Monday, 30 July 2007

Psychic Detective in Stockton

The Psychic Detective wil be at the Stockton International Riverside Festival 2-5 August. Here's Lyn Gardner's preview in The Guardian:
Stockton International Riverside Festival
Party, party, party! This year's Stockton Festival has arrived and very jammy it looks, too. Festivities kick off on Wednesday with Irish aerial company Fidget Feet performing Remember Her, which explores the connection between creativity and the divine. After that there are five days of outdoor theatre from great companies from here and abroad. There is so much worth catching - from IOU's Waylaid to those pyromaniacs Groupe F - and on Thursday the Frankfurt-based company Antagon present their stilt-based sci-fi fantasy Time Out. Other highlights include Benchtours with The Psychic Detective and The Sir Tom Jones Experience, a karaoke event for an audience of just 12 at a time. The panties will be flying.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Dinosaurs not a hoax

It has been brought to my attention that dinosaurs did in fact once roam the earth and the discovery of their skeletons was not a fairies/Arthur Conan Doyle type hoax perpetrated by the Victorians.

Still, I can't help wondering what life would be like if Brownian Motion had been attributed to the activities of fairies or tiny head-of-a-pin angels, instead of atoms.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Tell us about Pearl Harbour, Sir

I've always thought that science was a form of story-telling like any other and that a belief in atoms, string theory, the big bang and all the rest of it was essentially a failure of imagination - so much better to invent your own mythologies to explain the world around you, or at least pick and choose from the more esoteric creation theories.

I never got along with physics at school. Scientists always seemed to be coming up with new theories and then discarding the old ones with the kind of disregard for their own self-worth shown by people who pay too much attention to whoever is deemed fashionable in their little circle and then drop them when others renounce them; scientists just seemed too skittish and inconstant. I preferred Greek and Roman myths and particularly the stories about the Spartans. If a Spartan had ever stood up and espoused a scientific theory in front of others, you feel he'd have stuck with it and fought to the death to defend his honour, even if a better theory had came along.

Perhaps I would have understood it all better if it hadn't been so easy to distract our Physics teacher from the lesson in hand by saying 'tell us about Pearl Harbour, Sir.' He always obliged.

Last night I watched Atom on BBC, directed and produced by Tim Usborne. It's the first of three programmes about the discovery that the world is made up of atoms. Now, I'm not necessarily sure that I believe that it is - only until a better-looking theory comes along, hey fellas! But Professor Jim Al-Khalili is a very entertaining and fluent presenter, full of facts and anecdotes. I think it was Nils Bohr, he said, who learnt English by reading and re-reading The Pickwick Papers. Those names - Rutherford, Bohr, Geiger, Einstein - that you remember from school science lessons, they were all brought to life in this programme.

Episode Three (9th August at 9.00 pm, BBC4) looks good - it's about parallel universes and whether or not different versions of us might exist in them. Now, I don't want to jump in there and spoil it and say that they probably don't. Once you let go of wanting science to be true (dinosaurs, yeah right) then in the right hands, told by someone as skillful as Jim Al-Khalili, it makes a very good story. Better than the one about Pearl Harbour.

Jordan, Peter Andre, Kath, Kim

You probably haven't been watching Jordan and Peter Andre's Katie and Peter: The Baby Diaries on ITV2 but if you're a fan of Australian comedy show Kath and Kim, you've missed a treat.

In the last series of Kath and Kim that I watched, kind-hearted, earnest optimist Kath was trying to cope with selfish, self-important, lumpy daughter Kim's pregnancy.

Once you realise (and it was my daughter who pointed it out to me) that Peter Andre is playing the role of Kath and Jordan is Kim, with a cameo for Peter and Jordan's manager as Kath and Kim's put-upon neighbour, Sharon, then it all makes perfect sense and is rather enjoyable to watch.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Port Eliot

I just came back from the Port Eliot Literary Festival, a hilarious and lovely event which involves camping in the grounds of a stately home in Cornwall and being entertained by various eccentric literary and arty types.

My favourite bit was... everything. There was nothing not to like. The atmosphere is very good-natured. Even the security guards smiled. I saw one of them - authentically beefy, shaven-headed and equipped with those microphone/sunglasses combos that they all have nowadays - treating bystanders to an impromptu concert with an acoustic guitar.

