Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Something Changed Again

Big Finish writer Ian Mond is a gentleman of infinite wisdom and boundless good taste.

I say this for two reasons. One, he's just said some very nice things about the short story I wrote for the Bernice Summerfield anthology Something Changed.

The other is that he knows where I live.

You can have a gander at his review of the whole of Something Changed over at his blog, Mondy's Adventure.

Nothing more to see here. Move along.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Script Doctoring

Took the day off from plunging and scribbling yesterday to celebrate reaching the point where I officially became nearer 40 than 30. Bloated from home-made cake this morning, but ready to get back to business.

Biggest leap forward of the last couple of days has been completing an outline for an audio play. It's my first go at something like this - an unsolicited story to be used as a spec script for Big Finish's Doctor Who range - and it's been an eye-opener. It's taken a couple of weeks of plugging gaps in the plot and diligently removing all the bits that don't work if you can't actually see them (you'd be surprised how many slip through) but now I'm ready to start work on the script itself.

So far two things have put stupid grins on my face:
  • Realising that all the work on the set-ups in the first half of the plot had paid off when the outline for the ending virtually wrote itself. I love it when that happens.
  • Typing the words 'Interior TARDIS' for the first time. You'll have read any number of interviews with writers for Doctor Who on TV who've mentioned getting a tingle from that. They're absolutely right.

Quick thanks again to my Mysterious Benefactor for sundry tips on how to get this moving - always good to have pointers when learning a new discipline!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Waste? Want Not

Lovers of irony will have found the odd nugget to enjoy while reading this blog. Here's another to stimulate your amusement centres. Be warned, though, it's not for the weak of stomach - bodily functions and their by-products feature prominently.

There was much rejoicing on Saturday when my son finally cracked toilet training. At last I would be free from changing his nappies. No more handling of poo that, on occasion, required asbestos gloves and lead shielding to dispose of. Hurrah!

Spin forward 24 hours, and our sink backed up. As did the sink in the bathroom. And then the toilets. Both of them.

Being a Sunday, there was no chance of getting hold of our landlord to fix things up, and we didn't have the money to get our own plumber in, so it was down to me, the man who does for DIY what Bob the Builder does for nude skydiving.

Off to the hardware shop then, to return with several treatments of draino, a plunger, and 25 foot of flexible metal cable with a rotating corkscrew on the end (no, really).

Result? Nothing.

Now here comes the good bit (look away now, ye sensitive types).

While I was emptying stagnant water from the sink into the back garden, I found that the contents of both toilets have been hitting the blockage and making their way to the nearest other exit ...

... a drain in the garden, under the bathroom window.

We haven't had any really hot days recently, or I'd have found out about the watery-but-worryingly-lumpy sewage much sooner. As it is, at least, it located the blockage for me. And that left one, draw-the-short-straw task.

Two hours of thrusting my arm up to the elbow in effluent, pumping madly with a plunger, only got me into a (literally) stinking mood. Thankfully, while at university, I worked on a cross-channel ferry cleaning toilets, so I've developed a reasonably strong stomach as regards such matters. Not so my wife, who took the time to throw up in one of the toilets while I was plunging.

And then flushed it.

My son was watching at the time, running around, I noticed, without a nappy on.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

My daughter's been having a few problems settling down to school life, refusing to join her friends in the classroom every morning and only letting go of whoever's on drop-off duty when she's dynamited free.

Not so strange - it's still only her second week of full-time schooling. What makes it weird, though, is that once my wife or I are out of sight, she runs off to play with her mates like nothing's happened. Flick the switch and off she goes.

Her behaviour's been noticeable enough for us to be offered the chance to have her tested to see what's behind this faux separation anxiety - the idea being that there's a message in her behaviour that the teachers, my wife and I unable to interpret.

The test involved my wife and my daughter sitting in a room while a counsellor and I watched them through one of those windows that looks like a mirror on their side of the wall. There'd then be a sequence of someone coming in, my wife going out, my wife coming in (and they shake it all about).

The counsellor is still working out her conclusions from the videotape she shot from the half-hour session, but I've been able to draw one of my own conclusions while we're waiting: either my little girl is extremely savvy, or she's been watching episodes of 24 while we're all asleep.

Left alone in the room for a time, she suddenly stopped playing, sidled up to the 'mirror', looked right into the camera on the other side, and said something we couldn't make out. It'll have been picked up by the microphone in the room, so we'll know next week, but I've got a feeling it'll be something like 'Gotcha'. She'd tumbled us.

