Friday, September 30, 2005

Settling in

Done, delivered, freeeeeeeeee!

Went to "Look at me", last night, then wine and fish and chips. The night before, as we watched some of her birthday present, the Doctor mocked me for scribbling down a bit that tickled me:

"[Descartes has] become a symbol of a pure intellect, but I find him a sympathetic figure. He started life as a soldier - he wrote a book on fencing - but he soon discovered that all he wanted to do was think. Very, very rare, and most unpopular.

Some friends came to call on him at 11 O'clock in the morning, and found him in bed. They said, 'What are you doing?'

He replied: 'Thinking.' They were furious.

To escape interference, he went to live in Holland. He said that the people of Amsterdam were so much occupied with making money that they would leave him alone. However, he continued to be the victim of interruptions, and so he moved about from place to place. Altogether, he moved house in Holland 24 times.

In the end, he was run to earth by that tiresome woman, Queen Christina of Sweden, who carried him off to Stockholm to give her lessons in the new philosophy. She made him get out of bed early in the morning and as a result he caught a cold and died."

Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, 8. The Light of Experience.

(Wikipedia says that, "letters to and from the doctor Eike Pies have recently been discovered which indicate that Descartes may have been poisoned using arsenic.")

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Sontaran Experiment...

Dr Who and the Sontaran pretty damn cool. And as Sarah-Jane says, right at the end of episode one, "Links!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Draft of the Settling finished, and going through people's notes. Also pitched something somewhere else (more of which if it happens), and listened to the first episode of Thicker Than Water, which fell through my letterbox this morning. Top stuff, with a TARDIS scene that's really rather moving.

The Doctor is suffering, submerged by a cold. Despite not being able to speak, she's still bossed me about. Quite a trick.

Nice time in the pub last night, though we're all old and rubbish and left by 10. Much appreciation of my new, spanking haircut, with girls wanting to run their hands through it. So that worked, then. L, sweetly, asked permission. Though not from me...

And the thing in the book that threw me yesterday?
"His name was George Mouse; he wore wide suspenders to his wide pants".

John Crowley, Little, Big, p. 8.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Settling bill

The Secret Project I’ve not been talking about here for weeks finally got announced. In fact, the script for Dr Who and the Settling is due in on Friday. Pretty much there, and lots of sitting-on-trains this weekend helped.

Swansea was great fun, and I got to walk down the bit of street from The Unquiet Dead. Not that I’d have recognised it, were it not for my local guide. Telly people are clever.

Spent most of my time in the convention fringe (i.e. the bar) catching up with old friends and making many new ones. Bit vague on things after my excitement that the bar was still serving after midnight… Am told I get bigger the more I drink.

Sunday was mostly nodding and smiling while the hangover faded to black. May have talked myself into some more work. We’ll see.

Then to Bristol in the evening, which took forever. Like last Sunday, there were no trains. Ng. The best mate, who’s just bought a house in St George’s, took me for medicinal beers and a curry. Ended up watching Team America until 3 in the morning.

Yesterday, got to chat to the sister for a bit, then greasy spooned and headed for home and the neglected Doctor.

As well as scripting, I also finally got round to The Gallifrey Chronicles, which is everything lovely that everyone’s said it is. Not sure I understood all of it – a mixture of my booze-battered brain and not having entirely followed the previous books in the run. And I glowered sternly at the occasional, overly-indulgent bits, such as a description of 26 things the Doctor is, one for each letter of the alphabet. But great fun, chock full of wondrous, wild ideas, and actually rather moving. The git.

Now reading Little, Big, which put odd images into my head on the bus this morning. I’ll explain that one tomorrow.

Oh, and happy birthday M. See you in the pub shortishly.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

You lied, Edward

There is a Swansea.

I am going there now.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The cost of secrets

A retired chum tells me that posting a letter used to be cheaper if you didn't seal the envelope and only tucked the flap in. Wanting a bit of evidence for this top fact, I googled the following.
"On 1st October 1870, the first official postcards in Britain were issued by the Post Office. [...] The officially produced Post Card carried a prepaid stamp to the value of 1/2 d, a new postal rate for open correspondence. The postal rate for letters in a sealed envelope remained at one penny. At half the standard postal rate, the Post Card was immediately popular, and 675,000 were sold on the first day of issue."

