Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The Small Intricate Life of Ian Z Potter

Not an unpleasant existence this you know...

Today, I've had a quick skim through the new 'Doctor Who Magazine', which, like the show it's based on, takes itself lightly and its audience seriously and is always a treat, and watched some of the 1972 'Till Death Us Do Part' series on DVD, which is squarely in the period of Johnny Speight's writing I like least.

There are some sharp lines and great moments but so much around them is ill-focused and all-licenced that it make you feel most uncomfortable viewing it. My suspicion is that the bottle (which Speight hit hard in the late 60s) may have excessively lubricated his creativity at this time, and dampened his critical faculties, and because the scripts flail around without clear point, making it easier for the Alfs of this world to believe that he and his views are being celebrated as much as vilified. The 60s 'Till Death's (and indeed Speight's 60s TV plays) I've read and seen are, by and large, much sharper pieces, though still flabby by modern standards, and I honestly believe 'In Sickness and In Health' is a far superior show for being properly structured and having a clearer authorial point of view. It also features the Demiurge-like sub-genius that is Ken Campbell too, so it scores higher there as well.

I've also booked up to see Alan Bennett give a talk at my old work place, which should be a double treat if I can catch up with a few folk and I've been for a half hour run which has left me feeling more alert and healthy than I have for weeks.

So now at 4.25 pm I'm going to have a bath and start some work that I'm really looking forward to!

I love these days. I think I must have been sent them in error.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Brain squalling

Had a meeting this week (or what's technically known as a chat where someone takes notes) with M'Producer and a Proper Funny Guy. He (the PFG) is, fantastically, a copy-writer in the greetings card industry, and you almost certainly know his work if you've ever had a birthday marked by a certain kind of slightly cheeky card. He must make more people laugh in a week than most of us do in a lifetime and seems a good bloke.


Hopefully soon he'll get properly recognised for his work and better paid for it. I'm not going to start the recognition process here and now, because a) I bet neither he or his current bosses would be too happy for it to be known he was off having meetings about things that may or may or not happen at the mo and b) I wouldn't want to skew the current bias of any Google searches for his name away from their current primary destination. It's too much fun to change.

Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t ‘Ve?)

Of course you have, and as long as it wasn’t someone who preferred the Roland Gift massacring of the above song to the sublime original you can be let off.

A thousand years ago in the 1980s, besotted by minxish gamines with sharp wicked eyes and smiles and even sharper haircuts, I fell in love with Louise Brooks, or rather a dozen postcards and posters of her, holding herself challengingly, projecting a total awareness of her charm and a wry amusement at its power.

The effect was amplified by reading at University the two Wedekind plays on which her most famous film ‘Pandora’s Box’ was based and discovering at the university library a book on the film full of stills revealing that even caught by the movie camera she was capable of captivating (you must have come across the phenomenon of carefully contrived beauties made by artful lighting, who fall apart under less loving scrutiny, it’s a blow but you usually still have the stills to comfort yourself with).

The plays rollick along rather excitingly and there’s something quite Angela Carter in the naughty but innocent creature of desire that wanders through them, she’s part victim, part passive hero, part architect of her own oblivion, childlike and childish, feminist and fun and I could only imagine how great the film version might be.

Last night we saw the film, it was ordinary. There were occasional pleasures in staging and bits of comic business and the uncanny resemblance of Fritz Kortner as Dr. Schön to Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier in both look and deed, but it’s really not a great film. The few bits of filming I could wholeheartedly approve of were in the way the camera follows the female star hungrily and the care with which she is framed and lit, excluding a few extreme close ups where glistening starburst highlights on her teeth and eyes, seemed rather too artful and ridiculous and put one in mind of the photoshop lens flare used on dodgy photomontage book covers.

Even without this occasional nonsense Louise Brooks is spectacular, more alive than anyone else in the film, possibly because she was an American actor in a German Expressionist drama, but who cares- she glittered, scowled, sobbed, smiled wickedly and playfully, demanded total attention, and, lets be clear here, looked damned hot.

It was such a relief- she was beautiful and she could act (bear in mind my longest sustained glimpses of Brooks performing beforehand had been in a not entirely edifying ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’ video, from the days when OMD was one person*).

