Business Ongoing

A lot is happening right now, so it’s time for a quick update.

On December 27th, I’m going to be a talking head for BBC4, in their documentary My Science Fiction Life, one of about a dozen contributors to the website of that name (I think the only author they talked to), interviewed about how SF shaped their lives. Sorry about being so sweaty. It was hot in there.

I’m a contributor to Phobic, the new horror anthology from Comma Press. My story’s called ‘Horror Story’, and is part of my effort to get back into the business of regularly writing and selling prose. I like the fact that they’ve asked a number of writers new to horror to contribute (such as Frank Cottrell Boyce and Rob Shearman), alongside some with serious prior form (Jeremy Dyson, Ramsey Campbell, Matthew Holness), and that it’s from a small press that cares about the genre. There’s a launch and reading scheduled in Manchester sometime in December, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, full of energy, I’m now 70,000 words into the new novel, and looking to finish it early next year.

Saturday sees my second episode of Robin Hood, ‘A Thing or Two About Loyalty’, being broadcast. This one was basically a co-write between myself and script editor Jenny White, with her doing the Marian story and me doing the Much story, and everything else being a mixture. I asked if she might get a co-writer credit, but script editors don’t tend to get those. I think she’s done a great job, which is why I don’t wish to hog the kudos. Hope you enjoy it.

I’ve just been asked to write the introduction to the next volume of the Dan Dare reprint series from Titan Books, The Man From Nowhere. There are few things I enjoy more than going on and on about Frank Hampson’s genius, so it’s going to be tough to stop at five hundred words.

And yes, we’re started filming my Doctor Who two-parter for next year. David Tennant was just awesome at the readthrough. As was Frema, and the guest stars, the names of which will not escape my lips, but who boggled me with their actorly delights. I’ll be popping down sometime in the next couple of weeks to see it being made. And will, of course, tell you nothing. But rest assured that I’m having the best time.

On Friday, a page by page commentary I’ve done for the first issue of Wisdom goes up at Fractal Matter online magazine. I do go on, because I was quite surprised at how much there was to say. Do go check it out via the link on the right.

I was honoured to be a guest at Dublin Comic Con last weekend. It was very cool to meet my fellow guests, and catch up with Mark Millar. The organiser, John Hendrick, deserves nothing but praise for looking after us so well. I’m only sorry I was so ill (I don’t know why it’s always when I’m in Ireland) and so didn’t hang out with my friends from Millarworld and P-Con as much as I wanted to. (And I now hear I infected loads of them anyway.) I signed 150 copies of Wisdom, selling out John’s stack of them, and boasting with a little sign of a dancing me. And Team Wisdom came second in the very well attended pub quiz on the Friday night.

The weekend before that I was in Rhyl, for a very warm and friendly meeting of a local Doctor Who group in a lovely old hotel. They were a sweet bunch: many thanks, you lot. And the weekend before that I was on the South Coast for Armadacon, where, amongst other things, I helped judged the masquerade (hello Lego Princess Leia!) and run the auction. I hoping for the odd weekend off in December, especially since it’s Festive Faringdon this weekend, when the Christmas lights get switched on in our little town.

Phew, I said ‘quick update’, but there was lots to talk about. Sorry to go on so. Until next time, cheerio!

Circular Time and Irish Comic Con

Big Finish have just put up the cover and trailer on their website for their January Doctor Who audio play release, Circular Time by myself and Mike Maddox. It's four one-episode stories, featuring Peter Davison's Doctor and Nyssa. Each is set in a different season. Spring is an SF story set on an alien planet, written by Mike from one of my short stories, in which we're lucky enough to have Hugh Fraser as Cardinal Zero. Summer is by Mike, from an idea by me, the Fifth Doctor versus the menace of Sir Issac Newton, as played by David Warner! (Come on, tell me you don't want to hear that.) Autumn and Winter are written by me, the former being a story about the Doctor playing cricket in a modern setting, (with the wonderful John Benfield as past-his-prime cricketer Don) while Nyssa finds herself awkwardly falling in love, and the latter being... a weird fanservice thing which I'm not going to say anything about.

