The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Twelve

Well, wasn’t that gorgeous? And moving? ‘Voyage of the Damned’ I mean, a fitting conclusion to the best year of the new Doctor Who. Well done, all!

I’m back, having consumed two Christmas dinners on the same day, one Midnight Mass (at which small lights shone in the dark, and John (not that one) was read, and a couple reaffirmed their wedding vows after sixty years), and a combination of beer, wine, port and flaming Christmas pud.

I’ve put the competition winners up on the Facebook Event, Simon having spent some of his Christmas Day with his family randomly choosing them. The things that man will do in the name of spreading the fun. The winners are:

Jason Sanders, Kate Sheehy, Nik Whitehead, Luke Miller, Fiona James, Jonathan Melville, Glenn Reuben, Richard Leigh, Jeremy Rosenberg and Jen Casswell of which the grand prize winner is…

Jeremy Rosenberg (who we think is probably in Chicago).

Well done all, and thanks to all who took part.

I’m pleased to have taken part, along with such luminaries as (writer) Mike Carey, (artist) Nicola Scott and (editor and main man) Tom Brevoort in a comics roundtable at Comics Nexus, of which you can now read the first part here:

http://comicsnexus.insidepulse.com/articles/72708/2007/12/24/leave-your-spandex-at-the-door-christmas-2007-roundtable.html

The Harry Sullivan/seafood petition stands at… 165 signatures. Anyone fancy e-mailing Character Options and telling them? Could be a good seller for them. Possibly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this run of festive blogging as much as I have. Next year will bring Primeval, Excalibur, The Vision, short stories, more television, more comics, and, I hope, a novel. I’ll see you in L.A., Perth, Imperial College, and I’ll very much see you in Denver.

I leave with the last two of those wonderful Laurie Sage cartoons.




Thanks for reading, and until I see you in 2008, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Eleven

I was dancing down the bar last night, to a very talented singer/guitarist called Emma. It was like one of those Chris Claremont party scenes. I have a significant gap: the last thing I remember is that I’m dancing, and then I wake up in the morning and there’s an empty can of mixed pulses in brine on my bedside table.

Simon, my Agent, points out that he caught the ‘Tom having only one hand’ thing in the online version of the Telegraph story, and fixed it. He’s clever like that.

I remembered something else from this year that I really enjoyed and I should have mentioned. Jekyll was daring television, continually surprising and changing its format. And its finest twist was a complete surprise. Moffat continues to impress.

Now, I’m sorry to say that the final blog of the Twelve won’t be tomorrow. It’s just not going to be possible, what with visiting relatives and everything. So I’ll see you again on Boxing Day.

Today, I was inspired by (quiz setter) Russell Hillman’s article on Christmas music:

http://fractalmatter.com/main/?p=784

To present the following…

The scene: the bridge of the original starship Enterprise. Spock is peering into that viewer thing of his. The music is that ‘everyday and possibly funny’ track that’s usually reserved for the end of episodes. Kirk and McCoy, glancing merrily at each other, and doubtless hoping for some racist fun at the Vulcan’s expense, wander over and cough.
‘Mr. Spock, what is it you find so… fascinating?’
‘Ah, Captain, Dr. McCoy. I have been examining the historical records of your home planet –‘
‘Why Mr. Spock, I’m amazed there’s anything on our little old globe that could rouse that green blood of yours. Do I mention that too much? Maybe. Who am I talking to? Who are you looking at?’
‘-Specifically those relating to the phenomenon known as “Christmas hit singles”. It is a most illuminating study. Consider the lyric “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”, when in actual fact, meteorological records of that year clearly show –‘
‘Why you cold blooded – ‘
‘I think maybe you do mention that too much, Bones. But… what the good doctor is… trying to say, is that the lyricist is clearly comparing the desperate situation of famine victims to his own privileged lifestyle.’
‘But for snow to fall on the areas affected by famine would make the situation many times worse. For those suffering starvation to also have to contend with hypothermia –‘
‘Spock, popular songs are… hardly noted for their attention to detail.’
‘This appears, Captain, to be particularly the case around Christmas. In this one example alone there is mythological confusion. Father Christmas, a benign figure from the Christian pantheon, is both an alcoholic and attended by “fairies”, whose presence in the life of Saint Nicholas I find to be of dubious historical provenance. He then goes on to break the law by, I believe the phrase is, “doing a ton up” on his sleigh. But the oddest detail of this piece is the middle eight. What did Daddy do when he saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus? The tone of the record at this point suggests nothing short of terrible violence. And if I may be so bold, similar consequences could result from this other track’s rather ill-advised wish that it be “Christmas every day”. I calculate that psychological harm would be evident within twenty-seven days. Not to mention the health problems associated with the consumption of Christmas pudding, mince pies, etc., on an continual basis.’
‘Spock, you green-blooded… sorry… these primitive tunes, they’re not meant to be taken literally. They’re just the sort of thing that bridges the gap between autumn and Scottie’s Engine Room Hootenanny –‘

Flash forward to the Engine Room on New Year’s Eve.
‘And on tonight’s Hootenanny, we’ve goot The Cloud Minders, Mudd’s Women, Charlie X, The Galileo Seven, and the welcome return of the Archons, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve got oor hair plastered to oor foreheads wi’ the heat down here, aye, that’s why it looks like that. And our livers are nae gonna take the strain! But first up, a big hand for Who Mourns for Adonais!’
Enter four Goths in Santa hats.

‘Also, Captain, two thousand miles, even at the time of that piece’s release, was not, relatively speaking, “very far”, being less than one day’s journey. The presence of snow would hinder the protagonist’s return home if he was on foot, but for snow to have fallen in sufficient depth in a two thousand mile radius would suggest excessive climate change. The presence of a red nose on a reindeer would be a decisive evolutionary disadvantage, rendering it subject to predation. If the couple who are “walking in a winter wonderland” remain “afraid” by their forthcoming nuptials, perhaps they should not have recklessly begun to consider such a process while building a snowman. Furthermore –‘
But when Spock looks up again, there’s nobody to be seen. The entire bridge is empty except for Uhura, who’s glad of the attention. ‘Why, Mr. Spock, it’s funny you should say that, I have a lengthy series of interesting observations concerning summer pop music. Now, where shall I begin? Goodness, I think I’ve already said more than I have for the last three years sitting at this desk –‘
But Mr. Spock is already out of the door which goes woosh behind him. And Uhura sighs and reaches for the small bottle of gin which she keeps under a flashing light which doesn’t do anything.

Until Boxing Day, then, Cheerio.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Ten

I was in the supermarket with the first rush of trolleys this morning, expecting it to be stressful, but in the end, we all just seemed pleased with how surreal it was to have gridlock in front of the marmalade, and everyone was kind to each other, although the staff cleaner did seem to be called out quite often. It was actually a pleasure to do, to be with so many people doing the same thing. More proof positive that it’s the work of Christmas that gets a lot of the mystical job done. Exhausting oneself in a productive way has been part of all sorts of belief systems, and it applies just as well to Christmas shopping.

It applies to this blog, too. When I was doing my column for SFX, I got tired at having to have an epiphany every four weeks, and this is like that speeded up.

Yesterday I realised I was exhausted, and ran thump into a wall and slid down it, with trombones going wawp wawp wawp on the soundtrack. There’s always a point during Christmas that I get really sad (no, I mean, you know, sad), and that’s always to do with working too hard. (Although I’m also lazy, as Elastica once said.) My inner Writer’s Guild finally walks out, demanding better conditions from my brain, and enforces a physical picket line that leaves me flat out on the sofa, and moping in a dull way.

See? I told you my inner Writer’s Guild weren’t at their desks. Don’t expect first class metaphors. And in terms of my Daily Telegraph story, you shouldn’t have expected a chap with one arm to have both his hands grasped by the Doctor, should you? But that’s what you got. As an observant sort on the Outpost Gallifrey forum spotted. Damn it.

But I woke up relieved, and feeling, and I think it was necessary to get that far out to start feeling it, the start of the joy. The Christmas sensation I seek every year is here for me today. It’s hard to describe, but it’s definitely about the proximity of the numinous. Tiredness, cold, a full belly, dark beer, and little twinkly lights in the very deep dark all help. I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious. I don’t go on about my spirituality very much, because doing so in public terrifies both oneself and others (I’m a sort of anti-evangelist, I always want to say to people, no, don’t ask about it, you wouldn’t like it). But at Christmas, I like to note when my inner processes have got where I’d like them to be.

And now, thanks to shopping, I have a chocolate orange. And some luxury biscuits. Yes.

So today, knocking off another of the things on my list of festive blog topics, I’d like to talk about the Beatles.

For all of my adolescence, and a couple of decades of adult life, I thought they were too obvious, too twee, too pretty. Every single I heard made me think, well, okay, but. Then, one Christmas (ah, relevance, there we go), I was given Abbey Road. My reactions on playing it were: that seems to have a shocking number of tracks on it. And there’s lots of really short ones. Oh this is a real mess, just fragments of stuff. I heard they were disintegrating at the time. This is the leftovers. But there’s a pattern here, isn’t there? A couple of themes pop in and out. And there’s some surprising musical and lyrical stuff in here, that’s only slowly unpacking itself. And then on about the fifth listen, George Martin leaps out of the speakers with ‘and in the end…’ and that huge orchestral swoop, and sudden fractal fireworks occur, and I get why the same sort of people who claim mystical powers for Wagner (and, erm, Charles Manson) also go nuts over John and Paul.

