I wanted to move where - but filling in the finer detail was painstaking.

I considered today that, maybe - if I was having to force things, if the story wasn’t flowing from one inevitable event to another - maybe, my idea didn’t contain enough fuel to fire the intended number of hours. The reason I wasn’t coming up with the goods was that every other scene I was visualising was, basically, filler. If I cut all the crap I had probably enough material for a spooky, exciting, adventure story, that could hit - at most - two hours.

So I needed to reconsider. Again. Focus. Distill.

An insight into my thought processes:

I was originally inspired to write a story about a man who refused to partake of violence, having to prove himself to a community that had become obsessed with war.

Eventually, I had my man pitted against an enemy that could not be destroyed by violent means - a great force of non-being that only grows stronger as events become bloodier, more destructive and insane.

So how do you defeat that? The very first image that came to my mind when planning this whole thing, years and years ago, was that of the lost land of Lyonesse, rising from the sea-bed. Through my hero’s actions, a huge act of psychic healing would end the war and cure the world and banish the will to destruction, creating a society of light.

Et cetera, et cetera.

Meh to that. A denouement of that magnitude couldn’t possibly be considered “earned” in four hours. It would simply be a lame deus ex machina. No, that couldn’t be done at all in four hours.

I would have to do it in two.

Because what if a part of England that had been lost for millennia, came back? That’s not an ending. That’s how you start. With a war so repulsively excessive the Earth itself begins to puke its guts out. The membrane separating the Britain that’s lived in from the one that’s dreamt of begins to thin. A young man - first a warrior, then a shaman - tasked to hold back a growing darkness, attempts to do so from his newly acquired stronghold of Lyonesse. And World War One continues to rage.

My idea wasn’t for a mini-series. It was a pilot, and hopefully a bloody exciting one at that.

I certainly feel fired up. I’ll get right on it.

Category: Writing

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

UKTV: The Ghost Squad

A new series - the second to actually bear the name, but no relation to the original - that began on Channel 4 tonight, and continued on E4, so those of us digied-up get the first two episodes in one night.

And a good thing too, really, because the pilot was weak. The first two acts really dragged, some of the dialogue was terrible and the camera work was ten years out of date.

The second episode was a lot better. Episode one was a “premise” pilot, a clunky one at that, telling the story of how DC Amy Harris comes to the attention of the eponymous squad, an undercover division that roots out corruption in the UK’s police forces. Episode two was her first actual case, dealing with human trafficking, and hinting at the psychological toll of keeping your cover. It had its fair share of cliches - the cop on smack, the dodgy force-your-undercover-officer-to-take-drugs club scene - but, on the whole, proved it could have legs.

This show has a really good premise. The characters can be sent anywhere, deal with anything. Amy’s “cell” is one of several, and we’ve no idea where, or at what level the others operate. We’ve no idea yet if the squad is entirely legit, or a sort of SD-6 within the police force. How is it overseen - who watches the watchmen?

Channel Four need to look after this show. The Ghost Squad could be something really exciting. With more focus on plotting and less on being “gritty,” it could stand proud alongside the BBC’s quality returning-series triumvirate of Spooks, Hustle and Bodies, and inspire new writers to attempt spec episodes. If it turns out to be another plodding poe-faced hour-long, more concerned with social relevance than entertainment, I can’t see a second season happening.

I’ll keep watching, and pray more for glamour, sex, death, money, paranoia and betrayal, rather than a weekly social studies lecture. I'm not sure why I feel so pessimistic about this - if the next episode lives up to my expectations of the premise a bit more, I'll cheer up.

So, until next week, then.

Category: Movies and TV

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A primer

Well, that’s the end of a very interesting two weeks. Back to the day job tomorrow, and I have not done half so much as I hoped to, though, to be sure, it was twice as much as I expected. No-one could be more surprised than I that, having announced my intention to attempt something, I did not regard the announcement as fulfillment and promptly drop it, but struggled, and worked.

I’ve learnt much in the process, and hereby impart my newly gained wisdom:

        • First of all, when taking up, however belatedly, the mantle of destiny, waste no time in berating yourself for all the years spent on unnatural pursuits. Make up for them; move on.

        • Keep to a routine. Those of us with other daily duties might resolve to spend two hours a day on our writing. Where that time is lost, either through social engagements or sheer laxity, do not delude yourself you will make it up with four hours tomorrow. The thought will be altogether too intimidating, and four hours will become six, becomes eight - the work stops altogether. Should your stride be broken, take care not to exert yourself too greatly attempting to make up lost ground. There is no one in this race but you, so concentrate only on re-establishing whatever rhythm you already had.

        • Staring at the wall for two hours counts as work. You cannot produce excellence every day. As long as you are in your chair with paper within reach, you have discharged your obligations. Keep at it and you will find that you can not sit there day after day and fail to produce something.

        • Everything takes longer than you think. You may imagine yourself progenitor of such seemingly brilliant ideas - why, they’ll practically write themselves - but whatever you think you have is only the tip of the iceberg.

