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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

An Englishman Abroad

...or, Fool, Interrupted. The appearance online of an interview prompts me to a long-overdue blog post about one of the highlights of my 2019. The interview's further down this post and, be warned, I do go on a bit. It was filmed by Magnus Edgarsson on the deck of a floating hotel on the Fyris River, just a short stroll from the centre of Sweden's oldest university town.  The interruptions came courtesy of distant dogs, other residents trucking through, and a far-off football match where things seemed to be going well for one side or the other.

I was in Uppsala at the invitation of The English Bookshop along with fellow writers Juliet McKenna, Steven Savile, and R J Barker. Together we played two panels to a packed house on Saturday evening. One was on crime and the other on fantasy, with the audience switching seats around in between.

It's a terrific bookstore, I have to tell you, a proper readers' paradise with a deep selection of new and backlist titles and tremendous support from its customer base. As a panel I felt we made a good lineup with a variety of angles and, dare I say it, what felt like a good team chemistry. On the Friday evening we were welcomed into the home of our hosts Jan and Isabella - old-style Swedish elegance and bookshelves to die for - and on the Saturday before the session we had a guided tour of the town. It has a long history but for me this comparatively recent feature resonated the most:

Saturday afternoon found us back on the boat taking our turns in front of Magnus' camera. The range of interviews can be found on his dedicated channel here, but this is mine:

On the Sunday before flying home, RJ was off signing stuff while Julia and I were given a walking tour of Stockholm by Swedish adoptee Steve Savile, all the main sights plus the bank where a siege gave rise to the term 'Stockholm Syndrome' and the stairs up which Olaf Palme's killer fled. I can't think of a better way to make a first-time visit.

Monday, 3 February 2020

BAFTA omission

Friday, 30 August 2019

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Spartans vs Dinosaurs

Spartans. Dinosaurs. Seriously, what's not to like?

Spartans vs Dinosaurs

Monday, 5 August 2019

Upcoming Events

August 31st - at the end of this month - you should be able to find me in Derby for Whooverville, the Annual East Midlands get-together organised by Derby's local Doctor Who group.

The event will be held at the QUAD arts venue at Market Place, Cathedral Quarter, Derby. DE1 3AS. The impressive list of fellow guests includes Sarah Sutton and Sophia Myles.

And on September 14th I'll be chatting, reading, panelling, and doing whatever else may be required of me as a guest of The English Bookshop at Svartbäcksgatan 19, Uppsala, Sweden, in an event that will also feature authors R J Barker, Juliet McKenna, and Steven Savile, who first set the ball rolling.

Friday, 21 June 2019

William James: the new edition

The full wrap. Cover photograph by Joseph T Needles of Leadville, Colorado.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

From The Brooligan Press in July

The first UK edition of Stephen Laws' cryptozoological novel Ferocity, and a second paperback edition of The Authentic William James. More information and links to follow.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The Collected Script Links

For convenience I've gathered together links for the scripts I've been making available for download over the past few weeks.

Scroll down through those earlier posts for background and context.

and, hosted elsewhere:

Eleventh Hour: Man Without a Shadow

UPDATE: I've learned that the CBS pilot for Eleventh Hour, adapted by Mick Davis, is also online and can be found here:

Monday, 10 June 2019

Last Script Upload for now: LIfe Line

The last of my script downloads - for now, anyway - is a two-part supernatural mystery that aired on BBC1 in April 2007. It was commissioned by Gareth Neame for Carnival and featured Ray Stevenson, Joanne Whalley, and Jemima Rooper. The director was Jamie Payne.

Life Line began as a short story for Chris Morgan's Dark Fantasies anthology in 1989. I adapted it as a half-hour audio drama for Radio 4's Fear on Four 1n 1994, and then sold it again in 1995 for the never-made second season of Yorkshire TV's Chiller anthology series.

When Gareth asked me to pitch for a BBC1 slot that he was looking to fill, I returned to the premise but completely refashioned my take on the story. The premise was that of a telephone chat line where, it gradually emerged, not all of the participants were among the living. I needed to create something that would go the greater distance, and drive the premise to a decisive conclusion.

It made a slick, good-looking show with a fine cast. My instinct was that it would have worked better at 90 minutes but you go with whatever opportunity you get. The script was instrumental in getting me work in the US. Danny Cannon would later urge me to take yet another swing at it for a feature, but by then the premium-rate telephone chat line had been superceded by other forms of social media, and none of them had that 'voices from the dark' element that had fired me up from the beginning.

But back to the moment. As the air date approached I looked out for any previews and trails, the way you do. Maybe the promotions people were saving all their ammo for a big last-minute push? There was one junction in which a trailer had been run for each of the preceding stories and when this came and went with none, I wondered what was going on. When I saw the schedule for the week, I understood.

Here's what we were up against in the same slot, live on ITV:

Rather than waste their efforts on competing with the live match, they'd effectively written us off.

If, after the unmade Desert Knights and the prematurely cancelled Murder Rooms, it's starting to look like these script downloads all bring with them some tale of woe, let me remind you of what I said at the beginning; I'm limiting them to old material that has no market currency now, with no specs, no recent shows, nothing that's in turnaround.And in this case, something that deserves a little more light than it got on the day.

