Monday, 12 December 2011

What I Told The Students

I was recently asked to give a seminar to some creative writing students on the subject of being an author. Fortunately this is one of the few subjects that falls within the limited area of my expertise(1) so I wandered across the river to Twickenham and faced up to a terrifying collection of ridiculously fit and healthy young people.

This is what I told them. None of it's particularly original but hey it's not like you're paying for this stuff.

1. You Must Make Time To Write
The world is full of people who say they have a book inside them but fortunately for us professionals only 0.001% ever bother to write the fucker down. If you don't write you're not a writer and if you can't find time to write then you obviously don't want to be a writer.(2)

2. You Must Complete What You Start
If you find that you've written the first ten thousand words of more than three novels then you should seriously consider switching to short stories. The first bit of a novel is like the first bit of a bridge - you have to start somewhere but without the rest it's a waste of time(3).

3. You Must Become The Arbiter Of Your Own Work
You cannot rely on other people to validate your work. You must learn to judge the quality of your own writing for yourself. The best way to do this is to read some writing that you find substandard and ask whether your work is better than that? High art is all very well as an aspiration but clarity and readability(4) make a good solid floor.

4. Your Must Experience The Wider World
You need to constantly expand your experience of the world. You can do this through travelling, reading, talking to people, visiting places or just using your imagination to create new places, people and situations. This is one of the most important aspects of being a writer without which you will never transcend the narrow confines of your own life(5). Make a point of learning the names of everyday objects, readers can get away with a vague sense of a lintel but you need to know for certain so you can use it properly.

I could probably bang on about all these subjects for many more pages but there's paid work I'm supposed to be doing so that's your lot.

(1) The other subjects are; shelving, watching TV and... nope that's pretty much it.
(2) Obviously this applies mainly to people living a 1st world lifestyle.
(3) Or a diving board.
(4) Unless you want to win the Man Booker of course.
(5) I don't know about you guys but if I found my life interesting I wouldn't be writing about other people.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Schwarzer Mond Uber Soho

Black Moon Over Soho
I don't know why it's a black moon but the covers good and it's in German and that's the main thing. Here is the blurb... I have no idea what it says.

Constable Peter Grant ist ein ganz normaler Londoner Bobby. Die Abteilung, in der er arbeitet, ist allerdings alles andere als normal: ihr Spezialgebiet ist - die Magie. Peters Vorgesetzter, Detective Inspector Thomas Nightingale, ist der letzte Magier Englands und Peter seit kurzem bei ihm in der Ausbildung.

Was im Moment vor allem das Auswendiglernen von Lateinvokabeln bedeutet, die uralten Zaubersprüche wollen schließlich korrekt aufgesagt werden. Doch als Peter eines Nachts zu der Leiche eines Jazzmusikers gerufen wird, verliert das Lateinstudium auf einmal seine Dringlichkeit. Peter findet heraus, dass in den Jazzclubs in Soho, im Herzen Londons, plötzlich verdächtig viele Musiker eines unerwarteten Todes sterben. Hier geht etwas nicht mit rechten Dingen zu ...

Monday, 5 December 2011

The November Fictional Criminal Report

Welcome to the third and last monthly fictional criminal report. The question, are black criminals more likely to be portrayed as career criminals than white criminals in a completely arbitrary selection of US TV series, has been answered with a firm yes. Here are the monthly totals...

Type: Number (percentage of group/percentage of total)

White American: 51
Sympathetic: 8 (16%/10%)
Unsympathetic: 12 (24%/15%)
Vicious: 5 (10%/6%)
Career: 26 (51%/33%)

Non-white American: 20
Sympathetic: - (-/-)
Unsympathetic: 8 (40%/10%)
Vicious: - (-/-)
Career: 12 (60%/15%)

The number of foreign criminals has been so consistantly low that I've stopped recording and in the next evaluation foreigners will be folded in with the American characters.

The totals for the three month period are as follows.

White American: 172
Sympathetic: 24 (14%)
Unsympathetic: 50 (29%)
Vicious: 23 (15%)
Career: 73 (42%)

Non-white American: 50
Sympathetic: 5 (10%)
Unsympathetic: 9 (18%)
Vicious: 1 (2%)
Career: 35 (70%)

These proportions were remarkably consistant across the various shows with only the Mentalist and Blue Bloods showing equal proportions of career criminals in both white and black.

Starting in December we will be folding the foreigners into the main figures and counting all non-regular characters in a slightly wider range of shows.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Die Flusse von London

You can now download a sample of the German text of Rivers of London (Midnight Riot) at the DTV website here.

The sample is a pdf accessed by clicking on Druckansicht (PDF) near the bottom of the page. Also available is a flyer for impressing your German friends with and a big image of the cover which I think is rather splendid.

According to the website publication is January 2012 which I shall confirm when DTV give me a firm date.

Hang on a Moment

I frequent cry I hear during the Leveson Inquiry is that the public were as much to blame as the press - after all are we not celebrity obsessed. Is this not what drove the law abiding journalists to stoop to such low and immoral acts.

I call bollocks(1). The News of the World had a circulation of 2.8 million and the adult population of the UK is 51 million so that means that only 5% of adults bought the paper. This does not constitute a majority. Even if 3 people avidly read the paper (by presumably nicking it off the guy who did buy it) then that's still 20% - still not a majority.

I'm not saying that there's not a market for celebrity gossip but I'm increasingly doubtful that the culture is quite as celebrity obsessed as the media likes to believe. Certainly the media is celebrity obsessed but then they're drawn from a narrow demographic already(2).

So next time that someone insists that 'we're to blame' ask them if they can prove it.

(1) That's bullshit in American.
(2) Not going to go there.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Currently Reading

I'm currently reading two books; Estates: An Intimate History by Lynsey Hanley as part of my background research for book 4 and Darkness and the Devil Behind Me by Persia Williams because I've always been interested in the Harlem Renaissance but have never really had time to do any research.

I know that Nightingale was 'working' in New York in that era and I've seriously considered a short story based there but I haven't found a 'voice' for the piece yet.

There really is nothing half as good as a well researched historical thriller for painlessly imparting historical information. Providing you hit the books before you actually use any of it.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Joy of Rewrites

You want your rewrites! I've got your rewrites right HERE!

Like many writers I approach the prospect of rewriting my work with emotions that run the gamut from fierce dislike to fear and loathing. Nobody I know likes to rewrite, particularly to order, and those that do need to be kept under observation. Remember the strange guy who's neighbour's say (while the police dig up his back garden) he seemed like such quiet man, kept himself to himself? That's the kind of person who likes doing rewrites.