David Simkin, "Seaside photography - the picture postcard"

Wonder when that stopped being the case. Wonder if my legion of readers can supply the answer. Oh, go on. It works for Neil Gaiman.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It can be very nasty...

...being interviewed, but I seemed to survive my first ever go. Mr D Darlington of Dr Who's Magazine had a beer waiting when I arrived, which helped soften the blow. Hopefully, somewhere in the ums and ahs and going-off-on-tangents, I said something intelligible about wanting real and lasting consequences...

Got a postcard from one E Robson this morning, who reports that,
"In Stockholm everybody stops at around 3 O'clock for coffee and cake. It is therefore the most civilised city in the world."
He also took my advice and went to the Vasa museum, which is cool - even if it makes the (also cool) Mary Rose look a bit scrappy. I'm off to Sweden myself in November.

Am just over half way through proofing History of Christmas, and the cover is apparently due on the Internet shortly. Also finished a very readable, very damning book on cost-benefit analysis and the way it's misused in the US to curtail regulation of health, the environment and so on.
"How can bizarre, hypothetical calculations about tiny sums of money stand in the way of using our knowledge and resources to do the right thing? ... A large, and growing, chunk of our collective resources is already allocated to the militaryon the basis of passionate claims about moral imperatives. Those who care about civilian objectives have to answer in kind, not imagine that they can win the debate with careful spreadsheets and subtle tradeoffs."

Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling, "Priceless - on knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing", p. 223.

I'd love to see the same sort of study focusing on public spending in the UK. I suspect it'd make similarly harrowing reading.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Another final thought

Delighted to see Jerry Springer The Opera has managed a reprieve, after the insidious campaign against it. Christian Voice's latest, charming, argument is that those staging the play will "sacrifice community cohesion".

It's not exactly the tolerant, forgiving attitude, is it? Those who object to the play don't have to go see it, nor do they have to like it, and this campaign of hatred is missing some pretty fundamental points.

The portrayal of Jesus and his family in the opera is not meant to be literal or true. There are explicit warnings to that effect within the opera itself. Instead, it's a fevered imagining by (the character of) Jerry Springer, reflecting his own preoccupations, fears and guilt. It's tasteless and over-the-top, but that’s the point: Springer’s treatment of ordinary people and their problems is just as despicable.

In Act One, Springer is seen cynically exploiting the real misery and crises of his guests, mistreating his staff, and refusing to accept any sort of responsibility for what happens on his show. This is a bloke who even gives airtime to the Klan.

Act Two is not, then, putting Jesus on trial; it's Springer's own soul that's at stake. The Jesus and his family we see are clearly all distorted versions of guests we met in Act One, their sordid, tawdry problems warped to Biblical, operatic proportions.

So what’s worse, a guest “entertaining” a baying crowd by declaring his infidelities to his heartbroken wife, or a twisted dream of Jesus claiming to be “a bit gay”?

The conclusion Springer reaches through his absurdist dream seems to be that he can’t shirk responsibility for his guests, that he can’t stand to one side, passing objective comment as the fighting ensues. He has to get his hands dirty. Forced to justify himself, forced to broker some kind of peace between the warring deities, Springer is left to ask some pretty serious moral questions about our – all of our – obligations to one another.

As a morality play, then, I’d argue Jerry Springer The Opera actually serves to bolster community cohesion. Instead of the pat moral summary at the end of (the real) television show, the opera poses complex questions… ones we have to think about for ourselves. If it’s not the “uplifting morality” story that some Christians might be used to, surely it deserves merit for appealing to exactly those people who wouldn’t go near anything smacking of self-congratulatory moral worth.

Jesus himself taught morality by telling stories that questioned people’s values. The parables are so well-known that it’s worth remembering how controversial they were in their time. Imagine a modern version of “The Good Samaritan”, where it’s not Pharisees and the rich who stroll past the man in need, it’s our own moral guardians and public leaders. And rather than help coming from a Samaritan – the sworn enemy of the people Jesus was telling his stories to – what would we feel if the “good” man was (considering criticism of the opera) gay? Or a Nazi, or a terrorist?

