Friday, August 31, 2007


So the badger-pirates have been delivered. I've heard the SFX mix of The Final Amendment and the pre-title sequence for The Wake, and yesterday unearthed a secret cachet of photos from early Benny recording sessions. Also been going through my logs for sketches and roughs and all sorts of oddments, so the Inside Story will have plenty of previously unseen stuff. And there is proofing of that and Missing Adventures, and something eventful in the works...

But damn knackered. Am away this weekend to the north. Can't remember when I last had two whole consecutive days off. Am planning on reading the not-quite-new Iain Banks. And catching up on sleep.

And then, and then... Well, there's some on-spec stuff I have been meaning to do forever. And How The Doctor Changed My Life to edit, in time for... er, sort of June 2008. Which means I might have time to blog again shortly. Sorry. But you must have know it couldn't last...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Expletive deleted

Long story short: buy product.

Starring Stephen FewellThe Big Finish website now boasts the exciting cover artwork for Bernice Summerfield Jason Kane audio "The End of the World". It's meant to be out this month, but a vital member of the cast was only available right at the last minute, so it went to press this week. Due back early part of September.

Of course I'm going to think so, but golly it's worth waiting for.

Listened to the final version myself only last night, and am a bit dead chuffed. Dave Stone's script delivers exactly what I asked for - a definitive Jason Kane, the character first seen in the 1996 novel Death and Diplomacy and variously used and abused ever since. This one sees Jason grappling with both his past and future, and even though I'd read the script and been at the recording, it didn't half give me goosebumps.

Kudos to all the talented folks who made it happen: Lisa Bowerman directing, Stephen Fewell starring alongside an exemplary cast, and Matthew Cochrane making some really rather fabby music. I've just transferred the bonus Track 18 on to my bulging iTunes.

But it was weird to hear the story segue into trailers for the next two plays - The Final Amendment and The Wake. Because after that, for the first time in 15 plays, I'm not going to have been involved in What Benny Did Next...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Individuals and their families

The thing about reading and writing for a living is that it eats into reading for pleasure. At one time it was unthinkable to still be reading the same book two days in a row. I first read Excession with unheard of extravagance – and took almost a week.

Now the things that don’t have to be read or edited or proofed get carried around in my satchel for getting on for months. I’ve found niches for pleasurable reading, too, where work can be forgot. So I’ve got Tarzan in our bathroom and Bloody Foreigners for the train.

The latter is a quite incredible history of immigration to Britain, and is very recommended. Since people first stumbled upon this woody, rainy island they have fought with them that followed. Some groups have been more fought off than others, but as a general rule it’s the same depressing story as you get from the Princelet Street Museum; each generation of immigrants persecuted by the kids of the last lot.

Robert Winder’s story is engaging and full of facts and telling details. Often he follows the stories of specific individuals and their families, their struggles to do better and to provide for a future. But I think his real strength is in tying together so many different groups and details into a history we already know.

It doesn’t come as news, for example, that the UK has always been a mongrel nation. The first recorded black people in the UK were Roman soldiers, here to quell the savage natives.

Another one we should all know is that migration works two ways. Emigration not only balances out the numbers, but affects what it means to assimilate. British ex-pats in their second homes in Spain expect the food and booze and language just like it is at home.

Nor is it radical to note the positive effects of immigration: cheap labour in the first instance, but cultural and economic boons that have lasted centuries. Winder explains the beginnings of the vindaloo and Marks and Spencer, Bombay Mix and music. And this all adds weight to his argument that those prepared to give up their homes and go live somewhere else often have very pressing reasons to do so; that those with the get up and go to start up somewhere foreign are exactly the kind of ambitious lot we want. It occurred to me that Norman Tebbitt’s famous reply to the Brixton riots is a call for economic migration.
“I grew up in the 1930s with an unemployed father. He did not riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he went on looking until he found it.”

Norman Tebbit

Despite the many and varied successes, Bloody Foreigners is no comfort read. It’s rather a history of national stupidity and meanness. The horrific increase in violence and intolerance in the last hundred years is particularly disturbing. Events from the 70s and 80s are particularly appalling, with institutional racism effectively condoning the violence of the National Front. It is little solace that our record was better than much of Europe.

A few times I’ve tutted at generalisations. For all he critiques the “establishment” tarring a whole race with the behaviour of a few individuals, Winder does use his specific examples to make sweeping statements about large groups. I'm not sure how else you could tell a history like this, but there have been times when I felt him guilty of the same "them" and "us" mentality he otherwise pulls apart.