The reason for disliking rewrites are reasonable and sound. In the first instance my work was perfect when I handed it in - you can't improve upon perfection and thus any suggestion that you can is not only personally insulting but also an offence against god himself!(1)

In the second instance by the time I've finished a novel I'm so tired of the material that the mere thought of going back to it make me physically sick. Like all wounded animals a writer will become vicious if pushed - like terrorist bomb-makers fiction editors are a profession signified by missing fingers.

In the third instance just as fat man immediately forgets his last meal and starts dreaming of the next(2) so an author is already working on the next book. I don't know a writer who doesn't start thinking about the next book even as he's struggling with the last half of the first, possibly because he is struggling.

The real problem with rewrites is that sooner or later, just like George Takei, you will have to fucking do them. Unless of course you get rich enough to afford the famous Protection from Editors CardTM.

(1) The theological argument is as follows: since only God can be perfect and my first draft was perfect then I must be god QED.

(2) Trust me on this.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Being the Chosen One is Grimm

Grimm, read the script for the pilot and didn't like it. Was given a preview of Episodes 1 and 2 and... It could go either way but why?

Grimm suffers from excessive destiny syndrome. Life Buffy Summers our hero is the Chosen One, of the pure and wondrous bloodline of the Brothers Grimm who can see the monsters for what they really are etc etc. If Grimm stood magnificantly alone this wouldn't be a problem but since we are drowning in people with inate powers who have been chosen by fate to... whatever it is they are chosen to do it comes across as a tad stale. He has a black best friend as well, wouldn't it be nice if the black guy has the special powers for a change but that's a whole different rant.

So why am I planning to watch this series when it finally washes up in the UK as part of some package that Channel 5 bought in order to get something they really wanted?

Below this point are spoilers - read no further...........................

Because there's a reformed big bad wolf living in his town who has all the best lines, all the best scenes and is, in fact, a much better character than our hero, his black best friend and his wafer thin girlfriend.

The bit where he rips the guys arm off and stares at it as if deciding whether to eat it or drop it was worth wading through the hero angst that permeates the rest of the story. I suspect that over the course of the season it will turn into a buddy series between the two...

He's a cop with secret family history and second sight, he's a big bad wolf trying to go straight, together they fight crime.

If I was the black best friend I'd start looking for a new job.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Currently Reading: Contested Will

Weirdly I was inspired by a Roland Emmerich film, not that I've got round to seeing it yet, to get what I've been told is the difinitive story of the debate about Shakespeare's authorship.

Monday, 31 October 2011

October Fictional Criminal Report

The programmes watched by my informant this month were; Castle. Hawaii 5.0. Unforgettable, The Mentalist, Prime Suspect, Person of Interest and Blue Bloods.

Against the Wall was dropped when she point blank refused to continue watching it.

For how the classifications work you can check this blog here.

There were no OBWs this month and only one Evil Brit.

Type: Number (percentage of group/percentage of total)

White American: 60
Sympathetic: 8 (13%/9%)
Unsympathetic: 24 (40%/26%)
Vicious: 9 (15%/10%)
Career: 28 (32%/21%)

Non-white American: 19
Sympathetic: 3 (16%/3%)
Unsympathetic: - (-/-)
Vicious: - (-/-)
Career: 16 (84%/18%)

White Foriegner: 7
Sympathetic: 1 (14%/1%)
Unsympathetic: 1 (14%/1%)
Vicious: 1 (14%/1%)
Career: 4 (57%/4%)

Non-white Foriegner: 4
Sympathetic: 1% (25%/1%)
Unsympathetic: - (-/-)
Vicious: - (-/-)
Career: 3 (75%/3%)

It's still too early to draw firm conclusions but one trend is clear; whereas the White American criminals span the gamut of roles and motivations from desperate citizen to vicious serial killers the vast majority (77% so far) of non-white American criminals are depicted as part of a criminal class.

Remember none of this 'research' conforms to even the most basic standards of empiricism and thus we are not even going to pretend to defend it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Computer Transition

With a fine sense of timing my old computer gave up the ghost just one day short of me finishing the book. Relax; the work was all backed up but my contact list and email archives were not.

My priority is to deliver the book to my long suffering publishers once that is done I'll see about retreiving every thing else.

Only one of my email systems is working so I will not be replying to contacts through the folly for at least a week.

I apologise for any delays or problems this may create. I promise I will be fujlly plugged back into cyberspace by the end of the month.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Signing Today at Waterstones Covent Garden

I will be signing today at the Covent Garden Waterstones' mini-relaunch. It starts at six o'clock (18:00) and I'll be there until seven thirty (19:30).

View Larger Map

Monday, 17 October 2011

Galaxy National Book Award

Yes the 'not the Booker' is back and this time with a 100% more Aaronovitch. I've been put on the New Author shortlist but I don't rate my chances. What I'm hoping for is a butt load of chocolate. The announcement's been reported in the Bookseller who strangely focused on peripheral elements of the story - sometimes I just despair about modern journalistic standards.

This is the National Book Awards website which inexplicably hasn't updated it's own news story yet(1). There will be a TV show on one of the Channel 4s so there's a slim chance that my large presence may hove into view at some stage.

I shall keep the 3 of you posted.

(1) They probably have by now.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Riding With My Sister: Reading on Monday

Andrew Cartmel is staging a reading of his latest comedy 'Riding With My Sister' at the White Bear on Monday the 16th October. I'm hoping to mount a production of this work, that's how much I like it, early next year - so you support would be welcome.

It starts at 19:30 and is absolutely free.

White Bear Theatre

138 Kennington Park Road
SE11 4DJ

To reach by Tube:
Two minutes walk from Kennington Tube, on the Northern Line. Kennington is one stop from Waterloo.
To reach by Bus:
The 133, 159, 109 buses stop nearby.

To reach by Rail:
Elephant and Castle Train Station, then bus.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The September Fictional Criminal Report

I was watching Castle one week and there was a character, a former career criminal, who was being forced back into a life of crime by a much nastier career criminal. The sympathetic criminal was white and the nasty irredeemable criminal was black. Now I immediately jumped to a conclusion, I don't think I need to tell you what it was, but then I wondered if I was correct.

Since being on the wrong side of the pond I tend to see American shows at widely separated timed from when they are first broadcast I pitched this idea to an American friend of mine and they've agreed to compile the statistics for me. I might verify the figures as and when the episodes become available in the UK.

Who's counted
Any speaking criminal character or one who is identified by name. Mooks, in such shows as Hawaii 5.0, aren't counted unless they do something more interesting than pop-up like a paper target on Hogan's Ally.

The criminals are first broken down by nationality into American and non-American and then into white and non-white. European Latin American characters (Argentinians and the like) count as white. This is all going to be subjective so you mileage may vary. The actual criminal categories are as follows:-

Sympathetic: an ex-con forced back into the life by overwhelming circumstances, a person driven to extreme acts by abusive partners or bosses or just someone who snaps in a manner that we can both understand and empathise with.

Unsympathetic: Someone who commits a crime, possibly only one time, out of greed, or love or fear. Somebody who, under different circumstances, might have been us but chose badly and did something morally reprehensible.

Vicious: serial killers, sadistic mobsters, psychopathic gang leaders etc.

Career: mafia soldiers, gangbangers, street punks, people from the wrong area without an alibi.

Evil Brit: I don't think this needs an explanation (except that terrorists from Northern Ireland technically count).

Finally a non-criminal character who turns up with such regularity that I thought it would be interesting to do a crude count. This is the OBW or Obstructive Black Woman; this is a one or two scene character, often in a minor position of power, who gets in the way of our hero and has to be circumvented (and preferably humiliated into the bargain).

September saw the tail end of a couple of series and the start the new seasons. These are the ones my friend watched. The Closer, The Glades, Rizzoli & Isles, Burn Notice, The Protector, Alphas, Castle, Hawaii 5.0, Unforgettable, The Mentalist, Prime Suspect, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods and Against the Wall.

Total number of criminals 87.

Type: Number (percentage of group/percentage of total)
White American: 61
Sympathetic: 8 (13%/9%)
Unsympathetic: 14 (23%/16%)
Vicious: 11 (18%/13%)
Career: 28 (46%/32%)

Non-white American: 15
Sympathetic: 2 (18%/2%)
Unsympathetic: 1 (9%/1%)
Vicious: 1 (9%/1%)
Career: 7 (64%/8%)

White Foriegner: 7
Sympathetic: 2 (29%/2%)
Unsympathetic: - (-/-)
Vicious: 2 (29%/2%)
Career: 3 (43%/3%)

Non-white Foriegner: 4
Sympathetic: - (-/-)
Unsympathetic: - (-/-)
Vicious: 1 (25%/1%)
Career: 3 (75%/3%)

There were 4 Evil Brits making them 5% of all criminals but this is probably an artefact of Alphas which does love itself some Evil Brit.

There were also 4 Obstructive Black Women (counting the new Lieutenant in Castle only once).

Conclusions: the sample size is too low for anything to definitely emerge, I will point out that the vast majority of criminals are white but non-white criminals are much more likely to be career criminals than anything else.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Me and Suzy at the Lewisham Literary Festival

Suzanne McLeod and I will be at the Lewisham Literary Festival where we shall be shilling... I mean answering questions about our books. It all kicks off at 3 pm on Saturday at St Swithun's church hall, directions from Hither Green are below -

View Walking directions to St Swithun's hall in a larger map

This the website for the festival and this is a place to book tickets.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Like Goldy or Bronzy

The trouble with taking a smug superior attitude is that you can't always be sure it's justified and if it isn't then one leaves oneself open to ridicule - and that just wont do. Still I was watching the series finale of Falling Skies and found myself thinking that if the irony wasn't deliberate than the makers of the series must be dumber than pig shit.

Falling Skies follows the adventures of the survivors of an alien invasion as they attempt to preserve what's left of the civilian population and harass the invaders. It's an enjoyable show although I suspect that anyone who'd actually fought with an insurgency will want to watch the combat sequences with the sound track replaced by the chase music from Benny Hill.

Like I said the irony of the show didn't really sink in until the last episode. The location, Boston and the name the survivors take 'The 2nd Massachusetts' are all chosen to evoke folk memories of the American Revolution and just in case nobody noticed the historian/militia leader who serves as the series hero explicit references the revolution when they face off against an alien attack. I didn't record the programme so I can't give you the details of the speech but I remember something about militias striking a blow for freedom against a more powerful foe.

The thing is the though; if you're looking for an analogy - a brave people facing a doomed battle against a technologically superior enemy who seems intent on wiping them out and stealing all their land- it isn't the American War of Independence. Right continent wrong protagonists.

The makers of this series have to be aware of that - don't they? They can't really be that historically unaware - can they?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Things to do this week!

Signing at Covent Garden Waterstones
On Thursday the 1st of September from noon till two (12:00-14:00)

View Signing at Waterstones Covent Garden in a larger map

Signing at Waterstones Romford
Saturday 3rd of September from one till three (13:00-15:00)

View Signing at Waterstones Romford in a larger map

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

I wanted to be a Paperback Writer

At last the thing that was previously released big is now being released small - with a slightly different cover(1)

For months now people have been coming up to me in the street and saying: "I'd really like to buy your book if only it was smaller and cheaper." Well WISH GRANTED! From today the travel sized version of Rivers of London is available from WH Smith, Waterstones, the non-snobby branches of Daunts, a nice bookshop I just discovered in England's Lane and many other worthy outlets.

(1) Obviously it's been small in America for some time.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Cursed Among Sequels

This is my Amazon review for Cursed Among Sequels by Nev Fountain

Having torn through the previous two titles in this series, Geek Tragedy and DVD Extras Include: Murder I did entertain a fear that the series might flag. I mean just how much trouble can the former script editor of an 1980s cult Sci-Fi show get into? The answer is: more than you'd think.

This time Mervyn Stone, whose career in TV didn't so much implode as trickle away while he wasn't looking, is down in the wilds of Cornwall where an American company which specialises in resurrecting the corpses of bygone TV shows is about to shoot electricity into the mummified remains of Vixens of the Void. Mervyn is there as a consultant, which means he ranks below the caterer in status, but instead of spending the shoot having his suggestions ignored he finds himself the target of a series of increasingly bizarre murder attempts.

I can't say any more without spoilers but lets just say it has, mentally unbalanced writers, five flavours of desperate actor, malfunctioning plots, props and costumes and a nightmare of a director. Not to mention the monkey and toaster explanation for why British television has not been particularly brilliant of late.

I read it in one sitting.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Currently Reading: Nemesis

Change of pace as I switch into Nemesis: The Battle For Japan 1944-1945 - a fascinating if grim and occasionally eye-popping account of the last days of the Pacific war.

Max Hasting, a man I would cheerfully strangle (politically speaking) is a superb historian capable of coupling proper scholarship and objectivity to a clear and entertaining prose style.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Currently Reading: Cursed Among Sequels

As you can probably tell from the fact that I already have the next book up I'm tearing through these in a hurry.

Just started but I have to say that the monkey with a toaster metaphor for commissioning editors is worth the price of admission alone.

Word Verification Now Operating

I don't like word verification but I'm getting seriously spammed here.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Coming Up

Things to look forward to in the next month or so.

25th August: Rivers of London Paperback release.
In these tough economic times I know there are many of you who can only gaze whistfully at your richer friends as they read their hardback editions of what people are already calling '...that book you wrote.' From the 25th August it will be available in the convenient travel sized paperwork version. So you'll have no excuse.

WH Smith's Promotion
Apparently WH Smith will be running a promotion as soon as I know details I'll let you know.

