Thursday, 3 July 2014

Newsy newsy news

Hello, you've been very polite about not caring much about what I've been up to recently, so to reward you I'm going to tell you in tedious detail.
There's no winning, is there?

1) I've been writing something else for Big Finish, and the first draft is finally away, so I'm looking forward to licking that into shape over the next few weeks.  Also, while you've not been looking here there's been a splendid cover released for my Big Finish Doctor Who audio coming later this year.


You can pre-order it here at it a reduced price before November. I heard a little trailer using some of the audio from it recently and the actors sound in fabulous form. I'm really looking forward to hearing the finished product.

2) I've written a story for the forthcoming Obverse Book story collection edited by Philip Purser-Hallard as well. This has a rather fabulous cover too, and a lovely list of contributors I'm delighted to be part of.


Iris is a fun character to write for, she's a bizarre force of nature who barges into other people's stories and tidies or messes them up as suits her.  This collection has a brilliant idea behind it, with Iris exploring a succession of fictional representations of Mars. I picked the most contrary one I could think of for my pitch.. It seemed right.
Obverse haven't put an order link up for the book yet (I think it's out in August), but you can read more about it at Phil's site here.

3) I've had a nice little running gag sketch recorded for Radio 4's That Show What You Wrote. I'm rather pleased about this because I had to come up with ideas very quickly over a few days to get them in before deadline, and this was one of two sketches I came up with that I really loved. More on that later whether it survives to the broadcast edit or not. I've missed writing radio comedy.

4) A few weeks ago Matthew J. Elliott and I recorded another RiffTrax commentary, which is currently in the States for approval. Fingers crossed. We had a few technical issues with our last one which made it a bit fiddly, and took a bit of the spontaneity and fun out of proceedings, so I'm hoping this has gone better and needs less post-production work.

5) I ran a half marathon for charity. This one.



You can still donate and help my good causes now if you'd like to. They're excellent causes, as you can see here.


Friday, 6 December 2013

A sleeping city, a storyteller and some simians... Updates!


There are some details up now on the Big Finish site for my next Doctor Who play The Sleeping City. They include a rather lovely cover, an intriguing trailer, a little bit of teaser synopsis and the all important 'click on the button and buy it' option. Buying direct from Big Finish naturally gives them more profit than buying their productions elsewhere on-line does, so do please buy from the site if you can.

As the trailer and synopsis reveal, it's a science fiction story about a futuristic city where everyone's being encouraged to think and feel the same way. The story's framed by Ian Chesterton, back on Earth, telling the story of this adventure to an interrogator who, quite understandably, thinks the way Ian, Barbara and one of their pupils vanished from Coal Hill School is distinctly suspicious.

I always thought Ian and Barbara would have a hell of a time fitting back in once they got home. I suspect 60s England changed nearly as much as they did in the couple of years they were away. Ian seems to have learned at least one Beatles song released in their absence, but did they even know Kennedy was assassinated?
After Remembrance of the Daleks was screened, in which we discover Coal Hill School and the missing pupil's home address were overrun by warlike aliens almost straight after the three of them disappeared, I became convinced there'd be a lot of hard questions awaiting them on their return. Reworking an idea that had started as a notion for a Rachel Jenson based Counter-Measures story that never quite gelled, it suddenly occurred to me who'd be the first to be ask Ian those hard questions!

Hopefully, the paranoid 60s Cold War plot and the Science Fiction fable cross-fertilise a little. I guess both strands are about social control and fear of outsiders to a degree. I'm really looking forward to this coming out.

Still available is the collection of short stories for charity in memory of the rather fantastic writer Matt Kimpton, a friend who lived with Cystic Fibrosis but not long enough for my liking.. It is now available in hard cover form as well as an ebook.
It's an entirely not for profit thing done by a lot of smashing authors (and me), that is trying to do a tiny bit of good, so I'd really love it if a few of you bought it.

Still not quite available, because we had to sort out a few tech things with microphones and levels and people being in the same room and things, but coming jolly soon is RiffTrax Presents... King of Kong Island. That's me and writer Matthew J Elliot helping you through a rather challengingly odd movie by talking in the quiet bits and it's something I hope a lot of you will have fun with when it's released. It contains many several jokes and good bits and Northern English accents.

