Tag Archives: BBC

Look after your anoraks

AnorakPhil: I’ve been enjoying a bit of catch-up TV recently. I missed out on the BBC show The Detectorists when it first aired, but am nearly at the end of series 1 and looking forward to series 2.

The series revolves around Andy and Lance, two metal detector enthusiasts and their group of friends. What I like most about it is that while the main characters could easily have been figures of fun, they aren’t. In many ways the plots are conventional but built around people’s hobby rather than job. In fact, like most people, their jobs are utterly mundane and merit hardly any attention. Life is lived outside working hours.

Better still, they get to show skill and knowledge, such as Andy knowing exactly how long bones survive in the soil when explaining how a recently discovered skeleton couldn’t be Saxon.

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times summed it up when he wrote, “Like the ordinary lives it magnifies, Detectorists has the air of seeming to be small and immense at once, to be about hardly anything and almost everything. It is full of space and packed with life.”

Now, you might conclude that I like the show because I’m a bit of an anorak myself. While I have no desire to find bits of metal buried in fields, I do get why this might be interesting to do. There’s nothing wrong with it (OK, archeologists, pipe down) and I’m sure that there is a lot more skill required than waiting for your machine to go ping.

I like the idea that people who it would be easy to turn into the butt of jokes get to be the heroes. Heck, they both have attractive partners and Lance drives a TR7 so living the dream!

Bringing this back to our books, one of my character to look after is Kelvin, our man from IT. He’s a bit of a nerd as befits his role in the firm, but that doesn’t mean he is any sort of joke. Yes, there are a couple of (realistically) embarrassing moments along the way but when you read Kate vs the Navy (out soon!) you’ll find that Kelvin is a bit of a star.

Tracey might say, “Yeah. Kelvin. You know. Bad clothes. Can’t talk to girls. Always there when you need something on your computer fixed.”, but it turns out she was wrong. Very wrong.

 

 

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No libraries = No Terry Pratchett

pterrylibrary

Phil: This week’s blog post was set to be something whimsical and lightweight. Then I sat in my hotel room on Saturday night after a couple of bottles of pomegranate and strawberry cider washing down a rather nice curry, and flipped on the telly.

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black tells the author’s life story. Paul Kaye plays pTerry (as his fans call him) and along the way we meet both famous and non-famous readers. We see how the literary establishment hated his books complete with a cringeworthy clip from a review show that those taking part will probably wish to forget, and later decided he was A. Good. Thing. Along with another clip of more literary people saying this.

I’ve tried but failed to read Pratchett. I ought to love it but I can’t find a way in. It doesn’t matter, the documentary is brilliant, affecting and a superb celebration of the man.

What struck me was that before he wrote, he read. Everything. Well, everything in his local library starting with fantasy and then history, “Blokes in helmets bashing each other” as he described it. Reading planted all the seeds for the character in his stories.

This week, I read in my local paper that our council is making more cuts. Headlines are those for old people or children but tucked away are libraries – again.

I’ve said before how my local library was essential for my development. I’m not going to compare myself with Pratchett but to lift a line from the documentary, I’m a human. He is a human. My poo stinks. His poo stinks. I loved my library. He loved his library. He is a writer. I want to be a writer.

Does it matter if we deny kids the chance to wallow in reading? Probably not. After all, do we need people with imagination?

Sorry, I’m ranting. Go and watch the programme on iPlayer while you have a the chance. Just keep some tissues handy…

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Grab your marketing opportunities

VFPhil: On Tuesday, spring had sprung, the sun rose early in the morning and the daylight had woken me up. Flipping the radio on I listened dozily to Venessa Feltz. She was looking at the story of a Big Issue seller who had married one of his customers. In an effort to generate some feedback, the question, “How did you meet your partner or one of your friends?” was asked.

Team NolanParker have always felt that the way we met (quango, redundancy) makes a useful handle to hang a story on.

For many minutes I pondered doing something about it. Lounging half awake in the warm, only the thought that I’d regret not grabbing this opportunity made me sit up and grab the tablet.

A few minutes later I’d fired off an e-mail:

I met my friend Candice while working for a quango. When it was closed down we found ourselves having to go to the office while things were wrapped up but had no work to do.

