Writer’s blog Week 46

Wednesday

Again, not actually sure if it is Week 46. It might be Week 45. I don’t really work in week numbers, other than the week numbers we use at Radio Times – which is where I am today; check out the ducting in our office! – but these refer ahead to the week of the issue we’re working on.

It’s dark. It’s only just gone 4.30 in the afternoon and it’s dark. Is it any wonder we, as a species, get depressed, or at least melancholy and reflective, in the autumn? It’s also dark – pitch black – when I leave the house in the morning, as I have joined a cheap gym and have pressed myself back into the service of keep-fit, after too long in the sedentary wilderness due to fiscal belt-tightening. Anyway, when I woke up this morning at just before 6am, I seriously forgot that there was a US Presidential Election going on in America. I checked the BBC News website on my phone at the bus stop at around 6.20am and was relieved to read the first headline saying that Obama had won. My only thought was: phew. (I Tweeted this.)

I watched his victory speech, live, from 6.30am. I was at the gym, first in the changing room, where the TV had sound, and then on the treadmill, without sound (or headphones), so I wasn’t able to hear all of what he said in Chicago. I could, however, read the closed-captioning on Sky News and ITV Daybreak, and I was struck by the frequency of this particular phrase:

[CLAPPING AND APPLAUSE]

I may remember that phrase for years to come, as it marked a happy day in all our lives. (Unless you think abortion should be outlawed and gays shouldn’t marry and poor people should stop complaining about being poor, which is your democratic right to do.) Seriously, if Romney had got in, we’d be looking at four very anxious years, especially as the full extent of his party’s right-wing extremism was allowed to uncoil from behind the facade of private-equity sheen like a big, scaly snake. At least this way, America probably won’t bomb Iran. Probably.

One of the tellies at my gym seems permanently to be tuned to one of those channels that just shows infomercials, which at least make perfect sense without being able to hear them: they are simply and baldly selling a product, which you send off for, and if you don’t like it after 30 days, you get your money back. I found it pretty easy to ignore a half-hour “show” in which Robert Dyas the ironmonger demonstrated lots of products, QVC-style, including what looked like a simple jug, but there’s a recurring ad, which also goes on and on and on for 30 minutes, which advertises a fitness regime you can do at home called Insanity. I find it harder to ignore.

I’m slightly fascinated by Insanity. I don’t need to check to know that it’s American. What’s funny about it is that, unlike other fitness programmes, which are usually predicated on being some kind of shortcut to fitness, this one looks … hmmm … insane. They keep cutting back to a massed workout where a eugenically musclebound instructor called Shaun T throws himself around and ordinary bodybuilders copy him. (Nobody looks unfit in these videos.) But when they show film of ordinary members of the public – you – working out in front of the TV, it looks really cumbersome and awkward and unsexy.

Frankly, unless you live in a hall, or a mall, with masses of space, Insanity looks awful. Sure, the results are there to see: men take their t-shirts off all the way through the infomercial to reveal rock-hard pecs and abs – but I foresee quite a lot of junctures at which you, at home, could feel like throwing in the towel.

What’s sweet about the package is that, as well as the DVDs, and a book, they also entice you with an Insanity calendar, featuring, well, men and women in PE kit with hard muscles, smiling. I’ll stick to photos of cats.

Thursday

Exciting day the British Library, as we had to evacuate the building at around midday. This happens sporadically; it’s a building with 14 million books in it, and I suspect it has pretty sensitive smoke detectors. It’s a huge upheaval, with hundreds of staff, readers and visitors forced not just out of the building itself, but off the grounds too, while the fire brigade investigate. The whole drill took about half an hour, but when you’re stood outside the gates, clutching your laptop (they instruct you not to take anything with you, but who’s going to leave their laptop?), unable to even nip to a coffee shop or pub until it’s blown over because your wallet is in your locker (maybe that’s just me), it feels like a major inconvenience. Once it’s clear that no book, or manuscript, or person, is in peril, you are at liberty to shuffle and moan and read Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of Obama’s second-term victory on your phone. (How did I ever survive without a phone that lets me read the Guardian on it? Why did you all stop me from getting one for so long?)