You have to see her, even if she ends up in a peculiar foggy 30s/Victorian studio London looking like she’s living with Steptoe and Son and dying at the hands of an actor whose version of madness went out with Doctor Caligari. You must be assimilated. Obviously, she can never belong to you and your desire for her will destroy you and all else you hold dear but she’s so worth it she should advertise hair products.


*Andy McClusky is a much shorter name than ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’, he was mad not to use that. It’s not like anyone buying records in the early 90s who had any band loyalty to OMD wouldn’t have known his name, or any of the kids would be more inclined to buy ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’ because of a faintly silly sounding band name, is it?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Where do you get your ideas from?

There are lots of different answers to this, most of the famous ones seem to express some frustration at the difficulty in getting ideas or more accurately the imbalance between the ease of asking and answering the question.

Here are some of my favourite answers:
  • A small warehouse in <> string error < /random remote location generator >,
  • if I knew exactly where I'd go there more often,
  • I keep the Muse Calliope in a room upstairs,
  • I nick 'em,
  • from the way my synapses fire and misfire under stimulation,
  • from the collective unconsciousness,
  • from the voices of the angels and a local dog in my head that use me as an instrument of their wills.

The thing is, it's all a bit Zen, you have to look without looking, allowing things to occur to you in such a way that they won't get shy and run off. However, I've come up with a great new source this week, for jokes at least- Longman's Guide to English Usage.

It's full of gag ideas because a lot of it's about trying to prevent ambiguity in communication, and a lot of the best jokes, like thriller plots, are about misdirection; presenting all the information in a way that leads people to make sense of things one way before revealing a surprise that (with a following wind) entertains them.

Listen, I never claimed this was going to be Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, or Henri Bergson's Why Inappropriate Nob Gags Often Get a Giggle, alright?

Actually the funniest thing I found in the book this week was that the '..' above the 'e's in Bronte and naive is called diaeresis. This made me think of how the Brontes wrote all that epic literature as naive teenage girls when most girls would still be putting two little circles or hearts over the 'e's in 'Bronte' and 'naive'. How much more they could have written if their surname had been less silly...

Incidentally, if anyone knows how to generate diaeresis marks on this keyboard I'd be happy to find out and pretend to be both impressed and fascinated: not ecstatically happy admittedly, but, you know, happy enough.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

The Lost World of McAlmont and Butler rediscovered?

Not the greatest week really- a half decent sketch written, and little more, bar a very good Freecell percentage, to show for it.

I've found myself lying in until around 9am most days recently which must mean I've been feeling a bit ill and knackered given I'm awake at 6 when my considerably better half's alarm goes off and the clock radio kicks in, and I normally find I have to get up shortly after then too. Maybe I need to switch to a morning radio station that so infuriates me I have to vault out of bed sharpish, but given that I wake up to 'The Today Programme' (or 'Today' as absolutely nobody calls it) it might be a challenge to find anything more annoying at that time of day. Oh, hang on when does Radio 1 start with that poisonous, egotistical imbecile breakfast jock? From about 1967 onwards with a brief respite for Mark and Lard is the answer I'm looking for, I think.

Midweek, I was feeling particularly crabby about lack of feedback on a few possible projects (in part because of inertia with what I was trying to do, but not really knuckling down to), so sent out a few emails reminding people I existed. Always a tricky one, because you're writing to people who deal with loads of petulant lazy gets like me a day, but I think as a result of one of these emails, something very like a TV idea of mine 'The Lost World of McAlmont and Butler' that got knocked back for sounding too like what 'Time Trumpet' might be, could be back on the cards. So, hurrah! A few of the ideas I loved for that might just get clawed out the bin, for this new thing.

As it turned out 'Time Trumpet' turned out to be absolutely nothing like my idea, but then my idea wasn't to make a show with a great premise and one of the greatest comedy writers around and somehow contrive to make it really, really disappointing apart from one really astonishingly tasteless bit where some tower blocks attack a plane on a runway, which made me snort like a snuffpig. I don't actually know what a snuffpig is but the spell-checker is advising me the word I might have wanted to use is 'xenophobic', to clarify, that's not a word which is in someway xenophobic, the word 'xenophobic' itself, which for all I know is actually pretty liberal.

I digress.

