Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meet the meerkats!

Meet the space-pirate meerkatsI am thrilled - thrilled! - to see the new issue of Doctor Who Adventures (#108, 26 March 2009). The cover boasts my space-pirate meerkats!

(I first saw them in Sainsburys when I went to get more cat food; a rack of different mags all Jade Goody, and then, on the far left, one that was Not The Same.)

"Good Old Days" is my second strip for DWA. John Ross has worked wonders bringing my tortuously complex scripts into being. Hooray, too, to colourist Alan Craddock and letterer Paul Vyse. It's a huge tick on the list of childhood ambitions to be a proper, published writer of comics.

And also, the issue comes with a free time-watch and two glittering badges. Squee!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Our new floor and bookshelvesHere for the record is a picture of my new living room, showing the shelves built last month and the floor put in on Friday. Hooray to S. our handy workman, who's done such a splendid job.

(Compare to these pics from the beginning of February).

I've now got to shlep the stacked furniture back in there; it's currently all heaped around me in the office.

Bedroom was done Tuesday/Wednesday. The office needs doing next; but I've got a thing to finish writing before I can take my old desk and bits apart, so it might not be till later this week. And then we need new carpets on the stairs and landings. Hoping they do something acrylic that won't be eaten by moths and magic that won't clog with cat hair.

Am feeling grown up and tired and poor.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dinosaur chasey-chase

Tomorrow sees the neck-and-neck launching of seasons three of Robin Hood and Primeval. I’ve written forthcoming spin-off merchandise for both (Fire and Water due out in about five weeks; The Siege out in June), but I’m dead excited about both shows. I mean, tomorrow’s Primeval has dinosaurs chasing through the British Museum! And then next week’s is by my gay lover. What is not to love?

(A small boy on a train a few months back described Primeval as “dinosaur chasey-chase”, and I couldn’t have put it better. Doctor Who, is of course “monster chasey-chase”, James Bond “spy chasey-chase”, Star Wars “Jedi chasey-chase”…)

I’ve just proofed my Primeval novel, and received my 20 copies of The Slitheen Excursion this morning. Yesterday, we recorded The Drowned World, where I had to record my death twice but everyone else was magnificent. Making these things is easy: you just employ tremendously talented people to paper over my wobbly writing.

There are currently all sorts of whispers of exciting things which I might be up for writing. And something I’m struggling to finish is due an announcement soon.

But none of this is why I’ve been so tardy on this blog. Sometimes you hit Life; sometimes Life hits you. Jehosophat I am tired. So of course I’m going dancing tonight.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Angry young men

To the first night of New Boy at the Trafalgar Studios last night, starring Nicholas Hoult off of Skins and About a Boy. It’s co-produced by my boss and features one of the girls I created, so I’m rather compelled to have liked it.

But blimey, that wasn’t hard. From the moment it starts – with the knotty problem of whether the labia are inside or outside the vagina – it’s a rude, funny and painfully well-observed tale of teenage sex and inner terror. Hoult plays Mark, with the lion’s share of the lines as he pours out the crises of his friendship with the new boy at school, Barry (Gregg Lowe).

They’re both still virgins when they meet, but Barry’s so pretty Mark thinks it will be a cinch to get him laid. Barry is soon working his way through the local girls’ school and has designs on his French teacher. Mark, meanwhile, has earned the interest of Barry’s sister – who knows it’s Barry he’s really in love with.

It’s a relatively short, fast-moving play, with plenty crammed in about confused and angry teenage feelings, and the clumsy stumbling into being an adult. In some ways it feels like a series of sketches strung together by Mark addressing the audience – and never quite getting why things never quite go as he’d want.

Half-way through the play gets a new lease of life when Mel Giedroyc (yes, of Mel and Sue) walks on. It’s a small, intimate theatre and you realise quite how much you’ve been drawn in as a voyeur to Mark’s story when she addresses you directly. She got her own applause for her first extraordinary scene, as did my mate Ciara Janson for her stint as a receptionist.