        • You will write drafts, many of them, and all will be unsatisfactory nonsense. Expect to write badly. A writer is not one who bangs out a story and considers it done, but an infinitely patient craftsman who first creates gibberish from nothing and then begins to transform it into something marvelous. Nonsense and gibberish are essential tools of the trade - you will do well if you can wield them unselfconsciously.

        • Read. It cannot be said often enough. Get hold of as many scripts as you can and read them, several times. At first you will take in only their narrative aspects, but persevere and they will reveal their secrets - how to tell a story in two beats, how to build a scene and when to consider one finished, how to foreshadow a reversal so as to flatter your audience, and more.

        • Finally, all of you who continue to find excuses for not getting started, take comfort in knowing the first hurdle is always the highest. As soon as you fully resolve to run the race, it is easily cleared, and its fellows will never be as intimidating.

I am not looking forward to going back to work, to getting up at 7.30 am, to sitting behind the same desk for eight hours at a stretch. However, because I have finally confirmed to myself that I have the will to write and at least some small measure of competency in the art, I am no longer scared that, should I take a peek down Time’s long tunnel into the future, I’ll see myself behind that self-same desk ten years from now.

Thank you to everyone who has lent me their support over the last fortnight. I may call on you again, and rest assured, you have mine.

Category: Writing

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Misunderstood follicles

As I advance in years, from a tender twenty-something to a step away from thirty, I find all the hair I want to keep is falling out, while a mutant hirsuteness develops in areas I would never have believed a fertile soil for bristles.

Aged sixteen, I couldn’t possibly have imagined that I would one day have to shave my ears.

Category: Uncategorised

Friday, November 11, 2005

Closer to home

You wouldn’t think, from my last post, that I actually live in the UK, would you? Are there any shows on at home that I would risk going to prison for?

Frankly, no. Although I have really enjoyed this last series of Spooks, am loving the Bleak House production values and think Bodies is utterly, squalidly magnificent, nothing, but nothing, can stand alongside Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica and The Wire. The difference in quality is one thing, but the gulf in the variety of tone and genre on offer is embarassing.

Danny posts today about the MA module, Writing for Existing TV Series, he teaches in Leeds:

The students nearly always choose American dramas to write instead of homegrown UK fare (which always baffles me - surely you’d want a sample script of a UK show to get some work after you graduate?). To be fair, the course has some foreign students who have no interest in writing for UK soaps like Coronation Street or EastEnders but it is interesting to witness the disdain and cynicism towards UK drama from those who say they want to write TV in this country...

But the one thing that students learn every year is that writing for TV is much, much harder than they ever realised and by the end of the module have acquired a whole new appreciation and understanding of what it takes. They sometimes reevaluate their criticism of UK shows and realise that the same talent and craft is being used but that it’s usually a different style and tone that’s in place because of the specific tastes and culture of this island.

So, come on, let’s hear it for UK TV writers. To name but a few: Paul Abbott (Shameless), David Renwick (One Foot in the Grave), Jimmy McGovern (Cracker), Ashley Pharoah (Where the Heart Is), Tony Jordan (EastEnders), Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk), Stephen Merchant (The Office). Style, talent and kudos to rival the best of what the US has to offer.

Should we really celebrate mediocrity, just because being excellent is so hard, and we don’t have the resources or the will for it? Isn’t it alarming, rather than baffling, that students would rather write a spec West Wing than a spec Hustle? Isn’t it a terrible shame that Danny’s roster of national treasures could never team up to produce and control the UK uber-series, a socially-aware, blackly-comic, fast-paced, thrilling, sci-fi drama about a well-intentioned British loser, because the production industry is geared towards a one writer per series or serial mentality?

I, for one, certainly have no ambition to write for Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, The Bill, Casualty etc, although I realise that doing so would most likely be a very valuable experience that many would give their eye-teeth for, and I would never watch any of them unless forced to. Neither can I bear to watch - and no offense to Stephen if he’s reading - yet another feature length ITV drama about punningly named detectives. Or yet another vanity vehicle for Martin Clunes - oh, I’ve said all this before.

There is, no question, an abundance of massively talented writers over here (although Paul Abbot’s been keeping quiet, David Renwick’s latest is not my cup of tea, and McGovern appears to have retired), slogging their guts out producing the same old tired formula, slaves to the whim of producers and Controllers. The only area in which there seems to be any innovation is the sit-com. Compare the last decade of dramas to Father Ted, Spaced, Coupling, Black Books, Phoenix Nights, Green Wing, League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Marion and Geoff, I’m Alan Partridge, The Office - the UK sit-com is in better shape than it’s ever been, while most drama languishes in the same old ghetto.

So, no, I don’t watch much home-grown drama. It throws up the occasional gem. A mini-series that keeps everyone happy for six weeks, before disappearing and coming back a year later, the same writer finding not quite the same inspiration to do as well the second time around. I am honestly grateful for these oases of brilliance, but I cannot pretend to find satisfaction in shows that have been chewing up promising writers for over twenty years and denying them the chance to find their own voice, forcing them to pen yet another mundane Slater bitch-fight when I am sure they would rather be weaving their own magic.

