Friday, March 26, 2010

Sunday Night is Confusion Night. Or possibly Confucian Night,

I get to my hotel at half ten, and five minutes after checking in am in bed, because that's how I ROLL BEYATCHES &c, when there's a knock on the door, by someone introducing himself as being 'from reception'.

Cue five minutes blundering round in the dark trying to find a) my trousers and b) a lightswitch, during which I can hear the reception person sighing heavily. Finally I find both, and get the door open.

RECEPTION MAN: Hello, yes, I wanted to make sure your phone was working, as the reception desk was trying to call you.

I try the phone. I does work.

ME: Well yes, it's fine. Why were they trying to call me?

RECEPTION MAN: Sir, you will have to call the reception desk to find out.

He goes away. I call the reception desk.

RECEPTION DESK: Hello, I wanted to make sure you were in the right room. Are you in the right room?

Quite a long pause.

ME: I'll be honest, I have no idea.

RECEPTION DESK: What room are you in?

ME: I am in the room you told me to go to.


ME: ... which is presumably the room you're phoning now. Isn't it? I'm quite tired, I don't really know what's going on.

Another quite long pause. Very very slowly, I put the phone down. When I check out the next morning, I am fairly sure they give me a funny look. I still have no idea what was going on, and to be honest, am not entirely convinced the hotel in question fully deserves its four stars.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Yes it warrants caps. I'm currently re-reading the books (well, one to five), and have totally fallen in love with Bryan Lee O'Malley's world all over again. Supposedly the film diverges from the books at around volume three, which sounds sensible to me (I know Edgar Wright likes to consult this blog before each creative decision, it just saves time for everyone).

Mr Mamet writes a memo

Excellent find on Movieline: a memo written by David Mamet to his writing staff working on his action/drama series 'The Unit' (now cancelled)

Full text over at Movieline, but here's a choice bit (caps model's own):





I hear the bolded stuff a lot, though never from anyone involved in Green Wing, or (now) Campus. It's very specifically a drama thing rather than a comedy thing. To be fair, the development people I hear it from are usually very far from being dickheads, and rarely in suits. But I do hear it a lot.

Which is interesting, because something I've been wondering a lot lately, is if the writer's main job is to a) keep the audience guessing (as long as they're engaged enough to care), and b) make sure he or she is the only person who know everything about his characters (but give the audience enough that they're constantly wrong-footed rather than, say, left in the dark).


EDIT: actually, all that said, I have to remind myself I only actually like about a third of Mamet's stuff that I've seen, and a constant problem I have with his stuff is that I don't care about the characters that much. Nor do I really ever know what's going on, but I get that with pretty much anything above 'Shaun The Sheep' length.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Twestival Cornwall, Vertigo Bar, Truro - Thurs 25th March 2010

If you're even vaguely near Truro on Thursday, do order a ticket now for the Cornwall Twestival (I know, but that's what it's called). Patroclus is one of the organisers, and we'll both be there, along with lots of Cornwall social networky people and some good local bands.

Tickets cost £10, proceeds going to Concern Worldwide, available here

Video by Sideways Cornwall

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brought to you by the word 'um' and the phrase 'kind of'.

There's a bit* of my talk to the Falmouth Professional Writing course (with some people from Screenwriting and Broadcast in the audience as well) on the prof writing website here:

What was your big break

So there you are. Um. Kind of. *makes annoying lip smacking noise I didn't even know I did*

* It's the first eight minutes or something.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

the missing link between Neil Gaiman and AS Byatt, apparently

In the comments thread of this post over on Kotaku, about the difference between what counts as scariness in computer game, and what counts as actual horror someone said, in reference to some national public radio programme (anyone know what it might be?):

"Gaiman was talking about how his book Coraline is read by children as an exciting adventure story whereas adults tend to read it more as a horror story. It was most amusing to hear the extremely well educated and well spoken rather elderly lady that A.S. Byatt is now tell Gaiman something along the lines of "It scared the hell out of me".

Which made me look at it, and go 'buhhhhhhhh'.

Because when I worked at Waterstone's in Canterbury, one of the many fun jobs I had was running events. Twice a week I'd take some minions, we'd THEY"D move all the chairs upstairs in the coffee shop, put a little stage in, set up a microphone, and, when the author arrived, I'd greet them, we'd have a little chat, then I'd introduce them to the audience, sometimes deal with questions at the end, manage the queues for signing, then get the author to the taxi afterwards.

It was a brilliant job, and because Canterbury's only an hour and a half or so from London, you could get some pretty big name authors (Bernard Cornwell, writer of the Sharpe books, is perhaps the nicest man in the world - Michael Dibdin , creator of the Aurelio Zen crime series, was quite possibly the grumpiest, although he's dead now, which just goes to show). Neil Gaiman was quite easy to convince to come to Canterbury, because his long-time collaborator Dave McKean lives just a few miles away, so I got to do two events with him: one for American Gods, and one for Coraline. I'm a gert big Gaiman fan, and I'm pleased to report he's absolutely lovely in person, and didn't mind me telling him that both books were really, really good, as though I was some lone voice of sanity at a point where all he had encountered up until that point in his career had been apathy and neglect, and that my encouragement persuaded him not to jack it all in.

AS Byatt also has Canterbury connections, as her editor Jenny Uglow also lives in Canterbury. AS Byatt, you may, or may not, be surprised to hear, is a huge Terry Pratchett fan, but had never read Neil Gaiman. And as we had had a lovely chat about kid's books before she did her talk, it frankly felt wrong to let her go without running downstairs, buying a copy of Coraline (on staff discount, I'm not insane) and pushing it into her hands. because I'd just read her astonishingly creepy Little Black Book Of Stories, and something told me it might be her cup of tea.

That was at least six years ago now, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wondering every now and then if she'd ever got round to reading it, or had even got it all the way home without leaving it in a taxi or something. And I now I know she did read it.

Of course, there's always a chance she did lose it, or read some other copy somewhere, but this is a nice story about books, so I think I'm allowed to just write myself a tiny tiny footnote in literary connections.

I also once, out of sheer desperation, asked Will Self if he was a fan of The Good Life. I don't think that one went anywhere.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"in no way is this advertisers forcing something on poor old producers"

Thinkbox's lovely Tess Alps (who I should say I have know for years now, and has been incredibly generous in providing me with free dinners and the Blue Kitten with various toys, clothes etc) originally left this comment on the post but it's worth moving to a post of its own, I think.

A quick catch-up on my opinions on the introduction of product placement, or 'PP' available here, in an article I recently wrote for the Western Morning News

Tess says:

Hello everyone,

Too late I'm sure to catch people with a few comments, but what the heck.

James knows me very well but I should probably make it clear to you all that my job is to promote the benefits of TV advertising - on all platforms, linear and on-demand. I like my job in part because I like to think of myself helping to bring more money to TV to make better programmes - and to keep James in honest employment*.

Are advertisers moving away from TV? Depends what you mean. TV has actually increased its share of total advertising (including all forms of online& search etc) over the last two years, but sadly it's been at a time when total advertising has been hit very hard.

In 2008 total advertising declined by 4.9% and TV by 2.9%. In 2009 we think that total advertising declined by nearly 13% and TV declined by just under 10%. Traumatic for everyone in the TV industry but actually a dream compared to the print industry where declines of over 20% were the norm.

The question is will advertising bounce back? There is definitely a long-term structural trend away from display ads (eg online banners, TV spots, posters etc) towards techniques like email marketing where advertisers can just use their databases and disintermediate any professional medium on- or off-line.

However, so far this year TV advertising is increasing strongly, albeit from a very poor 2009 base, and we're seeing nearly 20% increases in April and May which would recoup all the losses of 2008 and 2009.

The real difficulty for programme budgets is that, while total linear TV viewing has never been as high, and about 35% more ads are being seen (at normal speed) compared to 10 years ago, it's spread across more channels.

ITV1, Channel 4 and Five have lower shares of both viewing (like BBC1 & 2) and money; they were the channels which commissioned the majority of UK original production in the commercial sector. However digital switchover is nearly complete and it's very likely that their shares will stabilise at that point.