Ciara and Phil Matthews play an impressive range of different roles – some gags depend on us knowing which of several people they’re being. Top marks to Russell Labey for directing and writing (adapted from a novel by William Sutcliffe). And hello to Frankie who I met in the pub later, who commanded the noise and the lighting.

New Boy is on until 11 April and if you miss it you are a silly person.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top of the pulps?

How exciting – readers of Unreality SF think the Prisoner’s Dilemma one of the best 10 tie-in stories of 2008-09. There’s now a vote for the best one, so go vote for me. Closing date is 22 March.

(The site’s own review of the story thinks the story “a bit disjointed” and seems to like my daft interview at the end with the actors and director the best of it. Pah.)

I’m very busy on something as-yet-unannounced which I can’t wait to shout about. But am taking tonight off to go watch New Boy with the boss and the tracer twin who isn’t already on stage.

Moran has written sizeable, wise advice for budding writers. He enthuses about reading widely.

Of no interest to anyone, my current reads are: Matter by Iain M Banks (re-reading for a thing I’m very late writing); Blood and Guts by Richard Hollingham (hot damn it is full of top and grisly facts); Something Borrowed by Paul Magrs (still reading this to the Dr) and The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis (because it fitted in my pocket on Saturday; read it as a believer back in my pre-teens and now find it enthralling for very different reasons…).

I’ve recently finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (goth fun, the usual sort of thing) and Eclipse of the Crescent Moon by Geza Gardonyi, translated by George F Gushing (old-skool, Orientalist adventure, full of odd details). And I’m watching Red Riding, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and the 50 year-old first series of The Twilight Zone (on DVD) at the moment, too.

Hope to blog on ‘em all when there’s a let up in the feverish beavering.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Destined for closure

The new issue of The DFC has some very sad news: it's closing in two issue's time. What a shame.

As I blogged last year, it's the first original, non-tie-in comic to launch since the short-lived Wildcat in 1988. For the past 41 weeks it has boasted no tie-ins to TV or movies or computer games, no cover-mounted freebies, no advertising. Just a mad squodge of new comic-strips through your letterbox to look forward to every Friday. Says the announcement:
"We're really sorry that we have to stop so suddenly, and that your stories are going to be interrupted. But we haven't been able to find the funding to cover the cost of creating more comics."
They promise there'll be ways to "find out what happens next in all the stories", but that's not quite the same.

My favourite strip is probably Fish-Head Steve by Jamie Smart, about a village of people who all have strange heads. But the range of styles and stories had been extraordinary: from the dark and scary Mezolith to the kooky Bodkin and the Bear, from the beautifully drawn sci-fi epic The Spider Moon to the strange adventure of Sneaky - cleverest Elephant in the world.

It's a been a fantastic ride for the last 41 weeks. I've had concerns about some of it: a couple of strips that left me cold, and sometimes the structure of strips has been odd, episodes not adding anything to what we've already learnt or finishing on what are hardly cliffhangers. But on the whole it's been a brilliant, fresh and vibrant read.

And, obviously, I learn it's closing the day after I sent them a submission.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How to make a banana look EXACTLY like a penguin

Bananas are good. They contain zinc. And can be made to look EXACTLY like penguins. Here's how:

Step one.
Take a banana, any banana. In these enlightened times, a straight one works just as fine as a bent one. Hold the banana with the stalk bit pointing up, the curve of the banana pointing away from you. Almost as if the banana is a longbow and you're about to fire it.

Step two.
Grasp the stalk and yank it backwards. The skin around the front of the stalk should crack easily. Pulling on the stalk, you should be able to peel backwards, down the outer, long curve of the banana. Ideally, you should have about a third of the circumference of the banana attached to the stalk, two-thirds still gripping the soft flesh. You might need to tear a bit to make that work. This is within the rules.

Step three.
Now confront the two-thirds of skin gripping the inner curve of the banana. Split it down the middle, to about half the length of the banana. Let the flaps flap. I'm sure your flaps will be much more evenly distributed than mine; no matter. Can you see what it is yet?

