Thursday, March 30, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine #589

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine features interviews with the three directors of this year's forthcoming TV episodes, and has the results of the poll into the best First and Second Doctor adventures. The latter is the subject of my latest "Sufficient Data" infographic, illustrated as always by clever Ben Morris.

I also interviewed Moses Ogundeji, who explains what it means to be "best boy" on the new series recording at the moment. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Beautiful Shadow - A Life of Patricia Highsmith, by Andrew Wilson

I said in reviewing Martin Edwards' The Life of Crime last month that Patricia Highsmith had been "smuggling her snails in her bra." Edwards was quoting Andrew Wilson's 2003 biography of Highsmith, which a kind friend then sent me.

It's a fascinating story of a fascinating life. Highsmith is a complex, contradictory subject - on several occasions we're given completely different accounts of her, by turns cruel or kind, quiet or outspoken, fearful or bold. There are lots of reasons not to like her - the racism, the snobbery, the meanness with money when she was so wealthy. Yet understanding her background, her relationship (or lack of it) with her mother and her various struggles and heartbreaks makes this a compelling read.

There are all kinds of odd, striking moments. As well as the snails, there's her short-lived relationship with Tabea Blumenschein,

"the 25 year-old star and producer of the lesbian avant-garde pirate adventure Madame X" (p. 366).

Highsmith and Blumenschein spent six days together in a flat in Pelham Crescent, South Kensington, in May 1978 and at one point browsed the record shops. Blumenschein told Wilson that,

"Pat bought me the Stiff Little Fingers record" (p. 367),

presumably the band's debut single "Suspect Device" (released 4 February that year), before they went to dine with Arthur Koestler. The incongruity of that is even more striking when compared to Highsmith's selection the following year for Desert Island Discs: Bach (twice), Mahler and Mozart, and George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland".

A number of things made me begin to suspect that Highsmith was neurodiverse, and late on in the book her friend and neighbour Vivien De Bernardi told Wilson,

"In hindsight, I think Pat could have had a form of high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome. She had a lot of typical traits. She had a terrible sense of direction ... She was hypersensitive to sound and had these communication difficulties. Most of us screen certain things, but she would spit out everything she thought. She was not aware of the nuances of conversation and she didn't realise when she had hurt other people," (p. 394).

De Bernardi said this explains why Highsmith's relationships did not last; I think that's a bit glib - and that Highsmith may also have had some kind of attachment disorder, not helped by her (lack of) relationship with her mother. But I'm struck by De Bernardi's perspective of how this neurodiversity impacted Highsmith the writer:

"Although she didn't really understand other people - she had such a strange interior world - she was a fantastic observer. She would see things that an average person would never experience," (ibid).

Wilson has much to say about the content of and responses to Highsmith's lesbian novel The Price of Salt (1952), later republished as Carol and adapted into the acclaimed film. Highsmith originally published the book under a pseudonym and even when it went out in her own name was guarded in interviews about her sexuality. Often, people who knew Highsmith speak of her attitude to women as if from an outside perspective - as if she were a man. Wilson quotes Highsmith's own cahiers (notebooks) at great length, including a passage from 1942 that is ostensibly about other women and yet surely about herself.

"The Lesbian, the classic Lesbian, never seeks her equal. She is ... the soi-disant [self-styled] male, who does not expect his match in his mate, who would rather use her as the base-on-the-earth which he can never be," (p. 48, quoting Highsmith's Cahier 8, 11/18/42, Swiss Literary Archives in Berne).

