Sunday, August 31, 2008


That's the word count on the as-yet-unannounced thing I've finished this weekend, bar another quick pass. It goes to the bosses tomorrow, and then there'll be questions and rewrites and proofs, and even perhaps an announcement. But I am pretty happy with it so far.

Got The Slitheen Excursion to finish now, and then a couple of things that have again not been announced. And that damn book of my own to get done. Maybe I need to hook myself up to National Novel Writing Month in November just to get a first draft of it done...

With all this being tied to the typing, I've booked a few quick escapes. I'll be attending FantasyCon in Nottingham from 19-21 September this year, and am very excited at the prospect of meeting guest of honour Dave McKean (who I interviewed about his film Mirrormask) as well as several mates I've not seen in ages.

For those wanting to stalk me, my panels will be:

11 am - Trends in Young Adult Fiction (Gallery suite)
3 pm - Writing for Doctor Who Panel (Main room)

10 am - Writing for the Franchise Market (Main room)

Please don't throw fruit. As an extra special bonus, I've scribbled something about writing for Doctor Who to go in the convention programme.

I'll also be attending ChicagoTARDIS from 28-30 November along with a whole bundle of m'colleagues from Big Finish, the sixth Doctor Who and Sarah-Jane Smith. And there's a couple of other exciting events coming up for which I'm just waiting on details.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Service provider

"We notice things that don't work. We don't notice things that do. We notice computers, we don't notice pennies. We notice e-book readers, we don't notice books."

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt, p. 110.

This morning, the computer didn't want to work. Which was a bit of a bother because I'd quite a lot of work to finish off and not a whole lot of time in which to do it. I unplugged things and plugged them back in again. I tried to fiddle with settings. Over the course of an hour and a half I turned the thing off and on and off again.

After some cathartic swearing I decided to have breakfast. Episode 3 of The War Machines might also calm me down. I turned on the telly. The sound came out okay but the picture remained frozen. I tried changing the channel. A pop-up box informed me that the channel wasn't available. It did the same whatever channel I chose.

"A-hah!" I thought, using my brain. "This will be a problem of the Virgin Media telly/broadband/telephone wossname. I shall give them a ring."

Only, of course the phone wasn't working.

At half eleven I got through on my mobile to a helpful chap called Gerald. He asked the usual questions - had I turned the thing off and on again, had I unplugged a few bits. I readied myself for the inevitable minutiae of tests and efforts, ratcheting up the cost of the call. But instead he said, "Sounds like I better send one of our technicians round."

"Hooray," I thought - though you can't tell from reading this off the screen that I did so with heavy sarcasm. What was the betting that it'd take a week or six, or that the one day the technician could turn up is when I'm in Spain. (I'm going to Spain at the end of next week, by the way.)

But no. The bloke was round within 20 minutes. And he'd already stopped off on the way at the thingie in the street where all our wires meet up. He lugged round the back of the telly to check it was rebooting properly, then had some fun with the computer.

Yes, there'd been a problem, he explained as he mucked about with wires. Not as bad as the citizens of BR6 who were all without broadband. Or a housing estate he'd been at that morning whose cables had all been cut. But a problem of the set up not coping with all the electric goodness I send back and forth. I wasn't plugged into the right bit, so he moved me up a notch. Or something.

The computer should have been fine from then on, but the ZyXel wireless gadget didn't want to play ball. We had a fun time unplugging different things in turn, then restarting the computer. And by about 1 pm it just decided to work.

"Blimey," I thought. "How efficient and friendly." I rang up expecting the usual Turing test where someone tries their best just to get rid of you. When really what I wanted was a Man to turn up and make everything okay. And Virgin Media did exactly that.

"Hooray," I thought. "Now I can get down to some graft." And the doorbell rang. Codename Moose wanted to borrow some books...

Anyway. The Virgin man made me so happy I knocked through my chores quite easily. I now have a bit more than an 80,000-word draft of something that's not yet been announced. A bit of tinkering over the weekend and then I can be delivered.

Bit apprehensive of turning the machine off and running out to play in the night. What if the system falls over again? Will the Man pop round as quick on a Saturday? And since this sort of service is - in my experience - little short of miraculous, should I ask him to bring a DVD of the Massacre with him?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Whiskers on kittens

The writing continues apace, though late into the night. And on the back of something I cut from it earlier, here's five guilty pleasures.

Pineapple and coconut
It's a drink, it comes in cartons and I'd never heard of it until the Dr's brother mixed it with some vodka. “Tropical!” declares the carton of the one I had today. And it is. But also no doubt full of sugar and ick.

Gardener's Question Time
Sunday afternoons on Radio 4 and just about the most genial, cheery and good-humoured half hour in all broadcast history. It's like a less noisy, brash and trendy version of QI. I don't even have a garden or any green-fingered ambition.

The Coen brothers' Ladykillers
I love the original and have concerns about the very principle of remaking old good stuff. And they've junked all the eerie subtlety for out-and-out screwball mayhem. And its got Tom Hanks in it in place of Alex Guinness, a Wayans and jokes about irritable bowels. It really shouldn't be allowed. But I laughed like a weasel enjoying a cardiac arrest.

