Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 End of Year Thingy

Well, it's not the festive season without my annual ponce-fest, in which I look back over the year, and think about the highs and lows of my writing career. So buckle up, and prepare yourselves for the regular dose of self-indulgence, which begins... now!

Things I Achieved in 2008:

--Had my first ever TV episode broadcast, with my Torchwood episode "Sleeper", then followed it up with Dr Who, Spooks Code 9, Crusoe, and Spooks

--Had my first actual American TV credit, with Crusoe

--Wrote TV episodes for Torchwood series 3, Primeval series 3, Spooks series 7, Crusoe, Spooks Code 9, and Law & Order UK

--Wrote a draft of a new spec film script

--Got hired to work on a couple of new TV series in development, and wrote outlines for them

--Got something of my own picked up for TV (at outline stage, early days, might never happen, but still)

--Did my first convention, at Gallifrey (report to follow)

--Had a short story published for the first time, three in total

--Met Harlan Ellison

Yowza. I can't really argue with that. Career-wise, it's been the best year ever - my first ever TV credit, 5 episodes on TV, with 3 more to come next year. And now I'm getting TV work developed, I get a chance to help shape the direction of some brand new shows. And yes, if all goes well, one of those will be mine - a TV pitch I've been flogging around town has been picked up by a production company. Obviously that means *nothing* at this early stage - I'll have to do outlines, then if all goes well, a first script, then if all goes well, probably another one, then there are several people at the TV channel to convince, then *maybe* they'll commission more drafts, then *maybe* it'll get made... But still. It's an important first step.

Also managed to find time to write a new spec film script, which I'm very pleased with. I'm working on the new draft at the moment, so it's not in any state to read. But it's coming along nicely, and right now it's all mine. My 2 years of TV boot camp have served me well, I've learned a hell of a lot. And I'm incredibly happy to have had short stories published. They're much, much harder than writing scripts, and I'm very rusty in the format, but when they work, they're so satisfying.

And my first ever convention - what a blast that was, I had a fantastic time. I'll finish the full report soon (he said, hoping to get it done before the 2009 convention). Also had a great time at The Rift, the Torchwood convention. I love going to them, because you're surrounded by like-minded people for a couple of days, everyone's happy and excited, and you can have really geeky conversations in complete safety. While I'm on the subject, many people regularly ask if I'm going to this or that convention, and if not, why not: well, I can only go if I'm invited. If you want me at your local event, tell the organisers. They're not psychic, they don't know what you want unless you tell them. I'm easy to contact, just give them the blog link or the email over on the right.

I've already talked about meeting Harlan in detail on the blog, so you know the story. But it bears repeating how much of a big deal this was for me. Meeting one of your writing heroes, who then turns out to be wonderfully kind, funny and encouraging, is a fantastic experience. It also came at just the right time. I was overworked, tired, completely worn down (see next section), and he gave me the boost of energy and enthusiasm I needed. I had also just had a really bad haircut, and he was kind enough not to mention it. That, folks, is the true measure of a man.

Things I Messed Up:

--Took on way, way, WAY too much work

--Became stressed, overloaded, and didn't tell anyone with the power to help what was going on

--Lost sight of why I love doing this

As you've probably guessed from the first section, I had way too much work this year. Part of it was me being unable to say no - hey, want to work on a fun action show called Crusoe, with cool people, resulting in a US TV credit? Hey, want to work on Spooks, one of the top BBC drama shows, also with cool people? Can you imagine saying no to those? Impossible. Although I did actually say no to something, then changed my mind when they asked again... But that was purely my own fault, it's not like they forced me into it. I just couldn't resist. I thought if I said no twice, then they'd never offer me anything again.

When you get into the business, you are always convinced that it could all end tomorrow. Sure, there are some people looking at me now with contempt, wondering how the hell someone who has had my kind of year could *dare* to suggest that they might need the work. But you honestly never know when it could all go wrong. Most of us feel like frauds, that we're going to be found out, that we have no talent at all. It's a risky business, and writers are insecure too, which doesn't help. The more things I have lined up, the safer I feel. I just need to realise that saying no doesn't mean they'll never come back and ask again.