Repeatedly, Highsmith identified with her most famous fictional creation Tom Ripley, signing a copy of Ripley Under Ground for her friend Charles Latimer as "from Tom (Pat)," (p. 194, but see pp. 194-6, 199, 350 and 454 for further examples). I now want to reread The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) with all this stuff in mind - from a queer (in the sense of both "strange" and "homosexual"), autistic, trans perspective. It's a book about somebody wanting to be and transforming themselves into someone else; an act of disguise that I think, having read this biography, might be very revealing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine special: Showrunners

The new special edition of the official Doctor Who Magazine is devoted to showrunners and producing the series from 1963 to now. I interviewed Julie Gardiner, executive producer of the series from when it returned to TV in 2005 until 2010, and then again for the episodes that will be broadcast later this year. What a thrill!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

In conversation with Fatima Manji - video

You can now watch the video of my interview with Fatima Manji about her book Hidden Heritage, conducted yesterday as part of Macfest.

It's a fascinating book. Among the many stories told, I was much taken by the fact that Abdul Karim, known as the "Munshi", taught Queen Victoria,
"to speak and write in what was then known to Britons as 'Hindustani'; essentially the Hindi and Urdu languages. She learned the Nastaliq writing system of Urdu which itself derives from Persian." (p. 137)
In 1902, her son the Duke of Connaught spoke Urdu when he welcomed dignitaries from India and elsewhere to commemorations relating to the coronation of his brother, Edward VI. As I say in the interview, my grandfather also had to learn Urdu while serving in the British Army in India in the 1930s - he apparently had three months to learn it before undergoing an exam with an Indian examiner; if he failed, he got sent home. Grandpa was then encouraged to learn a second Indian language and learned Pashto, which was of use in his time in the North West Frontier. He was still reasonably fluent in the early 1990s.

But as Manji argues,
"Victoria's enthusiasm for Urdu, her passion for art and culture of the Orient, and her defence of her friend Abdul Karim are admirable. They are under-reported inspirations in Britain's history for us to draw upon. Yet they cannot whitewash her presiding over a repressive, destructive colonial empire. Ultimately it is the structural, and not the personal, that determined the fate of the millions she ruled." (p. 151)
I'm also struck by the story of two Indian brothers fighting on opposing sides in the First World War: Mir Dast was awarded the Victoria Cross by the British; Mir Mast was awarded the Iron Cross by the Germans. Oh, and Manji also speaks to my friend Vinay Patel about his 2018 Doctor Who episode Demons of the Punjab (p. 111).

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine #588

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine boasts a 28-page retrospective on The Sarah Jane Adventures which are now back up on the BBC's iPlayer. 

The 'Sufficient Data' infographic I've written, illustrated by clever Ben Morris, looks at what Sarah endured in her time travelling with the Doctor. "I must be mad," I thought as I tried to work out if Skaro and Voga qualify as cold and/or wet.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

In conversation with Fatima Manji

On Saturday 11 March, I'll be in conversation with award-winning author and broadcaster Fatima Manji about her book Hidden Heritage: Rediscovering Britain's relationship with the Orient, as part of Macfest. 

This free event takes place online from 2 to 3.30 pm. For more details and to book tickets, see the Eventbrite listing for Hidden Heritage: A Fresh Persective. Blurb as follows: 

Fatima Manji will be exploring and answering some of the following questions: Why was there a Turkish mosque adorning Britain’s most famous botanic garden in the eighteenth century? How did a pair of Persian-inscribed cannons end up in rural Wales? And who is the Moroccan man depicted in a long-forgotten portrait hanging in a west London stately home?

Throughout Britain’s museums, civic buildings and stately homes, relics can be found that reveal the diversity of pre-twentieth-century Britain and expose the misconceptions around modern immigration narratives.

In her journey across Britain exploring cultural landmarks, Fatima Manji searches for a richer and more honest story of a nation struggling with identity and the legacy of the empire.

‘A timely, brilliant and very brave book’ Jerry Brotton, author of This Orient Isle.

Flyer for 'A fresh perspective' event on 11 March 2023 with Fatima Manji in conversation with Simon Guerrier


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sirens of Audio #145

The latest Sirens of Audio video podcast features me being grilled about my 2012 Doctor Who audio story The Anachronauts, which starred Jean Marsh and Peter Purves, and was directed by Ken Bentley. 