Those are the definitely happening now/soon things. I need to go off and make some other things happen now.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

New things...



Hello, how are you doing? I'm pleased. Particularly if you just contrarily ignored the accepted social form and told me you weren't doing well. I'm all the more pleased for not having heard it.Anyway that's the niceties out the way. It's time to return to the one sided business of me telling you what I'm up to.

Number 1:
The Alchemists is out there and being reviewed. The response is far more positive than I'd feared. There's a lovely review on Amazon.co.uk, nice ones on Sci-fi Bulletin and Doc Oho Reviews, good ratings on Goodreads (I didn't tell you I've dipped a toe in Goodreads, did I?), and some others scattered around that are more measured. It was always thus.

One disappointment a couple of people had is that it wasn't a play about Doctor Who fighting the Nazis and it wasn't darker in tone. I understand, that but in the end I wrote the play I could and a grim piece about fighting the Nazis wasn't the story I felt I could write. Most of the reasons why are about Doctor Who.
Firstly, in a Companion Chronicle for Susan alone (and there are sensible historic and dramatic reasons for making her the solo companion), I couldn't really make the early Doctor the straightforward hero that kind of story would require.
Secondly, the Doctor Who licence is for family appropriate entertainment (the treatment of the Suffragist and Suffragette prisoners in the play The Suffering is the example I'm always reminded of, of real awful history that needed toning down to be acceptable for Who), so any more brutal content, and it's a brutal history, would be tricky to cover. There is darkness in The Alchemists of course, but most of it is beneath the surface. There are things our unworldly narrator sees and reports without understanding that are awful...
Thirdly, I personally feel Doctor Who has presented a bit of a cartoon World War II in recent years that I'd not be entirely comfortable about adding to. For me, and for the flavour of Doctor Who I was writing here, David Whitaker's mention of the impossibility of killing Hitler in the prologue to The Crusaders novel sat better than his comic TV appearance in 2011's Let's Kill Hitler. I wanted to deal with real history on a more human scale, and all the history in the play is true. Even the somewhat bizarre and fantastical McGuffin was a real plan to save Germany from post-World War I ruin. My gut feeling is if you want Doctor Who against inhuman Nazi monsters, you already have the Daleks.

Number 2:
A little over a year ago, a writer friend of mine died, sillily young, and we've put together a book in his memory and to aid people with Cystic Fibrosis, the condition he lived with which led to his early death. You'll be able to buy it as an ebook here soon, with a hard copy available after that.
It's a book written by people he knew, liked, had worked with and others he'd not met working in the same realms of mind-bending fantasy, whimsy and creepy that he did. Not surprisingly, there will be a few names in there Doctor Who fans of a more literary bent know.

It's called Storyteller- A Found Book and it's for Matt. I've written one story and I like to feel I had a small hand in another because I brought the authors together.
The notion behind it is rather fun, it's a whole list of "other titles you may enjoy" from the back of a genuine old book, except now those titles have had to detach themselves from their old stories and make themselves new ones from scratch. Here's the content listing...

Strangers from the Sea –  George Mann
Moon Eyes – Stuart Douglas
Grandad with Snails – Nick Campbell
Seal Morning – Cody Quijano-Schell
Put Out More Flags – Sarah Hadley
The Hanging Tree – Cavan Scott
Honey in the Horn – Mark Manley
The Devil’s Children – Richard Wright
Harlic – A Story of a Grey Seal – Simon Bucher-Jones
Doctor Syn – Ian Potter
The Samurai’s Daughter – Andy Smillie
Black Mischief – Elizabeth Evershed
The Unicorn Leacock – Orna Petit and Jacqueline Rayner

Everyone's written these stories for nothing and it's for a great cause.

Number 3:
Just over a week ago I recorded a piece with Matthew J Elliott, the British writer of American radio, mystery fiction expert, and quickfire gag man who I've come to know through a mutual friend. It's for the US company RiffTrax and should soon be available from their website, I'll let you know when it is. It's a comic commentary to accompany a movie. If you know the series Mystery Science Theater 3000 you know the kind of thing it is already. If not, think of it as a director's commentary almost entirely composed of gags, that sit on top of a film but doesn't prevent you following it. It's an extra layer of enjoyment, which to be honest this particular film needs. It's an odd little piece called King of Kong Island which includes many peculiar pleasures and delights but you really do need a bit of help if you're going to watch it all the way through.