I don’t care for the product and I care less for what I know of the system that creates it. And yet I want to work in it.

Quite a conundrum, eh?

Category: Movies and TV

TV cull

Here are the shows I’m currently keeping track of using whatever nefarious, murky methods I deem necessary:

        • Alias
        • Bones
        • House
        • Gilmore Girls
        • Invasion
        • Lost
        • The O.C
        • Prison Break
        • Rome
        • Supernatural
        • Threshold
        • Veronica Mars

If, or when, the following are renewed and restart broadcast, they will be added to the list:

        • The 4400
        • Battlestar Galactica
        • Charlie Jade
        • Deadwood
        • Rescue Me
        • The Shield
        • Stargate: Atlantis
        • Wanted
        • Weeds
        • The Wire

During the summer season, I bailed out of The Inside, The Closer, The Dead Zone and Stargate SG-1. Last year, I broke up with Smallville, and no report that this year is an improvement is enough to get me to take another look. Season Four was that bad.

Some shows, such as The West Wing, and Nip/Tuck, I follow as they air over here.

That’s a lot of TV. Too much, I think; almost an unhealthy amount. Some of it’s got to go. A few of them, 4400, Wanted, Supernatural and Atlantis, for instance, are guilty pleasures. I enjoy watching them and will most likely keep on doing so. Others I’m attached to for sentimental reasons, like gangrenous fingers I don’t want to see amputated: see Alias and The O.C. Some are only on the list because they’re freshmen that I was keen to checkout, and their grace period is now over. Now they live or die on my harddrive by quality alone.

I haven’t actually watched a single episode of Gilmore Girls yet; I keep saving them up and never spend any time viewing them.

I think it’s time for a cull. As of next week, I do not think I will any longer be cluttering my bandwidth with Alias, The O.C. or Threshold. I have definitely had enough of Bones and Invasion, and it’s just possible that Lost may soon find itself out in the wilderness.

I’ve been uncritically consuming too many hours of TV lately, and the drip-line needs to be yanked. From now on I intend to savour only the good stuff, binge occasionally on junk and steer well clear of stinking offal.

Could you do the same?

Category: Movies and TV

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Call this a comic?

This is issue seventy-eight of Daredevil, which I have just bought today, having caught up on the trades. It is by far the best comic being published by Marvel right now; Bendis and Maleev have been unstoppable since the beginning of Underboss, back in issue twenty-six. That’s a brilliantly sustained run of excellence. Forty-seven issues so far (don’t forget Echo’s Quest by David Mack, there in the middle). That’s a lot of pages.

A lot of pages. And this issue continues the trend. Good work by Bendis and Maleev, only it’s totally unreadable. Too many pages. Forty-eight, you see. Forty-eight pages, and do you know how many of those are story pages? Twenty-two! And that includes the previously page.

Less than half of this comic has any comic in it.

Fuck you, Marvel. I’m waiting for the trade.

Category: Books and Comics

I have been shopping

I am now quite confident that were you and I ever to meet, I would be by far the nattier dresser.

Category: Meatspace

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"What a wonderful butler. He's so violent!"

Yesterday saw the latest release in the BBC’s series of Doctor Who DVDs: The City of Death, starring Tom Baker, with Lalla Ward as Romana.

The Doctor and Romana arrive in Paris, 1979, and are enjoying their holiday until a time-jump at the Louve makes the Doctor dizzy and tips him off to an impending attempt to steal the Mona Lisa. They are eventually led to Count Scarlioni, who is definitely planning to steal the painting, despite already having six of them!

Tom Baker is, naturally, everyone’s favourite Doctor, but by the time of City of Death he was pretty much director-proof, and usually allowed to get away with far more clowning than really was good for the show. Here, however, the script is perfectly tailored to encourage his pratfalls, double-takes and sly delivery.

Douglas Adams writes, under the BBC supplied pseudonym of David Agnew. Adams, though justly lauded for his skills in wielding the rapier sharp bon-mot, and using it to slice even the biggest ideas into tiny strips of lunacy, was never féted for his rapid productivity. But, required to undertake a page one re-write of David Fisher’s A Gamble with Time over one weekend, he proved here that he could certainly turn in the goods. A multi-layered plot with some great reversals, bonkers ideas, exceedingly witty dialogue and very memorable characters all brought to life by one of Who's best ever casts (and check out the gratuitous Cleese cameo), all go to create one of the most successful stories in Doctor Who’s history.

City of Death is famous for its location shooting, and just in case you don’t catch that the story is set in Paris, there are plenty of shots of the Doctor and Romana at the Eiffel Tower, having a coffee outside Notre Dame, merrily tossing the Green Cross Code into the gutter when dealing with Parisienne traffic, running into the Louve, down the Champs Elysees and along the banks of the Seine. At one point I could have sworn the BBC had mistakenly cut-in an edition of Holiday ‘79. Was that Cliff Michelmore I saw, sipping coffee, just off-screen? Could have been.

