Friday, May 22, 2009

In Treatment: the Movie and other (Red) stories

Nuts to me, my writing, even to the brilliance of Red Planet and the single most energising, invigorating, exhilarating day in my scribbling career to date (I may be underselling that). Instead, look at this gorgeous, glorious thing.

In Treatment is being screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year. Just the first week's worth, five episodes, but I guarantee any TV exec there will be on the phone trying to buy the rest the moment they've seen them. And I can be confident of this not only because of me, because of how utterly compelled I was by them, but because of HBO. The episodes being shown here are the first sessions with each of the characters in the show's first season and the whole week was shot as a five-part pilot for the US cable channel.

They paid for those five and on seeing them ordered up another 37. That's as addicted as I was, plus I only spent the price of the DVD.

I am a puppy, running up to you with this news. I am bouncing with it. Is there anything better than finding a show that so invades your life, so lifts you up and so stretches you?


Writing one.

Which brings me back to Red Planet and how I should be going back to writing my writings, doing my doings, right now. But Jonathan Melville just told me this In Treatment news and I had to tell you. Wonder if I can get to Edinburgh?


Saturday, May 02, 2009

A website in my hand and song in my heart

So, first off, I have a new website. It's very like the old one in that it's plainly an expression of my wanton ego - I have a website, a blog, I'm on Facebook, Twitter and occasionally the phone - that I'm trying to come to terms with. And it's also at the same address,

It's also the slightly altered home to my UK DVD Review podcast and, bugger, I forgot: I need to make the old podcast page redirect to the new. And I can't do that until my mass backup of the entire old site is done.

Um. I didn't think this through. I should've waited a touch. Ah, well, it's just you and me: have a look at the new site through that link and will be well. If you usually listen to my podcast on my site, then things will also be well, but perhaps not tonight. I'll see to it.

And in the meantime, hello. Piers Beckley has tagged me in an internet meme. This one has you list seven songs that you are into this moment, right now. That's the meme, that's who tagged me, let's play our game - except that I can't resist also throwing in this. Metafilter, the site that aggregates news stories and features from all the dark corners of the web that you would go to if you knew about them, recently found a timeline of all internet memes. And then removed it. Apparently it's not accurate, but when did that matter on the internet? And, besides, it's still fun to see something of where all this meme-ing started.

But back to the plot. The seven songs I'm really into really right now go thisaway:

From The Green World album, grief, was that in 2000? Typically, deceptively simple track, even a little pared down compared to some of Dar Williams's stuff, but also rather engrossing. I do love her material but this one popped up on a random playlist the other week and I've kept coming back to it. A tinge of yearning, a little upsetting, a little uplifting.

I have no idea why this is in my head, but it's there. She is Zooey Deschanel, him is M Ward. I'd heard of her, at least. Jolly, bit of a sinister undertow depending on my mood when I hear it. Short.

Raw, gutteral, by the end you'd even throw in feral. From the Born to Run album. The Springsteen fanclub named its newsletter after this song, back in the day when there were such things as newsletters. Now there's a website.

Another old favourite that's recently popped back into my random playlist life. I remember this from the brief time UK satellite TV had CMT, Country Music Television. As it got ever more desperate for anybody, just anybody to watch, please, now, go on, it introduced a strand called Rebel Country. This was its excuse to play more popular tracks and artists while pretending there was any country element to it at all. If it was in 4/4 time, that was good enough. Bruce Springsteen used to pop up here. This is actually where I first came across Dar Williams, with her wonderful As Cool as I Am, and it's where I first heard this Mary Black cut. Since then I've been taken with a lyric in it about having a child out of wedlock: "Blessed and unholy".

A while ago I caught a series of poetry readings on BBC Radio 7 and found that many, many and indeed all three times many of the poems were really Suzanne Vega lyrics read aloud. This wasn't one of them, I just wanted to mention that. Pornographer's Dream is from her latest album, Beauty & Crime. I remember saying somewhere that were you often have a song in your head, after this I had the entire album. It probably helps that it's a bit of a paean to New York City; another track has a tremendously simple but evocative reference to "the midtown roar" there. But again, amongst everything else I love about this, there is one repeated lyric that catches me: "out of his hands / over his head / out of his reach". That one needs the music, I think.

It's a very, very strange thing but this first track on Springsteen's album Working on a Dream is overwhelmingly glorious: very funny, very fast, very bitterly afraid and with a rather soaring mix of rock guitars and orchestral backing, I can't get enough of it. So far, not that strange, right? And the second track, My Lucky Day, I adore it. The third one, Working on a Dream, I'm having a ball now, this is a fantastic album. But then we get Queen of the Supermarket and I'm gone. It's not the potent subject matter Springsteen claims and the song feels very forced to me. And what's strange is that so do all the ones after it. It's like they're tainted. So, tracks 1-3 could even have made it on this list all together, tracks 4-13, not so much.

Whenever You're Ready - Mary Chapin Carpenter
I nicked this for an iPhone alarm tune, thinking it was a gentle start to mornings. And it is - after the first chord, which had me yanked out of the bed clutching my heart. I only used it the once but it's in my head forever now and it's from the album Time * Sex * Love, which appears to be just about the only album she's ever made that isn't in the iTunes Store. Hence the lack of a link. I could've semi-legitimately picked many of her songs, but that's the one looping in my noggin' and I like to tell you the truth on occasions.

Since it's you.

And while I often deadend these memes, everybody I know with a blog having been asked before me, this time I want to pass it on to Angela. It's her first internet meme: be gentle. And also Steve, if I can figure out how to point at his Facebook page wherein he might do this.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writing In Treatment and other stories

"Writing In Treatment" is a bit of a come-on title, it's as if I've found some news for you and will be linking like crazy to insightful interviewers. And it is a little like that.

Here's the Los Angeles Times reviewing the new second season of In Treatment and saying "the stories are even better than they were last season and that's saying something". And The Boston Globe has a good piece about both the original Israeli series and the American adaptation.

But what that Boston Globe piece does that I'm trying to do today and really rather failed to do last time is talk about the writers. Perhaps chiefly because I want to enthuse about them but also because I think there are signs for the future here, both good and bad signs.

Last time I spoke of the writing, I didn't speak of the writers. I think I was a bit awash with writers at the time: I'd just seen 43 episodes over 14 days, most of which had individual writers but some were team-written, and 42 of them were direct translation/adaptations of the Israeli originals by more writers.

Then there was a showrunner on the US version who wrote the first five episodes to set the style and doubtlessly worked at least in part on all the other episodes. That was Rodrigo Garcia but there was also a showrunner/writer on the Israeli show, Be'Tipul and he created the whole thing: Hagai Levi.

I watched the show for the same reason you watch anything: it sounded good, I thought I'd like it. Then I really, really liked it and it was a can't-stuff-your-face-fast-enough race to the end of the season.

Now I'm watching it again. But as a writer. And I'm slicing it a different way. Rather than one episode of Laura's therapy sessions, then Alex's, then Sophie's, then Jake and Amy, then Paul's, rinse, repeat, I'm watching all of Sophie's. And by focusing on the one, and I'll admit aided by a handy writer list on the DVD box that I hadn't noticed before, I'm seeing that Sarah Treem wrote the last eight of the nine Sophie episodes. (Garcia did the first of this one as well.) That link is to her IMDb list, as are most of the links here, but in her case don't bother: it just lists In Treatment. Instead, try the New York Times which has a review of A Feminine Ending, a stage play of hers. But it also has audio of Treem herself talking about that play. Then The Village Voice talks about how Treem and other new writers made up the whole of the 2007/8 season for the Playwrights Horizons company. That company claims to always champion new writing but for that year, it did nothing else and - this is not directly stated but it's only barely hidden - it was because its regular writers were rubbish.

That's a little harsh.

I don't know much yet about any of the other writers on In Treatment but even if Sarah Treem is the only newcomer, isn't that marvellous? In Treatment was a fairly chancy commission for HBO and it wasn't like they dabbled in it. There was apparently a five-part pilot made, which presumably makes up week 1 of the series, but still you can't imagine ITV1 commissioning 40-odd episodes of anything new. If they ever did, if any major British television company did risk commissioning that many episodes of a non-soap drama, can you imagine them ever trying new writers on it?