I love that cover! May I direct you to the four symbols around the edge, each of which relates directly to one of the stories. And there's an audio trailer which tantalises, rather than gives anything away. Go have a look:

http://www.doctorwho.co.uk/drwho_main/bf091_circulartime.shtml

And I look forward to meeting any of you who are popping along to Dublin City Comic Con this weekend. There's a pub quiz on Friday, upstairs in the Bull and Castle Pub at Christchurch. It will be a selection of questions and topics from Comic Books to General Knowledge. A table of four costs €40 and all the con guests will be attending. Here's the details:


http://www.irishcomicshop.com/

For info on everything to do with the Con, contact info@irishcomicshop.com

Cheerio!

Casino Royale: Not 'Bond Begins'

SPOILERS from the outset, so if you haven’t seen it, I’ll see you next time.

Well, it took us fifty three years, but finally someone has made a movie based on James Bond. You may recall the character. He’s an assassin, who’s been horribly injured, both mentally and physically, in the course of his career. He regards it as his job to do terrible things, but wishes innocents to be spared the sight of those things. He can be ruthless, and enjoys killing in the moment, but we care for him because of the awful personal cost. He rewards himself with the finest cuisine, and has complex and difficult relationships with women.

Daniel Craig is perfect as the first screen James Bond. And I hope we’ll now see a whole series of such tremendous movies about him. The potential is enormous. I don’t know why nobody’s thought of doing it before.

I have to drop that pretence for the rest of the review, but I think I’ve made my point. The ironic thing is, Eon Productions have thought of doing it before. In fact, before every movie (apart from Moonraker, where they couldn’t quite bring themselves to), they’ve announced they’re going ‘back to Fleming’. But now they’ve finally done it. Only they’ve done it in a wonderfully discrete way.

The James Bond theme, and ‘Bond, James Bond’ are held back from us in Casino Royale, as the theme was for a long stretch of the same director’s Goldeneye. But here it’s to emphasise something different. In Goldeneye, the point seemed to be that this new version of Bond was young and confident enough not to be so cheap. Bad Bond movies have the Bond theme every twenty minutes, jolting the audience awake. It’s bringing on the dancing girls to save the comedian from getting pelted.

Here, one could say the theme is used as the obvious climax to ‘Bond Begins’, a superhero origin story for James Bond. On it’s own, that’s not a bad idea for a movie. But it would be obvious. And it would, in itself, be cheap. We can probably write it between us here and now: young Jimmy Bond meets young Q, young M and young Moneypenny, and has formative experiences, being initially happy go lucky, then having his heart broken, and becoming the more mature, more dangerous, man. Along the one he would deliver that important first quip. And use his first gadget.

But Casino Royale touches only lightly on this idea. Just enough that it can make a headline. And instead uses the bare shape of that plot to do something much more interesting. When we meet him, Bond is already a mature, dangerous, heartbroken, man. He wears a gaudy shirt and drives a Ford Focus, but not (well, slightly) because he’s ‘yet to become James Bond’, but because he’s a normal guy whose range of options includes normal things. He’s not confined by the limited things previous interpretations of Bond might say or do. This is a character, and at that point we’ve yet to really meet him. (And would you want to say that to the Ford people? ‘He drives your car until he realises he’s better than that.’)

Let’s emphasise that: at this point in the movie, we don’t really know who this James Bond is, and we’re interested in finding out more.

How likely has that ever seemed before?

The shape of what, it’s becoming clear, is not going to be simply ‘Bond Begins’ then introduces us, quite slowly, to this man we now, amazingly, don’t know. The movie uses one of the big advantages film has over television: we’ve paid for this seat. We’re probably here for the two hours plus. We do not have a remote. We can be distant from our lead for some time, and we can’t change channel.

Let me get to my point: the Bond this stranger ‘becomes’ is not the Bond of the previous movies. He is not the same product, re-sold to us as new by being stripped down to a series of clichés, the origins of which we’re led through like a parade.