But I should have said something to someone - "I can't take on any more work, and I need more time for the work I have". I just didn't want to cause trouble, get kicked off, let anyone down. That was a mistake, and it hurt me, physically and emotionally. I was exhausted. For a month or two, it started feeling like a job, which it *never* has before, no matter how tired I was. I'd wake up dreading the arrival of notes, not wanting to start another draft. And that's not me. I love doing new drafts, I love getting good notes (and I've always been lucky to get great notes, due to working with great people), I love writing, usually. But for a while there, I wasn't enjoying it.

And I lost sight of why I got into this lark in the first place. I love writing, telling stories, entertaining people, it's what I've always wanted to do. But recently, I found myself muttering and complaining to myself (or to Jo) when I got a new job, because it would mean doing more work. That was even after things calmed down. Thankfully, Jo pulled me up on that - if I had been offered that same piece of work 2 years ago, I'd have *killed* to get it. It was paid writing work that will end up on TV, for a project I really liked and could do a good job with, and there I was sighing as if something bad had happened. Time to snap out of that shit. I am incredibly fortunate to be doing the thing I absolutely love, getting paid for it, getting it made and broadcast, and getting really good feedback on it all. This is my lifelong dream. And I need to never, ever take that for granted.

So I've had as much of a quiet period as I can, due to various things moving and finishing, and I've turned lots of work away, even though I had spare time. I have enough work to keep me going well into next year, at a pace which means I can have fun with it. It's only the past month or so that I've been enjoying the work again. Taking time out to work on a brand new spec helped, too. And I'm setting myself some limits, times when I'm on the clock, and when I'm not. Writing is what I'm best at, I love doing it, and I need to protect it.

Things I Have Learned:

--Saying no doesn't mean they'll never come back and ask again (see above)

--You can have too much of a good thing

--You have to look after yourself, because only you know how much you can handle

Most of this is covered in the previous section, so I won't go on at length (again). The year has gone by in a bit of a blur, I almost burned myself out, took on too much, lost my mojo for a bit, and had to go and find it again. It's strange how it can knock your confidence back too, when you feel like it's all getting too much - but you can't complain, because it's all fun and brilliant and exciting. Like I've said before, when it doesn't feel like a job, you don't realise you're working yourself to the bone. Which results in you getting frazzled, it starts feeling like a job, and you realise just how insane your workload really is. That's when you *really* start to panic.

Again, I feel weird saying all of this, because it feels like I'm moaning about having my best year ever - and I suppose I am, really - but I don't mean to. I'm certainly not fishing for sympathy or anything, just trying to reflect on how the year has gone, that's what this post is for. It was brilliant, but exhausting, and that's purely my own fault for not understanding exactly how busy I was getting. So be careful out there, kids.

Things I Want To Do In 2009:

--Become a better writer

--Finish the new film spec, and write another one

--Write more TV, get my own series commissioned

--Finish the bloody blog posts I keep promising (Gallifrey, Writing FAQ, Torchwood writing process, etc etc)

--Have a proper holiday, set (and keep) limits so I don't get overworked again, and stop saying yes to absolutely everything

Okay, I have to put up those blog posts soon, it's getting ridiculous - I just keep fiddling with them and trying to make sure they're all right. I should just stick them up, and correct them later if there are typos. So expect those soon. And the holiday is all booked for February, we're both having a couple of weeks off around the Gallifrey convention, seeing as we'll be there anyway. So that's all good.

