Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview with Lev Grossman

"The nerds won, and in winning, we kind of lost. I feel like there needs to be some kind of nerd splinter groups, a hardcore, fundamentalist retrenchment that can reclaim some kind of identity for nerds"

Great interview with Lev Grossman, writer of the really very good indeed 'The Magicians over at The AV Club

Anyone with the faintest interest in writing that's as much about fantasy as it's in the genre of fantasy (see also: Robert Holdstock's 'Mythago Wood', Michael Swanwick's 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' and John Crowley's astonishing 'Little, Big'), should check out 'The Magicians' right away, best work of fiction I've read for a long time, and I'm not just saying that because of the Dungeons and Dragons bits near the end, although they were great. If I still worked in a bookshop I'd be pushing it to people as 'The Secret History meets Narnia', which is a bit reductive, but not a million miles off.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I think second man was Liverpudlian, but I'm not judging.

Waiting for the train at Turo station, I take a seat next a couple of chaps who are, I realise nanoseconds after my bottom touches the bench, proper actual glugglug alcoholics. The first man is the more together of the two, and looks weirdly like Sean Locke (from Fifteen Storeys High, which is great, and you should get the DVD). The second is further gone, has terrible scarred gouges on his knuckles and what I believe are referred to as 'prison tats'. Second man has no dialogue.

FIRST MAN: (immediately) Hello.
ME: Hello.
FIRST MAN: Got any cigars on you?
ME: I'm afraid not.
FIRST MAN: Cuban? DaMatta? Don Porfírio?
ME: Hahahaha, worth a try.

I decide to fiddle with my iPod for a bit. While I do this, first man and second man go through an elaborate farewell ritual that stalls a bit when first man decides to write down his phone number for second man, only he doesn't have a pen.

First man asks a number of passers-by for a pen, and is soundly ignored, which seems a bit harsh.

ME: I have a pen.

I repeat this for a few times, and eventually first man hears me, politely takes the pen, writes the number down for second man, who lumbers off. First man returns my pen, but is still hanging on to the pen lid! At first I decide this is deliberate, and contemplate calling the police, but then realise that the first man's synapses are probably working a bit slowly, and he probably just hasn't quite worked out that the return transaction is not yet complete.

Five minutes later:

FIRST MAN: I've got your pen lid!

He gives it back to me.

ME: Cheers.
FIRST MAN: So, right, if I just get on this train - where's it going?
ME: London.
FIRST MAN: -London, if I just get on it, do you reckon I could get as far as Plymouth without being chucked off?

I consider this. Finally:

ME: I don't think you could. There are quite a few stops between here and Plymouth.
FIRST MAN: LIKE ST. GERMANS! Why is it called St Germans?

(Note: that train does not stop at St. Germans)

ME: I don't know.
FIRST MAN: Or Saltash. A PLACE CALLED SALTASH! Why is it called Saltash?
ME: I don't-
FIRST MAN: Why am asking you? Although you probably know, you are probably a well-educated man. I can tell you are a well-educated man because of your FOREHEAD and your EYES.
ME: ....
FIRST MAN: I'm off to get pissed.

And off he went.

Then, on the train, I only bumped into OLD SCHOOL CANTERBURY WATERSTONE'S CHUMS Nick and Laura! We talked all the way from Exeter to London! Then at BBC TV Centre (I was up for a meeting about my cornwall crime show which is going very well thanks for asking), I was in the foyer and I only bumped into James Moran who was doing top secret Doctor Who things! At one point I was literally surrounded by Doctor Who writers - but the Dalek in the foyer has gone, they must have written him out.

I did not meet anyone interesting on the way home.

*goes to bed*

UPDATE: LMS informs me in the comments below that "The dalek has moved to the foyer cafe, by the little shop, possibly as a deterrent to shoplifters". Hurrah!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beautiful fan-made video...

... for Grizzly Bear's 'Two Weeks'. I know there are a few animators who read this, so can anyone tell me if there's a technical term for that style where digital animation is used to simulate old-fashioned automata-style puppetry? Also used to lovely effect on a recent Muse video, although I can't remember which one, and the Super Furry Animals' Not The End Of The World video

Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear from Gabe Askew on Vimeo.

When he was very young...

... my brother used to wait for Top of the Pops to come on (these being the days when you had to 'wait' for a 'scheduled program' to 'come on'), turn the sound down, then put on little voices for the various prancing fools and laugh until he was sick.

At the time, I thought he was a loon. Now I realise that like most geniuses, he was simply ahead of his time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

No, not like that, you filthbeasts. 'Tis a glossary of slang

I spent the whole of yesterday morning trying to find out if having various characters in my 18th century drama thing* saying the word 'shit' was historically accurate or not. Research would seem to indicate that while it's okay to use it as a noun, using it as an exclamation is probably pushing it. Although I might change it to 'shite' and see if I can get away with it.

Anyway, one of my main references, a dictionary of "buckish slang, university wit, and pickpocket eloquence" is available for download here

I did stumble across a few fun phrases I thought I might put up here, thusly:

BALUM RANCUM. A hop or dance, where the women are all prostitutes. N. B. The company dance in their birthday suits.

BEAU TRAP. A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damage of white stockings; also a sharper neatly dressed, lying in wait for raw country squires, or ignorant fops.

DEADLY NEVERGREEN, that bears fruit all the year round - The gallows, or three-legged mare. See THREE-LEGGED MARE.

FART CATCHER. A valet or footman from his walking behind his master or mistress.

FUSTY LUGGS. A beastly, sluttish woman**.