Thankfully, the story itself moves at such a pace that, when viewed in one go, these extensive location shots don’t drag it down. If I was catching an episode a week, though, I might feel cheated. City of Death has other problems, but the few faults with this production lie not in the fondly remembered wobbly sets and rubbery make-up, but, as the the participants in a rather excellent documentary all point out, in the fact that Adams was not an especially gifted storyteller, and a strange choice, really, for story editor. There are lots of big ideas in City of Death, about evolution and the nature of art, which Adams later reused in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, but there are story points that make little sense. What, for instance, is the limit of Scaroth’s fragments’ awareness of each other? How did Tancredi, know:

        1 - who the Doctor was?
        2 - that the Mona Lisa would become the greatest painting in the universe?
        3 - there would be a need to make precisely seven copies for Scarlioni to fence?

How can the Doctor and his companions survive on an Earth which has no life? And let’s not gloss over the fact that the whole plot is predicated on an enormous Grandfather paradox. If Scarlioni succeeds and the human race is never created, where does he get the resources to succeed? None of this, though, really matters, as there is always another bit of business from Baker, or one-liner from Adams to prevent us from thinking too hard about the holes.

This is a two disc set - disc one holds the feature, with a very fine looking transfer; better, actually, than many of the earlier releases of later episodes. Also on this disc are the now traditional production subtitles - always fascinating, and now apparently so taken for granted they aren’t even listed on the case. There is also a rather horrible commentary from the director, Michael Hayes, and two of the cast members: Julian Glover and Tom Chadbon. Nice chaps, all terrible luvvies, who, not altogether surprisingly, don’t remember enough about a three week shoot they made twenty-six years ago to talk for a hour and a half about it. Avoid.

Disc two contains a fantastic documentary Paris in the Springtime, about the writing and filming of City of Death, with contributions from many of the cast members, the director, producer, original writer and two of the writers from the new series, Rob Shearsmith and my personal guru, Peter Moffat. The doc has a very funny, irreverent narration, and includes a great high-speed storyboard version of the original, 1920’s-set premise for A Gamble with Time. There are also snippets of interviews with Douglas Adams, talking passionately about his time spent on Doctor Who.

These releases always manage to dig something interesting out of the archives for inclusion. Why film of a Paul Weller lookalike positioning chickens can be saved, yet no-one can find entire seasons of Patrick Troughton’s time on the show is just one of the universe’s many mysteries.

Also, if you look hard, you’ll find some pretty nifty Easter-eggs, including a six and a half minute monologue from Douglas Adams about an epic Parisienne piss-up with Scottish director Ken Green, that resulted in a visit to the doctors and culminates with the line: “it was the type of evening where at 4 o’clock in the morning you wonder how you’re ever going to get back to England.”

Time, and money, well spent.

Category: Movies and TV

Monday, November 07, 2005

Give. Me. A. Break!

So here’s why I want to put my head in the oven, although I can see the funny side.

I had this dream in 2001 about a conscientious objector, looking for sanctuary in the English countryside during WW1. Waking up, I thought that married with some of my preoccupations of the time, such as shamanism and evolutionary psychiatry, it would make a decent novel.

I suppose I should have been suspicious of the fact that this was based on a dream, but ideas have to come from somewhere, yes?

I’ve already told you why that novel never happened, and that when, having taken a look at Azureus and noticing how many shows I was downloading, I decided to try and pour what was left of my writing energy into television, I dusted off the idea. That would have been around May 2004.

I took a look at what I had, and it wasn’t much - this pacifist dude escapes from a work camp, develops strange abilities, teams up with a troubled girl to raise Lyonesse and heal the European psyche.

Well, who was this guy? Why didn’t he want to fight? Why did he need to escape and who was trying to get him back? Slowly, very slowly, and with numerous false starts and dead ends, I decided that Princetown Work Centre was a test-bed for government aggression trials to create the ultimate, compassion-free soldier. The trials were being run by Lord Edmund Vyvyan, who had his own dark purposes - his lineage stretched back to the time of the mythic celts. The war is driving Europe insane, and the constant blood-letting is beginning to awaken the powers Vyvyan’s family once served. Our hero Tristan discovers Vyvyan’s plans, becomes an unwilling experimental subject, but reacts in an unforeseen manner: the drug that is being fed to prisoners sends him on a wild trip, granting him supernatural abilities.

And then we have Evey. A young girl in the fishing village of Portwick; her father drowned years ago and her brother’s at war - she’s a girl in some psychic distress who becomes a magnet for both Tristan’s and Vyvyan’s attentions.

But I couldn’t make these characters’ stories gel. They all seemed to be living in different shows. I did a quick brainstorm and came up with the following:

What if Vyvyan’s great house was one of the many stately homes made into hospitals for the duration of the war? What if we say Tristan is not a conscientious objector, but a Lieutenant suffering from war neurosis, and Evey a nurse? Presto, three hitherto disparate elements now unified. The military experiments and rise of dark gods could remain as they were, but now I could get right to the heart of the story a lot sooner, without having to lay so much pipe.

What had started out as a Robert Holdstock/Robin of Sherwood tonal hybrid had, quite naturally I thought, evolved into more of a Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker-era gothic Doctor Who-style story.