I should write something about writing. I’m waiting for some notes on one script I have in development with one broadcaster (let’s call it Script B), which, it has been reported back to me, they “really enjoyed.” Since a commissioning editor has no reason to pretend to have “really enjoyed” a script, I’m kind of hoping they actually did, and that the notes won’t make me want to give up writing for a living like the last set of notes on a different script – let’s call it Script A – in development with a different broadcast did. (That’s why I started writing these writer’s blogs in August, in fact.)

What’s really driving my working days, though, is the Pappy’s sitcom, whose working title is The Secret Dude Society, for BBC3, and which I am script editing. I like script editing; it harks back to my years in magazine publishing, when I edited as much as I wrote. It’s the closest I get to being a teacher, almost literally “marking” other people’s work and handing it back to them.

I find I am now often hired out to script-edit pilot scripts at various stages of development – in this capacity I’ve been lucky enough to work with Joe Wilkinson, Greg Davies and Shappi Khorsandi in the past 12 months – but the only full series I’ve edited has been The Persuasionists for Bwark on BBC2 in 2010, a show which I think legally has to be prefixed with the description “ill-fated.” For various reasons, it didn’t hit the spot, despite the talent involved, and the channel buried it mid-series after some bad reviews, but I sincerely hope its failure was nothing to do with my script editing.

Anyway, Secret Dude Society is another six-parter, producer by those kings of Scottish comedy The Comedy Unit, based in Glasgow, where, in January, Pappy’s will perform their first sitcom before a live studio audience. I won’t give anything more away other than what it is in the public domain already. I can, however, publish this exclusive shot of Matthew, Tom and Ben working very hard on a train home from Glasgow in September, at the start of our “journey” (but about halfway through our journey).

The “boys”, as we have taken to calling them, in true showbiz style (they are all about 30), are – naturally – also on tour, while writing five further episodes to make six along with the pilot (a read-through of which clinched the Grail-like series commission, before I came onboard). This is the way comedians like to work, it seems; a state of “up against it” seems to fire them. I’m thoroughly enjoying working with Matthew, Ben and Tom, and the wily Scottish men of the Unit. The funny thing is, as a script writer I seem unable to employ the advice I offer other writers as a script editor. Editor, edit thyself? I don’t think so. Turn out it’s much harder to “mark” your own work.

By the way, I saw Skyfall for the second time on Tuesday night. I really enjoyed it, again, after an interval of only three weeks. That’s the mark of a decent film. I also caught a bit of Never Say Never Again on Sky’s 007 channel, in which Sean Connery appeared, without irony, in denim dungarees with no shirt on underneath. That’s the mark of a shit film.

I’ve seen lots of other films that I haven’t had time to review here, but I have been very busy over the last few weeks and haven’t been blogging nearly enough. And I am going to have to stop blogging right now. I’ve worked out that since the tragic demise of Word magazine, there is a frustrating vacuum in my creative life, as nobody is employing me to write prose any more. I have plenty of dialogue to write, and other people’s dialogue to edit, but outside of my Radio Times duties, I don’t write articles any more. I find I use the blog to keep my prose-writing muscles toned, but no money changes hands, and so I feel kind of guilty for spending any time doing exactly what I am doing now.

That can’t be right, can it?

Nor can this, Medusa-like ball of paranoid ire Melanie Phillips’ refreshingly mad view of Obama’s re-election, linked to here for balance. Don’t worry, it’s not a link to the Daily Mail website so you won’t be adding to their hits.

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3 thoughts on “Writer’s blog Week 46

    • The British Library is a very special place. It’s free to use, like all libraries, although you have to apply for a Reader’s Pass. Also, it’s a reference library only – no books can be removed – which makes it a superb place to work and study. You are surrounded by industry and knowledge! I love it.

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