Life on Mars did. One episode of that was to be written by a new writer to television, I don't know who, I only know it was a man. Something happened, again I don't know what, and his script was not used but there was that willingness to take a chance. Similarly, Ashes to Ashes was the first producing job for Beth Willis and look at her now: she's the new co-exec producer on Doctor Who.

It's called taking a chance for a reason, though. You chance your arm, you try your hand, you sometimes burn your fingers. If a brand new writer fails to deliver a filmable script of The Bill - um, bad example, sorry. If a brand new writer fails to deliver a filmable episode of Hustle, that's a gigantic production machine derailed. You've got to believe they'll deliver the goods, they've got to be as much of a safe pair of hands as you can manage. I've felt precisely this when I've commissioned new writers on magazines and I've had bad experiences from that. Also some good, actually, and that keeps you doing it, but a lot of bad. And a bad experience for me means having to write an emergency article in a couple of hours, that's substantially easier than writing an hour's television over a weekend.

This is the reason we're all guided to soaps: they can be derailed too but they're hardy little buggers and they can cope better. And it's fair enough: if you've written 100 episodes of a soap, you're someone who delivers. When you cannot have a blank screen, that's a very tempting and very practical thing to look for in a new writer.

I think it's a calamitous side-effect that soaps have become seen as the only route through and moreover that because such a proportion of new writers and producers come through the soap route that it's seen as the right way to do drama. People who don't write soaps are very dismissive of the genre, but fortunately people who do write soaps believe they're already writing every type of drama so the general wrongness just balances out. Funnily enough, there is huge, rich drama in the gap between: when drama writers try soap and soap writers try drama.

Anyway, In Treatment, just to yank this back to the topic, is not a soap. It's far more painful than that and if a story is about someone fancying someone, it cuts truer than the soap version would. It's willing to go down areas that might end the story early. It does end the story early. More than one patient does not last the whole nine weeks of the series. And then it sees what happens next, what's underlying everything, what's deeper. Rather like therapy, actually. Apparently the original Israeli series had a therapist advising the writers and he or she did complain a lot: not about inaccuracy but about how the scripts didn't dig deep enough. So then they did.

There's a lot of hyperbole about the original show, about how it's the greatest drama Israeli television has ever produced. It's certainly the only one I've heard of, so maybe that's true. But there is also the harsh, practical fact that it may well be the cheapest.

It's certainly, surely, HBO's cheapest-ever drama. Some sources say each episode took two days to film, others say it was only one. It is only half an hour per episode, but compare that to a ten-day shoot for a typical one-hour US drama and it's probably cheaper than even reality TV.

I don't want to see British television drama budgets cut. But they're being cut. I think it's a preposterously short-sighted notion: notice how ITV1 is in trouble but ITV3 is doing very well - because it's showing all the dramas ITV used to make. You can't repeat Britain's Got Talent, you can and they do repeat successfully repeat Thunderbirds over and over.

If there's any good to come from lower budgets, it's that we may see things like In Treatment. BBC4 is already making cheap dramas that are punching well above their weight: think of the dramatisations of the lives of people like Hughie Green. Trevor Eve received the greatest share of the praise for that, and his performance was superb, he managed to convey not only a tremendous impression of Hughie Green but all the nuances and the strengths of the script. It's just that it was the writer, Tony Basgallop who put those nuances and those strengths in there.

Fast-cutting scenes, action and stupendous locations cost money: tight, tense, intimate writing, not so much. Unfortunately, the type of writing that keeps you compelled without any eye candy, that involves you in characters without melodrama, that's cripplingly hard to do. The rewards are richer, for the viewer, but the gamble is higher for the writer. And it's a harsh and unpalatable fact that being given the chance to write this type of work is not even a remote guarantee that you're capable of it.

If drama budgets are cut, we're going to see an awful lot of crap. But we might see things like In Treatment and they might bring us new writers, new voices.

I'm obviously arguing with my writing hat on: I said as much at the top. But I'm a drama nut and as a viewer I just want to be in the story, whatever it is and however much it cost. As a writer, mind, I should tell you I'm available. I'm here through Thursday, two-drink minimum, see your waitress for details.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Treatment

I'm so tired. It's 2am, but I've got to talk to you. I've got to Talk Things Through.