I'd have to change the title.

But first I thought I’d better find out a bit more about these hospitals. Presumably they’d have doctors, nurses, an officer in charge and a company of guards. To be sure, I whacked "WW1 psychiatric hospital staff" into Google, and got two enlightening hits.

The first is probably one of the most chilling photographs I’ve ever seen:

The second was one of the most unsettling coincidences yet to occur in my young life. So, I've developed what could be a gothic Doctor Who story, have I? Well, here's MY BLOODY IDEA AS THE SYNOPSIS FOR AN ACTUAL, 1999, DOCTOR WHO NOVEL. This shit ain’t right. I’ve never read the book, I’ve never heard of the author. Until last year I’d forgotten Who even existed. If I was “influenced” by anything it was Dane’s story and his relationship with Sir Miles in The Invisibles. And yet, here's this, as if something's telling me to try harder - as if this wasn't hard enough already!

Well, you’ve got to laugh, right?

Category: Writing

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Time well spent

I’ve held onto this idea for a looong time: WW1, a conscientious objector escapes from Princetown Work Centre, and while wandering across Dartmoor, develops shamanic abilities which are put to use when he arrives in a Cornish community shattered by the war.

Well, as a semi-formed log-line, it sounds alright, but as I’ve finally delved more deeply into the who, where, why and how of it this week, I’ve realised - it doesn’t work.

It damn well doesn’t work. For four years I’ve been mulling this idea, weakly thinking that one day I’ll sit down and write it and prove to myself that I am, in fact, some kind of storytelling genius.

Four years I’ve lived with this illusion, every day experiencing deepening levels of cognitive dissonance as I’ve tried to reconcile the life I’d chosen with the one I knew I needed.

One week, or, if you prefer, a combined fifteen hours of work later, I realise.

It’s a crappy idea.

Y’damned fool.

Category: Writing

Saturday, November 05, 2005

It's alright, son, we've known for years.

When I'm procrastinating, occasionally I'll troll the sites of aspiring screenwriters and wonder, "why, exactly, do you want to do this?"

It's a question that's so important. And I'm not sure it's one that's answered truthfully or honestly very often.

Denis McGrath, always with the encouragement.

I don’t want to do this. Really, I never looked at career options and thought “hey, yeah, writer; big bucks, and bed all day.” I knew that even if I really made a commitment and went for it, it could take years before I made a sale. I’d have to spend who knows how long making no kind of money whatsoever, hoping for that one opportunity that would make it all worthwhile. I’m not prepared to take those kind of risks. I want a steady job, and regular pay, and a career that’s not tied directly to my self-esteem.

Because, for one thing, I hate letting people read my work. As soon as I see it in someone else’s hands, my nuts shrivel up and my guts turn to mud.

I hate it. It’s not what I want to be.

But I keep having these dirty little thoughts. I read a story in a paper and think “there could be a script there, if it was set in the fifties, and he was an animal welfare advocate.” I can’t see a blank piece of paper without thinking “maybe just a line or two - if I’m quick and I’m careful I won’t get hurt.”

It’s disgusting.

But denying it is just eating me up. I’ve spent eight years avoiding writing and taking jobs that bring me no satisfaction at all. My life has suffered because of it. When I meet people I’m an account executive dabbling with a script, not a writer with a day job. I lie about who I am. I don't talk to people any more. I’m a tightly wound coil of repression. When I go off, someone’s going to lose an eye.

I’ve tried to hide it, to live a normal life, but the truth is, nothing else makes me happy.

Mum, Dad, everyone, I think I’m a writer.

Category: Writing

Put yourself on the map

Go on, head over to Moses’ scribosphere project, check out the beautiful people and add yourself to the pantheon. Become a resident of the glorious global scriptwriting village. We should have a fete every Founder’s Day.

It’s good for absolutely nothing at all, but I’m a very nosy person who likes to see where people live and what they look like. So sue me. Plus, you can always take a look at it when you’re writing at 2 a.m and feeling like the only person in the world, and draw strength from knowing you have brothers and sisters out there somewhere.

Category: Computing and Web

Friday, November 04, 2005


On the very day I posted my lengthy iTunes upload workaround, Apple go and release 10.4.3 which totally breaks it.

Specifically, “Get Specified Finder Items” no longer works as I like, and you can read more about what they’ve done to make it FUBAR at Mac OSX Hints.

In order to get the workflow to work correctly, by sending the uploaded files to the Trash so that your artwork folder can update, you have to perform some other action on your artwork.jpg first.

At first I tried labelling it, but that threw up an error, as did trying to rename it. In the end I settled for placing the “Move Finder Items” action just before “Move to Trash” and setting it so that artwork.jpg is moved to the Desktop before going in the Trash.


Category: Meta

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Getting started

Sitting at the back of the class, it’s taken me a little while to realise it’s actually NaNoWriMo time, and here I am, attempting to bang out my first teleplay in a fortnight. I may be a little insane, but at least I’m not alone in my madness.

