Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ándale! Ándale! Arriba!

The gringo who so often harangues me for not updating this thing has started his very own blog. Keep up with his adventures as he explores the dark continent and its pretty girls. And pester him for new posts.

I’m going to be here sporadically until I jet off to LA in the small hours of 13 February. So much work stuff to deliver before I go, and just two weeks’ sand left to drool through the narrow bit of the timer.

“How the Doctor Changed my Life” is about four-fifths signed-off and done. The 25 first-time authors have been doing themselves proud with conscientious rewrites. Most have argued with at least some of my suggestions, though no one has done any shouting. It’s been a really good process all told, and well worth all the effort. Trying to fathom the running order, I’m delighted how strong a collection this will be. Hooray!

Cover to come sometime soonish, I think. Plus news of the book’s bonus features.

Meanwhile, Bernice Summerfield – The Wake is just out, ending my run on 15 consecutive Bennies. A few nice people have said nice things, though I was a bit surprised by two people who thought What Happens to Doggles just comes out of nowhere. I thought I’d nicely set this up in his dinner date with Benny, and earlier in The End of the World’s final scene. Ah well…

I’m also well into writing something that cannot be spoken of, have begun something else that cannot be spoken of, have three short scripts to write up for Codename Moose, a script about carrots to be written by August for John S Drew, and have bought the book about something else top secret which I can pitch for when I’m back from my holiday.

Well, I say holiday; the plan is to take with me my funky new laptop and break the back of the standalone novel I’ve been meaning to write for some years. Have scooped up plenty of useful details for this from some recent reading: coal fires, smoking compartments and something for headaches called venganin…

Spent the weekend at what m’colleague M has described rather well as “a two-day pub quiz”. On Saturday night I thought my all-out blaspheming had led to a strange hallucination. No, apparently, Matt Lucas was not an apparition and saw me and Nimbos "hilariously" breaking some rules… Not sure this is actually better than the thought that my brain had invented him.

Also learnt how to eat hot-cross buns quickly; stuffing them into your mouth leads to dried-out gagging. The trick is to tear off small pieces, which can be swallowed more quickly. You get this top tip for free.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Flying man

Snapped here is James Butler's 2000 Fleet Air Arm Monument, which I think is haunting and beautiful. The not-brilliant photography maybe doesn't quite show what the pilot hangs dead beneath torn, broken wings.

According to the Dr's rather fab book on London's various statues,
"The Fleet Air Arm is that part of the Air Force that operates from aircraft carriers. During the Second World War it became the most important and effective part of the Royal Navy. This monument commemorates those who gave their lives in service of the Fleet Air Arm."

Andrew Kershman, London's Monuments, p. 150.

The statue is about halfway between Westminister and Hungerford Bridges, and if the dead man looked up he'd see right in front of him the Royal Air Force Memorial (1923) - the stone column with a sparkly bronze eagle on top of it, which is where the Doctor parked his TARDIS in "Rose".

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Knight fall

How sad about Heath Ledger. No, I didn't know him or anything like that. I haven't even got a lame-o showbiz story about having been on the same bus... Although, my sister made his clothes for Ned Kelly and said he was one of the good ones.

The shocked obituaries have of course all mentioned his moody, sulky turn in Brokeback Mountain. And Channel 4's lunchtime news had a clip of him being the Joker which is all very wow. Yet the film for which I think he should be remembered is his nicely light dude hero of A Knight's Tale.

The Dr and I went to see it in the now-closed old-skool cinema in Catford on 12 September 2001. We both kind of needed a break from the reality of the day before, and that was the perfect thing. It's quite a hokey story about a working class boy done good, that might as well be about him playing good football as it is about his good jousting. Yet it manages to be far better than it really needs to be, the lively pop history in a clever script allowing plenty of fine comic performances.

The Dr quite liked the scowly Rufus Sewell, and there's a scowly James Purefoy in there too. And ooh look, there's him out of Firefly and that's Saturday's Dogberry).

Paul Bettany's wildly over-the-top Geoff Chaucer is a particular gem. And Laura Fraser is in it too, which is always good for warm, glowy feelings. I once oggled at her on a train at New Cross - which is exciting because that's where Chaucer really was mugged (as happens at the start of the film).