This is my problem: if I know something, I take it for granted that you do too and that in fact you've always known it. I'm not 100% sure how I square this with my job as a journalist or in the delight I have when I find out something and want to rush up to you with the news like a puppy.

This time, I'm pretty sure you don't know anything about In Treatment. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you'll have seen me obsessing about it but otherwise, you're probably blank. That's because it's an American TV show that has never aired in the UK. Plus, I do follow US TV, I read about the pilots and the upfronts and the network presentations, and still I missed this
until it came out on US DVD about three weeks ago. Actually, I didn't even notice it then: I stumbled across an article online that mentioned it enough to intrigue me and then I read more and more until I ordered the DVD.

I want you to buy it too. No, really I think I want BBC4 to buy the series: it would be perfect for that favourite channel of mine. And here's why.

In Treatment is a HBO series that last year was made up of 43 half-hour episodes, each one of which was a single session of therapy with Gabrielle Byrne as the therapist, Paul. Each Monday night HBO showed his session with Laura (Melissa George). Tuesdays were Alex (Blair Underwood). Wednesdays were Sophie (an incredible Mia Wasikowska), on Thursdays he did couples' counselling with Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz). Every Friday night, you'd see Paul meeting with his own therapist, Gina (Diane Wiest). Next week, it all starts over again.

The entire half hour is the therapist and his patient or on Thursday his patients, plural. No one else, at least not often. It's all talking heads and very often not talking heads: long stretches where no one talks at all. If I have one criticism, it's that very often when the patient leaves the room at the end of the episode, I found myself feeling for the actor. Not the character who'd been through this session but the actor who had performed such an intense and difficult role. That's not to say I didn't feel for the characters. Sophie is a particular worry: I was as concerned for her as if she were real. There's one patient I really didn't like but when a bad thing happens to him, I felt - and still feel - upset.

Still, talking heads for 43 half-hour episodes. And not many talking heads. And sometimes talking heads not talking. Plus this repetitive thing of each Monday being Laura and so on. I think it sounds tough going, I think it could even sound boringly rigid and the truth is that the series goes to every length and trick it can to break up the rhythms and surprise you. For instance, one Thursday session with Jake and Amy ends after five minutes: you entirely understand why they're leaving early but you can't believe it, you can't believe the episode is going to fill its remaining 25 minutes or whatever it is. And the time is filled to perfection.

So there are these stunts, these gags and in fact one episode takes place entirely away from the therapy room. Only, the show's many, many tremendously powerful moments are when it doesn't do any tricks, when it is precisely what it claims to be and is just allowing one human being to tell a story.

And the rigidity of the format doesn't constrain the show, it makes it entirely compelling. I watched it on DVD so I could just keep on watching whenever I could, but still there was a compulsive rigidity to knowing who the next episode is about. At first, you know Paul's going to his own shrink at the end of the week, so you're terribly curious to see what he has to say about these patients you've been following. Then you start to see what the patients do to him is echoed in what he does with other patients: whether he likes it or not, Paul the therapist is being affected by these patients.

He's especially affected by one of them. I don't want to reveal, but I do want to celebrate so allow me to just say that it's no chance the entire season begins with a Monday session with Laura. What happens there punches throughout the season.

More, at least two patient stories suddenly overlap, perhaps 15 or 20 episodes in. Then the compulsion is turned into addiction: you cannot, cannot, just cannot watch one patient recounting a date without demanding to see the next episode with the other patient telling the same story. Every thing you've just imagined about how different the tales are is exactly right, and the drama of that is beautifully exploited, but each patient is also dating the other for different, sometimes conflicting reasons. Then there's Paul and his therapist on Friday: what will he be saying about this pair? And why is he lying about them too?

Sometimes the next episode is a little tease, a way of holding you up before you get to the next week and the next part of one particular patient's story. In America, In Treatment is on iTunes and as well as choosing to buy individual episodes or an entire season, you have the option to just buy Laura's Story. Or Sophie's. And so on. If you have the chance to buy it over iTunes, do not take these options: buy the season. Whichever patient interests you the most, you learn more about them from watching the whole thing.