So fittingly, the motto for November is officially “quantity, not quality,” an aphorism that will serve me well this next week or so.

Work has been slow thus far, as I’ve made the fatal mistake of sitting on my ideas for too long, letting the whole concept become crufty and unwieldy. I’ve been thinking, albeit vaguely, about this project for such a long time I imagined I must have a pretty good handle on it, but in fact I really haven’t got much of a clue at all. Despite knowing where to start and where to end, I actually had no usable story material to put in the middle, just a bunch of unformed characters and possible plot points. Most of which were poorly considered garbage.

All the “work” I’d done before this week had been very idle, mostly taking place over long, wool-gathering walks, and totally lacking in specificity. So I’ve spent the last couple of days filling pages and pages with notes - story beats, character bios, backstory and so forth, trying to pare away all the most evident nonsense until I possess a handful of solid, usable elements to build with.

Once I’ve got them all together, it’ll be a pretty sloppy building I erect. But that’s another post.

Category: Writing

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New digital channel

ITV4 is the greatest television station ever!

Right now I’m sitting here watching Pekinpah’s hardcore The Killer Elite, and this afternoon they were pumping out the fantastic Grant Morrison inspiring Department S. Even better, next week sees re-runs of the Michael Madsen vehicle Vengeance Unlimited.

I’m never getting up again.

Category: Movies and TV

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dog with a bone

On the day that I started this blog, back in June, I thought it would be cool to be able to display the currently playing iTunes track in my sidebar. Couldn’t imagine why anyone would be at all interested to know what I was listening to, especially as I buy all my music off the back of Uncut’s reviews, but since all the cool blog kids seemed to be doing it, I decided to follow the herd.

How hard could it be?

Six months of getting lost down countless spiraling hyperlink avenues, that’s how hard. There is apparently no way, no way, of doing this using:

a. a mac
b. Blogger

It should be simple. Extract the artwork of the currently playing iTunes track, and upload it to a web server. Yet only one piece of software claims to be able to upload album data to a web server. It’s called OnDeck and it’s a joke. It’s buggy, it crashes and its upload capability is a bag of shite, but since I’m no programmer and can’t do any better, I have to let it form the backbone of my attempt.

Now, the futility of my search bought to mind something else, so allow me to indulge for a moment. I love my Powerbook, I really do. It’s a joy to use, but I sometimes worry about the state of Mac software. Either an app is polished, beautiful and useless, or it’s in a perpetual beta state and not totally safe to use. One of the most useful pieces of software I run is called avidemux. I have a set-top DVD player that can play avi files, so that instead of having to watch everything I download on a crappy twelve inch screen, I can burn it to CD-RW and watch it on a much bigger telly. The only problem is that my DVD player can’t read avi files with packed bitstreams. In fact, this is a regular issue on set-top, avi playing, DVD machines. You’d think that by now someone would have come up with an easy way to unpack a video’s bitstream, but no. Why do anything so useful when instead we can be designing gorgeous widgets that count down to the next Stargate SG-1? Avidemux is a Unix app that will only run in the X11 environment. This is not right! Why hasn’t anyone Cocoa-fied it yet? Why hasn’t it been wrapped into ffmpegx (talking of perpetual betas). Can’t anyone else see the value of having this functionality natively?

No? Just me? Okay then.

So, iTunes display. It seems that I really should just be using Wordpress if I want to do this kind of thing.

However, since I quite like Blogger, and am frankly too ignorant to migrate everything to Wordpress, I thought I’d try another way.

Finally, today, I can at last unveil my barely satisfying solution.

So, if you too want an up to date visual record on your blogspot page of what’s playing in iTunes, you’re going to need OnDeck. You’ll also need Mac OSX 10.4, because my method here makes use of Automator.

First, create a folder in the Finder called “nowplaying;” we’ll call it that for now. You can change it later. Then open OnDeck, and from the preference window, select the publishing tab, and from the method selection in the artwork section, choose local. Almost every step from here on would be completely redundant if only you could select FTP and have it work. But I digress again. You’ll need the full Unix path of the nowplaying folder you just created in order to save to it - for instance: Volumes/Yourcomputer/Users/You/nowplaying/artwork.jpg.

Save your preferences, then from OnDeck’s Function menu, make sure that Publish Artwork is ticked.

Play something in iTunes, and make sure that the file artwork.jpg has been created in the nowplaying folder.

Go to Applications/AppleScript/Example Scripts/Folder Actions and run Enable Folder Actions.scpt

Download and install the Upload to FTP Automator action. Then create the following workflow (just drag these actions from the menu on the left to the pane on the right, in order):

• Get Specified Finder Items - select artwork.jpg
• Upload to FTP - fill in your FTP details
• repeat Get Specified Finder Items
• Move to Trash

Save the workflow as a plug-in; name it upload, set it as a plug-in for folder actions, and when prompted for a folder to associate it with, select nowplaying.

Manually delete the artwork.jpg already in nowplaying, and start using iTunes. From now on, whenever an album is changed, OnDeck will output the album’s artwork to nowplaying, and a script will run automatically, sending the jpeg to your webspace and then deleting it to make room for the next album. Tidy.