What did the story owe to Tom Baker? Why did we need to worry about the Emmys? What was I even thinking? All this and more will be revealed...

You can buy Doctor Who and the Anachronauts from Big Finish.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Radio Free Skaro #893

On Saturday, I spoke to Steven and Chris from Radio Free Skaro about my research into the life of David Whitaker. I'd just given my talk on Whitaker at the Gallifrey convention, and you might be able to detect the buzz of adrenaline.

NB that Radio Free Skaro recorded lots at the convention, including an insightful interview with Chris Chibnall that they'll share next week!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Vworp Vworp! #5

I've had a brilliant long weekend in Los Angeles as a guest at the Gallifrey One convention, catching up with lots of old pals, meeting people for the first time in person who I've corresponded or worked with for ages, and making lots of new friends. It's an extraordinary, engaging and friendly event, hard to describe to anyone who's not been there. So, moving on...

Waiting for me at home was issue 5 of the excellent fanzine Vworp Vworp!, which includes my short piece, "Dalek December" on the 1965-66 stage play The Curse of the Daleks written by David Whitaker and Terry Nation, the focus being on whether it was any good. There are lots of other Whitaker-related goodies, not by me - and I gasped at the colourised photo.

I've now got to get back to writing my forthcoming biography of Whitaker, and a bunch of other stuff. Tomorrow I'm interviewing Eli Lee and Aamina Ahmad, the last two winners of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain's Best First Novel award. It's a free event, you just need to sign up.

Monday, February 13, 2023

The Morbid Age, by Richard Overy

Subtitled "Britain and the Crisis of Civilisation, 1919-1939", this is a dense and detailed history of the interwar period focused largely on its big ideas - capitalism, fascism and socialism, eugenics, psychoanalysis, pacifism etc. Overy's argument is that,

"Ideas do not operate in a social vacuum. Much of what follows explores the many ways in which ideas were communicated and how extensively, socially and geographically. The discourse did not remain the preserve of an isolated cultural elite but flourished in the first real age of mass communication." (p. 5)

He lists the uptake of radio licenses, the sales of cheap paperbacks, the wide variety of lectures and summer schools, even the instructional films on frank subjects (ie sex). 

"British society had a thirst for knowledge and a mania for voluntary associations willing to supply it. The state played a part in this process by developing more sophisticated statistical measurement and applying this to areas of policy or by identifying areas of key public concern which the government could review. The government enquiries on the trade in arms, on sterilisation policy, mental defect, population development and the depressed areas supplied ammunition for the public debates on social degeneration, economic crisis and war." (p. 375)

Historical incidents are used to show how people took or shifted positions. There's nothing on the "Spanish" flu and little on the Wall Street Crash, presumably because they didn't challenge people's previously held views. But there's lots on how the Spanish Civil War challenged the large and well-organised pacifist cause. For example, Overy quotes Julian Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf, in a letter from 1937 to EM Forster as Bell made his way to fight - and die - in Spain:

"At this moment, to be anti-war means to submit to fascism [and] to be anti-fascist means to be prepared for war." (p. 339, in a section quoting from PN Furbank's EM Forster: A Life (London, 1977), pp. 223-4, and Mepham's Virginia Woolf, pp. 168-9.)

Overy details the impact that this and Bell's death had on this literary circle, many of whom initially held to their prior anti-war convictions. This then dovetails with the Prime Minister's efforts to avoid conflict with Hitler, and the gradual shift in public attitudes in the lead up to the Second World War.

"The most remarkable convert was the pacifist philosopher Cyril Joad, whose absolute renunciation of war was reiterated publicly right up to its outbreak and beyond. After wrestling with his convictions for some months in 1940 he experienced a dramatic change of heart. Writing in the Evening Standard in August 1940 under the headline 'I Was a Life-long Pacifist, but Hitler Changed my Mind', Joad explained that the things he valued about England - 'the free mind and the compassionate heart, the love of truth ... of respect for human personality' - were absolutely endangered by a Hitler victory which would usher in a Dark Age." (p. 352)

[Note to self: this is, broadly, the same kind of shift embodied in Alydon the Thal in the first Doctor Who story to feature the Daleks.]