I have never been busier than I am right now. So much going on, so many drama projects I've tended to for a long time are now alive and taking every spare second I've got. But it's 14 days since I watched my first episode of In Treatment and tonight, about 1am after a 6am start and a drive to and from London, I watched the last one. Forty-three episodes in two weeks. Tell me it's not compulsive.

The second season is now underway in America: Gabrielle Byrne is back as Paul but I believe at least most of the patients are new. I know for certain that John Mahoney plays one of them: don't you immediately know that's going to be great?

There is a difference this year. Instead of one half hour each weeknight, HBO is bunching episodes together: I think it's two one night, three the next. I'm not sure why that disappoints me since I've been racing through, but it does feel like a compromise to get ratings.

You need to know a couple of things and I need to tell you some, too. Starting with Be'Tipul. This is the original Isreali series that HBO adapted for America; you can find some clips on YouTube. It has a beautiful title sequence but as yet I've not been able to follow anything else. But speaking of YouTube, there are some short promo features about the show: here's the one about Sophie.

And last, In Treatment is on US DVD. If you can play American discs, you've probably got a preferred supplier but for once try After weighing up the postage costs and retail prices, I decided to skip my usual and even the American Amazon to instead buy it via the UK Amazon site. It'll cost you around £30.

Or you could wait for a UK broadcaster to pick it up. Waiting is good. I'm telling myself that waiting is good because the second season DVD presumably won't be out until at least that second season has finished airing in the States. It's been running for two weeks, they're ten episodes in. It's going to be months before I can carry on watching.

It's going to be a hard couple of months. I'd best try writing my own immensely intense dramas in the meantime.


Red in tooth and claw

Previously... the Red Planet Prize could've been made for me - but it wasn't. Not this year, anyway. I got to the finals, which was without question the single most affirming thing that's happened in my writing career. I mean, stage plays, yes, Radio Times, no doubt. But Red Planet wanted one-hour TV drama and that's my bag. That is the reason I am a writer at all. (qv Lou Grant.)

It was so affirming that it was practically enough to just be a finalist. I was disappointed not to win (and overdue congratulations to Mark Wilkinson who did) and in fact it was quite measurably disappointing: I've entered many contests where I didn't give a monkey's if I placed, I just used them as a deadline. I've entered some where to this day I have no idea if I won, though one has to assume they'd have mentioned it to me by now. Red Planet Prize, being so perfectly made for me, was more disappointing than anything else has ever been.

Except, you know, I couldn't and I can't shake that sense of affirmation I got from being a finalist: here are people whose work I admire, saying that I'm doing work they like. Moreover, I'm doing the work: that's all that ever matters to me, getting my hands dirty and doing the work: doing it for this contest and getting into the finals is doing the work, it's no longer playing at the job. What could be better? Well, winning, obviously.

But there was also a further issue, a second thing that made the Red Planet tingle. You know that some number entered, right, you know that so many were finalists and that one was the winner. But a selection of those finalists were also going to be invited to a workshop with Tony Jordan at Red Planet. I've no idea how many finalists would get this, but certainly not all, I was specifically told it wouldn't be all.

I'm one of them.

I just heard this afternoon. Punched the air, somehow accidentally caught a Radio Times PC right in the reset button and had to contain myself long enough to make sure their computer was okay.

Jason Arnopp is another on the course, and I've read his Red Planet script, he'll be winning it next year unless I can spike enough drinks, and so is Dave Turner. Haven't read his script, will bring arsenic just in case and if necessary I am willing to tickle him during the serious bits of the workshop.

So. I have not the faintest idea what the workshop will entail, but I get to find out next month. Just after I return home from New York City.

May's looking great, isn't it? Especially when I calm down and find a way to get my radio series recorded then too.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's not the years, it's the mileage

"The way I work generally is I figure a code, a general measuring stick parameter. A thirty scene thing means that each scene is going to be around four pages long... I have a tendency to work rather mathematically about all this stuff. As I build this up, you'll see it's done vaguely by the numbers."
Aren't you rushing to see the movie this fella is planning?  I think you knew it was a man. But it's George Lucas and he's speaking privately in the first of five story conferences, five nine-hour story conferences about Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1978. He's spitballing away with Steven Spielberg, briefing  screenwriter Laurence Kasdan.