Somehow we discovered a shared passion for writing and 5 years later our novel “Kate vs the Dirtboffins” has been published!

We’re appearing at Stratford literary festival next month – who would have thought something good could come out of losing your job?

Not a long story but enough for a dozy person to type on a tablet computer. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it but in the run up to the 6am news, the letter was read out verbatim!

You can hear it here, 58 minutes in.

Now Candice might consider Radio 2 unfashionable, but then she buys clothes in Marks & Spencer so I no longer think she is entirely reliable on matters cool. Even she was impressed with my guerilla marketing though. What I didn’t know at the time was that the name of our book will have been heard by over 3 million people. Not bad!

OK, so I don’t suppose this will result in a rush of sales. At that time of the day you’re half asleep or doing something useful, but you never know. Maybe a major Hollywood film producer was listening and can’t get the title out of his mind now. Maybe it will be the start of something big. Or maybe I just need to be chuffed that I bagged a bit of coverage while not fully conscious.

If I can do that though, what can I do when I wake up properly?

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False endings

inspectorcallsPhil: Years ago, I was a top hospital radio presenter. Every Tuesday evening, our team would gather requests for top tunes from those unfortunate enough to be on the wards (although lucky enough to be able to listen to us) and between 8 and 10pm, we’d be spinning the platters that matter on the wheels of steel for their entertainment.

One of my favourite tracks was, and still is, Mr Blue Sky by ELO. If you know the song, you’ll remember that it has pitfall for DJ’s – a “false ending”. Basically, the song comes to the end, pauses for a fraction of a second and then an instrumental section bursts forth.

If you don’t know this, you’ll probably be speaking when Jeff Lynne and co come back and drown you out. A top jock knew about this, could whack the fader down so the CD stopped, read out the list of the next days shows and then fade it back up again. How a career on national radio eluded me, I don’t know.

False endings aren’t confined to music though. I was watching the BBC’s excellent new version of JB Priestly’s “An Inspector Calls” recently. Not knowing the plot, when the Inspector left the family, I was thinking that the play was every bit as good as I’d been told.

If I’d stopped watching at this point, I’d have been happy.

But, no. Preistly then takes things a further step by making the inspector who had so brilliantly shown the family how they were all partly responsible for a girls suicide, into a ghost. He didn’t exist and it’s not really obvious what he’s supposed to be.

I’m not great with ghost stories at the best of times but this annoyed me. The ending, where I thought it should be, was powerful, tied up all the lose ends and pretty much perfect. Instead we had this wooly stuff which didn’t finish matters up to my satisfaction.

What happens?

Do the writers decide they need to fill a bit more time and wang a bit on the end?

Did ELO see the first pressing of their disk, notice some unused vinyl and think, “We’ll rustle up some instrumental stuff to fill that.”

Was Preistly persuaded by the theatre management that audiences would like another 20 minutes for their ticket money?

When you reach the end, here’s some advice. Stop. Just stop.

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Rediscovering a Gem

Candice:  I’ve recently rediscovered a TV show that I used to watch, and am enjoying it again.  I watched the whole of the first series of Episodes and really enjoyed in, lost season two as forget to series link it.  But series three has just started and if by luck its found its way on to my Tivo box.

What is Episodes?  Well the premise is too successful English writers who’s show gets picked up by an American network.  They get transplanted to LA and then the fun begins as the complexities of making shows in Hollywood with big money and big egos kicks in.  Matt LeBlanc plays a great caricature of himself as an arrogant, self centred actor who was once a big deal and now is not.

During the first series, every one fell out with each other, everyone slept with each other, and they all had fun playing the Hollywood game.  At the end of series two the writers were so desperate to go home they were glad when their show got cancelled … but then for the start of series three they are pulled back into the fun as it gets recommissioned out of spite (Matt has landed a part on another show which another network).

The show is dry and subtle funny, I can’t believe some times some of the things they get up to,  but it all feels plausible as we have all been told about how bad it is behind the scenes in LA LA land.  The last episode I watched Matt found out his accountant had screwed him, he got very upset and was wingeing to the two writers.  But they found out he’d only lost half his money, and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t survive in $32m!

Its my kind of funny and I look forward to getting the remote off the other half tonight and seeing what they have been up to this week.