Thank you again to all of you lovely commenters and readers and bloggers and viewers and conventioneers and colleagues and friends and family and other nutters. You're all brilliant and inspiring, and I can't tell you how great it is to hear nice things from you - it makes all the difference when I'm stuck halfway through something, worrying that I can't fix a plothole, or feeling like a fraud. Thank you also to those of you who don't like my stuff and criticise it in public - at least you're not ignoring me, and I can pretend it makes me controversial or something. Everyone's a winner. And thank you to Jo, for looking after me, telling me I'm cool, and giving me that verbal bitchslap that I needed.

Hey, I never thought of a "Two-Bond"-style name for 2008, I'll have to start working on one for 2009. 2009! Bloody hell. Madness. Someone should put a stop to this forward motion of time, it's extremely worrying. I might write to my MP about it.

And with that, cheers to you all for another year. Let's all get shitfaced for 2 weeks, and to hell with the consequences. Who's with me??

Monday, December 15, 2008

Links and items and thingies, oh my!

Behold! Links and items and thingies for your random pleasure! But mainly because I love shouting "behold!"

Thingy the first: (UK-only) Try and make Jeff Buckley's cover of Hallelujah the Christmas number one, instead of the X Factor abomination version. Included on the page are several download links, and if you're going to buy it, do so this week - use one of the links provided, they all count towards the official UK chart. I know Jeff Buckley's version is a cover too, but it's a really good one, and something you could gladly pay 79p for. I've just bought my copy. Even if we can't get the song to number one, at least it'll come close and show people who do terrible cover versions that... well, not very much, they'll still make shitloads of money. But it'll be cool!

Thingy the second: As we were walking home the other day - OMG! A van!

Couldn't resist taking a picture (phone number blurred out by me). Honestly, both Jo and I have been laughing about this for DAYS. We are so childish.

Thingy the third: Mr Paul Cornell is currently doing his annual 12 Blogs of Christmas, and today's one is about favourite Christmas songs of Dr Who writers, including a small contribution from me. Get over and have a look, there's loads of good stuff, including Kate Bush doing some amazing chair-dancing.

Thingy the fourth: Primeval series 3 trailer! Wahey! Haven't seen my finished ep yet, but I recognise several moments in there from my script - not saying which ones of course, that would be sheer madness. But I hear it's looking really cool, so I can't wait to see it.

Next post will be the end of year wrap-up, hoping to finish it before Christmas - but I've been struck down with the fucking mutant Space Virus again, so it may slip over into the limbo period between Christmas and New Year. Right now though, I'm heading to the sofa with some painkillers, booze and cake, and I'm not moving for the rest of the evening. Good day to you all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bit more Spooks stuff, Christmas, and Twittery goodness

Let's have a couple more Spooks links while I'm milking it: Mark Lawson enjoyed the episode, and so did Leigh Holmwood, both of them from the Grauniad.

While I'm on the subject, I've answered this in the comments, but it keeps coming up in various other places, so I may as well address it here. The thing everyone wants to know is: Why all the fuss when arresting Harry? I mean, SAS dudes through the windows? Bit over the top, no? Why did you do that, you monstrous buffoon? Simple, really. Because it's Harry. Harry fucking Pearce. Harry is ultra cool, old school, and a supreme badass. He's been in the service for *years* - and made it through 7 seasons of a show that quite happily kills off characters all the time. In the context of the show, if he actually *had* been a traitor, and he knew that they'd found out, Christ only knows what shenanigans he'd have set into motion to get himself out of it. He knows all the tricks, and the best thing to do is to take him down as fast and hard as possible. If it was my job to arrest him, I'd bring the army, the SAS, the Royal Marines, and some sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. If anything, considering who he was, it was a fairly low profile, simple arrest.

On Tuesday I spent a delightful afternoon/evening out with Mr Jason "Arnoppapadopoulos" Arnopp, during which he forced me to have several drinks, cackling wildly the whole time. It was a slightly odd pub crawl, because to start with, we merely moved around inside the first pub we went to, sitting at three different tables. We then went to the coldest pub in the world, shortly before going to the warmest pub in the world. After that I murdered Mr Arnopp in cold blood, did sexy things to his dead body, and dumped him in an alley, before running home shrieking, covered in his blood. All of that is true. Any future blog posts by him are actually me, covering up what I did. I will even employ a look-alike in the event he needs to appear in photos. Unless the police are reading, in which case none of that happened.

