Saturday, April 28, 2007

The kids are all write. Maybe not all. But definitely some.

Have you seen Totally Doctor Who? It's a children's companion series to the drama, runs five o'clock on Fridays on BBC1 and at various times on CBBC as well. This week the guest was Helen Raynor, the writer of the current Dalek two-parter.

The writer.

I'm just not used to this: you see Russell T Davies everywhere but there's somehow a sense that he is Mr Who rather than a writer, at least in the minds of interviewers, so to get an actual episode writer front and centre seems unusual. This is the first time I've seen Totally, I was coughing away at home with man-flu, so perhaps they do it all the time but I hadn't thought so.

I've met Helen, I like her and I like her writing - she did a grand Torchwood and I envy that she got a Friday Play on BBC Radio 4 - but more importantly, she's a writer and she was being interviewed as one on a high-rating children's show. Can't you just imagine millions of kids with their faces too close to the screen, now being shown that such strange creatures as writers exist? I keep imagining some of them dreaming about become writers themselves.

Mark you, at the rate I'm going, they'll overtake me, the little bastards.

I realise we're in a more media-aware time than when I would've been their age, it's probably not as a big a deal as it seems to me, but when I was a young lad, writing was not something a young lad like me could aspire to doing. That sounds ridiculous, even to me as I type it, but I feel it was true. I do have a certain relative who repeatedly told me then to "keep your feet on the ground" if I ever ventured a plan about writing. This person now claims responsibility for my success, such as it is, and did tell me the other day that it'd be okay if I didn't thank her when I win some award. "That's all right," I said. "I won't."

I honestly think I became a writer because of Lou Grant, a newspaper drama from the company that would rapidly become more famous for Hill Street Blues. It was the first time I was aware of an hour drama as something crafted by people but I didn't think I could be one of them. So I went into computers by mistake, journalism by accident, scriptwriting by, er, let me come back to that one.

Would it have helped me if there'd been a writer interviewed on Magpie? I don't know, but I watched this Totally Doctor Who yesterday and it was invigorating. Okay, some of the show has a forced-jollity I find hard to endure, but dead centre in its everything-Who-is-fantastic approach was a writer. And, let's face a cold fact, there are plenty of writers who should not be allowed out in public, but Helen Raynor isn't one of them.

So a smart writer is championed on a hugely popular children's show. I think that's marvellous.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Would you credit it?

I've just got an acknowledgement in a book - and can't imagine what I did to deserve it. Now, this could be yet another embarrassing mixup between me and the various other William Gallaghers (there's a WG who's a Doctor Who fanzine editor and everybody asks if he's me). But in case I'm right and it's me getting acknowledged, I feel the need to earn it more. So can I tel you about the book?

It's actually books, plural: a truly exceptional five-volume set of reference books called The Kaleidoscope BBC Television Drama Research Guide 1936-2006. I can only think of one other title that's in the same league for depth of research and that's the same group's The Kaleidoscope British Independent Television Drama Research Guide 1955-2005 which covers all non-BBC drama in UK television.

Every programme, every episode, every cast, every crew, every thing. Details of those troubling problems (for me writing Radio Times's On This Day) when programmes were scheduled but pulled at the last second. Everything. The base research is from Radio Times but it's then supplemented with official information direct from the broadcasters and, increasingly, the Kaliedoscope group's own records.

You look at these ten volumes and cannot imagine what it would be like to be on day one of a research project like that. Then you look at the people who do it and they appear quite sane and normal, they appear to have social lives. I'm told that's a front, but at least they don't have the pale skin of people who never leave libraries.

And I do know the people in this group. I've bought their books for years, never knowing quite how close to my home they are, until one day I walked into Birmingham Central Library with my PowerBook, ready to do On This Day research from the Radio Times issues and found five people doing exactly the same thing. Given how much they do and how random my time in the library can be, it's surprising I hadn't seen them before.

But, grief, it was so handy. I realised who they must be just from the quiet, whispered fact-checking they were doing, and it was great. I could say to them: "Excuse me, but you wouldn't happen to know when the last episode of Warship aired, would you?"

Can't tell you the number of times I've asked people questions like that when I'm at the library but this was the first time the people didn't back away quietly. And instead told me instantly "March 29, 1977".

I was going to rabbit on at you about these books anyhow but I'm a very chuffed man this afternoon. I might go read the acknowledgements again.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Prices and links from UK DVD Review

I didn't talk about any DVDs on this week's UK DVD Review podcast, except that I also somehow managed to slip in more than I could reasonably hope to mention prices for as well.

Here are the prices, then, bar any postage and packing. So that I can give you links, I'm pointing you here to the site. The prices are all pretty much the best you can get but nonetheless, shop around, okay?

And note that prices may vary from those below: these are correct as of writing.


Battlestar Galactica - The Mini Series [2004] £4.98

Groundhog Day (Collector's Edition) [1993] £4.98

Trainspotting: The Definitive Edition [DTS] [1996] price varies; see New & Used listing

Stranger Than Fiction [2006] £11.98

Shakespeare In Love [1999] £6.98

Sense And Sensibility [1996 £6.98]

Grosse Pointe Blank [1997] £6.97

The Mad About You Collection (REGION 1) (NTSC) note this is a US release and that the price varies

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stage one

"Time and the Conway Twitty Appreciation Society" by William Gallagher will be performed in Birmingham on June 14.

I'm afraid you're not invited, but you are the first I'm telling and it's also my first professional stage production. Details, some requiring my signature (!), are to follow and I don't even know the venue yet, but it will be directed by Caroline Jester from the Birmingham Rep.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Shove over

There's a thing I've just written for the On This Day column in Radio Times that I want to tell you about: I'm really in two minds whether to submit it to the mag so you may only see it here. Because On This Day is meant to always be about television history and of course never about me but this one entry, April 30, is about radio and sort of about me.

