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Monday 28 December 2009

"Good Sentences, and Well Pronounced"

Someone once asked me how to go about achieving a writing style. Like the caterpillar challenged about its coordination in walking, I stumbled as soon as I started thinking about it.

I think the best answer I could offer was that you should try to state the obvious simply, and the style would take care of itself.

In a blog post titled Good Stuff, Lee Goldberg lifts a few sentences from Walter Kirn's novel Up in the Air (source for the current George Clooney movie) and expresses a fitting admiration for Kirn's handling of the words.

I genuinely believe that you can flip open a book and read any random sentence and it'll tell you whether time spent with the author will be wasted. It's not an absolute guarantee - I can think of many a literary novel where I've been seduced by style and let down by structure - but as a working principle, it serves me well.

Seen on Hollywood Boulevard

On the open street just along from the Egyptian Theater, this charming and child-friendly scene:

And when you look more closely:

Friday 25 December 2009

A White Christmas

Only the second in my own memory; my first was, I think, in 1966, and I can fix the date because That Darn Cat was playing at the Princes Cinema in Monton and the snow-covered marquee features in the first roll of film I shot with my Christmas present, a Regula 35mm camera. I spotted a cat on the cinema's steps, and was inspired to my first attempt at visual irony.

(Gimme a break. I was twelve. One of our two art teachers at Eccles Grammar School had started a photography club that year, and showed he'd shown us how to develop and print our own negatives in the poky darkroom at the back of the freezing pottery workshop in the girls' playground. I think it was Mr Chapman, rather than Mr Connolly; teachers didn't have first names back in 1966.)

I believe it was '66 rather than '65, which is the official release year for the Disney movie, because back then it was usual for the UK to get sight of a new film as much as a year after the US. And the Princes was only a little local cinema, not one of the first-run houses. It was a classic 'Smallest Show on Earth' place, managed by a husband-and-wife team whose quiet dedication to their calling I'm only now able to appreciate. They ran a kids' Saturday matinee that was like a zoo during an earthquake. He wore a suit and dickie-bow and ran the front-of-house; she had one of those '60s piled-high hairdos and sold the tickets.

During the pop explosion of the early 60s the kids' matinee would feature a spot from a local band; I'd love to tell you that I witnessed the start of some big-name supergroup but the only one I remember clearly was Ken and the Combines. The Combines stumbled their way through a Ventures-style instrumental by way of a buildup, followed by the offstage announcement, "And now... the moment you've all been waiting for... It's Ken!" Ken ran out to embrace his moment of glory with such enthusiasm that he yanked the microphone lead out of his amp and appeared to mime silently throughout his number.

I reckon that the Princes (not 'The Princess', as many called it) was as important a part of my education as the Grammar school. I remember when Midnight Cowboy played there, going back every night for a week and dragging my parents along on the Friday.

It's gone, of course. There are houses there now. They did the same with the Grammar School, closing and demolishing it the year after I left. I hope that was a coincidence. Maybe they waited until I'd gone and then sowed the ground with salt.

According to the Met Office, it's not a real White Christmas unless the snow actually falls on the 25th. Snow lying from the previous day doesn't count.

But if I listened to the Met Office, I'd have no White Christmases at all.

(the picture is of the view from the end of my driveway)

Thursday 24 December 2009

Christmas 2009

We're all safely home - on a day of closed runways and widespread flight delays, our flights weren't held up at all... we stopped for a curry and a sleep in Ealing and then, on a day of countrywide blizzards and blocked roads, we sailed through West London and up the M6 like there were angels with yard brushes clearing the way. Even made it home in time to pick up the dog and get the black Christmas tree down from the loft.

The hardest part was getting four people plus suitcases into a Yaris, in the dark, with hail, while ankle-deep in parking lot slush. All it needed was red noses and a honky horn and for the doors to fly off whenever we stopped.

Finally made it to Paradise Cove last week, the Malibu location of Jim Rockford's caravan. It was pissing with rain, but I stood there! And we had lunch with Crusoe's Jeff and Lisa Hayes, in the beach restaurant between that spot and the pier. The next week, the weather reverted to California-normal and we had Disney days in the sun and 79 degrees on Santa Monica pier.

Back in the New Year. All my stuff's there.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Happy Holidays

Most years I've just about managed to get all my Christmas cards out by now, but this isn't most years.

Instead of my usual last-minute scramble I'm facing a scramble of another kind - my ticket home is for a British Airways flight, and right now I can't say whether I'll be spending Christmas in my own house, in the air, in an airport lounge, or stranded while awaiting some nonexistent connection in Nome, Alaska.

Where at least I suppose a white Christmas can be more or less guaranteed.

My artist friend Dave Windett is way more organised than I am, so instead of sending out cards this year, I've asked his permission to share this one with you.

Ain't it cute? You can see more of Dave's work at Davewindett.com.

(Btw, when my family flew out to LA with Virgin Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, Eleventh Hour was again part of the in-flight entertainment. Go, Virgin!)

Friday 4 December 2009

All Change

Fun and games here. I've seen the director's cut of my new episode and feel good reason to be happy. Danny Cannon stopped by the office this morning to say nice things about it. It's set to air in January; last I heard was the 12th, but that can change.

It's been part of my arrangement that along the way I'd generate new ideas and pitch them to JBTV under a development deal that pre-dates my involvement with The Forgotten.

Well, two weeks ago, one of my balls landed in the bucket, so to speak. As of Monday I switch from working on the show to full-time pilot development. It's good timing; The Forgotten has hit its stride and has some good material lined up to take it to the end of the season.

No, I don't want to say anything about the new show. Not here, not now. But I do want to say to Mark and my co-workers that the last six months have been a blast.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

The Potshots Always Find You

In the current issue of Ansible, David Langford notes:

The Times Literary Supplement review of Dinah Birch's new edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature mutters that 'There is palpable overcompensation for the previous neglect of science fiction.' Though Neil Gaiman's short entry is admired, there is sniffiness about the inclusion of 'Stephen Gallagher, author of two series of Doctor Who in the 1980s'; praise for Greg Bear's Blood Music 'feels incongruously partisan.' But overall it's a positive review. (TLS, 28 October)

Even the Bolton Chronicle stopped calling me 'The Man Who Killed K9' more than twenty years ago.