1st September: Signing at Waterstone's Covent Garden
12:00 to 14:00
Be the first on your block to have a personally signed copy.

3rd September: Signing at Waterstone's Romford
13:00 - 14:00
Be the second on your block etc etc.

10th September: Lewisham Literary Festival
Details to be announced.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Currently Reading: DVD Extra Include Murder

I should have been reading this yesterday but the crack team of Royal Mail spotters ensured that the delivery took place during my breif absence from my home - still collecting it from the depot this morning was probably good exercise.

Nev Fountain brings you the further adventures of Mervyn Stone, former script-editor/writer this time solving a mysterious poisoning at Television Centres. Religion, blasphemy, Vixens from the Void - who could ask for anything more.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Translation Convention

I couple of reviewers have commented on the presence in my books of what some might call British-isms which others might call English. Sorry, cheap shot, couldn't resist it, moving on. Sometimes this is couched as a positive, sometimes as a negative but mostly as a minor drawback that is outweighed by the books good points (phew). My initial reaction, like most British people, is to snarl in unseemly fashion and go into a long rant about how 'we seem to be perfectly capable of figuring out American-isms (called by some people English) from the text why can't they' blah, cultural imperialism, moan, short sightedness, insensitivity etc etc.

I was halfway through a moan of this type when I asked myself - do we? So, in a spirit of inquiry, because it does you good to periodically test your assumptions and also because I'll do just about anything other than get down to the business of writing, I decided to check. I've taken random chapters from the British editions of American authors - sticking to books set in modern America (because my books are set in modern Britain).

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus
Published by Angry Robot (2010)
Chapter Seven (p166-187)
Actually there's quite a lot of drug jargon in this chapter which I didn't count because I suspected it was new to a lot of people on both sides of the pond(1).

American-isms: Arts and Crafts Era, Crown Royal bag, Kool cigarette, senior (high school), quarter (money), squad car, aluminium cans, section 8 housing(2), Player magazine, parking lot and hose (fishnet).

(1) Broaddus evocation of the junkie life is particularly brilliant here.
(2) I'm not sure if
this isn't Indianapolis specific or not.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Published by Gollancz (2009)
Chapter 7 (p176-206)

American-isms: Restonic(3), Little League Baseball(4)... and that's it. A quick flick through revealed pavement rather than sidewalk - this book has been doctored. My thesis has definitely taken a hit.

This is why you should check your facts before embarking on a good moan, especially a nationalistic one.

(3) Is this a real brand name or made up?
(4) we know what baseball is it's the 'little league' that's foreign.

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambera
Published by The Women's Press (1982)
Chapter Seven (p161-174)

American-isms: parking lot and.... bloody hell my theory is going down in flames.

Mind you it's been thirty years since I first read this book, scanning the chapter reminded me how good it was and now its been recycled into the reading pile.

Seriously I'd better choose something firmly in the vernacular to retrieve my honour...

White Night by Jim Butcher
Published by Orbit (2008)
Chapter 7 (p65-76

Surely the aggressively American (and I mean that in a good way) Jim Butcher is going to help me out here.

American-ism: sidewalk, mailbox and fire truck.

Notes: unless I'm mistaken Orbit changed leash to lead but kept sidewalk - interesting. Strictly speaking I could have included mail as an Americanism because while we use mail (as in Royal Mail) we generally refer to the post (the post has arrived, post box) but I decided that would be a sign of desperation.

Now to the last throw of the dice (or is it die?)

Lullaby by Ed McBain
Published by Pan Books (1989)
Chapter 7 (p125-152)

Surely the 87th Precinct novels, from which I learnt, in context, that an Oldsmobile was a car and that Oxfords were a type of shoe, would bear me out. Shall we have a look?

American-isms: Jakies, sidewalk, track (athletics), apartment & apartment building.

I'd say that the basis of the moan is... well marginal at best. Without comparing a range of American editions of British books I'd say it was unlikely that more American-isms were let through than British-isms going the other way.

I'm off to complain about something else.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Currently Reading: Royal Flash

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser

I hadn't read any Flashman books in years and having finished the first nothing can be done but that I press on to the 2nd. This stands an aberration in the series in that it is the only one set in a fictional locale yet despite that it has the same attention to historical detail including endnotes that contradict the main text.

I'd like to see the person who wrote the phrase 'genetic code' in the Captain America film pay a bit more attention to such details.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Currently Reading: Flashman

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser.

I lost my original copy and so this became the only one that I hadn't read in years. Flashman remains a fascinating exercise in creating a wholly irredeemable protagonist who is rendered, if not sympathetic than at least tolerable, by his one saving grace - the absolute truthfulness of his recollections. It's also very funny of course and educational.

Geek Tragedy

I don't normally review and I almost never recommend a book but in this case I'm going to make an exception. Partly because it kept me up all night but mostly because I found myself laughing out loud every two pages or so.

Geek Tragedy by Nev Fountain details the first case of one Meryvn Stone, former writer and script editor of smash hit 1980s BBC television show Vixens From The Void and reluctant amateur sleuth.

Stone, a man whose career has not prospered since Vixens was cancelled, arrives at an anonymous hotel where he will a guest at VixCon15. His low expectations are almost immediately confirmed when he is thrust back into the slightly sweaty arms of Vixens From the Void's fandom which - ...only existed so that Xena Warrior Princess fans had someone to pity. (p17)

And that's about as far as I'm willing to go without spoiling the plot, obviously there is a murder and a mystery. Our hero rises to the occasion, in more than one sense of the word. The setting will be hilariously familiar and appalling to anyone whose ever attended, guested or organised a fan convention and will be hideously fascinating to anyone who has not. The characters are well drawn and manage the difficult balance between caricature and believability - I've met some of these people, hell I've been some of these people. Nev Fountain keeps the mystery and the comedy in perfect harmony so that you find yourself laughing and second guessing the plot at the same time.

I'm off to buy the sequels - you should too.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Currently Reading: Geek Tragedy

Written by Nev Fountain who writes for Private Eye and wrote for Dead Ringers this turned out to be a happy accidental acquisition.

I wasn't planning to read it straight away but I made the mistake of scanning the first page and now it's stuck.

I'm certainly going to talk about its strengths in establishing a sense of place but that can wait - first I have to finish it.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Spoor of the Gibbon: The Hour

Gibbons are nasty furtive creatures and it can be hard to track them. But occasionally one comes across their spoor in a form as fragrant and as delightful as a dog turd in a paddling pool. Such spoor was strong in the closing moments of episode 3 of BBC TV's The Hour.
At the end of this episode an MI6 agents pursues our hero through the corridors of the BBC before violently assaulting him. Our hero drawing upon the potent power of lower middle class rage to turn the tables and demands answers. The spy, who up until then had been terrifyingly professional, blurts out a cryptic state secret before inexplicably throwing himself down the stair well.