The Bond he ‘becomes’ is new to the movie-going audience, and depends not at all on the three small origin points we’re thrown as gestures: the tuxedo; the Aston Martin; the cocktail. He even throws the cocktail back in our faces when a barman asks if he wants it shaken or stirred: ‘do you think I give a damn?’

The Bond he ‘becomes’ is Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Bond of the books. Finally onscreen.

Thus, the only gadget in the movie is not there to say ‘Bond movies have gadgets in them, remember?’ but to underline the physical punishment that the Bond of the books suffers constantly. Once again: not ‘Bond Begins’, but ‘Ian Fleming’s James Bond Arrives’.

I must admit that, early on, when the message we were getting was ‘you don’t know this man’, I was very worried. I hadn’t realised we weren’t meant to. I thought the assumption had been made that Bond was Bond, and that we could thus get straight into the action with an emptiness where the hero should be. They suckered me right into that. His break-in at M’s house, very old Bond, a collection of smart lines meaning almost nothing, had an ulterior motive not just for the character, but for the film-makers too. To give us just a smidgen of what they were never going to do again.

It’s a fine piece of sleight of hand. Say you’re giving us old Bond in bits. Actually give us new Bond, real Bond, pure Bond instead. I’m tempted to credit it to new scriptwriter Paul Haggis, but these things are never as simple as that. It’s telling that the ‘putting on the tuxedo’ scene was something I actively missed in the last picture, Die Another Day, that horrible parade of every Bond cliché stuck on the end of a fabulous, adult, pre-titles sequence. I wanted Pierce Brosnan to shave off his beard and put on his Bond Costume, iconically. I get the feeling the production team might have resisted the impulse there because they’d already had the thought to do it bigtime here.

The tuxedo scene is the only place in the movie where ‘Bond Begins’ is played loudly. But it works because what we’re seeing here isn’t metatextual, isn’t an ‘in joke’ or an ‘origin story’; it’s a sophisticated woman showing a more gauche man how good he looks in a suit. I don’t know about you, male readers, but I’ve had that moment in my life. And how often can you say that about you and James Bond? It’s made by that little look from Vesper, framed in the doorway of the bathroom. You could add a caption: The Woman Who Created James Bond. Not the merchandisers, note, or the expectations set by the previous movies: a character in the story.

This production team find new, interesting ways to get round all the old problems. They haven’t dared have what one might call a ‘Bond villain’ for several movies now, because that’s the cheese at the heart of their format that’s really gone off, parodied beyond parody. So here, so daringly I thought it was a trick, a ruse, they shift the mantle of supervillainhood between three different men in a row. It’s not one guy with a cat. It’s a world of cruelty and evil.

‘We should celebrate.’
‘You were nearly dead an hour ago!’
‘Let’s go. I’m famished.’

(I'm paraphrasing.) How many fans of the James Bond of the books applauded at that point? The avoidance of death celebrated with fine food. That’s James Bond. Death and injury hurt in this movie, and therefore it moves the finer things in life back up into the mix to compensate, and includes love, and having someone to hold you during post-traumatic stress, in its list of those things. Eva Green gets to play a character, a real woman, with jokes and a ghost in her shell, and a genuine actor’s sense of an inner life that, as Bond remarks, he can never know. Therefore, her useless British accent sounds like that of a real woman with a useless British accent. Even the offhand totty in the first act gets to be a real, married, uncertain woman who finds herself reluctantly cast, by the shape of what feels like a genuine espionage ploy (compare Clear and Present Danger), as the offhand totty. She gets some caviar, Daniel Craig running off with the info, and then dead for her trouble, rather than Roger Moore, silk sheets and then dead.

Oh, and the best news of all: the quips are dead now.

My only problem with this fine movie is that the drama was so interesting that I grew bored with the action scenes. They were well-filmed. But I wanted to get back to the talking. Again, how often do you hear that about Bond movies?