And after that, I’m hooked, and ask for everything else every birthday and Christmas. In context, my opinion of Abbey Road still includes that it’s a very loose collection of fragments, held together by the genius of Paul and George Martin in the face of John and heroin. But some of their fragments are better than whole careers elsewhere.

Things about the Beatles I don’t like:

John’s cheap cynicism, his bitter urge to wreck the train. You put that against a strong and loving Paul, and you get great art. You put that in a movie, and you get a star who should have been the next Peter Sellers. You put it in charge and you get bile, bilge and portentousness. You put it on heroin and you make me want to break up the Beatles.

Schoolboy humour (every other time). ‘What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but I know that it’s mine.’ Joe Cocker, did you listen to those lyrics before performing them like they’re profound? (Except: when the schoolboy humour is also profound. Terms and conditions apply.)

Nonsense. Mostly a John thing. ‘I am the egg man.’ Like, whatever. Although the music wrapped around that is great. But I’m a lyrics sort of person.

How played out a lot of it us. If I hear ‘Come Together’ once more I’ll scream. Especially because it contains a few of the other things I don’t like.

Things about the Beatles I love:

Paul’s concern for the domestic, for everyday people, for melody. I’ve never taken Oasis seriously, because they can write the nonsense, they even have an ear for John’s Zen contradictions (‘I can’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now’/’Nothing you can do that can’t be done’), but they could never write ‘She’s Leaving Home’ or ‘Eleanor Rigby’ or the extraordinary hymn to human life that is ‘When I’m Sixty Four’. No, seriously. Listen to those chords under ‘you’ll be older too’ and ‘we will scrimp and save’, and you hear something that’s Vaughan Williams cosmic. I pick Paul over John every time. I think John’s for the kids, Paul’s for the adults. Paul has doubt and love. John has anger and bite.

The cosmic wonder. Both Paul and John can write an incredible tune (‘Strawberry Fields’ has a great little classical knot in it), but I do wonder if John had some small jealousy eating away at him, if he knew Paul was better. Fooling the world into thinking that he was probably wouldn’t comfort John. (I swear, if John had written ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, people would think it was ‘dark’ and a masterpiece.) George Martin is of the opinion that they would have worked together again. Just for once in this world, I think that would have been amazing. Because Paul’s kindness and John’s fury can each force the other into something the making of which they can’t predict. It’s like an emergent property. And that interaction counts for all four of the group.

That they’re aware of their public images, and mock them. Like Paul walking out of that room adjusting his tie in Yellow Submarine. That mockery forms a kind of feedback loop that also contributes to the group dynamic. If one of them is becoming too much anything, then they suddenly swerve away from it. They never become caricatures of themselves.

That they packed in so many changes, so much experience, so many fashions, in such a short career. To get into and deal with the Maharishi in what amounts to a couple of weeks, to change the culture of the world in a few years, to embrace fashion, eat it and change it on the run, all out of their own clashing personalities, the strength of the unit, the way the banter seemed to create art on its own and out of the need to keep it going, the competition that arose between the different styles and points of view… it could be said that history was waiting for them to arise, but they made it their own way. And even afterwards it looks impossible. I love the fact that none of them have ever been able to explain it. How could Paul explain waking up with ‘Yesterday’ in his head, and thinking that he was humming something someone else had wrote, when actually he was humming something he was about to write?

I love George, for being also, incredibly, a third genius, at yet another angle. I love Ringo, for being not just the best drummer in the Beatles, but also one of the best who ever lived, while allowing people to believe the opposite.

I love the fact that George Martin is there throughout, an establishment figure who’s always ready to take on their technical experiments and facilitate them. The Beatles never lost sight of the masses, never made their ‘concept album’, always thought of the man whistling on the Clapham omnibus. I think a lot of that is down to having Dad in the studio.

The best album? I like the ‘white album’. All those different musical forms. Albeit with a heroin tinge. Rubber Soul is also pretty beautiful. I’m not keen on Sergeant Pepper’s.

And after all this time, I still keep hearing new things. Love delighted me, because it was made by George Martin, who still understood. But the old tracks still reveal folded dimensions, every time. I think that may be why it took me so long to get there.

Phew, there we go, bit of a shapeless rant, but at least I remember how many hands everyone had. And at least now I’m in shape for Christmas. I hope you are too, and I will be delighted to see you again tomorrow. Thank you for playing your part in this. Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Nine

Well, the Daily Telegraph story is out there, and it looks lovely. I’m very pleased by the reaction, too, so many kind comments, for which many thanks. If you’ve popped in because of the address at the end of the story, welcome! Hop back down the Twelve Blogs and you’ll find all sorts of festive stuff. If you’d like to enter a contest to win the original art, have a look here:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=15395870726

That closes at midnight on Christmas Eve!

Today was my day for sorting out the last few cards (mostly e-cards now), and collecting the last few packages of presents. A big shop for foodstuffs may be in order tomorrow. But right now I’m anticipating nothing more than going to sleep for about a day.

So, if you’ll forgive me, today I’ll limit myself to two announcements. First off, talented cartoonist Laurie Sage has been illustrating the competition page on Facebook with a series of sketches featuring ‘Paul and Mike’, who are lime and pink, cute, perhaps some sort of animals. I’m so charmed by them that I hope they go on to careers of their own, and their origins as relatively obscure writer and acclaimed comics artist will become a source of fascination in the pub quizzes of the far future. Each of them rhymes with ‘Paul and Mike are great’, because (and it wasn’t my choice!) that’s what contest entrants have to write. Here’s a couple of the pieces:





And she can be found at:

http://www.veryworrying.com/

I love it with something one (or one’s agent) does results in a chain reaction of creativity.

The other thing I want to mention is: if you live near Harrogate, Hornchurch or Nottingham, do you fancy going to see a panto written by a Dalek? Nick Pegg, talented actor, writer and Dalek operator on the new show, has been writing pantos for many years now, and he currently has three playing in the UK. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is on at the Harrogate Theatre until January 12th:

http://www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk/

Mother Goose is at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, also until that day:

http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/

and Peter Pan, starring Debra Stephenson in the title role, with John Challis as Captain Hook, is on at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, until January 20th. And Nick is directing this one, too:

http://www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk/

It’s my guess that there will probably be a couple of Doctor Who-ish in-jokes in those productions. Oh yes there will. Until I see you tomorrow, with hopefully a bit more energy for content, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Eight

Hello, and welcome to any new readers of this blog, specifically anyone who’s come here from reading my Christmas Doctor Who story in the Daily Telegraph. My name’s Paul, I write things: television (including three episodes of the new Doctor Who); novels and short stories; comics and audio. Also, each Christmas, I take it upon myself to produce The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, one a day, as a sort of odd connective pilgrimage. Yes, I know.

Today I want to write about how Doctor Who and Christmas connect for me, from way back. When I was a kid, I used to write Doctor Who fan fiction, involving Peter Davison’s Doctor. These earliest stories were published in a fanzine called Cygnus Alpha. I’d often write such stories in the Christmas holidays. The tales concerned the Doctor’s encounters with Saul, the sentient church who was baptised in his own font. Said church was part of the English village of Cheldon Boniface, and were often set in an idealised Christmas that nevertheless contained recognisable parts of my own countryside childhood. A longer serial on the subject got published in a fanzine called Queen Bat (there’s a whole book to write about that 1980s fanzine culture, even about fanzine titles). That story formed the basis of Revelation, my first professional Doctor Who novel for Virgin publishing. That (long out of print) book therefore also has Christmas running through it.

So why the Christmas/Who connection? I suppose it’s because I associate the series with my own family life, specifically with my Dad, who shows up in the new series in the character of Rose’s Dad, Pete Tyler. When I write Doctor Who, my family always ends up as part of it. As if the original stories and the atmosphere I saw them in were both parts of a whole. My family did Christmas really well, conjuring up the spirit of Santa to the point where I was sure I’d see him one of these nights, carefully leaving crumbs from those mince pies left out on a saucer. I got used to the mystical being provided for so domestically, like feeding a hedgehog. My Christmas stocking as a small boy always had a few Target Books novelisations of Doctor Who stories, and they were always what I spent my 50p Book Tokens on. There was often a Doctor Who annual too, although I wasn’t as keen on those, because, even to a young child, they seemed very distant from the series, with art that didn’t represent the show very well.

(That’s one of the many great things Russell’s done with the new series: there’s a lot of thought given to letting children feel they’re holding a piece of the show, and not a cheap knock off. A lot of that’s down to a chap in the brand team who for privacy’s sake I won’t name, but who does much good work, specifically, I’d guess, through what he turns down.)

