Thursday, March 29, 2007

Return of the Old Adventures

On the flight back from LA a bit more than a month ago, m'colleague Mr Anghelides spoke of lost history. He could not recall, for example, the last time he'd changed a nappy. There was just a time when he wasn't changing nappies any more, but that moment passed unremarked.

Got not-quite through the first of four folders of old fanzino-periodicals today, frantically scribbling the morsels of fact that relate to the development of Benny. It's been fun to see who DWB's nemesis is each week (John Nathan-Turner; no, the executive of the Droo Appreciation Society; no, the editors of Droo's own magazine; no, the folk at BBC Video; no, anyone who dares to write in; actually, let's just go to war with EVERYONE...)

But there's also all the bits of Droo history that kind of passed me by.
"Sylvester McCoy is no longer Doctor Who, that's official. Doctor Who licencees have been instructed by BBC Enterprises to refer to him Sylvester McCoy as the 'former Doctor Who'. The Radio Times itself set the trend in its billing of Sylvester for the Children's Royal variety Performance in May."

David Gibbs (ed.), 'The former Doctor Who'
(news story) in DWB #103, August 1992.

As well as the reviews and letters pages which take Benny's adventures to task, I have also dipped into some of her Old Adventures, to get something correct in "The Wake". And too my great excitement, if nobody elses, I have this afternoon typed the direction:

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nice work

“Sunday, December 31st [1978] …I listen to the car radio and hear tales of horror from all over the UK. Edinburgh is almost cut off from the rest of Scotland (a fact which the weather only confirms!)”

Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-1979 – The Python Years, p. 519.

Yes, I have been busy. The Dr bought me this for Valentine’s Day (naw) and to read on the plane out to Gallifrey. Which I did, and got something like halfway though. And then mutchwurk stopped me getting much further.

More than a month later, with bits snatched on trains and in toilets, the end is almost in sight. It’s a great brick of a book, with perhaps too much on the weather and what the author was eating, so perhaps this is the best way to read it.

The diaries cover the period from the first filming on Flying Circus to the furore that met Life of Brian. Palin’s a sharp-eyed observer, and even the briefest entries contain telling detail.

In large part, it documents the progress of his work – the late nights, the famous people, the many meetings and compromises, the flights on Concorde that are not half as glamorous as might have been hoped for. With my own current schedule it’s been good to see someone else barely outrunning the snowball. And it’s weird to think of Palin, that funny old man off the telly, being my age when he wrote all this stuff.

But it’s not just the hard graft of the writer that’s of interest. It’s a fun and engaging historical document. As well as definitively telling us what day Brian was first thought of, he notes the world as it changes around him:

“Pre-lunch cocktails with the two neighbours and their three daughters, who bring with them a game called Twister, which involves participants in a grapple on the floor and, in the immortal words of Eric’s joke salesman, ‘Breaks the ice at parties’.”


Palin is, as his later travel documentaries have shown, a sharp and witty commentator, and his remarks on politics and life in Hampstead are often warm as well as comedic. But there’s also more insight into his own life and feelings than I think we’ve ever been prey to. There’s the slow decline of his dad and a fair amount on his poor teeth.

I’ve seen some reviews mutter that it’s not more salacious, that Palin is too nice about everyone. Yes, that’s apparently a bad thing.

Anyway, he can be quite tetchy and is especially impatient with anyone who makes life more difficult. That reminded me of the last of his 80 days round-worlding, when his temper is beginning to fray.

(On this very point, he told Saga Magazine how he can “fly off the handle ... Usually at the most stupid things.”)

But it’s to Palin’s credit that he was seen as a mediator by the Pythons and others he worked with. It’s because he was the one that everyone talked to that his history is so comprehensive.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I shall tell you this

Codename Moose turned up at half eight yesterday, when I had hardly begun making my toilet. Mrs Codename Moose had turfed him out into the street, and were it not for our agreement to get a smidgen of script written, he’d probably have been playing in traffic.