But before I tell you that, thank you very, very much: I'm in Birmingham Central Library and just nipped back to my On This Day database to check I was telling you the right date and I was. But I'd entered it into the wrong date on the database. I'm not sure I'd have caught that mistake if it weren't for you so I appreciate that.

Anyway, I'm in that library and I'm a bit rattled because I've just come across a feature in the 27 April to 3 May 1958 edition of Radio Times which begins: "Drop in at Birmingham Reference Library almost any Friday and you will see a thick-set, bearded man poring over dictionaries and volumes of poetry."

Well, okay, that's 49 years ago, it's Saturday today (though I'd have been doing this yesterday if it weren't for the Bank Holiday). And also the library's moved in those five decades. But still, I almost turned around in my seat to see if that was the fella currently occupying my favourite spot next to the Radio Times shelves.

The fella in 1949 was Edward J Mason, who's a novelist and playwright which I'd say was like me except he was considerably more successful, and he also devised the radio quiz My Word! which is what he would research on all those Fridays, all those years ago.

It's easy to say it was eerie reading that. But I also felt proud to be carrying on some kind of tradition. I felt certain, I feel certain, that I and On This Day will of course be as forgotten as My Word! in five decades. I'm proud of Birmingham's library system. I'm reminded how fleeting this work I love really is. That could make me think it's worthless and yet instead it makes me want to cherish it.

Anyway, the feature is in a dried and dusty old copy of Radio Times and it makes me feel alive.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Prose and cons

Writing's writing, right? Most days I'm doing pretty rudimentary journalism and last month, as you may have gathered because I haven't shut up about it yet, I wrote some near-endless number of scripts. April is the prose month, and I was quite uneasy about it.

You've spotted the past tense, you know I'm feelng better but I know tomorrow I'll be back to uneasy, so for this brief interlude, what's made me happier is that I wrote some straight prose tonight. I can only imagine your excitement.

Isn't it interesting, though, how writing can be so different? I lie that when I think of an idea I automatically know whether it's radio, theatre or novel: the truth is that I make it be radio. Maybe film. Theatre is scary, especially the night after seeing Chekhov, and prose daunts me. There are just too many words. Years ago, when I began in magazines, I was on a computer title where the typical article length was 5,000 words and after a few months of that, I could not conceive how anyone could need more than that to cover any topic. Later I joined the BBC and wrote untold thousands of pages of Ceefax, I think typically 70 words per page, and after a few months of that, I couldn't imagine how anyone would need more.

Even today, if you look at a typical BBC News Online story, the whole tale is in the top four pars and everything below it is strictly speaking unnecessary. NOL and Ceefax copy is now written simultaneously; when I was last there the content production system gave the journalist a box for the top paragraphs and another for the rest; both were then sent live on NOL, only the top box went live on Ceefax. And very often what's in that second box adds nothing to the story; even more often it's a straight lift from the last piece on the same topic.

So I naturally write concisely.

I know I'm taking an age to say I write concisely.

Maybe I mean I can.

You'll just have to trust me.

But here I am, a deluded concise writer, and one of my great passions is prose. I think of the novels that have reached within me and I want to do that; I want to do it to other people but I also want to do it to me, to dig out something, learn something, have a blast in fiction. Can't write long, yet I revel in novels. So what's a boy to do?


I wrote an epistolic novel. I can't remember the length now but it was several hundred short pieces, primarily emails but also faxes, scripts, captions, Radio Times billings, even NOL and Ceefax pages at one point. Anything that I could write concisely and yet load with as much as you have to when you're writing Ceefax.

Whatever else you might call it, it was a novel. That novel got me an agent, got me a really high-powered meeting at a very big publisher, did not get published. You're thinking it all fell down there and, well, it did, but it fell with enough of a splash that I would be as insane to not try again as I probably was to try in the first place. Consequently, I've been writing another novel. Only, I can't pull off the same cheat again.

So I've been writing proper, longform prose. Every trick I know about pacing a script, about structuring a magazine article, it's all simultaneously worthless and brilliantly useful. I'm simultaneously lost and, er, I suppose found. That sounds far too brightsiding, ignore me.

What I will say is that when you're writing prose fiction, it is a very, very bad idea to read Paul Auster. Or Carrie Fisher. Margery Allingham. Tommy Hardy. Alan Plater. (You thought he was a playwright? You've got to try his novel Misterioso some day. I may have read that ten times now.)

Any suggestions for rubbish novelists I could try while I'm working?


Monday, April 02, 2007

Anton that bombshell

I feel a prat saying this when you may just already know it, but Uncle Vanya is tremendous. Okay, if that's ever so slightly ancient news, how about this? The Birmingham Rep's production is fantastic.

You've got until April 14. I imagine it must tour but I don't know and I do hope you get to see it.

Something came up today that just narked me no end and though I took it out on my pampas grass, I was in a foul mood going out. So, I'm in a mood and Anton Chekhov is not the Jim Carrey of theatre, it wasn't looking like a promising evening. Frankly, all I knew about Chekhov is that he liked his four-act plays so, well, a mood, Russian four-act depressions, I didn't expect to be safe company.

But it instantly got me. And it really moves: er, I've just realised I mean that in pretty much every sense. It's two acts, interval, two acts but lightspeed. Brilliant sets, complete with live rain, and a strong cast I completely bought.

One thing, though. Check the Birmingham Rep website for special offers: I just went on that so I could tell you when the play is on until and discovered that tickets were only a tenner tonight. They weren't remotely a tenner when I booked a couple of months ago. I can't pretend it wasn't well worth the price I paid but I might pay more attention to that website in future.

Did you know the RSC's doing The Seagull soon? I think this Chekhov lad has a future.