David Pirie, A New Heritage of Horror
Maybe I should have gone with that feature after all.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Casting the Runes

Following the news of Casting the Runes as a finalist in the Drama category of the New York Radio Awards, I've fielded a number of enquiries from people having problems in tracking the audio production down.

At the moment it's an Audible-only release, not available on CD, and can be found along with three other James adaptations under the umbrella title of The Conception of Terror.

The other stories are Lost Hearts, adapted by A K Benedict, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, by Jonathan Barnes, and A View from a Hill by Mark Morris.

If you're one those who's been struggling to locate the shows, we're grateful for your persistence and now you can follow the link below to find them all.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Script upload: Murder Rooms

Continuing my ad-hoc program of old script uploads, today I've added my screenplay for BBC Films' Murder Rooms. The series was created by David Pirie as a spinoff from his two-part drama about the relationship between the young Arthur Conan Doyle and his mentor, Dr Joseph Bell, whose observational methods would provide much of the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

The series of ninety-minute dramas played on BBC1 in September 2001. It's never been repeated, nor had anything approaching a decent DVD release in the UK. There was a threadbare set of discs issued by IMC in the 4x3 ratio, VHS quality or worse. To get widescreen you had to shop outside the region, where even the best of the transfers was murky and lacking in shadow detail.

The episodes were actually gorgeously lit and shot on crisp Super-16. They'd look great in HD or on Blu-Ray. I know because I was there.

I loved working on the series. The critical notices were good, and so were the viewing figures. We geared up for second season that would kick off with three stories that had been commissioned but not made. I was asked for another, and put in my pitch. Ian Richardson shared his Joseph Bell research with me. David Pirie got a publishing deal.

Then the BBC pulled the plug and all plans were cancelled.

I later heard that this was the outcome of a turf war between BBC Drama and BBC Films. One insider told me that the show had been "too successful for the wrong department". Co-producers The Television Company offered to take it over and finance it themselves, but were refused.

Instead the Drama department announced their own Holmesian project, a one-off Hound of the Baskervilles with the fine Australian actor Richard Roxburgh, so brilliant in Rake. It was okay, as I recall. A serviceable retread of the familiar material, but nothing special; certainly not worth losing Murder Rooms for.

Murder Rooms was a class production, handsomely made to feature standards. The series producer was Alison Jackson, with Jamie Laurenson as development exec/script editor. My director was Simon Langton - Simon effing Smiley's-People Pride-and-Prejudice Langton. I watched and learned. He shot with graceful, understated, old-school brilliance - terms that could equally describe Ian Richardson's approach to an old-school magisterial role. The editor came on set one day to observe, and confided to me that he wanted to see how it was being done because the footage was pretty much falling together.

I'd love to see it aired again. If only so I could get a  copy with some measure of the quality everyone put into it.

My episode was called The Kingdom of Bones, a title which would later be picked out of a list by my publisher for an unrelated historical novel because she didn't warm to its existing title of Victorian Gothic. Which I still like, but I wasn't going to argue. But it leaves me to explain why there are two KoBs out there, and why they're not the same.

(This post includes material from an earlier entry)

Friday, 31 May 2019

Something for the Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I wondered aloud on Twitter if anyone might be interested in seeing some of my old scripts posted online. This was by way of giving myself a less embarrassing retreat if the answer was a deafening silence.

Fortunately not, so I tested the waters last week with Desert Knights: The Birth and Early History of the SAS.

That project was commissioned by Carnival's Brian Eastman in 2001. As I recall it was developed as a miniseries for Sky, who then didn't pick it up. The script's for the ninety-minute first episode covering the ground up to the unit's first genuinely successful operation, the raid on Tamit airfield.

It was something of a departure for me; factually based, heavily researched, needing to stand up as drama without fudging history, neither to glamourise nor criticise. I didn't stop to wonder why I was Brian's choice for the gig. I was proud of the result, sorry not to see it made.

But as I say in one of my most common pieces of writing advice, you learn to bounce.

This week I'm adding a couple of BUGS scripts from around 1995/6. It sobers me to think that there are grown adults walking around who were born after the shows went out. Not that I'm taking any responsibility for that.

BUGS ran on Saturday nights on BBC1 for four seasons and I was with it for three; I left to work on OKTOBER, which took up all of my time for more than a year. BUGS was an homage to 60s ITC dramas - we even made it in a teaser/three acts/tag scene format, despite airing on a channel with no commercials. Our aim was a tone that I'd describe as Glorious Technobollocks, and I reckon we mostly hit the marks.

A Cage for Satan was the season 2 finale. It rounded off a story arc in which our heroes were pitted against  a self-sustaining, multi-location AI called CyberAx. The story ends with a setup that I returned to for Renegades, which closed Season 3. I think Renegades is my favourite of the episodes, though they were all fun to do.

I'm limiting these uploads to old material that has no market currency now, so no specs, no recent shows, nothing that's in turnaround. And obviously I'm limited to material that I have in some digital form, so nothing pre-90s. The UK pilot script for Eleventh Hour is already out in the wild and has been for some time, so I've no control over that, but you can find it here under its original episode title, Man Without a Shadow.

So maybe one or two more and then I'll leave it be, at least for a while. I'm thinking maybe Life Line (BBC1) or my feature-length episode for Murder Rooms (BBC Films).

Script Links: