Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cleaning Up icon

Mr Jackson (Mark Gatiss)
from Cleaning Up,
art by Red Scharlach
Delighted by this artwork from the amazing Red Scharlach showing Mark Gatiss as Mr Jackson in my short film Cleaning Up. (Red also made me a badge of it and one of Archibald the space pirate badger for my birthday.)

Cleaning Up plays as part of "I wasn't expecting that!" at the East End Film Festival in London this Wednesday at 8.30 pm.

You can also watch my short film Revealing Diary free and online. And the amazing Guerrier brothers have shot a third short film, The Plotters, which I will tell you more about when it is finished.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

AAAGH! and the Toyshop!

AAAGH! from Doctor Who Adventures #273
Another AAAGH!, this time from Doctor Who Adventures #273 and featuring a monster from Rose, the first episode of "new" Doctor Who in 2005. (I still think of the Seventh Doctor as new, so am a little weirded out that next year's 50th anniversary jamboree means that Silver Nemesis is halfway.)

As always, this strip is written by me, drawn by Brian Williamson and edited by Paul Lang and Natalie Barnes, who gave kind permission to post it here. You can read all my AAAGH!s.

Next time: part one of a two-part AAAGH! Yes! I know! EXCITING.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How How the Doctor Changed My Life Changed My Life

Alex Mallinson's beautiful cover for
Doctor Who: Short Trips -
How The Doctor
Changed My Life
Five years ago today, on 19 June 2007, the BBC's official Doctor Who site announced the winners of a short story competition that I'd judged. The winning stories, all by first-time fiction writers, were later published by Big Finish as How the Doctor Changed My Life.

I wrote some general feedback on the more than 1,000 entries received, which might help would-be writers of Doctor Who stories.

The book we produced is now sadly out of print - and commanding a small fortune second-hand. But I'm really proud of it, and the hard work the writers put into it.

Anyone could enter who'd never been paid to write fiction before - they might have been paid for non-fiction and/or they might have written fiction for free. My hope was that it might encourage people who'd always meant to write to actually do it, and might even act as a springboard for writing careers. (My own first paid-for work of fiction was in Big Finish's first Short Trips book, Zodiac, in 2002.)

So what have the 25 authors been up to since?

Our overall winner was Michael Coen. Soon after HTDCML, he had a short story, “Ivory”, accepted in the Pantechnicon Book of Lies - but that book sadly never saw publication. “I’m still writing,” says Michael. “I’ve finished one ‘genre’ novel which I’ve sent to a couple of publishers with ‘open submission’ windows and I’m working on my second which is more mainstream. I still get a tremendous thrill from being a published author and haven’t given up on making some sort of breakthrough in the future.”

Simon Moore writes the world's leading 14 line rhyming review portal (as recently featured in the Guardian), and his historical murder mystery was in the long-list of 20 in the CWA's Debut Dagger competition for new writers. Simon tweets at both @asimonmoore and @sonnetreviews.

Mike Amberry's Doctor Who short story “Trial by Fire” was published in Doctor Who: Short Trips – Indefineable Magic (one of seven HTDCML authors to appear in that book). “Oyun” was published in the Mythmakers collection Pseudoscope. Mike has also written a novel “which I will be polishing up this year in the hope that I might interest someone with it. My current project is a short ghost story, even though I've so far failed to get the previous ghost story I wrote published!” He is on Twitter as @mikeamberry.

Stephen Dunn's Doctor Who story, “Once Upon a Time Machine” was published in Indefineable Magic. “Being published again proved - to me at least - that the first story had not a complete fluke. At the moment I am trying to in-doctor-inate my 20 month old daughter Anya Charlotte Eloise in the ways of Who. I have lots of Doctor Who short stories in my head, which I will be sharing with her when she is a little older.”

Bernard O'Toole was a winner of the BBC writers' room “Sharps” competition in 2008, which led to a couple of script commissions and helped get him an agent. He's reached the offers stage for radio drama a couple of times and has a feature script in development. “I constantly write spec scripts and pitches and still apply for competitions,” he says. “In recent years I’ve reached the final stages of competitions like Red Planet, the Alfred Bradley Bursary Award (BBC radio drama) and even Writers' Academy but haven’t landed the top spot. That said, every little victory keeps the moral up and the ideas flowing. It’s still good fun at the end of the day. HTDCML was a major thing for me. Like all of us brought up on the Target paperbacks, which during my childhood meant everything to me, to have a few pages of published Doctor Who prose was a major ambition. I glance up at it now on the book shelf as I type this and it always makes me smile. Good times indeed.”

