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Sunday 29 December 2013

Social Notworking

Teenagers are turning their backs on Facebook, apparently, and deserting it in droves. Well, let me tell you young kids, I was way ahead of you.

There's an account out there with my name on it, but it's one that I very rarely check. You can spot it easily. It's the one with the profile picture of a hunting dog being rogered by a racoon.

All right, so I didn't enter into the whole Facebook thing too seriously. But what started as a handy way to share pictures on the move almost immediately began to run out of control. With as few as half a dozen friend connections, here was a thing that already demanded feeding, monitoring, and constant maintenance.

I saw what was coming. To quote the great Patsy Ann Noble, he who rides a tiger can never dismount. So I hopped off this particular beast before it could properly get going.

I won't say Facebook is entirely without its uses. When someone owes you money and is pleading dire financial straits, it's instructive to go online in lurker mode and see them brag about the new piece of kit to which they're in the process of treating themselves.

Then there's LinkedIn. I signed up to that one with no certain idea of what it was for. But with so many people with whom I'd worked already on there, I was persuaded that I'd surely find out.

I still haven't. The only activity seems to come from rapacious get-rich-quick types selling empty schemes and fist-pumping seminars, and people trying to break into the professional circles of complete strangers.

So if you've recently sent me a friend or connection request and I haven't replied, it's not because I want to ignore or insult you. I'm just not around.

Unless you owe me money. In which case I'm there in the shadows, watching you like a hawk.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

In Case You Hadn't Noticed, It's Christmas

If someone gave you an e-reader, I've scheduled a free promotion for some of the Amazon backlist titles on Boxing Day. Click on the covers in the sidebar to find out which ones. But not until then, of course.

I'm not being cute over it, I really don't remember which ones I landed on.

Oh, and a Happy New Year.

Sunday 22 December 2013

In Gethsemane

For this weekend, my favourite novella free to the Kindle.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Eleventh Hour Sizzle

Tidying up my hard drive, I found this. Because the CBS show was already under way when I joined, it was my first sight of what the team were doing.

Tuesday 17 December 2013


Sandbaggers (The): The Complete SeriesI picked up the 3-season DVD boxed set and watched all of The Sandbaggers a while back, to find that it holds up brilliantly. If only all vintage TV could so well match our memories of it... the episodes are mastered from decently preserved tape, not telerecordings, and while the production values are standard for 70s studio-based drama, it's the writing and performances that give it real enduring quality.

My first agent was the Transworld editor responsible for dealing with writer/creator Ian Mackintosh over the series' novelisations, and he'd told her that he himself was a former Sandbagger. In a business filled with bullshitters, this seemed to chime with stories I was hearing of scripts being sent for vetting by some shady government department before production. Personally I'm inclined not to disbelieve it; Mackintosh's depiction of a credible bureaucracy, and the way in which he invests it with urgent dramatic life, hardly seems like a fantasist's first choice of material.

Long before the DVDs were available, I was in contact with a researcher from Kudos who was trying to track down VHS copies of Sandbaggers episodes. They served as part of the groundwork for the show that would become Spooks (MI5 in the US).

Still available from Network DVD.

Friday 13 December 2013


A short story twofer, free to Kindle now and over this weekend.

Science Drama Awards

Just got the pix from Lisbon. This is me being...

I have no idea what I'm being.

But I'm thanking Sharon Bloom, Chris Farrer, Philippa Giles, David Richards, and the Silent Witness cast and crew.

Thursday 12 December 2013

The First Kingdom of Bones

The Kingdom of Bones was the title I gave to my script for BBC Films' Murder Rooms series, the one I was discussing in my previous post. Writing about its parallels with the Ripper Street cancellation prompted me to dig out this showreel clip.

I didn't know it at the time, but piecemeal funding of development meant that by delivering early I jumped the queue and got my story onto the production train before the whistle blew. They were buying scripts without knowing how many they'd actually get to make. Not the best way to run a business and the producers didn't like it, but we were all dealing with the system as we found it.

I was able to deliver a relatively well-finished first draft for one reason; I had a head start in Victoriana because I'd been working on Victorian Gothic, a period epic of my own devising that had become a long-term passion project. Zenith had optioned screen rights on it for a couple of years before going out of business. Jane Tranter picked it up and developed it further for the BBC, only to find her persuasive energies wasted on a channel controller whose background was in sport.

When the novel sold to Shaye Areheart's Random House imprint, Shaye didn't like Victorian Gothic for a title and picked The Kingdom of Bones from my list, where it still lurked. I didn't protest.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Victorian Gothic, Edwardian Style

Last week's post on the cancellation of the BBC's Ripper Street sparked a surge in blog traffic, retweets, and general indications of agreement. It seems I'm not alone in my view that the BBC is letting down its subscribers by running its programming in imitation of an ad-funded broadcaster. This Den of Geek piece is saying much the same thing, and I'm seeing the arguments repeated elsewhere. It's not the usual spectacle of fans rallying to a doomed show; it's a very British response to an open display of unfairness. Give all the good toys to the kids with the most toys, then watch as they break them.

