Spoiler Alert!

Spoilers are called ‘spoilers’ because they spoil things. If you let a ‘spoiler’ out of the bag you are going to spoil something for somebody. It does not make you clever or cool to know something and then tell everybody else, it makes you a total d*ck. So thanks newspaper writer who started his bit of smug smart-arsery with ‘as everybody must know by now…’ – no I didn’t!

This is a DUCKhead
This is a DUCKhead

I can’t afford Sky you see because nobody pays me to write drivel for a national newspaper and I have only just bought the physical DVD box set, because it has just been release and I was enjoying it – immensely. Now you have spoiled it for me. Because that’s why they’re called SPOILERS and that’s why nice people write things like SPOILER ALERT above their articles.

So thanks newspaper writer: d*ckhead

Continue reading Spoiler Alert!

The Devil is in the Decal.

I love decals. I even love the word decals. I especially love the fact that the word is derived from decalcomania. What a fab word that is too! ‘Transfers’ just isn’t in the same league, sorry.

I especially love vinyl-cut-decals, that’s the peel and stick sort, but I have a problem and it’s this. I like them so much that I can’t peel and stick them, or rub over the dry transfer sort with my biro. I also loved Letraset you see (dry-transfer lettering – other makes are available, probably. Heck I don’t even know if you can still get Letraset!), I just hated to use them. I loved the unsullied, unused sheet. I just like to stare at them! I did it when I was a kid with a sheet of fabulous different trees – just couldn’t stick them down.

comic book rift wars

 

You see, while the decals are still there on that sheet the possibilities are endless! So many eventualities to be explored and imagined, scenarios to be worked out – and while that’s the case then Schrödinger’s cat is both still alive and dead! The waveform hasn’t collapsed, hurrah!

The same is true with my stories and plots. I carry a lot of ideas around in my head and I explore the different possibilities, varying different scenes and thinking about other eventualities.

Press or stick them down and the cat’s dead or alive. Of course, you have to do that with stories in the end, which is almost kind of sad, but that’s what a story is.

You don’t have to do it with decals!

And this is why I have I still have a reasonably ‘mint’ Worlds Collide Number 1 July 1994 DC/Milestone Comics in printed plastic bag with decals – that have never been used. I could have adorned my cover with my own punch-ups but couldn’t have unpeeled the superheroes to save my life.

Continue reading The Devil is in the Decal.

Me and Tom Stoppard

As a jobbing writer, for all sorts of different media – but mostly now for film and books, ideas I pick up from each of the different skills inevitably inform each other. How useful this might be is debatable. Shouldn’t you stick with one form of writing? Certainly a lot of agents aren’t happy to represent writers who aren’t specialists. I know this because a top agent once told me at a Writer’s Guild meeting that I was ‘too unspecialised’.

website page

This was quite distressing for me to be told because, to be honest, I hadn’t given up science to simply become a one trick pony – even a great one. I wanted to write what I wanted to write: animation, musicals, books, you name it! I may not succeed, but at least I would try.

In a state of gloom I picked up the newspaper the next day and, coincidentally, I read an article by the great playwright, TV, radio, and film writer and novelist, Tom Stoppard. In it he addressed the subject of writing for different media and he concluded: ‘it’s all writing’.

So, I’m with Tom Stoppard – thanks Tom! – and here are a few thoughts that I had about creating great fantasy characters for film and for books that I wrote for the Harper Voyager blog.

Continue reading Me and Tom Stoppard

Getting it.

What is the most important thing in life for a writer?

Paying the bills is nice, having the chance to do more writing is vital, but probably, above all, you want people to ‘get it’. Whatever the ‘it’ is that you are doing, it is important that people – the listeners, the viewers, the readers – someone somewhere, ‘gets it’.

There's been a murder - get it?
There’s been a murder – get it?

You can sometimes read a review and think to yourself: ‘did they actually see my show?’ or ‘did they watch my film?’  – but most especially ‘did they actually read my book?’

You know the one I laboured long and hard at writing that they seemed to have missed completely in favour of a book with the same name as mine, obviously by a completely different author, who just happens to have the same name as me too? People not ‘getting it’ is depressing, it brings you down, it make you think you’ve GULP failed.

Especially lately, judging by the reviews, a lot of people (86%) have been ‘getting’ ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’. What’s more they’ve been ‘getting it’ without necessarily being a fan of the hardboiled detective books it tips its fedora hat at, or the fantasy universe in which it is set. That is great. That is what we live for, And to have that sort of general appeal is really, really important for a ‘genre’ writer. So thanks to all of you lovely people out there that ‘got it’.