Step four.
Now flip the stalky flap back up, so it rests on the top of the banana. Say, that stalk looks EXACTLY like a penguin's beak. And those side flaps are EXACTLY like it's wings. Hot damn and hot diggedy, you've achieved alchemy! And must be burnt as witch.

Amaze your friends! Baffle your enemies! And chuck some money at Comic Relief.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"A guilty secret"

The splendid fellows at Doctor Who podcast Radio Free Skaro have posted up an MP3 interview with me, conducted at the Gallifrey convention in LA last month. Hear me stumble my way towards the articulate without ever quite getting there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who stocks the Guardian?

So what to to make of Watchmen? I loved the comic in my teens (though not as much as I loved V For Vendetta), and recall the bloke who wrote Batman (1989) and Terry Gilliam both saying it could never be filmed. It's complex and strange, packed full of incident and the juxtaposition of repeated images. So any film would surely just be not quite as good as the source. Which is what's happened whenever they've put Alan Moore's other great comics on screen.

And yet for the most part I think Watchmen works as a movie. It's complex and strange and I keep picking over it like with the gap between my teeth. There's an awful lot that I like – Rorshach's mask and his performance, the opening titles, the look and feel of Archie. But there's also much that is bothersome...











The choice in any adaptation is what to keep and what to cut out. Director Zack Snyder has slavishly kept close to the source: it's evident Dave Gibbons' artwork has been used to storyboard the film, and whole sections of the film's dialogue are lifted from the comic's balloons.

I'm surprised by how much of the comic makes it into the film. In fact, it feels too long at two-and-a-half hours. They could have cut back more.

The change to the ending in the comic keeps things simpler, and cuts out a whole sub-plot about pirate comics and a writer off making a movie. Veidt setting up Dr Manhattan works better than the comic's faked alien menace anyway. It makes Manhattan's slow separation from humanity part of the plot rather than an intriguing aside.

But my major concern is not with what's been taken out but added. In the comic, the murder of the Comedian is shown in the first four pages, in flashback, pressed in between panels of the cops looking round over the dead man's flat. Eddie Blake doesn't have a chance to fight back.

In the movie, there's a whole martial arts sequence like out of any superhero movie. Blake goes out fighting, punching through bricks and the kitchen cabinets, revealing super-human speed and strength. It misses something fundamental about what the comic's doing: grounding the outlandish events and characters in a grubby, mundane reality. These heroes are (for the most part) ordinary mortals. They're as fallible, flawed and falling apart as the rest of us.

The film's costumed heroes sport the same PVC chic as the comic-book movies since Batman in '89. They fight in the same ways as other comic-book movies, and there are the same fast CGI pull-backs to reveal huge buildings and landscapes. As a result it feels like a response to those movies: more about the X-Men of the 21st century than the 1980s.

That's not helped by the music. I know a few people who love the film's music, but I found the choices of tune just odd. It doesn't give any sense of the period: Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix both suggest the 60s. “All along the watchtower” is used in Withnail & I to a much better effect.

While the comic had a very particular sense of its period – an alternative, awful “now” - the film is a mish-mash of the nostalgic and contemporary, and neither quite feels right. If only it could have felt more like the brilliant title sequence, showing American history with the added bonus of heroes. Well, brilliant but for one little grumble.

The sequence shows assassination of JFK and then shows the Comedian wielding the rifle. It's a crass realisation of what in the comic is just an aside, the Comedian boasting to some mates at a party.

Too often the film favours the crass and simplistic over the more intriguing and complex. Laurie tells her mother she loves her, while in the comic those words never need to be said because its implicit in the scene.

The Dr was concerned by the not-quite-brilliant qualities of the actresses playing Laurie and her mum. But there’s no subtlety in their dialogue to play off: they seem awkward and stupid for stating the bleeding obvious.

