Really looking forward to Fantasycon 2015 in Nottingham when I’ll be on the panel for Funtasy: Comedy & Humour in Genre Fiction at 7.00pm Fri 23 Oct along with Frances Hardinge, Steve Jordan, Heather Lindsley and Craig Saunders. Donna Scott will be keeping us all in order as we discuss matters such as “what type of funny? Narrative tone, situation, language and character”.
Some Dads play football with their children. Which is cool. Some Dads take them swimming, which is also cool. And one Dad decided to film a science fiction series with his son and his son’s friends and that is surely 0º Kelvin, absolute zero cool!
And how do I know about this? No, I’m not the Dad in question (sadly); aforementioned Dad just needed a little help with the story navigation after they got the series up and running. What a fab, fun thing to get involved with and what great notes son Tom was able to give me too!
I have been lucky enough to have worked on a lot of exciting projects now (cue commercial for novel) including feature film scripts, radio and a couple of TV series, but for sheer enthusiasm from participants ‘Choreye’ takes some beating.
The second time it happened I was in the bath. The first time I had happily been watching TV. Then up pops some commercial (it was Channel 4, not ITV, I should clarify) for Sainsbury’s and they mentioned a recipe for mac’n’cheese.
I was informed it was an Americanism for macaroni cheese, a dish that we have a perfectly good name for, recognisable by generations of UK school children, so they’d immediately know to avoid it on school dinner menus.
Then this morning, in the bath, I was reading the otherwise excellent Jay Rayner restaurant review in the Observer and there it was again: mac’n’cheese! Mac’n’fn’cheese!
We don’t need your mac’n’cheese, thank you. It’s unnecessary and irritating and just smacks of desperate ‘trendy’ promotion.
I should add at this point that I do not have a general problem with Americanisms. In fact, truth be told, this was part of the joy of first discovering the writing of Raymond Chandler. I loved his 1950s American world full of Chesterfields and Davenports, sharpies and shamuses (shami?), ‘dropping my nickel’ and ‘clam juice’ and if I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, it didn’t matter! It was all part of the joy, the magic of his world, the poetry of the street. And you could work out what was going on even if the exact provenance of a word or expression wasn’t immediately clear.
It was almost inevitable that when I started writing I shouldn’t just get into world building but word building too. The Citadel is a different kind of place and my dwarf detective Nicely Strongoak, does things differently too. So it’s not surprising, with a different history too, that they have different words and expressions too. It’s all part of creating a wonderful space for other people to come visit and it’s great fun too.
So, here are a few choice terms from my work in progress that I’m particularly pleased about: ‘filth-fellowship’, pop-the-pea’, ‘going bite-size’, ‘ground-hugger’, ‘thumb font’ and ‘bleach’. If you don’t understand them now, you’ll soon pick them up, and I hope you’ll enjoy them too, as much as I did the Chesterfields and Davenports and sharpies. Continue reading World-building, word building and mac’n’cheese
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
This is a very famous quote and you can see the point, but the thing that’s always worried me about it is that as a child I loved Rugby football and I loved fantasy and science fiction writing. I am a fan, almost a fanatic, and quite unreasonably enthused by both. With the Rugby World Cup upon us and my own fantasy novel published I am so far beyond excited at the moment that only the Hubble telescope can find me.
Does this mean I never put childhood behind me?
I recently read yet another disparaging dismissal of fantasy writer Terry Pratchett by a critic who had managed to read one whole book of his. The conclusion seemed to be that it was pretty childish entertainment and not a patch on something as funny as ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’, which also gave us insight into the human condition. Now I happen to love ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ and think it is a great book, but liking it, for me, doesn’t preclude loving Terry Pratchett, Tolkien and too many other science fiction and fantasy writers to mention as well. I also think that fantasy books can give us quite an insight into the ‘human condition’ as well, and if it happens to come via dwarfs and elves too that doesn’t worry me. I prefer it from the dwarfs, obviously, as they are much more down to earth and make better detectives.
Interestingly, nobody questions my liking of Rugby, even though I started playing it at the same time I got heavily into reading SFF. Is it that fantasy and SF are just easy targets? Perhaps people just associate elves and dwarfs with childhood and don’t think the subject matter can be treated in a different, more adult, manner.
As far as I know nobody has ever approached Chris Robshaw or Richie McCaw and said to them that they should put the ways of childhood behind them either. There are probably people who think this mind you; I wish them good luck, especially if they try mentioning it to either man over the next few weeks before the final on Saturday the 31st of October. Continue reading Rugby and Fantasy Writing and other such favourite things.
‘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.
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?
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).
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