A friend of mine worried that the ideal closing line of the book, ‘the bitch is dead now’, was diluted and smoothed away by the ending of the movie. Well, for a start, it had to be. What’s at stake in the book is high treason, as well as Bond’s heart, the deaths of one’s comrades in arms. In the movie, he’d have executed her only for his heart and a caseful of money. Which might have dulled our liking for him a little. Also, this movie wants to talk to women, and alongside much naked Craig, it should indeed give us a heroine who is at least sincerely and passionately treacherous. And, let’s face it, loads of the audience would know the ending of the book. After so many surprises born out of a familiar genre format suddenly becoming drama again, making the ending not obvious seems… obvious.

Besides, doing it that way would have denied us the extraordinary format-breaking power of that last scene. The James Bond theme plays, and James Bond finally announces himself as ‘Bond, James Bond’, the supposed ‘Bond Begins’ is complete… with Bond about to execute a thoroughly executable wounded man who’s crawling up a low flight of steps.

That’s the real James Bond.

The Wisdom Reviews are In

You'll have to indulge me, I'm still getting over the online reception for Wisdom. I'm delighted, and really want to thank all the following. I won't keep showing off like this, I promise!

Best Shots at Newsarama (scroll down a while):

http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=90869

Paul O'Brien at The X-Axis:

http://www.thexaxis.com/minis/wisdom1.htm

Kelvin Green at Silver Bullet Comics:

http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/reviews/116290848135654.htm

This guy has some wonderfully mad quotes:

http://razorsmile.livejournal.com/67161.html

A whole bunch of very kind forum members here:

http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?t=151438

A whole bunch more here:

http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=90710

Graeme McMillan at The Savage Critic(s):

http://www.comixexperience.com/savblog/2006/11/ghost-of-rick-witter-graeme-tries-to.html

Richard Guion at Photon Torpedoes:

http://www.photontorpedoes.com/archives/2006/11/doctor

And of course I'm indebted to Mark Peyton at Fractal Matter, whose advance review got the ball rolling. Too many drinks to buy! Wa-hey! I've just delivered the script for issue four, and couldn't be feeling more pleased about how it's going so far. So thanks again, all.

Wisdom is Here

The New Year before last I made three resolutions. That I would have a new novel published, get my own TV show commissioned, and that I would write an American comic. It's taken a long time, but yesterday I ticked the third one off my list when four copies of Wisdom arrived in the mail. With a lovely logo I wasn't aware of. It looks terrific. And how does it smell? It smells great.

We'll be at Armadacon in Plymouth from Friday night, so see some of you there. The ideal venue, I thought, to celebrate my wife's birthday. This may take a bit of work. Cheerio.

A Night Out with the Writers of Doctor Who

We were going to go to the Chula, the restaurant that Steven Moffat had immortalised as the name of an alien race in ‘The Empty Child’ (and his shorthand for the original ‘other four’ Who writers who met there). But the restaurant never returned Moffat’s calls. So, suspiciously, we ended up meeting at another restaurant, the Anarkali, on the same street, much closer to Moffat’s house. Toby Whithouse pulled out because he’d got a gig in his new venture of being a stand-up comic. Gary Russell rushed over having finished his working day in Cardiff.

We were there to do our part for the three winners of an eBay charity auction. This was in aid of comics writer Mark Millar’s quest to find a cure for the condition he suffers from: Crohn’s Disease. The three winners had bid over $2000 dollars for an evening of me and Moffat’s company, plus whoever else we could bring along from the writing team of the new Doctor Who. So no pressure to perform. And I think we were all a little apprehensive about the company. Being able to pay a large sum is not in itself a guarantee of poise and grace. But we lucked out. Will York, John O’Connor and his wife Vanessa Spady turned out to be amiable, generous, charming folk, who flew in that day, and intended to fly back a couple of days later. Will is the loquacious one, keen to thank everyone and wanting to listen to as many Who-related anecdotes as possible. John is quieter, and Vanessa doesn’t know much about Doctor Who, but is here to enjoy herself.