More than that, special effects movies mean playing to green curtains and ping-pong balls on sticks. The film's editor can be more thrilled by the assembly of the disparate elements of the shot than the quality of performance. Just as Dr Manhattan sees human beings and their feelings as merely some tricky jigsaw. (See also the affect on Star Wars once technology let George Lucas build his empire whatever way he liked.)

It also doesn't help how “false” a lot of the film feels. The comic is grounded in realism: heroes who get dementia and drunk, who get old and die. There's something still strange and disturbing about superheroes being drafted into the war in Vietnam. In the film, the Nam sequences felt especially contrived, more Photoshop than photo realism.

There's been some mocking of the prosthetics and President Nixon's nose. The film makes more of him – and Kissinger – than the comic does, which diminishes his impact. He's a weird caricature in the film, a credible world leader bent under terrible pressure when we glimpse him in the comic – where he never says a word. There's nothing in the comic I can think of that Nixon's estate might want to sue.

The film also gets in a gag about Americans not accepting a cowboy into the White House. To do this they fudge a better gag in the comic, where it's Robert Redford standing for election in 1988. Would Reagan have been well enough to stand in ’88? And surely the point about Redford is he offers an alternative to the hard-line Republicanism Nixon represents in this world. The film throws out the political reality in favour of a cheap gag.

Likewise, Ozymandias says in the film that he's “not a comic book villain”, when that's plainly what he is. In the comic its “republic serial villain” because in a world where there are real superheroes, they don’t feature in comics. Again, the film loses out by putting things so bluntly.

The comic is violent but this is more so: there are extended and bigger fight scenes, a man having his arms cut off where he's just quickly stabbed in the comic, Dr Manhattan not just disintegrating people but spattering them all over the ceiling.

While the comic shows sex and bosoms and a full frontal blue willy, in the film it feels much more like titillation. Like some of the swearing in the first series of Torchwood (or when I took over Benny) this desperate effort to appear more adult just makes it seem more adolescent. The sex scene between Dan and Laurie should have felt more like the one in Don't Look Now: no soft focus, unglamorous, tender.

But the film also pulls its punches. The scenes of devastated New York are much bloodier in the comic. Even the “clean” nuclear explosion would leave people burned and horribly disfigured. Perhaps this film plays to a modern audience's subconscious horror of 9/11 (I was surprised not to see the Twin Towers collapse in that final attack), but it didn’t seem horrific enough. We need to be utterly appalled by what Veidt has done for the moral conundrum of the last scenes to carry any weight. It's not enough in the film that one of those killed in New York is Rorschach's psychologist. The comic introduces a whole load of familiar faces, and we don't even know their names.

It's a bold film full of flickers of brilliance. This great long post suggests I didn't enjoy it when I largely did. But I keep thinking how it might have been done differently. How the same cast and crew made a better version. Just in a world not that different from our own...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Come dancing

All over London there are posters for incredible India, exhorting you to "dance with the locals."

Lipstick tigers

Did we learn nothing from Siegfried and Roy? They're not dancing, they're having a scrap. That's what cats do.

Or has incredible India got hold of some lipstick tigers?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A good, original idea

Merely 12 years late, I’ve read Garry Jenkins’ book on the making of the first three Star Wars films. (A lifetime ago at a Doctor Who convention in Manchester the weekend that Tony Blair became Prime Minister, eager fans were getting the pristine book signed by Maurice Bronson.)

I love Star Wars. I love the prequels. I can see flaws and problems in all the movies, but that doesn’t change how much I love them. Love isn’t blind: it sees the flaws and loves anyway.

For the most part, this book tells a familiar story of triumph against adversity, of a small band of believers proving wrong all the Men who said “no”. That story’s been re-told in the DVD documentaries and in the puffery for the three prequels. So time has dulled some of Jenkins’ exclusives.