Easy listening
The Dr accused me of this yesterday as she mucked about with iTunes. I denied it manfully until she ran through quite a lot of the noise I've loaded. Cat Stevens, Burt Bacharach, Nina Simone... I pointed to Lemon Jelly and Flaming Lips, and argued my chill-out thing also embraces the old skool. But not very convincingly.

Not shaving
Even when I've been freelancing more than six years, this is still the best evidence that I'm getting away with something fiendish in scribbling at home. See also not getting up in the morning and “meetings” with peers and producers which go on into the evening and involve a lot of beer.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chapter 11...

...of something that cannot be spoken of yet includes the words "submission", "handcuffs" and "groin".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Swamp of Horrors (1957)

Clever Michael Rees had posted the following fun effort to YouTube, as a promo for his story in Doctor Who and How The Doctor Changed My Life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I say you are, Lord, and I should know...

The Dr extracted me from the frantic scribbling for a trip to the British Museum's Hadrian exhibition. Being in the old reading room and with similar low lighting, it immediately bore comparison with the First Emperor show last year.

This one seems to have fewer actual exhibits, or at least no single artefacts that are quite so huge. But the interpretation is very good indeed. Whereas the First Emperor failed to ask – or diplomatically body-swerved – awkward questions about the megalomania of the subject, the (lack of) legacy and more bothersome aspects, Hadrian seems all about the tricky stuff.

A sizeable chunk is devoted to what the Roman's did for us: we seem to have inherited their wars, their economics and their architecture. Models and images of the Pantheon in Rome sat beneath the dome of the museum's Reading Room, making that inheritance plain.

It's also good on the economics, explaining how the Empire needed to expand to continue supplying the hungry city at its centre. Trade and war, and the state of the Empire as a whole, were in large part influenced by its over-dependence on oil (in Roman times, olive oil). As the Empire over-stretched itself, became dependent on all the fingers it had in foreign pies, the whole thing starts to unravel. It's (intentionally) very easy to see the links between the maps and politics of Hadrian's day and our own, and maybe even fore-taste our own decline.

The unnerving similarity of the maps of disputed borders and trouble spots then with those in our papers today suggests that nothing's changed in the last 2,000 years. One group of fellow visitors seemed to take this as reason just to shrug our shoulders at the Middle East. But what it really underlines is how the modern borders of a lot of these countries were decided by classical scholars who acted as if time had stood still.

But it's not all about what we owe the Romans. I was pleasantly surprised by the emphasis on global context.
“The Roman Empire did not exist in isolation. The Satavahana in India and the Eastern Han in China were both powerful empires of similar importance. Rome had links with both of them. At Rome's eastern border, in modern-day Iran and Iraq, was the Parthian Empire.”

Caption in the British Museum's Hadrian exhibition.

It was also good exploring the historiography, how we know anything about Hadrian, explaining the scant and bitty sources and the biases of those that wrote them. While the First Emperor presented a totality of story, Hadrian sign-posts the gaps, explicitly acknowledging that our knowledge is built up from fragments.

Picked up plenty of top facts as I nosed round. Such as that a clanking bit of dialogue from The Twin Dilemma, “May my bones rot”, seems to derive from a Jewish curse on Hadrian after the suppression of the revolt in Jerusalem.

The exhibition's family guide entirely neglects to mention Antinous – apart from his name being on the floor plan. The Dr suggested this isn't really an exhibition for kids anyway, but it also seems a bit timid for the notes to ignore such a major part of the show. Antinous was Hadrian's pretty Greek lover, and appears in all sorts of costumes and hairstyles.

The information panels explain the different attitudes to sex in Roman times – the general wheeze seeming to be that a respectable fellow would not a) shag married women and b) get shagged himself. But there's also lots on the court politics and intrigues of the Emperor having such a pretty favourite. And I found the aftermath of Antinous's death fascinating, too. (He threw himself / fell / got shoved into the Nile on a boat trip.)
“The Antinous Cult
Literary sources tell us that Hadrian was profoundly affected by Antinous's death and mourned him with unusual intensity. While Hadrian did not pass any official decree ordering Antinous's deification, he gave encouragement to those who wanted to make Antinous the object of a new cult. Shortly after his lover's death, Hadrian founded a new city on the banks of the Nile and named it Antinoopolis. He built a large temple and set up festival in Antinous's memory. Other Greek cities began to establish their own cults and festivals in honour of Antinous, led by local and senatorial leaders, who wished to express their loyalty to Rome and to Hadrian. The cult became popular among the common people where it seems to have competed with Christianity.”


NB the assumptions in that, the the political, pragmatic reasons for a religion flourishing. It was not unusual for an ordinary mortal to find themselves deified, and their ordinariness quickly appeals to the masses. For all the talk of loyalty to Rome, surely Antonius's appeal to the Greek cities who worshipped him was his having been Greek.

So you've got some ordinary, non-Roman geezer turned into a God because it serves a useful purpose to the politicking of the day. It happened to be the Emperor's dead gay lover, but it might just as well have been anyone.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yeah, but dogs - - from space!

The new issue of Doctor Who's Magazine has just arrived, full of fantastic stuff. It also makes mention of a few things I have been involved in.

