Friday, December 30, 2005

Return of the train

I love North by Northwest, and I especially love the train journey between New York and Chicago, when Eva Marie Saint explains to Cary Grant that she'll share her carriage with him (yes, a euphemism), though they've only just met.

Honeymooning last year, the Dr and I did the same journey in reverse, and paid out a shed-load for the "luxury" room. A proper, romantic trip, we thought. And maybe the Dr could foist filth on me, just like the bird in the film.

But trains are not what they were. Our compartment was tiny - I barely fitted in it - and the toilet was also the shower. Other passengers' rooms were, er, a chair with curtains either side. Service was lowsy and rude, and we slowly realised that the only people who travelled by train were freaks.

(That is, in the American sense of "people without cars", or unwilling to fly.)

The view out the window was quite good, though. Odd thing to be in the middle of a swamp, dip into a tunnel and then emerge in the midst of Manhattan.

Anyway. Virgin has been advertising "the return of the train", with Cary and Eva Marie CGId into one of their swanky new carriages. "Yes, bollocks," I'd thought.

Then yesterday, me and the Dr took one of these new trains up north (for visiting in-laws). There's not a lot of luggage room on them - like a plane, you can just fit a handbag and coat. So, what with all the Christmas/New Year travelling, people were laden down with baggage there wasn't room for and there were various strops and arguments going on while we waited to leave Euston.

One group were especially worried because their chum was running late, they couldn't reach him and still had hold of his ticket. The train was due to leave in a minute, and what were they going to do?

At which point a Virgin person appeared from nowhere. He offered to take the ticket to the customer services desk, where the chum could collect it and jump on the next train - all so easy and at no extra charge. Blimey, I thought. That's a bit good.

And then we set off, and the journey was very smooth, and guards came through every so often to make sure things were dandy, and took away litter and... well blimey, it's not what you expect, is it?

Didn't get any filth out of the mrs, though. Perhaps 'cos we'd not only just met.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cold Bath builds character

My parents tell of the misery of bording school in the 50s, where days began with long runs followed by ice-cold baths. Apparently this built character.

So I am probably much better rounded after a day in Bath where the trains were freezing, as was the pub, the museum and the shops... and we spent a fair bit of time outside, too.

Arrived in time for lunch with two ex-pat friends, over to wave their new kid at its in-pat relations. Aardpig had his first cider in two years and it was merely a half-pint (for driving reasons).

When they'd buzzed off to do family things, the Dr and I tried the Museum of Costume. Had fun strapping her into the corsets to try. She liked the later versions best as they were longer. Didn't try the Jane Austen dressing up, but she did coo at Darcy's cast-off shirt.

Then we went and found her some new shoes. I am a good husband today.

Train journeys meant I've finished that bloody story (8,127 words) and sent it in. And written an episode of something.

Off to darkest north tomorrow, which may be even colder. Gah.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

All-dancing Nazis

Never really been one for musicals – they tend to be low-budget, low-effort opera with all the emotional truth of soft porn. But I’ve seen two musicals in as many days.

Saw the Sound of Music yesterday, for the first time ever. Can see why the Dr got giggly. As well as being fun – a lot of the appeal in Maria’s clumsiness and silly faces – its last half-hour really lifts it up. Laughed at Liesl, who’s meant to be sixteen, and found it a bit odd that little Friedrich is Spider-Man while the suave Captain’s also a bald Klingon.

(Via which link I've learnt a new word: fanon. Christ.)

It could easily all have ended with the wedding and still been a memorable girlie movie. The Anschluss gives a jolly, frothy story some real depth. Rolfe is an interesting character, and I genuinely didn’t know which way it would go in his final confrontation with von Trapp. Would he shoot? Would he let them go? Would he flee with them? Blimey.

Today we ambled down to Beckenham to see The Producers. Knew I’d seen the original, but couldn’t remember how it all played out due to mixing it up in my head with Cabaret. Which, as the Dr pointed out, is not the same. She laughed and laughed, and it’s all good fun.

Though Captain Jack is scary in his blue contact lenses.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Did you miss me?

Christmas was pretty damn top. Silly, giddy mood on Christmas Eve having finally finished a draft of a story at 8,155 words. Needs some polishing, but the hard work’s done. Such a relief! And I now know what a Mim is.

Festive curry and then down the road to the pub with good chums. Surprised by how many were there, but had lots of good cheer and chatting. Rolled home a little on the drunkish side, though I’m sure no one noticed. The Dr was amazed to discover that Father Christmas had been and a stocking awaited. But she’s been rather good this year.

Excitable all yesterday, despite best efforts of hangover. Loot included the Dr Who annual (care of the cat) which is full of brilliant top facts, and all kinds of other suitable reading. Dr did pretty well, too.

Once all the smoked salmon had been ate we went for a gander round Crystal Palace park. Dr then set to the turkey, and I watched two hours of old Droo – in preparation for the next installment. Was practically bursting by 7pm, and by golly that was fantastic. Blood control was really rather chilling. And a new room in the TARDIS! And aliens being outed for all the world to see! And the new theme music! And and and!

Skilfully saw off the Graske before our chums B. and D. popped round. Huge, glorious roast dinner thanks to the Dr, then watched Christmas invaded again. Dr sloped off about one-ish, but we tough chaps stayed up to watch Big Lebowski and see of the wine. Got to bed about half four.

Best Christmas Day ever.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Very nice, but far too young"

Lunch with the very lovely Sophie Aldred yesterday, again for the thing we will not speak of here. Amongst everything else, we chatted about New Show and is it too scary for her boys.

The previous night, I’d been struck watching Devil's Backbone by its similarities in feel to The Empty Child. There’s something really troubling about freaky, ghostly kids, but it seems to be something that affects adults more than it does children.

Maybe that's 'cos kids, who don’t think they're necessarily special, innocent or anything, are fine with the idea of kids being monstrous and scary. That’s just what it’s like going to school. In many ways it’s empowering for them to see a kid with power to scare their parents. But for adults it triggers all kinds of primal, protective urges…

Had a mail from the best mate, out doing anthropological things in Papua New Guinea. He makes it sound a bit like Eastleigh.

Also been sent a Time Travellers review by Hugh Sturgess, which I’d not seen before. Hugh is apparently “just like me”, poor bloke. But he says some nice things.
"One thing I don't get though: what's the importance of that weird traffic light tree on the cover?"
A few people have asked this one – Cornell on Tuesday asked, “Was it what you wanted?” Yes, it’s just what I asked for, only better. And as well as appearing literally in chapter one, it’s also a bit similar to what the Doctor draws in chapter nine. Do you see? Aaaah…

Am going to try and finish the short story today, in time for pubbing tonight. And a festive top fact to conclude with:

Issue 473 of Michael Quinnion’s weekly “World Wide Words” mail reveals that the unrestrained licence of Saturnalia is an anagram of Australian.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Not in hot water

"If burner pressure is low; check inlet pressure to the boiler when maximum flow is being drawn at tap – compare the value obtained with that specified in 4.2 (refer to 8.9)."
No, I don't know what that's about either.

The day did not start well. Boiler finally gave up on the whole hot water thing, so – after some bashing of forehead against wall – I tracked down The Man who can fix things. And then begged.

He’s kindly, heroically said he’ll drop in as soon as he can to see what the problem is. But there’s not a lot to be done this close to Christmas. And it looks like it’s going to cost a fair sod. Ah, the joy of houses.

Other Christmas things: "History of…" author Scott has pics of new spawn, while Phil has read the book. There’s also a review by Charles Packer which is generally positive without saying many nice things. Quite a trick. Think it warrants a response for one paragraph in particular, but when I’m feeling less all-round curmudgeonly.

The return of the Fear Forecasters does make the world seem that bit more festive, and I’m also much relieved to have got my shopping and wrapping all done.

(Considered at length whether I should say so on here, ‘cos the Dr reads it and now she’ll want to inspect the parcels, guess their contents and – as one year – "accidentally" tear the wrapping open. For such a noble and learned academic, she don’t half behave like she’s six.)

But what’s making me most happy is that I’ve still got some work done. Lots more transcripting – including Phillip Olivier being extremely nice about The Settling (and not just when I was in the room). Yay! Came up with some more stuff for Ade to draw, received some smart thoughts about Sapphire and Steel which I’ll need to incorporate, and the thing being written is at 4,853 words. And finally has some kind of legs.

And I did the washing, and hung it up and everything.

Had meant to reward myself for such feats with a night in the pub with the geeks, but that’s dependent on when The Man comes to see boiler. Probably a bad idea when I'm in this kind of stinker. Probably not much fun to be around anyway.

Or to read. Sorry.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"I don’t want to get married."

M. appeared on the nose of my easyeverything hours being up. We found good curry (not at all like the review it gets here) and, nicely stuffed, hit the birthday party.

Dr Who and the Hat of DeathSaw some people I’d not seen in years, and met a bloke who works for the Independent who also knows his Who. We discussed the relative merits of Hartnell, and he explained how you make an Astrakhan hat. Induce the lamb so it’s born prematurely, and you get those fetching close-curls. Naw.

Little bit pissed, stumbled back to the train with B. and got home to dish all to the Dr about people’s haircuts and who snogged who.