His real coup is getting detail – and photographs – from Gary Kurtz, who produced the first two movies. Kurtz seems to have taken the fall for the troubled production of The Empire Strikes Back. But the thing I found most interesting was the affect of the first film’s success – the toll it took on cast and crew’s lives, and the trouble it caused in making the next two movies.
“‘The problem with being a hit was that no one was going to work for the minimum, they all wanted top dollar,’ said Kurtz. Eventually Kurtz was given the $18 million he needed [to produce Empire]. Lucas would not allow him to forget whose money it was, however.”

Garry Jenkins, Empire building – the remarkable real life story of Star Wars, p. 213.

Stars were having problems with their new-found stardom, with drugs and whether their directors liked them. Crew struggled to meet the perfectionist demands of the rebel in charge. At one point, late on, Lucas changed his mind on a second alien race on Endor, and all the work on the yuzzums was for nothing. Jenkins’ skill is in showing the cost of the films’ success.

He is good at explaining the content of the times and the studio system, and how odd Lucas’ feel-good, expensive nonsense would have looked on paper. He’s also good at explaining Lucas’ canny – indeed revolutionary – attitude to merchandising, from the nascent idea of “Star Wars Stores” flogging product like Disney to the $2 billion deal with Pepsi in 1996 to “carry Star Wars characters on its products for the next five years” (p. 287).

There are plenty of fun details. Director Richard Marquand, for example, was the one responsible for revisiting – not just referring to – Yoda in Jedi. There’s the mischief caused by Carrie Fisher’s bosoms – bouncing around bra-less in A New Hope disrupting any scenes where she had to run, and escaping he metal bikini six years later in Jedi. And there’s Lucas’ great embarrassment at being asked how “Chewbacca and his family reproduced” (p. 240).

While there’s some acknowledgement of mistakes made, this is a success story. There’s no mention of the Star Wars Holiday Special or of the two Ewok movies. But the strangest thing about this story of Lucas fighting the man is him building his own empire in response. Valerie Hoffman, who embarrassed Lucas by asking about the sex lives of Wookies,
“had been hired as a secretary in the aftermath of Star Wars, and began her working days in a caravan. ‘The minute we moved into the new building [in 1979] there was a dress code.’”

Ibid., p. 240.

And there are plenty of loyal believers who fought alongside Lucas who are then left out in the cold. It’s a success story with an oddly bitter taste. Jenkins himself links the affect of Lucas’ divorce to the quality of Jedi. Marcia Lucas helped edit all three films.
“Yet, perhaps significantly, the emotional credibility she had always given her husband’s films – ‘the dying and crying’ as he called it – was absent [from Jedi].”

Ibid., p. 274.

The effects and monsters might all have come out as he wanted in this last one, but the heart had maybe been lost...

Jenkins finishes the book with word of the forthcoming three prequels – to be released, he says, in 1999, 2001 and 2003.
“Casting director Robin Gurland had been focussing on young actors for the parts of the young Anakin Skywaker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and a young Queen, presumably Luke and Leia’s mother. Ironically it was the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi that became the only one connected with an established name. A persistent, not to say intriguing, rumour that Kenneth Branagh had signed up for the role failed to disappear even after an official denial from Lucasfilm.”

Ibid., p. 288.

He says Lucas will need “a flash of magic beyond even his marketing and merchandising millions” for the prequels to succeed. But I felt he’d already identified those unmade movies’ major flaw...

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sara 2 Kingdom

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine announces I've written "The Drowned World" for release in July 2009. It will star Jean Marsh as the Doctor's old (and, er, dead) friend Sara Kingdom, and is a direct sequel to my Home Truths.

The same issue includes an as-ever-brilliant article by Andrew Pixley on how close Sara got to starring in her own Dalek TV series on American telly in the 60s. Cor.

And the reviews have generally nice things to say about some of my stuff:
"Smart and intriguingly structured, The Prisoner's Dilemma is an essential appendix to the Key 2 Time plays."
"[The Judgement of Isskar] is solid stuff, if becoming slightly convoluted in the second half as various insect and Martian factions squabble. It ends on a great cliffhanger leaving me eagerly awaiting the search for the next segment."

Matt Michael, The DWM Review, Doctor Who Magazine #406 (1 April 2009), p. 62.