Work proceeded pretty well, fleshing out notes I’d made into three separate sections, with some chipping in and chivvying of additional bad jokes and ever improved ideas. By one, we’d completed something we’re both quite happy with, and felt able to take my second wife, M., out with us for lunch.

Basked in the sunshine and ate a breakfast so mammoth they’d named it after me. (Or at least after my parents’ nickname.)

The trendy elements of Penge straddled by, not all quite complicit in pretending it was summer and that the high street was all continental. The keen waiter seemed most impressed with M. and ignored anything said by me and Codename Moose. M., of course, remained entirely oblivious to this, bless her.

Back home, and while M. and Codename Moose enjoyed Casino Royale I got up to 8,700 words on The Wake. Still have to write up some pre-titles set-up and four key scenes from near the end, but might even have a draft by the weekend. Hooray!

By the time the Dr had gymmed and shared gossip, M. had cooked us a feast. We watched some old telly, and I pointed out the actors from Droo. The Moonstone featured Peter Jeffrey, who was much more lenient this time.

Rab in his suit and trainersRab C Nesbitt’s Seasonal Greet included Garron and Commander Uvanov. This, the first full-length outing for Rab back in 1988 (years before we met his Dr Who brother (PDF 80kb)), sees him gobby and Scottish with sticky-up hair, and wearing pin-stripe and trainers…

Can't think who that reminds me of.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Some announcements

Hasn't it been ages? I am up to my handsome eyeballs in various books and scripts, and this 'ere blog wossname has been out-prioritised.

"The Two Jasons" proceeds apace, with the latest draft just in from Dave Stone. It's possibly the most personal thing Dave's ever written, and yet still crammed full of the daftest possible jokes.

I have also recently interviewed Dave, along with Matt Jones, Daniel O'Mahony, Neil Penswick, Gary Russell, Simon Winstone and a bundle of other people about their part in the development of Benny, and the "Inside Story" is coming together pretty well. May even have a cover to show off soon.

The Big Finish website now has details of "Snapshots", including Stuart Manning's rather marvellous cover. My contribution is called "There's Something About Mary", and may be the first ever Dr Who story set in Preston.

Also crawling through the never-ending heap of short story competition entries. Not to be spoken of until we reach the end, though.

A few other fun things can't be spoken of either, hence the mad glint in mine eye. And according to Alex, I'm one of his five thinking bloggers. How badly he is deluded.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

¿Cuál es la palabra para "el tejón"?

Back from a much-needed break to Malaga to see A. and J. (we went to their wedding last year). Apart from a quick mooch round the Picasso Birthplace Museum, it was uncharacteristically lacking in being good for me. Yes, even the Dr wanted a holiday. Instead we wandered to nice eateries, ate lots of fresh fish and sampled bars that don't get going before midnight.

In one trendy place that served very good mojitos, J. pointed out the flag hanging above the bar. The Spanish flag is three horizontal bars: red, then yellow, then red again, the yellow band twice as thick as the red ones.

Flag of the Second Spanish Republic, 1931-9In the dim and disco lighting, it took a moment to realise what was different: this one went red, then yellow, then purple.

This republican flag from the 1930s, J. explained, was banned in Spain under Franco, and even now it's a bit of a shocker. He spoke of the frission of seeing it hanging from the arm of the Philip IV statue in Madrid, in the midst of a political protest.

Winston's turf mohicanThe nearest I could liken that was to Winston's turf mohican.

(The Internet also tells me of the irony of the purple band: it's not purple, but royal Castilian purpure.)

J.'s own republic sensibilities would be stronger but his king is helluva tough. Our Charles III did something similar, I said, in the first issue of 2000AD.

As well as the politics, we discussed how Bowie's lyrics translate and pretty much everything under the sun. My best effort to explain a reference to badgers was "a sort of mash-up of a boar and a tiger".

Monday, March 12, 2007

No time like the present

I have been to a stag do and to a funeral, and been off to do interviews in between. Also pitching for something and been asked to do something else, and still battering away at the History of Benny and that there short story competition.