Into town this morning for a work thing that went well, made some deliveries and then met the lovelies Charley and C’rizz for lunch. I now know much about the future of Who things.

And again I'm not telling.

Ballsed up the settings on my costly new-bought machine so it cut out halfway through the interview. As yesterday, the trusty (and borrowed) Olympus Pearlcorder S701 did the business.

Home again to write the thing up, and my night out with the brothers is off, so I’ve an evening of work now ahead of me. But first I am going to watch Dr Who natter, then feed the cat, then have my own tea. By which time, if I manage it right, it’ll be bedtime.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Take me home, you lout!"

A busy day today, not helped by the Dr's work Christmas party last night, after which we bumped by chance into my senior brother and forced him to drink beer. Eventually got home to terrorise the cat, who the Dr thinks has the same mad, weasely face as the new Dr Who.

Up earlyish to get some writing done, and thence to see D. to borrow electrical hardware and do Grant Mitchell impressions. He laughed at my feeble Oirish, which came out sort of Scouse. Hum ho.

Then into town to pick up my terribly expensive new toy, which records voices in a number of clever ways. Had to queue and queue to collect it. London seems crazy-packed. Apparently there's some kooky ethnic festival happening this weekend. Political correctness gone mad if you ask me.

Then to the pub, where I'd barely begun my HUUUUGE club sandwich when televison's Paul Cornell arrived. We had a very pleasant chat about all sorts of everything, bits of which I have now transcribed. More interviewing tomorrow and Friday, but I'm not going to tell you what it's all in aid of yet. This is because I am a master of intrigue, and also a bit annoying. Be patient. It is the Jedi way, and all will be revealed in time.

Now sat in the easyeverything on Tottenham Court Road, and am due at a birthday bash later. M. has just txtd to say he's finished work, so I might even dare some nosh with him.

Such is my whirlwind rollercoaster life. Pip pip.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Build high for happiness

While waiting for horrors on BBC4 last night, the Dr and I found Demolition, in which Kevin McCloud scoured the country for ugly buildings to X-list and tear down.

It was an odd programme, with McCloud fully in favour of X-listing generally, but less keen on the actual buildings proposed. There was some attempt to defend the dreary, grey concrete blocks so unloved by the public, so it became "tell us what you don’t like, and we’ll tell you that you’re wrong."

Though some interesting points were made about architectural fashions (and how, as a result, much top Victoriana was lost in the 80s), the arguments were pretty lightweight. And they failed to appreciate why some buildings just don’t appeal.

Wikipedia: Buckinghamshire county hall taken from the Grand Union Canal basinOf Aylesbury's vast and ugly county hall, Janet Street Porter was keen to point out that the interior’s lovely. But we didn’t get to see inside. Nor did we hear what it’s like to work in the building, or to clean and maintain it. Or whether it’s efficient to heat and run, or how often the air conditioning breaks down… Nothing on the practicalities, which is surely so important to whether a building “works”.

McCloud was also embarrassed that the new Scottish Parliament Building had made the show’s “dirty dozen.” An expert was duly wheeled out to answer the plebs. Having entirely failed to convince them, he muttered that people lack the wit to appreciate good bricks. Better visual education was what’s wanted.

But this is missing a fairly fundamental point about what the Scottish Parliament building is for and what it represents.

The look of London’s own parliamentary palace earned much scorn and criticism in its day. But Barry and Pugin soldiered on, knocking together a gothic folly festooned with history and majesty. It’s terribly Empire and still feels like some fusty old gentlemen’s club, the few women there barely on sufferance.

What Joe Public thought didn’t have to matter: the palace was built about the same time that the Duke of Wellington was planning gun placements in London to see off the Chartists.

Scotland, though, is a new parliament and one hard fought for. It’s a response to years of having Top Schemes like the poll tax tried out on it. Specifically, it’s about fair representation, “the people” having a say…

Which isn’t reflected in the design of the building, nor the way that design was selected. Then there’s the poor management and spiralling cost of the whole project, and the failure to find any villains to pin it on. Hardly of and by and for the Scottish people, is it?

I think there’s even an argument that, just like when under us terrible tyrants, the Scots have had something rubbish dictated to them by those who claim to know best. Which might explain why folk are so angry about it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Effusion of blood

Missed this, but Big Finish have put up the blurb for The Settling:
Note to Sir Arthur Aston, governor of the town of Drogheda, 10 September 1649.

"Sir, Having brought the army belonging to the Parliament of England before this place, to reduce it to obedience, to the end effusion of blood may be prevented, I thought fit to summon you to deliver the same into my hands to their use.

If this be refused, you will have no cause to blame me.

I expect your answer and rest your servant.

O. Cromwell."
Yes, that is historically accurate. At least, I copied it out of a book.

Busy writing stuff today which (for the moment) includes the lines, "But was the Armada invading? King Phillip of Spain had been married to the Queen of England, hadn’t he?" Discuss.

Friday, December 16, 2005


You've been ink slinging too long and too hard when, like yesterday, you're in fits of delight when the threat of a yellow card is dismissed as a red herring.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Turf war

"I don't advocate everyone trying to live like us in roundhouses, but I can see a future in which those people who live in self built ecohomes in ecovillages or ecologically balanced (earthright) towns will have a much higher quality of life."

Tony Wrench, unpublished extract,
from an interview with me, 2 September 2004.

To the Photographer’s Gallery last night for mulled wine and David Spero’s "Settlements" (until 5 February 2006). And blimey, there’s some snaps of Tony Wrench's roundhouse, which I interviewed him about just over a year ago. Pembrokeshire Council are still threatening to pull down the place, which has low-to-no impact on it surroundings, and which they only discovered in the first place by accident.

Spero’s recorded quite a variety of similarly "invisible" self-built homes, and I preferred the more cottage-like ones to the scruffier, ramshackle sort, surrounded by shambles and spare building materials. The cottages looked homely and secure, while the rougher structures looked fleeting and unsafe. But then I’m a city boy. (The Dr will probably be laughing at this last bit.)

There’s an odd correlation between these buildings and KSR’s Fifty Degrees Below, which – yes – I’m still working my way through (page 400 today, but my train journeys are stuffed with work). Among all the ideas dashed through the book, there’s Frank’s longing for a more natural, savannah-style living, playing with hand-axes and shagging in his treehouse.

(The book (and possibly the trilogy) is about practical and scientific solutions to abrupt climate change, and therefore of rethinking assumed models for living. From the author of the Mars trilogy, a book about terraforming the Earth.)

What both the book and these snaps show is a mixing of some bliss, "Golden Age" (and so never-existent) pre-urban way with modern practicality. Frank's "natural" living includes modern fabrics to keep the cold out, and a remote garage-door opener to work the ladder to his house. Likewise, the settlements in Brithdir Mawr use recycled double-glazing and tarpaulins.

The point of my article – what I hoped made it different – was that it wasn’t about unusual houses as homes, things people actually lived in. (See "Bricks and mortar – paper, stone, steel and wood: how we choose to live" in Lexus magazine Quarter 1 2005, pp. 38-41)

What became evident was that these alternatives (and I also covered curvilinear and recycled-log dwellings) was the need to share land. These communities are all based on shared access, mutuality. Which is about as unBritish as you get.

So Brown stepping in the way of yet more buy-to-letting is good news. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of just having bought my own home. And one that leaks heat every whichway. We’re working on that.
"At least insulate your loft, for God's sake. The thing is to imagine a world that works sustainably, and work back to seeing your part in it. There isn't any choice, in the long term, but to live sustainably, so why mess about?"


I'hantom zs/eat/cc

I talked ages and ages ago about discovering a thing I'd written back in '99, predicting what'd have to happen in the next two Star Wars films. Well, here it is.

Had to do correcting of things the scan didn't like - "Palpatine" and "Jedi" it was fine with, but "Phantom Menace" threw odd errors. Make of that what you will. Otherwise, I've not edited it, so apologies for some clumsy phrasing - and a number of Who cliches. Rather delighted that it's not entirely wrong...

Still To Come In The Galaxy Far, Far Away
Last updated: 27 January 2000

Now we've had Anakin in the UK, and as cinemas across the country one by one remove The Phantom Menace from their schedules, eager followers of the Star Wars saga must soon begin to wonder about the contents of episodes two and three.

Some comment has already seen print. ‘Which soap star will play “Young Adult” Anakin Skywalker?’ and so on. Among the predictable nominations was the heartening news that Leonardo di Caprio isn't interested.

Yet there's a glut of information about the contents of the next two films. It's been sitting under our noses for a couple of decades too. We can glean a huge amount from the four films already available to us. We know not only the major events that have to happen in the remaining chapters, we can also make an educated stab at a number of smaller elements. What follows, then, is my own best estimate, built up from evidence in the four films themselves. I've avoided events from the spin-off cartoons, books and comics because - as with the Alien franchise - Lucas has no obligation to adhere to merchandising apocrypha.

The dramatis personae of The Phantom Menace will carry on into episodes two and three – albeit for a recast Anakin. Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi will grow a beard by the end of episode three, and someone will probably refer to him as ‘Ben’, too.

C3P0 is reunited and paired with R2D2, but is likely either to have his memory wiped by the end of episode three, or remain marginal to the events of episodes two and three: explaining his lack of knowledge in A New Hope. He does insist ‘No more adventures' in the Tatooine desert in episode four - so recalls at least something. He ought also to be fully dressed in golden livery by the end of episode three.