Christmas has definitely arrived here in Spork Towers, and it's my solemn duty to share some of the festive glee. So behold! Our fabulous Christmas tree!

Yes, there is one there, under all the baubles. No, there aren't too many. Please do not ask silly questions like that. You can NEVER have too many baubles. And no, neither of us is religious, don't believe in God or any of that stuff - but everyone else is having a party, food, and presents, so why should we miss out? Besides, Christmas trees are nice. And so are presents. And roast potatoes. Mmmm, roast potatoes.

And finally, it's been a long, long wait for my contract to run out, but I have now upgraded and got a lovely new iPhone. Oh blimey, it's nice. It makes me feel funny in my tummy. It's also yet another way to procrastinate, along with new things like Twitter, which I've been experimenting with. Yes, I am now a Twitter Shitter, and you can follow me if you like here. I warn you now, it'll probably just be lots of swearing and random weirdness, but that's what you get when you peek into the mind of a madman. Either that, or I'll just forget to update it for days on end. Bookies are refusing to take bets on it, if that's any indication.

You may or may not have noticed that the Twitter thingy is also over in the sidebar on the right, and I've rearranged it slightly and got rid of all the Severance, DW and TW images. It needed cleaning up, as it was getting too cluttered. But I've moved all those images and links to a special new shop post, which contains all the shop links to things I've worked on. You can see it right here, just before this entry, and I'll update it as and when I have new things to flog.

I like a little shop

Here are all the various things I have worked on, or written, or had some sort of evil influence over, all with links to places you can buy them. The main section is a mini Amazon store, all for the Region 2 or UK-based products. Under that is a smaller links section with any Region 1 or US-based stuff. I do get a tiny kickback if you buy them through here, but buy them wherever you like, or don't, these are just so you can find them more easily. Shop smart - shop S-Mart.


Severance poster

Doctor Who

The Doctor Who season 4 Vol.1 DVD is at Amazon or Play.

Or you can get the entire season 4 boxset, from Amazon or Play.

Short Trips: Transmissions contains my short story Breadcrumbs, and is at Big Finish, Amazon, or Play.

The Doctor Who Storybook: 2009 contains my short story Grand Theft Planet!, illustrated by Daryl Joyce, and is at Amazon or Play.

Short Trips: Christmas Around The World contains my short story Companion, and is at Big Finish, or Amazon.


Torchwood season 2 is at Amazon, or Play.

Or you can get the box set with seasons 1 and 2 at Amazon, or Play.


Spooks series 7 will be released in October 2009, and will be at Amazon or Play.

Spooks: Code 9

Spooks: Code 9 series 1 is at Amazon or Play.


Crusoe is only available so far on Region 1 DVD, from Amazon, or other Region 1 shops.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Spooks aftermath

So the BBC1 showing of Spooks got 5.1 million viewers, which I hear is pretty good, so I'm very happy about that. I always knew the death scene was good, but had no idea how well it would go down. But ever since I wrote that moment, I've felt incredibly guilty, a feeling which just got stronger and stronger until the episode was shown. Honestly, I feel awful about it - good drama aside, you're killing off a character that people love, and putting an actor out of a job. It's a huge responsibility. Obviously the actor will get other work, it's not like I actually killed them in real life, but it's still a big deal.

Having said that, I'm sure the actors know the score when they sign up for Spooks - nobody is safe, ever. That's one of the strengths of the show, every week there's no guarantee that they'll all make it out alive, and it brings a genuine tension to the stories. And I'm sure most actors love a good death scene, it makes for a memorable exit. People are still talking about the deep fat fryer from season 1, for example. Not saying my scene is up there with the classics or anything, but I'm sure it's no idle boast to say that it's a pretty shocking moment that many viewers won't forget in a hurry. But still - I wouldn't want to be in on that conversation: "Listen, we're killing off your character. So, basically, you're out. Sorry. It's a really cool scene though."