Although I associated it so strongly with Christmas, it would have been somehow strange for the older form of Doctor Who to have had an actual Christmas Special. (Maybe I can just about see it with Tom Baker and K-9.) Another of the great things about Russell’s reinvention is that now it doesn’t feel odd at all. But having grown up as a bullied kid with a bullied favourite show (marginalised and scheduled out of existence) about an anti-bullying hero, it still amazes me that said show is now the mainstream, at the centre of Christmas on BBC1. Everyone is a Doctor Who fan now. Again, thanks to Russell. I think maybe he found a magic lamp and got three wishes. I wonder what the next two are going to do for British broadcasting?

Last year’s ‘Runaway Bride’ I watched with the target audience, my God-daughter and her two older brothers. She was a bit too young to be scared, her greatest enjoyment consisting of wandering in front of the television. But the older brothers had their special Doctor Who cushions for them to hide behind, while curled up on the sofa with Mum and Dad. At one point, things got so scary that they had to go out and watch around the corner from an entirely different room. But five minutes after it ended, they were pleased to have a cup of juice and a mince pie, and went to bed with no nightmares.

That safe scare is what Doctor Who came back to do. It exorcises terrors, it shines lights into the corner of little brains and says everything’s okay. Because the happy chap who tells jokes and his nice friend always beat the monsters. And that’s the real reason it’s apt that the show is on at Christmas now. It’s not just part of the British tradition of panto, that is, of our little island concerns made into the cosmic battles of fairyland or Gallifrey. (Once more, the mystic and the domestic brought together.) It’s also part of the tradition of festive ghost stories: tales that can be told in safety now we’re all warm here by the fire, that are about what’s out there in the cold and dark, about the fight for hope, on the shortest day of the year, that the sun will come back.

I’m so proud that all these threads are right in the middle of what makes me a writer, twisted in like the jam in an arctic roll. I hope you enjoyed ‘The Hopes and Fears of All the Years’. I hope you’re looking forward to ‘Voyage of the Damned’ on Christmas Day as much as I am. And I hope I’ve communicated to you my surprise and pleasure that, after all these years, I’m back to writing Doctor Who stories at Christmas.

(If you like the story, check out the Facebook contest to win the original Mike Collins art, at:
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=15395870726 I promise regular readers that there’s only a few days to go before I shut up about it.) Until tomorrow, when I’ll have some more links for you, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Seven

I’m pleased to announce that the winners of the Facebook Telegraph story contest will get their original artwork in a nice frame, behind glass, and you can’t say fairer than that. Hundreds of you have joined in so far. Goodness, thank you! For the address, look back down in the previous Twelve Blogs.

I knew there were things I liked about the year that I’ve missed talking about thus far, and two came to mind last night:

Stardust. I absolutely adored that. It’s a specific British strain of fantasy which makes absolute sense in terms of creating filmic worlds: we know where we are and who everyone is from the first frame. The British, as Susannah Clarke has also made clear, are so good at living with fairyland (through the traditions of panto) that we’ve actually got rather blasé about it, and tend to react with surprise to the notion of specific ‘fairy story’ texts. I blogged about it at the time, so I won’t go on, but I thought it was big, charming, full of story, and tremendously easy to digest. Simply ideal.

Batman by Grant Morrison. Another bit of effortless icon use. Morrison’s Batman is Bruce Wayne, his Bruce Wayne is Batman. He’s a sane chap on a mission, who’s got room for humour, family and love in his life, and has been known to smile. The widescreen Kubert art helps, but it’s Morrison’s big cinematic gestures and his own sense of mission, in his care for the character, that really impress. And I particularly loved the issue that wasn’t a comic, but an illustrated text story, that showed he understands the Joker too. That’s the sort of one off issue that fans will pull out to show people in twenty years time.

Just got back from lunch with (author) Juliet McKenna. Jules lives in the next town, so we meet up for lunch every Christmas. Another one of those lovely yearly signposts. She’s signed with Solaris now, and is having a fabulous time with them, enjoying as I do, Marc Gascoigne and George Mann’s professionalism, business sense and inclination to buy dinner.

And it’s my first proper day off. Nothing to do. Goodness. Apart from this, obviously.

So today it’s my blog about Facebook. This social networking tool has become my central interaction with the internet, since I found MySpace to be unsatisfactory in terms of everything from graphics to privacy (I think it’s becoming a thing musicians do, and might do well to cater only to them, because the musos I know still live there). I think it, or something like it, will actually become ‘the internet’ shortly, in that a warm, friendly desktop environment with everything handy seems to me to be the ideal interface with the web. I suspect that a certain amount of de-branding will occur, as different social networks give way to a catch-all generic system. But we’re a way off from that.

When I put together my Christmas list, I expected to find loads of friend’s addresses on Facebook, but I found hardly any. Now, this seems to me to defeat the purpose. My own point of view is, I’m completely invisible on Facebook, I can’t be befriended, and I will only befriend people I know quite well in the real world (I’m only Facebook friends with two people that I haven’t met in the flesh). My Friends are thus the people who I don’t mind knowing my contact details. Now, I think most of my friends use Facebook in the same way. That is, they don’t leave themselves open to random befriendings from strangers. So why the hesitation about details?

I think some of it is about getting used to the difference between this new form of net use, and the old form, where one had to take more care. Indeed, navigating this line is where most of the current Facebook horror stories come from, all of which come down to: don’t be a complete idiot. That sort of stuff only happens to people who let anyone befriend them and then put their credit card details online. If you’re not that sort of plank, and only dealing with actual friends, then sharing a degree more personal info is, I think, useful.

What can Facebook do for you? Nothing. You see that phone sitting there on your desk, what can it do for you? Nothing. You can do lots of stuff using it. So can your friends. But it, in itself, is not going to rouse itself to housework. My point is: Facebook is a medium for you to do interesting stuff and experience interesting stuff others do. It doesn’t provide passive entertainment.

For instance, you know those groups people start: We Love Wispa Bars! Everyone arrives, and says how they love Wispa Bars too. The Wall gets full of that. But whoever started the group thinks that’s basically the subject covered then, and buggers off to start Aren’t Chocolate Bars Getting Smaller These Days? Everyone else sits there looking at each other, wondering when the fun’s going to start. Whatever said fun could possibly be. Now, I don’t blame them so much. I blame whoever started a group with the idea that they themselves wouldn’t have to provide any content. Generally, I give groups I join a couple of weeks, and see if content is provided by the originators, and then hop it if it isn’t.

There are a number of great Facebook groups that do provide such content. SFX and Doctor Who Magazine both have groups where staffers interact with the readers, and material for future issues (like interview questions) is harvested. Big Finish Audio gets it right too. In Support of the Writers Guild of America Strike is basically the complete resource of everything you need to know. (Facebook is great for group action, but some causes are served better than others. A campaign to take the ‘is’ out of the status update line was successful, because Facebook were watching it. Campaigning for anyone to win Strictly Come Dancing strikes one as being embarrassingly futile. And some campaigns, those that seek to get a certain number of people to sign up, should really be called Make Me Feel Validated By Joining My Group In Huge Numbers.) Make Mine Marvel UK and the70s TV Weirdness club are right on the cusp: their creators added loads of good material initially (and Kim Newman has created whole essays for the latter), but now the crowd assembled really should repay that with some more work of their own. Some groups work fine just by reader contribution: Signs That Fascinate And Intrigue wouldn’t work so well in any other medium. But as for When I Was Your Age Pluto Was A Planet… yes. And?

It’s the Applications that Facebook lives and dies on. The killer app is of course Scrabulous, the first game that works better on Facebook than it does in real life. I have games going with fellow comics writers, SF writers, and I run a league for people in my town. (My town actually runs on Facebook, with gigs and nights down the bar registered as Events, so that they’ll show up on our Calendars, and thus advertise themselves to our fellows.) We still await the second great game app. The Quiz function of Movies, which has allowed various fan mates to set truly diabolical quizzes, nearly gets there, but it’s not what Movies was quite designed for. Various people have developed large scale fantasy games: (author) Garth Nix just invited me to have a go at his, Imperial Galaxy, but I haven’t tried it yet so can’t comment (though Garth has a reputation that convinces me I should).

Some applications took the place of what should have been Facebook functionality. Circle of Friends enabled one to organise your Friends into groups and then message them as groups, something very useful when you don’t want to, for instance, invite mates in L.A. to drinks in Oxfordshire tonight. Facebook have responded to that by altering their Friends mechanisms to allow something similar (though it’s still pretty damn buggy).

I like an Application that either provides me with fun (Political Compass, IQ Test), or serves a purpose (I Like, which I use to put up a new music video every Saturday). I don’t like Applications that insist (rather than ask and provide a Skip button) that you tell all your friends about them. That’s not viral advertising, that herpes advertising. (But I’ve only encountered a couple like that.) And I don’t like Applications that send you notifications as though you’ve signed up to them, when people are just asking you to. No, Sheila from down the bar hasn’t sent me a message, she’s sent me an invitation to join your Application. There really also should be certain kinds of Application that distribute passively without having to join them. Christmas Cards, for example, shouldn’t have needed an opt in to see cards other people have sent you. But that may be technically impossible.

