Saturday, 10 January 2015

A good start to the year!

 My byline in this month's Doctor Who Magazine!

As anyone who’s read probably more than a couple of entries in this blog will know, I am a card-carrying, lifelong Doctor Who fan. As a part of this I have, for the past twenty years, been a reader of Doctor Who Magazine, the august journal which has been published – originally by Marvel, and latterly by Panini – continuously since 1979, impressively even managing to survive the series being off-air for sixteen years during that time.

I first bought DWM, as it is known to fans, in December 1994, picking up a rather tatty copy of issue 220 in WH Smith’s in Worthing. And I’ve been a reader ever since, non-stop. I’ve been an occasional contributor to the letters page and had some comments published in the round-ups of annual polls and the like – even being “Letter of the Month” on a couple of occasions, first at the age of 13 in 1997, and then again in 2013 in the 50th anniversary special, which was very pleasing.

However, this month, something rather wonderful has happened of which I am very proud – after all those years of reading and occasionally writing to DWM, I have become one of their writers! For one month only, but it still counts. A proper, professional piece of writing for them, which is rather nice!

 DWM 220 from December 1994, the first issue I ever bought, at the age of ten, and issue 482 from January 2015, with my piece in - coincidentally, they both also contain interviews with Peter Purves!

It’s an interview with David Fisher, a scriptwriter who wrote four stories during Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor. I actually originally interviewed Fisher as part of my day job, for my Doctor Who 50th anniversary features for BBC Radio Norfolk. However, he’d led such an interesting life and had so much to say that I thought he was worth a longer piece than a radio package could allow, and I asked if he’d mind me writing up an interview with him for DWM.

He said that was fine, so I wrote up the feature and eventually submitted it to the lovely Peter Ware, the assistant editor of DWM, who I’d briefly met in November 2013 when we sat next to each other at the BFI première of An Adventure in Space and Time. He liked it, the editor Tom Spilsbury evidently did as well, and with a few tweaks it sat waiting for its opportunity for a slot in the magazine… Which came with this month’s issue, published on Thursday!

Rather pathetically, I can’t stop looking at it. I’m very proud of it, having never really thought I’d get the opportunity to write for DWM. Although I can certainly turn a good article, I’d thought that pretty much every angle of Doctor Who I could write about had already been covered by other people or could be covered by people who knew a lot more about it than I did. So I’d always been more of a bystander than a participant in Doctor Who writing, but I must admit that the excitement of having this published has kicked off another idea in my head, which I’m going to try and sufficiently research to work up into an idea for them… We shall see!

In other writing news, just before Christmas I received a rejection for Another Life, but it was at least a personal one. They’d clearly read the book, and had well-explained reasons why they didn’t want to take it on – and there were some nice comments, such as “I was impressed by the intensity and depth of your novel that demonstrates a very careful and literary approach…” But at the end of the day a rejection is still a rejection.

I’ve sent off an e-mail of enquiry to another publisher to see if they’re interested – like the one who rejected it, a small publisher I’ve had some correspondence with before. If they don’t want it, I may then start on agents rather than publishers.

Also through the day job, I had the opportunity to meet a proper writer this week – the winner of this year’s Costa Book Award for Best Debut Novel, no less! It was Emma Healey, who lives in Norwich and won for her book Elizabeth is Missing. I’d actually briefly met her last summer, when the novel was published and she came in as a guest on the show I produce during the week, but on Monday after we had the embargoed press release about her win I was able to pop round to her house and record a piece. She was very nice, very friendly, and clearly extremely talented. I, needless to say, was sick with jealousy! But I don’t think I let it come across too badly in the interview, which you can listen to here:

Aside from that, I’m plotting the next Alice Flack story which I am hoping to write soon, and doing some initial research on that possible new piece I’d like to submit to DWM. I’d like to get the first Alice Flack story up online soon, probably as a giveaway e-book on Amazon, but I’m told it really needs an appealing cover to help catch the eye of the browsing reader, and I need to somehow get that sorted first.

But a good start to the year, anyway. Even if I haven’t so far done much actual bloody writing in it!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Latest scribblings

The Yearbook and I are fighting the good fight once again...

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog entry, I know, for which I apologise to anybody who was checking back here for one. (I can’t imagine that represents a very large audience!) There hasn’t been a great deal to say about my writing in recent months, but there are a few things I should catch up on, for the record.

Firstly, I have actually earned a bit of money for some writing, which is always extremely gratifying! It makes it sound mercenary and shallow to feel as if financial reward somehow validates the effort of writing, but… Well, it does. It’s not the only reason I do it, of course – I do it because I am almost compelled to, because it’s the only thing I have ever wanted to do with my life. But it’s always very satisfying when someone thinks you have written something good enough to be paid for.