My daughter - nobody's mug.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Hero of Men ... An Idol of Women

I recently had the good fortune to land a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Collection, a DVD onto which has been scanned every issue of TAS-M from March 1963 to June 2006.

Regular readers like the radiant Reality Chick will be rolling their eyes at this point, sensing another comic-waffle hoving into view. But while I'll readily admit to being very excited about having thousands of pages of web-slinging action just a mouse-click away, what I'm really thrilled about is something else entirely. Because, good reader, thanks to this one DVD, I am on the brink of ascension.

Soon I shall become a Love God.

You see, not only does the DVD contain scans of the comic's strip pages, it also contains scans of all the ads that ran alongside them. And just three issues in, it's impossible not to notice a trend in the spruiking - pages of promotions for products that promise to turn weedy Spider-fans into ... well, this:

And all without the tedious rigmarole of being bitten by a radioactive body-builder!

Following this programme - perhaps, in conjunction with the 'Hip Pocket Gym' advertised elsewhere in the comics ('Used by US Veterans' Hospitals to help rebuild health and vigor in wounded' - it looks like a giant rubber band) - I should be Abs Fab in no time. But wait ... what's this?

The Dynaflex Method ... 'I'll build you a tough, brutal, massive body - shoulders clad with solid inches of he-man BRAWN'.

And with NO EXERCISE AT ALL! Man, that's the one for me!

But there's more! Not content to give you all that (with NO EXERCISE!) Dynaflex comes with an added bonus:

Well, it's not hugely surprising that comics became known as the province of sexually frustrated nerds who'd regularly get sand kicked in their faces, is it? One flick through any given issue showed just who the advertisers had as their target market.

But sex sells, right? Couple your acres of rippling muscles with, say, an artistic bent, and '60s women would drop their clothes for you in an instant:

That's right, even if you'd got 'NO TALENT!' the ladies would be stripping for you faster than a Black and Decker paint remover.

And if that didn't work, there was always the 'pocket-sized invention that helps hypnotize you or others' ...

Keep striking out with all that help and you might as well chuck it in and breed sea monkeys.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Tree That Will Not Bend in the Wind ...

Just logged into Blogger to post something and found myself redirected to the 'Switch to the All-New and Improved Blogger' screen.

Now it takes me a long time to get used to anything even vaguely technological, and since I was happy with the original Blogger, I decided I'd stick with what I'd got, thanks.

Decision made, I clicked on the 'Home' option to get back nice, comfortable Blogger Mark One.

And found myself redirected to the 'Switch to the All-New and Improved Blogger' screen.

Left the site. Came back later. To the 'Switch to the All-New and Improved Blogger' screen.

Tried a few more times, with a bit more swearing. Same result (if you don't count my not-quite-asleep-yet daughter learning some new words).

So anyway, I've heard that the All-New and Improved Blogger is brilliant, and thought I'd switch to it. No idea what all the new gubbins does, so do please bear with me while I figure out how to fix the not-broken-anyway stuff.

Monday, February 12, 2007

1997 to 2000AD

2000AD is one of Britain's longest-running weekly comic books, with this month marking its 30th anniversary (the cover date of the first issue was my fifth birthday, pointless trivia fans). I first got into reading it in 1983, and in one way or another the comic was an important element in my life right up until I moved to Australia in 1997.

Ludicrous exchange rates and limited availability meant that when I first arrived here it became clear I wouldn't be able to continue reading it. An aborted attempt to pitch a Judge Dredd novel a couple of years ago, however, coupled with a healthier dollar-to-pound ratio led me once again to pick up the comic and its monthly companion, the Judge Dredd Megazine. Since then I've been availing myself of the magic of ebay to get hold of the issues I missed - it's a slow job, with around 400 missing numbers of the weekly alone to track down, but I'm getting there.

At the moment I'm reliving the very late 90s, and aside from the obvious nostalgia there have been a couple of surprises as I browse my back issues.

First up was finding an ex-girlfriend photo-referenced by an artist into several strips, her likeness used as the face of a supporting character from the comic's lead story, Judge Dredd, spun off into her own series. I did know about this back then, actually, but it had completely slipped my mind, so turning a page to see her looking back at me - albeit depicted as completely bald - was a bit of a jolt.

Then, in another recently acquired issue, there was a letter written to the comic's faux-alien editor, Tharg. Now normally I don't bother reading the letters page - with eight years of strips to catch up on, plus my 52 Books in a Year project, there just aren't enough hours in the day. But the name of one particular correspondent leaped off the page as I breezed past it: my brother.

