The Writer’s Dog

Kurt Vonnegut had Pumpkin. Neil Gaiman had Cabal. John Steinbeck had Charley and was so fond of Charley that he went on a road trip with him, which he wrote up in a book entitled ‘Travels With Charley’; a title which didn’t even raise a snigger back then.

Fifty (on left) and Lotte - temporary Writer's Dogs
Fifty (on left) and Lotte – temporary Writer’s Dogs

I had Gonzo for too few years and this week I am delighted to say I have Fifty and Lotte here as honorary writer’s dogs. The “writer’s dog” is a well-known notion, but what exactly is the role of the canine companion for a writer?
Well, for a start, a dog gives you somebody to talk, and even read to – and they are hardly critical at all! They help you feel you are not alone in the world, facing an army of hostile critics, unhelpful agents, demanding publishers and whooshing deadlines (© D. Adams). As a living, breathing, yawning (often farting) being your dog connects you with a world that is larger than the inside of the skull that you live in most of your time – which has a nasty habit of being both too constrictive and infinite at the same time.

Dogs make you move. Not excessively so, but the occasional trip to see what they are barking about is a good way to keep the circulation going. New research has shown that the majority of writers who do not move are dead. This is bad for a writer, although it can be good for sales. It is very bad for aspiring writers.

Dogs need walkies. Walking is an extended form of movement that is very good for writers too. Although it takes them away from their computer/word processor/typewriter/pen/pencil or quill/slate – slate being the choice for real hard core traditionalists. Walking can provide some much-needed thinking, or even inspiration, time. Ideas, characters and plots can come together when you walk in the most opportune of manners.

Also, collected poo in a bag is a very good metaphor for what most writers have to face in their chosen profession. Above all though a dog gives a writer what they probably are really looking for in life: indiscriminate adoration. If only dogs bought books.

Got to go. Lotte is grumbling at Fifty about something. Ah, movement – thank you writer’s dogs.

My original writer’s dog Gonzo: Continue reading The Writer’s Dog

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The Fantasy of Writing

I happen to be very lucky. I earn my living by writing.

I haven’t always earned my living by writing. I use to take very small pieces of things (like small bits of people) and put them into different mixtures of chemicals. Then I’d infuse them with resin, bake the resin overnight, cut the resin very thin with a diamond knife and look at the very thin sections resulting under (which means in) an electron microscope.

tel-with-captive-effect
Portrait of the Writer as a Young Scientist

That’s very different from writing. Mind you, I use to write about it after looking at the ultrathin sections of resin- embedded tissue. If it got interesting.

Now, I just write, no cutting bits off anything. And I get to write lots of fabulous things, including films and musicals and plays and animation and books too. I have clients all around the world.

Of course, not everything is based on my own ideas – they are not all my babies. But to be honest these days so many things are collaborative in nature that it doesn’t seem to matter. And this week I started writing the first of a series of children’s books for a client. Lots of fun, I was really buoyed up. Until I watched a show on TV last night that featured several fantasy writers talking about their books and what inspired their writing. Oh dear.

Then the need to get on with my own stories became almost palpable; so many stories, so little time. So many stories…

Today I didn’t enjoy writing the children’s book so much. I mean, I think it’s going to be great – don’t get me wrong; but I can hear my own children calling! Continue reading The Fantasy of Writing

Abandon Summer Office!

One of the great things about this writing business is the chance to use the summer office. It’s wonderful with garden coming into full bloom to have this little hide-away.

back to the office

Sadly this year’s’ weather has been so pants there have not been many great summer office days. And now, when we finally have a decent day, what happens?

Inside the Summer office

I have to vacate the office, that is what! Yes, for the first time ever it is too hot for Dr Tel to be out there in the summer office. The jolly-old thermometer is hitting 90F and I can’t concentrate!

How cross am I?* Continue reading Abandon Summer Office!

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

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

When I was a Legend.

 

not much of a legend

 

I once went with a chum to see a recording of a BBC show, for which I had written some comedy material. I was particularly pleased as a comedy actress and writer acquaintance of mine was very involved and I was chuffed to see her doing well.

Post-show drinks, I went to say hello to acquaintance and she introduced me to her tall, red-headed friend called Damian. I chatted with her for a bit and caught up and then went back to my chum who had been getting drinks.

‘Well?’ said my chum.

‘Well what?’ I replied.

‘That tall guy was the actor Damian Lewis!’ chum said with some urgency.

‘Oh yes!’ I said, ‘thought I sort-of recognised him.’

Chum was aghast.

Now, I should just mention that I am not the most super-cool person on the planet, although I have my moments, but in these situations I am not fazed. The thing is I met the late Russell Steere. Not only met him, he came over and chatted with me.

You don’t know Russell Steere? A great electron microscopist, he was one of the inventors of the freeze-fracture technique that was instrumental to my day job for many years.

That’s right and he came over and actually talked to me!

Celebrity is like that I guess, it all depends on the size of the pool you’re swimming in. I was amused to see myself once described as ‘legendary’ in the context of a pool so small it regularly evaporated on sunny days.

So, sorry I didn’t have time to chat Damian, I might have been an anecdote for you. Probably not, thinking about it.

Continue reading When I was a Legend.

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