SFX, meanwhile, gives Isskar an above-average 3 out of 5 stars.
"With heaps of intrigue and incident, it's lively stuff but the bizarre structure leaves it feeling like three separate stories welded together".

Saxon Bullock, RATEDmisc, SFX #179 (February 2009), p. 130.

Slitheen ExcursionIn other news, issue #105 of Doctor Who Adventures features a comic strip written by me, "Secret Army". I've received my first copy of The Slitheen Excursion.

And tomorrow I'll be manning the Big Finish stall at Time Quest in Barking. Do say hello if you're there. And also if you're not.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Palma chameleon

Arrived in Palma on Sunday evening, guests at the Mallorca Marriott Son Antem Golf Resort and Spa. They rang up a few months ago on the basis of all the Marriott's I've stayed in over the years, offering a cheap break on condition me and the Dr sat through a pitch from them. We thought what the hell.

Surprised by how rude a lot of the passengers were on the Easyjet flight, barking and snapping at the staff as if they thought they were going first class. We taxied to the hotel to find it was packed out with golfing Germans. So the hotel offered us one of their three-bedroom villas with a bathroom each. Just the downstairs was bigger than our flat at home, with a jacuzzi bath and a telly in every cupboard.

Perhaps this was part of the pitch they were going to make us - it just seemed to good to be true. We unpacked, we bought some food and we sat outside and read The Graveyard Book. When it got too cold to be outside, the Dr cooked and I discovered our tellies oddly got BBC One and Three. So we got to watch the finale of Being Human.

Got up Monday and collected our welcome pack: a bottle of wine, a map of Palma and Mallorca, some coupons for the spa and other Marriott hotels, and a list of restaurants and beaches. The nice bloke reminded us of the pitch we'd have to attend the next day, and when I told him we'd not taken the hire car gave me advice on parking in Palma anyway.

La SeuAfter a healthy breakfast, we grabbed a taxi in town. The sun was out and we basked under it, in view of the striking cathedral, La Seu.

It's an oddly blocky oblongs, tall flying buttresses kept in tight, so it feels more like a mad design from a fantasy movie rather than a real gothic building. The Dr was especially excited that Antoni Gaudi had worked on tidying the place up at the turn of the twentieth century.

Main window 1We made our way up the steps and made our way round to the left of the cathedral, in between it and the Almudaina Palace. The front of the cathedral could almost be brand new: immaculate pale stone framing the darker, more weathered medieval original. I struggled to get the grand majesty of the front into the frame of my mobile.

Inside la SeuIt was just €2.50 each to get in and we shuffled into the darkness. Yet the strangest thing about La Seu is that its so beautifully light.

Gaudi, we learned from the book we bought afterwards, unbricked the windows and brought in electric candles, part of a general movement in the church in the time to build up the response of the congregation, a movement which led to Vatican 2 in the sixties.

Of course my phone doesn't pick up on half the subtleties of the light.

Main window 2Here's the other side of the main window which I'd snapped from outside. The colours are bright and cheery, not like other so many churches in Spain which I felt seek to cower and terrify.

I realise I've not written up my notes on Seville and Cordoba from last September, but how different this simple grandeur is to the oppressive Catholicism of the Mesquita. The extraordinary thing there is the beauty of the original mosque, and the heavy-handed vulgarity of the Christian imposition.

LightA lot of Spanish churches proclaim the patronage of the conquistadors and the awful power of the priests. In the Mesquita, that's like vandalism written in stone. And when you take pictures the architectural prowess of the Moors is even more self-evident. The Moorish bits shine in the natural, subtle light; the Catholic bits are dumped in their darkness.

But La Seu is nothing like that. Yes, there's the grotesque, bloody statues of martyrs and sinners alike. But the efforts in the early twentieth century, such as Gaudi moving the choir stalls to nearer the altar, created a whole new sense of space.