The Judgement of Isskar – my Doctor Who audio play out in January – guest stars Raquel Cassidy (Jack Dee's wife in Lead Balloon) as the Lady Mesca. The plays that follow mine in the Key 2 Time are by my chums Jonathan and Peter, and feature David Troughton and Lalla Ward.

Also out in January is my The Prisoner's Dilemma, and there's a picture my ugly mug on page 44, lurking behind some beautiful people. Davy's feature includes some sage wisdom of mine on the two Companion Chronicles I've written.

(Incidentally, Davy's website includes an exclusive interview with Rona Munro, which includes him asking about the slow-mo lesbo pussy-cat chase (1.57 into this excerpt) in her Doctor Who story, Survival. Yes, I was one of the "three straight men" who wanted him to ask about the subtext.)

Vanessa Bishop seems generally pleased with the audio version of The Pirate Loop, feeling Freema Agyeman is on good form chatting badgers up at the bar.

And it's also announced that I'm writing another Doctor Who novel featuring David Tennant's tenth Doctor. The Slitheen Excursion is out next spring.

Me on a Slitheen excursion

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

40 long

Just back from a shopping trip to buy a linen suit. I used to have a linen suit, but it was one of the things that got pinched by burglars in 2003. Being the strangely tall sort of fellow that I am, either the culprit was an Ourang-Outang or they just liked the fancy suit bag. So this morning my sister - the tailor - and her friend S. accompanied me round lots of shops telling me what to do.

We tried Moss Bros and Marks and High and Mighty and The Suit Company and John Lewis, and maybe some other ones as well, but ultimately Next had a 40 long jacket and matching 34 long trousers. I tell myself the £110 is some kind of investment.

Despite the longness of the clothes, they still need adjusting. This is due to my Ourang-Outang genes topped up with lashings of monkey serum. The sister is going to unpick the hems and do some clever sewing. But how exciting to discover that we had such problems finding the right sizes because I'm otherwise quite a fashionable shape.

Scribbled several pages of incomprehensible nonsense into my notebook on the way and way back, which I now need to hack away into the computer before rushing off to another engagement. But in the meantime, my friend R. (whose innards I stole for Markwood in The Lost Museum) sent me this:

Niloc Semaj, time traveller

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monsters and dinosaurs

On Saturday, I had a whole day of not writing. Instead, I met up with seven of the authors of How The Doctor Changed My Life, plus Paul who runs the Big Finish website, four loyals WAGs and a baby. We talked eloquently at Paul's microphone and trundled round the Doctor Who exhibition at Earls Court, and then fell into the pub.

It was a fantastic day, from watching all the parents revealing the great surprise of where they'd been dragged to of a morning, to the splendid gang of writers, keen and friendly and all bolstering each other - not at all the jadded, bitter hacks they're destined to become. I had such a nice lunch I lost track of time and suddenly a whole day had gone by. Hooray!

Rob McCow reports some of our antics, and I'll post photos and more details when the podcast is up on the BF site - in around a month or so.

We'd hoped J. would be able to join us, but some last minute insanity meant he's stuck in the US. Yesterday, we entertained his dad, who could make it out of the country. The Dr did roast chicken and we nattered on about leftie politics and went for a nose round the local monsters.

Me being a monster

Later, the Dr and J's dad went to the Globe for the last night of King Lear, and I stayed in to work. And work. And work. Finished getting on for eleven when the Dr rolled home.

More work today. Have written 6,329 words of something and proofed something else. Not nearly where I should be, so on we plod. And tomorrow I have appointments all over London, so will be cramming words into the gaps in between.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Put him in the curry

With the Dr away in the Darkest North at the moment – apparently teasing her Dad about his becoming a Writer – I made tea for a few chums last night.

I learnt my famous curry recipe while in Spain in 1996 visiting my senior brother. I assumed he was working to some carefully ordained plan, but apparently he'd just made it up there and then. I took careful note and when I got to home to Preston (where I was a student) tried to recreate it.

However, there's a translation error in the raw equipment. Preston's fine supermarkets didn't seem to do certain basic Spanish fare such as tins of tomato frito – now so beloved of Delia. So I improvised. And as a result found a magic ingredient.

No, it's not cough syrup ( a clever reference to the Simpsons).

Last night's pore-opening extravaganza also needed to be without meat or mushrooms if it were going to please my guests. So it consisted of: an onion; a small potato; an aubergine (cut up, salted, washed); two courgettes; red pepper; green pepper; broccoli; one tin of kidney beans; one tin of plum tomatoes; garlic; a dash of chilli; garam masala...

And a large tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup. Yes, that's what gives the thing its sumptuous, plush delight. Bwah ha ha, etc.

I was also much complimented on my fluffy rice. The trick is to let it have loads of time, and lots and lots of water. In fact, I have a full kettle on standby to keep topping it up.

M. also brought pudding so we didn't even touch the ice cream. I am now off to hit the machines to work off some of this feasting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

There's a new and deadly danger facing us

The Restoration Team who make old-skool Doctor Who look pretty, have released a fantasto-brilliant trailer for their next DVD release.

"The War Machines" (1966) was the first of a new kind of Doctor Who, a cool and contemporary invasion of London more like the show of the 70s - or now - than a typical first Doctor adventure. William Hartnell is at his bad-ass best facing down the robot monsters. (Though I also love his manic gurning when he takes a nuisance phonecall).