Continue reading Getting it.

My Other Job is a Writer

It’s great being a writer! It must be because a YouGov (sic) poll published last year informed us that 60%* of people in Britain said they’d most like to do it for a living. They all want to be authors.

Wow!

I wonder what they think a writer actually does all day? I imagine they think it involves a lot of grape peeling – if the writer doesn’t employ somebody else to do that for them. A lot of ‘coming up with ideas’ as well I suppose and anybody can do that can’t they? I don’t imagine they consider the dish washing, book stacking, code debugging, teaching and sundry other activities that most writers I know get up to in order to pay the bills, so that they can spend every spare moment actually being a published writer.

trust me with book

I’m lucky, because I have another job and my other job is being a writer. Yes, when not writing books I spend my time bent over a keyboard writing and doctoring film, radio and TV scripts or helping people with their commercials, or audio guides, or those various jobs that come under the slightly scary heading of ‘content provision’.

This is great (as I mentioned up front) because I am doing what I love, and gave up science to do, but it’s also frustrating because the call of the latest book that needs writing is always there. Right under my fingertips – I could be doing it now!

However, there are consolations, as sometimes you can get an unexpected fillip from the day job when you least expect it. So recently I was delighted to hear that a feature film script I helped write, ‘CHASING ROBERT BARKER’ has been nominated for three awards at the UK National Film Awards.

NFA for blog 1

This includes the Best Action Film, where, as you can see below, there is hardly any competition.

NFA for blog

So, it is great being a writer who also writes in his spare time, but spare a thought for all those writers out there, cleaning the dishes, and marking the papers and all the other things that writers have to do.

Continue reading My Other Job is a Writer

A Writer Laments Pt 1

It is always difficult when you see something broadcast or read something published that is remarkably close to a project that you have been working on for ages yourself. Detective Nicely Strongoak himself was delayed for many, many years (and had to change markedly) because of the success of another Terry that blew a lot of my ideas out of water.

We will Bow to You!
We will Bow to You!

I’m sure most writers have digital piles of manuscripts that were completed just at the wrong time. It can’t be helped – as much as you want to blame the mind-reading aliens or Network spies, that’s the nature of ideas. They come to fruition at similar times because waves of writers tend to get inspired by the same thing and sit and cogitate on them for similar times. Either that or the muse is a bit of a trollop and not at all faithful to you!

My ‘been done’ script pile is bigger than my ‘to pitch’ pile. This even includes a radio comedy serial on a subject so unlikely that I thought nobody else could ever think of it. I got a producer and production company interested in my idea and the next week the producer heard the Radio 4 show on the same subject. And it was pants – he told me, I couldn’t listen.

What do you do?

The only conciliation is if the series that comes out is marvellous, even better than your idea. Which brings me to Stewie Griffin. I usually only collect animation production cels, but I made an exception for this little beauty.

Continue reading A Writer Laments Pt 1

When is a book like an elephant?

Here’s one of my favourite poems, from C19th American poet John Saxe:

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT.

There were six men of Hindustan,
to learning much inclined,
Who went to see an elephant,
though all of them were blind,
That each by observation
might satisfy his mind.

elephant approaching isolated

The first approached the elephant,
and happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
at once began to bawl,
“This mystery of an elephant
is very like a wall.”

The second, feeling of the tusk,
cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an elephant
is very like a spear.”

The third approached the elephant,
and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
thus boldly up and spake,
“I see,” quoth he,
“the elephant is very like a snake.”

The fourth reached out an eager hand,
and felt above the knee,
“What this most wondrous beast
is like is very plain” said he,
“‘Tis clear enough the elephant
is very like a tree.”

The fifth who chanced to touch the ear
said, “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
deny the fact who can;
This marvel of an elephant
is very like a fan.”

The sixth no sooner had begun
about the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
that fell within his scope;
“I see,” said he, “the elephant
is very like a rope.”

So six blind men of Hindustan
disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
exceeding stiff and strong;
Though each was partly in the right,
they all were in the wrong!

JG SAXE

Great isn’t it? I’ve used it in lots of different contexts to illustrate various points. So why do I mention it here? And what’s the book cover doing next to the elephant anyway?

Well, as your very nice reviews come in (thanks!) I’ve realised how everybody ‘sees’ A DEAD ELF differently. For some it’s a detective novel with fantasy elements. For others it’s fantasy with a mystery involved. Others  appreciate the comedy and aren’t really worried about whether its crime or set in a different world at all.