Fancy reading the whole thing? A transcript of the entire thing is available right here in PDF.

I think I've said before that a reason the latest Indiana Jones film was so poor was that it was just a series of stunts with some bits to string them together. There were other reasons too, but that was one and it's a failing of a lot of films. But as I'd thought I'd heard and now know for sure, it's precisely how Raiders of the Lost Ark was done.

More, the stunt scenes they couldn't fit in went on to become the next couple of films.

So maybe George Lucas has a point.


Mathematical screenwriting? What's that line of Aaron Sorkin's? I can't find my copy of his book but it was a crack about network TV executives saying you can't have politics on TV, can't have people with moustaches... Sorking said something along the lines of: "People make up rules  because it's considerably easier than learning the real ones."

Blimey. From Lucas to Sorkin in one blog. There is actually a chance these two fellas have never been talked about in the same breath.

But anyway, I was fascinated by the Raiders documents: the torrent of ideas, for one thing, but more how we know so very well how Kasdan absorbed all this and wrote something so very good.


Monday, March 09, 2009

I had nothing to do with it

I've had some wonderful nights in theatre and I'm going to admit to you that up to now the best have really been when it's been my own material on stage. Sitting in an audience, feeling them laugh and choke, knowing that an idea you had in your head is now working. Does it honestly get better?


On Saturday night I was at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds where my wife Angela Gallagher's first-ever play, Rainwatching was performed.

You can't imagine how good it was. It went down a hurricane. Rainwatching closed out the whole festival of new writing and when the lights came up, the audience was in tears. There was a writer/actor/audience discussion panel right after it and most of the other plays were skipped over in seconds but Angela's was all anyone wanted to discuss. I may be biased there, but still.

The piece is a very raw, apparently simple but truly rich and very powerful monologue about a cancer patient with a right git of a husband. And during the panel discussion, the theatre announced to the audience that Rainwatching was to be restaged over the summer - in a trilogy including a monologue for the git husband.

I've written that. And I've written the final part of the trilogy, a piece about another character in both the first two monologues. It's the best thing I've ever written.

It's funny but one of the strongest reactions on Saturday night was about this husband character, Len, who we only hear about, we never see in Angela's Rainwatching. And another strong reaction was to the idea of seeing him in mine: everybody wants to see him, everybody wants to hear his side. But women who had been cheery with me until this point, positively turned on me: challenging me, I mean really threateningly challenging me, to try justifying this git. The look in their eyes!

I've never had such a good night - and nothing of mine was actually performed. But the power of Angela's piece, it was wonderfully affirming to see an audience reacting the way I believed they would.

What I didn't expect was the reaction after the show. Because of the panel, the audience knew what Angela looked like so they kept seeking her out in the bar. When we were leaving, people abandoned their conversations in mid-word to come over to her: not just to congratulate her, but to actually thank her for writing it.

And to give me a funny look about the sequel.

Wish you could've been there. I'll let you know when dates for the trilogy are announced - and in the meantime, fancy seeing what the fabulous writer Angela Gallagher looks like? Stop by her Breast Cancer Walk donations page and say Mr Angela sent you.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

No news is great news

Listen, sorry in advance: I'm about to not tell you something. But it's fantastic.

I'm writing/producing a three-part radio drama called Attachment. It's for Rhubarb Radio in the Midlands, a new internet radio station, and thereafter we're releasing it to iTunes. All this has been bubbling away and I'm obviously very busy, very happy doing it.

But tonight, about twenty minutes ago, I cast one of the parts. Someone has agreed to play a key role in the series and I cannot, cannot tell you who. But if I did, you would now be saying bloody hell. Even bloody hell and a half.

One reason I can't tell you is that it's much more fun this way. But another is that it's schedule-dependent: and this person isn't half busy.  If it cripples me, I will fit around her schedule.

Ooops. There was a clue, wasn't there? Her.