It has been suggested that Samuel Jackson's Mace Windu will play a greater role in the next films. Of all the Jedi High Council, he is the one easiest to visualise wielding a lightsabre in the midst of great battle. We can also confidently expect reappearances - at least in cameo - by Hugh Quarshie and Ralph Brown. Ric Ollie may prove to be the Wedge Antilles of the prequels. [And not “of the pretzels”, as the text reader thought.]

Somewhere in the conflict of episode three will be glimpsed prototype X-Wings and TIE Fighters. The inclusion of Star Destroyers at this stage might, however, detract from the infamous opening shot of New Hope. Prototype Stormtroopers ought also to appear, along with the reason Phantom Menace's battle druids are given up in favour of men in plastic suits. There is an attitude towards droids as second-class citizens in A New Hope - the ‘we don't serve their kind here’ stuff in the cantina. Maybe robophobia is born from the war.

While young versions of Han and Boba Fett have been rumoured for years, both would have to be very young if born at all during the events of episode three. More likely is a view of either Bespin or the Millennium Falcon in a less developed form than we see them later. Also introduced is a young officer by the name of Tarkin. Paul McGann has the cheekbones to play a junior Peter Cushing, surely.

But what's to be done with Jah Jah Binks - apart from the obvious garroting? In Phantom Menace he was the banished, clumsy coward who rose to be a general in the Gungan army, having paved the way for an alliance between Boss Nass and Amidala. How can his character progress? With the years that are to pass between the end of episode one and the start of episode two, he will have to be considerably older. Surely the only role for him is as Nass's successor. Unless, like Lando, he forfeits his political responsibilities in favour of being a general among the freedom fighters. But who will his army be battling?

Episode two has to consist of some variant of The Empire Strikes. If not part of the title of the episode itself, this has got to be what the film is actually about.

In A New Hope we hear of the ‘Clone Wars’; when the Jedi made their last stand and where Anakin Skywalker perished. What does the title ‘Clone Wars’ suggest? GM Jedi? Or perhaps the fearsome Stormtroopers keeping the local systems in line for Palatine in A New Hope are all clones.

Princess Leia addresses Kenobi as ‘General’ in A New Hope. Like Han and Lando in Jedi (and Jah Jah in Phantom Menace he must be promoted prior to the big offensive. But do Jedi gain ranks and act as soldiers? Luke remains marginal to the offensive on Endor in episode six, and never receives a military title - even after destroying the Death Star in part four. In Phantom Menace, Qui-Gonn says he cannot fight a war for Amidala. The Jedi are peace-keeping diplomats, not a ninja infantry. There must be some special circumstance for Kenobi to join the army.

Appearing to Luke on Hoth, Ben describes Yoda as ‘the Jedi Master who trained me,’ which suggests Obi-wan still has much to learn in episodes two and three. On Dagobah, Yoda mutters that Luke is difficult and headstrong, and Kenobi counters, ‘Was I any different?’ Clearly Kenobi will follow Qui-Gonn’s example and argue with the High Council. ‘I was once a Jedi knight,’ he tells Luke in episode four, suggesting that he leaves the order to join the rebels, fighting shoulder to shoulder with Leia’s adopted father.

Bale Organa is someone we will have to meet in episode two. He has a key role to play in events to come. Mentioned as a political rival to Palpatine in episode one [actually, no he isn’t], he will take Amidala under his wing and raise her daughter as both his own and as a princess. When we first encounter him, it will be as a competent and respected minister - cast as a villain by Palpatine.

At some point in the political machinations, Palpatine has to reveal himself as the Sith Master. We ought also to learn how he has kept his Sith revival hidden from the Jedi. His powers have to be incredible. Napoleon made himself Emperor after heroic military service during the Reign of Terror. Palpatine must do something equally grand to ensure being made leader of the Senate. Perhaps he engineers a war with a third party, to split his rivals both in the Senate and on the Jedi Council.

Whatever the case, Palpatine will emerge from the early stages of the Clone Wars as a hero, while Jedi power and authority is assaulted and defeated. The surviving Jedi scatter across the cosmos, becoming secluded, lone hermits on backward worlds far from the Empire. By A New Hope, for all that he has done for Owen and Beru Lars in bringing them Luke, they dismiss him as a ‘crazy old wizard’. On Dagobah, Yoda is even more peculiar.

Something within the Jedi order itself also changes, so that its casualties become ghostly visions. Liam Neeson had a corpse that could be cremated, while the bodies of Ben and Yoda disappeared, appearing later as benign spectres. Vader got to both burn and return. The ‘change’ passes young Anakin by. He’s surprised by Kenobi’s vanishing at the end of their duel in A New Hope, but Ben knows what will happen should he be struck down.

The power appears to be broken some time during episodes one and four, so it may be that they are Palpatine's third party. The Jabba who lauds over the pod race in Phantom Menace is a poorer, quieter gangster skulking around Mos Eisley with a clutch of bodyguards in A New Hope, having to deal personally with small-time smugglers like Han Solo. Compare his sordid den and entourage at the beginning of Jedi to the massive, married exuberance feasted on him in episode one. Where did that go? He must have gambled badly on the outcome of the war.

As a result of this change in circumstance, war hero Anakin is able to free the slaves on Tatooine as promised. Maybe he proves too late to save his mother, or she is dying. With all the fear relating to his mother that the Jedi High Council can see in the young boy, this crashing failure would be the event that turns him over to the Dark Side. Dearth Vader is then the classic psychological villain: his wickedness motivated by his feelings for his mother. I wonder if he keeps her corpse in the Death Star’s cellar?

The dead mother and wish to save her also echoes Luke’s obsessive need to rescue and redeem his ‘dead’ father. Everybody - Yoda, Ben, Leia, even the Emperor - try to convince him that he is wrong, and yet he persists. Very Freud, and the loss of his mother also gives impetus to Anakin’s burgeoning relationship with an older woman: Amidala.

Han and Leia’s courtship develops through the entire four hours of episodes five and six. The first flirtations are being sign-posted right at the beginning of Empire. While Leia may admit that she loves Han at the end of Empire, it’s not until the end of Jedi
that the ‘But what about Luke?’ question is resolved and their relationship confirmed. What with all the spaceship and lightsabre battles interrupting them, it takes all four hours to get them together properly.

In that time, the stubborn, independent characters we met squabbling in A New Hope have mellowed and matched. Han Solo - who casually guns down Greedo in a seedy bar when we first meet him, and runs out on the rebels once he's been paid - is by Jedi a General in the resistance, leading a desperate mission many think hasn't a hope of success. He apologises to Leia for a moment of jealousy in the Ewok village, and later promises not to ‘get in the way’ should she want to shack up with her brother. Leia, as well as being far more caring, concerned and friendly by episode six, is able in Jedi not only to turn the tables on Han by rescuing him, but also gets to throw the ‘I love you’, ‘I know’ joke back at him.

In the same number of hours that this affair blossoms - in which Han and Leia get only a handful of brief snags - Lucas has not only to get Amidala and Anakin
together, he’s got to get Amidala pregnant and widowed, too.

Being a family saga, we won’t see much of the actual baby-making [no, that happens in a cartoon!]. Still, there is the question of whether Luke and Leia are born in or out of wedlock. Surely Naboo’s eligible Queen, after so much has threatened her power, is going to insist on a wedding ring before getting into the sack with some pod-racing slave boy. What valued her people think of her bit of teenage rough? Maybe his Jedi training and part in defeating the invaders in episode one will help to win over the readers of Nubian Hello magazine.

So will episode two end with a wedding - one last joyful occasion before the horrific collapse in episode three? That would seem the most sensible place to put it in the four hours allotted. Maybe Anakin and Amidala’s relationship will already have been sparked before the start of episode two. The loaded moments given them in Phantom Menace must surely have developed somewhere in the intervening years.

At the same time, Anakin’s relationship with Palpatine has been developing. At some point, Anakin will have to make the meaningful decision that turns him over to the Dark Side. Palpatine will surely have been slyly coaxing the boy towards his service for years, subverting the Jedi prophecy Mace Windu speaks of in episode one. How late into episode three will the turning point come, and how far will it be sign-posted in episode two? The older Anakin we’ll meet in episodes two and three could easily suffer from over-confidence in his abilities as pilot, Jedi and lover, and exert the same keen naivety shown by his son in episode four. Maybe he has an argument with the wife, or finds the Jedi order too restricting. Vader loves power. Throughout episodes four to six, he bullies not only prisoners but his officers, too. I suspect Palpatine will have established a confidence with Anakin well before the marriage to Amidala is made.

Episode two ends with the Jedi wedding guests at the happy party concerned for the near future. Palpatine keeps noticeably distant, finally making his first public gambit at the beginning of episode three. The trap he has sprung is all-consuming, the fall of the Jedi inevitable. Anakin leaves his pregnant wife to join the battles and in the midst of the war is faced with some character-defining dilemma.
His decision brings him into direct, cataclysmic conflict with Kenobi. They fight a terrible duel (conveniently) on a one-to-one basis, Anakin wearing the black robes of the Sith, the partial costume of Vader. At the beginning of A New Hope Vader affirms that, ‘there's no one to stop us this time,’ but we can only guess at what it might be that Kenobi stops him from doing.

With each film in the series, the final lightsabre duels have become increasingly faster, more furious and impressive. With so much hanging on their battle, with so inevitable an outcome, the battle between Obi-wan and Anakin will have to be breath-taking. We’ve already seen that Ewan McGregor can kick bottom.

Anakin must sustain terrible injuries to have to dress up in the garb of Darth Vader - we can gauge something of that damage by whatever he’s having done to his brain in Empire and the scars to be seen on his unmasked face in Jedi. When Luke slices off Vader’s hand in their final battle in Jedi, it is revealed to be mechanical. Maybe Kenobi slicing off Anakin’s hand in pitched battle in episode three will be the first instance of the family wound. It will also make him drop his weapon. Ben retains Anakin’s lightsabre at the end of episode three, and passes the heirloom down to Luke in A New Hope.

Anakin has to appear to be dead - to the majority of his compatriots at least. What a propaganda blow it would be for them to know that their young star of a pilot has gone over to the enemy. It’s therefore a little strange that the politically agile Palpatine doesn’t take advantage of this. Maybe the change of name to Darth Vader is part of Sith lore. Kenobi - fully aware that Anakin has survived their duel and become Vader - doesn't tell a soul until Yoda outs his mistrust in Jedi.

We ought to see more of Coruscant. The bell ringing the news of Palapatine's death in Jedi will surely ring in his ascension to Emperor at the end of episode three. Close by stands his Sith advisor, Vader - voiced, ever so briefly, by James Earl Jones. Their victory seems complete.

Elsewhere, our heroes have gone to grounds licking their wounds and promising that they will, one day, fight again. Obi-wan and Bale Organa agree to separate the devastated Amidala's children to protect them. How is ambitionless farmer Owen Lars found by Kenobi? Perhaps they meet in episode two, when Anakin comes to rescue the slaves.

Widowed, a child taken from her and with the resistance crushed, Amidala fades. She dies when Leia is very young, and Leia remembers her only as sad and very beautiful.
Vader has no idea that Leia is his daughter. It’s a revelation to him towards the end of Jedi that Luke has a sister. However, he and Palapatine have expected a young Skywalker to turn up. Palpatine has even seen this child as powerful enough to threaten him. Maybe that is why Kenobi insists that Luke keeps his father’s surname.

That surname risks attention on Tatooine in his formative years: ‘Your name’s Skywalker? Like the only human ever to win pod racing, who went off to be a Jedi knight, saved Naboo, then came back here and freed the slaves? You related to him?’

‘No,’ Luke would have to say. ‘l’m just the son of some other Skywalker - some hotshot pilot who got himself killed in the Clone Wars…’

What’s more, surely the Empire would have followed the flight of the Nubian Queen and her child to Alderaan, while the adoption of Leia into the Organa family can’t have gone unnoticed. There are problems with the nature of monarchic hierarchy and succession in Phantom Menace: Amidala is the ‘newly elected’ queen of her people, for example, though I’m told that there's a precedent for this sort of thing in the lineage of some of the European royal families.

Alderaan remains an opposition power to Palpatine and his cronies for some time. The Imperial Senate is only disbanded at the beginning of A New Hope, while Leia appears to have met both Vader and Tarkin prior to her capture - suggesting political wrangling off-screen. The destruction of Alderman becomes then a particular pleasure for the Empire.

But Bale Organa dies having already put in motion events to bring down the Empire. He knows where Kenobi will be hiding. From him comes Leia’s plea for alp. He must also know about Luke, too. ‘This is the time we’ve been waiting for,’ is his message to Kenobi - and Obi-wan's first reaction is to hand Luke a lightsabre and invite him to the fray.

The young Tatooine boy follows the beardie Jedi rebel into space and adventure and destiny. The circle is now complete.

Well, that’s what I reckon, anyway.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


A morning of scawling, and I'm now at 2,216 words. Which is less than at this time yesterday. Hmm. Still, I think they are better words than before. I have to think that, or I'd go perculiar. More perculiar.

The boss also rang to tell me not to do the [censored until announcements made] bit, which has probably lost me another paragraph. At least I've come up with a word to use instead of endlessly repeating "the pain".

Speaking of which, my back hurts. Not sure if this is the monitor being too low, or the zen-like office stool I'm using, or having been to the gym twice in two days after a month's lapse.

This is, of course, but trifling inconvenience compared to the wife of one of the Xmas authors, who's just had a baby. Well, she had the baby yesterday but I've only just found out. Hooray and hooroo!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Things heard, written and drawn

A couple of correspondents beef that I don’t say much about music. This is probably because, when I do, my eclectic “taste” is much-mocked. For what it’s worth, I currently have on Bone Machine by the Pixies.

A day’s writing, and 2,243 words now sit where there was a blank page before. Quite pleased by the woman with a dog and her shopping.

Also managed some transcripting, and to listen to some things on the pile to be heard. After due consideration, think I’m better Dead than a Fan. Not a surprise.

Enjoyed Lizzie’s Afternoon Play, which is chock full of Who people. But did they really say “multitask” in 1587?

And, since the BBC is showing off it’s fantastic tumbling TARDIS, here’s something I did a while ago and never got round to finishing.

And, er, now can't even get into any more due to a crash and lost .FLAs. Gah.

The clever CGI stuff is by Simon Belcher, of course. He's the clever one.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Feat. BA Baracus and O Prime

If there is a god (and He is not a bit bollocks), this beautiful theeng will be the Xmas no. 1. Come buy, come buy. Lovely, lovely Flash. Lovely, lovely choon.

I am sat here with J Brown, bit pissed. J Brown wants to say 'ello to his mum. Hello his mum.

Like a bad head in the morning

Christmas folk: Joe Lidster, Jonathan Clements, me, John Isles, Robert Dick, XannaEve Chown, Charles Auchterlonie, Scott Andrews, Joff Brown, Ben Woodhams, Ian Farrington, Matthew SweetA fun bash in the festive upstairs of a pub last night, with as many of the Christmas lot as could make it. Got to see some people I’ve not seen in ages, and one or two I’d not met before at all. And I also now know how to pronounce "Auchterlonie". Good eggs all round, and S. and B. yanked the Dr and I to another pub afterwards, which seemed like such a good wheeze at the time. Not so clever this morning.

Oh, it isn’t even morning any more. Oops.

S. sent me this uisge bertha-fest, harking back to our wine-selling days. For the love of God, no. "I don’t think I’d survive," I said.

"Quite," he agreed. "But if you had to pick a way to go..."

Worst review of Time Travellers yet:
"By no means the best Doctor Who time travel story I've read, and Guerrier’s supporting cast are often woefully underdeveloped, but if you can struggle through the pedestrian opening two-thirds of this novel you will at least be rewarded with a cracking finale."

Lawrence Conquest, Reviews – The Time Travellers, Outpost Gallifrey.

Luckily, I am off to see some chums’ new kitten. Also I am helluva-tough.

Especially in the brain, just now.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Method writing

A load of new work has just come my way, so things are rather fraught. In fact, finding out that my booking for Monday is now cancelled is a huge relief.

Just having to get on with it, which is actually very satisfying. Wrote until half-two in the morning (though did spend some of the evening drinking port and watching the TARDIS crash). You can tell the Dr is away, being clever, can't you?

One thing I've done is break the back of the script editing, with notes on two Benny plays written up, and ready to go to the authors (subject to being cleared by my boss).

Also made notes on Joe Lidster's fab "Terror of the Darkness", for something else in the pipeline. On the off-chance it shows a valuable insight into my working methods, and on the basis it gives nowt else away, here's what I scribbled:
  • H down from York. Got lost on tube. This his first day.
  • C ignores him. Posh voice. "Cold-hearted cow," he thinks. Imagines shooting her.
  • Dr accosted by youths (London doesn't change).
  • C "recoiled slightly at the physical contact."
  • She's met (another) Dr before.
  • Colonel Coldheart. Code Blue.
  • Killing lovers - H - not helping them.
  • H a problem: "cocky and uncontrollable". Dr sees it as "impulsive and reckless and probably likes a drink or two ... sounds like he's the perfect U soldier".
  • He likes: "Pints. Pop Music. Football."
  • "Space vampire." (Another space vampire?)
  • Woman gets nails in his face and hits him with a poker.
  • "London survives another day, then."
  • C has a mobile, fancies a pint.
  • H smokes and has a "practised lady-killer grin."
  • "Straight back to HQ, I promise," and "But remember, boys, I'm in charge."
Are you illuminated? Will explain later...

Now off to town to have drinkies and nibbles with the Christmas crew. It is work, I tell you.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Picaresque (= "pirate-y")

"The music industry is to extend its copyright war by taking legal action against websites offering unlicensed song scores and lyrics [...] Mr Keiser [President of the Music Publishers' Association] said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can 'throw in some jail time I think we'll be a little more effective'.

Ian Youngs, "Song sites face legal crackdown",
BBC News, 9 December 2005.

Yes, the terrible practice of copying out song lyrics. I often read song-lyric sites to avoid buying music. It is the first thing they teach you at Buccaneer School.

I think next they should go after people who flagrantly listen to music they've not paid for. Like people on a train, near someone with headphones on. Think of all the royalties being thieved from the artists. And, more importantly, from the MPA.