I loved the One Minute Disco at the Boathouse near the Estuary. This took place every hour on the hour and involved some outlandishly-dressed young men driving a Land Rover, with great ceremony, one hundred yards from its parking place, throwing open the doors and blasting out music for exactly one minute. This was the cue for everyone who heard it to shout 'Oh no, it's the One Minute Disco', run to a designated area and dance with joyous exuberance until the music finished and the Land Rover returned to its base. Then they went back to their business.

Everyone should have a One Minute Disco in their home or place of work. We're going to institute one here.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival

Generally, there are only two reasons you should ever leave the house i) If you are likely to get off with someone ii) If you are likely to learn something. Other than that, if you want my advice, you should stay at home.

But, of course, advice is a gift - one gets so much more out of giving it than taking it. And so it was that I found myself away from home for a period of four days a couple of weeks ago, attending the Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival. It was a well-organised, interesting event attended by big name speakers. But I kept asking myself - why am I here when I could be at home writing?

I made lots of new friends, which was great. But then, you don't need to travel all the way to Cheltenham for that these days - not now that we have the internet. My new friends found the week incredibly useful. Certainly the speakers were inspiring. The sessions didn't purport to teach anything and yet I learnt a lot from the people who came to share their knowledge and experience. But as the days went by I began to find it absurd that I was there. I've been thinking it over and now I know why - it's because I looked at the various successful screenwriters who came to speak at the conference and I didn't see myself in them. They were tenacious, determined, witty, clever, business-like people and I realised that I could no more be like them than a banana could one day be like a tomato.

I saw a TV programme a few weeks ago about Beryl Bainbridge called Beryl's Last Year - did you see it? She's a very successful novelist. In the programme, made by her Grandson, she went to a book launch and she got drunk because her best friend had just died, and then she fell over and had to be helped up while exclaiming 'I'm not drunk.' She was quite dotty and made her family gather at her house and sing 'Two Little Boys' (coincidentally Margaret Thatcher's favourite song) every year on her birthday.

Now, I haven't published so many novels as Beryl Bainbridge, I'm not so successful (she's actually a Dame) or so dotty, I don't smoke as much as she does. But I live in happy bohemian poverty untroubled by film producers. Beryl Bainbridge and I exist on different parts of the same spectrum of writers. We are both (if you'll indulge me in the metaphor just a little bit longer) bananas.

So that's the most important thing I got out of going to Cheltenham - I learnt that I don't want to be a screenwriter.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Isn't Life Great?

There are three things that have mysteriously gone missing in our house, whose disappearance I hold my daughter's boyfriend, Kyle, personally responsible for. These are, variously, a sink drainer, the heavy-duty lock for my bicycle and the Paul McKenna relaxation CD which came free with a copy of The Times one Saturday. It is not that I believe Kyle has actually taken them out of the house and sold them at Brick Lane market (as I have sometimes claimed) but it is simply this - why blame yourself for anything (loss of creativity, lost looks, lost youth) if you have a child to blame for it? And once that child starts dating and bringing boyfriends home, well you can blame them for everything, too.

This week I have been writing so much that I can no longer see - I'm like the blind forger in The Great Escape. Except that instead of behaving with quiet dignity, I've been running around exclaiming 'I can't see, I can't see' - the blind forger as played, not by Donald Pleasance but by Gene Wilder reprising the role of Leopold Blum in The Producers. My desk faces the window looking out on the garden and I had recently angled my computer screen in an ergonomic way to prevent neck ache and the growth of one of those humps that women in typing pools get - and as a result, it turns out I had accidentally been staring straight into the sun. So I've turned my desk away from the window and guess what - I can see. It isn't writing that caused my blindness but the great and mysterious light source that warms our planet. I feel like a polar bear that has been saved by Al Gore. Hooray.

So what's the point? Well, my daughter bought me a new meditation CD, we don't need a sink drainer, I never go out on the bike anyway, I don't need to find an alternative career because I'm not going blind. I can see. Not only that, my daughter says the scales in the bathroom definitely weigh heavy, maybe even up to ten pounds heavier than other scales. My point is - isn't life great? No, I mean it. I really mean it. I was blind but now I can see. Nothing else matters. Hooray.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Useful Pets

Alarm dog - a pet who wakes you in the morning. See also Alarmist dog - one who worries you unnecessarily.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


I am madly busy on a writing project. It's going well but I'm working to a deadline. I was going to make an analogy about how I was trying to build a pyramid out of marbles and I could see them there, rolling around on the floor, glistening and beautiful with streaks of colour in them and all I had to do was follow them and pick them up, very carefully, and place them one on top of each other and then I would be done.

