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Thursday, 13 April 2017

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Less than a week from now...

Wednesday, 15th March 2017:. NOVOCASTRIA MACABRE presents an evening with Stephen Gallagher in conversation with horror author Stephen Laws. Northern Mining Institute, Neville Hall, Westgate Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 1SE. 7pm, tickets £3


"An evening with Award Winning Screenwriter and Novelist Stephen Gallagher (DOCTOR WHO, CHIMERA, OKTOBER, BUGS, MURDER ROOMS, SILENT WITNESS, ELEVENTH HOUR, CRUSOE, STAN LEE'S LUCKY MAN, and more...) in conversation with horror author Stephen Laws. A superb writer, a great raconteur. Want to know what it's REALLY like to work in TV in the UK and US? What the differences are? Who holds the power? Which country better respects the writer? How to really make the most of your ideas? Whether you're a fan of his work of an aspiring novelist or screenwriter, this is an event for you."



What a fantastic venue. Immediately following the talk, I'll be offering to saw the leg off any willing volunteer.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Future Boys

I've been following this series of plays since The Future Boys' 2012 debut in Dead Static at Camden's Etcetera Theatre, the classic 'playspace over a pub' where new talent and old hands get equal exposure. With Pilgrim Shadow and last year's King Chaos the company moved to the Tristan Bates Theatre in London's West End, expanding the cast, increasing their audience, and ramping up the absurdity.

Writer/director Stephen Jordan is a child of 90's SF culture, and these are character comedies bounced off science fiction tropes. Absurd, yes, but not spoofs. They employ sitcom structure with a classic pairing at its heart, an Odd Couple who both need and annoy each other in equal measure.

New material, new medium; the next outing for the company will be in the form of two new and original audio dramas recorded BBC-style before a live audience, supported by a Kickstarter campaign that's running until March 4th.

The most basic pledge will get you the downloads, while other levels bring in the usual swag options. These include tickets to the recording at the Leicester Square Theatre on Thursday March 30th at 7.15pm.

Bad Bat's previous productions include The Probleming, Global Mega Incorporated, and The Ghost Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More, an Amicus-style portmaneau show in which I had a playlet.

Update: the Kickstarter editorial team have selected The Future Boys as one of their curated "projects we love". 

Update to the update: the campaign reached its target.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

March Event, Newcastle



What a fantastic venue. Immediately following the talk, I'll be offering to saw the leg off any willing volunteer.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Snakebite Writing

Unused concept rough, New English Library
I've been catching up on a couple of home-grown TV dramas that have been lurking for far too long on the PVR - no, I won't name them - and they've reminded me of something I once heard David Puttnam say in an interview. He was contrasting British and American screenwriting practice using two exaggerated versions of the same story.

British version: a man wakes up in the morning. He goes down to breakfast. We see his house, his children are already at the breakfast table, we meet his wife. They talk about what he's going to do that day. He says he's going to the woods because of that thing they talked about last week, then he shaves, dresses, and drives the kids to school. Maybe there's something on the car radio about snakes in the woods, but the children are arguing in the back so he turns it off. He calls his boss, says he'll be late for work because of having to stop by the woods on the way. His boss chews him out about some big order they have to get fulfilled. He arrives at the woods, gets out of his car. We see him walking through the woods and then we see him carry out whatever mundane task he came here to perform. Now we see him walking back. Ouch! What was that? He catches sight of a snake slithering away. Later on...

(I've padded it more than Puttnam did, but you get the idea)

American version: A man's out walking in the woods and a snake bites him in the ass.

There's a certain breed of script editor whose notes seem to be concerned mainly with the so-called 'shoeleather' of a narrative. Why is this character in this location? How did they get there from where we saw them last? What do they do every day? Can we dig into their lives a bit more? Can we do more to explore this relationship? It's dull stuff but they always want it in. So you get literally dozens of scenes where nothing of any actual consequence happens, doggedly paving the way for an eventual story point.