I'm not of the opinion that only idiots watch those live contests and shiny-floor shows. All kinds of people watch them to unwind. But it's not the only kind of thing they ever want to see.

This comes at a time when the BBC Trust has instructed Director General Tony Hall to “re-examine the creative culture in TV management and commissioning to consider how to achieve new peaks of distinctiveness across all services”. Does distinctiveness mean ratings? It would be a perverse interpretation to act as if it does. The subtext here is about quality, not numbers.

And sometimes it's not about quality or numbers, but politics or prejudice. It's attitudes that are at the heart of the 'creative culture' referred to by the Trust. Anyone who's worked in TV for any length of time has their stories of politics or prejudice, real or imagined. Since we're talking Victorian crime let me refer you back to the case of the BBC's Murder Rooms, historical mysteries with production values to die for. Charles Edwards played the young Conan Doyle and Ian Richardson his mentor and model for Sherlock Holmes, Joseph Bell.  I wrote here of the against-the-odds process by which it was put together, and also the manner of its cancellation:
I was told some time after the event that this was most likely the outcome of a silent turf war between BBC Drama and BBC Films. The word went around 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 turned down.
There are rumours of a similar proposal for Ripper Street to be funded and carried by Amazon-owned download distributor Lovefilm, either pushing the BBC into a secondary market position or even eliminating the Corporation altogether. The mould was broken some time ago, when FX cancelled legal thriller Damages after three seasons, and satellite carrier DirecTV underwrote and broadcast two further series. Ripper Street is made by an independent production company, Tiger Aspect. I've no idea whether their deal allows them to sell it elsewhere, but an indie may not be so quick to turn down a lifeline.

While waiting to see how that pans out, you may care to consider this handsome pair as a stocking-filler for the fan of Victorian crime now pining away there in the corner. I've seen a surprise surge in the Amazon sales over the past few days, with new stock on the way. Don't let that deter you from supporting your local bookshop, if you have one, and if they stock the titles. A third Becker book is well in hand, and there's an upcoming story in Subterranean Magazine that picks up the chronology from the end of The Bedlam Detective.

And from our Colonial cousins, this handsome pair:

Yep, in the end it's always gonna be about me.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Ripper Street, Not Resting in Peace

Every show's cancellation hits the people who love it, and every show has a core group of people who love it lots. But the wider dismay over the BBC's cancellation of Victorian-era police drama Ripper Street seems to have an unusual edge to it.

I'm not a fan. By which I don't mean that I have a low opinion of it, simply that I don't follow the show. And if anything I ought to welcome its cancellation, because with Ripper Street and Copper out of the way, development execs are willing to look seriously at the Becker books again.

But it's worrying that once again the BBC has killed a series that it claims to be proud of, citing a fall in viewing figures as the reason. For an advertising-driven broadcaster like ITV, viewing figures are crucial because their business is one of selling eyeballs to advertisers. The viewer is not the client, but the product. The programmes are bait, to draw a crowd and serve it up to the client's sales force. Regulation imposed a quality threshold on commercial television from the very beginning. With relaxed regulation you get Babestation.

The BBC isn't ITV. With its one-off yearly license fee funding, the BBC's model is more like that of a cable company - and it's the biggest bargain of its kind in the business, whatever the bottom half of the internet may say. Sky charges you more, produces less, and still shows you ads.

Subscription-funded companies like HBO or Showtime don't have to worry about the figures for any one programme. Their brand image is defined by the quality of some of their least-watched product. Hence The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad - bar-raisers for an entire industry. AMC's Mad Men made its debut to less than a million viewers. The episode average never rose above three million, but it was deemed worthy of six seasons.

The BBC's there for all of us. Because of the compulsory license fee, we're all subscribers. Yet the BBC chooses to ape ITV's methods and compete for ratings in time slots, as if courting imaginary ad buyers. Which wouldn't be so bad if they didn't then use those ratings as the measure of a programme's worth, when simply moving the material around the schedule can have a drastic effect on its numbers.

(I speak here as someone who once saw his big-budget one-off BBC drama scheduled against live football on ITV, Manchester United v AC Milan. They knew what the outcome would be and didn't even bother making any trails for the show.)

I've heard it suggested that the real reason for Ripper Street's cancellation is that it's too 'blokeish' for some executives' tastes, and the numbers only provide a handy excuse. So presumably the blokes will now go off and watch The Paradise instead. Or maybe Mr Selfridge.

That's about a bloke, isn't it?

Sunday 1 December 2013

The London Film School

I'm heading down to London to give the LFS Returning Drama masterclass that I wrote about here. Stop laughing. Yes, you. It's real and they've said there'll be biscuits.

I've always been wary of the whole masterclass idea because the longer I go on, the less I'm convinced I know. But putting together a little showreel to start the thing off, I realise that I've kicked around enough, and in a sufficiently diverse number of places and situations, to at least bring back a few travellers' tales.

It's a specialised part-time course for writers who've found their footing and want to increase their expertise. It's not cheap, and this one's filled up, but there are always more. I've spoken disparagingly about courses that purport to teach non-writers to write, but this isn't one of those.