And don't just tell them off; jail's the only thing these villains understand. Also, if we could cut off their feet or ears or something, that would probably help too.

It is daylight robbery. Like Dick Turpin. And probably funds terrorism.

The perfect spy

Overheard this yesterday, from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, and immediately added it to my Christmas list. ("If I get you that," said my dad on the phone later, "I can read it, too.")
"Some in your Lordships' House will recall Colonel Bailey's book Mission to Tashkent. Bailey, Britain's principal agent on the Northwest Frontier in 1914, became, because of his mastery of Muslim dialects and of disguise, in the aftermath of the 1918 war, the senior staff officer from the Indian Government attached to the White Russians in central Asia. Bailey, who died peacefully in his own bed in Norfolk in the 1960s, achieved his professional apogee by attaching himself to the Bolshevik NKVD murder squad, whose only duty was to hunt down and destroy the notorious British spy, Colonel Bailey."

—[Official Report, 8/12/05; col. 781.]—

There's a good review of the book, too, at Almaty or Bust!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"The way that our surroundings shape us"

"Written in stylised, clipped and concise prose, and from frequently shifting viewpoints, Guerrier gives his book a real sense of immediacy and reportage that distinguishes it from most Doctor Who novels. Guerrier performs a cool tightrope act between celebrating the Hartnell era and presenting something new. Oblique and occasionally eye-wateringly complex, The Time Travellers is a satisfying book."

Matt Michael, "Off the shelf",
Dr Who Magazine #364 (4 January 2006), p. 63

Which is nice, though I’d hoped the “eye-watering” was more about (spoilers) the snog on page 284.

Another recommended book (from an unusual source) I can tell you about tomorrow, when what got said is in the public domain. Ooh, mysterious.

The BBC linked to Will Howells’s blog, so if it’s good enough for them…

Speaking of blog, this one seems to have acquired a Livejournal-feeding wossname. Not sure who set it up, whether it works, or what it’s all about, really. Perhaps some kind soul could let me know.

And more baffling technology: my new pin and chip bankcard shows they’ve learnt the new address. Hooray! But I’m boggling at the Space Year expiry date. That’s not a year, it’s the future.

Right, that interview with Billie, and tea and wine and wife… I’m also going to take my tie off.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Things that work

Oh, work it out for yourselves.Merely 12 hours after they rang to say my broadband was working, it's working.

Hurrah! Google is in the house, and I can't quite believe how many weeks I've survived without it. Lots of links and bits of things sent my way, some of which I can tell you about...

Busy few days of eating and drinking and seeing people (some, like Phil, for the first time.)

As well as the Internet, I've had a clever fellow come and fix some holes in our living room wall, and done Quite A Lot about getting my sister's place rented out. This morning, in fact, I met an estate agent who seemed an entirely decent sort. Or perhaps I have just fallen to the dark side... Afterall, it's not the first time I've taken The Shilling.

Tucked in with the original artwork for Lost Museum, the keenly gifted Ade also included a copy of The Faceless, which I enjoyed a great deal. There's a fun review of the thing by the Groovy Age of Horror, which also includes an exclusive pic of Sharp stalking a tasty vampirette. Nummy.

Borrowed the second series of "Randall and Hopkirk", mostly to see Gareth as a mental patient. Puzzled in episode one by the sexy/geeky/funny and familiar-looking maid, only to suss it's m'colleague Lizzie. She's really rather brilliant, her.

"The only problem with Kong is there's just too much of him."
My King Kong review is up now. And the first two eps of Lost series 2 really pick up the pace, and have the Dr and I clamouring for our next instalments...

Otherwise been too busy writing and editing this and that to see much. Apparently I've made DWM's Matt Michael cry, which has always been an ambition. Hope to pick up the new issue tomorrow, to confirm this.

More soon. Hooray!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Press ups

Should have email in the new pad from tomorrow, so updates here will get back to normal. If normal is the right word. Various odds and ends to tell you about, and I ended up reviewing the flick I saw on Sunday. More on that after Friday.

Time Travellers is getting some nice coverage now, which kind people have passed on. Also, my Mum txtd to say it was in the Waterloo Smiths. Blimey, and cool!
"The Time Travellers expertly captures the gritty edge of early Doctor Who. A glib remark wouldn't help the TARDIS crew save the day back then – they'd more likely be battered, bleeding and relieved simply to get back to the ship at the end of it all. Also, only in the Hartnell era could saving the universe have to wait until they'd done the shopping! […] Let's hope Simon Guerrier can find the, er, time to delight us further with his challenging story telling."

Robert Muller, "Reviews",
Dreamwatch #136 (January 2006), p. 76.

"Simon Guerrier makes The Time Travellers an adventure that the crew live through over time, and captures the First Doctor incredibly well. In a very nice touch, there's a second Time loop that extends beyond the book, as the reader's left to work out which of the Doctor's future adventure[s] will avert the catastrophe that brought about this history."

Anthony Brown, "Bookshelf",
Starburst #331 (December 2005, vol. 31 no. 9), p. 89

"In this, his debut novel, Simon Guerrier manages […] a pleasingly romantic approach to what couls, so very easily, have been a dry SF story. It has the endearingly didactic tone of the first year of the original TV show, and by explicitly presenting for us the impact of what should be some pretty devastating events on both regulars (Ian and Barbara, most significantly) and several subsets of his own incidental characters, he transmutes thouse neighbouring refuges of the scoundrel writer – the Time paradox and the alternative history – into something rather more affecting."

David Darlington, "The TV Zone Reviews",
TV Zone #196 (December 2005), p. 86

But I rather like the thought of being a "scoundrel writer".

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Questions that don't matter anyway

Five top facts, rummaged from my notebook:

An “alibi” is not just an excuse, it is proof that you can’t have done it / been there. If you’ve got an alibi, you’re innocent (and not just claiming to be).

Breathing CS gas? Keep a vinegar or lemon-soaked handkerchief over your mouth, effective for short periods. (I assume you keep these in some kind of sealable plastic bag). A squirty water bottle (like cyclists use) is good for cleaning CS-gassed eyes.
"[Joseph] Paxton’s proposed solution to the 19th-century traffic problems in central London was the Great Victorian Way or Crystal Boulevard, unveiled to the Select Committee in June 1865. This monumental arcade was to have formed a 16-km (10-mile) ‘girdle’ around London linking all rail termini and would include shops, cafes and hotels as well as a main street and railway systems. Its estimated cost of construction was £34 million and although the Committee recommended his plan to Parliament, it was never realised"

Kate Colquhoun, “Cathedrals of glass”,
The Garden, July 2003, p. 525.

“Handicap” derives from “hand-in-cap”, because people with disabilities were assumed to be beggars.

Potatoes are high in vitamin C, though they lose it when cooked. So crisps are packed with vitamin C. Though you’d probably not be able to market them as “healthy” (as some sugary orange drinks do) because of all the salt and fat.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Some assignments

Big Finish have announced my Sapphire and Steel play, The School. Nothing more to say just yet, but woo! As well as writing up that these last few days, I’ve also had fun coming up with odd stuff to extend the-thing-that-was-short. And begun another thing that’s due in by the end of the year.

But a pitch I really liked has been turned down (albeit kindly, and with good reasons). Bah.

My copies of History of Christmas arrived on Monday, and am simply delighted (though I’ve had a typo pointed out already, dammit). Hopefully, it’s a broad range of stories with something for everyone. The ideal Christmas present, in fact. Go buy, go buy.

I’ve also seen the covers for the almost-at-the-printers Parallel Lives and Something Changed. But you’ll just have to wait for those. Bwah ha ha. I also have a fat wodge of Benny stuff to read through and edit.

And still unpacking. And sorting out tedious flat-stuff. And cleaning up cat-sick…

Went to see Harry Potter last night in the Ritzy, which we’ve not been to since the glamorous days of the diva. Fab, scary and funny, and the best one yet. The Dr was thrilled by Snape tugging his cuffs, and even found Fiennes delicious as a monster. There’s a bit, though, where he looks like he’s on fire, which puts him into her same special category as Rochester, Vader and the English Patient.

Top Xmas treat from Radio Times.The brother’s better-half is also taken by the new Dr Who, even when he’s so splendidly evil. And Droo has got the cover of the Xmas Radio Times! This can’t all be happening, can it? Beginning to suspect I’m really in a coma…

Dr’s not so bothered by Kong, due to her weird fear of monkeys. (No, I know Kong’s a great ape, not a monkey. Argued that one myself. Doesn’t matter.). Also, the wondrous original made her cry.

So I’m off to see it with my boss this weekend at a press theeng. And I don’t even have to write anything up. Hooray!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Nature’s way of keeping meat fresh

Call me a colds magnet. Full of snot and shakes and bleurg, which has cost a lot of money this week in undone work. Just what I need right now. And I’m not sure whether the new pad is cold, or whether it’s just me shivering anyway.

Parents visited on Tuesday, and once we’d shifted all my old tat indoors, Dad and I took a stroll round Crystal Palace to see the sights: the ugly, Stalinist sports centre, the fat dino-monsters, and the rusty music stage.