There’s also a couple of not-quite-right bits. He describes the Vikings as “the horn-helmeted tribe from across the Baltic” on p. 26. As well as the relativism of seeing the Vikings as barbaric pillagers, they also never wore horns.

But these are minor quibbles with an extremely engaging, insightful book. Winder draws few conclusions himself, rather letting the story tell itself. But there’s an implicit liberal agenda of compassion and tolerance, perhaps best put when he explains the word “xenophobia”:
“The word is mostly defined as a nationalistic hatred of anything foreign, but at its root is the Greek word xenos, meaning ‘guest’. So xenophobia is, literally, a fear of guests. This does indeed seem a distinctive national terror. Guests might eat all the food! They might outstay their welcome! For a people whose bungalows were their castles, the thought of unexpected visitors, the inconvenience of having to lay an extra place at supper, was enough to make anyone turn pale.”

Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners, pp. 326-7.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The aqueduct?

Because of the showbiz, may-fly lives we lead, the Dr and I rarely follow TV shows as they’re going out. We didn’t watch all of Droo live, for example, and sometimes were not even in the same country. There are come colleagues who think this behaviour desperately, dangerously wrong.

So, while the second series of Rome comes to an end on the telly, we have just got to the end of the first lot on DVD. And find ourselves bothered that we’ve got a whole three weeks before we can see the next bit.

The Roman republic is falling on its arse, because of soldier called Julius Caesar. He insists he’s only being a tyrant to get Rome back on its feet. At the same time as all the politics, we follow two lowly Roman soldiers, Titus Pollo and Lucius Vorenus, as they struggle with everyday life.

I’d watched the first episode and bits of some more when it was on the telly, but it had failed to win me over. The writing seemed all gruff and joyless, the attention on the look of the thing. Sudden and shocking naked bits and violence were less titillating as excluding. And I was probably working at the time, and not paying due attention to the story.

Some learned colleagues explain that the first telly episodes had been edited - the BBC favouring less talky explaining in favour of more stabbing and bums. And I also think it’s a series you need to stick with to get into.

This is also true of I, Claudius, the BBC’s series from the 1970s which we watched some time ago. With that, I felt it didn’t really get going until Master No. Five Derek Jakobi was appearing in the flashbacks as well (the first episode or two just set the scene, and Claudius appears as a nipper). Once he’s commenting on stuff we watch him do himself, critiquing and juxtaposing the story, it all becomes much more absorbing.

I, Claudius also had a lot of sudden, shocking violence and nude bits – though a telly generation more tame. And it also worked hard to get through all the big history while also keeping in all the gossip. The Dr provided commentary on both that and Rome, explaining the various sources. I found I came to Rome with a bit more knowledge of my own, too, having studied both Asterix and Shakespeare.

The Dying Gaul
I noticed that the Gaulish leader Vercingeterox looks less like he does in the comic and much more like the mulletted Dying Gaul (the statue that’s the spitting image of nineteenth century classicist Adolf Furtwangler). And I’m sure that Caesar is meant to have been bald.

The Dr was horrified by the look of Egypt, which would have Edward Said spinning in his sarcophagus. She liked the way that rumours were started – for example why there are accounts Julius did it with Augustus. We also marvelled at the scale and excitement, and the clever way it mixed the epic story of the city and empire with everyday people’s lives.

Still think it could have been funnier, though. And some of the dialogue clanked.

Also, I can’t quite reconcile myself to the fact that Max Pirkis is playing the young Brian Blessed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Three books at once

I have been busy with badger-faced pirates and so not mucking around here. It also doesn't help that my computer is acting up.

Sometimes it doesn't start up properly, and you just get a waiting blue screen. Sometimes it does start up, and then the keyboard doesn't work. Sometimes it starts up, the keyboard works, and then the Internet doesn't do anything. Oh it connects, and it says it is doing something, but then nothing webwise loads up. Lost three and a half hours to that today, though I got some pirates written on a laptop. Arg.

Nimbos suggests it might be something to do with USB ports, since the keyboard and Internet both come in from them. So I have something to investigate the next time it falls over. Joy oh joy oh joy.

"Or could it be," I suggested, daring to imply that I have any idea, "that I'm still running Windows Millennium Edition?"

Nimbos considered carefully before explaining that I live in the Dark Ages. Have not let on that my keyboard comes with rubber keys.

Otherwise things progress. Spent an hour at Deej's taking pictures of his books and rummaging through his magazines. This will greatly help Alex as he zips along in finishing the Inside Story of Benny.

