Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ooops, forgot one

If you're keeping track - presumably only so you can divine between the different William Gallaghers I mentioned - then I should say I'm in the new issue of MacFormat magazine.

I decided to get on top of my email usage; looking into rules and folders and whatever the other thing is, and I did it in part by writing about the same thing for MacFormat. It's a fun, good magazine and I learnt something doing the article, I hope if you read it you will to. Got to tell you now, best to let you down gentle like, if you're a PC user then my feature will teach you bugger all.

But, hey, I'm in so many magazines at the moment... Okay, that was boastful. But it was nice doing the shopping today and meandering past the shelves of magazines thinking I'm in that one, I'm in that one, I'm working for that one - and, ooh, Doctor Who Monthly's covermount is an old Who novel. I bought the Marco Polo one. It's not very good.

But the magazine is. I just am not 100% sure how I started off boasting at you that I was in all these magazines and end up recommending you read one I'm not.


Friday, June 27, 2008

The definition of success

A friend is just after saying that he avoids writing blog entries about rejections, he chooses instead to focus on the successes he has. I couldn't fault that in the slightest, I've no doubt you see his point entirely: whatever else a blog is, or whatever else you claim it is when you're excusing the time you spend on it, a blog is an advert for you.

That may be a bit harsh: call it a promotion. I'm a professional writer so maybe it's more apparent with folks of my ilk (I sell my writing, here's some writing I do, I'm available through Thursday, rates on request, that kind of thing). But anyone's blog paints a picture of them for us all to see, just as all writing is terribly revealing of the writer.

So, successes.

Trouble is, you get me talking and I feel more comfortable talking about rejections. I've got more practice. Plus, I should say that there are successes I cannot tell you about: projects that have gone well financially, for instance, but otherwise don't have a lot of material to show for themselves. I'm sure I'll tell you about them some time, you're certain I'll never spill the beans about the beans they pay me.

(Just as an aside. There's a William Gallagher who used to edit Doctor Who fanzines. It isn't me. But once I stumbled across an internet discussion about him/me, lambasting my writing and being jealous of his incredible earnings. Even being one of the William Gallaghers involved, it was hard to unpick their confusion except that I'm guessing the incredible earnings are his. That would mean the lambasting was mine, but if I can't tell from your writing who you're talking about or what he's done, I think there's it's a fair bet it's not my writing you should be focusing on first.)

(Another aside. There is another William Gallagher. There are loads of him. But there's a new one, a new William Gallagher has started a blog. I can't read it, I don't even recognise the language for sure, but somehow Google's references to it are in English and he appears to be greatly concerned about internet dating. If you're here looking for advice on New Zealand dating practices, I thank you for your patience in reading this far and direct you please to this fella.

Now after all that, I've run out of time. Okay. Can't tell you about cash, can't tell you about contracts, can tell you I've had a great, great week. Three days on, two days on Doctor Who Adventures, five mornings and five evenings on Doctor Who Adventures, one day on Radio Times magazine. I realise this adds up to more than five days but that's because it did. It has. Er, it was. It's continuing to be.

Doctor Who Adventures is a delight: instantly liked everybody, instantly relished the work. Can't get enough of it.

Then that short play of mine has been kicking up some dust for me. If you'd asked, I'd say you were mad to write a piece that short but it is doing surprisingly well for me. And right now it's doing well on its own: I don't even have to tend it, I just hear positive noises every now and again.

Speaking of plays and scripts, I'm doing a thing in the gaps this week that is definitely one of the best ideas I've ever had. Not 100% sure I'm getting it down as well as I could but it's getting down and it's working.

And speaking of working, you'd be surprised how many people ask me to read their scripts. Hardly any. It used to come up a lot and I've even been a professional script reader for real money but a few months ago I had someone's piece in front of me and I just had enough. I truly believe it when producers say there are very few good scripts around because I don't see any either.

So I've stopped agreeing to read things. But I agreed last night and read something through that was a treat. Bit scary for my wimpy tastes, but dialogue that was alive on the page. Sounds so simple, but it's so rare.

As is my gushing. Sorry, I went off on one: it's really been a bouncy, great week and I just had to bubble at you for a time.

Did I mention how good Doctor Who Adventures is?


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Return of Wednesdays

I'm a freelance writer but my most reliable gig is a part-time staff writer position at BBC Worldwide where I currently work three days a week on My freelance work includes a lot for Radio Times magazine, so things get a bit confusing but that's another story. Today's story is the Return of Wednesday.