ScaffoldingThey're still working on the place; Gaudi's gold leaves around the altar shrouded by high scaffolding, reaching up into the heavens. Oddly, the workers up there had a radio on, and - muted yet still distinct - Robbie Williams' "Angels" curled round the cathedral.

But there was something about the modern pop music that worked. It seemed to fit La Seu's historic embrace with modern art and design, to engage with the people who come through its doors and the everyday detail of their lives.

Sea chapelTo the right of the main altar is a chapel recently done up in style. The windows are shaded in grey, the gothic brickwork hidden behind cracked plaster that suggests the seabed. I assume its acknowledging the debt that Palma - and the island - owes the sea, and the price its people have paid in those who've not come back from the water.

There's the suggestion of skulls under the altar itself, and amorphous creatures float round the walls, which might be angels or jellyfish. It's a haunting and strange place, and a bold commission for such a church. But I found myself lingering there, drawn by its strangeness, trying to puzzle it out.

GunsI then noticed the organ, set up high above the way we'd come in. Again it's oddly incongruous with the rest of the cathedral. My almost-black picture doesn't quite show how the pipes are arranged. There's a cluster of vertical tubes like most organs, then a line of horizontal ones striking out like a line of muskets or blunderbusses.

I've no idea if that's the intention, but the same thought struck the Dr independently. Perhaps she got better pictures...

Bored birdThere was a fun Victorian monument as we made our way out. I ignored the poor dead bloke on the slab and the respectable chap mourning behind him. To the right was this lady who seemed rather bored by the whole thing. And at her feet nestled a lion with the most marvellous boggling expression:

Bog-eyed lion

SpurtAnd lastly, there was a series of portraits telling the life stories of important saints. These can often be excitingly grisly, and sure enough the nearest panel shows a lady looking quite smug about having her head chopped off. Look at the smile on those innocent features. Behold her spurting neck.

I'm never sure in these kind of narratives what the call to action is meant to be. Are you meant to look on this work and feel consumed by outrage that a saint's been killed? Or when you see the horrid things done to them because they did right by God are you meant to think, "That could be me!"? Wouldn't that rather put you off coming back to church?

ButtressesThe sun awaited us outside. We emerged into cloisters with a good view back up at the buttresses, like seeing the tricks done backstage.

We filed out into the medieval streets and wandered a bit, looking in on a nice ornate garden, its pond stocked with bright, happy goldfish. We were making it up as we went along, no idea where we were going.

Then we made out way up the high street in the direction of the train station. It's funny seeing the familiar brand names and shops mixed up with things unique to a city. And I boggled at an advert in a shoe shop, not quite sure what it was trying to sell:

Let yourself go

Train to SollerWe arrived at the main train station and the Dr remembered something about an old-fashioned train journey that would take us up into the mountains. Had to leave the modern station and cross a road to find what we were after.

The train to Soller first opened in 1912, and still uses authentic wooden trains from before the invention of leg room. We gleefully piled aboard, and spent the hour journey reading and staring out the window at the orange trees and scenery. Once you're out of the industrial bits of Palma its really very beautiful. A young couple a few rows ahead of us snogged every time we went into a tunnel, but the Dr and I are too long married and jaded for anything like that.

The weather was turning when we reached Soller, and we nosed round two small, free galleries showing original works by Miro and Picasso. Then there wasn't much to tempt us but okay enough places to eat, so we paid the €21 for a cab to Deia, where Robert Graves had lived.

Clambered our way to the top of the small, pretty town in the smattering of rain, but couldn't spot him in the graveyard. We found his widow, Beryl, who'd only died in 2003, and wondered whether Graves' grave was somewhere else. The Dr teased me that we'd be able to hear it if we were near; the spinning his response to what I've done to his myths.

Graves' work roomSo instead we made our way back down the road to his house - now a little museum. We had about half an hour before the one bus back to Soller, so not loads of time to look round. But the keen girl on the gate took us into the garage to watch a short film full of BBC archive material and narrated as if by Graves himself. It was a bit harsh on Laura Riding, but didn't avoid discussing Graves' complicated love life. And dammit, his grave was up in that little church but we didn't have time to go back.