The highlight of my week was probably hearing Paul 'Shameless' Abbott's 'Desert Island Discs', really terrific and not on Listen Again (I assume because of music rights). Fantastically honest and engaging and bizarrely I think he may have been in the same ward of Wigan hospital as my maternal grandmother at one point. Obviously, this is of no interest to anyone but myself, and that's why I'm repeating it here. I have a nearly claim to fame!

Anyhow, I'm managing to wake up a bit earlier now, and yes, I do feel better...

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

A spate of remembrance

I've spent a fair chunk of the last two days wresting with an old portable DAT player. I won. I'm older than it and although I'm less reliable I'm somewhat heavier. In the process I've transferred to PC an interview I conducted with an icon of the 1960s when I was in my twenties, he was two years from death and the Universe was less than half its present size.
Very odd to hear yourself from ten years ago on tape and find just what has and hasn't changed, particularly when the interview is in large part about asking a man about his work 30 years before that. My perspectives have shifted a deal since then, how much had his in three times the time shift? What's lovely, is how after over 4 hours(!) chatting, both our ghosts, 20 something and 70 something seem to be getting on quite well. After the tape ended I even recall him recommending Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction' to me! How hip he was, how hip I wasn't. I hope both those ghosts are okay, wherever they are now.
You were a kind man, thank you for such a generous gift of your time. It's been a privilege to hear our shared laughter again.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007


I’m trying to write a play at the moment about real people and events, and over the last couple of days of work, bits of it have flown rather pleasingly freely, as real events have dovetailed very nicely with the themes I wanted to explore, and the lead character’s voice seems to have emerged nicely as an amalgam of what he probably was like really, what we’d like him to have been like and what will with luck be dramatically interesting.

The one tricky part of the process is that while the main cast is about ten years dead there are some very important figures in the narrative who are thankfully still with us and can’t be replaced by fictional stand-ins without devaluing the whole piece. So, I’m having to write them with an eye on the real people at some point seeing my version of them, which is a delicate exercise because I’m having to be partial to give my version of them some shape whilst also being extremely fair and kind. You wear these hats with any character you write, of course- trying to see them through their own eyes, those of others and through your own. It’s just a bit strange imagining the characters having a right of reply.
There are conversely, important characters in the real events who’ve since died who I’m trying to exclude in my retelling because their personalities mean they simply can’t be walk-ons in some one else’s drama. Once they emerge the story will become theirs, so I'm having to keep them in the wings. It’s a funny business writing about your heroes.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Mine's a glass half empty, please...

So, twelve days ago I and another twelve writers got an email inviting us to pitch radio drama ideas for Radio 4, which would then be discussed at a meeting in which we would be assigned producers. That meeting was a week ago on Thursday, so I emailed yesterday just to see what outcome there might have been, if any. Today, I've found out that I have apparently been assigned a producer, and they're currently reading a play of mine. That sounds fine and rather dandified at first, but then sets me wondering...

The only play they the BBC currently has is one I believe was felt to have insufficient character development for broadcast (it's my fault, it's about someone trying to avoid personal development), a play I don't think much of myself. I can only assume this means the producer is looking at this not very good play to see if it suggests I can possibly deliver on any of the pitches I proposed, which is ominous, or, more ominously still, my pitches were felt to be so below par the feeling was there might be more mileage in attempting to rejig and salvage the not all that hot play!

This is what's known as writer's paranoia- in the absence of anything much concrete we pick away at what little evidence we have until we can construct something from it. It's what we do after all, we look for meanings, structures, subtexts and ultimately, make things up.
What makes it worse is the spin and weight you start putting on sentences that look innocent in print but can easily carry vast swathes of foreboding.... "probably the most ideally suited of the producers for you", "horribly busy at the moment", "I'd give them a week or so".

I'll give it a week or so, but the shift from urgent desire for pitches, to silence and then the re-reading and the busyness, sets me up for another gradual let down with this one, to be honest. I'd rather be wrong, but I'll take up this position and hope I'm capable of snapping out of it if proven wrong.

I'm sure outside the loop this looks like pathetic maundering, and loads of other writers would love to be in this situation, but I think what I'm trying to say is you always feel outside the loop as a writer, because, where ever you find yourself, the loop is always just that bit beyond where you currently are, and the decisions that effect you are always, quite rightly, taking place somewhere else behind closed doors.