Rob Shearman remains trim and fit, a shock to those of us who knew him as, well, shall we say portly? It gives added edge to his wit, which is based on him being twinkly-eyed and lovely until he says something that suggests the fluffy kittens didn’t necessarily make it home unscathed. He’s also vastly self-deprecating, entirely, I suspect, so that we all keep telling him how good he is. Tom MacRae has walked up the street past the Chula, and points over his shoulder. ‘They are open. They’ve got a man dressed as a Mexican standing outside, to advertise how hot their food is. For an Indian restaurant.’ Tom has got older. He now looks thirteen rather than twelve. He remains wide eyed and boggled, in rather a sly way. ‘That’s the third or fourth new generation of Who writers I’ve seen,’ says Terrance Dicks. (He’s not on the new show, he’s there because he’s our guru, we all love him, and our guests are a little in awe of him.) ‘How can they be so young?!’ Stephen Greenhorn isn’t steeped in fan culture like the rest of us. He’s quietly your bigtime TV writer who just had a good Doctor Who script in him. And, erm, Wide Sargasso Sea, produced by my old script editor Elwen Rowlands, which I tell him was magnificent, several times, over and over, I think. He’s Scottish and seems kind of a hard man, until you realise he’s nervous about talking to Terrance Dicks. Gary Russell arrives with copies of his new Making Of book for everyone. He doesn’t drink, so he’s come to talk plainly and directly and professionally while the rest of us are falling about. There’s something absolutely reassuring about Gary. If your ship was in danger of sinking, you’d want him to be in charge of the lifeboats. (Though I’m sure he's hoping not to have to preside over any evacuations this evening.) He’s incapable of bearing a grudge, and is quietly the most ethical person you’ll ever meet. He’s here tonight because a friend, Tom Street who posts on Outpost Gallifrey as Fitz Kreiner, suffers from Crohn’s.

I remember fragments. I know for sure that no secrets were given away, because we put Gary in charge of yelling ‘shut up shut up shut up’ if ever we strayed in that direction. And our guests have confirmed that they heard nothing spoilery, and would have put their fingers in their ears if we started going in that direction. (And hello, Production Office, I hope you’re enjoying the blog so far.)


John, Will, Tom, me, Steven and Stephen. It's been a long night.

‘So, back in the day, there was this owner of a big business who started a campaign to keep Clause 28, that bit of vacuous legislation which “bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools”, and he set up a freepost address for people to write in and support him. So Russell started sending huge items to him at this address, fridges, scrap metal Volkswagen Beetles, and he was paying the postage on all of them…’


'Trust me, this will look very flattering online.'

‘I never understood this business about eighteen drafts. Two drafts was good enough back in my day.’

‘We tend to call Mark Gatiss the best actor of his generation, but only when he can’t hear.’


See Gary Russell, right at the back? He's sober.

‘Fanny Craddock. How to explain her to Americans? Where to start?’


Who writers didn't have hair like that in Terrance's day.

‘Martin Jarvis flies me over to L.A. to record my plays for Radio 4, because obviously sound is better there.’


'So what exactly happened to those fluffy kittens, Rob?'

(All photos courtesy of Vanessa.)

We swap seats between courses, so that our guests get to meet everybody and the waiters get confused. Much lager, Moffat’s choice of fine wines, and then champagne, is taken.

What can one say about Moffat? He’s on form tonight, in the middle of recording Jekyll, his modern take on the Robert Louis Stevenson. Besuited and poised as always, like he’s just come back from the Bond audition, but with an undercurrent of bemused and haven’t they picked the wrong guy? We go back a long way. I probably owe my TV career to a mixture of him and Russell. I’m Godfather to his oldest, he was best man at my wedding. He won my Hugo Award. And tonight he wants us all to go on to a strip club. Or that’s what he says he wants. ‘I’m for that,’ says Vanessa, making his night. Terrance’s eyes widen in horror and he puts his hand up for a taxi. ‘Bye,’ says Gary, hugging everyone. But the rest of us wander off in a drunken mass down the street.

‘I don’t,’ say I, repeating a phrase I used to Moffat on the eve of my stag night, ‘want to see any strange breasts.’

‘Well, we could go to the strip club, which is very nearby, or we could walk all the way to this media club in Chiswick, which is, oh, miles… But if that’s how Cornell feels… I tried, I really did. Vanessa, I’m so sorry.’

That’s what he wanted.