(Actually, typing that last bit made me think of how ordinary people become terrorists – is it just that they’re shown a concern by extreme groups that’s otherwise lacking in “civil” society?)

I don’t have a problem with mocking religion – it’s healthy to question authority. Yes, I’d rather the mocking was done well, with intelligence and wit, but like Life of Brian before it, Jerry Springer The Opera achieves that, and puts forward shrewd insights in amongst all the funny stuff. For which it should be celebrated.

And though some people will object to their gods getting teased, I’ve no time for any deity not man enough to take it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Why I died

Took forever to get down to Winchester yesterday to see my folks, due to the usual joys of trains. The coach from Woking came in (for some reason) at the south end of town, so I got to point out to the Doctor the carpark that was once Winchester's other train station (and the one that Sherlock Holmes used). Much discussion of the damnable Dr Beeching, which seems all the more pertinent in these apocalyptic days where petrol for cars threatens to be as much as £1 per litre.

Laughable, really, when compared to a litre of milk (84p), six large, free range eggs (99p), or a loaf of bread (91p). (Source: Sainsbury's)

Petrol Direct also made me laugh.

Anyway. Had a huge and lovely lunch and caught up on family stuff. Then to the pub with a friend while we waited for the trains we'd been promised would be working again at half four to be working again.

This morning, I saw Revolver (review should be live soon). Verdict: well, I feel especially professional for staying till the end. Which was more than some.

Went to see O afterwards, who is well enough to be bored and restless. We had soup.

My death last week has been officially announced. Now to get on with writing something that hasn't...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Other people's news

Everybody else has news: B's dog died; O's in hospital, still waiting for an operation; M's going to be a daddy, sometime next March...

My uncle and auntie are over from the States, and last night we fell in to a proper, smoky pub and got drunk. Saw some people I used to know and work with, too, and caught up on gossip and chips.

Phil has sent me a world of notes on something I'm writing but Still Cannot Speak Of. Damn him, everything he's saying is right.

So there'll now be some stuff about the importance of discipline.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Impressive living

A Life Worth LivingGot sent a link to Joe Ford's (mostly) positive review of A Life Worth Living. Glad he enjoyed it, though I (obviously) disagree with him on some points.

Joe also gives "a major thumbs up" to the number of "unknown writers" in the book. Hooray! Really pleased the effort is appreciated (and not just by the writers themselves).

New writers mean more work for the editor, because of the additional time taken reading submissions, making suggestings, getting the stories into shape, and so on. They also mean competition for the few enough gigs. It's far easier to just employ someone you know is reliable, a "name" whose inclusion can be a selling point.

Still, Big Finish published my first ever published fiction ("The Switching"), and I'm absurdly, toadyingly grateful for that. And new writers - either new to writing, to Dr Who, or just to Big Finish - also play a big part in History of Christmas and (though contributors have yet to be announced) Something Changed.

Reckon I've paid off my debt now.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


A fun day being a number of dead bodies. Practising in the mirror yesterday, I'd been hoping to emulate John Turturro's "Do. Not. Seek. The. Treasure!" in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Think it probably ended up more the noble and learned Baron, Lord Greenback.


Be sure to grab yourself the new Dr Who Magazine. Not that I'm biased or anything...
"Simon Guerrier's 'How You Get There' is in another league than the other stories in the anthology, and the opening four pages are the best thing in the collection. The story illustrates the theme of the small kindnesses that make life worth living, as the Seventh Doctor takes a bus journey to save the world. If the other stories were of this standard, the book would be something special."

Matt Michael, "Off the Shelf - Short Trips: A Day In The Life",
Doctor Who Magazine 361 (12 October 2005), p. 65.

Tra la la...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ask for me tomorrow...

...and you shall find me a grave man.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Catching it

What I said yesterday, in the spoilery paragraph? Forget it. Blimey. Episode 20. The Doctor couldn't watch all of it.

Trafalgar Square was brimming with people at lunch, to celebrate the cricket. So brimming I couldn't actually get out of the office. Odd to see so many people so pissed so early in the day, too. Haven't seen that since... oh, since we won the rugby two years ago.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Losing it

Spent Saturday working on things-we-still-can't-speak-of, and think I've now caught up with the two weekends I spent larking. But we'll see. I may just have written crap.