LM Myles had a short story, “Missing In Action”, published in the e-zine Reflection's Edge, and another one, “The Better Part of Valour”, in the Bernice Summerfield anthology Present Danger. Her essay “Renaissance of the Fandom” was included in the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords and she is co-editing Chicks Unravel Time – Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who, due out in November. She is also on Twitter as @LMMyles.

Michael Montoure has written two anthologies of horror stories, Counting from Ten and Other Stories and Slicesand is co-writing the web series Causality. He's on Twitter as @Montoure.

Tim Lambert's story “Automatic Head Spin” appeared in online sf, fantasy and horror magazine, Allegory in 2011. “This has definitely given me a renewed sense that I must be doing something right,” says Tim, who's continuing to send out stories.

Richard Goff had not, at time of writing, responded to my email.

Caleb Woodbridge's Doctor Who short story, “Blessed are the Peacemakers” was included in Indefineable Magic. He is currently seeking publication for his first novel. He's an editor of the Impossible Podcasts and also writes A Journal of Impossible Things, a blog about fiction, fantasy and faith. He's on Twitter as @CalebWoodbridge.

Chris Wing says his next bestselling novel now has a tentative name - The Secret of the Spires – but “still needs to be written”. He is also writing Doctor Who stories exclusively written for his kids. He says that “Doctor Who and the Missing Girl was a hit amongst the two-strong audience a few bedtimes ago”. He's on Twitter as @chriswing1977.

Mark Smith, uniquely of the HTDCML authors, employed me – commissioning some articles for the Herald.

James C McFetridge's novel Unendlicher Tod is published in Germany this August, and his agent is currently pursuing publishers in the UK. It was also shortlisted in the To Hell With Prizes Award 2011.

Einar Olgeirsson has, at time of writing, not responded to my email.

Matthew James's Doctor Who short story, “Hiccup in Time”, was published in Indefineable Magic. You can read more of his stories on his website. Matthew says: “I have had a little more luck with short film scripts which I've put together for student film projects. I've done three of these and they've been fun. I'm now working on a theatre play which is proving interesting but difficult! Inspired by the student films I'm also putting together a short of my own but time to work on these projects and earn money in the 'real world' mean progress is slow. But thank you Simon, Neil Corry and Big Finish for giving me that one break! Lack of success has never stopped me writing before or since, but it is wonderful to know that some tiny piece of it is out there, published, in the best of all places - the Doctor Who universe.”

Violet Addison has been published in Faction Paradox: A Romance in 12 Parts, as well as the Mythmakers anthology Pseudoscope. This year, she appears in the World's Collider anthology, and has her first original audio piece, Walking with Dragons. She says she is “pitching like mad and entering every competition I can find. I'm still getting about ten rejections for every one thing that gets through though.”

Andrew K Purvis had a short story, “Go Fourth”, published and promises to finish a novel this year.

Nick May had, at time of writing, not responded to my email.

Steven Alexander has written a 100,000-word novel and taken part in more writing competitions. He's also writing for the Planet Skaro Audios.

JR Loflin's “Breath of Echoes” was published in the Mythmakers anthology, Pseudoscope.

Mike Rees' Doctor Who short story, “The Science of Magic”, was published in Indefineable Magic. His novel Broken Heroes is available to buy as a print version and electronic version, and you can preview the chapters at

Dann Chinn continues to write. The most solid evidence of this can be found at the recently-revived Misfit City music blog. He's also on Twitter as @dannchinn.

John Callaghan's story, “Have You Tried Turning It Off and Then Back On Again?”, was published in Indefineable Magic. He is currently touring in the two-person comedy musical We Won't Rock You and says his main creative focus is his solo music – such as featured in this video. “I'm finishing the new album I've been working on, on and off, for at least five years now,” says John. “I've assembled all the musical parts and now it just needs mixing. I'm not accustomed to being so busy, so I'm having to fit it in between rehearsals for Brighton and doing the odd remix and live solo show.”

Arnold T Blumberg's Doctor Who short story, “Mardi Gras Massacre”, was published in Indefineable Magic. Arnold has set up his own company, ATB Publishing, whose first book will be Red, White and Who: The Story of Doctor Who in America.

Anna Bratton has collaborated with Brittney Sabo, on a young adult graphic novel, Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny! “We received a Xeric self-publishing grant in 2010 and released Book One the same year. Currently, I am writing Book Two and noodling around with upcoming Doctor Who-related projects.”