All you need to do now is edit your Blogger template, adding the source URL for your online image, and Bob’s yer uncle: everytime your blog is loaded, it will show the world whatever album you’re listening to, although God knows why you’d want it to do that. Just remember that you need to keep OnDeck running for this to work.

And that’s the best I could come up with, not having any programming skills of my own. It’s actually a pretty lousy solution because:

a. I can’t figure out how to upload and display track information, only artwork. You can choose for OnDeck to create a text file with the name of the Artist, Album, Track etc, but I’ve got no idea how to then get the info from that text file into my template, short of using the <object> tag, which is just ugly.
b. When your folder action kicks in, and your workflow starts to run, it actually hijacks your machine, making itself the frontmost application and kicking you out of whatever you’re doing. This is very annoying. I would suggest not doing this while listening to songs on shuffle.

And that brings my most recent obsession to an end, having neither the wit or the skill to take it any further for now. Having come this far on my own, I would gladly welcome any further advice, as I’m not particularly happy with the results so far. Yet despite its weaknesses I consider it one of the most satisfying displacement activities I've yet devised.

UPDATE (also posted above):

On the very day I posted my lengthy iTunes upload workaround, Apple go and release 10.4.3 which totally breaks it.

Specifically, “Get Specified Finder Items” no longer works as I like, and you can read more about what they’ve done to make it FUBAR at Mac OSX Hints.

In order to get the workflow to work correctly, by sending the uploaded files to the Trash so that your artwork folder can update, you have to perform some other action on your artwork.jpg first.

At first I tried labelling it, but that threw up an error, as did trying to rename it. In the end I settled for placing the “Move Finder Items” action just before “Move to Trash” and setting it so that artwork.jpg is moved to the Desktop before going in the Trash.


Category: Meta

Monday, October 31, 2005

What am I worth?

I’m not usually one for picking up and running with memes, but this tickled me. Most likely because I am a shallow capitalist stooge obsessed with aquisition and questions of self-worth.

How about you?

My blog is worth $4,516.32.
How much is your blog worth?

With thanks to Lee Goldberg.

Category: Computing and Web

Saturday, October 29, 2005

So long, suckers!

Nah, not you lot. I just got myself two weeks off work, which takes my holiday time taken this year up to six weeks. I may be a lowly account executive, but I feel like a teacher.

I will spend the first couple of days, as I usually do, clearing up all the junk and underwear (sadly always my own) I’ve left lying around for the last few weeks, making sure I’ve paid all my bills, maybe checking out a movie and sorting out my system (my Powerbook is constantly accessing its hard drive and locking up. This is very irritating. Literally. I have spots.)

Once the chores are finished, the mission begins.

I have two weeks. While this blog has had some moderate success in motivating my ass, I’m not doing anywhere near as much writing as I ought to. Ce la vie, I suppose, but I’m entering my sixth calendar month, and I believe this is, by some coincidence, my 100th post, and it’s time to put up or shut up.

In two weeks I will be well on the way to finishing my rough draft of Conchie, and maybe along the way will have explained a little bit of what it’s about. If I get to the end of the fortnight with little or nothing to show, I will know I am a fraud and will commit seppuko by web-cam. You have my word.

So here’s my desk:

This is where I’m going to be spending most of the next sixteen days. Currently clean and free of clutter, though I really must get around to washing out that coffee mug, expect it to look like an Iranian nuclear lab in two weeks time. Possibly with entrails.

Category: Meatspace

Friday, October 28, 2005

Bleak House opens for visitors

I hope you all did as you were told and tuned in, or have fired up your Bittorrent clients and are merrily pilfering from the BBC that for which I have paid with my toil and sweat.

Andrew Davies did a first rate job of introducing over a dozen characters, with many more to come, and making them all breathe (or not, as the case may be) over the course of the hour. Their relationships were mapped out efficiently and economically, with just the right amount of time spent on each.

Gillian Anderson was terrific as mysterious Lady Dedlock. It almost goes without saying in a BBC production of this type that the photography was superb, but the camera’s relationship with Anderson deserves mention. The way in which she is made the foreground of every shot seems to be almost Hitchcockian, possibly fetishistic, but certainly intriguing, as no other character is photographed in like manner. I sense a certain amount of foreshadowing here...

Weak points? None in the writing so far, but not all of the performances quite hit the mark. Minor characters, but nevertheless, an unnecessary blemish.

I’ve tried reading Bleak House many times over the years, but never managed to get any further through the book than tonight’s episode did. I had some prior familiarity with tonight’s events, and was not disappointed with Davies’ realisation at all. The rest is a mystery I’m keen to watch unravel.

Category: Movies and TV

Thursday, October 27, 2005

London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall.

A quick reminder to those of you with tellys that tune into BBC One - do not forget to watch Bleak House tonight. The rest of you, download it tomorrow.


Category: Movies and TV

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Broken Wings

Flickr PhotoThis week, I, the displacement king, have been buggering about with Flock. Mostly futilely, if the truth be known.