It wasn’t for a piece of fiction, sadly, but for a magazine article which has yet to be published, so I won’t reveal here what it is – mainly because I don’t yet know when it will be appearing! But I have been paid over £500 for it, which rather took me aback. It was much more than I had expected!

In other exciting news, I have finally started submitting Another Life to people. At the end of June I sent it in to a new writing scheme being run by the publishers Cape, but after all of July, August and September had elapsed without my having heard anything back from them, I decided that was probably a write-off and at the start of this month I took the plunge, bought the new edition of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and began the process of submitting it to other agents and publishers.

Having said that, the first publisher to whom I have submitted it isn’t one I needed to look up in the book as I’ve had contact with them before, when I was sending The Wicket in the Rec to people. The woman I corresponded with last time is still there, and after an initial e-mail of enquiry from me she’s asked to see the whole manuscript of Another Life, which I have sent across to her. That was nearly a week ago now, so I am holding off on any more submissions while I await a verdict on that.

I have been doing some more writing over the summer months and into the beginning of autumn, mainly on two particular projects. Firstly, I have been playing around with some ideas for a possible future novel called This Other England, and indeed have written some background notes and a chunk of a few thousand words of one section. It’s an idea I’ve had idly bubbling away at the back of my mind for a while, the story of a fictional England World Cup team, so it won’t surprise you to learn that watching this summer’s tournament on TV finally inspired me to start doing something with it.

I quite like the idea, it’s quite a fun one to write, and there might even be a market for it… But it’s just a possible idea at the moment. The sort of thing I might play with every now and again when the mood takes me, and I feel inspired to write another chunk.

The other thing, which I have just completed the first draft of, is a long short story called The Ruined Heart. This is a sort of murder mystery set in 1946, and involves a character I came up with and wrote a few stories about many years ago, a kind of private detective-type investigator called Alice Flack (she even co-starred in one of my early efforts at a novel). She was always a contemporary character before, but now I’ve put her into the 1940s and given her a rather nasty war wound.

The plot itself was inspired by something I read about while doing some research for a radio programme, and thought “There must be a good story in that, surely?” It’s ended up being quite hefty for a short story, 24,000 words, and I am just going through it this week for the first major proof read. I’m reasonably pleased with it – it’s not spectacular but nor, I think, is it awful, and I even have half an idea of what to do with it…

I am toying with the idea of putting it up on Amazon, to buy for e-readers. I know, I know – I have gone on in the past on here about my distaste for self-publishing. But it’s not a novel, it’s an odd length that doesn’t really fit anywhere for submitting it to people, and I wouldn’t put it up for more than 50p or whatever the cheapest rate is. I haven’t seriously looked into it yet, and won’t until I’ve properly proofed it and got a few friends to read it and let me know what they think.

I do like the character of Alice, and I even have an idea pretty much all set out in my mind for a second 1946 story featuring her. It could be a series, I suppose, if people were interested in them, which remains to be seen.

So that’s the current state of play on the writing projects, anyway. I’m not sure how much work I’ll do on any more Alice stories or This Other England before Christmas, as there’s a lot to do work-wise, which eats up a lot of my free time – another Treasure Quest Live stage show to produce, and a documentary to be edited… At least I’m keeping busy!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Boy From Brazil

 The cover of the Eastern Daily Press "Weekend" supplement for May 3rd 2014, promoting the tie-in feature I wrote for them.

It was back in April last year, before I’d even done much work on what was to become Far From the Fogs, that my boss David suggested that for my next documentary project, we should tackle the story of the racing driver Ayrton Senna’s connections to Norfolk, where he spent much of his early career.

With the 20th anniversary of Senna’s death on the 1st of May 1994 approaching, it seemed an obvious and fitting one for us to do. Indeed, credit for the original idea must go to my colleague Edd Smith, who had first pitched the notion of such a programme for the anniversary some time before this. For whatever reason, I ended up being the one asked by David to make it, which has ended up being a fairly extraordinary experience.

The first bit of work was done last summer, when David went to interview Martin Brundle about his new book, and took me along with him so that I could also record an interview for the documentary, about his famous battle with Senna for the 1983 British F3 championship. But most of the work has been done since January, recording interviews with those who worked with Senna when he drove for Norfolk-based teams, and tracking down what archive might be available for use.

 Slightly-unsuccessfully posing for a photo with ex-F1 driver Martin Brundle after I'd interviewed him for the documentary... I didn't go through the whole thing with my eyes closed, I promise!

It was an occasionally frustrating experience, when not being able to speak to interviewees who could really have added something, and being unable to use any F1 commentary archive due to rights issues, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. I think I managed to come up with a programme which told a good story in an effective way, and certainly all the feedback I have had on it has been pretty much universally positive.