Number 4:
I have been announced as doing some more Doctor Who! Next year, I have a 4 episode audio adventure coming out for the wonderful Maureen O'Brien and Peter Purves, and a really smashing guest cast which is yet to be revealed (though one of them has actually announced their involvement on Twitter). It's called The Bounty of Ceres and is an attempt to imagine the 60s TARDIS crew in something approaching the hard SF of Arthur C Clarke. Writing it, I deliberately imagined which bits would have to have been done on film or using Kirby Wires or would just have looked awful on the TV budget of the day. Then, I wrote them anyway, knowing on audio they'd look amazing. You can pre-order that one here.

Right, I'd better go and make some other things for you to buy or not. See you soon!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Alchemology



Yes, Doctor Who - The Alchemists is out! I can hardly believe it, it seems a long time since I wrote it. This may be because it is.
Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested in some of the things I used researching it.
There's more than listed here, Wedekind's Lulu plays and Pabst's film of Pandora's Box for example which I think have a homeopathic influence on the play, but nothing a sane person could spot.
There's also a bunch of internet bookmarks on an old laptop, covering the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, old railway lines, the rise of the Nazis and how Aleister Crowley and Christopher Isherwood were connected amongst other things. All the kind of stuff I imagine gets you interrogated at airports...

Books
Germania, Simon Winder. An opinionated, personal and very readable guide to the geography and history of Germany.
When Money Dies, Adam Fergusson. All you ever wanted to know about Weimar hyper-inflation and a little more besides. 
Mr Norris Changes Trains, Christopher Isherwood. A fictional account of his life in Berlin.
Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood. A slightly less fictional account of his life in Berlin.
Little Man, What Now?, Hans Fallada. A simply and poignantly told story of ordinary life in the Germany of the early 1930s.
The Wages of Destruction, Adam Tooze. A thorough, detailed examination of the economics underpinning Nazi Germany, which I found the opening chapters of very useful.

TV
Heimat, Edgar Reitz. A beautifully told saga of modern German history told through the lives of people in the fictional village of Schabbach. I just looked at a couple of episodes this time, but it's really a masterpiece of TV you should let roll over you.
Berlin Alexanderplatz, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. An extraordinary bit of television based on Alfred Döblin's novel of the same name, set in late 1920s Berlin. It's deliberately slow paced, and explodes into an astounding allegorical vision which not all viewers are quite prepared for at the end, but it does amazing things along the way
The Nazis- A Warning From History, Laurence Rees. A hugely important BBC documentary series, given incredible power by the first person testimonies it features.
Christopher and his Kind, Kevin Elyot. A dramatisation of Isherwood's biography, beautifully directed by Geoffrey Sax and starring Matt Smith as Isherwood and Toby Jones as Gerald Hamilton, the inspiration for Isherwood's Mr Norris.

Films
Kuhle Wampe, Bertolt Brecht. A short film dramatising the plight of the urban poor in Berlin and showing the radical alternative that many turned to. Made in 1931, it was invaluable for first hand social detail.
Doctor Mabuse- The Gambler, Fritz Lang. This film was made ten years before the period I was setting my story in, but I found it useful for tone. It's absurdly long by modern standards but it has two or three wonderful scenes and beautifully dramatises the paranoid notion of a shadowy figure mysteriously manipulating gambling, crime, economics and ordinary people for his own ends. 
M, Fritz Lang. Absolutely in the period I was using and again great for social detail. There's a constant sense of fear below the surface. If you've not seen it, you really should do for Peter Lorre alone.
The Testament of Doctor Mabuse, Fritz Lang. A sequel to both of the above, and a cracking dramatic ride, with some eerie special effects. The sense of a criminal underground and the accepted belief that it was organised is writ large in all these three films.
Cabaret, Bob Fosse. A 1970s filtered version of Isherwood. It's a loose adaptation of a stage musical adaptation of a stage adaptation of Goodbye to Berlin, so it's gone through quite a few transformations along the way. Still, an extremely moving piece of work.

Radio
The Chemist of Life and Death, Chris Bowlby. Hearing this was what set me thinking about using Fritz Haber as the key to the story. You can still hear it here on the BBC Website.

I think that covers most of it. I'll probably bore you senseless being more specific once the play's been out a while and most people who fancy hearing it will have done.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Matters arising...