I wish I could tell you what the interior of this club looked like. Not because it’s secret. But because I have no idea. I’m told we went to a similar place on said stag night. Perhaps there’s some sort of device on the door of these places that erases my memory of what happens inside? Yes, that must be it. I think I hug our American friends goodbye. For perhaps a length of time that they might refer to as ‘inappropriate’.

Me and Moffat stay up late with wine at his place, watching Jekyll footage. ‘That’s wonderful,’ I say. ‘And I’m glad it’s you doing it. You really deserve everything you’ve achieved. Even the Hugo.’

I think I’m still drunk when I get to the Anime Village at the ExCel centre the next morning.

We who were once the Chula are now the Anarkali, which you can reasonably expect to crop up as a new set of Doctor Who monsters soon. It would save time if someone just opened a restaurant called Dalek. I get home feeling wonderful about being part of this show, and glad that when I’m drunk I tell proud and happy anecdotes about the people I work with. ‘I felt,’ said Terrance afterwards, quoting from his favourite author, Patrick O’Brian, ‘thoroughly caressed’. And so did I.

(The non-combatants’ version of this night out will be appearing soon at Fractal Matter magazine. Terms and conditions definitely apply.)

Announcements:

ITEM! My Science Fiction Life is a new BBC web project which an old mucker of mine, Ann Kelly, is working on. It opens officially on Thursday, but you can pop along now and register, and answer their questionnaires about some classic SF books, movies and TV shows. It looks like it’s going to be quite exciting, dealing as it does with SF as a body of work, not as different media that are at odds with each other. Go seek at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/mysciencefictionlife/

ITEM! Mags Halliday informs me of the creation of something I very much welcome, an edited and quality controlled Doctor Who fan fiction site. Back in the day, a lot of us who ended up working in various aspects of Doctor Who wrote fan fiction to the demands of fanzine editors, who would reject it if it wasn’t good enough and suggest edits. These days, much fan fiction on the web isn’t edited at all, so writers aren’t challenged and they don’t get better. You can find out more on Mags’ blog, on the right, but step one is naming the site, a poll about which is here:
http://lordshiva.livejournal.com/195275.html I can’t decide between old school Lost Luggage and modern love Resonating Concrete.

ITEM! Faringdon Arts Festival 2007 has a blog.
http://faf07.blogspot.com/2006/10/taking-part.html The dates this time are 6th-8th July, 2007. I’m not on the Committee, but I’m aiming to offer them a couple of literary and/or fan-friendly events as a free agent. And the Dalek will definitely be back, bringing a couple of new friends with him.

ITEM! Caroline’s country/rock/folk/bit of Pink Floyd band The Magpies played their second professional gig the other night to a packed house, and did very well indeed. I particularly liked the Crosby, Stills and Nash numbers. If anyone in the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire/Berkshire area would like to hire a melodic band with a bit of oomph, they’re now available for gigs.


Until next time, Cheerio. And ow. Still a bit hungover.

New Wisdom Interview

This time on Comic Book Resources, with some new pages:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=8779

I got the release date wrong, sorry! It's actually next Wednesday in the USA, next Thursday over here. Too excited to count.

First Wisdom Review and Interview

The first advanced review of Wisdom is up, before issue one hits the shops next Wednesday/Thursday, and it's a corker! Mark Peyton at Fractal Matter, bless him. Go have a look:

http://fractalmatter.com/main/?p=418

'One of the best debuts for a new Marvel writer in quite a few years' is, I think , the line I want to put on the cover of something. Probably an issue of Wisdom, that might be good.

Also, I've been interviewed about the project for Wizard Magazine, and they've got the first six pages of issue one up in all their lovely colourful glory:

http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/wizard/002192610.cfm

In comic shops now, and down the bar last night, where I was showing it to everyone, is the Max Sampler, in which Marvel shows off a few pages of each of its new Max titles, including the covers for the first two issues of Wisdom, and the first page of issue one.

I can't emphasise enough how much of a dream come true this is. So thanks for letting me jump up and down about it for a moment.

Next blog: report and photos from the Who writers night out with the winner of Mark Millar's charity auction. This weekend, I promise!