The story sees the newly opened Post Office Tower taken over by an evil computer, who can, get this, TALK TO OTHER COMPUTERS BY TELEPHONE! I have spoken before in more detail of Doctor Who and Computers:
The Doctor fights to save the fashionable, modern people of London from a computer virus spreading down the telephone line. Today, computer viruses are a common blight in our lives, continually costing companies a fortune and getting in the way of us emailing our pals. What’s more, the virus here hypnotises humans, and is the first stage in a programme to make the species extinct. The Doctor fights to save humanity from the aggressor. [...]

WOTAN’s virus working on humans isn’t so unfeasible. Neal Stephenson’s modern tech novel “Snow Crash” makes the same plot a plausible threat to the computer industry, something portrayed as a real-world danger, rather than the funky, modish fantasy it seemed in 1966. It’s not the computer the Doctor has problems with – in fact, he seems quite impressed with it. It’s WOTAN’s invasive, misanthropic plans the Doctor finds “evil”. That, and it referring to him as “Doctor Who”.

It’s also interesting that part of WOTAN’s plan is ultimate global domination – and not just NW1, as it seems onscreen. Though WOTAN may seem quaint and clunky now, compared to what was going on in the real world at the same time, it was pretty cutting edge technology. Made-up, but cutting edge.

What we know today as the Internet first appeared in recognisable form in 1969. Four computers were connected to the ARPANET – though the very first user got as far as the letter ‘G’ when trying to LOGIN before the system crashed.

It was created on the understanding that a network of connected computer stations would survive, say, a nuclear strike. One of the system’s multiple locations might be destroyed, but the others would continue. This was back in the days when nuclear war was a major concern, and the system was only going to be used by the military and academics – for purposes far more worthy than episode guides and pornography.

As a result, there wasn’t exactly a rush to join up. By 1971, the system was connected to 15 computers. The first email programme was written the following year. And in 1973 ARPANET went international – connecting to a computer at University College London (just down the road from WOTAN).

At this point in the Doctor Who universe, the best technical minds were a little further ahead.
WOTAN is also, of course, responsible for the dystopian future of my first novel, Doctor Who and the Time Travellers (a sort of first Doctor Turn Left). I sometimes dream luridly of a similarly fast-cutting trailer, mashing up explosions round Canary Wharf train station with the horror-struck faces of the first TARDIS crew.

So this may be the third Droo DVD in a row I am compelled to purchase. Doctor Who is required.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Batsha sengathi yizibhanxa

Hooray for my cousin G, who asked a favour of a waiter on my behalf. I now have the opening line of something mammoth I am writing.

Well, not exactly mammoth but along the same lines.

And no, none of this means anything to you, dear reader. But right now it's everything to me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ere I am JH

Oh lucky you. Here's another of those sort of posts.

This morning I delivered a 4,400-word short story for something that's not yet been announced and then plodded on with the freelance gig that will pay for my new bathroom. The gig ends tomorrow and I'm well within sight of the finish line. But it's been laborious and fiddly for the last month, and devoured the insides of my brain. My neighbours downstairs drilling six days a week has not exactly assisted.

Also organised a trip to see something next week related to something that's not yet been announced either. (Though I notice there's an image on the internet where you can't quite read my name - no, I'm not going to link to it.) The thing in question is my next major hurdle, and what remains of it gets my full-time attention from Wednesday.

I've set myself pretty protestant targets for getting it all done, but really the problem is that age-old one of writing, where you can resist anything but skiving. I distract myself with expert aplomb, so tend to get tetchy if anyone else muscles in. The Dr has wisely foreseen the oncoming ogre and will be off to visit her People later on this week.

I have allowed myself nights out and adventures so long as I get through my daily amount. There will be drinks and maybe even a curry to keep the grey cells on target. On Saturday I'm doing a thing for Big Finish which will all be revealed in time.

So blogging – and meals and going to the toilet – will have to be fitted around this word ethic, at least for the next three weeks.

After that, I have something else to finish that's still awaiting the official announcing – my spies tell me that'll be in just more than a fortnight. I'm away a fair bit in September as well, so it all needs fitting round and in between. And then I'd quite like the taste of some holiday.

Though two regular gigs have both been in touch asking when I am free... And I promised myself I'd write my own, original novel before the end of the year. And there's that's spec TV script to force into some kind of shape...

So what the hell. Me and the Dr are off to Mallorca early next year to some place where we can't see or do work. And later this year I'm hoping to get up to see some chums and some castles in Scotland. And there's some work-related things to get along to, if only the details sort out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

That fits

Me and Nimbos brave the elementsNimbos, the Dr and I braved the grey drizzle yesterday for a nose round Battersea Power Station – which is open to the public at the moment while Real Estate Opportunities and Treasury Holdings UK attempt to get backing for a major transformation of the site.

I love a nose round buildings like this. My freelance efforts have got me into various bars and back corridors of the Palace of Westminster and other government buildings. I've been on the top floor of 1 Canada Square in Canary Wharf and on the roof and in the basement of posh Eltham Palace. And then there's all the poking about behind closed doors that's part of Open House. It's something the Dr's got me into – her chief delight is in getting into bits of museums and historical sites not normally open to the public.

