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Thursday, 26 February 2009

New Stuff

Well, I'm told that the information's shown up on Wikipedia, so I suppose I'm safe to blab about it now... the good folks at JBTV were kind enough to invite me to take time off from development work to pitch something for the US version of Eleventh Hour, and my episode Subway will air on CBS on March 5th. It guest-stars Mariel Hemingway and is directed by ER alumnus Paul McCrane. My thanks to Cyrus and Ethan and everyone in the writers' room for letting me play in their yard.

My second show is titled Medea, and it'll be the season finale on April 2nd.

Can't say too much about that one yet as it's shooting right now, other than that it features Sleeper Cell's Melissa Sagemiller (pictured).

But I will say this - I reckon I've been seriously spoilt by the American pace of creation and production.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Books Do Furnish a Room...

...in a way that DVD or video cases don't. If you're in in any doubt about it, just look at the backgrounds in at-home TV interviews. I think it's something tied in with the physical objects themselves, not just with the intellectual life they represent. A shelfload of shabby old middlebrow novels is way more aesthetically pleasing than one loaded with the finest foreign-language Criterion DVDs.

A friend of mine recently expressed dismay at an LA Times story about an interior designer who'd urged his client to store all his CDs in wallets and discard the cases. But I kiiiiiiiiiind of get what's going on there... I've taken a small step in that direction myself.

Every year I get sent a bunch of awards screeners on DVD. They're produced and packaged exactly like commercial releases but they can't legally be passed on or sold. For the ones I want to keep I discard the cases, number the discs, add the info to my database, and file them. One shoebox-sized container from PC World holds a couple of hundred movies.

Which, of course, frees up my shelf space for books.

The only thing that's kept me from doing the same with the bulk of my retail-bought DVDs is the lingering notion that the packaging is part of the 'value'. But most of the time, it isn't - they're just all-purpose cases with a cheap paper insert, and the only real reason to keep the packaging is for resale purposes. With some DVDs the packaging is a part of the pleasure - my King Kong in a tin box, my Forbidden Planet special edition with a wee Robbie Robot - but 90% of the time, not.

When CDs first came onto the market they sold at a huge premium because those hi-tech shiny discs looked so much like a luxury purchase. But when we started buying blanks and realised that the discs themselves were only worth pennies, I think a process began where in our hearts we started to unshackle digital content from the material of the medium that delivers it.

I'm now thinking that when a suitably capacious storage medium comes along, I can transfer each shoebox of 200 titles onto one disc (or its future equivalent) - 200 unaltered viewing experiences (my TV doesn't care where the data comes from), even more space for books.

I wouldn't apply it to my books. The idea of ripping the covers off to make more room... aieee. It makes my toes curl. For me every one of my books is a "King Kong in a tin".

That's why I have five different editions of The Lost World... a well-handled first, the Pilot and Rodin annotated edition, a '30s Hodder & Stoughton hardcover, a children's paperback, and the Professor Challenger Omnibus in which I first read the tale. If only the text mattered, then any one of those would do. Or I could junk them all and download the words from Gutenberg. But each of them carries a different charge, of association and of the era when it was published. Each one is a different performance of the text.

E-books, though... you download them, you store them on one drive or another, you move them around, you copy them to your device... they never have any physical form at all. The notion of keeping and displaying the cases never arises.

E-books will never replace books. Just most of them.

More than a decade ago Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine wrote of the entertainment industry's struggle to comprehend that their future was in selling bytes, not atoms. By which he meant that they were all about manufacturing and shipping and had no strategy for handling their product in a non-material form.

It's taking a while. But I'd say we're going there.


In the comments section, Gail Renard asks: "Go on. What books would you take with you on a desert island?"


My desert island book would be E V Rieu's prose translation of The Odyssey, the one published by Penguin in the 60s. For me it's got everything. It's a brilliant structure, epic in ambition but always character-centred, and the most amazing heroic/romantic finale. Rieu's prose is plain, elegant and lucid. In the current Penguin edition Rieu's son has improved on the translation, at the expense of the writing. So I'll take one of my two old copies.

(I'd love a nice old hardcover, but... the only hardback edition I ever see is the tarted-up and unprepossessing version put out by the Folio Society, whose books I dislike a LOT).

After that... probably the collected short stories of HG Wells, that nice fat little Benn hardcover that starts with The Time Machine and then collects all the short fiction, including the achingly beautiful The Door in the Wall.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Dose - y - do

Last night in the pub, we were discussing double entendres. I'd heard a good one, supposedly a Square Dance call. Unfortunately my telling of it coincided with one of those unexpected room-wide silences when everyone goes quiet and yours is suddenly the only voice to be heard.

So to the woman in red at the bar who gave me a filthy look, if she should happen to be reading this:

When I said, "After the clap, change partners," it wasn't necessarily what you thought.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Brian Clemens

I just heard from BFS Chairman Guy Adams that the great Brian Clemens will be joining Jasper fforde as a Guest of Honour at this year's British Fantasycon. And if I'm really good I may get to do the interview. How cool is that?