As a reward for a day's work, the Doctor and I followed our neighbour to a party down the street, which was already well underway. The punch involved vodka, schnapps, oranges and lemons. Went down very easily. And there was beer and chatting and new friends to be made.

Yesterday, however, was not fun. Coca-cola and aspirins had me in an okay state by mid-afternoon, but the Doctor really suffered. Think we've both overdone it with work and activities recently. We were promising each other never to drink again, and all that sort of thing.

Anyway. I watched "Century Falls", which is an example of the kind of the great kids' telly they're not interested in making any more. Spooky, strange and morbid, it has a village of freaky old people trying to take over the brains of an unborn baby, while freaky children risk death exploring their psychic powers. It's surprisingly humourless for Russell T Davies - although that may be because some of the quirkier stuff (about the lead girl being fat, for example) is under-played in "grittily real" style, so comes across a bit flat. But I was hooked.

Also still hooked on "Lost" - we're now up to episode 19. Probably done by the end of the week.

Selfishly, it's a similar wheeze to something I was working on myself (though my idea was set indoors, with a cast of just four - so evidently the UK TV version). But Lost is brilliantly written and played, and constantly surprising. Locke remains my favourite character, although all the characters are good. Think they've missed a trick, though, in... well, highlight to read what might be considered a spoiler:

They've missed a trick in not killing off a regular character yet. We've had deaths of people whose names we're not even sure of, but both Charlie and Shannon have both been killed onscreen - brutally, suddenly, unexpectedly. And then, just when we're reeling from the full, extraordinary shock of that, they've had a miraculous resurrection. And then there's Claire's lucky escape from Ethan - whose death means the whole abduction can be put to one side. I hope that's not what happens - it'd feel like the show was pulling its punches.

I harbour concerns that the producers are making it all up as they go along, and that - like X-Files and Twin Peaks before - interest will wain the more questions get posed without any kind of proper resolution. I'm hoping it's all been worked out, that the mysteries all add up to some overall plot... The way the back-stories overlap, I'm hoping the future all ties together, too. Basically, I'm hoping that, having earned my commitment, the show now won't let me down...

Friday, September 09, 2005


Just got home to find three copies of The Lost Museum CD amongst the post. Listening to it now, and just grinning and grinning.

Simon Robinson, who had the horror of making my script sound good, has... well, made it sound bloody amazing. I believe the term is "Woot!"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Yes, I have read a poem

A splendid fellow plus-oned me into a press screening of Serenity last night, which is truly magnificent and deserves to do wonders. No spoilers here - just go see the thing. Trust me on this.

A year ago, while the Doctor was off travelling and I hurried to meet the deadline on A Life Worth Living, another chum passed on the box-set of the original TV series. I'd noble ideas about watching an episode a day over lunch, maybe another one each evening for tea, and otherwise getting on with my urgent work.

Not a chance. Watched the whole thing in a day. Damn, it's good: lively, funny, sexy, scary, ambitious, surprising and just plain rude...

(Still met the deadline, though. I'm quite good, too.)

Finally picked up my own copy of the series last week (a snip at £18, upstairs in the Oxford Street HMV). Will bliss myself out watching it again while I wait for the movie to come out proper.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


What seems like a lifetime ago, a tatty, home-made comic discussed,
"a word of chameleonic genius, the semantic equivalent of the Scrabble blank."
It's funny, I'd never wondered until now what Wikipedians had come up with. And I have work to catch up with and deadlines pressing, so the results turn out to be an ever more guilty pleasure. Ah, bliss.

The "in different languages" is especially heart-warming. It could do with a pronunciation guide, though, And in some kind of playable-audio wossname.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Better than the movies

IWM's fab 'Great escapes' exhibitionCleared up this weekend's revelries, then off to the Imperial War Museum. Had time for two exhibitions - "Great escapes" (£6 each, until 31 July, 2006) and "Secret war" (free and permanent) - before seeing the brother-in-law on to his bus.