GILLY GAUPUS. A Scotch term for a tall awkward fellow.


PAD BORROWERS. Horse stealers.

PISS PROPHET. A physician who judges of the diseases of his patients solely by the inspection of their urine.

WIBBLE. Bad drink.

Anyway, there are loads, go and have a look.

* I know 1811 is the nineteenth century, but it's close enough. This should in no way be seen as symbolic of my attitude to historical accuracy for the project. Although I might put robots in it, to spice it up a bit.
** Boz knows lots of these, apparently. EDIT: oops, I was thinking of Rob, sorry to besmirch your reputation Boz.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Episode Two of Teen Drama Series had a trebuchet. *sigh*

Because a lot of long-running BBC crime series like WAKING THE DEAD or NEW TRICKS are starting to near the end of their natural lifespan, the drama department are naturally interested in filling those gaps in the schedule that will be appearing in a couple of years time. Hence me being one of a number of writers assigned to having a stab (yes yes) at developing something a bit crimey that could run for a few years.

Now I'm a massive crime fiction fan. More of the American stuff, to be honest, starting with Chandler and working through to George Pelecanos, Carl Hiaasen, Lawrence Block and Elmore Leonard, but it's not something I ever set out to write, for the following reason:

Crime plots are hard. Things have to happen in a certain order, and you have to work out not only who was where when Event A happened, but whether they knew about Event A at the time, or were distracted by Event B, which seemed important at the time, but might later turn out not to be important at all. And they could be lying about the whole thing anywhere. This is why I'm much happier writing comedy, where to be completely honest, it really doesn't matter that much what actually happens, as long as it's funny.

Still, I was determined to make it work, and the drama department liked my teen drama series, even if the channel commissioner they showed it to didn't particularly, so they said why not set a crime drama in the same place, which isrural North Cornwall, and give it the same sort of tone, which is to say: slightly odd.

A couple of weeks ago, I handed in the first treatment.

BBC: We're a bit worried about the bestiality.
ME: Implied bestiality!
BBC: Mmm.
ME: You don't see anything. It's just talked about. Also it's intrinsic to the story. (pause) Fine, I'll take it out.
BBC: Yay!

The second version of the treatment no longer has implied bestiality in it. In fact I work quite hard at making it a proper, grown-up drama type thing that hangs together, with three acts and action beats and so forth. I send this off, and last week had another meeting.

BBC: Thanks for the revised treatment. It's like a proper, grown-up drama type thing!
ME: I know!
BBC: I mean, it really hangs together, with three acts and action beats and so forth!
ME: I know!
BBC: It's just...

Quite a long pause.

ME: It's like an episode of The Bill, isn't it?

And no offense to The Bill, which is a cracking show, apparently, and really shifts along. Having dabbled in that kind of long-running show, I know they're a nightmare to write and produce, and they go through highly-skilled writers like a 4th edition D&D dwarf warlock goes through kobold minions, which is to say: they go through a lot of them. So 'nuff respec' to The Bill. But still...

BBC: It's just... I think we want you to go more into James Henry World for this one.


PATROCLUS: Do you think they meant elves and goblins and stuff?
ME: (worried) I DON'T KNOW!

Five minutes later, wheeling the blue kitten into town, I have an idea about a magic sword. THIS TREATMENT IS GOING TO BE AWESOME.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Please Venus"

New video for the Golden Skans Silvers (ahem), all done with photographs. S'nice.

Please Venus from Gabriel Bisset-Smith on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Off the top of my head, I can think of two.

'Provincial Lady' asked, about the 18thC adaptation thing:

"As a writer do you have a big say in casting? Or any say at all?"

Um, I think I do. At least, a couple of names have been put about for the lead, and they asked what I thought, which was that one of them was about twenty years too old for the part (which suggested that the people suggesting the casting hadn't spent that much time reading my treatment, which kind of hinges on the main character being just twenty two), and the other is probably ten years too old. Both big names though, and Serious Proper Actors, which is pleasing.

I used to mentally cast things before I started writing, as it really helped to find a character's voice, although I've realised I haven't been doing that lately, so maybe I just have a bit more confidence in my own writing nowadays. Also, I haven't been watching that much UK television of late, due to the huge stack of US box sets cluttering up my front room. And to honest, I much prefer the idea of casting unknowns in main roles, then putting good known actors around them. 18th C adaptation is all about a provincial young chap who comes to the city and finds himself hanging out with the likes of David Garrick, Sheridan, David Hume and so on, so having a fresh face in the title role would be rather fitting.

There can be an issue with casting which goes like this:

1. Producer asks if Writer has anyone in mind for lead role.
2, Writer suggests Skilled But Relatively Unknown Actor who would be perfect for the part.
3. Producer suggests More Famous Actor, who would be slightly less perfect for the role, but whose name would make Project much more likely to get made.
4. Writer tussles briefly with conscience and artistic principle, approximately one second later accepts Producer's suggestion.
5. More Famous Actor turns out to be unavailable.
6. Producer panics and suggests Aging Comic Who Producer Met At A Party The Night Before whose gameshow has just been cancelled, but who the broadcasters are determined not to let go to rival channel.
7. Writer despairs, accepts.
8. Aging Comic Who Producer Met At A Party The Night Before is surprisingly game, but turn out, astonishingly, to be completely wrong for the role.
9. Writer kicks cat.

Fortunately, 18thC project is for BBC4, which means not much money, but proper actual prestige, which means you can get really good actors for comparatively not much money.

MORE CASTING NEWS: first episode of 18thC adaption will now require at least 3 whores. HUZZAH!