Those three days for vary enormously; I'm forever telling friends that I will always and only be in London on Thursdays but then they point out I'm standing there in a London pub saying this on a Tuesday. And I say it's three days, it can be four, it's been five.

When my wife Angela began having chemotherapy a thousand years ago, I decided to just simplify things as much as I could: I told Radio Times I wouldn't ever work for them on Wednesdays. Angela's clinic days were always Wednesdays, usually about three weeks apart, so I could've worked at least two Wednesdays out of every three, but it was messy. Just because Radio Times was being fantastic about my taking time out to look after Angela, there was no need to make it impossible for them to work out when I'd be where.

And as it happens, all those Wednesdays that weren't clinic days did get filled very quickly. Sometimes I'd go to the clinic for prescriptions, oftentimes I'd just help Angela. Once in a long while, she'd be well enough that we could take the day off and go out for lunch.

All that's over, and for the best of reasons: last Wednesday was the last Wednesday. Twelve sessions of devil drugs done and gone.

One odd thing. Many, many people assume that's it. Apparently even chemotherapy patients have been known to assume this: you've had your last chemo session, shouldn't you be feeling better? Well, er, no. Chemotherapy is such a variable beast that it's impossible to generalise but nonetheless, I'm going to generalise: chemo sessions take place every three weeks. And it's not because of NHS resources, it's for the very practical purpose that your body can only take so much. Remember white cells? Forget 'em. Every cell you own is smashed, pummelled, hung, drawn and quartered in every chemo session and you cannot have any more until the good cells have recovered sufficiently.

Have a guess how long that takes.

So you're not getting chemo sessions when it suits the hospital, you're getting them as fast on each other's heels as it is physically possible for you to have. And countless things can prolong the problems: in fact, you don't recover between sessions, you just recover enough. Angela was apparently unusual in how she made it through all 12 in exactly the time hoped for, without any reason to abandon the treatment at any stage. Though she did discover that she's allergic to yew trees. Seriously: the strongest, foulest, devil's brew drug, taxotere, is based in part on the bark of a yew tree (aren't you picturing three witches stirring a cauldron right now?) and Angela, like so many others, had an allergic reaction to it. That wasn't what you'd rank as a highlight in the treatment: me grabbing staff, crash-cart teams racing over to Angela.

Your mileage may vary, by the way. Got to say that. Even if you had precisely the same breast cancer as Angela, I mean precisely the same - frankly, if you were even Angela herself, you'd best not bet on needing or getting the same treatment. It's that variable, that different from person to person. And each person reacts all but immeasurably differently. So if you ever need taxotere, you may fly through it. I hope so, obviously.

Anyway, Angela's had her final session. But where so many people assume that's it, that on Thursday she'll be skipping, the truth is that of course she has at least three weeks in which she'll be recovering from the final session. We don't know how long it will take: every previous session has been capped by the next one coming through, so the odds are it won't be three weeks to the day. I have to tell you that some patients, a significant number, report feeling bone-tired for another year. And bone-tired is the right description: this stuff knackers your bone marrow.

Pleasant stuff, isn't it? But there are good things. All this violent medication gets rid of the cancer, so I do think of taxotere as the devil drug from heaven.

And right now Angela has booked a holiday in the Lake District. We've just come back from one, one we had during a lull in the cycle, and she's going again next month. The month after that, we're off for a short break to the Lake District. And I'm buying her a birthday present of an iPhone 3G and a Christmas break in the Lake District.

Did I mention she likes the Lake District? I've a feeling that's come up.

But for all I've just told you quite straight about the effects of chemotherapy, the truth is that it is over, so things are getting better. And I'm working Wednesdays again.

Next week it gets very complicated as I juggle days in order to work half the week on Radio Times, half on Doctor Who Adventures magazine. But the return of Wednesdays, it's a peculiar notion. I am stunningly lucky to have the job I do; I've always known this and I am reminded of it by getting a short gig on Doctor Who Adventures: I'm so looking forward to that work. It's been a sobering boon to be able to drop all Wednesdays for the last eight months or so; I know many or even most people cannot do it, but that and the ability to work at home 80% of the week, I'm very grateful for it.