It's the inexplicable nature of this swan dive that, like the odour of cheap dog-food, allows us to identify this spoor. Now whatever you think of Abi Morgan as a writer she is professional enough to avoid using inexplicable suicides as a plot device. It's obvious to anyone with craft skills that she was going for a stonking climax where our, almost but not quite working class, hero is forced to kill a man in self defence.

This would fit in with the themes of the story and with the guilt he expresses in Episode 4. It also makes some kind of narrative sense. What I suspect was that a Gibbon intervened, at a very late stage, and said that there was no way they could have the hero kill someone, not even in self defence. We know that this must have been done late because there was obviously no time to do a proper rewrite before shooting.

And so our exciting climax is marred by pointless note which serves only to make life difficult for the writer, the actors, the director and poor bloody editor who has to cut together a scene that makes no sense whatsoever.

Thus do the gibbons rain excrement upon talented craft professionals and ultimately we the audience.

Monday, 8 August 2011

In Praise of Big Books

Novel Got Plot by Sir Read-a-Lot
(with abject apologies to Sir Mix-a-Lot)

*Late Show Panelist*
Oh my god
Kirsty, look at that plot
It's so big!
It looks like one of those fantasy novels
Who understands those fantasy writers?
They only write like that because they're total geeks
I mean that plot
It's just so big
It's got so many pages
It's just out there
I mean, it's so gross.
Look, it's just so sci-fi

*Sir Read-a-lot*
I like big books and I cannot lie
You other readers can't deny
When the prologue sets out to give a taste
And sticks its story in your face
You get sprung
Wanna read all night
Cuz you know that plot is tight!
I know that the map is vital
I was hooked by the end of the title
Oh I just want to get you in the sack
And read you in hardback
The critics may grit their teeth
But that plot you got
Suspends my disbelief.
Oh book of vast size
You say you wanna get in my cart?
I'll choose yer, choose yer, cuz you aint that average booker
I've seen them bulging
I need indulging
It's long, strong, got it going like donkey kong

I'm tired of magazines
Saying character's the thing
Take the average reader and ask them what
Books got to carry some plot

So writers (yeah) Writers (yeah)
Has your novel got a plot (hell yeah)
Well write it, write it, write it, write it, write that lengthy plot
Novels got plot

(UK cover with a New York binding)

I like'em big and thick
On the bookshelf when I pick
I just can't help myself
I'm a literary animal
Now here's my scandal
I wanna get you home
And UH, snuggle up UH UH
I aint talkin bout no Amis
Because the TLS talks out its a***
I wanna a big long series
So write another sequel
Readalot is your equal
I'll even get the prequal
So I'm watching the Late Show
Knockin' them pundits talking like pros.
You can keep that prose
I'll keep my book with a plot that flows
A word to the trilogy writer
I wanna plot that's tighter
I aint gonna fight yer
But I gotta be straight when I say I wanna read yer
Til the break of dawn
Baby stick another sequel on
Alot of critics won't like this song
Cuz them punks get it free and a charge a fee
But I'd rather stay and play
Cuz I'm long and I'm strong
And I'm down to get the fiction on

So writers (yeah), writers (yeah)
Do you want a series on HBO? (yeah)
Then turn around
Turn it out
Even Front Row got to shout
Novel got plot.

(UK cover with a New York binding)

Yeah baby
When it comes to novels
The broadsheets got nothing to do with my selection
Two hundred and fifty thousand words
But only if its part one!

So your best friend writes a Booker
Bout a middle aged man and a hooker
His Booker aint got no gas in his cooker
My kindle don't want a lot unless you got plot, clot!
You can do philosophy or aesops, but please don't lose that plot.
Some writers wanna play that role.
And tell you that the plot ain't gold
So they say that they're post-modern
They don't know what's going on
So the critics say you're hacks
Well I ain't down with that
Cuz your print is small and your word counts kickin
And I'm thinkin bout stickin
To the English majors in the magazines
The point of books your missing
Give me a brick I like them thick
Because than that story will stick
Some knucklehead tried to dis
Cuz Atwood's on my list
He can chat his shit on Newsnight
But that don't mean what he says is right
So writers if the plot is compelling
And you wanna your books be selling
Dial 1-900 READALOT
Novel got plot
Novel got plot
Saggy in the middle but it got much plot x4

Translation for the non-British: the TLS is the Times Literary Supplement, the Late Show and Front Row are cultural arts review programmes on BBC2 and BBC Radio 4 and Newsnight is flagship news magazine programme on BBC2 whose most famous presenter once told Margaret Atwood that Oryx and Crake was not Science Fiction because it had real science in it.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Currently Reading: Ghost Story

Came via post this morning - Good luck talking to me for the next couple of hours. Let's see, coffee, biscuits, book.... farewell cruel world.


Back to work.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

I'm baaaaaaack....ish!

Just a note to say that I've been neglecting my blog while I finish a novel but pressure has eased enough to alloy me to do some blogging and start updating the, sadly neglected, websites. I won't be able to engage in long and involved conversations or respond personally to every comment until everything is done and dusted but I do enjoy getting them.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

No More Mr Anonymous

Alas I've had to disable anonymous posting as 9 out of 10 posts of that type were spam.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Nancy Pearl Recomends Midnight Riot

Nancy Pearl, the only non simian Librarian to have her own action figure, has put Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London) at the top of her summer reading list.

Although I'm willing concede that my pre-eminent position may have something to do with my fortuitous double A surname.

You can find her glowing recommendation here and, should you so wish, listen to her radio programme on the NPR website here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Forbidden Planet Group Signing

I will be partaking in the Forbidden Planet Group Signing on the 23rd of June from 1800-1900 - details are here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Get Yourself Free

I was once again contemplating the problem of pushy minor characters and how they can encrust the bottom of your narrative like barnacles when this particular earworm arrrived in my head and refused to leave. Because misery loves company I publish it for your delectation.

With apologies to Paul "Gundwani" Simon.

The problem is all inside your head
She said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle
To be free
There must be fifty ways
To ditch your character.

She said remember you’re the author
of your work
And playing god with them has
Always been a perk
You don’t want imaginary people
Treating you just like a jerk
There must be fifty ways
To kill your character

Just nuke them from space, Grace
Make a new plot, Dot
Pretend they got lost, Joss
Just get yourself free
Put em on a bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just let them fade, Jade
And get yourself free

It really is pathetic that your own
creations cause you pain
I wish there was something I could do
To make you smile again
I said I appreciate that
If you’d just repeat the refrain
About the fifty ways…

She said why don't we both
Just sleep on it tonight
And I believe in the morning
You'll begin to see the light
And then she edited the chapter
And I realised that she was right
There must be fifty ways
To kill your character.