Ledger really ought to be invisible in the company of such sparkling sidekickery. He is, after all, being the usual kind of square-jawed, blond hero eye candy, too saintly to be of much interest. I can't imagine another actor being better in the role, embuing what's could be such a stereotype with such warmth and charisma and life.

So, no, I didn't know him or what went on in his real life. And yet it really is a shame. As the sister said, he was one of the good ones.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mountains out of lady parts

Having spent the day trying to get words to work right on Saturday, the Dr took me out for the evening. We went for pizza and then Much Ado About Nothing at the National.

Much Ado About... CENSOREDThe prince's men stop off at a house on their way back from the wars. The prince's top man Claudio falls for pretty Hero, daughter of the house, and there is much rejoicing. The prince also decides he's going to trick ever-warring Benedict and Beatrice into declaring their love for each other. But the prince's bastard brother hates all this larking about, and plots to bring it all crashing down...

It's, as you'd expect, an energetic and sumptuous version, full of note-perfect performances from the impressive cast. Cassandra from Dr Who vies with the former King Arthur from Spamalot to the amusement of that bloke from Star Wars who says a communications malfunction can only mean invasion, and that bloke who used to run Brookside's neighbourhood watch.

High emotion is rung from the emotional scenes, and the funny stuff is played with great slapstick. There's people hiding in plain sight, an old man struggling to wield a sword twice his size, and some people falling over into... Oh, that would rather spoil it. Mark Addy and Trevor Peacock valiantly try to steal the show in their brief, Act-Two-only roles as Dogberry and Verges.

Grotbags, Emu, HullI especially liked how Zoe Wanamaker's Beatrice clearly always had a thing for Benedict. The Dr felt their bickering was not a million miles from our own. (I think we're more Rod Hull and Grotbags, myself, with Emu as the cat.) She also liked how it's clearly all the fault of the boys.

And we both giggled a lot at the programme's insight into the title of the play.
"But men make a fuss in another sense, for, as Elizabethan slang well knew, women are defined by having no 'thing', or, as Hamlet puts it, nothing is 'a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.' Men's inability to control what women do with their 'nothing' is frequently tormenting for them."

Peter Holland, 'Strange Misprision', in the National Theatre programme for Much Ado About Nothing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Space-pirate badgers #3 and #4

Last post on this subject, I promise.

Archibald the space-pirate badger, from Doctor Who and the Pirate Loop, as imagined by Lee BindingWent to Manchester yesterday to sign more copies of Dr Who and the Pirate Loop. It was more exclusive an event than maybe we'd expected, but congratulations to young fans Peter and James for winning the quiz. Me, Jim and Trev did readings of our best bits (Milky-Pink City; the Doctor walks into the bar; the Doctor in the bathroom) and then got to scrawling our names.

John Davies of Short Trips fame made it along, and I also got to meet Mike Amberry and Bernard O'Toole, who'll be in "How the Doctor changed my life" later this year. Both manfully resisted the urge to throttle me for the work I've made them do. Then it was on to beer and Chinese, and a contest for lame meets with celebrities.

My brother-in-law and his mate the Yemayan Ambassador (see page 91) worried we'd share the last train home with Manchester's finest drunks. Sadly, the trip back to Macclesfield was quiet and uneventful.

Mock-up rough version of the cover of Doctor Who and the Pirate Loop, featuring Lee Binding's badger artworkAmongst the Decemberists, there was much comparison of our various reviews and how can readers pick up or concentrate on the strangest of elements.

Anyway. Hooray, because I've managed to come out pick of the month of all knock-off product featured in this month's DWM, and am a bit dazzled to beat The Target Book, let alone my colleagues.
"The Pirate Loop is one of those rare things, a children's book that adults will adore. It's clever, funny, thoughtful and silly, and loads of other good words. But the one that sums it up best is this: brilliant."

Matt Michael, "The DWM Review", Doctor Who Magazine #391 (6 Feb 2008), p. 60.

SFX likes Jim's one best (though refers to it as "Peacekeeper"), and thought mine worth just 2.5 stars out of five. My own, it says, starts outrageously,
"and gets gradually camper from there ... It lurches between comic setpieces and frequent bursts of violence (including endless shootings and a couple of gratuitous stabbings), while the constant pressing of the temporal reset button quickly becomes wearying (even Martha admits she's "getting a bit bored by it all" at one point). It's also incredibly talky, and everyone knows that, if there's one thing guaranteed to turn the kids off, it's too much yakking."

