Getting dark

I have written what is/will be a screenplay.

It is a dark piece, but it’s not the large piece of black humour that I am aiming for.

This is just a taster.

It is ‘is/will be’ because I have not yet put it in to ‘proper’ screenplay format.

But it is written.

Called ‘Go Back To Sleep’ (allegorical), it is a simple ‘to camera’ piece, narrated by a ‘him’ and a ‘her’.

On run-through, the screenplay times-in at 2m 30s.

Yet for 2-1/2 minutes, it is a powerful piece with an unexpected twist in the tale tail.

So having written it, I need to do something with it.  There are enough unfinished projects around here.

And my 2012 resolution is to finish projects.

Here’s the plan.

I shall, this weekend, put the piece in to the correct format.

And next week I will begin looking for a couple of people to play the parts.

I shall ask around, and if that doesn’t work, I shall begin calling local Am. Dram. groups.

I hope the piece plays out on film as well as it plays out in my head, and when I read it back.

It’s all in the fucking translation

Or, to put it another way:  Context Is Everything Stupid.

I say that to me a lot.

Here’s what I mean.

There are common sense rules, right? Rules of such blindingly obvious, erm, obviousness that only an utter twat would deliberately break them.

Rules like:

  • Don’t stick your head in the fire
  • Don’t pee on your bosses desk when s/he’s sitting behind it
  • Don’t go back to your ex, and
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, redefine the scope of the big literary project you’ve been working on for a year.

Yeah, that last one.

The thing is, and I’m no stranger to scope-creep in a variety of environments, so yeah, the thing is, what I want to do, what I really, really, want to do is…

*sigh*

Not sit down and finish writing Shelved.

No, I don’t want to do that write now.

Hahahaha! Oh, what a joke.

OK then, no, I don’t want to do that right now.

What I want to do now, what I really, really want to do, what I feel highly motivated – even, maybe, to use a better word, driven – to do right now, is to sit down and produce the slickest piece of dark, dark, black, dark, blackermost, darkest, wry, hyperdark, bittersweet comedy that my brain can imagine.

Oh sure, this desire is a good reflection of where my head is write now right now.

And it’s also a fair barometer of how I feel, emotionally, as well as mentally; but neither of these things are bad things.

If I can channel these feelings, this desire, in to a more creative outlet I could have a bloody good stab at producing something that (to be honest) no mainstream TV company would touch with a bargepole.

But it might make a good radio play.

Hmmm…

*puts on black shoes, black socks, black trousers, black jumper and dark-glasses*

*sits and thinks black thoughts*

So…

I think that’s probably enough lists, for now.

While all the lists were written some time ago, and published on a ‘scheduled update’, things – in other areas of my life – have been, as you might imagine, happening.

I have been to so many gigs in the last two months that, frankly, I can’t remember them all. I need to find a quiet half-hour (or hour!) to sit down and go through my notes.

And, erm.

I’ve started writing for a media offshoot of The Guardian.

Yes, that Guardian.

And, in another area of my life, as the personnel have, obviously, changed, I’ve put some serious thought (and effort) in to remodelling the show – This Reality Podcast.

The changes that I’ve come up with; updating the format, increasing the musical content to six tracks, and tightening the duration downwards to around 30 minutes per show, all seem to have been well-received in the greater world. The listener figures have seen some significant uplifts, now that the show is more focussed.

It was helpful, obviously, that I was able to do some significant networking at the Media Centre in Manchester.

And also down at NME.

And, most beneficially of all, I’ve slutted and whored the show all over the Guardian (who have been wonderful about allowing me to trawl the show’s name and website details through their print and online properties).

I’ve also made a couple of minor updates to the show’s website. The most significant change is that the the revolving header photograph now updates, whenever a new show is released.

It always seemed odd, to me, that I’d put out a new show each week, but the main eye-grabbing feature of the website didn’t reflect this.

But not odd enough to do anything about it.

Until now, obv.

In other news, we had the yard Christmas ‘do’, the week before last. And that’s all I’m giving away.

I’ve sold my beautiful horsebox.

Even though Vin is on the point of being passed as ‘fully fit’, I’ve decided that my seriously competitive days are over.

If I need to take a horse somewhere, I’ll borrow a lorry.

Vin is due to see the chiro in the next week.

If he gets a double thumbs-up, we should be able to start bringing him in to work just after Christmas.

