Friday, April 30, 2010

Dahling again

Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger was one of my favourite books as a kid, mostly because I could read it in a single sitting. With illustrations, it's a mere 57 pages. I read it this time over a cup of tea.

The unnamed girl narrating is a proto-Matilda, with magic abilities that allow her to enact revenge on the horrid people around her. She turns nasty teacher Mrs Winter into a cat, and the Gregg family - who like shooting - into ducks. It's a simple reversal, told with delicious glee.

Esio Trot seems to be Dahl's last book, published after his death. It's a similarly slim, one-cup-of-tea volume, and altogether something more odd. Mr Hoppy fancies Mrs Silver in the flat downstairs but can't pluck up the courage to say so. Mrs Silver has a beloved tortoise, Alfie, who she worries is not big enough. So Mr Hoppy concocts a convoluted scheme to make Mrs Silver think Alfie is growing.

Dahl explains in a caveat that this story "happened in the days when anyone could go out and buy a nice little tortoise from a pet-shop", back before the government stopped traders who "used to cram hundreds of [tortoises] tightly into the packing-crates without food or water and in such horrible conditions that a great many of them always died on the sea-journey over."

Yet it still seems a bit cruel, Mr Hoppy buying a whole bunch of tortoises of different sizes just to fool the woman he fancies. The tortoises might not mind - and they eat up the lettuce he gives them greedily and all live happily ever after. But there's still something uncomfortable about Mr Hoppy's plan. He tricks Mrs Silver into liking him.

This is a terrible cliche in stories and adverts for deodorant - that the way to a woman's heart is through subterfuge. It's not enough - as Mr Hoppy eventually does - to just stumble up to the lady in question and tell her that she's lovely. You need to contrive the Right Words and the Right Attitude and the Right Smell; you need to start lying to her from the start.

Something I read in the last few weeks (I've completely forgotten what) talked about the standard wheeze in masculine fiction being the chap winning the lady through adversity. He rescues her from a tower or a dragon, or survives a war. It makes getting together with a nice woman something decisive and acted, and suggests she gets no say in the matter. It happens too often in Bond films: Bond saves the day so the woman is his, without him ever winning her over himself.

Perish the thought that a woman might like you not because you stop villains or enlarge her tortoise (so to speak), but because she thinks you're nice.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three, Ten and Eleven

A few things to announce, excitingly. First, I've written for the eleventh Doctor Who. My four-page comic strip "Booked Up" appears in Doctor Who Adventures issue #164, available from tomorrow for a week. Artist John Ross has worked wonders on my silly script: I could not be more delighted.

Also just out is "Shadow of the Past", an audio "Companion Chronicle" featuring Caroline John as the third Doctor's chum Liz Shaw. Am thrilled at how it's come out - the cast and crew really going for the excitement and emotion. Hooray! As a bonus, you can hear me stumble through an interview at the end.

(ETA: Oh! And they've put up a trailer for "The Guardian of the Solar System", out in July. I know what happens but it still makes me tingly.)

And from May (next week!) you can download the audio version of "The Slitheen Excursion", featuring the tenth Doctor and his one-off companion June. This entirely unabridged version is read by Debbie Chazen, who was so splendid in The Smoking Room.

Doctor Who and the Slitheen Excursion, written by me and read by Debbie Chazen
On Sunday, the director of the audio book, Neil Gardner, and I will be speaking on "The Birth of Modern Doctor Who" at Sci-Fi London, along with other slebs. Do come along and join us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Volcano Day

It's grey and rainy in Glasgow today, so rather than gadding about at museums and getting a tan, I've stayed in my hotel room working. Not exactly working hard, but working. When the Dr gets back from being an important academic, we will go to the Willow Tea Rooms and then watch Doctor Who.

I escaped the hotel room earlier so the Nice Lady could make the bed and towels all tidy. The Nice Lady warned me to watch out for falling ash and hellfire, as the papers are warning its not good for your health to stand downwind of an explosion.

The hotel reception was packed full of airline cabin crew and other people all hoping desperately for rooms. It's the first sign of the fall-out from Iceland that I've seen (though apparently my brother and his family are also stranded in Crete, having a lovely time.)

Anyway, with the imminent prospect of death, I headed to the cathedral to see the Necropolis, which is apparenltly based on Pere Lachaise in Paris. It's high on a neatly-mowed hill overlooking the city, and suitably bleak and Mad Victorian. It pattered with rain as I nosed about. Other tourists check nervously to see it was only water. But I knew we were being watched over by a guardian angel, parked under the no parking sign just by the Necropolis gate...

TARDIS parked near the Necropolis in Glasgow 1
TARDIS parked near the Necropolis in Glasgow 2
TARDIS parked in the Necropolis in Glasgow 3
(There are also, of course, TARDES parked all over Glasgow. The Dr has taken pictures of me sulking by the fine example on Buchanan Street.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Joanna Briscoe can fuck off

"We, the war children's adult offspring routinely see shrinks, talk about our IVF (all those granny-alikes wheeling their girl-boy twins round can't really avoid confessing); air our sobbing psyches to the nation on reality TV or cut-you-into-shape shows, and blame it all on environment or poor attachment."

Joanna Briscoe, "Blissful denial - I'll drink to that", Guardian, 10 April 2010, p. 35.

No, we talk about our IVF because of the stupid, cruel and idiotic things said about it by sneery fucking shitsacks like you.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Game over

The IVF didn't work. Me and the Dr can't have our own kids.