Sorry, Lee, what? Please don’t tell us you’ve been trying to bum the sheep again?

No, not the flock. Flock.

Those of you who haven’t yet heard the news may be pleased to learn of the existence of a new web-browser (yeah, right, like there isn’t one of those everyday - but don't all get your coats at once) based on Mozilla, but designed for the web-citizen; denizen of the nebulous Web2.0, rather than the flighty web-tourist. It’s a social browser, an internet interactivity app, rather than your basic type here, look there, go somewhere else, browser. It’s built for those of us who use the web to create and share, rather than to do our homework on eighth century viking invasions of Norfolk.

And, in the sense that I regularly use the word to describe something completely diverting that I forget about forever after less than a week, it’s awesome.

Perhaps I could actually take the time to explain it to you?

For instance, what actually makes it any different to IE, Firefox, Safari, and the like? Well for one thing, the term social browser is pretty apt. Flock is all about the making, collecting and sharing of web content.

The first thing you’ll notice about the app, is that it doesn’t utilise bookmarks in any recognisable way. What is does do is ask you for your user name and password, and then syncs up with your online favourites, which is pretty smart. It’s also pretty useless if you have no idea what is, and all your bookmarks are stored locally, as there is no way of getting your bookmarks from Safari, or any other browser, into Flock.

I managed it by exporting my Safari bookmarks to Firefox, and then using Julian Bez’s loader to upload and tag them. It worked well for me, and didn’t take too long, as even though I have around 300 bookmarks, I try to limit their categorisation. Other people have said the loader craps out at 50 bookmarks, so I guess mileages vary.

So now all my bookmarks are collected in one place, online, accessible from any computer I’m using, and by anyone using tags relative to my own. This is good, and I am pleased. I want to share some more; how about photos?

Flickr PhotoOkay, then. Flock has a really neat feature called the topbar. This is a direct link to yours, or other peoples’ Flickr photos, and it is killer (the topbar can also be used as a direct interface to your blog, if you have one, but it always crashes for me). You can easily check out your friend's and contact's photosets without leaving the site you’re on. Sadly, again, if all this Flickr business is new to you, and you have zero pictures online and 25,000 in iPhoto, this is no good for you. Uploading photos is not difficult, and there are many methods of doing so, but currently Flock does not offer one.

I also have to report that even though Flock, like Safari and Firefox, is capable of aggregating feeds, it currently does a piss poor job of it. Once more, the fact that you cannot import from an OPML file fucks with your day. At the moment the only way of using Flock’s RSS implementation is to visit every one of your favorites and allow it to detect feeds. That’s just shit and, at the moment, so is its method of displaying them. This is a developer preview, I know, so there are no final judgments here, but this needs urgent work in my opinion.

I can see the migration issue being a big stumbling block in the way of uptake, and unless the Flock devs can come up with some super swank set-up wizard for neophytes that uploads bookmarks from your current browser to, and introduces you to Flickr, or some other photosharing service, Flock will struggle. Because, let’s be honest, if Flock’s only aim is to be the browser for people who are already savvy to these services it’s not going to get far. A quick search of for instance, reveals the most popular bookmark to be slashdot, with a meagre 9477 links. Mainstream sites such as the BBC, one of the most popular web-sites in the world, have 2512. Flock is currently niche software of the narrowest kind, and even if it were used by every single person with a collection, that wouldn’t be enough for it to survive.

But enough with the downers, there’s way more good stuff.

Flickr PhotoSearches, for one. These are great, and very Spotlight-like. Type your query into Flock’s search bar, and as well as being able to hunt it down on Google, Yahoo etc, Flock will also scan both your favourites and history for you. It’s such an obvious development, really. I mean, why have web, bookmark and history searches all in different places, when a single pane can do it all. Brilliant thinking.

And the shelf. This is ace! Found a picture you like, or particular pice of text, or need to build a collection of links for a research project - this is the way to do it. Just drag what you want to the shelf, and it acts like a giant clipboard, storing content until you need it.

And what might you need it for? Why, blogging of course. My friends, this is Flock’s raison d’etre, and its coup de grace is its blog editor. Flock is without question the browser for bloggers. This one feature is what’s going to make Flock an indispensible piece of software for bloggers everywhere and it’s this, not bookmark integration or snazzy photo viewing that’s going to make Flock a success.

Even though, as I’ve said, this is a developer release and not without bugs, already the blog editor is hugely accomplished. It makes posting an absolute piece of cake. Simply drag in an image, resize it and select how you want text to flow around it, and you’re ready to post. Or highlight a selection of text, drag it in, and Flock creates blockquote tags and a link to the reference. Although categories aren’t presently supported, you can add Technorati tags very easily. I wouldn’t use it exclusively yet, not so long as it’s prone to crash and lose whatever you’ve been working on, but for posting short bursts of inspiration, it’s ideal.

Flock has plenty of potential, and already one great strength. Its greatest weakness lies in its learning curve. As soon as it learns to reach out, and help potential users to see things its way and aid them in migrating, it is gonna soar.

Category: Computing and Web

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