My shareholders have diverse attitudes to product placement; ITV is the most enthusiastic simply because they make a lot of their own programmes. Others, like C4 and Sky are more equivocal about it. The people who are opposed to it include people like you, who object from a moral and aesthetic position. But there are also plenty of opponents who don't share your sensibilities but who believe that a) it won't generate much money from a lot of effort b) PP doesn't work anyway for brands c) it will just divert money from TV spot advertising so there will be no net gain. The body which represents British advertisers is opposed to paid PP, it might surprise you to learn (EDIT: my bolding, not Tess's), and the most enthusiastic champion is PACT which represents all the independent production companies. So in no way is this advertisers forcing something on poor old producers.

Sorry to have gone on at absurd length. If you want more facts about TV you might like to have a look at our website some time.

Tess does make some very good points - it's certainly worth pointing out that a lot of advertisers do seem to be rather puzzled at PP being brought in so enthusiastically by elements of the government and the television industry. Any enthusiasm they might have might have had has certainly lessened considerably since fast food, alcohol and gambling were taken out of the equation, undoubtedly a good thing, but makes the introduction of PP even more pointless and frustrating from the writers' point of view.

PP has already had an impact on my writing - a couple of scenes for various shows have already been rewritten because they mentioned specific brand names. They've now been changed to something more generic, because if viewers even had the slightest suspicion the brand had been mentioned because money had changed hands rather than, say, because something about the rhythm of the name of a particular chocolate bar, or high street clothing store or whatever, the joke would be ruined.

So yes, I am in no doubt that the responsibility for this lies far more with certain television producers than it does with advertisers. And I'm fairly sure this has far more to do with makers of reality television than, say, drama or comedy, but I'm willing to be corrected if this is not, in fact, the case.

Interesting footnote: the most successful brand on American television, far outstripping anyone else, don't pay a cent for product placement...

"Apple Gets a Big Slice Of Product-Placement Pie"

* Smack The Pony and Green Wing's biggest advertisers? Diet Coke, and tampons.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I would have linked to the official trailer, but Disney, in their wisdom, have made it non-embeddable.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Now I wish I'd asked for a pony.

I like it when real life presents you with dialogue (or rather 'dramatic beats' I suppose) no script editor would ever let you get away with in real life.


ME: Hello, I was coming up to London for a meeting, but that's just been cancelled, so I'd like to cancel my hotel reservation please. Just one night, for, erm, sixty quid,
LASTMINUTE PERSON: Okay, let me just check. (she wanders off for a bit) Right, the hotel has a 'within twenty four hours' cancellation policy, so there'll be no charge there.
ME: Marvellous.
LASTMINUTE PERSON: ... however, do charge twenty pounds admin fee for cancellation.
ME: (mildly) Tch, that seems a bit excessive.
LASTMINUTE PERSON: (immediately) Okay, we'll revoke that.
ME: Really?
LASTMINUTE PERSON: Yup, we'll refund the full amount.
ME: Er, right, great, brilliant.
Me: No thank you.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Bloody White Baron

Interesting interview here with James Palmer, writer of The Bloody White Baron, which ended up being the best non-fiction work I read last year.

Quick description of the book lifted from the interview:

"James Palmer, a British writer who lives in Beijing and has a fascination for all things Mongolian, has produced a captivating biography of Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, a Baltic nobleman who fought in the service of the Russian tsar in World War I. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Ungern led a ragtag White army to capture Mongolia, where he styled himself the human manifestation of a Buddhist god of war. Mongolia would never be the same again."

It's a period of history, and a part of the world, about which I know very little, but the book fills in the gaps very skillfully, without ever turning into a textbook, or skimming too lightly over the subject. But my favourite aspect of the book? Palmer is a regular at (which is where I first heard about it) so when he's talking about Ungern considering himself to be an avator of the Buddhist god of war, I can be can be fairly confident that he too is thinking 'ooh, what if he really was and start assigning hit points and weapons skills accordingly.

(For the norms among you however, be assured you could the entire book and never guess the author's dark and terrible secret, so don't let that put you off).