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

The Lost T-shirts of Yesterday

The Danish have an expression for it: ‘never dress yourself in another bird’s feathers’. I think I’ve got that right.

Anyway the principle remains true – don’t nick another person’s work or ideas. I like this; particularly because I once (unintentionally) carried out this heinous act, or perhaps it would be best to say that other people thought I had.

I was reminded about this today because it’s BBC’s 6 Music’s ‘Wear Your Old Band T-shirt To Work Day’ and I used to print T-shirts. It was hardly a mega-business, in fact it was just a way for me to pursue my interest in screen printing by flogging a few to classmates. It was hard to get Stackridge T-shirts at that time, especially featuring Marzo Plod! One of the most popular I produced was of ‘The Crimson King’ – he was the character inside King Crimson’s debut album gatefold sleeve (heady days). Everybody loved this guy (painted by one Barry Godber, a computer programmer who died tragically young shortly after the album was produced).

The Crimson King by Barry Godber - not by me! I never said that!
The Crimson King by Barry Godber – not by me! I never said that!

Even my art teacher liked it – very nice lady but a little ‘old school’ which was ironic as I went to a very new school’. What I didn’t know at the time was that she had thought I’d created the image, not simply nicked it to stick on a T-shirt. I mean, everybody knew King Crimson, right?

I didn’t find this out some years later and I was devastated! I still am. I would never have tried to pass off his work as my own (leaving aside the legality of actually selling T-shirts of somebody else’s work!)

It’s worse when you’re writing comedy, because you hear and make up gags all the time and they get stuck in some spare synapses until at some point you want to use them and you think to yourself: ‘is that mine?’ There’s one great line I’m desperate to use, but I’m convinced it’s not mine, although I can find not trace online and nobody I mention it to has ever heard if before.

Continue reading The Lost T-shirts of Yesterday

Death of an Imaginary Friend

They have counselling services in place simply for when some hair-gelled bimbo boy leaves a manufactured so-called ‘pop music’ group, so presumably Social Services are on red alert and all A&E leave has been cancelled for the rest of the year now.

Why?

clara rip

Because Clara Oswald has been killed of course. Yes, the Dr Who companion who has to rank among everybody’s top three favourites (Joe Grant and Leela as well, if you’re asking) is no more. She went heroically, she went bravely, but there seems little doubt that she has indeed gone – as the quantum shade plunged through her chest in a most distressing fashion.

And so it’s tough out here in our Clara-less world, because we care about our imaginary friends don’t we? Especially the brave ones killed in the line of duty – still miss you Kate even though Ziva helped make NCIS bearable – they are important to us. Even if a world where random, senseless, lethal violence can now visit you at a music concert or eating in a restaurant, we still care so much about made-up people.

But why?

Why do we mourn the death of an imaginary friend? One could say it’s the writer’s fault. After all, it’s the writer’s job to make us empathise fully with their characters, or at least sympathise or even antipathise (can you antipathise? can now) with them and when they get it right we feel a real sense of loss (or joy) when a character departs. That is why we get so cross when it’s carried out in a cavalier fashion, especially by somebody who had nothing to do with the character’s creation. I didn’t watch Alien 3* for something like 15 years because I had heard that ‘they’ had killed off Newt and Hicks in the opening credits! How dare they?! They weren’t ‘their’ characters to kill off like that and they undermined the pay-off of the marvellous ‘Aliens’ film. And I don’t care if the gril playing Newt was 6 years older and not even acting any more – we have writers to take care of those problems.

You have to be careful how you behave towards your characters because they matter to people. I’m not saying that we all have to be like Arthur Conan Doyle and rescue Holmes from the waters of the Reichenbach Falls because of public demand – that would be wrong. However, Clara is the ‘Impossible Girl’ and who knows how many different versions of her there are out in the galaxy that could usefully bump into the doctor again?

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Got to go, I’m late for the counselling service.

Continue reading Death of an Imaginary Friend

Simultaneous book writing, film writing and plate juggling – differences in script and novel writing.

I am currently writing a book and writing a film, at the same time. Well, not actually physically at the same time. I mean I am not ambidextrous or split-brained in some weird SF grey matter bisection style. I write one on one day, one on another and try not to get too mixed up with the plots. It keeps me fresh and I don’t tire of either and fortunately they are both science fiction (no brain splitting involved mind!) and they are both, sort of coincidentally, adaptations, but going in different directions.

So far so good.

My favourite book cover still waiting for a book
My favourite book cover still waiting for a book

What I do have to watch out for are problems connected with the differences between screenplay and book writing, because of course there are differences. I always try to be aware of these distinctions, but one gaff came to my attention yesterday. I was writing what I thought was a particularly good scene with snappy dialogue going backwards and forwards very nicely when I realised there was a problem. The problem was this: “the snappy dialogue going backwards and forwards very nicely”!

I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said something along the lines of: “we’ve written the script, now we add the dialogue”. He certainly is quoted as saying: “dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms”. Yoiks! I’d gone into ‘Dialogue Overload’!

There is always a temptation when writing a script, especially when adapting from a book, of taking all the character’s internal thoughts (and when adapting, even material from the written descriptions) and putting it all into people’s mouths. This was what I was doing.

Now, I am not somebody who gets hung up on the “film is a visual medium” malarkey, as far as I’m concerned film is a recording medium and you do what you want and what is appropriate. Sometimes it is right to have scene after scene of characters expressing their thoughts and emotions … and we call them French films. You just need to be aware of what you are doing and consider if this is the time to be doing it because most of the time you won’t be writing a French film, even in France. It wasn’t appropriate for my SF script.

And I looked back and I realised that the scriptwriting was also causing some problems for my novel writing. Book sentences were becoming too terse and too short. Although this is actively encouraged for scriptwriting, where action is usually condensed to a couple of lines per paragraph, such writing can get very wearing for readers when presented in book form. I would argue that it can even be irritating in a spec script, especially if not done really well! Although you can get away with grammatically incorrect, or even incomplete, sentences in a script you need to get proficient in this style of writing and this proficiency isn’t something that comes overnight. I always think you should stick to simple evocative sentences when starting out scriptwriting.

A spec script, in particular, isn’t a shooting script and its first job is to be a pleasurable read to get somebody interested in your story. And although I am a huge fan of the hard-boiled detective style of writing sometimes in a book you should take the opportunity to stretch yourself a bit to produce a sufficient fluent read for your reader.

Time for some rewriting, I do believe.

‘And what about the plate juggling?’ I hear you ask.

Continue reading Simultaneous book writing, film writing and plate juggling – differences in script and novel writing.

Feeding the Horse with the Green Nose

A.F.E Smith, the talented fantasy writer, is to blame. Or rather, I should humbly thank AFE, not blame her. It was an interview with AFE that brought ‘The Horse with the Green Nose’ back to my mind. Now, I can’t get that horse out of my thoughts, what’s more ‘feeding the horse with the green nose’ has become my catch-all phrase for my own fiction writing.The horse with the Green Nose

You see, ‘The Horse with the Green Nose’, by Agnes Frome, is one of the earliest books I can remember reading. It had been passed down the generations in my family; battered and worn but with a fabulous soft cover and a unique smell. I can’t tell you much about Agnes though. It seems likely that Frome was a nom-de-plume, taken from the town in Somerset. Some clever genealogical work has discovered that she was probably really Agnes Dora Rimmer, born c 1895. Continue reading Feeding the Horse with the Green Nose