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