Graves' pressWe crossed through the neat garden of orange trees and into his simple house. There was his writing room, there the printing press that got him arrested and deported at the start of the Civil War. The Dr was surprised by the volume of communist literature in Beryl's study - and wondered how Graves could have been welcomed back to Mallorca after World War Two, for thirty years under Franco.

She also felt that if one day our home is opened up to my legion of disciples, she'll leave special instruction not to leave it so tidy. Visitors will have to step over my discarded underpants and around the stacks of papers and mess.

The bus was 15 minutes late, and we were anxious we'd miss the last train back to Palma. We were even more anxious that the double-decker bus might survive the winding, mountainous roads. And then we failed to notice our stop and had five minutes of panic in Porte de Soller before getting back on the same bus which was heading back the way it had come. We were in Soller again in time for a beer and a sandwich, and to buy some home made white chocolate. Then the Dr slept on the train back to Palma and I read two-thirds of The Man Who Would Be King on her Sony e-reader.

Night cathedralWe nosed through the dark, atmospheric city looking for places to eat. It was a Monday so most places seemed closed, or perhaps we were just in the wrong area.

We followed our earlier footsteps back to the cathedral, hoping we'd find somewhere, and if not we'd get a taxi. The cathedral loomed beautifully in the quiet darkness and we stopped to take pictures. But our tummies were grumbly.

BombersBut still there was nothing open. We passed down through government offices, sporting this sign which I thought was funny. "Bombers" means "firemen" rather than "terrorists".

After that, we found a brilliant place called Forn des Teatre on Pza Weyler for wine and tapas. There was gambas in plenty of garlic, and bocquerones and local cheeses and meat. Then a taxi back to our villa. As we pulled up into the resort complex, we felt slightly uneasy. The hotel is lavish and luxuriant, but it could almost be anywhere, a gated suburb outside of the real world. It seemed to have no connection with any of the history or people we'd seen that day. And on balance we'd have been happier living in a small town like Deia than this anonymous place...

So we were a little hesitant as we made our way next morning to the all-important pitch. The nice bloke was there and fixed us coffees, and explained that "timeshare" has a lot of negative connotations, so Marriott has worked up a flexible system with all kinds of options. He talked through them, but it was obvious pretty quickly that none of it was quite right for us. Neither of us really value holidays where you don't do anything.

It was all very genial, and it makes you feel quite adult to be there at all. But I felt a little like we'd been spotted as frauds or children. Afterwards, we went to the spa, and I wondered about the other people there. Did they all sign up to villas? Did they come back here every year?

I could see it would be good if you had young children to have a regular escape. Or if you liked golf, or wanted somewhere to retire too... There's comfort in the recognisable brand of the hotel chain and the high standards of customer service. But it's not just for us.

GinThat night we drank in the hotel bar, enjoying lavish measures of gin. I'd not taken any work with me on purpose, but had made some notes for something I want to pitch someone, and was already thinking about getting back to work. At the moment it's called "Machine code", but I will not speak more of it just yet.

I guess a resort like this is great if you want to get away from the real world, to escape the tedium of work. I can see how you'd judge your success in a job by how much time you can get away. But again, it's not us. I miss writing when I away.

Grey dayTuesday looked grey as we packed our bags and I finished Pashazade. We checked out and got the taxi to the Castell de Bellver, overlooking Palma.

It took a bit of time to find our way in 'cos the taxi driver had directed us to a locked door. But then we were into a top-quality castle, with all kinds of clever defences. There were moats within moats and round walls to resist undermining, bridges across that had kinks in them, and other cunning ways to impede access. Inside there were exhibits of Roman sculpture and casts, which greatly pleased the Dr.

We wandered around for a couple of hours quite happily, and then had an easy lunch before cabbing it to the airport and wending our way home.

Moat studies

Tower bridge

Agua, sucs, refrescs

En memoria

Snap happy


Tron's room