I don't necessarily buy the whole English/American thing, but I do think that Puttnam's storytelling point is spot-on.

It's hard for a writer to hit the ground running. On the other hand it's not engaging for the audience to have to watch you getting up to speed as you write your way into the characters and their world.

There's a harsh but effective craft solution - write what you need to write, but then cut what the audience doesn't need to see. 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

This Time of Year...

Late one December I got a surprise phone call from Brian Clemens. It was a surprise because, although we'd met a number of times over the years and shared consultancy credits on BBC1's BUGS, long phone chats weren't something we really did. I wrote about it here.

If you know my stuff at all you'll be aware of Brian's influence on my own career. In its creativity, professionalism, and sheer variety, his work set targets that I could only aim for.

In '66 I was a kid entranced by The Avengers. At the end of 2014 there we were, catching up.

About three weeks later, the news broke that Brian had died on January 10th. 

Here we are onstage at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films, back in (mumblemumble). Neither of us having a good time at all, as you can see.


Thanks to Stephen Laws for sending the picture.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

"Anticipointment"

Why does my heart sink at the prospect of a new Jonathan Creek?

Because it's a prime example of how the BBC doesn't know how to handle a hit.

They set out to make it good, and you think it's brilliant. When they realise that, they set out to make it brilliant. And that's when it stops being good.

Are you listening, Sherlock?

Monday, 28 November 2016

Writers on Rejection

I'm one of a series of interviewees discussing writing and rejection on A J Ashworth's blog. Contributors so far include Alison Moore and A L Kennedy.

A sample:
AA: You’ve written successfully for television (as well as for radio) many times, but I know that some of the projects you’ve worked on have failed to make it to production. Has this been hard to deal with, especially if you’ve invested a lot of time in them?

SG: I could run my own channel with my unmade projects, but you have to take a long view. Especially in British TV, where everything moves so slowly that you can hear your own hair grow. I will say that I love the American system, which is brutal, fast and full of energy. Even if you have a near-miss, you know you’re playing a championship game. Last year I had a spec TV pilot that sold to ABC Studios. We cleared all the hurdles and just needed the network president’s nod for a straight-to-series order. At that point Spielberg offered him a show, and he handed over the slots that we’d been lined up for. That was hard. But you bounce.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Victorian Fun (2)

Well, no matter how long you've known them, your friends never lose the capacity to surprise you. Jo Armitage, with whom I worked back when I was represented by the Curtis Brown Agency, read my last entry on the British Library's Victorian Entertainments exhibition and wrote:
Well I never, just read the blog about your visit to the BL. Can’t remember if I’ve ever told you but my great grandparents (paternal side – Armitage) were a part of the George Sangers Circus. I believe that my great grandfather Armitage was a Ringmaster for them. Small world and when they left the circus he became the Manager for one of the Music Halls in SW London (think Clapham but not sure).
In dire need of some diversion on this election-dominated morning, I flipped through Sanger's autobiography Seventy Years a Showman and spent some time down the wonderful rabbit-hole of information that is the Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History site. If the Clapham association is correct, then it's quite possible that Grandpere Armitage may have been involved with Dan Leno's ventures in the area. Leno lived in nearby Clapham Park and was a partner in a business consortium that first took over Munt's Hall on St John's Hill, renaming it The Grand Hall of Varieties before going on to commission and build Clapham Junction's Grand Theatre. I turned up nothing useful that I could add to the family story, but was grateful for the excuse to go browsing.

When I asked Jo for permission to pass this along she added that the Ringmaster story came from relatives who are no longer around, so she'd no immediate means of corroborating it. But that her great grandfather worked for Sanger, and met and married her great grandmother while both were in the showman's employ, is beyond doubt.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Victorian Fun

In London for a couple of meetings last Thursday, I called by to spend a few minutes at the Treasures of the British Library permanent exhibition. That's the beauty of our free museums, as I found in the 70s when I was in the capital looking for a way into film or TV; when you're broke (as I was then) and have time to fill, a regular half-hour in the National Gallery or the odd hour in the V&A can lift the spirits and leave you with a sense of the time well spent.