From the events page of the BFS Website:
We are delighted to announce that our second Guest of Honour is Brian Clemens. Born in Surrey in 1931, he is best known as the creative force behind The Avengers, for many of us epitomised by the image of Diana Rigg starring as Mrs Emma Peel. After service in the Army he worked in an advertising agency, during which he wrote a script which attracted the attention of the BBC. And from small beginnings... He later wrote the pilot episode of The Avengers, first shown in 1961. Besides writing for this, he scripted TV shows such as Adam Adamant Lives, The Persuaders, The Professionals and Thriller. A more detailed biography can be found here.

The convention will take place on the weekend of September 18-20, at the Britannia Hotel, 1 St James Street, Nottingham. Ian Watson will be the Master of Ceremonies. Click here for prices and registration information.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Death of the Salesmen

Will I ever work for ITV again? Today's bad news about the broadcaster (pick your own story, there's one every day) makes it seem increasingly unlikely that there'll be an ITV to work for. It seems unthinkable. Like a High Street with no Woolworths'.

Today's ITV isn't a 'dinosaur of the 60s', as one commentator in The Guardian puts it, but a product of the rapacious, consolidating, asset-milking 90s.

ITV in the 60s was a robust, distributed, internally competitive, regionally-aware confederation of strong-management businesses. In the 70s, when I worked for Granada, I was part of a vigorous production centre bursting with an undifferentiated mix of low and high culture. I watched Marc Bolan tape a show in the studio and then went upstairs and peed in the next stall to Laurence Olivier.

Now it's an inflated, vulnerable, London-based monolith with no identity, no staff loyalty, no viewer loyalty, and a helpless management.

It's tragic. I loved ITV, it was part of my life until it switched its focus to the ever-dwindling demographic of couch potatoes that it saw as "the ITV audience". Witnessing its day-to-day fall is like watching a zeppelin crash.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Culture Vultures and Slender Pickings

There are many advantages to living outside London as I do, but there are drawbacks too. If you want all that cosmopolitan stuff, you have to be there in the cosmopolis. Or whatever you call it.

Most of the time it's no big deal. I've got green fields, a dog and a big-screen TV, and any time I need to be in London I can be there in a couple of hours and know that at the end of it I'll be going home to my green fields, retriever and my earth-munching plasma.

I got to know my way around the capital in the mid-seventies, in my first job as a researcher for Yorkshire TV based in their Burlington Street offices. And then later, when I was making Oktober, I took a six-month lease on a flat in West London. That spoiled me somewhat. It's all very well being able to make the trip for a special occasion, but what I miss is what I suppose you might call 'routine culture' - lectures, shows, readings, pub meetings. Things that slot nicely into a couple of hours of your life, but are hard to justify when they involve the loss of two days' work, a night in a hotel, railway parking charges, even kennel fees...

I'm in a few societies, and I rarely get to any of the events they organise unless I can tag them onto a meeting or justify them in some way. I'd love to just hang out in the BAFTA bar. I could, I've got a card and everything. But I'm never there. I've never made it to a Crime Writers' Association party. Friends in the British Fantasy Society are probably forgetting what I look like (or trying to). There are various Writers' Guild events I'd slide along to if I could. Andrew Cartmel kindly invites me to plays and readings all he gets from me in return is drivelling excuses.

And then there's this one, mentioned in an email from the Henry Irving Society, and which pushes my buttons for reasons I can't really explain:
Jeffrey Richards, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Lancaster, is giving a lecture for the Society for Theatre Research at the Art Workers Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1, on Thursday 19 February at 7.20pm. Admission is free. Details are as follows:

John Ruskin and the British Pantomime

This lecture draws on the results of a study carried out by Professor Richards with two colleagues – Professor Kate Newey and Dr Anselm Heinrich. The study they undertook was of art critic and social reformer John Ruskin and the theatre. They were surprised to find that he had wider theatrical interests than they had expected, including a passion for the panto; Ruskin went to several pantos every year and once tried (unsuccessfully, it seems) to persuade Thomas Carlyle to go with him.
Which... I dunno. I just love the whole idea of it.

The irony is that Jeffrey Richards teaches at Lancaster, which isn't far from my doorstep, and Brantwood, Ruskin's Coniston home, is hardly any further. But to put the two together...

There are compensations. Last year there was one similar event given a heads-up by the Irving Society that I was able to make... again a Jeffrey Richards talk, on Irving and his World, and it took place in Blackpool's gorgeous Frank Matcham-designed Grand Theatre (pictured). And then there was the Lucien Freud exhibition in Kendal where, had it been in London, I probably would have had to pay through the nose for a timed ticket and crane over the heads of a crowd to see the pictures... instead of making a short cross-country trip and virtually having the place to myself.

Oh, yes. We're not entirely starved of Technicolor up here.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

You Wouldn't Think It, But...