Speaking of which, I had a fun leaving do on Sunday to mark the end of my regime (though I've still two books and two audios to deliver, as well as the ones being pressed and published now). Somehow, completely accidentally, I managed to drink some beer.

Well, not exactly "some". Text message to the Dr from 01.22 says:
"I love you. Sorry. But you are quite good. Phwoar."
Ho hum.

But she is quite good, and today has word that her book is going to be published. More news on that as and when it is appropriate, but we have reason for opening fizz. Just think, both of us will now be tearing out hair out and swearing, rather than just me.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My brain hurt like a warehouse

It is five years today since I left full-time employment to leap aboard the kayak of freelancing. The me then, with his hair and cappucine and basement flat in Greenwich, wasn’t entirely sure it would all work out. And the hair and basement flat really didn’t. But the kayak is still going and things are, you know, quite good.


The Dr, who has been successfully kayaking for a year herself, and I are celebrating tonight with fish and chips and fizz. And then booking hols to LA and Australia.

Doctor Who and the SnapshotsReceived my copies of Snapshots this morning, which includes my story "There’s Something About Mary". It owes something to an idea I had for a Doctor Who novel, which I sent the BBC a few months short of five years ago. But it owes something more to The Iron Giant. And the pop video Mary watches, that’s Gail Ann Dorsey in Bowie’s Dead Man Walking.

I’ve also received a copy of Malcolm Hulke’s Writing for Television, having been prompted by m’colleague Peter on my post about Harry Potter 7.
“If it’s a kids’ show, and the story includes a ship sinking at sea, save the ship’s cat.

Malcolm Hulke, Writing for Television (1982 edition), p. 243.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Like free admission to a library

Not the sameM kindly plus-oned me into a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum yesterday morning – on the basis that he’d not seen the first two Bourne outings and I might help with any questions. I was a bit giddy with excitement as we arrived in Leicester Square. The following contains some minor spoilers, but won’t give the game away. But no, Ian, there weren’t any lions.

The film picks up immediately from the end of The Bourne Supremacy with ex-assassin-on-the-run Jason wounded and in Moscow, having just fessed up to a girl. The police are after him, he’s in bad shape and it’s all a bit exciting. The fast-cutting, low-fi, hand-held look is just as from before, as is the fantastic music.

For newbies like M, there are flashbacks early on to what has gone before and a CIA board meeting where people explain the plots of the last two films to gnarly boss Scott Glenn. His, “You couldn’t make this stuff up,” is a bit awkward and knowing, but any newcomers are quickly up to speed.

The hook for this one is that the Guardian have got hold of the story. Yes, really. There’s exciting scenes of the Guardian offices as they fight they good fight against conspiracies. M, what knows those offices himself, found this especially funny.

Soon Jason is chasing the story himself, racing to collect clues about what he used to be a part of, while baddies try to eliminate the evidence. We dash quickly all across Europe: Turin, London, Paris, Madrid, the CIA merrily ignoring local laws and civil liberties as they struggle to keep hold of their secrets.

It’s as brutal and fast-paced and thrilling and smart as its predecessors, with Matt Damon using his brains as much as he uses martial arts, one man against hopeless odds. There’s some fun gags as he calls the police on his pursuers or turns up where they’re not looking. I am struggling not to say more, but note how it’s the women who help him and act as his conscience and the boys who use too much brute force.

So if you like the last two, you’ll be very happy. What’s more, the film has enough similar shots and situations to make it feel like this isn’t just another add-on to the franchise but part of a cohesive whole. That’s most obvious in the final scenes: the last lines from Bourne and then what happens next.

M not seen any of the previous two (I leant him them on DVD) and loved it too, though in the drizzle outside after he felt unconvinced by it as satire. I suggested, though, that this “it’s not the institution that’s at fault but some rogue elements within it” is no different from James Bond. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that this genre is all adventures with extremists.

Speaking of Bond, there’d been some speak last year that Casino Royale owed a great deal to Jason Bourne (though I’ve argued that it owes more to 24). So how would Bourne respond: would it break its winning formula in trying to up its game? No, it offers more of the same, only faster and more intense and with some bigger set-ups. (I also thought the rooftop chase in Tangiers reminiscent of The Living Daylights, though M. thought of the political Battle of Tangiers).

There are a small number of tiny niggles, too. Where does Bourne get his money from? How does he break into what should be such secure places? The film works hard to give Julia Styles a reason to be there, but it’s still a huge coincidence that she happens to end up in Bourne’s way again. Especially given what we learn about her past: yes, she might have reasons to be there, but that’s why her bosses would ensure she couldn’t be.

There’s also the customary British actor playing the villainous big cheese. At first I thought the bloke glimpsed in the flashbacks was an excuse to bring back Brian Cox, and wonder if Albert Finney got cast entirely for that reason.

Filmed at Pinewood, the film makes use of London’s own American actors – Von Statten and the US President from Doctor Who are in it, though I felt cheated there was no Mac McDonald. (Only this weekend M and I devised a game for watching Secret Army, where it’s one point for naming an actor, two for naming another role they’ve had, and five for who they played in some form of Doctor Who).

But anyway. I was buzzing all day after seeing it and am already booking to go again.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why I can't walk on water

To the horror of politely brought-up ladies everywhere, I have been wearing shorts. Rest assured, they are long enough to hide my especially knobbly knees. Yet great heavens! It might be a few months late but it looks like it might be the summer.

Summer means lots of different things: the smell of cut grass is the most potent one for me, a sure sign we’d soon be allowed on to the field at break times, back in primary school. These days it more often means people asking if I’m enjoying the sunshine when they know I’ve spent all day working on a thing.

Today, incidentally, has seen 5,000 good words and so can be considered a success.

Why I can't walk on waterAlso, summer means blisters from the not-quite flip-flops that I bought in the States on my honeymoon. The Dr had long been aghast at my being content to wear shorts with shoes and socks, and plotted with my newest auntie in Livonia to find me something else. So you know it’s the start of summer ‘cos my plates look like I’ve been crucified.

“Hah!” I said to the Dr yesterday when showing off my weeping stigmata. But she was not to be convinced that this is another example of the all-evil wrongitude of shoes. No, it is an excuse to buy more of them.

She speaks in whisper of Birkenstock.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Proof positive

A nice chap called Brax interviewed me this morning for the autumn edition of his finely named freezine, Shooty Dog Thing. M'colleagues have already been interviewed in the issues currently and freely available. I've seen the cover for the next one, and it is delicious.

Inside the Inside Benny StoryHave agreed a final version of Missing Adventures, and just need to make the necessary changes and then it can go to lay-out. Also dared to wear shorts when going down to the production office to collect the first lay-outs of the Inside Benny Story. Alex Mallinson has done wonders. There's still plenty to do, but it looks marvellous, in all its 288-page stonking glory.

As well as gazing with lust at these first-proof pages, I have been quite busy. Have spoken to my mum and tried to call Italy, have been to Homebase and to the bank, have played a bit of Scrabulous on Facebook and done the washing up. And I went to the gym.

Also worked away on The Pirate Loop doing valid work. Yet, despite all I've written, it seems to have fewer words than it did this time yesterday. No, I don't understand either.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blog of a nobody

I am surely too old for acne. But I seem to have caught a blinder recently, and one prominent on the bulb of my nose. The Dr has been morbidly fascinated by this and keeps peering at me up close. This, after three years of wedded ennui, is something quite out of character.

The spot has been cleaned and burst and cleaned again, but is now a livid red “o” of raw skin. And itchy.

“Maybe it’s not a spot at all,” suggested a colleague. “Maybe it’s cancer. Or small pox.”

Disquieted by this suggestion, I spent my lunch hour in the queue at the Post Office. The teacher in front of me fretted about whether she’d properly filled in her passport form.

“I’ve been teaching people how to fill in the same forms for years,” she told me. “But I never looked at the questions before.”

Eventually got to weigh my letters with Cashier #10. Excitingly, my change included a brightly shiny 5p piece, the first 2007 coin I’ve seen.

Am off to the Portrait Gallery’s posh upstairs bar tonight for a colleague’s leaving do. Our gift was getting a portrait of him hung in the pub where we lunch.

Otherwise the scrawling continues. Done lots, and am reasonably happy with it. And there are several very exciting things maybe in the offing. But I cannot speak of them any more than vaguely, hence the pooterish post.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Prevention of cruelty to monsters

There are monsters down my road. No, really.

Well, strictly speaking, there are monsters down my road, over the railway bridge, right, left, right again, left again and then sort of diagonally left round the artificial lake. But, for monsters, that’s pretty close. And I do go to visit them often.

Icthyosaur at Crystal PalaceUntil five years ago, the monsters looked a bit shabby and uncared for, but a recent programme of repair has done them some good, and repaired the exposed strata of rocks that helped explain them in context. Excitingly, as of two days ago, they are now monsters with Grade 1 listing.