Battersea is one of the icons of the London skyline. It's the cover to Pink Floyd's album Animals and the factory churning out Cybermen in recent Doctor Who. (It also appeared in 1964's Dalek Invasion of Earth, with a nuclear power facility grafted on.)

I pass the power station on the train into town. And I got pretty close to it during my corporate parasite days when a client took me to see Cirque du Soleil who'd erected their tent just in front of it. But yesterday's day trip was something else.

The Grade 2* listed building covers a bit more than six acres – one of the largest brick buildings in Europe. The hand-out says that:

“construction of the steel frame commenced in 1929 with Battersea A completed in 1935 and Battersea B, despite the war, coming into service in 1944 with the fourth chimney completed in 1955 ... Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Bankside power station (Tate Modern) and the red telephone box was appointed architect of Battersea Power Station in 1930.”

The ginormous, functional edifice is full of lovely features. The brickwork include art deco pleats and fiddly bits. Turbine Hall A – the first of two stops on the tour – is still panelled with Italian marble, like some vast tiled bathroom. The tiles have a practical purpose in being easy to keep clean, but they also have a sparkling, palatial effect. Apparently, “despite the war-time shortage, stainless steel was used for Battersea B Auxilary Control Room”.

At it's height, Battersea generated 509 megawatts – a fifth of London's power and about half the output of a modern nuclear power plant. The excess heat was ducted out to heat 11,000 homes in Pimlico across the river. Battersea A ran for 42 years, ceasing generation in 1975. Battersea B wound up its efforts in 1983.

And since then... nothing. There have been plots and plans for years, but the place has been left to moulder and decay. One owner in the intervening years criminally took the roof off the central Boiler House as the start of renovation works that never followed on, and the weather and elements got in.

HoleYesterday's drizzle and misery matched the sorry state of the once mighty powerhouse. It's a whacking great metaphor in red brick and steel, a temple to the dead king Ozymandias. The great windows are broken, there are huge gouges in the walls. It's like peeking round a ruined cathedral, the dissolution only just done.

At convenient stopping places on the route stood CGI suggestions of how the view might be transformed. There are shops and cafes, offices and homes, an extension to the Northern line and routes for bikes and walkers. In the empty space south of the station itself they hope to construct a vast and green eco-dome, underneath an enormous chimney that – they say – generates all the power for the complex naturally and cleanly.

The design has a Ken Adam feel about it. Or perhaps that's just my response to any grand design effort with curves and circles in it, that is BIG and MAD and COOL. It's an extraordinary, boggling prospect. But then any use of this kind of huge space and iconic site has to be a bit loopy to justify bothering in the first place. And it's far more exciting than just luxury flats and offices, which has been the lot of several other bold architectural efforts in the capital.

I wondered if this strange, impossible-seeming prospect was how it must have seemed to people after the Great Fire in 1666. That had seen the final end of an old church across the river, one used for years as a stable. And there would be young Chris Wren ranting on to anyone who'd listen: “And then on top of that there'll be this fuck-off dome!”

Nimbos pointed out Wren would have gunpowdered any last remnant of the old building before starting work on his replacement. The wheeze of the thinking here is to support and build upon the physical and metaphysical pre-existing structure.

Turbine Hall AWe followed the path to the first viewpoint, a view into Turbine Hall A. Security guards stood dolefully in the rain or what passed for shelter, all smiles and welcome despite the gloom. One explained she had only just finished a four-day stint under heavy sunshine at some music festival in Cambridge. Now she got to shiver all day in a chilly wind tunnel, the sight of visitors glooping through the rain and gravel in their flip-flops only making her feel more cold.

Italian marbleWe marvelled at the huge space and potential, and then the sumptuous if dirt-smudged Italian marble still dazzling the vast walls. We took turns to poke lenses through the wire fence, trying to snap all the details for our various architect chums.

Then, back out into the rain and gale, venturing round the building to what they hope will one day be a riverside walk. The wire fence kept us away from the gravelly spoil heaps – with warnings of rats and monsters – and we took shelter behind three porter loos to grab another bunch of snaps.

Cranes and the view that's not in Doctor WhoI asked the Dr to snap the north side of the Thames, to show how different the trees and blocks of flats are to the same spot in an alternative universe where Doctor Who and his friends dared to stop the Cybermen. Not sure you can really see this pedantic point in the drizzly pictures.

Boiler HouseThen we poked our noses into the Boiler House, a vast space now open to the air. Again there were telling fragments of its former majesty – the vivid pale blue of what once had been stairwells, struts and supports that had once been different levels.

Stairwells and things visible in the ruin of the Boiler House

If the team get planning permission next year, it'll then be another decade before the thing's completed. It's a bold, exciting project, a fine two fingers flicking at the threat of economic hardship. Perhaps it's an all-mighty long shot. But Battersea (and Pink Floyd) long ago showed us that pigs can fly.

Thence to Liadnan and Pashazade's engagement soiree, where I met many new and lovely people, bored them too much about things Droo, and drank rather too much beer. Hooray!

ETA: Churchill Gardens, the estate on the river opposite Battersea, featured in Britain From Above last night.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"A lion covered in bees!!"