A chap was tuning up a piano. Not something you expect to find in the foyer of a library. When I took a closer look I saw that a stage was being set for the launch of a new exhibition titled Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun. The barriers were still up but I could see enough to know right away that I'd surely find it of interest.

As described on the BL's own website:
Roll up to celebrate some of the most popular entertainments of Victorian times performed in a variety of venues from fairground tents to musical stages. 

Focusing on five colourful characters, follow their stories as we bring the worlds they inhabited to life. These Victorian A-listers include Dan Leno, the original pantomime dame and ‘funniest man on earth’, John Nevil Maskelyne, magician and manager of ‘England’s Home of Mystery’, and the great circus showman ‘Lord’ George Sanger. Also hear of those whose fame has now faded such as Annie De Montford, a mill worker turned mesmerist, and Evanion the Royal conjuror

If you're familiar with the Becker novels you'll know that they largely play out against a backdrop of the entertainment business from the 1880s to the Edwardian era. From Music Hall touring companies to fairground boxing booths, from Wild West acts to the legitimate stage. And if you aren't familiar... well, you'll have to take my word for it. 

Two of the personalities covered in the exhibition (and the live presentations scheduled to accompany it) were central to the stories' conception, with their lives and histories providing a wealth of insight and detail. 'Lord' George Sanger was a prominent showman, and John Nevile Maskelyne was probably the most eminent British illusionist of his day. Here's where Maskelyne - in spirit, rather than in person - figures in The Kingdom of Bones
The Egyptian Hall stood in Piccadilly, and had been England's Home of Mystery for the past sixteen years. It had the frontage of an antique temple, four storeys high and with the look of something hewn from the rock of the Nile valley. Two mighty columns braced the lintel above its entranceway. Two monumental statues stood upon the lintel. All illusion, in plaster and cement. To either side of this slab of the ancient desert continued a row of sober Georgian town houses. 

Within the building there were two theatres. One had been taken by Maskelyne and Cooke for a three-month run of magic and deception that still showed no signs of ending, more than a decade and a half after it had begun. The other was used for exhibitions and the occasional show. 

A few minutes before midnight, their four-wheeler drew up outside. Edmund Whitlock stepped down to the pavement, where he turned and offered his arm to Louise.
To an observer’s eye the halls were shut-up and dark, but a watchman waited to let them in. Louise moved with her eyes downcast, looking neither to left nor right. They went directly backstage, where the Silent Man waited to lead them to the auditorium. 

It was an intimate house, with a small stage and a runway out from the footlights across the orchestra pit. The house lights were on and the curtains were up; Maskelyne was between shows, so his sets were half-struck and the theatre’s back wall was visible. About a dozen figures were out there in the stalls, all male, no two of them sitting together although some were conversing across the rows in raised voices. They fell silent as Whitlock led Louise to the centre of the stage, where a chair waited. He left her there and moved to the footlights. 

“Gentlemen,” he said, his voice ringing all the way up to the hall’s domed ceiling. “Welcome. I have spoken to each of you in turn before this evening.” 

Louise sat on her chair and continued to look down at the stage. Whitlock had taken her to Bond Street the day before, to be fitted for a new dress that the milliners had run up overnight. Her hair had been artfully pinned by the Mute Woman, who had a talent for such. Her face was powdered and her natural pallor relieved by the merest hint of rouge. 

Over by the wings, she was aware of the Silent Man easing out of the shadows and into a spot from where he could observe the auditorium. 

“I know you are intrigued,” Whitlock said. “I know you will be discreet. And I know the fascination that Miss Porter holds for each of you. Tonight I offer the chance for one man to pursue that fascination to the full.” 
I stayed on an extra day in order to return when I knew the exhibition would be open. It's sited in the BL's entrance hall and isn't huge - several display cases and some video material, along with walls of vintage poster art - but for someone with a love of such ephemera it didn't disappoint.