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Farewell Michael Gove, the man responsible for our book

goveyPhil: If you’ve seen any UK political news this week, you’ll know that the Prime Minister has re-shuffled his cabinet. One of the main casualties is the education secretary, Michael Gove. This is a momentous moment for us as it to him we owe our career as novelists.

Back in the heady days of 2010, both Candice and I were contractors at Becta, an education quango. If I’m honest, we weren’t the biggest fans of the place but it paid well and with some careful booking of hot desks, we were able to sit opposite each other for banter.

The month before the election, the place entered a state known as “purdah”. All government bodies do this and put simply it means that we publish absolutely nothing during the election period so as not to influence the outcome. It’s all about stopping sudden newsworthy announcements boosting the incumbent parties fortunes. Work still carried on, we just didn’t do anything with it. I was still making web pages and Candice planning marketing magic, albeit with less oomph than before.

Anyway, the election happens, we sit around waiting for a government to be formed and when it is, the first thing the new education minister does, even before tucking in to the departmental tea and biscuits, is announce that Becta would be closed down.

Obviously this meant that our work was done. The permanent staff started to head in to meetings about the redundancy process. We contractors just sat around and chatted. Since we only got paid when we turned up and we liked being paid, we had to be in the office. There was just nothing for us to do.

This carried on for a month until the management board could meet and make decisions. Then we bumbled on until our contracts were terminated.

Chatting with other contractors one sunny lunchtime, we joked about setting up a “change management” firm to take on closing all the quangoes due to be shut. From this, the two of us started forming a story with this as the background. Some of the stuff we’d just been through made it on to the page in a fictional setting and we added and embellished other parts. Daytime was for chatting, mostly by e-mail as it was a bit off the wall although people wondered what we were laughing at sometimes. Every day, one of us would come in with some new words written the evening before.

Eventually, we were turfed out to find other jobs but by that point The Book was born and we weren’t going to stop there.

Would we have started without Mikey Gove’s actions?

If I’m honest, I doubt it. We’d probably have finished our contracts and gone our separate ways. Thanks to Facebook, we’d stay in touch but this common project unlocked the desire to write fiction in both of us. Now we spur each other on and will one day see our story out there.

So, farewell Michael Gove. You’ve gone off to whip the Tories. I suspect at the time, you were happy to punish a load of people for working for an organisation you didn’t see the point of. You couldn’t know that you cemented a friendship and lead to the birth of a book.

 

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Stretching the story

Mark Williams as Father Brown

 

Candice: I’ve just spent a long but fun day on the set of Series 3 of Father Brown.  This light, afternoon show is based on the stories of G K Chesterton, of which there are a number, but not a many as the episodes from the three series that have been made.  So where do these extra story lines come from?

The description of the show says that they are based on the characters but new story lines, in the same vein as the books.  But they have moved the stories to the Cotswolds and cast a man who must be 6 ft in the role of  a ‘short,stumpy’ character.  Hum.

Then take James Bond, an extremely famous set of books which have been expanded in to many films.  How many of those are based on the actual books and how many ‘expanded in the same vein’?  There have even been additional books written by others including Sebastian Faulks, described as continuation books. Faulks wrote the book in the style of Fleming, and the novel carried the credit “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming”.

So, where do you go when you have run out of source material?  You obviously get someone to interpret it themselves in the style of.  But I question whether this really works?  If the original author knew the character and the concepts, and that is all they wrote, should you really take it on yourself to make something else when they never did?

As a purist I’m not sure I am a big fan of taking things further, and I dont always think it works. You often lose the real sense of the characters and the way the story will flow.  I know we have ideas for up to seven books with Kate and Dave, but if we don’t get past two or three before we decide that enough is enough, well then thats fine.  The characters have told their story.

When Bond returned to the screen with Daniel Craig, Casino Royale was based on a Fleming story but Quantum of Solace and Skyfall arent.  The first is a great film, the other two ok and totally different in style.  Skyfall particularly gives you a completely different Bond.  I have to say I wasn’t sure if it was my thing. The question I want to ask was, would the original author approve.

I do wonder with all of this if it is all about money rather than staying true to your characters.  I’d love to be in a situation where someone offered me money to carry on our stories, but I’d also like to say ‘enough is enough’.

 

 

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