Paul Kirkley, "SFXrated Books", SFX #166, February 2008, p112.

Archibald the space-pirate badger, from Doctor Who and the Pirate Loop, as imagined by Codename MooseIn fact, my book seems to have caused a bit of a stir, with some people tickled pick and others rather angry. "Omega's Chicken" on the Doctor Who forum thread for the book (you have to register to read it) seems especially cross, calling it "Absolutely terrible ... just childish, dull and banal." But on the whole people who deserve to continue to living (joke!) seem to enjoy it.

I don't think I can really count Millennium's lovely comments, much as they made me beam.

A few people at signings (some of them adults) have also asked about What Archie Did Next. Even the folks at my publishers seem taken with the little scamp - my editor even had cake with Lee Binding's Archie artwork printed on it. And I'm told people have done drawings...

But can you do better? I've set up an open Flickr group, "Archibald the space-pirate badger", in which YOU can submit your own drawings.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


This last week I have mostly been doing back flips through fiery hoops. But fiery hoops are my speciality, so you prepare the ground, put on your best shoes, make the most of whatever there is of a run up and Wheeeeeeeee!

Only then to be told, “Well yes, okay, but could you do it again, this time holding this glass of water…”

Excitingly, my efforts are now approved – and better for all those gauntlets of flaming hoops. The books that need reading are sitting in a heap by my computer, and though I’ve skimped on seeing friends (sorry O!) or going to some meetings (sorry P and J and M at Rob Shearman’s book launch tonight!), the freelance commitments have – I hope – not even noticed my raw-eyed, manic look.

This morning, I even managed to schedule a lie-in. And it seems to have finished off the last of my itchy cold. Now I’ve just a ton of things to get written and in before 13 February, when I’m off to tour the world. Which will be easy as…

Oh heck.

Hence, of course, the radio silence on here. But I have some notes to write up when I have a spare moment on such topics as The Wisdom of Crowds, Spamalot!, Last Chance To See... , what signings are like when you’re the one signing, the way people talk of “the market” like Ben Kenobi does “the Force”, Stewart Lee doing stand-up, and why the words “parallel” and “alternate” are Wrong. And I’m about halfway through A Peace To End All Peace, which has led to a lot of cross scribbling…

In the meantime, here is some music. (No, not really.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Shut it!

Went to see a preview screening of Sweeney Todd! at the NFT last night, which included a surprise Q&A with director Tim Burton. Burton explained how he'd cut the three-hour stage version down for the film, losing the big numbers and concentrating on Sweeney's story, at the expense of Judge Turpin and - to a lesser extent - Mrs Lovett.

It's a typically macabre imagining, the 18th century story told in a mythic, Victoriana London sometime after the completion of Tower Bridge (1894, fact fans). Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter are magnificently grotesque, Depp getting very little dialogue and so playing big, expressive eyes in the manner of Peter Lorre. Mrs Lovett is a fantastically devious character, whose dream of a beach holiday is one of the film's many highlights.

The supporting cast - Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen and a number of newcomers - are also really good. The Dr was especially excited by a duet between Rickman and Depp on the subject of pretty women. I suspect that song is still playing in her head.

Yes, this is a musical. The songs help elevate the arch gothery of the thing (though Burton said he's not even sure what goth means). The actors, not known for their singing, are surprisingly accomplished, and for such an over-the-top film, there's an added realism to the way they act the songs rather than project them. Still, for all Sondheim's talents, I can't now recall any of the melodies - not even the one about London being a shithole.

The design is absolutely brilliant, and with the skinny, gaunt figures with shadowed, haunted eyes it's probably the film to look most like Burton's own sketches. The NFT lobby includes some of these drawings, as well as Depp and Bonham-Carter's skinny costumes.

Some people have commented on the bloody violence - which is odd considering it's a film about cannibals. But the lurid scarlet juice that squirts from people's necks is oppulent, Hollywood stuff. Even the Dr managed to cope, and she can be girlishly squeamish. It reminded her of the Technicolor gore of the classic Hammer horrors. It reminded me more of the delimbing of the Black Knight in Mønti Pythøn ik den Hølie Gräilenn. The most shocking death is the one not to be done by the razor.