It's all you're getting, I'm afraid.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

24 things about me

I'm so far behind this meme that I had to do something to get you to read, didn't I? It is 24, there's a reason. And you already know all the bits about tagging 25 other people including the geezer who tagged me, right? So, all of that, very good. Now let's play our game:

1. I'm papyrophobic. It means afraid of paper: I am a writer who's afraid of paper. Really that's a bit strong; I don't go around cowering at receipts, despite anything my accountant says. It's more a revulsion and it's only very broadly predictable: I'm fine with A4, for instance, I usually do okay with A5. Post-It notes are so much a problem that even writing this sentence was difficult. Broadsheet newspapers are great until the instant I've bought them. Anyway. Actually, receipts are tricky.

2. I said I'm a writer and so I know that I ought to be saying to you that my inspiration was Shakespeare - and the fella really knew some onions - or Stoppard or someone. I can say both of those and I can add Alan Plater, Aaron Sorkin, many more. Even William Goldman, except that he now irritates me so much I struggle to read his material. But the full truth is that I'm a writer because of Gene Reynolds, Leon Tokatyan, April Smith, Seth Freeman and Michelle Gallery: the writers of Lou Grant.

3. I've failed at least four driving tests but, I believe uniquely, I've also passed twice. Alcohol was not involved: see below.

4. I don't drink. Never have. Even working in a bar, I tried the odd thing, didn't like any of it. For most of my adult life the mantra has been Coke with a curry, Pepsi with a pizza, though my current spherical shape is making me reconsider.

5. I believe I lost my religion when I went to college. Before then, everybody I knew was Irish Descent - I cap that up because at the time I believed that to be an actual term, like Jewish - and they were also all Roman Catholic. At college, nobody else was either of these things and it was fantastic: so many people, so many ideas, such wonderful and wide-open experiences. Pity about the course: I studied computing and envy anyone who got to be immersed in literature instead. I was going to say that it surprises me how useful computing has been, even way over here in another career. But this 25 things lark is a Facebook meme and it took me a day to find where to write it on Facebook, so maybe not.

6. If I've got a song in my head and I stub my toe, catch my finger in a door, do anything physical that involves pain, I don't swear, I just say whatever lyric I've got to. This isn't my being prudish, it isn't calculated, it's entirely involuntary: if you open a door in my face I may well bellow "I'm loving angels instead".

7. I will buy anything by Dar Williams, Suzanne Vega, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen or Paul Auster. Hovering around the automatic purchase are writers like Carrie Fisher, Paul Reiser and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I should do links here, shouldn't I?

8. Half my idiolect is made up of quotes; nothing is especially recognisable ("It's my job, it's what I do" is from a thousand bad TV shows) and usually there's no obvious reason why I've absorbed it. But people who know me very well do report watching ancient films or US sitcoms in the middle of the night and catching phrases they believed were mine. They think it's funny but me, not so much.

9. If you show up at my door, I will be delighted. If I show up at yours, I will have conjured a reason, some practical excuse. It's not you.

10. I'm a patzer. And I'm okay with that. I adore chess, I relish Scrabble, it doesn't mean I'm any good at either of them.

11. I love things that are strawberry, orange or tomato flavoured but I don't like strawberries, oranges or tomatoes.

12. I wish I'd written Veronica Mars. Also Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, obviously.

13. This is the reason there are only 24 things: this one was going to be the shock, but just in time I remembered who could be reading it. I'm going to say phew now.

14. I would not kill to write like Dar Williams. But I'd maim. Please focus: I'm not going to reveal what number 13 was, okay?

15. My favourite place is New York City. I can't tell you why: it's not another secret, it's just that I don't know why. I'm fully aware of its problems, yet when I step out onto its streets, I am taller.

16. I'm a cartography nut. Actually, I'm a drama nut, that's at the heart of most things about me but in this case I am fascinated by seeing how maps purport to tell us directions yet are really revealing so much more about the people who drew them. What they choose to include, what they choose to omit. How big or small they draw enemy countries. The lies, the hopes, the politics. I'm rubbish finding my way on OS maps but I'll bore your teeth off about the fact that it's because it's called Ordnance Survey that the UK is the most-mapped region of the world. Military, doncha know?