OlympiaWatched some of the spectacular Olympic Games opening ceremony while smashing my limbs against the machines in the gym. Say what you like about despotic tyrannies, they know how to put on a show.

The gym has four flat-screen tellies lined up together, and the Chinese movement and dance effort, symbolic of world peace and love, played out next to footage of the tanks rolling into South Ossetia. Do you think they did that on purpose?

Incidentally, we're not supposed to refer to "the Olympics" as to "the Olympic Games". I know because I once had someone ring up from the IOC brand Stasi to yell at me about it. Only afterwards did it occur to me that they should really be the IOGC.

The new issue of the DFC marks the occasion with their own Olympics - including a million-mile marathon and a "beard of bees contest", which Brian Blessed wins. It's an absolute delight of a strip, with top gags in every panel. And there's even a bit of politics, in there...
"A small insignificant town somewhere foreign-sounding has been flattened ... A huge mega-lo-sport-o-domeo had been constructed on the site... And the greatest athletes in the world have been forcibly rounded up..."

Jamie Smart, The DFC Olympics, The DFC #11 (Friday 8 August 2008), p. 3.

Speaking of sports, my current toilet reading informs me of the fantastic fact that the England football team was founded in 1870 and played it's first international (against Scotland) in 1872.
"They did not lose at home against a European team until they were beaten 6-3 by Hungary in 1953 - eighty-one years after their first international. England lost the return match in Budapest the following year 7-1, the team's heaviest defeat to this day."

Nicholas Hobbes, England - 1000 Things You Need To Know, p.426.

It's also the Hugo Awards this evening. Best of luck to Paul and Steven.

The Guardian - the only paper I'm aware of that even knows what Hugos are - says Paul is "hotly tipped". I hope that means they think he's going to win. But perhaps they know him more intimately than I do.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lions are frightened of helicopters

Or at least they were 40 years ago. A fun new collection of BBC archive films and documents on aerial journeys (clearly nothing at all to do with Britain from Above) includes a letter from John Betjeman on 30 September 1968.

In it he's miffed that the BBC have been using his name to get permission for filming impressive swoops over Englishmen's homes (the film itself is also in the archive) when he hadn't yet agreed to narrate the programme.

I love the implicit details in this: the Beeb steamrolling ahead even before the bits of paper have been signed; Betjeman as a man with pals living in stately homes; and the madcap image of an incident at Longleat:
"Today Lord Bath tells me that his partner Jimmy Chipperfield almost died of a heart attack 'when the helicopter went over the lion and giraffe reserve, as it scared the bloody animals out of their wits, and he thought they would all escape.'"

John Betjeman, letter to BBC producer Edward Mirzoeff, 30 September 1968 – BBC Archive.

There's a great wealth of other programmes and documents to sift through (even when you should be working), and it's only a couple of weeks since they posted up all the Dad's Army stuff that made the news.

I should probably declare an interest in that the Dr has done a bit of work for the archive team. But how can you not delight in these things? I've been specifically employed to write things requiring oodles of research, and it's a joy to uncover odd connections and morsels of strange fact.

Sometimes an incongruous detail is the hook for the whole of your story. I got asked to write Doctor Who meets Oliver Cromwell in Ireland, which was never go to being much fun. I needed a way in, a way for the Doctor to have an impact without changing – or belittling – the real and awful history. And then, in the reading it turns out that the physician accompanying Oliver Cromwell's army to Ireland was later a founder member of the Royal Society. And if he does that as a result of the Doctor having a word in his ear, suddenly I have a story...

You understand why people get so hot under the collar when historical dramas and documentaries have skimped on their research. The past is often so much stranger, darker, madder and better than that. Yes, you have to trawl through it to pick out the good stuff, but the exercise is well worth it.

And George Orwell's blog is starting just tomorrow. That'll certainly help with my current regime of 5,000 words per day.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Colour supplement

A couple of people have emailed to say they found this 'ere blog difficult to read, and blamed the colour scheme rather than my wittering. It's been a while since I last mucked about with the look of this thing, so I have had a tinker.

Fear not, I might tinker more.

My copies of the audio version of the Pirate Loop have arrived and I'm delighted with it. There's a review of it by Richard McGinlay on Sci-fi-online, and I agree with him that the pirate-space badgers and Mrs Wingsworth are "brilliantly conveyed by reader Freema Agyeman".

McGinlay also says that the audio book is aimed at younger readers. The same assertion is made by Joe Ford in his review of the paper version, in what's generally a favourable review.
"I do get the strange impression that Simon Guerrier (a dead cert for quality after all the grand work he has done with the Bernice series over at Big Finish) wishes he could make this darker and more horrific, but he does a good job of that even with the playful atmosphere he has to maintain so as not to upset the kids too much."
Um, I really didn't wish anything of the sort. The idea was to do something very different from my last one, something gleeful and not bleak. If anything, my bosses had to stop me getting too silly... Yes, there were originally even more stupid jokes and references.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Well, duh

The BBC news is reporting that a man found in a bed at his Lancashire home is believed to have lain undiscovered for more than two years.
"Neighbours said Mr Dean was rarely seen and was a private person."

Slap! Bang!

Until last night I'd never been inside the Albert Hall.