I'd no idea he'd written in (presumably he really wanted whatever the freebie was on the letters page). He's never mentioned it. His double-entendre-heavy missive, however, shows all the promise you'd expect from someone who was to become an editor of children's magazines at the BBC ... I imagine if his future employers had read it, they'd not have let him anywhere near the Tweenies with a bargepole.

It's doubly strange that these two incidents should occur now, since I've also been talking recently to a fellow writer who may, by a bizarre coincidence, have been working in the very same office as me 12 or 13 years ago. It wasn't at 2000AD, but it was roughly the same time as I began work experience in the comics industry with a number of different publishers. Needless to say we missed each other completely, with no inkling that our paths would cross in the future.

This time next week, I'm sure I'll find out that I regularly caught the bus with the artist of the first Dredd strip I ever read, and who now cooks short orders at the coffee shop round the corner from me.


(By the way, you can scoot over to Vicious Imagery now and find a selection of interviews with 2000AD's creators, running all through the 30th anniversary month and fascinating for those with a love for comics history).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Judge Dread

I've worked in the magazine industry for nearly 12 years.

Just needed to mention that.

My wife's new job is in the magazine industry. She's been doing it for four days.

Among her duties she has a certain amount of fashion pages to oversee, and that's had a knock-on effect about which she's a little concerned. Nervous, even.

Tomorrow night she has to judge a bikini contest. After four days at the magazine.

I've worked in the magazine industry for nearly 12 years.

Just needed to mention that.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Professional Give and Take

It's hard to make a living as a freelance writer. Unless you've got great contacts or regular contracts you never really know where the next job's coming from. It's doubly difficult in January, I've found, when all the work you've done over Christmas still only exists as invoices in an in-tray until the finance people return from their summer holidays.

[My God. I've started calling December/January 'summer'. I've finally gone native.]

Pound for pound (or perhaps 'pound for word' would be more accurate), I've found that writing for magazines provides the greatest financial return, and the Holy Grail in magazine work is the retainer - guaranteed work and guaranteed income each and every week.

If you can get a couple of those deals under your belt, you can start planning where your cash goes instead of simply putting out fires as and when a job pays off. That, in turn, means you can take on some of the more time-consuming but less well-remunerated jobs (newspapers or fiction) without having to sell your own organs to pay the rent.

So with the January money drought finally over, I was still more delighted to learn today that I've landed another regular gig. The money's not amazing, but added to my other weekly column and my wife's new income, it helps to clear the bills every month and will allow me to work on some more fiction projects.

But what the God of Freelancing giveth, the God of Freelancing snatcheth back the moment you're not paying attention.

With so much of my work reliant on watching DVDs for reviews, the worst thing that can happen is to have the DVD player start to clunk menacingly then switch off and refuse to work. So that's just what it did.

It's good to know that another benefit of freelancing is the ability to claim vital equipment back against tax, and for me a new DVD player is indisputably Vital Equipment. Thing is, you've got to pay for it before you can claim it, and ... yup, you remembered: I'm coming off the back of a four-week financial famine, and every institution in Perth has its hand out to cover the bills I've had to let slip since Christmas.

So until we get solvent again, I'm having to borrow a machine. It's not as cutting-edge as I'd like, but it'll do the job. Hell, I'm a professional, aren't I?

Oh, the shame.

Friday, February 02, 2007

'Do Try the Chips'

Been hard at work for the last couple of days, largely because it's the first time in a long time that I've had the time and space to do it. My son's off in day care and my daughter's now at school five days a week - when my wife starts her new job next week, it'll just be me and the echoes.

Productivity ahoy.

Amongst the reams of paper foisted on us at the start of term, meanwhile, my daughter's teachers included a menu for the establishment's school dinners. Parents have the choice of providing a packed lunch, or, if they can't be arsed making it themselves, ordering for their kids when they drop them off in the morning.

Two things I'm going to ask you to do now: first, cast your mind back to your school dinners.

Yeah, that's what I though, too.

Second, keep in mind that my daughter and her classmates are just five years old.

Now here's some of the delicacies on the menu.
  • BLT Foccacia
  • Toasted Turkey Deluxe Sandwich (with roast turkey, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, swiss cheese and sundried tomato)
  • Low Fat Pitta Bread Roll Up (Lettuce, tomoato, carrot, cucumber, sour cream, with leg ham or turkey)
  • Assorted Tray of Four Sushi
  • Fruit Salad With Passionfruit Coulis

It's a bit of a leap from mystery-meat stew and semolina. I mean, hands up if you knew what a coulis was when you were five.

Alright, hands up if you know now ...

Come to think of it, I may just order the sushi for her and swap it for a honey sandwich and a box of raisins. She'll never know.