You just stab them in the back, Jack
Get them all hitched, Rich
Don’t need to justify, Tye
Just get yourself free
Let them ascend, Brend
It don’t need to make sense much.
Put them in a coma, Rona
And get yourself free.

Have them fall ill. Jill
Stuff them in fridge, Bridge
Have a psycho make a call, Paul
And get yourself rid.
Marry them off, Joff
You don’t have to explain much
Nail them to a tree, Dee
And get yourself free.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Moon Over Soho Audio

Just received word that the unabridged audio version Moon Over Soho will be available for download from the 21st of July. It will be read, as was Rivers of London, by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who not only does a much better Nigerian accent than me but also a better Scottish, Manchester, Essex and, if truth be told, Cockney wide boy.

He's been in Little Britain and done time at the National and the Globe - which makes him a proper actor. He certainly does a good job with Peter.

Fleuves de Londres

Just a note to say that my agents have concluded their negotiations with French publishing house J'ai Lu and that Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground will be published in translation - probably next year.

I'm very pleased, partly out of sheer meglomanical delight but mostly because now I have a good excuse to go to Paris on the Eurostar. 'It's for business - honest.'

Monday, 30 May 2011

Writing a Novel and Getting Published

Now that I've moved from an almost successful writer to a somewhat successful writer I am still asked how one traverses that tricky hinterland between the gloomy forest of obscurity to the sunlit uplands of actually getting paid to write. I cannot speak to the journey that others may take but I can certainly describe my own rock and cowpat strewn path to occasional success.

I've covered much of this ground before but I thought I'd consolidated in one easy to find blog.

Part 1: Prior to Writing the Novel
1. To paraphrase Yoda 'Write or do not write there is no fucking endlessly telling people you're going to write a novel if you don't write it and BTW you fucked up badly in that cave you're worse than fricking Obi Wan I swear this is why I gave up teaching...'

Part 2: Writing the Novel
1. Go out and buy 'How Not To Write A Novel' by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
2. Read this book at least twice.
3. Write your novel following its advice.
4. Do not rewrite earlier chapters until the book is finished.
5. Do not show your work to more than 1-2 people until it's finished.
6. Do not ask professional writers to look at work unless you are a) sleeping with them, b) related to them, c) prepared to give them more than £2,000 in cash or d) all of the above.
7. I don't need to defend these rules to anyone since they worked for me but you can ignore them as much as you like - I'm easy.

Part 3: Selling Your Novel
I did the conventional get an agent and let them sell the book route so if you want to sell direct to publishers or self publish I can't help you and my speculation is just uninformed as anyone else. Also all of this applies to the UK - I have no idea how you'd do this in a different country.
1. Buy the latest copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook.
2. Turn to the pages that list Literary Agents and pick 10 agents by whatever criteria suits you, I started with the biggest London based agencies but you could do it by reverse alphabetical order because it actually makes very little difference.
3. Follow the following procedure with exactitude...
a) Check the agency website to ensure that they are open to submissions, that they are looking for the genre you are writing in and what their submission guidelines are. If they don't have a website then make a quick phone call to determine these things. Be friendly and do not overstay your welcome or pitch over the phone (unless you are explicitly invited to).
b) prepare a submission package following the exact guidelines you were given in a). You do not win points for innovating your submission or trying to explain why you should be an exception.
c) Repeat the process for the other nine agencies.
d) Post or email your submissions.
4. Pick another 10 agencies and repeat until you have submitted your material to every single agency in the book that is willing to look at a submission. I did about ten submissions a week I can't see any reason to do it slower unless you really like to string out the agony.
5. Once you have an agent selling the book becomes their problem.
6. I can't really help you if this doesn't work since I got an agent.

Part 4: Some Statistics
I submitted my work to 45 agencies...
Of which 10 subsequently asked for a full manuscript...
4 asked for meetings of which...
Only 2 made offers of representation.
The fastest rejection took 6 days and the longest 6 months.
The average time before a manuscript request was 4 weeks.
Meetings, when they happened, were requested within 7 days of submitting a full manuscript.
To this day 13 agencies have failed to do so much as reject me by email.

That's the sum total of knowledge of how to get your work published - I hope it's useful.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Driveby Signing at Waterstones Covent Garden

I will be conducting a quick informal signing at Covent Garden Waterstones today. As you might know I used to work there and they've always supported me and flogged my books with the kind of gusto that other authors only dream of. They also like to make sure they have lots of signed copies so every so often I go down and sign a batch.

Since I'm there with sharpie Mary the manager thinks it would be a waste if we didn't invite people to come along and get their books signed. So from 11:00 to 12:30 I will be hanging around the store with my sharpie ready sign anything put in front of me.

That's Today, Covent Garden branch of Waterstones - 11:00 - 12:30

Thursday, 19 May 2011

I wish it was in Russian

I'd love my books to be published in Russian (as well as German and Hungarian) but alas so far this has not happened. Fortunately on the interweb a Russian reviewer has translated the first couple of paragraphs of Rivers of London and since I still own the copyright I have no compunction about nicking it and showing it here...

«Реки Лондона»
Это началось в час тринадцать холодным утром вторника в январе, когда Мартин Тёрнер, уличный актер и, по собственным словам, жиголо, споткнулся о тело, перед западным портиком собора Святого Павла в Ковент-Гардене. Мартин, который был не слишком трезв сам, сперва подумал, что тело было одним из многих празднующих, кто выбрал площадь в качестве удобного наружного туалета и спальни. Будучи прожженным лондонцем, Мартин бросил на тело «лондонский оценивающий» быстрый взгляд, чтобы понять, был ли это пьяный, безумный или человек, пребывающий в депрессии. Факт того, что это было вполне возможно для кого-то быть одержимым всеми тремя симптомами сразу — был причиной, по которой добро-самаритянизм в Лондоне приравнивался к экстремальному спорту — как бейсджампинг или реслинг с крокодилами. Мартин, отмечая хорошего качества пальто и ботинки, только-только квалифицировал тело как пьяное, когда заметил, что оно без головы.

Как отметил Мартин детективам, проводившим с ним беседу, это было очень хорошо, что он был пьян, потому что в противном случае он бы напрасно потерял время вопя и бегая вокруг — особенно, когда понял, что стоит в луже крови. Вместо этого с медленной, методической выдержкой пьяного и испуганного, Мартин Тёрнер набрал 999 и попросил полицию.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Multinationals - Threat or Menace?

For writers of everything from Cyberpunk to Literary Fiction the multinational corporation has provided a fruitful source of menace, bad guys and, for the boys at Kudos, deus ex machinas. Like the Russians during the cold war or the Islamic terrorists post 9/11 it is barely considered necessary to provide them with a motive - they're multinationals - evil incorporated.