One thing people feel anxious about on Facebook is turning down such requests to join an Application. Particularly for those Pirate, Vampire and Zombie games, the invitations to join which are phrased quite aggressively. ‘Frank Darcy has bitten a chunk out of you. Do you want to bite him back?’ Myself, I merrily hit Ignore Ignore Ignore and think no more of it. But some people worry that the person who sent the original invite will get a message saying ‘Frank, Paul has Ignored you. Do you now want to bite a chunk out of him in real life?’ I’ve never encountered an application that keeps score like that, and I think most such group invites are sent not to a specifically selected group of Friends, but to everyone in the address book, and that those who send them aren’t paying much attention to who declines. That’s also why, I think, people who put signs on their Profiles saying ‘I Ignore Zombies’ are still irritated by them. Nobody who’s doing that has seen the sign. There’s a group that’s been started up asking Facebook to be able to turn down such Applications with one negative response, rather than having to keep doing so, and I think that’s probably a good idea.

One thing I don’t like, though, is Facebook naysayers on Facebook. That is, people who join groups called No I Don’t Want To Be A Zombie, **** Off! And especially those who endlessly update with ‘can’t see the point of Facebook’ and ‘is still bemused at why she’s here’. I gather someone must be standing beside these people at their computers, forcing them at gunpoint to participate against their will. I don’t know about you, but if I’m at a party, and I’m asked to join a game of Twister, and I don’t fancy it, I don’t stand on a chair, announce I’m starting the anti-Twister league and call for members.

Some Applications work for other folk, but not for me. I just have a Wall, not a Fun Wall or a Super Wall, because I know exactly the sort of things Guy and Simon and Khal would put on my Fun Wall (indeed, I’ve taken on the Application for five minutes, and had a look, and yes they did) and not in front of everyone else, thank you. I’m excited to use Books to plonk one-click Amazon links to my own titles near the top of my Profile, and then Posted Items to feature Caroline’s two bands.

The central point of my life on Facebook is to gather together people I really know, entertain them, and be entertained by them. The morning selection of everything people have been doing, of tiny quotes about their lives, of heartbreaking or heartwarming changes in status (‘… is no longer in a relationship’, updated ‘interested in’…) is worth the whole system in itself. I’ve gotten on good terms with (nearly) all my exes as a result of contacting them through Facebook. My Social Timeline has (nearly) sorted out my confused and impossible past into something resembling a narrative. And the way an old photo of you can pop up from someone else, with your image tagged in it, and thus call you to see it, is again a new glory of the internet age. There’s your past, popping up again all around you. Wow.

In the New Year, I’m hoping Facebook will continue to listen and innovate, and that Applications, and the advertising they bring, will continue to be the revenue generator of choice. I don’t think it’s a waste of my time, I think it’s using my time well, because it’s all used on my friends. And as I said, I think in a few years time it’ll just be what we mean when we say ‘the internet’.

There we go! I’m going to talk about Doctor Who towards the end of the Twelve Blogs, I promise, both about my story and the Christmas special.

Today’s links are about radio this very evening:

At 5pm, on Resonance FM (104.4FM (London) / streamed at www.resonancefm.com / podcast at www.panelborders.com) Alex Fitch and Duncan Nott are looking at the depiction of beloved children's characters in comics, and are talking with a mate of mine, Fables artist Mark Buckingham, and then with the Transformers chaps, Geoff Senior and Simon Furman.

Then, at 6.30pm, Penny Broadhurst, pop star of this parish, is on Radio Four, http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=7858817270 as part of 28 Acts In 28 Minutes.

Do give them a listen, and until I see you tomorrow, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Six

To Green Park last night, where my Agent and his chums had their annual agency drinks. Much fun with (authors) Alan Campbell (who brought his Dad along, it seems to be my year for meeting authors’ Dads), Pat Cadigan, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, China Mieville and N.M. Browne, (Sir) Antony Sher, (theatre director) Greg Doran and (editor) Peter Lavery. And it turns out that Mic, whose agency this is, may have known Mad Lord Berners, of the Manor in my little town here, who encouraged Salvador Dali to make his way across the market place in a diving suit. We’re still trying to work out if her memories of the man are chronologically possible.

I was asleep on the train in, knackered, having only just today completed new drafts to all my TV project notes, and only finally as I type this being able to say I’m finished work for this year. But the evening reinvigorated me. My Agent knows how to have fun. Indeed, in a lot of ways, that seems rather to be his job. I came home convinced that a vital part of the whole ritual of Christmas is to be too busy, to take on getting all those card addresses and getting all the presents in, and watering the tree, and rushing about for work, so that you know that when you’ve finished, you’ve really finished. It’s the depth of experience across a holiday season that makes it, hopefully of a pleasing nature, and of a sort that connects one to others, and I hope that by doing these blogs I’m contributing to that.

Lovely to get a DVD and mug from those lovely folk at Doctor Who Confidential. That show has a real family atmosphere amongst the team. Cheers, dears.

In the shops today is the new edition of SFX Magazine, issue 165, which includes their regular Book Club feature, this time by yours truly on the subject of The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James. And it’s in the spirit of that author that I’d like to present:

An Occurrence at Slocombe Priory

It was in the year 19—that Prof. Regulus decided upon himself to visit certain relatives he had in the country, mostly for the purpose of impressing upon them his new credentials as occupant of the Sebun Chair at Keble. They had taken to sending him chatty postcards, and on the arrival of each one, he would turn to his companions at high table and remark that said relatives seemed entirely unaware of the sort of man they were addressing.

So it was with a certain energy that, upon the going down of his students (and if there was anything Regulus liked it was his students going down), Regulus journeyed that summer to the county of S-. He spent time in the bookshops of W- before he caught his connection, and selected several volumes, bought mostly for their bindings, the value of which was clearly unknown to the bookshop owners in question. Unfortunately, when he arrived at the station in C – S - , he found no transport to meet him.

'Why, that is typical,’ he thought. ‘Still, it is only two miles. And it is a splendid summer day (for it was, at that point). I shall walk.’

Regulus set off. But after a certain while, he became convinced that he had already walked more than the two miles he had anticipated. The fields went on, empty. He was looked down upon by distant hills. The road went on. And there had been no traffic. Which started to strike him as odd.

So it was with some relief, and a jolt of annoyance at his own silliness for starting to worry when there had been only an open road and a lovely day, that Regulus found a colourful conveyance coming up behind him. Why, it was some sort of van! Now, what was done in these circumstances? He realised, and stuck out his thumb, for just a moment, before he realised how vulgar and pleading he looked, and turned the movement into an odd sort of wave.

Thankfully, the van came to a halt anyway. It really was most oddly decorated, with swirls of colour as might be painted by someone in an opiate vision. There was an insignia on the side, perhaps that of a company

'Mystery Machine,’ read Regulus. Well! Ad augusta per angusta! And absit omen for that matter!

A youth looked out from the van, a solid sort of the kind who won Blues, but for a cravat that gave him an altogether more worrying air. But his greeting was pleasant enough, and Regulus consented to his offer of transport.

Inside the van as it pulled away, Regulus was confronted with a young lady who was attired entirely inappropriately for anything of which a confirmed bachelor might conceive. He looked the other way, only to find himself seated between another such. But this one at least was not so troubling, dressed as she was, oddly, for far colder weather than this bright day.

Regulus looked at her long socks and enormous pullover and asked if she was up for a hike. The young lady said she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly, and expressed considerable relief when he repeated himself. She introduced herself as Miss V- D -, which also came as something of shock, and her companions as Miss D – B – and Mr. F – J -.

There came a sound from the rear of the vehicle, and Regulus was startled once again at the sight of what he assumed to be a vagrant, dressed in a long smock of a light green colour. The man was introduced only as S -. With him sat the most enormous dog Regulus had ever seen. What could it be? Perhaps a Great Dane? No, for surely no such creature had ever had such extraordinary features! S – opined that Regulus looked as if he had seen a ghost, at which the dog went into frightful conniptions, grabbing hold of his master and making noises both terrified and terrifying, until the peasant calmed the beast with some sort of foodstuff taken from a small and dirty bag.

Regulus turned to face the front, and hoped they would reach the address he had given with all due dispatch.

However, it was not to be. The van’s engine made startling noises, and F -, at the wheel, announced that some sort of problem with the mechanism had manifested itself.

They came to a halt in front of a building that, while having some features of architectural interest, offered a forbidding aspect. Rooks flew unseasonably from high windows, which gazed down long and cold. And could it be that it was getting dark already? A sign named the place as Slocombe Priory. Which, the travelers in the van opined, was the strangest name for an old dark house that they had ever heard.

Regulus felt that perhaps the best course of action would be to make away with himself, but at that very moment, the door of the structure opened, and two figures could be made out within.

The dog very nearly repeated its earlier performance, but Miss D -, her hands imperiously on her hips, called to the figures, asking if perhaps they could offer shelter and succor until aid arrived in the morning.

The two men turned out to be very different in character. One of them, a Mr. Ambrose Angel, was surely the most agreeable, affable chap Regulus had ever encountered. His pleasant countenance and courtly manner immediately made the Professor and his new traveling companions, if they could be described as such, feel welcome. His assistant as caretaker of the Priory, however, Mr. Augustus Snarley, however, was as curt and rude as his superior was kind, and made no secret of his desire that no strangers should stay under this roof this evening. His wishes were thankfully ignored.