And, erm, speaking of Christmas.

I am off to Morocco in a week’s time.

And going to the Event Riders Association ball in January.

Umm…

My phone is due for an upgrade this week.

I want the new Nexus, obv.

But I’m also thinking of dumping Vodafone.

This is radical, I’ve been with Vodafone for about eight years. But, you know, one always wonders if the grass could be greener on the other side of the telecoms fence.

And there have been lots of other things going on.

Yes, lots.

*nods*

Inking up, getting words down and getting frustrated

When the relationship fallout from the sham of my marriage started, you know, falling out, Ash advised me to use my emotions and write.

And he was right, of course.

It was nice of him to recognise the creative forces of such raw emotion, and good of him to suggest that I do what I was already doing.

But, after a review of everything I’ve written since I started unpicking the lies of my soon-to-be-ex-wife to get at the truth of what she’d been up to behind my back, it is unfortunate that so much of what I wrote is unusable.

Being consumed by deep, dark anger; being driven by a mist of red rage, well, it just doesn’t produce good writing.

Angry, bitter, hateful, spiteful, hurtful writing, yes. But nothing usable.

The revenge motivation was, at the peak of my anger, almost 100% of *me*.

And at the other end of the scale, the depths of depression did not produce anything lucid.

Emotional, yes. Lucid? No.

But there are things, between the two, that are not too shabby.

I rewrote – or perhaps that should be ‘reversioned’ ‘Shelved’ twice.

The angry version reads like a Sam Peckinpah film.

The depressed version reads like a suicide-candidate’s aspiration.

But last night, whilst driving back from that London, via other places and having enjoyed the company of friends, the funnies started bubbling in to my head.

I had my recorder in the car, as usual, so I switched it on and burbled away as I drove.

I have just finished listening to last night’s recording which is, essentially, almost two hours of me giggling like a 10-year old, as I attempt to dictate an almost endless stream of anecdotes.

None of this material is for ‘Shelved’ which, frankly, I consider finished (or as close to being finished as I can get it).

But I tapped in to a ream of new material, last night, which I’m going to play with for next few weeks.

I still wish I could write sex, but I’m unsure about how to go about working on and refining this one missing facet (whether writing in an emotional state or not!).

I just have to try and figure out what the 14th dictated anecdote is. It sounds like the missing words are ‘nun’, ‘aardvark’ and ‘bicycle’.

The company of friends has so many benefits.

Clarity of speech isn’t one of them, apparently.

Oh well.

Comedy Conference 2011

On Tuesday 12th October, I attended the Comedy Conference 2011.

The venue was the Lowry, Salford Quays, at the heart of the new, and very impressive, MediaCentre UK.

The day was organised around a series of workshop sessions, with Q&A opportunities during the pieces, and the opportunity for informal discussions with session folk in the breaks.

At registration we were given impressive swag-bags which included various boxed-sets of branded TV comedy productions.

I haven’t yet opened any of the DVDs, but the Gavin & Stacy boxed-set will probably be the first to get watched.

The formal ‘welcome’ was delivered by Peter Salmon (BBC, Director of the North) and Maureen Walker (Vision+Media, the host organisation).

The first session was titled ‘I have a cunning plan’ (and was backed by examples and excerpts of Blackadder in pre-production and post-production video clips).

This session was called ‘the commissioner session’. It was chaired by comedian John Bishop who put searching questions (of his own, and taken from the floor) to a panel that consisted of Shane Allen (head of comedy, C4/E4), Elaine Bedell (head of comedy ITV1), Lucy Lumsden (head of comedy Sky) and Cheryl Taylor (head of comedy BBC TV).

It was worth travelling up to Salford for this session alone. Whilst C4/E4, BBC and Sky all showed great appetite for new comedy, Elaine (ITV) repeated the word ‘Benidorm’ so many times that it seemed to be the *only* thing she could utter. ITV are a comedy wilderness and, judging by Elaine’s arguably short-sighted comments, they will continue to be a comedy wilderness for the next five years.

Sky showed surprising appetite for new comedy. BBC seemed to be slightly conservative in their outlook, but C4/E4 kept pace with Sky’s positive outlook for the future.

However, as a writer, I was disappointed that none of these TV companies are interested in receiving scripts and/or pitches directly.