I've often heard the phrase - bigger than the GDP of a small country - and after a while I wondered 'how much bigger?' So I looked up the turnover of the world's really big companies and compared them to the GDP of various countries.

So the biggest company of all, Wallmart, has a turnover of $419 billion. Looking down our list of adjusted GDP as calculated by the IMF we find that Wallmart is bigger than country 29 on the list Malaysia ($412 billion).

The next biggest company is ExxonMobil at $370 billion which makes it bigger than Sweden ($352 bn) but smaller than Nigeria (374 bn). After Exxon come a raft of big oil companies, American, Dutch, French and Chinese, until we come to the first manufacturing company on the list - Toyota. The Japanese motor manufacturer weighs in at $204 billion which makes it smaller than Israel ($219 bn) but larger than Denmark ($203 bn).

So there you go - multinationals are bigger than small countries but probably not as big as the guys at Kudos think they are.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Signing Tomorrow at Waterstones Covent Garden

Just a reminder that Suzanne MacLeod and I will be signing a various magnificent octopus at Waterstones Covent Garden between 2-4pm on Sunday the 8th of May. It's all part of the Covent Garden May Fayre which should be a fun day out for all the family. For the geographically challange I've made a little Google map for you here.

Mein Name ist Peter Grant.

Rivers of London is being published in Germany by DTV, here is their cover and here is their blurb...

»Können Sie beweisen, dass Sie tot sind?«

Peter Grant ist Police Constable in London mit einer ausgeprägten Begabung fürs Magische. Was seinen Vorgesetzten nicht entgeht. Auftritt Thomas Nightingale, Polizeiinspektor und außerdem der letzte Zauberer Englands. Er wird Peter in den Grundlagen der Magie ausbilden. Ein Mord in Covent Garden führt den frischgebackenen Zauberlehrling Peter auf die Spur eines Schauspielers, der vor 200 Jahren an dieser Stelle den Tod fand.

»Mein Name ist Peter Grant. Ich bin seit Neuestem Police Constable und Zauberlehrling, der erste seit fünfzig Jahren. Mein Leben ist dadurch um einiges komplizierter geworden. Jetzt muss ich mich mit einem Nest von Vampiren in Purley herumschlagen, einen Waffenstillstand zwischen Themsegott und Themsegöttin herbeiführen, Leichen in Covent Garden ausgraben. Ziemlich anstrengend, kann ich Ihnen sagen - und der Papierkram!«

The strapline at the top translates as, I think, "Can your prove that you are dead?" which is not bad at all and very funny. I also like the cry of '...and the paperwork' »...und der Papierkram!«

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Sneak Preview: Whispers Under Ground Covers

For bonus points you can guess which one is British and which one American...

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Wisdom of Woody Allen

You read your own reviews - this is a given. It's not that I wouldn't believe a writer if he(1) said he never read the reviews of his own work but I certainly wouldn't lend them a fiver or sit next to them on a long plane flight. It's not the bad ones who freak you out, although they reduce me to incandescent rage, nor is it the ones that attribute you with strange motives and agendas which generally just puzzle me.

No - the ones that keep me up at night are the ones that describe my work as 'light', 'fun' and 'inconsequential'.

Inconsequential - moi? Can't they see the depths of my subtext, the cleverness of a metatextual metaphors - am I being just too clever?

Perhaps I should make my subtext more obvious or maybe I should dispense with such bourgeois notions as plot, character and syntax.

Fortunately it's then the scene from Stardust Memories by Woody Allen flashes in my mind. The one where he meets the Martians. When he asks them whether he shouldn't do something more meaningful with his life to be of service to mankind. The Martian tells him: 'You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.'

So 'fun', 'lightweight', 'enjoyable fluff' or 'an easy way to pass the weekend' fine, these are better words than 'unread', 'remaindered' and of course - 'unpublished.' So thank you Woody Allen for everything you've taught me and one day, I promise, I'll sit down and watch 'Interiors' with an open mind.

(1) he/she, him/her etc etc

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Novel Associations

Well it's not the combination that sprang to my mind...

Saturday, 30 April 2011

I don't want to boast...

But I'm in the top ten again.......admittedly I'm right at the bottom of the top ten but, hey, any sales figure you can walk away from as they say. This is the Guardian Top 10 Hardback chart, apparently the Sunday Times won't have a weekly chart tomorrow so I'm going to do all my serious gloating today.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The May Fayre

It’s on a day like this that a young man’s mind turns to romance, ice cream and Punch and Judy shows.
Rivers of London, Chapter 6

This Sunday the 8th of May Covent Garden will host the annual May Fayre in celebration of puppets in general and Punch and Judy in particular.

The event is held on the closest Sunday to the 9th of May when in 1662 Samuel Pepys noted in his diary...

Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants.

The whole thing kicks off with a grand procession at 10:30 and from 11:30 there will be as many Punch and Judy shows, in their myriad forms, as can be crammed into the gardens of the Actors Church.

The Actor's Church, whose true name is St Paul's of Covent Garden, is situated on the West side of the piazza and is worth a look whatever time of year you happen to be there.

And as if your excitement could not be stoked further I and my fellow author Susanne McLeod will be signing our Covent Garden themed urban fantasies at the nearby Waterstones between the hours of 2 and 4 pm.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Signing at Romford Waterstone Today!

I will be signing copies of, well anything that gets shoved in front of me but hopefully, copies of the newly released 'Moon Over Soho' today at 13:00 PM so that we can all get it out of the way before rushing off to watch Doctor Who.

Waterstone's Romford

Lockwood Walk
Town Centre
+44 (0)170 874 7482

All you lot up in Birmingham will just have to go without.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

...a book with words in it!

People, those that know me well, have been asking me where I stole the '...novel with words in it!' joke from. The answer is from the following Mitchell and Webb Sketch.

The basic idea of satirical publicity quotes I stole from Monty Python's Big Red Bok (which was blue).

Radio London Interview

My interview on Radio London can be heard here it starts at 1 hr 36 minutes in.

Moon Over Soho - Out Now in the UK

Moon Over Soho is out today: 373 sizzling hardback pages of murder, magic, mystery, hot sex, cool jazz and cream cakes. A book that the critics are already calling '...a novel with words in it!'

'Some of the characters are the same as the last book.'
Pedant's Weekly

'No really I just can't patronise this book enough...'
Sue Perkins

'The humor, the world-building, the action, the magic, the mystery, the procedural—all are top-notch.'
Ranting Dragon

'Moon Over Soho is a ton of fun.'
My Bookish Ways

'Moon over Soho is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a long time.'
Fantasy Literature

...the climax is both exhilarating and emotionally affecting...'