There are some props and personal effects but it's mostly printed matter in the form of handbills, tickets, programmes and other publications, much as you'd expect from a library's archive. Most interesting to me was the material from the collection of Henry Evans, illusionist, who as 'Evanion' had a fifty-year touring career on the stages of Britain. Presented here as 'one of those whose fame has now faded', to me Evans represents the true heroes of popular entertainment, hard-grafting professionals with a lifelong commitment to their often thankless trade. He was to die, elderly and impoverished, of throat cancer in the Lambeth Infirmary, a charity hospital joined to the workhouse in which Charlie Chaplin had been a child inmate. Forgotten, perhaps. But faded? No.

Afterwards I looked in the gift shop, and was a tad discouraged to see no merchandise in the exhibition-related area. Just Shakespeare stuff and, let's face it, he hardly needs the publicity. The main part of the bookshop offers a nice line in vintage detective fiction, all rather well-chosen, some of it in retro bindings, and with some rare old titles republished under the BL's own imprint (and kudos to whoever came up with the idea of returning the great Eric Ambler to public attention).

But hey, BL, if you'd care to stock some titles that can relate to the show, I've a suggestion or three for you.

Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun, Entrance Hall, The British Library, until Sunday, 12th February 2017

Monday, 26 September 2016

Meanwhile at Fantasycon...

Just back from a weekend of frolics, wine and conversation at 2016's Fantasycon by the Sea in Scarborough, a town of shabby-chic Edwardian charm with a fantastic coastline and some, er, interesting after-dark streetlife. The Grand Hotel made for a highly sociable venue in a spectacular clifftop location. Dining options on the doorstep, and some fine autumn sunshine for those moments where you just had to take time out and wander. I had a great time meeting up with friends old and new.

There was no single dealers' room, as such, more a bazaar that spilled through small rooms and passageways off a corner of the main hall. I'm pretty sure I didn't get to see everything, but I did get my first-ever sighting of the new hardcover in its finished form. I don't even have my author copies yet, but PS Publishing regularly handles UK distribution of Subterranean titles and had rushed a stack of advance copies expressly for the convention. So, many thanks to all involved, with further thanks to those who bought out the stack!

A damn handsome piece of book production, if you ask me. I couldn't be more pleased. The hardcover editions of both The Kingdom of Bones (Shaye Areheart Books) and The Bedlam Detective (Crown) were something to behold, and this new title equals and, dare I say it, surpasses them. Subterranean also holds ebook rights for US territories, details of which can be found here. I'll have paperback news in due course.

poster art: Graham Humphreys
The weekend was rounded off with the news that Ellen Datlow's The Doll Collection won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. 

I get to bathe in a little reflected glory because my story Heroes and Villains is in the book. That story was the basis of my short play Cheeky Boy, part of this theatrical event. You may recall me banging on about it somewhat earlier in the year.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Shipping Now: The Authentic William James

The book's now shipping and preorders are being filled. They're preceded by an interview conducted by Gwenda Bond for Subterranean. It's
on the company's Facebook page; follow the link to see the whole thing.
Today we’re bringing you a fascinating new interview with Stephen Gallagher about how he created the character of investigator Sebastian Becker. Gallagher is a novelist, screenwriter and director specialising in contemporary suspense. His latest novel about Becker, special investigator to the lord chancellor’s visitor in lunacy, is The Authentic William James. It earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and we expect it to start shipping soon. Get your orders in now; you’re in for a treat whether you’re already a fan of the series or this is your entry point.

Gwenda Bond: Where did the idea for this series start?

Stephen Gallagher: I suppose the first seeds were sown when I was around twelve or thirteen and I answered an ad in the back pages of a Sexton Blake paperback...