So. I've got working Wednesdays now. If only I could get sleep back next.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting that New York vibe

John Davison and Therase Neve in Manhattanhenge by William Gallagher, directed by Joanna Egan

Do you know how long I've had this open with a photo and no text? Since Wednesday, actually Thursday if you want to be picky: maybe around 2am. The instant I got back from the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds where a short play of mine was performed: a short play, a small theatre, but a bit of a milestone for me.

You had to pay to see it. Last time, I had a larger audience and a longer piece but that audience was made up of producers, theatre agents, publishers, a fella from the National Theatre. It was a showcase, it was wonderful, but this week's one involved an audience paying cash.

And they loved it. I think it's fair to say that: one woman told me in an audience discussion afterwards that she'd had goosebumps at the ending. Another said she'd cried. And the cast told me they were proud to have been in it.

Now, okay, I'm always likely to think someone's just being nice but when they say things like that and you have to know that it was in the heat of the night, everyone pumped up from being in a success, all these things. But that's a good reason to be pumped and I choose to believe my cast.

I've been so lucky with cast that I'm starting to suspect all of them, all actors everywhere, are good. Mind you, I wrote a short sentence in Crossroads that had five meanings and the actor chose to deliver... none of them. Still not entirely sure how she was able to strip it of all five without actually dropping the line but I will tell you that mumbling was involved.

She also probably had no more than thirty seconds rehearsal time: it was a busy show.

I'd have liked to have been in rehearsals on Manhattanhenge. I'm not saying I'd have done things differently, but the process is great and I miss that. And I might have been able to fix a thing that bothers me: I've got a nice joke in it which is good but it's necessarily so close on the heels of something else that it gets a little lost. Let me show you.

You need to know that these two people have just met, they're strangers and they're really going to stay that way, it's just that for these few minutes, they're brought together by this mysterious thing called Manhattanhenge that I seem to shy away from explaining to you. He's 40s, fretful, American, a restaurant manager. She's 19, back-packing, gap-year British.

MICHAEL: They do say it makes you stop. It's a cleansing, spiritual breath that runs right through the city. That New York trick of being completely private and alone in a crowd, that loosens, dissipates. Connections are made. People just talk.

JOANNE: Look at us. Would we have talked?

MICHAEL: Probably. I'd have said "Hello, my name's Michael, our specials today are..."

JOANNE: And I'd have said "Hi, Michael, I'm Joanne, and what do you got for five dollars?"

MICHAEL: "The exit, madam."

It's that last line that felt on the night that it came in too close. Can't see what to do about it yet, the rhythm's right but the punch isn't there. Still, I think actually I may leave it precisely the way it is: the piece is not a comedy, that excerpt is not building to that joke and it's not that gigantic a gag anyway. And what does most definitely work, what was just a treat to see on the night, is that talking about the way they would normally be separate, would normally not really talk, heightens the fact that now they are.

Manhattanhenge very successfully sounds like a really, truly casual chat, a conversation that you could completely believe spontaneously happens between these people. It's unforced, bouncy and it hides how I've telescoped the scene down into its most economic form.

And I think that's part of the reason it worked. Now I've told you that people cried, you'd be looking for the punch or the tragedy and I think you might even be disappointed: you look for what I've done on the page and it's a tiny thing. But when you aren't looking for it, when you don't know something is coming, the fact is that you provide the tragedy: nothing bad happens here at all, not the slightest, tiniest thing.

It's the gap between what these characters know and what you do that makes the piece just a little shivery.

And I love that: I love fiction where it's taking place in your head as well as in front of you. I wrote a thriller thing once where you provided a character with an alibi, your assumptions provided her with it, and then I spent weeks making the reveal the smallest yet most unmistakeable moment I could. Something that would've passed you by, maybe even bored you, if it were one character giving another an alibi, becomes an almighty gasp because you knew the answers and you'd fooled yourself.

That piece got me a literary agent. I should go back to it.

Nothing's happening next with Manhattanhenge. A few people I rate highly are reading it, I'm toying with the rest of it: I have five Manhattanhenge stories, this was just the one that was right for stage. I suspect as good as the others are, I may throw them away and leave this one on its own. I don't mind a short, it's much better than a padded piece: a sketch is better than a stretch.

But I tell you, upsetting people is even better than seeing them shake with laughter. And that was pretty good.

I've just spent 12 hours driving over the last ten days or so, I swear since 2am on Thursday morning I've had my chin on the desk, I've been wondering what all these buttons are with letters on them.