‘Go to a producer first’, seemed to be the common mantra. It really seemed as if the TV companies are using producers to filter their incoming post.

This, to me, seems highly unethical. Imagine publishing companies refusing to receive submissions from authors!

There is already a strong relationship between TV production companies and TV stations. I appreciate the perceived need to filter incoming proposals, but to have a TV production company perform this function on behalf of TV stations?

No, this seems just plain wrong.

The other, subliminal, message that this position sends out, is that the TV companies seem to be backing away from producing their own work.

It almost seems as though producers (Aspect, Hat Trick, Biteback, Talkback, Boomerang, etc) will be the sole producers of comedy, whilst the TV companies will become nothing more than commissioning agents.

This was a lively, yet friendly session. John Bishop was the perfect foil against the defensively-bullshitting of ITV1, and managed to get even the friendly C4/E4 in to a defensive position a few times.

The unbeatable surprise was to hear John pitch ‘Shelved’ to the panel, and angle the pitch firmly towards the head of comedy for C4/E4.

(I had submitted the first three episodes of ‘Shelved’ as an example of my writing at the time of applying for a ticket)

Talking to John afterwards, he came across as genuine and as nice as he appears during his comedy routine.

He said flatteringly embarrassing things about ‘Shelved’ and the head of comedy at C4/E4 gave me his direct dial phone number.

A brief coffee break followed.

The second session was equally awesome, but from a very different perspective.

Danny Cohen (Controller of BBC1) interviewed Jimmy Mulville (owner of Hat Trick productions) on his life and experience in TV.

This session had massive potential to be excruciatingly dull, yet it was lively, sparky, funny and inspiring.

It didn’t hold much value for writers of TV comedy, but it was a crackingly entertaining hour.

Lunch followed.

The third session was a technofeast of geekery; how comedy content might be consumed in the future. It also considered models of monetising comedy content.

Yawn.

Oh, it was lively, Nigel Walley from Decipher (a London-based media strategy consultancy) was full of energy and shit. And that’s the problem. He was London-based and therefore totally full of shit. Digital this. Tivo That. Multi-platform Other. Clearly, not a clue about the digital infrastructure that the rest of the UK has to put up with.

Yawn.

There was another break.

The next session was a discussion between delegates from Tiger Aspect, C4 and the BBC about nurturing new and up-and-coming production talent. It was, unfortunately, production-focussed and, again, held sparse value for writers or aspiring writers. There were one or two nuggets of gold. And a couple of silver. But overall this session missed the writing target by a fair old distance.

The fourth session was a discussion between ‘comedian’ James Corden, and the production companies Big Talk, Rough Cut and Bwark.

James Corden?

I left early.

Overall the day was excellent.

The first session was awesome and it helped me understand the pool – and how to cross it – with fresh insight.

Having my piece pitched for me, was fantastic.

I would like to thank everyone for their time and effort in organising what was, frankly, a brilliant day out.

I would also like to thank Vision+Media for putting the whole thing on, and for letting me network and pitch This Reality Podcast with a ferocious, erm, ferocity, to such a high-ranking audience.

So ferocious, in fact, that the show’s listening figures seem to have climbed to the 200k level, but I’m going to keep an eye on that, to see where things stabilise.

And that’s it.

Comedy Conference 2011.

A good day out.

Clearing out

Over the last three years my feed aggregator – Google Reader – has become two things.

It has become a hideously expanded mass of websites waiting for me to pore over, and it has become a hideously expanded mess of websites, waiting for me to pore over.

I do wonder how I – we – used to keep on top of things, in the bad old days, before websites generated RSS feeds, don’t you?

There can’t be any many people left on this planet who don’t use a Reader to manage their surfing habits.

But did I – did we – really keep visiting and revisiting websites, in a daily routine, to see if they had been updated?

Yes, sadly, I – we – did.

But even back then, with the aid of bookmarking, and the ability to file away website addresses in folders and sub-folders in our browser’s memory, keeping on top of things was, for a while, relatively easy.

Inevitably, though, the list of websites in my ‘daily checklist’ slowly began to challenge the amount of time I had available in which to undertake my ‘daily check’.

Conflict!

The wider I roamed across the world-wide-webish tundra, and the more I collected a wider range of varied and interesting websites; discovered strange new topics, the more difficult the act of keeping on top of my various reading lists became.