Then I remembered that the concept of 'losing your marbles' is in fact quite a well-worn idea. So, no marks for originality then. Still, I'm pressing on. Must get back to it.

You will have noticed that I haven't even had time to compose a haiku on the subject of dog shit. That's how serious it is.

Back to it, then.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Theatrical Inventiveness

I went to see my goddaughter in the Looking Glass Theatre School end-of-term play last night. She played a weasel and a white eagle. She's a wise and beautiful child and I thought she had a warm stage presence and delivered her lines in a very naturalistic way. All the kids were good and some of them were excellent.

This isn't a plug for the school because actually it's closing down and last night's performance was the last - but I was struck by how inventive the director, James Smith*, had to be to accommodate the age ranges (from about 7-13) and range of skills and talents, while rehearsing them only once a week on Saturdays. He said that, because of the various conflicting commitments of the students, last night (for the one and only show) was the first time all the performers had been together in the same space.

There was one particular technique that he used, that was a contingency to help the kids get through the piece but which was integrated rather well into the show. It reminded me very slightly of a technique that Pete Brooks, the director I've been working with, had considered using for our show. Pete hadn't needed it as a contingency - used in the context of our show, it would have been rather audacious and would have been very challenging to the actors. In fact, to be honest, I don't think anyone but me would have seen much of a similarity between the two techniques.

So what am I trying to say? Oh, I don't know. I love the theatre, that's all. James was so nice to all the children. Each had a part to play and afterwards he complimented each of them on some aspect of their performance.

But where would theatre be without the writing, eh? Better get back to it.

*actually that's my brother's name but this one is no relation to me.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival

If you are interested, I've written up some thoughts about what came out of the Screenwriters' Festival for the Writers' Guild here.

As for what I got out of it on a more personal level; the speakers were entertaining and inspirational and I made some friends among the participants I met there. But I came away feeling that I would no more want to work in the film industry than I would want to write 'kick me' on a post-it note, stick it to my forehead and walk down to my local high street, only to find that someone had already written 'I am a cunt' on a piece of paper and stuck it to my back.

But that's just me. Everyone else I spoke to found it a very enjoyable and enlightening few days and was absolutely raring to get going on the next script.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Tony Jordan's Red Planet Pictures Competition

At the International Screenwriters' Festival in Cheltenham, Tony Jordan said that his Red Planet Pictures competition is looking for talented writers. You have to send in ten pages of a script to get shortlisted. You can send in anything - it can be any kind of genre, it can be for film or TV, it can be something that is being seen elsewhere. Tony is looking for writers, not scripts, so don't worry about whether or not the script is going to be his kind of thing or not.

Here's what he called 'my perfect': You send in ten pages. He reads it and loves it. He asks to see the rest of the script. He loves it! You are short-listed and go to a workshop. You're chosen as the winner and the script you sent in gets made.

That's the 'perfect'. The reality might be slightly different. If you win, you will definitely get the £5,000, representation and a commission of some sort from Red Planet Pictures - you might be asked to write an episode of Holby Blue for example, or you might be asked to develop an original idea. Whether or not the script you send in to the competition gets made, no-one can say for sure - they haven't seen it yet. The point is that you shouldn't worry about getting the script made at this stage. Just send something that will show you can write. Worry about what the commission will be after you have won.

Tony seemed very open-minded about what kind of script you should send in. But he did say this about the ten page submission - don't be tempted to write one of those false cliff-hangers that you can't possibly pay off when he sees the rest of the script. If, at the bottom of page ten, he reads something like 'there's a rumbling in the sky, they look up and...' he'll know what you're up to. So don't bother!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

International Screenwriters Festival, Cheltenham

I'm at the International Screenwriters' Festival in Cheltenham this week. There's lots of useful information coming out of the sessions - including, for example, a big hint from Tony Jordan about the one thing NOT to do on your ten page submission to his Red Planet Pictures screenwriting competition.

I'll write them up at the weekend and post them here.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Garden Haiku

Dog shit hieroglyphs
harvested, discarded; what
were they trying to say?

You know how it is. Sometimes one haiku about dog shit simply isn't enough.