We chatted about how the place has changed in the 30-odd years since he last mooched round it with my toddling elder siblings, in the days before me. Like Greenwich Park, you can forget you’re in London – because the hills and trees surround you with greenery. Flat, open spaces like Clapham and Peckham are just glorified roundabouts. But this is home.

Also pointed out how the ruins of the Crystal Palace’s sculpture gardens resemble the ruins of antiquity – such as the asklepion on Kos, thought to be home to Hippocrates.

Asklepion on Kos
Crystal Palace at, er, Crystal Palace

(Many years ago, I pointed that one out to the Dr. And not the other way round. Think it gets a mention in one of her papers.)

Also asked about the monocyclist. Yes he was real, and worked with my Dad in the late 70s. An American and a medievalist, too. Explains everything.

The Dr had prepared suitable stew for the evening, and we nattered our way through several bottles of booze. Kitchen works then. And having people round for tea makes it real. Like I said, this is home.

Finally finished watching Blackpool, which we missed last year. It’s excellent, and like Second Coming should be required reading for New Show. Kept me guessing to the end – especially the last-minute red herring about Steve’s grown-up son. What a very wonderful thing.

Also watching Droo commentaries, and surprised (in Doctor Dances) by Steve Moffat saying no one noticed what’s possibly my favourite line from the whole year: the Doctor’s stark, rationalist view of creation. So I’ve made it today’s heading.

(“Creation” is an odd word. It tends to get used to mean “origination” – i.e. things made from new. But the Latin “creare” means, I think, “growth” – i.e. development of something already there. Is that right, clever readers? Does “Creationist” then actually mean, er, “Evolutionist”?)

Still not got round to writing up my notes in response to Phil’s godly nonsense. But Moffat’s got him in just six words. Hah!

And two things to celebrate:

Official word that my uncle is getting married on 17 December. Hooray! Too little notice and too little cash to get over to snowy Detroit, but we’re promised some kind of bash this side of the pond next year. ‘Bout bloody time. His soon-to-be father-in-law is a Droo fan, though. Surely worth pausing for thought…

And History of Christmas has been seen in the building. Ooh!

Monday, November 21, 2005

“I’ve been moving so long…

...The days all feel the same,” as philosophic hairy-persons Supergrass would have it.

Movers were cool and quick, and we discussed how London is not like Brazil. The cat was all out-of-sorts, refusing to get into his catbox for travelling, and forging a particularly stinky, liquidy poo as protest. He chirped up, though, when the Dr came home from work, and seems sorted since we rebuilt the sofa.

Made our way to B.’s in the evening for toasties, booze and lovely, lovely Dr Who. Cor, Tennant’s it, isn’t he?

Fell asleep contented and cosy, then had to trek home. What’s happened to the air? I boasted in Sweden of our Indian summer… I think it’s now colder here. Too bloody cold, and a hundred pages into Fifty Degrees Below, I’m finding the weather plain scary. Perhaps the Ice Warriors were right about the effects of global “warming”.

On Saturday I clattered down to the olds’, while the Dr awaited deliveries. Had a cathartic afternoon binning my GCSE, A-level and degree notes, stuff slaved over half a life ago. Filled a bin-bag with paper for recycling, and two bags of more generic rubbish. I’m hard and ruthless, me.

Then back into town for fine wine with Liadnan and other chums, who’d got four hours’ head start. Not a problem.

Yesterday, R. escorted me to Barking, where I signed some things for people who’d come to see Van Statten, Gwyneth and the Gelth. Saul Murphy – who’d never done a signing either – was amazed by a fan who knew he’d been in Empty Child (for a moment, in the nightclub), as well as inside an Auton and Adherent. And some folk glower if you write comments as well as your name… But lots of ego-ballooning fun, and some people even claimed to like the book.

Back home, where the Dr reciprocated for B. with spicy Mexicana, and we cooed at the extras on the Season 1 DVD. Especially wowed by Mark Gatiss’s video diary, which is chock-full of tantalising insight into writerly process. Yes, it was long and consuming work, but I’m all the more envious now… Billie’s diary is fun, too, and though the menu takes some sussing, this is a package that even makes storyboards engaging. Hooray!

Fell down the road to join chums in what’s now our local, though we were already suitably oiled. To my great embarrassment, work needs doing on something I’ve wrote. Have a wheeze how to fix things, and the Boss seems happier. But dammit.

Into work this morning, and it’s alarmingly quick from the new place. Just time for Frank to learn his mystery woman’s name, and I had to pack the book away again.

A world of emails to work through, though I’ve got some more writing work, of a spooky sort. Announcements in due course.

Tomorrow, while the Dr and my mum are pampered in style, my dad is hefting the keepables to our new pad: boxes of stories written when I was 10, beloved books and ornaments, and three bin-liners full of Droo stuff. Plus £100 of cat-toy to compensate for the loss of the little sod’s garden. He’ll probably be sick on it.

Fed up with cardboard boxes, and the flat is piled high with Things Needing Sorting. The Dr has been working wonders, but we’re dog-tired and craggy, and now I hear the new washing machine won't play.

And this is just Monday…

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Radio silence

About to unplug the computer, so this may be the last from me for a bit. Stop that cheering.

Play was top last night – full of dead babies, a hanging, a drowning, and the reporter from Aliens of London dribbling blood and seeing visions. Cool. Also some Handel and jokes.

During the interval, some wide-eyed schoolkid came over and asked if I knew if it was going to be like this. Obviously saw me as someone who wouldn't normally find themselves in a theatre (looking so cool and young as I do), but just the sort to appreciate freaky violence...

Looks like something I pitched in September might get picked up. Which’d be nice. Got notes to write up for some other pitchy things, plus a short story due in at the end of December.

And little Huw is jealous. Naw. Though it's not "Reggae", it's "Moose".

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Whistling through the house

Discussed my trouble writing about music (think it’s cos I like tunes to zone out to), left Sin’s at half six (UK time) last night, and got home just after 1 this morning. Blimey, I’m tired. The Dr has been extremely busy, and most of our life is now stowed away in boxes. My turn now.

Done a few bits of work promised elsewhere. The boss has agreed to let me do something a bit different with the blurb for The Settling, which I’ve just delivered. Woo.

Listening to the new Kate Bush album, which is nice enough to work to (the Dr tells me the second CD is where the cool stuff’s at, though).

Tonight we’re off to see Coram Boy at the National, tomorrow it’s work plus the rest of the packing. Friday moofing, hopefully done in time to see new Dr Who. Saturday I’m meant to pop back to the olds to sort some stuff, racing back for Liadnan in the evening, and scribblings on Sunday.

Somewhere, sometime there’ll be sleep. And maybe the welcome-home snog that remains overdue.

My co-writer for this postMy co-writer for this post

No, not you, needy cat who won’t leave me alone for five minutes. You happy I’m home, then?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Like Sliding Doors...

“…but several shades more complex and interesting.”
Joe Ford’s kind, spoilerific review of Time Travellers is nice. As were The Settling’s cast. Clive Mantle is brilliant - and my mum’s terribly envious I got to meet him. Another member of the cast lives next door to where I met the Doctor. Weird. Blurb will follow soon – about to write it now.

Game was fun yesterday, though I rather backed myself into a corner by being “just the driver”. Imagine Han Solo, only Luke hasn’t convinced him to care… Difficult to make a conspiracy thrilling when my motivation is not to care. Kudos to G. for making it work despite this.

Dead early this morning I stumbled through some stuff about the English language with 72 Swedish kids. Not sure if they looked bored ‘cos they couldn’t understand me, or because they could. Best question was “Why should we learn English?”

Hmm… well, it’s a well-spread language and world leader and blah. But what seemed to go down well (if not with the teachers) is that you don’t need a lot of English to be understood. I mean, Sin speaks – and teaches – English with a thick Burnley accent, and half the time I’ve no idea what he’s saying. Aaaaah.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sin's victors

Greetings from chilly Sweden. The Deniz birthday proceeds well, though the central heating, eating and drinking means I am quite dozy. Staying up nattering till 3 and 4am has not helped.

Still, my team won the games yesterday - due álmost entirely to one good hand of Top Trumps. Learnt lots of top facts and made new friends. Much discussion of Star Wars - like is Tack mentioned on screen - and our host's godawful taste in tunes.

Am not very good at Quoridor. Nor at Swedish keyboards which have odd ö and ä and å keys where I want apostrophes and things. Sörry about odd accents and stuff. Gah.

Tomorrow I am Star Wars role-playing. Not rped for years and years, but think I recall the method. Am going to be a Mon Calamari, of course.

Missing the Doctor, though she has been keeping busy doing painting and house chores. Wonder if there's anything left to drink...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Out, just out

Loads to cram in tonight…

Lively do on Tuesday, Gaiman discussing the intrinsic joy of stories, and how without them – and asking “what if?” – we’d all still be mooking about the African savannah, waiting for animals to drop dead so we could eat them.

Gothier, freakier audience than for Fry, and a much better quality of question. Notably, there were no stalkers, or “me and my opinion” bores. The nearest was a bloke politely enquiring if he might get a second question… Naw.

I’d heard many of the stories before through the blog, but it’s fun to hear them out loud, and with someone beside me who doesn’t know, for example, of the melty-eyed Muppets in Hampstead.

Gaiman also talked about the use of blogging; keeping the brain limber, engaging with ideas. See, it’s not merely for parrying real work. Honest.