There are a few of these so I'm going to be brief.

First of all I've a new short story out in Philip Purser-Hallard's collection More Tales of the City.
Now, you may know a book with that title already, this is not that. Philip in an act of contrarian heroism has named both the short story collections in his constructed world, The City of the Saved, after Armistead Maupin books.
The world Philip has constructed is quite a thing- it's a heaven within our reality (as much as we can have one) jammed in somewhere near the zero point at the back end of our universe. Everyone who has ever lived is back (or at least believes themselves to be to a degree that makes it rude to argue) and there are quite a few people who've never lived there too.
The setting makes all sorts of unlikely things possible and absolutely refuses to allow a lot of the things that are usually quite likely in stories. Mine is a sort a detective story.  You'll see if you read it.
You can buy the book now in electronic form direct from the publisher, with the print edition following shortly (I expect Amazon will get 'round to fleecing the publisher later) or read more about it on Philip's site.

Secondly, I'm currently working with another writer on something that's a bit of a departure for me. It's comic, there's performance involved (it's been a while) and it's in a genre that seems to be a bit of a cult in the US but hasn't to my knowledge really taken off here in the UK yet and that's all the teasing you get 'til it's finished.

Thirdly, I've started running again (which may be the most overused phrase in this 'blog after "I've written", or "I'm sorry") and from a stupid, wheezing 'stop after 10 minutes' start I've managed to get back to 2 hour long runs remarkably quickly. I've found turning it into a game I play against myself really helps (partly because I get to win) and also found myself entering a really interesting creative space on certain parts of my circuit. I worked out an entire short radio play while zoning out last week crossing over a footbridge. Good old liminal spaces...

Fourthly, talking of playing games, liminal spaces, creativity and bridges makes it impossible not to mention the loss of Iain Banks here, an author whose writing and outlook on life I find it hard not to admire. I met him once, very briefly, while working on a TV show in Edinburgh and it goes without saying I found he was just as smashing as everyone else who encountered him is saying. A deeply sad loss. He had a lot more fun to share.

Fifthly, the organisation that helped put me in a position to work on that TV show, and even gave me a sabbatical to do so and welcomed me back afterwards, is under threat.
The National Media Museum, which was the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television when I worked there, is one of three museums in the North of England run by the Science Museum and under threat of closure due to government funding cuts.
All the museums under threat have their plus points, but the National Media Museum is a place I hold very dear. It has unique collections and incredible staff and has achieved national and international acclaim despite tiny resources for nearly 30 years.
It has battled on despite a series of ever deepening cuts over the last 5 years, losing key personnel and festivals, staff taking pay cuts, and being unable to fund redevelopment and renovation and the reward for this appears to be the possibility of disappearing completely. I really don't think that's on.
If you feel similarly, you can support all the Northern museums here and the National Media Museum in particular here. I hope you do.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Bear with me!

Just a bit of fun. This is a message with no real content. I want to see how easy it is to spread!

This is a testing time for the NHS

You can't have helped noticing, well you can but bear with me, people all over the UK troubled by the way the NHS is being treated. There's been an unmandated, untested, hugely wasteful restructuring of it by the coalition government partners (even if you believe the 'reforms' are good that's unarguable), a lot of media stories leaped on and or generated by politicians talking the service down (often frighteningly misinformed either through deliberate spin or ignorance- look at the way the Leeds children's heart service was treated) and while all that's gone on their have been real term cuts in provision, denied and denied and proven, despite promises this would not happen.
The service is being talked down, beaten down and cut down, in the face of widespread public alarm.
Many people have been particularly perturbed by the silence of the mainstream media in the face of this, particularly the BBC, another British institution the government seems keen to smear, slash and silence into submission.
As a result, lots of people are using social media to articulate their views that aren't being reflected by mainstream broadcasters but in the last day or so I've seen a worrying cluster of such people saying their attempts to share their messages are being blocked by the market leader in sticking things up on a virtual noticeboard to share among friends, Facebook.
If that's true, it's very troubling indeed and we'll need to find out why. So, as a tiny test, I'm putting up my own NHS message here to share on Facebook when I've published it. If it gets through and appears on my wall it proves nothing either way, of course. If it doesn't, I'll be beyond angry and will let you know.