And yet, as Regulus took his bags into the house which loomed so massively over him, he wondered if perhaps he was yet thankful.

An hour or so later, Regulus locked the door of a bedroom that had several features of interest, but had fallen into dilapidation, and attempted to sleep.

And he might have. Had he not been disturbed by certain noises.

They were natural sounds, surely. Why, they must be coming from the direction of what could only be the kitchen.

Regulus could have stayed in his bed. But he was an historian, an academic, and he had been born in the country of Y – and felt himself the equal of whatever task might be before him. He was not one to be frightened by trifles. He went to the door and listened.

Yes, there it was again!

He took a breath, and unlocked his door. Then, a moment later he opened the door and left his room.

He followed the sounds to the kitchen. There was definitely something happening within. Lights and noise came from under the door, a thunderous noise, impossible, as if plates and cooking utensils were being thrown around by some tremendous storm!

Regulus shook his head. He could not walk away now. He could open this door. Yes, what was he, a child, a don of Cambridge?! He must see!

He flung open the door.

In later years, Regulus would only rarely speak of what he saw in the kitchen. But the details were always the same. The enormous dog and his emaciated master were the only inhabitants of the room. They both had their mouths open in the attitude of one who is eager to consume food. But the mouths! The sheer gaping vastness of those orifices! The impossible proportions of the spread they had set before them!

Regulus slammed the door and ran before his senses deserted him.

He ran and ran, until he was sure he can hear carnival music in his ears, and that he was running past the same small section of wall, over and over!

He fell against one part of the wall that was a slightly different colour –

And found himself spinning, once, twice, and then into a different corridor!

In his panic, he managed to stumble up the main flight of stairs, his feet slipping beneath him. He fell, and as he fell, he grabbed –

A man in some sort of strange costume. Why, surely, he was wearing a mask!

Or he had been, until Regulus’ desperately gripping fingers had pulled it from him.

And beneath it, oh blessed relief, thanks upon thanks, it was the beneficent Mr. Angel!

‘Ah,’ said Angel. And then ‘why, Regulus, you look as if you have seen a –‘

‘Do not say it,’ said Regulus. He inquired urgently of the man as to whether, despite all that had earlier been said, he might be away that night, before he had further sight of the two monstrosities. To his surprise, Angel readily agreed, and drove the Professor to his final address, where his country friends were surprised to see him, and not at all offended to be woken in the middle of the night. They had missed him at the station, and were sorry.

Regulus had not thought to ask his saviour about his strange attire, and did not think of it until the man was gone. At the step, Angel offered him a strange thanks, that because of him he might have a chance of ‘getting away’ with designs of which Regulus had no knowledge. He expressed opinions concerning the young people and the monsters they brought with them that Regulus could only agree with. He asked Regulus to never return to Slocombe Priory. And Regulus heartily agreed.

He took to his bed in the home of his country friends, in a small room neatly arrayed with a simple eiderdown, and decided to pass the whole experience of as having been in the middle of something which would probably continue without him.

But in his later years, Regulus never would walk a road alone. He was never the first to set foot within a kitchen. And he was never seen to consume a sandwich.

The End.

Until we see each other tomorrow, I shall retire to my rooms, and wish you a fond Cheerio.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Five

I’ve just put up details of the grand prize in our Daily Telegraph short story contest on Facebook. The first prize is the original, framed, art of one of the three illustrations that accompany the story. The winner may pick any one of the three. Overseas winners may wait until the Daily Telegraph place the illustrations online in order to choose their favourite. The art will be signed by me, Mike, inker David Roach and colourist James Offredi, and it will then be delivered anywhere in the world.

There’s still time to enter, at:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=15395870726

I’m loving the response. It’s a very silly, Christmassy sort of contest!

Talking of which, my favourite comment on the whole Harry Sullivan/Giant Clam petition comes from one Candice, who just says ‘hot’. Well, it takes all sorts, Candice.

Now, here’s the meat of today’s blog, this lovely image, with thanks to the wonderful Molly Lazer at Marvel, who sorted out the clearances for me. This is a page from my not yet announced new project at Marvel. It’s very much a tease, in that this page doesn’t feature the lead character/s from the title. And I’m betting you won’t be able to tell, without the context, what’s going on. All I’ll say is that we’re seeing ‘cuts’ between three different scenes on this one page, and that there’s no Marvel continuity involved. But it’s a chance to show off the skills of the wonderful artist involved, who, erm, I don’t actually know if I can name yet, but will credit tomorrow if I can! Here we go:



Go on, what do you make of that? Oh, I love comics!

I did, after all, not mention a couple of my favourite things in the blog devoted to that. One of which was the I, Fanboy Pick of the Week Podcast. This is a podcast from three chaps who follow a simple format. They take turns to pick the best one of all the week’s comics, and then they talk about it. They know how to run a radio show, they keep the humour moving (worse thing about other podcasts, minutes of people laughing at themselves), they follow a wide field of titles and they’re moderate and thoughtful in their critique. Well, usually. Mind you, they know nothing of manga apart from one title about the history of Pot Noodle (no, really), and one of them has a bizarre hatred of pixies, elves and fairies. But I do commend them to you. They live at:

http://www.ifanboy.com/

They certainly fill the gap while I pine for the long-gone The Week in Whedon.

I haven’t yet picked up Garth Ennis’ Dan Dare, because I haven’t been near a comic shop, but from the samples he’s placed online, it looks absolutely perfect, a worthy successor to the Frank Hampson originals which are so dear to me. I love Garth’s war comics, which, while representing the horrors involved, don’t disgrace people like my Dad, for whom that horror was everyday experience. Dan’s safe in his hands, I think.

The other thing I should mention is The Prestige. It’s become one of my favourite movies. Above and beyond being a superb film about magicians, that delights with its performances and reversals, it’s also a tremendous movie about male rivalry. I mention it on Joe Gordon’s blog’s Best of the Year feature, which I’m sharing with (comic writers) Leah Moore and John Reppion:

http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/?p=6019

Today’s link is for the downloadable fanzine Shooty Dog Thing, now available from Brax. It includes a tribute to the late, lamented fan, author and critic Craig Hinton:

http://brax-zine.blogspot.com/

Anyhow, tomorrow will hopefully bring one of my more solid essays. Until I see you then, Cheerio!


The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Four

I’m starting to feel more properly festive now. The quality of light here is getting absolutely right. Not just wintery, but that Scandinavian darkness that requires us to put small lights up within it, to say that in death we are in life. Perhaps centuries ago, the snow that those clouds like they might bring was life-threatening, but now it’s just magic out of something so bleak. Time to light fires and gather together. That feeling is helped by the ceremony of getting in touch with people so as to send cards out, on this, the Last Day of the Second Class Post. That’s actually why we do this whole card business, I think, to swap those e-mails that ask for your address in return, and how are you keeping these days? The Fifteen Minute Club, the talent show down the Portwell, ended last night with Caroline and Helen and newly-engaged Mel singing carols, after Neil had treated us to his singalong punk version of ‘Silent Night’. Drinks with my Agent tomorrow night. Ah, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Okay, first off, the announcement. (Pyr Books Editor and publisher) Lou Anders has accepted ‘Catherine Drewe’, the first of what I hope to be a series of SF stories concerning a new character, Jonathan Hamilton, for publication in his latest anthology, Fast Forward 2. It’ll be out next October, John Picacio is doing the cover, and I’m joining stories already accepted from Jack Skillingstead, Nancy Kress and Paul McAuley. I’ve nearly finished the second Hamilton story (which I’ll be pitching to another anthology) and have material together for the third. These are violent, rather to the point espionage stories, set in the future, in a world that diverged from our own at a point which I may hint at, but I look forward to letting the reader figure out for themselves. Here’s the first Fast Forward anthology, with some lovely review quotes:

http://www.louanders.com/FastForwardPage.htm

I feel like I’m going to be in good company.

The Facebook contest in association with my Doctor Who story in the Daily Telegraph has now generated many, many responses. We’ll be announcing the major prize tomorrow. And the Harry Sullivan/Mutant Clam petition score stands, tonight, at 143. More news as we get it. But now, to the main feature.

In today’s blog, I’d like to talk about the relationship between audiences and drama. Something that I always end up saying at conventions, often when I’m on panels about Battlestar Galactica, is: drama is not your puppy. By which I mean to say that in the course of a good drama, characters the viewer cares about may well be hurt, die (not always heroically), make bad choices, do bad things, agonise you with what they’re doing and with what is being done to them. As I said yesterday, as much as I love Studio 60 or any other Aaron Sorkin drama, I’ll hesitate before watching it, and sometimes opt for lighter fare, because I know it’s going to hurt me. That’s the contract I make with it. It’s not there to console me, comfort me, make me feel better right now, although it may end up doing that in the end. The comfort it finally affords me is that of the blues. It’s actually there to make me feel alive and connected with the rest of human experience, hopefully extreme human experience that I’d prefer to do like this rather than first hand, thanks very much. Now, you’re probably thinking, well, obviously. What’s the alternative? Well, let’s not name all the telefantasy shows over the years where the leads are incapable of human weakness, heroes rather than people. That’s rather grand in the original Star Trek, in the context of TV back then (and not quite the case, even), but not if you want to take any of the sequel shows seriously. (Deep Space Nine being the one that broke the mold.) The trouble some fans have with the new Galactica is that it’s ‘impossible to identify with anyone for very long’. That is to say, every character eventually, at some point, acts like an ass. As in life. As, often, in non-telefantasy shows on network TV, where characters are allowed light and dark. But Galactica’s not even that. Galactica’s a cable show, and cable is the place where we’re successfully asked to identify with protagonists who are in crime families.