The Doctor Who Short Trips books came to an end a year after the publication of How The Doctor Changed My Life, but production company Big Finish continues to produce audio Short Trips, and has run a number of writing competitions since I ran this one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The sounds of Revealing Diary

The amazing Tapio at Kaamos Sound explains how he produced the soundtrack for my short film, Revealing Diary, here:

You can watch Revealing Diary free and online, or learn more about how and why we made it. Also, the Guerrier brothers shot a third short film this weekend. More details on that soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

AAAGH! and the Jubilee

AAAGH! meets Queen Victoria
Madder than Madness on the roof of Buckingham Palace, here's Madames Tinkle, Vastra and Jenny arriving in Bessie to receive a gong from Queen Vic. This one owes a bit to Tooth and Claw and a lot to Faceache.

It appeared in Doctor Who Adventures #272. As ever, it's written by me, drawn by Brian Williamson and editing by Paul Lang and Natalie Barnes - who also gave kind permission to post it here. You can read all my AAAGH!s.

Next week: Nervil meets the Auton bride!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Wedding of James Bond

The tenth James Bond novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963) begins with Bond revisiting the scene of the first – the casino from Casino Royale. On a winning streak, he pays off the debt of a pretty girl, who then invites him up to her room. This is Tracy – soon to be Mrs James Bond.

Bond's first night with Tracy is not exactly romantic. She's cross and weird, telling him:
“Do anything you like. And tell me what you like and what you would like from me. Be rough with me. Treat me like the lowest whore in creation.”
Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, p. 36. 
 Bond can see she's troubled and self-destructive, and she makes it explicit that she's shagging him because he paid her. So it's not exactly gallant that he doesn't walk away but instead gets his money's worth. Of course, it's been well established that Bond is an amazing lay. Later, Tracy tells him:
“'That was heaven, James. Will you please come back when you wake up? I must have it once more.' Then she had turned over on her side away from him and, without answering his last endearments, had gone to sleep – but not before he had heard that she was crying. 
What the hell? All cats are grey in the dark.”
Ibid., pp. 36-37.
It's hardly a great start to their relationship, but Bond then keeps his eye on Tracy and stops her when she tries to kill herself after a day on the beach. This rescue is interrupted by some hoodlums who take Tracy and Bond away to a Corsican gangster called Marc-Ange Draco – who turns out to be Tracy's dad.

So far, its a strange and exciting beginning. Draco and Bond quickly become friends – they might work on opposite sides of the law, but they're both rough diamonds with a liking for the finer things in life. The despairing dad explains Tracy's history, and again there's nothing very romantic about it.
“'I was married once only, to an English girl, an English governess. She was a romantic. She had come to Corsica to look for bandits' – he smiled – 'rather like some English women adventure into the desert to look for sheiks. She explained to me later that she must have been possessed by a subconscious desire to be raped. Well' – this time he didn't smile – 'she found me in the mountains and she was raped – by me. The police were after me at the time, they have been for most of my life, and the girl was a grave encumbrance. But for some reason she refused to leave me ... The result, my dear Commander, was Teresa, my only child.' 
So, thought Bond. That explained the curious mixture the girl was – the kind of wild 'lady' that was so puzzling in her.” 
Ibid., p. 46.
If this mix of glamour and abuse sits uncomfortably, Bond at leasts turns down Draco's offer of money to help straighten Tracy out, and instead recommends a clinic in Switzerland – which will be quite convenient later in the book. Bond returns to London, but he's smitten. Fleming doesn't exactly go overboard in schmaltz, using Bond's new secretary to show how much he's changed:
“Loelia Ponsoby had at last left to marry a dull, but worthy and rich member of the Baltic Exchange, and confined her contacts with her old job to rather yearning Christmas and birthday cards to the members of the Double-O Section. But the new one, Mary Goodnight, an ex-Wren with blue-black hair, blue eyes, and 37-22-35, was a honey and there was a private five-pound sweep in the Section as to who would get her first. Bond had been lying equal favourite with the ex-Royal Marine Commando who was 006 but, since Tracy, had dropped out of the field and now regarded himself as a rank outsider, though he still, rather bitchily, flirted with her.” 
Ibid., p. 57.
James Bond in love. What a dick.

And all this love stuff is just a side show anyway. Bond has also got an important lead from Draco on the whereabouts of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the super-villain whose SPECTRE organisation Bond has fought in the last two books. Bond hasn't met Blofeld, but a man who might be him, Monsieur le Comte de Bleuville, is living it up in a posh ski resort in Switzerland. And he seems rather pleased with his title, as he's been writing to the College of Arms to get it officially recognised.