Both exhibitions start with dashing movie clips and displays of books and games, before telling the true stories that inspired the Hollywood myths. There's a wealth of information, and with my current spy-fever, it was great to have so much about the history of MI5, MI6, the Special Operations Executive and SAS. "Great escapes" especially had the kids in mind, so there was a fair amount of stooping to read the hidden information boards and take part in forging travel documents and listening to possible tunnelling... Glad it was quite quiet, to be honest.

If there was anything missing it was accounts of enemy escapees and spies. I remember my grandparents telling me about Germans who kept English money in their pockets when they came on bombing raids. If they were shot down, they had enough to survive on but never any change. The pubs were on the look out for young men buying single pints of beer with pound notes. That was a fortune back then.

"Secret war" did better, with details of a German spy ring foiled in the First World War, and brief mention of Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt. Still, it all seemed a bit one-sided - though I can't really be surprised if the Imperial War Museum shows some imperialist bias.

But stories of why Oxbridge's finest went over to the other side, and how they were eventually found out are just as thrilling as tales of our pluckly lads working behind enemy lines. And have inspired just as gripping films, books and drama serials.

If not, at least yet, any board games.

Speaking of imperialism, we saw Team America last night. Laughed and laughed - and won't ever watch Thunderbirds now without thinking of puppets that swear, explode, puke and shag. The Doctor, who chose this when we couldn't find Vanity Fair in the shop, inevitably liked the bit with the panthers best.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Old lady

First thought this morning: I'll never wake up with a twenty-something again. Until my tawdry mid-life crisis kicks in, anyway.

(The Doctor is 30 tomorrow.)

Friday, September 02, 2005

'I'll see what I can do!'


The news just gets more and more appalling. Reeling from the stories and images, so just some random thoughts, really.

(So many people have more insightful things to say. Here's just one of them.)

Anyway, President Bush says the initial, shoddy response to the crisis, and the total absence of any kind of emergency infrastructure, is "not acceptable". There speaks a man who doesn't even know what "unacceptable" means.

"The incident in the already crippled city came after Louisiana's governor said 300 'battle-tested' National Guardsmen were being sent to quell the unrest.

'They have M-16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will,' Kathleen Blanco said."

BBC News, "Bush vows to step up Katrina aid"

"Yee-ha", she might have added.

Among the mailing lists and news sites struggling to understand what's happened, I got passed on this editorial from the Taiwan News:
"New Orleans may go down in history as the first major city in an advanced country to be lost to the process global warming [...] We sincerely hope that the Bush administration will take the call from Hurricane Katrina and reconsider its energy and environmental policies and replace ostrich-like escapism with leadership in the global effort to deal with the crisis of global climatic change."

Taiwan News editorial, "Katrina calls, Bush should listen"

Odd, probably-inappropriate thing: I'd been raving to a mate about Kim Stanley Robinson's "Forty signs of rain" only a week ago, which is about the US administration being forced to acknowledge the effects of climate change as one of its major cities is flooded out.

The follow up, "Fifty degrees below" is out on Monday, and couldn't be any more timely.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Conflict builds character

Finally watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night, which I’d been meaning to get to for ages, it having been highly recommended by several trustyworthy sources. Loved Adaptation, which I’d been told it was quite like - though that isn’t actually true.

But bloody hell, that was a bit good. I can see why a friend was totally freaked, describing it as a very bad trip. Beautiful and sad, it really struck a chord – especially with the stupid, tetchy arguments-about-nothing getting between two people who really spark off each other. In fact, it’s so easy to identify with the Joel and Clem’s relationship, it’s little wonder the film’s so affecting.

The cast are all excellent. Jim Carrey’s consistently at his best when down-playing these constricted characters, unable to express themselves properly. It reminded me of him in both Man in the Moon and the Truman Show. Like Robin Williams, he’s absolutely brilliant when he can resist the obvious clowning around. Perhaps Carrey should sport a beard for his serious work, too.

Not sure the prologue works, though, with Joel and Clem meeting again as strangers. Were we meant to think that was them meeting for the first time, and I’m just being too clever? As it was, it gave away the resolution – that some vague recollection is spared.

But it’s a brilliant film, and incredibly unsettling. It’s not just the amnesiac procedure that’s invasive, the men conducting it prove to be equally, creepily icky in taking advantage of their patients.