17. I believe radio drama can do anything. I'm now producing radio and realising that yep, it's true, but it's bloody hard.

18. I've taken two big gambles in my career and the first one paid off brilliantly. Frightening to think I nearly didn't do it; I could be writing bad computer software even now. It would be really bad: full of surprise plot twists. The second gamble isn't half taking a long time, but I believe the prize is worth it.

19. I am very good at multitasking. Hang on, I also listen, I effortlessly remember birthdays and I've only ever been to half a single football match: I'm not a man at all, am I? Though I have caught myself watching digital TV in the middle of the night and getting too interested in documentaries like Hitler's Pets.

20. This will seem unlikely since I've left it to point 20, but I am more interested in you than I am in me. After all, I've been here, I've seen me do it, I want to know about you instead. Plus, you dress better, and you know you do.

21. If something - a drama, script, prose, film - is somehow right, just, you know, right, it will make me choke. I don't mean sentimental, I don't mean soppy. Just, every piece of work sets out to do something and when it seems to me that it has got there, got there with gusto, I appreciate it the way you might art. You'd never believe some of the things that have done this to me, but there is one Dar Williams song that is so exquisitely done that it has repeatedly left me with hot tears running down my cheeks. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit did it three times: Jeanette Winterson's novel, her screenplay and the BBC TV dramatisation.

22. I'm writing this to you in the bizarre idea that you'd be interested, though, face it, what are the odds you'll read all the way? I'm safe, I can say anything. Except 13, obviously. But still, here we are, 24 things about me, and I also have a blog, a Facebook page and a podcast. In all seriousness, I do have ego and self-worth problems.

23. I am really, really good at reading situations and seeing what's going on - unless I am in any way involved myself. Most of my friends are women, I don't know why but it's statistically noticeable, and so obviously I've had many conversations about rubbish boyfriends. So when I was in college, I went to another university to see a woman I had been besotted with at school: she starts telling me how rubbish her boy is and I automatically go into counselling mode. It took me seven years to realise that the reason she was getting red and exasperated was that she was offering me a chance. I'm relieved to tell you that I think it worked out for the best, but still, it's scary to be so sharp and empathetic yet to have a total blind spot like this. If you fancy me, you have to tell me or I will never know. I promise that I have NHS Direct on speed dial, I can get you the help that you need.

24. I once walked up to a random door at BBC Television Centre, knocked, went in and pitched for work without the slightest idea what was in that office. I didn't get it. But similarly, I once randomly phoned up the Los Angeles Times, said I was in town, and talked my way into a bylined piece in the paper. If you know Lou Grant you know why this was special for me.

25. The last one ought to be a kicker, shouldn't it? But I've already spent my kicks on number 13, so I may have to go with a wimper. What if I tell you that one of these 24 things is a lie? Or what about that boilerplate instruction text that comes with all these and has the line "If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you"? I can't help but read that as "25 is a hell of a big number, I'm running out, you'll do". If you read it that way too, I promise it isn't true this time: see point 20 for details.

Besides, you've no interest in my 25, you just want a good excuse to write yours, don't you? And I want to read it, so everybody wins and it costs us nothing.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What I'm fantastic at

Remember your careers teachers telling you that interviewers are going to ask you what your weaknesses are? And that you should say "Well, perhaps I can be too much of a perfectionist"?

Such bollocks. And yet, it was prescient bollocks because it foresaw the world of the writer's blog: obviously one writes in order to communicate precisely how huge our egos are but, still, there's at the very least a frisson of self-advertising in doing it. I don't think I've got any work through talking to you like this but I can immediately think of times when an editor has read what I've written so I'm aware that this cannot be the entirely relaxed, artless chat that one would like.

So when Piers picks up a meme from Lara, and others before her, asking for us all to say what we're good and bad at in writing, I'm going to go out on limbs and say the Good just might be emphasised over the bad. Even down to initial capital letters.

And why not? I hear the challenge and I dive in with gusto:

Dialogue, characters and pace that mean my material has life and verve right there on the page.

what i'm bad at
Well, perhaps I can be too much of a perfectionist.