'...a tale full of magic, mystery and humor, set in a city that lives and breathes with its own living history.'
Owlcat Mountain

'...highly readable and hugely enjoyable. Definitely a book not to miss!'

On BBC London Today

I shall be on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London today talking about jazz, Soho and the background to the book Moon Over Soho. I'm arriving at one thirty pm so the best thing to do is tune in then and just stay completely still until I've finished.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels

According to my agent my munificent ocelot is to be translated into Hungarian for the delight of its inhabitants. In tribute to this, no doubt, epic task I provide the following Monty Python sketch...

The Hungarian publisher is Agave who don't seem to have a website I can locate. Still I'd just like to say that my nipples are exploding with delight.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Stephen Walter

Many people have commented on how much they like the Gollancz covers of Moon Over Soho and Rivers of London. The element that I think gives the covers their unique look is the work of artist Stephen Walter. His master work The Island - a psychogeographical redrawing of Greater London as an Island - suits the tone and the content of the books perfectly.

It also means that as long I keep stories with the boundaries of the city I love then I never have to worry about cover design again. Result!

Stephen Walter has a website here and feature in the British Library's online exhibition here.

Monday, 11 April 2011

My Non Review of Sucker Punch

The Evil Monster Boy wanted to go see Sucker Punch really badly and not just in an ordinary digital print but in super migraine inducing size at the IMAX cinema. I on the other hand, possibly because I am not a 15 year old boy, found myself vaguely repulsed by the trailer and decided that seeing the film was, in the language of marketing, a non-aspiration.

So non-aspirational was this film that yesterday I paid for the Evil Monster Boy and his friend to go see it without me. Unfortunately I still had to take myself and my credit card down to Waterloo to get the tickets so that left me with a couple of hours to kill. I migrated first to the second hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge and thence, as if drawn by magic, into the BFI restaurant. I took a window seat and enjoyed a braised pork and garlic mash main course followed by coffee and cake(1) for about £2 less than I would have paid to see the film.

Outside the sun set over the Thames while the Kinks fought with GLaDOS for my mental soundtrack and waves of tourists washed up and down the embankment. So go see Sucker Punch if you want to, you might even enjoy it, or perhaps treat yourself to a decent meal instead.

(1) This was a triumph!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Support Your Local Film Industry

Strictly speaking the UK no longer has what you'd call an actual 'film industry' but occasionally a good script will fight it's way through the army of gibbons to make it to your local multiplex.

It is said that 'Attack the Block' is such a film and so I told the Evil Monster Boy that we mustn't miss it when it does its, no doubt, blink and you'll miss it national release. Not just because it looks like a really good film but because it's important to support British talent.

The Evil Monster Boy agreed because, what with the last Harry Potter film being finished, there's a lot of spare talent lying around. So if you don't want to spend the rest of your life wondering where you're own culture went(1) - go see Attack the Block.

(1) Unless you're an American or something obviously.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Writing Below Your Pay Grade

Now you can criticise Bonekickers for many things and indeed it's actually quite hard to see where one would stop criticising Bonekickers but most of those things arose out of positive decisions on the part of the production team. In other words they did it to themselves. Like many TV professionals before them they chose to ignore real history, politics or archaeology so in order to tell a better story. That the series proved a turgid disappointing muddle is down to their, surprising given their track record, short comings as writers and is beyond the scope of this blog.

What was most disappointing was the fact that the scripts were so slackly written and nothing illustrates this point better than the scene in Episode 2 when a document from the late 18th Century is discovered which refers to a group of black revolutionary war soldiers as 'political prisoners'.

Now I'm not an expert in the historical use of language but that stood out like a bum note. I'm pretty certain that any writer with a historical sense that stretched back beyond their old copies of the Beano would hear that bum note too. The trouble was that it used to be very hard to know for sure.

Until now and this is where the blog really starts....

Because those nice people at Google have provided lazy writers with the Ngram Viewer which allows you to check the frequency of the use of a word or phrase against book contents going back all the way back to the dawn-ish of publishing. So let us enter the phrase 'political prisoner' into the magic engine so...

As you can see the phrase doesn't really occur with any frequency before the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Even so there is one occurrence of the term listed in a book dated 1798 so I think I'm going to give Ashley Pharoah the benefit of the doubt in this case(1). Which proves how useful this thing is for the jobbing writer.

Bonekickers, wretched waste of budget that it may have been, is not the reason for this blog which was actually prompted when a script for the TV pilot of "Poe" fell into my hands(3).

The premise for this series is strong - Edgar Allen Poe a fine mystery writer pursues a crime fighting career in Boston in the early 1840s complete with spunky female sidekick and traditional antagonistic relationship with the Boston P.D.(4). Jumping out of page 4 comes the term "boogie man" not used for the supernatural killer before the 20th century or was "out of the box" in anything but it's literal meaning.

Now it can be fun to throw in anachronisms, to have our hero be 'ahead of the curve' and invent idioms a century or so early - but this approach only works well if everybody else routinely speaks in the appropriate historical idiom - which they don't. For example the police commissioner[sic] refers to "crime scenes" not in use before the 20th Century. And spunky female side kick refuses - to reinforce some "fairer sex" stereotype... Until the 1920s stereotype was strictly a printing term.

But the point where my willing suspension of disbelief, a quite sturdy edifice I assure you, collapsed was when Poe suggested that a particularly dim police officer should return to the academy[sic] for a refresher course (not in widespread use until the 20th century again). Anachronism piled on anachronism.

Can I point out that it took me all of a minute and a half to look up these words and check when the Boston P.D. was established. So the argument that writers don't have time to do this basic research is total bollocks. These leads us onto...

Like Who Cares Dude?
Good question. Does it matter that some piece of fluff TV show has any historical accuracy, or even a close approximation? I would forgive Poe if I thought that the producers had taken a decision to be interestingly anachronistic in the manner of 'A Knights Tale' but the truth is I believe it's down to either basic incompetence or because they just don't care enough to do the work properly. I think it matters on a purely professional level as a writer that if you're going to be paid to do work you should at least do it to a certain minimum standard.

I think this represents a failure of historical imagination so that all periods of history collapse down to a sort of dog's dinner that's essentially indistinguishable from how the present is represented. When this happens the past becomes mute, it teaches us nothing through allegory or contrast it exists only as another flavour of processed mechanically recovered meat. Fit only for dogs.

So yeah - I think it matters. I think as writers we should strive to work above our pay grade(5) not below it.

(1) I still think it's really unlikely that the British authorities would refer to freed slaves that had fought for the Continental Army(2) as 'political prisoners' in an official document.
(2) In exact reversal of what actually happened but given that none of the rest of the script made any sense I suppose that's a moot point.

(3) I really will do just about anything rather than work
(4) Founded 1854!

(5) 'Above your pay grade' comes into use in the 1960s and "pay grade" itself after 1900.