To give an example of where cable can take us, Titus Pullo, the central character of the terrific Rome, is at one point called upon to go and kill Cicero (David Bamber, also wonderful as Constantine in Caroline’s Doctor Who play The Council of Nicea). Titus makes a day out of it, takes his family for a picnic nearby, and then goes and matter of factly tells Cicero his time has come, and gives him a few minutes to compose himself. When the writer and politician is ready, Pullo mercifully guts him and cheerfully goes on his way. Now, Cicero is not a ‘bad guy’. He’s shown duplicity and cowardice, sure, but we’re broadly in sympathy with him, and he dies with great nobility. He’s murdered only for being on the wrong side at the wrong time. But at no point do we lose our sympathy for Pullo, doing what he does. We’re taken on an extreme journey with him. He makes us very uncomfortable. But it is not necessary for him to be heroic for us to find him compelling and worthy of our wanting him to survive the series.

But compare with when the great Joss Whedon tried to suggest that Buffy might get into a dark place and be self-destructive and nihilistic and want to have rather too much goth sex with Spike. Even as a character arc, which was obviously going to lead back to light and heroism, it caused an outcry. Consider the handful of Doctor Who fans (to use an example close to my own heart) who refused to identify with John Smith for a heartbeat after he allowed Tim to be beaten. Consider the comics fans who rail against anything that ‘hurts’ their favourite character (as opposed to harms the integrity of, although the two are used interchangeably).

My point is, drama hurts, so if you want telefantasy and comics characters to be in drama, they’re going to get hurt and do hurt in ways which will hurt you, the reader. You getting hurt is actually the aim, above and beyond your identification with the character. Because if you can be hurt deeply, you’ve also been opened up to being moved, and filled with joy, and given access to all those other deep feelings of drama. But you can’t get that without buying the ticket.

Now, if you’re thinking I’m being too harsh here, I have three caveats. Firstly, you might want to go ‘hey, I just want some escapist fun, I never claimed I wanted drama’. Fair enough, I love escapist fun too, I take the Spy Who Loved Me option, very often. But please don’t do that and then claim dramatic gravitas for your favourite escapist fun. Secondly, I was bullied like hell was a kid, I think you might well have been too. One of the consequences of that is we can have trouble with deep emotion, because connecting to people only leads to hurt. We tend to call drama ‘soap opera’ and have a very British stiff upper lip. We find actual soap operas, with their staged high emotion, to be terrible spectacles of incontinent peril that threaten to suck us in. Maybe we’re attracted to pure hero shows because of the very light manipulation of drama muscles therein. I know I am. You guys who share my feelings about that stuff shouldn’t feel put upon by anything I’m saying here. In fact, I hope nobody does. We all have to experience drama in our own way, and I’m just making a few observations.

My third caveat is of a different order. SF and Fantasy fans in all media are excusably highly sensitised to writers hurting them, because that has sometimes been done not for the purposes of drama, but deliberately. It’s been done to mock a certain sort of consumer, or suggest that times have changed and old school readers should shape up or ship out, or because a creator’s not comfortable with their own fannishness, or to distance a title from the low-selling ghettos.

I think it’s important for both fans and creators to know where that line lies. I’ve seen creators who I know for a fact care for nothing but the drama accused of taking jabs at fans. I think fandoms in general should think a lot harder about when the hurt is caused by not what they should disdain, but by what they should pursue. But in return for an acceptance of extremity, of drama, I think it’s necessary for creators never to lash out at those that love their characters.

Why is this an issue for me now? Because if you love certain British Marvel Comics heroes, you should know I’m going to put them through drama next year. You could say, therefore, that I want to hurt them, and that I want to hurt you. But only, I promise, for the best possible reasons.

Hmm. I hope everyone who read that last paragraph started at the top of the article. Anyhow, phew, that felt like a bit of a blog workout, hopefully not for you too!

Today’s link is from the multi-talented Barnaby Edwards, fine artist, actor, Dalek operator on the new series of Doctor Who, and audio writer. He’s just adapted (and directed) The Phantom of the Opera as a full cast audio drama for the new Big Finish Classics series, starring Anna Massey, James D'Arcy, Alexander Siddig and Peter Guinness. It’s available for download now, will be out on CD in March, and BBC7 will transmit Episode One on Sunday 23rd December at 6pm (and each subsequent Sunday for a further three weeks). Go on, go have a look:

http://shop.bigfinish.info/

Until I see you tomorrow, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Three

Yesterday, I created a Facebook Event for my Daily Telegraph short story, and, bless him, my Agent Simon made great efforts and, overnight, to my surprise, added a contest! So, if you’re a Facebook member, you can win a special big prize… though at this point I don’t know what that is. Go have a look at:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=15395870726

And I do apologise about what you have to do to enter. I’d have gone for ‘Simon is great’.

That petition I mentioned in the First Blog of Christmas, calling for Character Options to make an action figure of Harry Sullivan and the Giant Clam: 137 of you have signed it now. You do know that if it happens, we’re all now morally obliged to buy one?

Today, I’d like to mention a few media items that I thought were the best of their kind this year. Now, these aren’t all of my favourite things. My automatic first pick in a new pile of comics, for example, would be a Bendis Avengers, a Brubaker Captain America or Fables. But those titles are all vastly supported, and all my praise would be praise that has been uttered before. So there’s an element with the following of promoting things that perhaps need a bit of promotion. Or that I just foolishly believe I have new things to say about…

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. This show, (writer) Aaron Sorkin’s follow up to The West Wing, has been my absolute pleasure this year. It’s The West Wing about writers. It specifically concerns the cast and crew of a fictional late night variety show on American TV. It came to Britain having already been cancelled, despite huge initial ratings. In the first few episodes, that unfortunately feels slightly justified, as the show struggles to find a tone. But around week four, it decides who the central characters are and what’s fun, gets on a roll, and doesn’t let up. What I love about Sorkin’s writing is that watching one of his shows is like reading the new book by a favourite novelist. It’s immersive. It’s not an easy ride, and it’s not mitigated by the smoothing out process of tone meetings and what the market will bear. You know it’s going to hurt. (Indeed, I’ll sometimes actually hesitate before playing a new episode, when I’d like something more comforting: this is something I’ll return to in my blog about drama and audiences later this Christmas.) You’re in his head. He doesn’t plan ahead, he writes each show as a reaction to the last. It’s like watching someone expertly dancing on a highwire. When he’s casting around for what to do next, even when he’s having an off day, he’s at his most exciting, because things get a bit woozy and punch drunk and dreamy, and he’ll have a character just do something extreme, and see where that gets him. It means that these aren’t ‘characters’ in the sense of formed individuals, the quirks of which we can sympathise with and anticipate. These are written people, capable of the sudden chaotic surprises which contribute to character in the real world. Lest I make it sound like outsider art, the urbanity of his knowledge and his absolute commitment to sweetening the pot with at least one cracking high quality line of wit every thirty seconds make this a very satisfying ride too. Sorkin loves competence, and despises fools. All his best characters are people who know what they’re doing, and he can convince you he knows the details of that, from the very young doctor who we’re gradually shown has no people skills but is a great medic, to all the sides and strategies and complexes of great writers. The three-part episode ‘K&R’, which uses flashbacks to examine the differences between America now and in the immediate wake of 9/11, has claim to being one of Sorkin’s many masterpieces. In Sarah Paulson’s Harriet Hayes, not just a Christian, but an evangelical who leans to the right, Sorkin convinces us (as he didn’t quite do in The West Wing) with his ability to right empathetically for those opposite to himself, and presents someone who (apart from the evangelical and right wing bit) goes through situations and confrontations I recognise from my own life, and have never seen portrayed elsewhere. Her relationship-long row with Matthew Perry’s atheistic Matt Albie, pictured in a series of jump cuts of them having the row everywhere, from in bed to walking past Buckingham Palace, a theological debate which was also entirely about them and formed the centre of their compromised and difficult lives, was like watching the truth portrayed as a firework display. I know people who jumped this ship when Bradley Whitford’s character Danny Tripp went overboard in his declaration of love for Amanda Peet’s Jordan McDeere, and sounded and acted obsessive. Yes, he was scary for a moment there. He took a while to win us back. Because he wasn’t a character for a moment there. He was real. I’m sad it’s gone. I want to see Timothy Busfield and Allison Janney have yet another go at continuing their onscreen chemistry from The West Wing through this to something else. (And what other show would guest star her so they could do that?) I’m glad that Jennifer Aniston and Jasper Carrott (through his daughter Lucy Davis on this show) are now down to two degrees of separation. And I’m very glad Studio 60 existed.