What really struck me is the fatalism in all this: the widespread sense that while it might have been necessary to go to war with Hitler, such conflict would more likely end than save civilisation. That sentiment, I think, haunts The Lord of the Rings (I've been listened to the BBC radio version recently, more of which anon). It adds something to what I've been told about my grandparents' hastily arranged weddings (in September 1939 and 1940 respectively). It permeates into the book I'm writing now on David Whitaker, and his fatalistic view that history cannot be changed and we are simply swept along in its course. Yes, an idea to shift the ground beneath me.

Overy opens the book with the recollection of a telling conversation with the historian Eric Hobsbawm in which,

"he told me that he could remember a day in Cambridge in early 1939 when he and some friends discussed their sudden realization that very soon they might all of them be dead. This did strike me as surprising, and it runs against the drift of the [Hobsbawm] memoirs, in which he argued that communists were less infected by pessimism than everyone else because of their own confidence in the future." (p. xiii)

Even the faithful shared - if just on one day - that sense of foreboding. But then they were swept on.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Life of Crime, by Martin Edwards

This massive history of crime fiction and its creators, from William Godwin to PD James, is brilliant, rich and absorbing. It's especially clever to not spoil any of the many, many great-sounding mysteries, effectively adding a thousand new volumes to the things I'm eager to read. Chapters group stories by theme, making insightful connections while also telling the history of the genre more or less in chronological order. 

Along the way, it's packed with extraordinary real life. How amazing to learn, for example, that Patricia Highsmith, whose Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1983) I so admire, had a passion for snails.

"After leaving England, Highsmith moved to continental Europe, but crossing international borders with her pets presented a serious challenge. She rose to it, as she explained to her American editor, by smuggling her snails in her bra, six to ten a breast, he reported: 'That just wasn't on the one trip - no, she kept going back and forth ... And she wasn't joking - she was very serious.'" (p. 411, editor Larry Ashmead quoted from Andrew Wilson's biography, Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (2009))

Or there's the six well-known crime writers - Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie, Hugh Walpole, EC Bentley and Father Ronald Knox - who wrote an episode each of Behind the Screen for BBC Radio in 1930, the audience at home challenged to solve the mystery as it unfolded over six instalments, aided by each episode also being published in The Listener the same week as broadcast. However, Walpole, responsible for writing and reading the first episode, wanted to be spontaneous and insisted on reading from notes. 

"So Hilda Matheson, in charge of the [BBC] Talks Department, arranged for two parliamentary reporters to take down his words [during the Saturday-evening broadcast], and type them up on the Sunday morning, so that she or [producer Howard] Marshall could check the transcript that afternoon, and post the corrected version to the printers so that they had it at half past seven on Monday morning. Even then, publication of The Listener was delayed." (p. 260)

Hooray for Hansard, and for quick, efficient postal service even on a Sunday night!

Then there's Val Gielgud, BBC director and brother of John, whose,

"exotic lifestyle - he married five times, and often wore a cloak and carried a sword-cane - was certainly a gift for the gossip columnists." (p. 261)

What an image! This was in the 1930s; Edwards is talking about Gielgud's radio version of Rope and his collaboration, with BBC colleague Eric Maschwitz, on Death at Broadcasting House (1934). But it conjured in my head a vision more like the '60s, all Avengers and Adam Adamant. And that's what this book is so often about - writers and contributors who pushed the genre forward, who were ahead of their time.

The serious and thorough history is peppered with this odd, enthralling stuff, but Edwards also has a wry line in humour, such as describing the premiere at Carnegie Hall on 10 April 1927 of Ballet Mecanique by George Antheil. 

"Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong on the night did go wrong. There weren't even any riots." (p. 200)

His enthusiasm is also infectious, such as his wholly understandable awe in describing the novel The Living and the Dead (1994) by Awasaka Tsumao, a pseudonym of illusionist Masao Atsukawa. The book was published with its signatures uncut so that only 24 of the 215 pages could initially be read - basically every eighth verso and recto, if I've got my sums right. The title page then gives instructions on,

"HOW TO READ THIS BOOK: First of all, please read the book with the sealed binding. You'll read a short story. Next, cut each page and enjoy a full-length novel. The short story has disappeared. (signed) The Author. The Disappearing Short Story." (pp. 541-2)

Edwards tells us that,

"The short story involves a small group of people at a bar, one of whom is a sad young man who seems to have psychic abilities. But when the pages are cut, that character disappears. There's at least one gender switch, the setting becomes a magic club rather than a bar, and Yogi Gandhi (who doesn't appear in the short story) is the hero. The magic only works because of the nature of the Japanese language. It would be impossible to translate while maintaining the effect. It also can only work in a print version." (p. 542, and based on the author's discussions with Steve Steinbock)

Like Edwards, I'm now haunted by this outrageously ingenious artefact, and keep turning over how it might be restaged in English. A book to haunt a writer's dreams. 

All in all, it's a fascinating and detailed history, and also a rich source of inspiration. It covers an enormous range of material and themes. If I'm being nitpicky and selfish, I'd have liked more on the overlaps between the detective story and science-fiction, if only because that's continually churning through my head - see my thread on science-fiction and Sherlock Holmes. Edwards makes four references to Isaac Asimov, whose The Caves of Steel (1954) features a robot detective, but three of these references are in end notes, only one in the main body of text. Really, I just want him to recommend me more in that vein.

And then there's the devastating statement on the fundamental paradox of genre, taken from Janwillem van de Wetering's Robert van Gulik: His Life His Work (1987)...

"The true artist yearns to grow and move forward. The general public has an insatiable appetite for more of the same." (p. 500)


Thursday, February 02, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine #587

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine features another "Sufficient Data" infographic from me and Ben Morris, this time with a Valentine's Day theme.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Body Parts - Essays on Life-Writing, by Hermione Lee

Having so admired Hermione Lee's biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, I was keen to hear - and thieve from - her insights more generally on the business of writing someone else's life. This collection of essays on the subject is, like her Fitzgerald book, full of illuminating, wry observation.

How brilliant, for example, to note Angela Thirkell's "blithe lack of sexual awareness" by quoting from a scene in The Brandons (1939) in which characters at a village fete take a ride on a merry-go-round made of wooden animals:

"'I knew it was you on the ostrich,' she [Lydia] said to Delia ... 'I say, someone's on my cock.'

'It's only my cousin Hilary,' said Delia. 'He won't mind changing, will you, Hilary...'

Mr Grant, really quite glad of an excuse to dismount, offered his cock to Lydia, who immediately flung a leg over it, explaining that she had put on a frock with pleats on purpose, as she always felt sick if she rode sideways...

... 'I know that once Lydia is on her cock nothing will get her off. I came here last year ... and she had thirteen rides." (Lee, p. 180, quoting Thirkell pp. 260-2)

This is all the more extraordinary when Lee then tells us that Thirkell was the mother of Colin Macinnes, author of Absolute Beginners (1959) and other bold works exploring sexuality and decadence. As a result, the quoted passage becomes something else, indicative of the clash between mother and son.

Lee quotes juicy bits from a number of other biographies, and like her I'm drawn to what she calls the "brutal, funny and helpful" advice given by the writer Colette to actress Marguerite Moreno:

"You lose most of your expressiveness when you write... Stick in a description of the decor, the guests, even the food... And try, oh my darling, to conceal from us that it bores the shit out of you to write." (Lee, p. 117, quoting Judith Thurman's Secrets of the Flesh - A life of Collete (1999), p. 543)

Or there's the way she explains the shock that met Ellen Glasgow in the 1930s writing stories about degeneration, extramarital love and scientific arguments against religion etc, then quotes one of Glasgow's  characters - "failed philosopher, John Fincastle" - to get a sense of the impact on the author's own career.