Lenny Henry, who was there to read from Anansi Boys (which he’d got the ball rolling on a thousand years ago by muttering that horror never has any black people in it), laughed at a question about whose universe would get used if Gaiman and Joss Whedon teamed up. Gaiman laughed back: Henry’s a comic-reading geekboy, bad as the rest of us, and all-too-versed in other people’s universes…

(Not sure “universe” – meaning entirely everything – is the right word, ‘cos you can’t have more than one entirely-everything. Nor is “parallel” the right term either. “Parallel worlds” tend to be the same but different, where one choice made the place go a different way. But parallels don’t intersect… “Branches” is probably best, and cf. chapter 9 of my bloody book.)

Gaiman lives a really enviable life as an author – it’s endearing how little there is that he doesn’t like or isn’t interested in. Or, at least, how little he’ll say that’s not keen. Really inspired by his enthusiasm for all manner of anything. “Research” is an excuse to poddle round LA looking at graveyards, a “block” (not a term he likes, he was keen to explain) means beach-time in Barbados, puzzling things out…

Dead envious of Henry, too, who’s read Miracleman #25. Bastard!

There was all kind of name-dropping, as Gaiman’s loved by Tarantino’s mum, wrote some of his book in Tori Amos’s spare house, and couldn’t judge what Angelina Jolie is really like because he had her wearing an all-over, blue, gimp-sort-of suit for reasons of smart CGI…

Yes, I thought. That’s the sort of writerly schmoozing I’d like to get at some day. And then spent yesterday with Sylvester and Sophie and… well, fab actors to be announced soon… Maybe speak of that another time.

After recording yesterday, I fitted a curtain rail and then watched the brilliant Much Ado… Really very lovely indeed. And well done B. for top Toad in the Hole, fruity booze and good cheer.

Much drunken natter ‘bout the Government being whupped. Really, this should have happened at the start of the year – and only didn’t because the other parties dropped the ball. As was said while the Terrorism Bill clogged the Lords, it’s depressing when the only effective opposition in this country is that there Jeremy Paxman…

Ignoring hangovers, today the Doctor got doctored officially, and got to shake hands with Eric Hobsbawm. Finally, school is over. Another graduate, taking her baby with her up on stage, sums up Birkbeck’s zealous championing of the part-time student, juggling research with a full-time life. Bain’t easy. I couldn’t have done what the Doctor did, and am full of awe and pride and amazement.

Looked pretty fit in her hood and felt hat, too.

After cheap fizz and canapés (I had almost three) we and the parents did Persia (v. good, full of detail, and Neil McGregor’s audio-commentary is well-worth picking up), and then tea. Lots of chatting about not much in particular. My dad’s read Time Travellers, and thinks it okay.

Then home, shagged out, to finish chores, pay more money out on new house, decide which questions are to be asked of my team this weekend, pack, snog the mrs, sleep.

Sweden tomorrow morning. Maybe without email (!), hence clearing the decks of stuff now. More Wednesday next week if not sooner.

But a mate has a blog that’s worth reading, and my review of a film is now up.

Out of here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Happy happy happy

This week is proving rather good. The BBC loves me. I spent a fun day with Dr Who today, and will report on that and last night and things soon. And tomorrow the Doctor becomes, er, a Doctor. I am all skippy.

Oh, and like you care, but this is my 100th post.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sliced genius

Fun night in the pub last night, seeing chums I’d not seen since, ooh, the weekend. Nabbed a copy of Skillz magazine too, and have spent this morning nursing hangover and trying to get the free radio to work.

Know nada 'bout these new-fangled games – though at one-time deft on Chuckie Egg and Galaga – and have long since wiped the games on my PC for eating up too much of my life. Yet the mag, with insights into snot, explosions and cheatz, had me laughing over my tea. Well done indeed, Mr Joff Brown, editor.

Also rung round places to get the Big Move in motion. Top men with van booked, telephone set up (though we’ll be without landline and – the horror! – broadband for ten days), and the Doctor is sorting various other bits. Buzzing with finally getting things sorted.

Gaiman tonight, shouting tomorrow followed by Toad in the Hole. Proud husbandry Thursday, Persians and tea. And Sweden on Friday, where I’m captaining a team of chums I’ve not met, and am booked to talk to 72 Swedish teenagers about how English works. Lummy. All go, innit?

Right. Shoes and off to work.

ETA: Thing I've just learnt. If you click "Save as draft" and then realise that's not right and click "Publish post", Blogger saves your post, and then publishes a blank one. Gah!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Based on a true story

As chums might have spotted, I like a good yarn.

That doesn’t just mean stories about space-Guardianistas grappling with weird, scary monsters (though those are good too), but anything simply well-told. Growing up, mealtimes were always a story-telling contest with my siblings. Family get-togethers still are, plus a fight for the roast potatoes.

Thing is, I’m now never sure which titbits of knowledge rattling round my brain have any basis in truth.

Anyway, this odd story (which came via Gaiman, who we’re seeing tomorrow) made me think of a story I used to hear a lot when I was little.

In the early 1980s (I guess) this bloke rode round Winchester on a monocycle.

He was – it makes the story better – quite a crazy-looking devil, and not the most careful of cyclists. Monocycles are zippy things and not always easy to control. Whether or not he actually ran anyone down, he eventually wound up in court.

The court listened to the tales of mayhem done and assessments of possible risk, and came up with an elegant solution. The bloke, they decided, couldn't ride his monocycle on public roads because he didn't have a bicycle bell.

And yet this didn't deter the bloke. He just got himself a pair of handlebars – just the handlebars mind, not attached to anything – and stuck a bell on them.

So you'd sometimes see (though I never did) this crazy-looking bloke, zipping about on his monocycle, orphan handlebars stuck out in front of him, frantically ting-a-linging.

Ha ha!

Sadly, Google couldn’t help me verify details, and it’s been so often retold to me, and likely embellished each time that I may have got key bits of it wrong. Will check with parents and see if they remember.

And it’s only typing this up that all seems a bit too much like David McKee's (brilliant) "Mark and the monocycle".

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Shopping list

Things I bought yesterday:
  • 50x curtain hooks
  • Kashmiri woollen rug
  • Step ladder (5 steps)
  • Haddock, chips and mushy peas x2, plus one pickled egg
  • Day's travelcard, zones 1 and 2
  • Booze
  • Washing up liquid, bin liners, squeedgees, poo paper, milk, biscuits
  • Tape measure (quite a funky one)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Obligatory cat post

A chum complains that, despite nearly 100 posts, this bain't be a proper blog 'cos it doesn't boast cat snaps. Very sincere apologies to you all. To remedy this, here's what I had on my phone. Apologies for the murky quality, but they're what I had on my phone.

28.10.05 - Forgot to shut the office window when I popped out to get milk. Yes, that's his silly tail.21.10.05 - Slut cat allows O. to pay due tribute.27.09.05 - Failed attempt to sign birthday card for M (he's sat on it).10.05.05 - Naw...28.08.04 - The historic, first ever meeting with grass.28.08.04 - Bravely daring to step outside for the first time ever. He sat on this step for about two hours.14.07.04 - Our new arrival, already strutting about like he owns the place.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Homo, ner

A fun night’s pubbing last night, with all sorts of gossip and discussion, and people telling me I am clever. Meant to head off early and do housework, but accidentally made it to the end. So yes, feeling better.

The Doctor arrived back from her conquest of Washington DC first thing this morning. I’ve got presents – America (fab!), and a some light reading on DHTML by Jason Cranford Teague (whose surnames feature in Chapter 9 of Time Travellers, fact fans).

The Doctor slept until 1, then we went out for lunch. During which I had a call to say we’d completed on buying our flat. It’s taken forever, and only a fortnight ago it looked like it wouldn’t happen at all. But it has!

Happiness and joy now abound in our house, and champagne.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Benny and the jets

Big Finish have announced what I've been up to for the last few weeks. Parallel lives (no link yet) and Something changed are at proof stage, and I'm now working on the scripts. Blurbs and details should be forthcoming, and I've already seen a wondrous draft of the Something Changed cover.

(The brilliant Adrian Salmon has also recently set up his own Yahoo! Group, Visual Ade.)

In other news, got the Episode III DVD yesterday, and watched it with curry, I. and B. Delighted to see a Mon Calamari in the deleted scenes - but is it the sainted Ackbar? And why wasn't he in the rest of the film?

(Answer: Ackbar's too much of a dude to let the bad guys win on his watch. He was probably off somewhere, saving orphans with his bare gills.)

The cat was mesmerised by the film's first half hour. I think the Jedis' whirling spacejets appealed to his predatory instincts - and at one point he attacked the TV. Little sod runs out of the room at the Dr Who theme, so this behaviour can be considered an improvement.

Also unearthed a copy of something I wrote in late '99, guessing what Episodes II and III would be like on the basis of Episode I. Gratifying mix of the frighteningly prescient and the god-awfully wrong. Plus some jokes. Thought I'd lost this ages ago, and when B. has kindly scanned it, I'll post it up here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Crafty writing

Discussion in pub last night of the word "folk". I reckon it means "a bit rubbish": cf. folk music, folk tales, the folk tradition. M'colleague B. argued that it also means people, but I countered (wittily, lithely) that it does when it's means "people are a bit rubbish". For example, the expression, "There's nowt as queer as a bit rubbish people."