It's not unexpected - the odds were always stacked against us - but it's still a cricket bat in the face. And it's also weirdly a relief. This cycle has been really, really tough. With building work at King's, we were being seen by two hospitals and there were delays and hold-ups and confusion. Can't help picking over every detail - would we have done better if we'd been in one place, if we'd not had to ferry eggs across town by taxi, if they'd not kept the Dr on the drugs two weeks longer than expected... At the very least these things didn't help (and often they felt cruel). But the bottom line is that the drugs didn't have the effect that we hoped for.

We're not going to try it again. The Dr doesn't respond well enough to the drugs, and the side effects are harrowing just to watch. We vowed before this cycle that we'd only continue if we saw an improvement on last time and we ended up doing worse.

So, game over. After nearly five years of tests and procedures, we have come to the end.

We've both been working, trying to keep ourselves busy and not to collapse on what this all means. Am finding it hard to care about rewrites and pitching. Went to a workshop on "pervasive media" yesterday and was okay until the bar bit at the end where I found I'd lost all powers of small-talk.

Instead we went out with a couple of other, barren friends and reintroduced the Dr to wine. Then I took her for a meal where she could glut on sea-food, which has also been off the menu for months. Good long chat about what we do next. For the first time in a year we can plan trips away together. (Going to be in Glasgow next week, and then there's Malta and maybe France and, we hope, America...)

Still not really up to seeing large groups of people. Still likely to cancel engagements at the last minute. And still closer now than we've ever been. Both feeling old and hollow and such loss.

But onwards. A summer of doing things and drinking. And then we try for adoption.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

My informed opinions

I've been added to the otherwise impressive line-up of guests at the Utopia Doctor Who convention at posh Heythorp Park Hotel over the weekend of 15-16 May. Think I'm there to stand next to Jean Marsh and flog lots of Sara Kingdom product. Do come along and say hi.

ETA: I'll also be at Sci-Fi London on 2 May for "The Birth of Modern Doctor Who". Very excited by the live Bernice Summerfield reading.

Also, here's what I wrote immediately after Saturday's Doctor Who and then fired off to the Sunday Herald. It appeared on page 3 the next day. (Typical: they want my smiley, happy views on important topics of the day, but not a smiley, topless picture.)
"So: immediate reactions on having just watched the new Doctor Who. The closing theme is still playing, my heart's hammering through my ribs and the wife and her friend Gemma are cackling away as they recall all the rude bits.

Matt Smith is immediately compelling as the Doctor, a fantastically funny and wild performance. We never know which way he'll go next – and neither, it seems, does he.

Karen Gillan's Amy manages to be smart and sexy and real, with a life and job and all sorts of friends and relations to ground in her that reality. She's as wary of the Doctor as she is entranced.

All those brilliant, simple ideas right out of a child's imagination – a crack in a bedroom wall, a small girl who has to wait, monsters with the wrong voices. The visceral terror of a monster you can only glimpse who's sneaking up behind you.

A script packed full of perfect jokes and details, crying out to be picked over again and again.

Patrick Moore! Amy not looking away when the Doctor puts his clothes on! The new TARDIS! All of it bold and new and full of promise and excitement. And yet still no shadow of a doubt that this is the same old man who first appeared through the London fog back in black-and-white and the sixties.

Awesome. Properly awesome, before the word got all devalued. Provoking awe and amazement and not a little fear.

There are people who don't like Doctor Who. Like people who get no joy from biscuits or balloons. How can you not have loved that? I feel like a kid again.

And what's even more exciting, the wife says that if I'm good there'll be more Doctor Who next week."

Sunday, April 04, 2010

He is risen

At Easter, we true disciples celebrate the resurrection of the saviour of mankind. And then over-earnestly debate the merits of bow-ties and the new theme tune.

There's a spoiler ahead for those who haven't yet seen last night's Doctor Who. I loved it and have said as much in today's Sunday Herald (think there'll be a web version later in the week).

The papers are all over the new show and seem generally to have fallen under its spell. Yesterday's Times supplement Playlist had this fun interview with Matt Smith. It's also got a very odd preview of the episode.

You'd think writer Andrew Billen might understand that while he gets to see the episode early, the ordinary mortals reading his paper on Saturday morning have to wait till the broadcast. Surely that's the whole point of there being a preview: he writes to whet our appetite. It shouldn't be difficult: tell us if it's worth watching and maybe what it's about. Try not to spoil the jokes and surprises, since that's why we'd bother to tune in.

And generally, it's an enthusiastic shout out to the "assured debut by Smith" as the Doctor in what's "the usual monster fest". And then...
"He is helped / hindered by a sassy young Scottish assistant, Karen Gillan's Amy Pond, who has met the time traveller as a child and has, spookily, her wedding dress all ready for their eventual nuptials."

Andrew Billen, David Chater's choices (sic), Playlist, April 3 2010, p. 28.

Billen spoils the final shot of the episode - a petty, dickish thing to do in itself - but hasn't understood it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Books finished, March 2010

Books I finished in March 2010
I have already blogged about James and the Giant Peach, Revolution in the Head and Fantastic Mr Fox. Will write up my notes on The Defence of the Realm - the Authorized History of MI5 when I've finished a few pressing bits of work. I'm reviewing Blonde Bombshell for Vector, so you'll have to wait for my important insights on it. Note I how write that like you care.