"Nobody could earn a livelihood in America by thinking the wrong thoughts." (Lee, p. 124, quoting Glasgow's Vein of Iron (1935), p. 38)

Body Parts is peppered with this stuff. Even the briefest reference to Jane Porter's 1803 novel Thaddeus of Warsaw (p. 125) ignited my interest, prompting additional reading and connections - and perhaps a new project to lose myself in...

But what about things I'm writing now? Two essays in this collection, "Virginia Woolf's nose" at the start and "How to End It All" at the conclusion, address the ways that accounts of a person's death are often written to cast light or reflection on the life as a whole. Imagining the subject looking back over their lives is a a conceit, imposing neatness on what can be untidy ends. In fact it's not just death: lives are often untidy and inconsistent, and Lee is good on exploring that - how to address contradictory or outlier evidence, or the way a theory about someone's life can be repeated by biographers until it takes on the authority of "fact". Lee says,

"this process of cumulative reiteration happens all the time" (p. 135)

I'm mindful of that as I write my biography of David Whitaker - and also my book on his 1964 Doctor Who story, The Edge of Destruction, where I can see such reiteration in the "facts" about early Doctor Who. I'm not sure Lee provides answers to the knotty questions that she raises about how we go about telling a story without fictionalising real life - but I think that's the point. There is plenty to think about; she directs us towards the things to worry at.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Distant Echo, by Val McDermid

A young woman attacked and left for dead is found by four young students on their way home from a party. When she dies, suspicion falls on these four lads, and haunts them for the next 25 years...

For a long time I couldn't really stomach murder mysteries, real life too choker with its own mundane horror to take on any more. But my mum recommended this, the first to feature Karen Pirie who now has her own TV show, so I gave it a go. It's compulsive reading, full of real life and human frailty, and though I'd solved the case long before the end that only added to the mounting tension. 

In fact, lots of it is very tense. For several nights I dreamt of the simple, awful horror of a man being dropped down a well. There's lots of pain, physical and mental, that really hurts.

It's odd, given the TV series, that Karen Pirie has so little to do, even when present with evidence. She's a minor character here, not in the first half at all. I'm curious to see what happens next to make her the lead.

That one character's odd, even criminal behaviour is apparently down to him having been adopted is... well, I've read other stuff from the same period that takes a similar line. It's a bit crass. And the book concludes with a chapter in which two characters talk through all the outstanding plot threads, which isn't the most elegant way to finish what's otherwise been done so deftly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Return of Faraz Ali, by Aamina Ahmed

On Monday night I attended the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards 2023, having run the team behind the First Novel Award. Huge congratulations to Aamina Ahmed, who won for her brilliant novel The Return of Faraz Ali.

A police officer is sent to Lahore to cover up the murder of a young girl, and in doing so stirs up all kinds of history — some personal, some family, some national... We were spellbound by this haunting, tragic and beautifully told story.

Also shortlisted for the award were Braver by Deborah Jenkins -

Hazel, suffering from anxiety and OCD, forms an unlikely friendship with Harry, a troubled teen, and Virginia — a church minister facing a crisis. This warm, funny novel is also inspiring and very moving. A delight to read.

- and An Olive Grove in Ends by Moses McKenzie:

Sayon dreams of escaping the “Ends” in Bristol and living in the big house his Mum once pointed out to him — but achieving his dream won’t be easy as he’s just killed someone. A gripping, richly told thriller full of life and character.

And there were lots and lots of very good novels which sadly didn't make the shortlist. Thanks to everyone who submitted novels to the award, and thanks to my amazing fellow judges (Martin Day, Tim Glencross, Merle Nygate, Qaisra Shahraz and Ceriann Taylor) for their hard graft in reading so many books in such a short space of time last year.