With the introduction of website aggregators, things became easier, for a while.

Bloglines – the tool of discerning web-surfers in those days – turned the act of keeping on top of my web-based reading in to such an easy task; I loved the simplicity that Bloglines gave me.

Broadband soon arrived and, in conjunction with Bloglines, keeping on top of my daily, weekly – and even monthly – reading lists because a task of such ease that I increased my web-use significantly.

But – and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you? – the easy peasy point-and-shoot functionality of broadband, combined with the seductively simple ‘come hither’ ease of use of my Bloglines feed aggregator led, as you knew it would, to a massive upswing in the number of websites I was visiting regularly.

My reading lists got out of control.

Again.

Like a kind of Godzilla, powered exclusively by reading frustration as it strode, angrily, across the landscape; uprooting trees, pulling down buildings and generally instilling fear and trepidation left, right and, indeed, centre, my control had slipped to enable my reading lists to grow to such tremendous dimensions that they became worse than unmanageable.

And yet I let this situation continue to grow.

That’s where my web-reading has been, for most of the last year; unmanageable.

And yet, like some kind of web-savvy, but slightly foolish virgin, I have ignored the unmanageability of my aggregator.

Right up until this weekend I have continued to add more and more websites to Google Reader (my current aggregator) on an almost daily basis, whilst continuing to struggle with the impossibility of a reading list the length of the Nile.

When I sat down to write this post I had 2,473 unread items in Reader.

But, half an hour later, I have reduced that number of unread web-articles to…

Zero.

I have been ruthless, and I have been ruthless for a reason.

The cost of allowing my reading list to expand out of control has been to demotivate me from writing.

The sitcom has been on the back-burner for six months, although I did blow the dust off the screenplay, over the weekend, and tidied up a couple of scenes.

But it needs finishing, and I’m not going to be able to do that if I’m wrestling with an unmanageable reading list every night.

And, away from the sitcom, I have a number of other projects that need my time and effort.

So I have decided to decimate my reading lists.

I have gone back to basics; the websites of my friends, and those websites I have a tangible, contributory interest in. And one or two exceptions, perhaps.

But the bottom line is that my Reader subscriptions to everything else have been thrown out.

Hopefully this drastic cutback will give me some time to get back on track with my writing.

And that – and the company of friends and loved ones – is what is really important.

When I were a lad…

I used to do all my writing on an Adler manual typewriter.

That sounds a bit grand, so here’s some context.

I was a ten-year old; we had a bunch of manual typewriters knocking around in various offices.

On a quarter-sized desk in the accounts office was an Adler manual typewriter; it was so large, the footprint occupied the entire desktop.

On days I wasn’t working – it’s a long story that involves twisted parental values in a Victorian kind of way, a strict rule that I had to work for every penny of pocket-money, under the pretext that it would teach me the value of things, but in retrospect I feel I was slave labour – I used to sit in the accounts office and bang away at the big heavy keys.

The whole machine was too heavy to move, the keys needed such force that fingertips would soon numb from the downwards pressure, and the manual return-lever was heavy enough to break your wrist if you got the timing wrong, but I did love that Microwave-sized monstrosity.

Two sheets of A4, separated by a filing of carbon paper, that usually coloured my fingers too.

What did these experiences teach me?

That I hate manual typewriters; you can’t edit on a manual typewriter.

Tippex – the Adler didn’t have correcting ribbon – is no substitute for having the immediate editing function that today’s technology has given us.

How would, I wonder, most of us fare if we were transported back to the pre-electric office equipment era?

Maybe like the good people over at JournoTerrorist?

It’s an interesting experiment; take a bunch of students, give them ‘old technology’ and ask them to produce a newspaper.

You can read how they got on here.

Taking my brain but leaving something cleverer

I have to write a thing.

A very focussed, incisive business thing.

It has to, briefly, summarise a complex situation, it must list the alternatives for improving a critical situation, it should explore the high-level pros and cons of the alternatives, and match the organisation’s strategy with the most appropriate solution.

I like writing this kind of thing.

Constructing and then putting a well-written, soundly-argued piece of logically-driven writing in front of the highest level of a £ multi-billion organisation is to expose my writing, and the thinking behind it, to a readership of intensely critical thinkers.

Normally I rise to the challenge.

But today there is a small problem.

My brain won’t work.