The plot that follows is good fun, Bond posing as Sir Hilary Bray, an expert on heraldry who can help trace Blofeld's line. In doing so, he can also establish the man's history and link him to his crimes. But to do this, Bond has to go stay in Blofeld's luxury complex, high on the top of a Swiss mountain, without even packing a gun.

That's important. As always, the more the odds are stacked against Bond, and the more he must rely only on his wits rather than luck or clever gadgets, the better the adventure. Coincidences mount up against him – first a man who knows the real Sir Hilary is visiting, then one of Bond's own colleagues turns up. We hear the terrible scream of a man “accidentally” falling down the bob-sleigh run, and the threat of such a death hangs heavy over Bond. It all licks along quite nicely. Fleming nicely puts in brackets stuff Bond doesn't know, as Blofeld's henchpersons watch his every move, putting us in a privileged position that helps build suspense.

Also guests of the Count are a group of pretty girls from all round the UK – not from round the world as in the film. They're being treated for allergies to chickens and potatoes, and are all keen to get Bond into bed. He obliges one called Ruby – though we're told he's not forgotten Tracy, this is just him doing his job and getting information. Even so, it's odd to hear Bond call a girl “Baby” and there's something oddly prissy about what he gets up to:
“He gave her another long and, he admitted to himself, extremely splendid kiss, to which she responded with an animalism that slightly salved his conscience. 'Now then, baby.' His right hand ran down her back to the curve of her behind, to which he gave an encouraging and hastening pat.” 
Ibid., p. 122.
There's some fun stuff as he sneaks about, dodging the CCTV and opening locked doors to get into Ruby's room. Again, the details about smell make Bond seem weirdly OCD.
“Her hair smelt of new-mown summer grass, her mouth of Pepsodent, and her body of Mennen's Baby Powder. A small night wind rose up outside and moaned round the building, giving an extra sweetness, an extra warmth, even a certain friendship to what was no more than an act of physical passion. There was real pleasure in what they did to each other, and in the end, when it was over and they lay quietly in each other's arms, Bond knew, and knew that that the girl knew, that they had done nothing wrong, done no harm to each other.”
Ibid., p. 127.
This is all a little convenient. Bond – and Ruby - might feel entirely guiltless, but what would Tracy think? It's telling that he lies to her, says he never touched the girls – but tells the truth to her father, who accepts the fact without reproach. If the marriage had continued, how faithful might Bond have been?

As well as shagging the patients, Bond finally gets to meet Blofeld. Though this is the first time they meet, Bond has clearly gathered a lot of intelligence already:
“He knew what not to expect, the original Blofeld, last year's model – about twenty stone, tall, pale, bland face with black crew-cut, black eyes with the whites showing all round, like Mussolini's, ugly thin mouth, long pointed hands and feet – but he had no idea what alternations had been contrived on the envelope that contained the man.”
Ibid., pp.102-3.
Given the bald, Nehru-suited look of three Bond films (plus Charles Grey in Diamonds Are Forever and Max von Sydow in Never Say Never Again), it's striking how different the book Blofeld is:
“The man was tallish, yes, and, all right, his hands and naked feet were long and thin. But there the resemblance ended. The Count had longish, carefully tended, almost dandified hair that was a fine silvery white.” 
Ibid., p. 103.
Perhaps it's the “dandified”, but I imagined him played by Jon Pertwee. That Bond is able to catch this master criminal by playing to his vanity about a family title is really nicely done – a character flaw that makes a credible lure. Note also the book Blofeld is not accompanied by a white cat.

Speaking of the films, On Her Majesty's Secret Service also shows the influence of the film Doctor No. Fleming originally disliked the casting of Sean Connery but was soon won over – and here accommodates the accent into the canonical Bond:
“My father was a Scot and my mother was Swiss ... My father came from the Highlands, from near Glencoe.”
Ibid., p. 59.
Ursula Andress is also one of the celebs dining at Blofeld's restaurant (on page 114). I'm tempted to suggest that the exciting escape from the Swiss mountain in the midst of an avalanche is also a nod to the action set pieces of the films. Bond's mum being Swiss means he's an okay skier, though Fleming is keen to make his style basic and old-fashioned, which ensures it's not to easy and that the odds remain against him.