And yet, though I'm suspicious of anything arts and crafts, I love Eric Gill's work and his immaculate Sans typeface - and really wish it was one of the HTML fonts. Bought a very good biography of Gill for the Doctor last Christmas (with the message, "Freak-boy! Just your type."), which is boggling, revelatory, and full of great detail.

“[Gill, Johnston and Pepler] had an evening ritual, since all were in the habit of writing late-night letters, of meeting at the post-box (just before the midnight post, that long-lost rendezvous). Johnston’s daughter, when a child, has described how long it took them to get home again to bed, where their three wives, the ‘letter box widows’ as they called themselves, awaited them. They would often go on talking about art and mass production, or maybe faith and reason, until 2 or 3 am.”

Fiona MacCarthy, Eric Gill, p. 67.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fully booked

Golly, I've been reading Little, Big for more than a month. Apart from Neal Stephenson, this never happens.

Admittedly, I have had lots of other things to read and write - which has taken priority on bus and train journeys, and at evenings and weekends. Also, though, I think the book loses its way a bit in the late-middle. Having set up the marvellously weird and happy family and house, it then spends most of "Book Five" in the city, with Auberon the younger being miserable and drunk and delusional. It's a whole chunk - unlike the rest of the book - that's not fun to read. And staring out at the shops and shoppers on the Walworth Road kept taking precedence.

Anyway, seem to be through that mire now, and into the last 100 pages. Things are hotting up, and (again like Neal Stephenson) there's the feeling that a plot has been going on behind my back all along...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Visually-impaired spots

A day editing, and learning how to do an á on a Mac...

Something you notice editing (which you might not just from writing) is other people's blind spots. Lots of people join up some words, like "anymore" and "allover", while the Doctor is good at separating words like "how ever" and "further more". It's refreshing to know other people make the same sorts of basic error as I do.

Those who've proofed my stuff will know I mix up the homophones you're and your, and their, they're and there. I think this is because I hear the words rather than see them. I've also a gift for transposing numbers.

The thing is to be aware of your own blind spots: if you're checking for them yourself, they're no longer a weakness. Though that implies you re-read what you're writing before sending it in.

Which, editing other people's stuff, you realise isn't what all authors do.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I feel unusual

Wimped out of most of the larking this weekend, ‘cos of feeling like shit. Woke up yesterday with what I thought was a hangover, only far beyond what a few ales should bring on. Despite yacking my guts up, aspirin, Coca-Cola and the good cheer of chums, I still felt miserable and unfunny by the afternoon.

Perhaps I’m getting old, I thought. And then a chum pointed out I had temperature reminiscent of a firestorm. Now think it’s some sort of Horrid Cold – the first of the season. Joy.

Fell home in a bit of a blur, and slept for the rest of the day – bar two excursions to the garden, returning toads the little sod brought in. And R., who I put up in exchange for floor space in Swansea, had to brave the taxis and 363s of South London all on his own. Weird thing about Horrid Colds and Flu is that you look better than you feel, so he probably thought me a right old wuss. No change there, then.

Slept most of today as well, though watched some telly and Star Wars. The Doctor rang from the States, and everything there has gone brilliantly. A well-received paper to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, no less. She mighty fine, that one. And the sonic screwdrivers she bought for her fan-mate’s kids have gone down a treat. So well done J., who sourced them.

Feeling miserable and missing her, I then did all the washing up I have not done since she left. And put some washing on. I even thought about hoovering.

No trick-or-treaters this year – unless I just slept through them. And the cat seems less freaked by the fireworks. This strikes me as like that bit in horror movies when it’s just too quiet.

Time Travellers has been seen in bookshops, and two paid reviewers tell me they’ve received their copies – so all on tenterhooks now. Meeting tomorrow to finish another book-shaped project, which will get announced in due course. The Settling has been cast, and my mum is delighted. Also – though it’s again got to be announced officially – I seem to be doing a book signing. Gosh.

Phil has typed up his talk on the Spirituality of New Show, and after all my nagging him, I now need to go and read it. So that I can then hack apart his claims for the naïve, superstitious flimflam they must be.

I think I am feeling a bit better…

Friday, October 28, 2005

Cabbage cleans the blood

5,561 usable words written today and sent in, linking together something that’s due to be announced any day now. Woo!

Last night, splendid fellows took me to see What have you done today, Mervyn Day?, with live music by St Etienne. We also had pizza and beer. The film is really interesting, with all sorts of facts and perspectives on the Lea Valley – like no one actually calling it that. And plastic and petrol and the Labour Party were all invented where the Olympic Park will now be. Proper social history, like. Not sure about the blood, but the splendid fellows passed on that cabbage might help with cancer.

It’s been ages since I last saw live music, and this was a corker. Recommend A Good Thing, which is out as a single on Monday. Sarah Cracknell still has the voice of an angel, and looks just as magnificent as she did when I first fancied her in my teens. The Barbican, though, is not built for dancing.

(Probably a good thing as far as my splendid fellows were concerned.)

Have heard from the Doctor, who has arrived, is tired and is missing the cat. Little sod brought me two toads today.

Having done my chores, off now to have some tea, and thence to the pub to begin a weekend of very serious, sober and spiritual reflection as part of a writers conference.

No, really. That’s what it is.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lies, damn lies

A couple of weeks ago, I signed this blog up to Site Meter, partly 'cos of being curious, and mostly 'cos it was free. And very easy to do, too.

If you're feeling nosy, you can look up my stats (there's also a link at the bottom of the page), and even play with trends and locations and wossnames like that. 17 visitors a day, though, is actually not all that bad.

My current favourite is the "Countries" tab. I think I know who the Finnish and Canadian visitors might be. But Singapore?

And Saudi Arabia?

Well, whatever it is you were looking for, I hope you weren't too disappointed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dancing with planks

To see Stephen Fry last night, talking about his new book on poetry. It seems - having heard his excerpts and read up to chapter one – like exactly the sort of thing that would have made my teens very different.

Had the same feeling last year about Bryson’s unravelling of science and Wilson’s vivid, teeming history; books that opened windows in my head. They had me wide-eyed and delighted, buying more copies for everyone’s birthdays, muttering, “Now I get how it works…”

That said, had they been around as I started my A levels, I’d probably not have read them anyway. Studiously ignored the much-spoken of Ways Of Seeing for years. No idea why – it’s quite brilliant.

Fry had lots of interesting things to say – especially so, since they reached through to this entrenched prosodophobe. I’d been coming round to the idea, though, that poetry might have some value. An evangelical chum put some rude and funny verse my way. Then William Goldman compared screenplays to poetry as an exercise in concise writing, nuggets of meaning that can’t be said in any fewer words. Which has been useful in all sorts of ways.

I’ve written scripts of one sort and another, stories and pitches and blurbs, and then there’s the ever-concise copy that pays the rent. But never poetry. Lyrics, a bit. Bits of stories. But a great deal of what clutters the notebooks I’ve been keeping since my teens is bits of phrasing, execrable puns, shufflings and reshufflings of words. And though I bought Fry’s book for the Doctor (as something to take to the States tomorrow), I found myself leafing through it last night until 1 in the morning.

On the value of poetry, Fry cited Wilde, that all art is useless. But he then goes further: that the unnecessary embellishments of life are what make it worth living. We can subsist on food pills and concrete tower blocks, but it deadens us, erodes our social abilities and empathy. Instead, we – the lucky ones – have wine and music and painting, things that rise above the okay, the that’ll-do, the (and it is a pejorative) mediocre. I’m wary of using the term “art”, but by care of our “craft”, we can make stuff we do that much better.

Which is a cosy idea, but not new. It made me think of the Parable of the Talents, where there’s an inherent, moral obligation to make the most of what we’ve got. (Jesus, of course, taught morality through stories, which is why the Bible still has great moral value, without our having to believe any of it’s literally true, or that the main character is still alive.)

So Fry’s point seemed to be that making the most of the language we use – mucking about with top words like “plank”, “Bonobo” and “spoon”, then revising, cutting, rethinking the arrangements – makes for a better existence.

That playing is important. I remember Robert Harris talking about writing Pompeii (on the South Bank Show, I think). He’d done his research, he’d plotted the book out. The actual writing was just a series of “solutions” to get him to the end. But I hate the idea of just joining the dots. The last month of writing The Time Travellers was miserable because I knew where the thing was going, and I was shackled to this predestined end. So I came up with ways of doing things differently, to try and surprise myself (and keep me awake). Even the very last chapter is full of stuff I came up with right at the last minute.

(Though whether that actually keeps it fresher and more interesting, isn’t my decision. We’ll see soon enough…)

Afterwards, there were questions (and yes, the inevitable non-question from someone, going on about who they were and then making some judgment on all that had been said. You have to have one of these at any Q&A. If the organisers ask people specifically not to do this, you get loads of them).

Fry’s answers were longer, more rambling, more expansive – which made me think that he must have prepared his talk. It had been more concise, more structured, more sure. It was, for his efforts (and though I think rambling has value of its own) better.

No questions about Fry writing Droo (I was too cowardly). But a chum sent me this brilliant piece of balanced, unbiased reporting.