I’ve been staring at the first page for half an hour.

There’s a title.

And that’s it.

The more I stare at the sheet, the more my brain refuses to cooperate.

Which is why I’m writing this piece, obv.

This is an attempt to kick-start my intelligence in to productivity.

The weird thing is not that my brain seems to have evaporated overnight.

No, the weird thing is what I see when I look at the (almost) blank piece of paper.

The number ’43’.

What?

How can my eyes look at a blank sheet of paper, but my head chooses to register the number ’43’?

I’ve been staring at this non-existent number (if you see what I mean) for the last half-hour, trying to get going.

I’m still not hitting any kind of a ‘get going’ stride.

In racing terms, cantering swiftly out of the starting gate would be good, but right now I’d settle for leaving the paddock at a stiff walk.

*pauses for another stare at ’43’ which isn’t actually there*

This isn’t writer’s block.

This is an indication of something far more sinister.

I believe that sometime during the night I was visited by aliens.

They sneaked up to my slumbering form and, through some kind of telekinetic mind-meld thing, they extracted what little intelligence I had left.

I am hoping that writing this will get at least one cylinder firing.

But here’s something that I would like to give you.

A present.

If you have the Chrome browser, click on the link below (in Chrome, obviously) and watch the most awesome piece of design I can ever remember.

The tune’s not too shabby – have Arcade Fire ever done something not worth listening to?

But the accompanying video will knock your socks off

Trust me.

http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com

 

It feels like teen spirit

That ‘end of weekend’ feeling sits heavily on my shoulders. Do you remember it? The ‘back to school’ thing that used to happen early Sunday evening?

Not, if I’m honest, a dark feeling of dread. More of a sense of impending doom.

It’s been a fantastic weekend; the weather has been outstanding, but I’m not sure where the last two days have gone.

We don’t seem to have got done half of the things we had on our list of things to do. And when I say ‘we’ and ‘our’ I mean ‘I’ and ‘my’, obv.

We ‘interviewed’ a gardener this morning. I think that, you know, taking all things in to consideration.

I’m out.

The search continues, sadly.

I say ‘sadly’ because having this morning’s guy around didn’t only underline how he wasn’t up to the job, his visit also reinforced the scale of what we want done.

Arse.

I went up to see lovely Vin this morning. Poor Vinnie has a sore foot, but other than that he’s looking very happy.

you can just see the bandaged off-fore hoof if you click - twice - through to the big picture

He seems to be much more supple in his hind quarters.

I think, another couple of months rest, and it might be worth seeing whether this 18 months off has had the desired effect.

I’m under no illusions about this; even if his health has improved to the point where he might be able to be brought back in to ridden work, Vin will never be more than a light hack.

His head-shaking means that he’s now coming in during the day, but he’s spending the night out, which he enjoys.

Anyway, wait and see. Wait and see.

H was working at the stables today; she took the piss out of me muchly, in the way that she does.

She needs a man.

Letching over eventers and jockeys who she’s never going to get in to bed? That’s not what she should be doing. She should be out there getting laid often, like all other grooms.

*cough*

Allegedly.

In other news.

I don’t know what’s going on, maybe it’s something to do with my age or time of life, but I’m turning in to an emotional wreck.

My feelings are just out of control, I find myself crying at the most stupid, idiotic, mundane things.

Just this morning, for example, I cried at the yard.

It really bloody hurts when you shut your hand in the stable door.

Doesn’t it?*

Before I go to bed tonight I really should have a good stab at finishing the edit to the audio interview with The Empty Vessels.

Hmm…

In other news, I revealed to Soph the idea behind the cross-media website I’ve been planning for the last couple of months.

The problem with talking about a pre-production concept, is that you have to give the backstory.

I don’t like doing that. I pefer people to look at something and play with it, even if it is only a prototype; I like people to build their own opinions, form their own views without being led by the backstory.

Soph could see the gap in the market that the idea is aiming to fill.

And I have a design template planned.

Turning the concept in to a living, breathing website would be straightforward; probably take three days to turn the plans in to reality.

The problem, though, is the one of regularly producing content.

I can’t do it all.

Writing a sufficient number of articles to keep a website turning over is not the job for one person.

So if you know anyone who might be interested in contributing to a cross-media website, could you let me know?

Thanks.

*Hope you liked that joke. I wrote it just for you.