(I started writing this post two days ago, but things keep getting in the way.)

Anyway, this is a good thing.

The monsters are made of brick and concrete – the Victorian equivalent of CGI. They are fat and cumbersome and the iguanodon is wearing his thumb on his nose. They’re not dinosaurs, because we know better now about what dinosaurs looked like: Victorian palaeontologists only had scant evidence to guess from, and we’ve got a bit more to go on now.

The information boards nearby helpfully explain the differences between what Richard Owen – who supervised the monsters’ construction, coined the word “dinosaur” and wasn’t terribly lovely – thought and what palaeontologists now think today. Dinosaurs were really quick and slender, and in fact they didn’t die out. Instead their descendents are those feathered things cluttering up the sky.

(I have this vision of an avian Quatermass and the Pit, with an owlish Andre Morell explaining to the masses that in fact, “We are the dinosaurs.”)

The monsters are then a folly, a bold statement of ultimately not-quite-right thought. Cumbersome and somewhat cuddly, you could clearly out-walk them. I find them especially endearing because of that. And I’m glad the powers that are have come to agree.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Beacuse they ahhhhr!

The BBC's official Doctor Who website has announced details of three thrilling new Doctor Who novels, due to be published on 27 December. One of 'em is by me.

The Pirate Loop by me.Doctor Who and the Pirate Loop
by Simon Guerrier

The Doctor's been everywhere and everywhen in the whole of the universe and seems to know all the answers. But ask him what happened to the Starship Brilliant and he hasn't the first idea. Did it fall into a sun or black hole? Was it shot down in the first moments of the galactic war? And what's this about a secret experimental drive?

The Doctor is skittish. But if Martha is so keen to find out he'll land the TARDIS on the Brilliant, a few days before it vanishes. Then they can see for themselves...

Soon the Doctor learns the awful truth. And Martha learns that you need to be careful what you wish for. She certainly wasn't hoping for mayhem, death, and badger-faced space pirates.

You can pre-order the book from Amazon. And really, also, you should.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Swiss Army flip flops

I had rather woefully underestimated how much work might be involved in the Benny Inside Story bibliography. Thought it would take me a morning and it's taken all weekend (and there's still a couple of details to check).

Still, that and sourcing pull-quotes and quotations to start each chapter means I've read the book over for the first time in just more than a month. And I'm pretty happy with it. Just as well, as it's well into lay-out and there's no time to change too much.

Jo's Swiss Army flip flopAs reward for all that endeavour yestereve, I gadded across Stockwell to R. and C.'s housecooling. Stood out on their roof terrance drinking much Pimms and generally learning cool stuff. R's colleague Jo showed off some particularly good flip-flops, which have a bottle-opener embedded in the sole. Truly, we live in the future.

Taxi home at some point late, where me and the Dr bickered - to the great amusement of the driver. Despite eating bellinis and wild boar sausages on sticks all night, was rather in need of food. So did bacon and cheese and mushroom crumpets.

Friday, August 03, 2007


I have some depressingly clever friends.

Spent yesterday morning fighting badger-faced pirates and the afternoon laying out Benny. Mr Alex also showed me his rather exciting Dalek movie and film of him stinging spikes up his nose (which he has also shown Sylvester McCoy, he said proudly). I have got him talking to Nimbos and Codename Moose. Shall see if we can't Think Up A Project.

Wu in the windowThen ambled smokewards for the customary pub. On the way, I spotted Clemmo's new book looking big in a bookshop window. It's the Oxfam halfway between the British Museum and Forbidden Planet (as is Clemmo's writing, arf).

Managed not to see the person I'd gone to the pub to see (oops), but met some old chums and some new. There's even the glimmer of a hint of a vague possibility of some work off one of the latter.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

We’ve regenerated!

M’colleague Mr Ainsworth has just made live the new-look Big Finish website. It is brighter, spanglier and some acres more dashing than previously, and includes updates on things of mine.

Benny and the Nobody's ChildrenThere’s the cover for this month’s Benny novella collection, Nobody’s Children –which went off to press today. You can also download the six-page contents list for the Inside Story of Benny (PDF 64kb) – off to a lay-out meeting tomorrow on that one. The new home page sports Mr X-Bam’s fine Flash banner of all Big Finish things new, and includes a sneak preview of the cover to this month’s Bernice Summerfield Jason Kane play, The End of the World.

More on that one next week.