My first thought was “bad CGI” - it's such a huge place inside, oval and somehow wrong to the eye. The Dr took great delight in pointing out the madder Victorian bits: the huge dome, the various baffles and barrage balloons that mend the acoustics, the plinths of esteemed Victorians and Edwardians dotted about the place.

We were there to see Prom 25: Wagenaar's overture to Cyrano de Bergerac, Dvořák's Symphony No.6 in D major and – the bit the Dr bought the tickets for - Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major, featuring an extraordinary performance by Julia Fischer on violin, twirling and twisting about like a dervish as she did the more fiddly bits.

Blimey, it was good. Bumped into a similarly awe-struck Liadnan after, and then went and had pancakes for tea.

Oh, and before all that we found our way into the Britten Theatre for part of the Proms Literary Festival. My mate Matthew Sweet was discussing Victorian music hall with critic John Sutherland and the actor Michael Kilgarriff. Kilgarriff had the audience singing along to two old music hall numbers, and you can hear our paltry efforts on Night Waves on Radio 3 on Thursday.

(Doctor Who fans will be pleased to note that the Giant Robot / Cyber-Controller spoke of working alongside Arc of Infinity's President Borusa. We heard a hissy recording of Leonard Sachs introducing variety acts with some alarmingly alliterative eloquence. And I'd thought Matthew, in his introduction, was being Henry Gordon Jago.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Atlatl and Jodrell Bank

The Dr came home from work last night with a fun top fact. Woomera - the Australian home to the British rocketships during the 1950s and 60s, and famous for looking right through the Vogan demolition fleet in the first episode of Hitchhiker - is named after device the Eora people there used for lobbing things.

How marvellous. It's like called Cape Canaveral "Trebuchet" or "Firework".

Monday, August 04, 2008

Judge me by my sighs, do you?

A poster on the DoctorWhoforum has been asking about Doggles - a character I created for the Bernice Summerfield adventure Something Changed.
A young Cahlian scratched at his armpit as he stared back at Bernice.

She looked quickly away. The man came towards her. Humanoid, with fiery coloured skin, Cahlians were often immaculate. This one, though, could have slept in his clothes. There were stains down the front of his shirt where he'd spilled several meals. He needed a shave, and to brush his hair, and to wash on a more regular basis. She looked anywhere but in his direction. Still he kept coming.

'Professor Summerfield?' he said. His smile was disarming, radiant. Without wanting to, Bernice smiled back.

'Benny,' she said. 'Mr Dog-less?'

'Doggles is better,' he said. 'Like "goggles".'

'I'm sorry,' she said, cursing Braxiatel. He'd set her up for this. He could at least have got the man's name right. Though he might have done this on purpose, to break the ice between them. Damn him. It was the last thing she needed.'"

Er, me, in "Inappropriate Laughter", Something Changed, p. 7.

(There's a PDF of all of Inappropriate Laughter on the Big Finish website.)

I then brought the character back in my audio play Summer of Love. And Steven Wickham's glorious performance so tickled me and director Edward Salt that Doggles then featured in pretty much all of the next year's Benny. But, as the forum poster said, the audio plays never actually told us what he looked like.

(There are some people who dip in and out of Benny's adventures, there are people who only do the audios, there are people getting through the stuff in no particular order, and people who follow every possible installment with intimidating interest.)

Oddly, as I said on the forum in reply, it's tricky having people on audio tell you what somebody looks like. With lumbering alien Hass and floating football Joseph, you can have sound effects as they talk and move about, and you mention things like their pincers or sense fields to help the listener build up a picture. But Doggles is a red-skinned Cahlian devil, and Benny's so right-on and colourblind that sort of thing probably doesn't even occur to her. I did try to shoehorn a description into the dialogue but it never sat quite right. And all you really need to know is that he's humanoid (with, we presume from Summer of Love, all the appropriate physical accessories) and a bit of an oaf.

It occurs to me now what a lovely, leftie utopia the audio medium is. No one's defined by what they look like, only by what they say and do.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Comforting when worn close to the skin

Nimbos got me two books for my birthday in June, a proper reading book and one for the toilet.

The latter, Nicholas Hobbes's England - 1000 Things You Need To Know is a whole mash up of facts and figures, and quite a lot of lists. The lists - of English Nobel prize-winners or bridges by Brunel - are a bit... lacking in excitement. But there's plenty of top facts and insights along the way, too.

For example, I already knew that wool had been such a major part of the English economy that the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords sits on a comfy woolsack. These days the woolsack is stuffed with wool from all across the Commonwealth.

But I didn't know this little gem:
"Under a statute of 1556, anyone caught 'owling' - smuggling wool to France in the night - would have their left hand cut off and nailed up on display in a public place. Under George I, in the eighteenth century, this was changed to seven years' transportation."

Nicholas Hobbes, England - 1000 Things You Need To Know, p. 355.

Annoyingly, sources for this stuff are rarely given, and I'd also have liked some kind of "Further Reading" section, to help follow up on my favourite morsels. But it's a great toilet book, just as Nimbos thought it might be. And full of top facts I can pinch for my own writing.