Amid Emma Coat's 22 rules of good storytelling compiled while working at Pixar, there is:
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Bond – desperate, exhausted and with baddies almost on him – bumping into Tracy feels like a cheat. Yes, Fleming has set this up and it was Bond himself who recommended that she go to Switzerland, but it still feels too easy. Tracy is good in a crisis and helps Bond escape. He needs to get back to London to report, so she drops him at the airport. And Bond suddenly gets all romantic.
“Bond suddenly thought, Hell! I'll never find another girl like this one. She's got everything I've looked for in a woman. She's beautiful, in bed and out. She's adventurous, brave, resourceful. She's exciting always. She seems to love me. She'd let me go on with my life. She's a lone girl, not cluttered up with friends, relations, belongings. Above all, she needs me. It'll be someone for me to look after. I'm fed up with all these untidy, casual affairs that leave me with a bad conscience. I wouldn't mind having children. I've got no social background into which she would or wouldn't fit. We're two of a pair, really. Why not make if for always?” 
Ibid., p. 172. 
This might seem a bit brutal and pragmatic, but it's perfectly in character. In context, it's even quite moving. Bond tells Tracy to meet him in Berlin, where they'll tie the knot.

Back in London on Christmas Day, Bond visits M's bizarre, nautically themed home to present all he's learned and work out what Blofeld is up to. There's something comic and late-60s The Avengers about M's house being based on his old ship, even down to his old staff now acting as a butler.

Experts arrive to confirm Bond's suspicions, and we get a full briefing on the new, deadly science of biological warfare. It all sounds credible, quoting a “United States Senate paper, Number 58991, dated August 29th 1960, prepared by 'The Sub-committee on Disarmament of the Committee on Foreign Relations'” (on page 191). Yet, as always, we need to take the things Fleming states as fact with a pinch of salt:
“Now there is plenty of medical evidence for the efficacy of hypnosis. There are well-authenticated cases of the successful treatment by these means of such stubborn disabilities as warts, certain types of asthma, bed-wetting, stammering, and even alcoholism,drug-taking and homosexual tendencies. Although the British Medical Association frowns officially on the practitioners of hypnosis, you would be surprised, sir, to know how many doctors themselves, as a last resort, particularly in cases of alcoholism, have private treatment from qualified hypnotists.”
Ibid., p. 187.
Having established what Blofeld's about, British intelligence is then rather hamstrung by tricky things like international law and the lack of help they can expect from the Swiss in extraditing Blofeld. Luckily, Bond is now owed a favour from Tracy's dad, and enlists the Corsican underground to lead an attack on Blofeld's base. Draco is only too pleased to help, seeing this as a sort of dowry. Tracy is less pleased:
“'All right. I won't ask questions. And I'm sorry I cried.' She added fiercely, 'But you are such an idiot! You don't seem to think it matters to anyone. The way you go on playing Red Indians. It's so – so selfish.'”
Ibid., p. 226.
The thing is that she's right. There's no reason for Bond to go, except his own macho nonsense. The attack is a bit of a disaster – despite an exciting chase down the bob sled run, Blofeld escapes and Bond is badly wounded. He heads to Berlin and to Tracy, where again it's not quite romantic:
“'What worries me is how we're going to make love. In the proper fashion, elbows are rather important for the man.' 
'Then we'll do it in an improper fashion. But not tonight., or tomorrow. Only when we're married. Till then I am going to pretend I'm a virgin.' She looked at him seriously. 'I wish I was, James. I am in a way, you know. People can make love without loving.' 
Ibid., p. 230.
Yes, the real tragedy is that they don't have a proper, loving shag before she snuffs it. A second bracketed section tells us that – in another coincidence - Bond has been spotted by his enemies. It's beautifully done – Bond's wedded bliss while we know something awful is coming, and then the simplicity with which he doesn't quite accept that Tracy is dead.

At the end of the fifth novel, Fleming killed Bond; at the end of the tenth* he kills his wife. I'd loved this book best of all when I originally read the novels in my teens. This time, I was struck by the fun and smart plot (especially after the awful The Spy Who Loved Me), how difficult things are made for Bond, and the striking “visuals” of the setting and action set pieces. The romance between Bond and Tracy is odd, unequal and often uncomfortable, and never quite convinces. She's yet another damaged girl “cured” by Bond having sex with her. Yet the ending is beautifully played and haunting, partly because of a tantalising glimpse of Bond being happy and putting someone else first.

(* For Your Eyes Only isn't a novel but a collection of short stories.)

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Now I'm Irresistible

The amazing Guerrier brothers have been signed up by production company Irresistible Films. The press release mentions a whole bunch of stuff we're working on that's not been announced elsewhere. Exciting!