The Atom. Gail Simone is one of my favourite comics writers, and this is my favourite, and somewhat neglected, book of hers, co-created with Grant Morrison. It’s the story of Ryan Choi, a professor at Ivy Town University, whose hero was fellow academic, and superhero, Ray Palmer. He finds himself taking on Palmer’s titular alter ego, and with it the equipment that allows him to shrink. But that’s not the point of the title. It most resembles a high end American television comedy drama, and, from issue one, is beautifully easy for newcomers to the DC universe, or even comics in general. Ivy Town is strange. There’s an alien civilization living on the fur of Ryan’s dog, one of whom (a floating disembodied head with an urgent turn of phrase) becomes Ryan’s flatmate. There’s a supervillain, Giganta, on the university staff. She fancies our hero, and, despite her having once, erm, swallowed him, he reciprocates as far as going out to dinner with her, which is unfortunately interrupted by his date having to battle Wonder Woman. The supporting cast of eccentric academics is as interesting as the superheroics, Ryan is an engaging hero who approaches his surreal adventures with a boggled scientific glee. And while this is the comic that most often makes me laugh out loud, it also had room for a moving story where Ryan goes home to Hong Kong to find that his childhood bullies are as terrible as he remembers them… and now also undead. The comic plays with the medium, having not only a narration by Choi, but apposite, or sometimes mocking, quotes placed as footnotes. The closest precedent I can think of is the work of Steve Gerber, and that’s the highest possible praise.

Overpowered by Roisin Murphy. The former singer with Moloko, post the break up of that band, initially dabbled in experimental electronica, before obviously thinking sod that for a game of soldiers, and deciding to have some huge pop hits again. This album should have given her some, and perhaps still will, because it’s the most approachable first listen I’ve heard in ages, playing like a greatest hits. This is dance pop of the highest order, soulful and atmospheric, with loads of romantic disco, Goldfrapp, Chic, Tom Tom Club and Prince thrown into the mix. You’ll hear noises on here that you only realise you’ve missed for a couple of decades now they’re back. The groove is the most important thing throughout, but Murphy has a fine turn of phrase, and an eye for atmospheric detail. ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ for example is a heartfelt declaration of a child’s love for her father. The next time James Bond walks into a club, Murphy ought to be onstage. Or better yet, give her the next theme. Lush.

I’ve read a lot of quality non-fiction this year, including Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, which is what I’d sought for a long time, the book to read to know about the current state of knowledge concerning the universe. Now when there’s a New Scientist story about Planck Lengths (my new favourite thing, that physics doesn’t apply below certain sizes of space and time) or the holographic universe, or the staggering odds against the cosmos being suitable for life, I can follow. It turns out the moon is still there when we’re not looking at it. Probably. You know when you’re down the pub and someone starts talking about cosmology, and suddenly everyone’s meaningfully asserting bollocks for two hours? It’s probably more fun if everyone went off and read this instead. I’m also raced through Robert Harvey’s The War of Wars, a fantastic overview of the Napoleonic wars, from the causes of the French Revolution onwards. It’s widescreen, doesn’t have an axe to grind, and shows us Napoleon in his grandeur and shabbiness and once. Nelson, on the other hand, bar a few human flaws, makes a bloke get a little tearful with every single thing glorious thing he does.

In terms of fiction, it’s hard to know where to start. People like Chris Roberson, Stephen Baxter, Susannah Clarke, Ian McDonald and Simon Spurrier have entertained me vastly this year. (No David Louis Edelman until next year.) I’m looking forward to getting into Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora and Iain Banks’ Matter.

My magazine choices have been fixed pretty solidly at SFX, Wired, Fortean Times (which is rallying a bit now, having become a touch less ideological, though bagging it with The Week this month was a bit rubbish), Wired, New Scientist and The Word.

In anime, I’m just discovering the mindboggling New Romantic Heavy Metal lesbian swordfighting wonder that is Revolutionary Girl Utena. But that deserves a blog of its own. And it’s always good to use the word ‘lesbian’ in a blog over Christmas, because it boosts my hit rate enormously. Especially last year, when I mentioned Rude Lesbian Nurses. Oops, I did it again. I’ve already spoken of the delights of Samurai Champloo, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cutting edge SF of Paprika and Solid State Society, the former a somewhat more humane take on the cyberpunk thing that felt to me more authentically Japanese in its emotional outreach.

Today’s link comes courtesy of Cubicle 7, the chaps who are doing the new Doctor Who roleplaying game. Here’s their site, and a forum where they talk over some of the things they’re planning to do:


http://www.cubicle-7.com/

I’m sure I’ve missed something. I’m sure I’ve missed something important. But I’m equally sure you’ll tell me. Until tomorrow, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Two

I’m very pleased to announce that, once again, I’ve got a Christmas Doctor Who short story in a broadsheet newspaper. This one, ‘The Hopes and Fears of All the Years’ is going to be in the Daily Telegraph a week today, this is on Saturday 22nd December. It’ll also be on the Telegraph website:

www.telegraph.co.uk

And there will be some fantastic illustrations by the lovely Mike Collins, who draws the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. Mike’s website, with samples of his work in general, is here:

http://www.freakhousegraphics.co.uk/

I do hope you enjoy it. I really enjoy doing these stories. When I was a kid, I’d always write a Doctor Who story at Christmas, often featuring Saul, the sentient church who then went on to appear in my first Doctor Who New Adventures novel. I suppose my career’s come full circle.

Last night, we went out to see Boogie Me, the nineteen piece rhythm and blues orchestra that Caroline sings with. They topped and tailed a cabaret for the birthday of a friend of ours, and, as always, gained momentum throughout, until everybody was dancing at the end. I’d rolled in only about an hour before from (critic and author) Kim Newman’s Christmas lunch, which poor old Kim had to leave early because of illness. I was sat with (artist) Judith Clute and Barry Forshaw, now a critic and writer on crime fiction and SF, who, back in the day, did some artwork for Doctor Who Magazine himself. And it was appalling as always to see (horror editor and publisher) Stephen Jones, who was delightfully quarrelsome as ever.

Anyhow, tomorrow will hopefully see the first of my meatier topics of this year’s Twelve Blogs, when I attempt to review this year’s Favourite Things. I leave you with this little gem from, ahem, The Fast Ood Rockers, which, as I believe the young people say, ‘mashes up’ Doctor Who, Goldfrapp and a few other things in a satisfying way:

http://www.arjanwrites.com/arjanwrites/2007/11/listen-to-fast.html

Until tomorrow, Cheerio!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: One

Here we are, the first of the Twelve Blogs of Christmas, my now traditional (by which I mean, in the British fashion, that this is the second year) run up to Christmas in which I invalidate my holiday by, well, writing a lot, one blog a day.

It’s been a huge year for me: Human Nature on telly, Japan, Wisdom published by Marvel, the Writers’ Guild Award, getting back to writing prose on a regular basis. It’s been great, but also a lot of work, and I’m still hard at it. Yesterday, I sent in a new draft of the new pilot script for my pitch for a BBC Saturday night series, and was pleased when it was sent on to the Senior Partners. You know how this goes: one cannot bet on anything in my profession, but I’m pleased with it. I’m also right in the middle of plotting something else for television, and am nearly at the end of an SF short story, the second in a series, the first of which I’ve already sold. I always loved, in my youth, discovering SF series stories in different collections and magazines, and I hope to be able to continue that tradition. (I may well be able to let you know the destination of the first one in this run of blogs.) I’m also knocking Excalibur ideas back and forth with my editor at Marvel, Naughty Nick Lowe, and loving seeing the pencil pages of both the Vision one-off and that other comic project coming through. Goodness, don’t Marvel employ some talented artists? I’m also proud to have had the opportunity, which I never expected, to actively support the Writers’ Guild of America strike, deciding, with the support of my agency, not to cross their picket line and write for an American show (nothing you’ve heard of).

Today I’ll be whizzing into London to meet up with author and SF critic Kim Newman and his pals (I’m wondering whether or not to continue those little descriptive insertions, but the trouble is, I know I’m addressing at least four different audiences, who don’t tend to know who each other’s heroes are) for Kim’s regular Christmas lunch. I always enjoy these get togethers, where I find myself seated beside either old friends like (authors) Pat Cadigan and John Courtenay Grimwood, or get to meet lovely new people like last year with (author) Robert Holdstock. See? Now I’ve pointed it out, you’re finding it annoying too. Then tonight, the nineteen-piece rhythm and blues orchestra for which Caroline sings, Boogie Me, are playing a private party, which is going to be a tremendous bash. They’re also playing New Year’s Eve.

I’m now usually at home alone during my working day, which has taken some getting used to, but I’m there now. I pop out for a sandwich at lunch time, or work on the laptop in a coffee shop, so I get to see people. My concentration levels are right up, I’m getting a lot more done, and my internal voices are back. Not just internal. I’m vocalising just about everything. ‘I wonder,’ I said out loud to myself in front of the fridge the other day, ‘how much milk is left?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I replied, ‘I suppose we’ll find out’. And then I stopped mid-step and got quite scared. It’s just one more of those things from real life that I couldn’t put in a script.

