Advice – hard to take, tricky to give.

‘Don’t go out with wet hair, you’ll get a cold!’

My mother always used to say it and I, full of my vast knowledge of science – at that stage mostly gained from SF books and comics – would laugh and go out anyway, hair soaking wet.

Advice you see, it’s always difficult to take when the reasons for it aren’t obvious. Advice, tricky to take and sometimes tricky to give too.

"I refuse to belong to any club that would have me as a member" - Great Advice from Groucho Marx
“I refuse to belong to any club that would have me as a member” – Great Advice from Groucho Marx

When I actually gained enough scientific knowledge to put ‘scientist’ on my passport (except you couldn’t by then) I still found myself in a position where advice had to taken. From people with more experience, it made sense to listen, but it was harder when they didn’t necessarily know any more about the subject than you, but were just ‘senior’. Of course, when the advice came from somebody reviewing your research paper, you had to take notice or it may not have been published. Difficult then if you didn’t agree with the referee, so you tried to appear to be bending over backwards to accommodate their advice, while sticking as closely to your own guns as possible. An interesting mixture of metaphors there, I’m sure you will agree.

After becoming a radio and TV comedy writer, the next obvious step after being a research scientist, I still had to take advice. Usually this came from a producer and of course you had to listen to this otherwise your sketch didn’t get broadcast. One, now very famous, multi award-winning, comedy producer once told me to take my sketch away and put more ‘melons’ in it. You can probably guess what type of melons he was referring to. I didn’t want to put more ‘melons’ in it; I don’t particularly like ‘melon-heavy’ sketches. I put the ‘melons’ in it though. It was broadcast and got laughs. (I still think it would have got laughs without the increased ‘melon’ count, but I’m not the one with the BAFTAS).

Now as fantasy writer I still get advice and this time it’s from an editor. So what’s the best approach to take?

Continue reading Advice – hard to take, tricky to give.

Adaptation and playing with other people’s toys

I do quite a lot of adaptation work, mostly book to film, although I have also adapted for the stage and am currently adapting a musical to book form. That last one is particularly fun! It’s science fiction too!

Sometimes this adaptation is from complete stories and sometimes it is from treatments and outlines. The point remains, you are working with somebody else’s ideas and characters. You have been put in a position of great power here, and with great power comes great responsibility. (Now that’s a line for somebody).

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Super Adapterman. (need to work on the name)
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Super Adapterman. (need to work on the name)

For me it is like being a child again and going round to somebody else’s house and being invited to play with their toys. It’s really exciting, loads of fun, but you make doubly sure you don’t break anything – these are not your toys after all. You are in a position of trust.

When ‘adapting’ writing gurus such as Syd Field go on record as saying, ‘The original is the source material. You are not obliged to remain faithful to the original’ and Robert McKee says, ‘never be afraid to reinvent’. I tend to disagree, I think you should fall over backwards to stick as closely to the original as possible, WHILE RECOGNISING THAT YOU ARE WORKING IN A DIFFERENT MEDIUM WITH DIFFERENT REQUIREMENTS. That last bit is of course crucial.

I don’t think you should work with somebody else’s ideas and characters and remake them in your own image. I also happen to think far too many directors have been cavalier in their approach to pre-existing stories, but that’s another matter. If there are things about the story material you have problems with, don’t get involved. By the same token the ‘originator’ has got to recognise that producing a script from their work will probably involve some changes to get it onto the screen. Films work differently from books and plays and that’s part of the joy of experiencing story in different forms.

The point is that you don’t go round to a new friend’s house and break their toys deliberately.

When starting a project I always say the Dr Tel pledge: Continue reading Adaptation and playing with other people’s toys

If the hat fits…

The difficulty of becoming an author (♂) of SF and fantasy is as nothing compared with the really hard choice of deciding which hat one should wear to complete the image. The problem is compounded if one still has a full head of hair or, indeed, actually is a hat fan and likes wearing different hats, depending on mood and the occasion. This will not do though, oh no!

Above all hat wearing for the author is about creating the right image, unless you’re somebody of the calibre of Terry Pratchett and it doesn’t matter about image because you are so damn good that you can wear a kettle if you so fancy. For the rest of us a few pointers are useful.

But which one?
But which one?

The Black Hat suggests mystery and danger and possibly vampires as well. There is no doubt that with a Black Hat you will be taken seriously – unless it doesn’t fit properly as Black Hats have a habit of doing. With the Black Hat you have to ‘pull-it-off’ if you want to ‘put-it-on’. We better come back to the Black Hat. Otherwise, you could perhaps go for the brown fedora, a good choice the brown fedora. It suggests a certain devil-may-care attitude that says your hero won’t let a little thing like a goblin army get in his way. Enchanted sword at the ready the brown fedora wearer knows his audience and always has a glint in his eye and an ironic smile on his lips. The brown fedora wearer delivers.

Or perhaps the Greek Captain’s hat might be the best choice? The captain’s hat hints of exotic locations and distant shores, maiden’s in diaphanous clothing, unicorns and, of course, sea monsters. It can be tipped back and worn to bed for that ‘lived in’, ‘world building’ look of the writer with maps at both the start and the end of his epics. The Greek Captain’s hat might just require the use of a writing pen name though – Emile Dulcas sounds good to me.

The Panama has stood many writers in good stead for generations; this is surely the hat for a writer! But isn’t it more Catholic guilt than elves and Goblins? Do Panama hats do dragons? Plus its association with the 5-day cricket Test Match doesn’t exactly shout ‘productivity’. Wouldn’t the hero of a Panama hat wearer be likely to forget about his quest while he discussed the merits of The Duckworth Lewis Method over a jolly-up in the Dancing Dragon?

Continue reading If the hat fits…

Mad about the Woman

The Wonderful Tara Paulsson as Wonder Woman in 'Life and Times of a Wonder Woman'
The Wonderful Tara Paulsson as the many different facets of Wonder Woman in ‘Life and Times of a Wonder Woman’.

It’s hard to express how much pleasure the arrival of a certain ebay purchased action figure has given me. Mad’s Alfred E Neuman as Wonder Women – when Two Worlds Collide! And two of my favourite worlds as well.

So, let’s get Mad!

America’s Mad comic was a complete joy to a British young New Town boy. An occasional treat thanks to the scarcity of all American comics at that time in the UK. I’m not sure if it’s a early urban (marine?) myth, but I once remember reading that the comics were simply brought back to England as required ballast for ships returning to the UK from the States. To think the survival of our inner fantasy life was then dependent on a form of paper stabiliser.

Mad was something special; something we just didn’t have in magazine form in the UK. It’s mixture of satire (oh yes it was), inspired art work (Where are my Don Martin collections now, who nicked them?) and great reoccurring strips (Spy versus Spy – swoon) made each issue something to treasure and reread. And even when I actually became a freckled sticky-out eared Newman, when my family changed its name, it never worried me that Mad cover star Alfred E. might become an albatross around my new New/Neu neck – most boys I knew were more into The Dandy and Beano. Mad was a gateway into a different world … and I liked it.

Wonder Woman was a different matter and a rather different Gateway (Gateway City, geddit?). DC and Marvel comics could be as hard to obtain as Mad in a small New Town. On a limited budget one also had to pick and choose and Wonder Woman generally had to be picked up as a bonus when purchasing another DC legend like Superman or Batman. And then come Linda Carter and TV’s Wonder Woman wonder woman autographand what a difference that made! Boy, what a difference! She has something that made an adolescent male look at the comics in a totally way. It’s hardly surprising then that when I came to write about female stereotypes and the roles of women in society I chose Wonder Woman to frame the discussion. My ‘Life and Times of a Wonder Woman’ with the sensational Tara Paulsson did well on the Edinburgh Fringe stage and was a Herald’s Critic’s Choice, with the fabulous Tara Paulsson playing “Wonder Woman” in her many different guises: TV star, comic icon, Amazon and stripper/lecturer in feminist studies. The play was also staged in London and then, joy of joys, it went to the New York, where the New York Times said:

“This multilayered, one-hour, one-woman show is an ingenious conceit, a way of talking about feminism, sexuality and society’s view of women, told through the history of a cultural icon … part history lesson, part feminist tract, all funny,” Continue reading Mad about the Woman

Some of My Favourite things

Hey! When somebody asks you your favourite things, there really is only one way to answer – yes? In song! Hit it Maestro!

Heinlein and Hammett and Chandler and Butcher
Most Douglas Adams and some Arthur Koestler
Lloyd Biggle junior Lord of the Rings
These are a few of my favourite things

Forward and Pratchett and Kerr’s Bernie Gunther
Patricia Highsmith and lyrics by Lerner
Then Robert Holdstock and Easy Rawlings
These are a few of my favourite things

Asimov’s robots and Dalziel and Pascoe
Shardlake and Sam Spade and Umberto Eco
Dragons that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favourite things

When the orc bites
When the blade swings
When I’m bleeding bad
I’m simply remembering my favourite things
And so I don’t feel too bad.

Continue reading Some of My Favourite things

The Day I Didn’t Meet Douglas Adams

The day I didn’t meet Douglas Adams was a Thursday. I’m not sure of the month or year, but I do remember it was a Thursday – I thought it was rather appropriate. That, by the way, was a ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ reference. If you didn’t get that you might be better off reading another blog.

It was in Cambridge, where I didn’t meet him, which was also rather appropriate as Douglas (I can call him Douglas as I never met him) was both born in Cambridge and went to university there. I did not go to university in Cambridge, but at the time when I didn’t meet Douglas, I was working at Nottingham University. I was a Macintosh Research Station. Actually, I was part of a larger multi-media development group, but as I was the only one using the Mac, and we were sponsored by Apple, that made me ‘the station’, or so I liked to think.

The Apple sponsorship took the form of the use of their very latest computer – one that incorporated ‘Hypercard’. I was using this rather fab little program to show how, if pictures and information are classified using the BBC’s hierarchical Telclass system, a specially written search engine could assemble a subject node, without using text searching. This method could, in theory, produce ‘new’ information not noticed at the time of classification. Yes, pretty cool – Douglas would have been excited I am sure, if we had ever met.

A Very Well Read Book - and a pen
A Very Well Read Book – and a pen

Apple were impressed, when I did my demo to them. I’d assembled a short subject node about tigers with drawings I’d done of tigers and mammalian locomotion, muscles and the like. They stood behind me and said:

Continue reading The Day I Didn’t Meet Douglas Adams

Not with a Bang but a Whymper

150 years ago this year England’s Edward Whymper became the first man to climb the Matterhorn. I’m not sure if he did it in tweeds; I’d like to think so though. He did not do it “because it’s there”, that was said by mountaineer George Mallory, of the ill-fated Everest attempt some years later, however Edward Whymper, I’m sure, would have agreed with George.

And now I’m going to make what could be a really, really forced and credibility stretching analogy – because writing a book is very much like climbing a mountain.

It is, honest!

View from the the Top
View from the the Top

Continue reading Not with a Bang but a Whymper