Which is great, exactly what I intended and of course none of you is wrong! It’s all of those things and it’s got a great cover too! So thank you everybody for reading A DEAD ELF and season’s greetings to you all!

Continue reading When is a book like an elephant?

On the Small Things in Life:

I have always been interested in the minutiae of life – as ex-Talking Head David Byrne once memorably said: in the magical in the mundane and the magical in the mundane. That is why I once wrote a play that featured superheroes having a night off and eating pizza.

fabmanfront

I mean, ‘What do you do on the Night After You’ve Saved the Universe’ after all. On stage we had a fab invisible C-Thru Girl, and a fab Fabman who could cool the beer with his freeze-breath. Speedo brought the pizza all the way from Italy and Minuscule Man who was so small you’d think he wasn’t there, ate a whole 24th of a slice and Lady Luck paid for it all with a lottery ticket.

They sat round and chewed the fat like you do after a hard day’s work.

And with fantasy, I love the tales of heroism naturally, but I always did wonder what happened after the Big Bad Guy went down the drain. I mean you can’t commit genocide – so all those goblins need to be integrated into society, and what would happen when somebody started the first ‘Save The Dragon’ campaign and what if somebody introduced democracy?

Shake well and leave a couple of thousand years and you might just end up with a place like Widergard, which is where Master Detective Nicely Strongoak hangs out.

Continue reading On the Small Things in Life:

To fun or not to fun, that is the question.

I never knew you could ‘fun’ – but you can, in North America at least. I think that is pretty cool. It is a verb, ‘informal, to tease or joke’, as in ‘Hey, I was only funning’. We don’t fun in that way in the UK. Not to my knowledge at least.

I think this is excellent, because let’s face it: there just isn’t enough fun around anymore. I happen to be a great fan of ‘fun’, but it seems to me that somewhere along the way ‘fun’ got a bit of a bad name. Which is a great shame.

Was it because ‘fun’ feels a little old-fashioned? Perhaps a little bit 1930s, when the ‘Radio Fun’ and ‘Film Fun’ comics first came out with their rather quaint strips? In America ‘More Fun Comics’ was rather different and saw the arrival of one of my all-time favourite characters: a deceased cop who acts as a host to the cosmic entity known as the ‘The Spectre’. A very special type of fun that last one!

Different Funs
Different Funs

Personally I think the demise of ‘fun’ has a lot to do with comedy becoming cool. Not just cool, but also dark and often based on the comedy of embarrassment or even of taking the mickey out of people via hidden cameras. Now, I’m not saying that these approaches can’t have their merits (especially when the targets of prankster comedy actually deserve it) but I wouldn’t say they were ‘fun’. And this, I feel, is a shame. Fun has a lot going for it (a friend of mine is very big on men and women wearing large papier-mâché heads), it’s light-hearted, pleasurable and enjoyable and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Is it controversial to say that too much comedy takes itself too seriously these days? Again ‘serious comedy’ has its place, especially when dealing with serious issues like politics, but it does not have to be a forum for exposing your own neurosis. Which is not to say you can’t be serious about ‘doing’ it.

I’m serious about my comedy writing, especially Master Detective Nicely Strongoak, which is why I was so delighted to have reviews recently that described A DEAD ELF thus: ‘Witty and fun!’ ‘Super fun read’ and ‘Fun read’. Brilliant, as this book was meant to be fun!

Continue reading To fun or not to fun, that is the question.

Great Characters and Why We Love ‘Em

Well, I don’t know. We just do.

There you go – you won’t get many shorter bogs than that.

OK, try this one then if you insist: it’s not for their strengths, it’s for their flaws, their weaknesses, and their quirks. We love ‘em for the things that make them human, even if they’re not.

Here’s one of my favourites, who now graces my study’s wall: Fred Flintstone.

fred flintstone

Fred is loud and loses his temper far too often. He plots to improve his lot, usually ineffectually, but he cares. He cares about his family, his friends. I like to think he’d care about prehistoric climate change too (dino farts!) He’s very much alive, and of course expresses this with his trademark, joyful: ‘Yabba Dabba Doo!’

Here’s another similar character: Homer Simpson. Despite all his many, many faults, Homer loves his family too – well his wide and children. He’s on a different wall: ‘Yabba Dabba D’oh!’

my simpsons

And then there’s Daffy duck (hanging next to Fred now). Daffy doesn’t seem to have much about him, apart from faults. But there is something supremely human about him and his ambitions – and shortcomings. ‘Yabba Dabba Fail.’

Daffy 1972

Continue reading Great Characters and Why We Love ‘Em