I’ve decorated the lounge, letting tinsel fall when the evaporation of blutack dictates it. So the room feels more like some sort of festive jungle, with downward as well as horizontal spangliness. There is even a small tree, bought from the florist round the corner. Presents are nearly sorted, largely thanks to the amazing ability of our small but perfect local bookshop, White Horse Books, to get orders back the next day. Cards are a different matter. I’d like to do e-cards, but I can’t find a service that offers classy enough cards for the right charity. I suspect whoever sorts that is made for life. It may well be a last minute scribbling match. You should see my list. Two hundred names! Some winnowing may well be in order.

But amongst all that, my usual sense of the numinous, which normally starts manifesting itself around this time of year, and reaches its apex at Midnight Mass, and has something to do with the quality of light, rich food and dark beer, and a sense of imminence in the countryside, has so far kept itself to a distant rumble. The beacon atop the Folly Tower, lit only at Christmas and visible from the big window in my kitchen, helps. As do the ‘friends with tired eyes’ down the bar and the lights and tree in the market place. And Kate Bush has made her contribution with ‘Lyra’, a new track that displays her usual connection to the magic. But no… hopefully stopping work and getting out into that light more, and focusing on the qualities I seek, may get me there. I shouldn’t treat this as a quest, because that way lies disappointment, but, well… we’ll see.

In the days to come, as well as the usual year in review pieces, I hope to be blogging about: The Beatles; Chris Claremont; Facebook etiquette and the fine line between the need for drama to hurt an audience and deliberately hurting them and the need for fans to recognise the difference (hmm, snappy title needed?) I’ll also be posting photos of folk in the terrifying scarecrow masks given away by the clearly deranged Doctor Who Adventures. Also, there will definitely be at least one bit of exciting news.

I’ll be spreading out my links a bit as well. So let’s start with this one. Do you want (excellent Doctor Who action figure manufacturers) Character Options to add (Fourth Doctor companion) Harry Sullivan menaced by a (mutated bivalve) giant clam to their range? You do?(!) Well, now there’s a petition:

http://www.petitiononline.com/hsatgc/petition.html

Goodness. Seventy-nine of you, eh? If it actually happens, you’ll regret it, you know. Anyhow, must get on, so until… tomorrow, Cheerio!

From Dublin to the Culture with Tuxedo

Well, the Dublin Comic Convention was excellent. The Hendrick brothers always provide lush hospitality for their guests, and as well as meeting a bunch of lovely professionals like C.B.Cebulski, Steve McNiven and Jock, it was good to catch up with mates I only see when I’m in Ireland, like Catie Murphy. The late night drunken shenanigans collided with the day job spectacularly in the early hours of Saturday when one fan showed up at 4am to start queuing for a Jim Lee sketch, and found not the lonely vigil he anticipated, but the party in full swing.

The quiz on the Saturday night, as always ably and eccentrically set by dear Russell, was sheer bloody slaughter, with Mark Millar’s team (‘the Sex Panthers’, I ask you) continually picking on my – well no, on me, to be precise – catcalling about my drunken antics last time Marvel boss Joe Quesada was in town. And buying me pints. Legendary artist Jim Lee is too nice to do that, he just joined in with the tactical alcohol procuring, when my team (‘Team Excalibur’) were in the lead. But then, his vast legion of a team, which included almost every professional present and was probably, I don’t know, using time travel to go back and write the questions, found a new low to sink to. They started selling original sketches for answers. Peyton, on my team, finally broke. He ran over to their table with our answer sheet. Granted, they didn’t believe it, but he got his Batman sketch. Was it worth it, Peyton? Well, yes, probably, but in the end all the cheating and being cheated at professionals teams finished behind a pure team of real people who deserved their win. Millar, of course, made a stirring victory speech for coming joint third. I picked a hardback copy of 300 as my prize. And nearly twatted Peyton with it.

One of the best things about the weekend was seeing new Doctor Who comic artist Nick Roche sketching for kids and showing off his Who art. His David and Freema are stylised and spot on, really capturing their body language. I was on my first Marvel panel too, which made me feel warm inside.

On the Sunday morning I breakfasted in my tuxedo (and nothing makes one seem so louche, it is as if you’re ending the day rather than starting it), then flew to London to attend the Writers’ Guild Awards at BAFTA. Myself, Moffat, Gareth and Stephen Greenhorn were there representing all the writers of Season Three of Doctor Who for a series award, up against the previous seasons of Life on Mars and New Tricks. Jeremy Hardy compered with an irreverence appropriate for writers, there were classy presentations from the likes of Joan Collins, and much support for the Writers’ Guild of America strike, which is to secure rights that, largely, British writers already enjoy (they’re on zero royalties for online screening, for goodness’ sake). The editor of Radio Times presented our award, and hey, we won! Moffat made a typically brilliant speech, indicating that he was putting the podium to a use dictated by being confined in the room for too long. And I got to meet various screenwriter heroes like, goodness me, Rosemary Anne Sissons!

And to finish off this trawl through where I’ve been lately, midweek I popped along to Imperial College for a BSFA open meeting, with Iain Banks being interviewed. I got the chance to meet him in the pub beforehand, and what a sweet chap. (We’d vaguely encountered each other in Belfast earlier this year.) The physics lecture theatre where the interview took place had pen doodles deeply etched into the wood of the partitions in front of the seats, so my Agent made a paper plane, and had me chuck it at Third Row Fandom, who were of course down near the front. Lovely to see my SF friends, albeit for far too short a time, but I hope to remedy that a bit tonight, when we’re off for dinner in Oxford. After having experienced the delights of Festive Faringdon, where the town gets together in the Market Place, drinks a gallon of mulled wine, listens to local talent and then Father Christmas arrives on Thomas the Tank Engine and switches on the lights. And that’s the official start of Christmas here. My town does Christmas better than anyone, and the atmosphere of numinous power thus created always takes me on a journey, which I will, as per last year, plot out for you in, once again… The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, one a day, across the holiday. Because I have to.

Oh, and also, hey, this week those nice people at Forbidden Planet found a little Pete Wisdom Heroclix figure, about an inch tall, and sent him to me in the post. He now sits on a small shelf I have, being towered over by Captain Britain (so no change there) and running up behind the Patlabor crew, who are attending a suitably sized Tachikoma from Ghost in the Shell.

And apropos of nothing, an old friend of mine recently found the following e-mail promotion amusing:

‘Greetings from Amazon.co.uk,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated books by P.G. Wodehouse have also purchased Medically Assisted Death by Robert Young. For this reason, you might like to know that Medically Assisted Death is now available. You can order yours for just £15.19 by following the link below.’

I think P.G. would have approved.

But what of work, you ask? Well, I’m waiting on a few things, and have signed on for a couple of cool things (one TV and one radio) of which I cannot say anything yet. Also, I’m seeing the first lovely artwork from a comic that you don’t know about yet. So I’ve been spending my days writing SF short stories at high speed, in a series which I plucked the ideas for out of a dream, and have been throwing down on the page. And having finished the first one I discovered that there’s little as satisfying as completing a story and selling it to an anthology on the same day. It’d be cool to have a series of stories about the same character placed in anthologies and magazines, like used to happen back in the day.

Caroline has nearly finished her thesis, I believe that’s today, so I may see her for more than five minutes soon. And I promise I shall blog more. People down the pub have started to comment. So, we’re backed up on quite a few –

Announcements:

ITEM! In a bold move, those fine folk at Solaris Books are publishing my friend Chris Roberson’s brand new SF novel Three Unbroken in serial form, online, for free, two chapters per week:

http://www.solarisbooks.com/books/three-unbroken/free/index.asp

As the press release puts it: ‘Three Unbroken is the next epic novel in the Celestial Empire sequence and details the explosive war between the Chinese and Aztec empires as they battle for control of the red planet, Fire Star. Based on the sixty-four elements of the I-Ching, Three Unbroken follows the lives of three soldiers from their induction into the armed forces to their eventual fight for survival on the frontline. The events of the novel are contemporaneous with those of The Dragon’s Nine Sons, the first novel in the sequence, set to be published by Solaris in February 2008. The novel will then be published in book form in 2009.’

I think Chris has got a fascinating world going there, and this is a great way of introducing people to it.

ITEM! Penny Broadhurst, pop singer frequenter of this virtual parish, is one of the twenty finalists in the BBC’s new talent search, The Next Big Thing:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7113270.stm

Good luck, Penny!

ITEM! So, you want Davros, creator of the Daleks, doing industrial rap music? Well –

http://www.livevideo.com/video/tonym2m2/AB2F9F77E0C54E29A16E2B0EC342359F/davrosandthedaleks.aspx?m_tkc=7765147

Your wish is my command. I think that one was found by Rob Francis.

ITEM! My home town’s burgeoning but under threat music scene is represented in pictures by this new Flickr group, already with 236 pictures showing the range of talent this place possesses:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/490321@N25

ITEM! It you like comics, you may find this, a Mythbusters of comic gossip urban legends, to be a colossal and continuing drain on your work time…

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2005/06/23/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-history/

Phew! Well that’s that. I hope to see more of you chaps in the next couple of weeks, and have been saving up subjects and energy for the Twelve Blogs of Christmas. So until next I see you, Cheerio!