It's not a film to tell you anything profound or to change the way you see things. It's not a film with a happy ending (Burton doesn't show us what happens to characters we can presume made their escape). But it's sumptuous, funny and gloriously peculiar, and well worth going to see. Bloody good show!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bloop eater

Julio Angel Ortiz's quick interview with me is now up on his site. It includes a fetching portrait that's not the usual mugging, crazy ape. That Lisa Bowerman, she clever.

Also up online is Richard McGinley's review of The Pirate Loop. He seems to think I'm too junior to have got the gig, and concludes that it's "frivolous" but "enjoyable". But he's wrong in saying my reference to Trev's The Wishing Wall is me being a continuity monkey. That reference (and so the order of our books) was suggested by the chief. Anyway, I come out of the review, as do the other Decemberists, with a pretty good seven out of 10.

And also this afternoon, I got to meet Peter Duncan. Yes, only long enough to shake hands and say hello and then go our separate ways. But ha! to Nimbos, who should be all dead envious.

(And a little more of a tale than the time I met David Tennant and he said to me, er, "Thanks, mate." Lame-oh showbiz stories are me.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Still not a reviewing sort of post

I keep meaning to blog about books I've read and TV and films I've seen, but other matters keep taking priority.

I've finally got notes out to all the authors of How The Doctor Changed My Life, and am already engaged in fun discussions with some of 'em who have good reasons for thinking me wrong. Yes, that they're all first-time authors (of fiction that's professionally published, at least) means it's more work than my previous anthologies. But they all seem full of vim and excitement, and it's looking really strong. Might even have a final line-up of story titles before I head off on holiday next month.

Got two big things to write myself before that, and have been working and reworking the outlines for them both, following comment from my bosses. Happy with how it's all going, but still a lot to do. I've got an outline for something else to write up before I go away, and there's a fair bit of freelancing to be fitted in too. Tomorrow, for example, I'm off to be interviewed about Flash Gordon for the telly. No, really, I am.

Oh, and there are ads on the telly for the SpongeBob Squarepants Krusty Cards collection; I worked on issues 15-19 in the run-up to Christmas.

And of course on Saturday I will be scribbling my name in books. Come one, come all, to Forbidden Planet, Shaftesbury Avenue, between 1 and 2.

Decemberists on tour

Friday, January 04, 2008

Dr Gonzo

Accidentally fell into the pub last night, and met many wondrous new people. At least two of these were already my writing bee-atches, but I'd only ordered them about online. Now I know what they look like, they can truly be afraid.

Home to find an exciting parcel awaiting the Dr. A while back, I bought her a Gonzo toy because she's always had a bit of a thing for him. (Yes, she has strange tastes in fellows, thank heavens.)

Dr and GonzoThing is, the Gonzo toy is dressed kind of dorkily when he should be all KAZAMM! and glitter. How much better if he'd been done up in his Darth Vader gear from the legendary Stars of Star Wars episode of The Muppet Show?

Hooray for the purple-haired sequin queen who has done just that. Hooray hooray!

(The Dr is the one on the left.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Space-pirate badger #2

The monstrously talented Red Scharlach has created an avatar of Archibald the space pirate badger. And I am giddy with excitement.

There's plenty more of this sort of thing at Red's site.

Red Scharlach's Art

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Harpy new year!

Having not been fagged to do anything special to mark the end of 2007, we ended up having a fine old party with several splendid fellows and jokes. Attacked the hangover with smoked salmon and scrambled egg and then poddled to West Dulwich to gawp at the Age of Enchantment exhibition. Which wasn't open. Drat.

Instead, we sat outside a coffee shop enjoying the grey, drippy but not too cold day, and the whining of small posh children and their parents.

Am back into work this afternoon, with 110 pages of notes on How The Doctor Changed My Life to type up and send out to the authors. I have also written a blurb and done other bits of housekeeping. Need to get the notes done as there's two dead exciting new bits of work which should get the green light over the next few days. Announcements as and when tis permissible.

The Dr is also much excited to find herself on Amazon. From the Harpy Tomb to the Wonders of Ephesus is apparently published on 25 April; preorder it now, and we can fill her "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought..." slot with all manner of Dr Who nonsense!