I've set myself the target of writing a complete first draft of a short story today. It currently consists of several pages of notes in my notebook, so I should probably get on with it now...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Grey namer

Pirate Loop audioVery rightly, writers of things tend only to get copies of them after the shops and subscribers. So I've not yet received my copies of the audio version of Doctor Who and the Pirate Loop, read by the lovely Freema Agyeman and available now in all good shops.

Kudos to clever Steve Tribe who abridged my complex nonsense. I had the privilege and pleasure of reading his abridgment, and he's done wonders in cutting it down by 50% - that's every other word! - and still having it make sense. In fact, it probably makes more sense than my original effort did.

Popping round to R.'s house last night to swap some DVDs, I got to listen to the opening. And - hooray! - she pronounces my silly name just perfectly. Geh (with a hard "g") - ree - uh. In fact, if I had any kind of technical know-how I would make a little loop of just that bit and play it all the time.

Having a distinctive name is good for this self-commodifying lark. (Self-commodification is something I learned about in the Mid-Victorian Literature module of my degree at Preston.) I seem to be the only Simon Guerrier on Google, and the only one on Facebook.

In fact, just this morning a girl I was at primary school with got in touch having decided it had to be me. Well, I say "girl". She is winning in the having-kids-and-dogs stakes.

I used to be very bothered by people mispronouncing my name. And now I don't really care as long they give it a good go. And don't add letters that clearly aren't there, like the man who seemed to insist on it being "Pru era" even when I corrected him.

My favourite is call centre folks who are reading from a script, and are already into their spiel before they smack bang into the all-Huguenot monicker. "Good afternoon," they say, all breezy, "is that Mr -" You hear the brakes come on too late, a sharp in-take of breath. They take a run-up and just try to say it quickly, in the hope that I won't notice.

Anyway. After all that, I'm rubbish at getting people's names right - remembering them is hard enough, let alone saying them correctly. And you will be able to hear me get lovely Sophie Aldred's name wrong - and to her face - on an extra little thing we did for The Prisoner's Dilemma, when it comes out in January. Whoops.

For the record, Aldred is of course pronounced "McShane".

Friday, August 01, 2008

The eleventh Doctor?

There are, I am aware, a lot of people for whom Christopher Eccleston is the first Doctor Who, not the ninth (or one of several ninth Doctors). There are even people who think that Doctor Who is and always was David Tennant. And there are those who know that there is much lore and legend in old-skool Who, of which only fans who were there in the Dark Times can speak truly.

S., for example, asks:
"So - Doctor Who's last 'reincarnation': does that count as a real one? How does this affect the stated limit of reincarnations?

I want to know."
Well more fool you.

I don't think this counts as his tenth regeneration; he seems to stop the process mid-way by siphoning off the energy into his discarded hand. The blue-suited Doctor is an amalgam of that energy and Donna, rather than an eleventh Doctor. He can't regenerate, so presumably brown-suited, fully Time Lord Doctor is yet to become the eleventh Doctor. I suppose Blue Suit is Doctor 10a.

But is David Tennant even the tenth Doctor? Ignoring Richard E Grant's web adventure as the ninth Doctor, or even where Peter Cushing fits in, the TV series hasn't always been sure. In The Brain of Morbius (1976) we seem to glimpse images of five Doctors prior to William Hartnell's "first" Doctor - men in Doctorish costume who bear a startling resemblance to various members of the then production team. (Some speculate that these images are not of the Doctor but of Morbius, who is also a Time Lord. I think that's willfully ignoring how the scene plays.)

Yet the Five Doctors (1983) has Peter Davison's Doctor refer to himself as the "fourth" regeneration - so he is the fifth Doctor, whatever the Brain of Morbius might think.

The first we knew of a limit on regenerations was The Deadly Assassin (1976), when the Master has run out of them and is trying to extend his life. It's established that Time Lords regenerate 12 times so have 13 lives. Later in the series the Master steals people's bodies - Anthony Ainley played him in the 1980s, and Eric Roberts in the 1996 TV movie.

The cap on 12 regenerations was also a feature of Mawdryn Undead (1983). But that story was about aliens who had stolen Time Lord technology so they could give themselves the powers of regeneration. Which implies it is something that is "given" to Time Lords, rather than something they are born with. (How Time Lords are born is another long and tricky subject).

And yet later in 1983, in The Five Doctors, the Time Lords offer the Master a "complete new regenerative cycle" in return for his help. Which implies Time Lords can be topped up. Indeed, last year's Jacobi-Simm regeneration seems pretty much identical to the Eccleston-Tennant one, so is presumably the same regular process - implying the Master got new lives. Note that when he dies as John Simm, he chooses not to regenerate. There's no implication that he can't.

Which all means there's an easy precedent for whenever whoever is playing the 13th Doctor decides to do something else. If they even mention the cap on 12 regenerations, the Doctor can just be awarded new lives by the Shadow Proclamation, or find them in a cupboard or something.

That said, the whole point of The Brain of Morbius and The Five Doctors is that eternal life is as much a curse as a blessing, something the new series has made quite a deal of too.

I bet you wish you hadn't asked now.


A couple of additions to the lay out of this 'ere blog. There's now a great long list on the right of other blogists what I read. At least, the ones I can remember I read. Shout if I've forgotten you.

And also, there is now a Nothing Tra La La? blog page on Facebook. Sign up and join merriment.