Although I must admit to being delighted when I saw the BBFC ratings for the different episodes in season 7 - they have various levels of violence and some torture, but all start with the word "moderate". The guideline for episode seven says "Contains one scene of strong gore". I am so easily pleased.

And my favourite comment came from my mate Phil, who said "Blimey, half an hour in your hands, and kindly old ladies turn into crazed killers..."

I've been answering questions about it in the previous post, so have a look there if you want to ask anything, to make sure I haven't already answered. Any new questions, stick 'em here in the comments, I'll answer as best I can.

Speaking of questions: no I don't know who the 11th Doctor is going to be. Please, please, please stop asking me... Even if I knew (which I don't) I'm hardly going to just tell everyone, am I? But I don't know. I also don't know yet if I'm involved in series 5. And I don't know David Tennant's phone number either. Those are the top three questions asked at the moment. The answer to all three is: I don't know OMG please stop asking.

Movie recommendation: Frost/Nixon. It's not out yet, but because I am special and amazing, I have seen it early. As soon as you get a chance, check it out, even if you think it's not your bag. It's one of those movies that is somehow utterly gripping and compelling, despite mainly being men in suits talking to each other in various rooms. It's mesmerising, a writing and acting masterclass.

I'm in the middle of finishing various things at the moment, so I might not get the long promised blog posts ready before Christmas, but I'll try. Obviously the work takes precedence over everything right now. I will do the usual end of year wrap-up ponce-fest thingy though, just in case you were worried that I wouldn't inflict my self-indulgent ramblings on you - rest assured, the ponce-fest will be on time. I'm also waiting to hear back about a couple of possible new jobs. Both are different to anything else I've worked on, and both are things I would absolutely kill to do. That's not a figure of speech. If someone else is ahead of me in the queue, I *will* kill them. I've done it before. I'll do it again.

And now it's cocktail time. Jo has got loads of the standard ingredients for different cocktails, and tonight we're going to sink as many of the bastards as we can while remaining conscious. Yes, it's Friday night.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Spooks. Tonight. BBC1. 9pm. Watch it.

Now then! Tonight is the main event, my Spooks (episode 7), BBC1 at 9pm. Please to be watching at your conveniences. Yes. Don't worry about the serial stuff if you've never seen the show, or this series so far, it all holds together even if you have no idea who is who (have heard from people who've never seen the show before, and they assure me this is true, so there).

Feedback on the early showing has been good so far, I'm very happy. The BBC3 showing was the most watched multichannel show of the day last week, with 1.02 million viewers. And one of those viewers was me, so I feel part of a big happy family. I'll talk more about the episode once it's been on - due to the twisty turny nature of the series itself, spoilers are even more annoying than usual, and I don't want to ruin it for anyone. So let's meet back here later. With crisps and fizzy pop.

It was a busy week last week, so I'm a bit shattered, apologies to anyone waiting for emails, calls, or rescuing from a burning building. Two meetings at the BBC on separate days (Monday and Wednesday), then I flew over to Dublin Thursday night, met up with friends for too many drinks, spoke at a seminar Friday afternoon, flew back home Friday night (got back at midnight), then was up early Saturday morning to catch a train down to Cardiff for the TW wrap party. Just got back yesterday afternoon, and now I have no idea who I am or what's going on in the world. Also, where the hell did 2008 go? What are you people up to? This is all an elaborate conspiracy against me. I know what's going on. I'm watching you people. I'm watching all of you. Through my special spy tube. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and sit in a cupboard, whispering to myself and carving wooden stakes for when the vampires come for me. What, you don't believe in vampires? Sure, whatever, you bury your head in the sand if you want, but me? I'll be ready.

I think I should go and sleep for a bit.