One project looks close to completion. One.

I shall look back on this period eventually and laugh.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Not because they are easy

Last night's lunar eclipseThe rather grainy image right is from a few hours after last night’s eclipse. We sat in the Dolphin and peered out the window as the moon turned eerily red. Nimbos nimbly explained why it does that, using empty pint glasses as props. This is the best of my pictures. Oh well.

In timely fashion, I’ve got three episodes into the lavish Tom-Hanks funded dramatisation of the Apollo missions, From the Earth to the Moon.

S. who knows about technical specifications, offered the Region 2 discs cheap having just bought the Region 1 versions. There’s apparently a slightly judder in the NTSC transfer that spoiled the whole thing for him. I explained I forget to change the aspect ratio watching Droo DVDs, and am quite content with Logopolis in widescreen. He went a bit pale at that.

Haven’t noticed any problem with my inferior version. It’s an extraordinarily sumptuous series, the sort of prestigious thing that over here David Attenborough might have commissioned. You can see the money that’s been bunged at it. The first episode is especially grandstanding, a bold fanfare from start to finish.

Hair-raising at times, you can’t help but be wowed by the ballsiness of all those involved. Episode 2 gets is much more involving as things start to go horribly wrong. Death and disaster and steely-jawed jokes really help ratchet up the drama.

It also avoids repeating too much of the stuff covered in The Right Stuff, so – at least to me – feels fresh and surprising. The third episode has also spun a new angle on the format, by telling its bit of the story through the eyes of a documentary team. The hippy director in his rose-tinted specs gives a much better sense of context than the news footage. I also realise now I come to write it that episode two is about two guys eaten up by the system, which helps to convince us of the scale of everything involved.

That said, it’s a pity it’s so US-centric and less about all the players in the space race. There’s no effort (at least so far) to deny that the whole mission is an exercise in pissing higher than the Russians. I’d have liked to have seen more of the Russian programme, comparing their struggles with NASA’s. Appreciate that’s not really in the brief.

In fact it reminds me of The West Wing a lot: brave and idyllic and with exemplary performances, but a little naïve about foreigners. You can play spot the West Wing cast, too.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bird watcher

K. is staying with us at the moment. Last night we went to see peg-leg P. who suffers with a broken bone. Ate pizza, drank girlie white booze and gossiped outrageously, and then fell into a taxi home.

Shaggy does not need night-vision gogglesPrior to the night's festivities, K. managed a brief siesta. She closed the living room door so as not to be disturbed by the cat. But the cat is very disturbing. He clambered up on to his scratch-post / house / wossname and spent the whole time watching K. sleep. In the manner his sabre-toothed ancestors might once have watched sabre-toothed mice.

He is an odd animal.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Write away

The new issue of Pantechnicon is just out, and features a story by me. For the time being at least, you can read "The Bounty Hunters" online and for free.

Writing continues. Was meant to interview someone this lunchtime, but they're caught up in writing of their own. So I've had a chance to get up slowly, drink tea and read Droo's magazine.

It's an especially corking issue, and I'm very pleased with page 63.
"Delivering on its ambitious promises, Time Signature is an exceptionally strong anthology, containing some honest-to-goodness mini-masterworks ... It's the best Short Trips collection since The Muses, and, in its delicate balance between standalone entries and arching plots, a fabulous example of having your cake and eating it."
Matt Michael, "Off the Shelf",
Dr Who Magazine # 380 (28 March 2007), p. 63.

Matt's equally nice about my efforts on "Dalek Empire", calling it,
" good a Dalek-themed anthology as you're likely to get",
and describing one of my two stories, "The Eighth Wonder of the World", as,
"a good, well-paced yarn".
To his right, Vanessa Bishop has nice things to say about "Collected Works". Which is all Nick Wallace's work, but I shall take credit what with being the boss. Now off to have lunch in the sunshine. Tra la la.

Thursday, March 01, 2007