Friday, January 13, 2023

David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television

The lovely lot at Ten Acre Films have officially announced my forthcoming biography of David Whitaker, the original story editor of Doctor Who and a whole lot more besides.

David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television will be out in the second half of 2023. More details - a great wealth of more detail - to follow.

The book couldn't have happened without director Chris Chapman employing me as consultant and talking head on the documentary Looking for David, recently released on the Blu-ray collection of Doctor Who's second year of adventures.

I'm also grateful to the team at the official Doctor Who Magazine who've published some of my research into Whitaker and his world. And it all sprang from the research I did for my Black Archive book on The Evil of the Daleks, a 1967 Doctor Who story written by David Whitaker. My book on his 1964 story The Edge of Destruction for the same range will also be out later this year.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine #586

The new issue of the official Doctor Who Magazine boasts an interview with Millie Gibson, who'll be joining the series as companion Ruby Sunday later this year, and the production team behind the new series. So it's a bit of a surprise to see my own gurning head in the midst of the editorial on page 3, where some nice things are said about Looking for David, the documentary about David Whitaker made by Chris Chapman and Toby Hadoke with some consulting and talking by me.

"Remarkable ... meticulously researched and ultimately poignant."

There's more praise for the documentary in Richard Unwin's review of the Doctor Who: The Collection - Season 2 (the Blu-ray box-set it's part of).

"... nothing short of extraordinary [with] jaw-dropping revelations provided by biographer Simon Guerrier".

So that's nice.

Elsewhere in the magazine, I lavish praise on the new edition of Doctor Who and the Daleks (the first ever Doctor Who novelisation, first published in 1964) which boasts 58 illustrations by Robert Hack and is a delight. I also slip in a couple of new facts about author David Whitaker, too. 

Plus, in "No Time to Die", Rhys Williams and I dig into the sets and production of missing 1965 episode The Traitors, with the sets recreated in CGI by Rhys with Gavin Rymill and Anthony Lamb. By chance, yesterday I realised that two elements of The Traitors may originate in something also written by Whitaker - but more on that in due course...

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman

I first read Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983) and its sequel, Which Lie Did I Tell? (2000), around the time I went freelance in 2002, on the recommendation of  established writer friends. In those days, I was hungry for advice and hustled round asking questions. One writer recommended the accountant I'm still with, another suggested making a list of all the things I fancied writing so I could gradually tick them off, and someone else prodded me towards Goldman.

I've now been freelance for more than 20 years, bloodied but unbowed. And it's surprising how much that makes a difference to the text here. Goldman is a brilliant writer -- I only meant to check a detail and ended up being drawn in to read the whole thing. Plus I'm a big fan of his movies (here's a young, green me enthusing about The Ghost and the Darkness).

But what strikes me now is how fearsome Goldman is -- confident yes, his enthusiastic stage directions full of what he admits to as "hype" that no director could realise, but also strongly opinionated about other people and their work. It is waspish, gossipy and good fun, but I wouldn't relish working with Goldman. 

I've also got the confidence now to say he's dead wrong about the end of Excalibur (he says Percival not throwing the sword into the lake at the end, as instructed, is a waste of everyone's time rather than a vital part of the legend). He's wrong about the casting of Nanette Newman in The Stepford Wives (far more effective, I think, if the fantasy women are blousy, home-maker, mothering types than the Playboy bunnies Goldman favoured).

"NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING" he tells us, twice, in capital letters on page 39. But I think I've picked up a few scraps.

The book is full of practical advice that I still find very useful. In sharing his own short story then writing a screen adaptation of it, he asks a series of questions: "What's the story about?", "What's the story really about?", "What about time [ie setting and duration]?", "Who tells the story?", "Where does the story take place?", "What about the characters?" and "What must we cling to?" That all seems obvious, basic stuff -- until he talks through the process of applying them to the story. Following his path, I found myself picking over the paltry bones of an idea I had a while back -- and then filling pages of my notebook with how that might just work. 

That's what I got from Goldman, this time and before when I was starting out: a terrific spur.