But it has also been a very important programme for me personally, because it’s the first thing I’ve made as a producer that I have managed to get onto a national BBC radio station. Once I had a first edit of the programme done, I submitted it to BBC Radio 5 Live, who to my absolute delight and amazement said they’d consider running a shorter, 25-minute version of the programme.

Given the Radio Norfolk edit of The Boy From Brazil, as I’d titled it, was 55 minutes long, this seemed like quite a daunting prospect, but it actually only took me three runs through to get it to work. My first attempt at a cut down was about 37 minutes, another pass through got me to about 29, and then finally I’d taken enough out to make the cut. Their requests for a more defined ending and “upping” the production with some incidental music beds in places also gave me ideas I was able to take back to the Norfolk version to make the whole thing stronger.

5 Live liked it, and it was quickly scheduled for a spare half-hour slot on a Sunday evening the weekend before the anniversary of Senna’s death. Indeed, it seemed to go down so well with them that they ran it again on the anniversary itself. And they had to scrape me off the ceiling with excitement when I found that the 5 Live broadcast was selected as a “Today’s Choice” in the Radio Times.

 It may sound a bit sad and a little old-fashioned, but I have been a Radio Times reader for as long as I can remember, so having my work highlighted in the pages of the magazine was an enormous thrill.

I am proud of the work I do at BBC Radio Norfolk, but to have something deemed good enough for broadcast on national radio is extremely pleasing, and really makes you feel a part of something bigger, the great BBC stretching all the way back to 1922. Something else that contributed to that was actually getting the chance to go to Broadcasting House in London for the first time, the spiritual home of the BBC, to record the voiceover narration with Rob Bonnet.

David and I had been trying to think of a suitable voice for it – David wanted someone who resonated with the material, whereas I wanted a voice that had the right sort of familiarity and, more importantly, authority. One morning it suddenly struck me that the best candidate for the job might be Rob Bonnet, who worked for the BBC in Norwich in the 1980s, had reported on Senna’s career at the time but was now known nationally as a BBC sports reporter of long standing, currently on Today on Radio 4.

David wrote to Rob, who agreed, and last month I had the very great thrill of travelling down to Broadcasting House to record the narration script with him after he’d finished a shift on Today one Friday morning. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got quite emotional as I walked from the tube station towards that famous building, sitting like a mighty battleship anchored at the top of Regent Street. Rob was very nice, and had only tiny tweaks to suggest to the script I’d written, which from someone of his great experience in network radio and television was also very satisfying.

 Another great thrill was getting to go and do some work at Broadcasting House, the headquarters of BBC radio since the early 1930s, and very much the spiritual home of the entire Corporation.

After the programme was complete, it all began to snowball. The Brazilian desk of the BBC World Service saw the “Today’s Choice” feature in the Radio Times, and phoned to ask me about the programme. This ended up with me providing them with the script and raw audio elements to make a Portuguese-language version of the 5 Live edit for broadcast on the Brazilian radio network CBN – which I suspect will be the first and last time any work of mine will grace their airwaves!

As with Far From the Fogs, there was also a tie-in article for the Weekend supplement of the Eastern Daily Press, which they again kindly made the cover feature. David is often nagging at me to try and pitch more feature article ideas to people (rather than, as I suspect he sees it, wasting my time trying to write novels), but really, there’s only a very select range of subjects that I feel particularly qualified to write about, and could with any enthusiasm. I’m not a journalist, and I couldn’t write non-fiction copy week after week after week on a regular basis about things that didn’t really interest me.

 My EDP feature. Very gratifyingly, as with the Sherlock Holmes piece I wrote them last year, they didn't have to change a word.

It is always nice, however, to get my name in professional print. My colleagues at BBC News Online were also kind enough to give me a co-author byline on a tie-in piece they put up related to the programme, although in this case the credit wasn’t really deserved. I did write a possible article for them (and felt quite proud of myself for having managed to write completely different pieces for them and the EDP), but they didn’t use it, instead taking another angle on the story and just using some of the quotes I had provided. The resulting piece by my colleague Zoe Applegate managed to reach No. 1 in the “most read” charts on BBC News Online on Bank Holiday Monday – all good publicity for the programme, the full-length BBC Radio Norfolk version of which was broadcast that day.

 Top of the charts for BBC News Online, on the morning of Monday 5th May 2014.

I’d also sent the possible article I’d written for News Online to the Brazilian desk, who ended up publishing a version in Portuguese that, in terms of content, ended up being closer to what I’d written than the English version, oddly enough. Certainly the first time that any of my prose has been translated into another language!

So it has all been a very exciting few weeks, good for my ego and possibly good for my radio career as well. However, I am well aware of the fact that none of this would be happening were it not for the fact that a man died in a horrific accident twenty years ago. At times during this whole process I have worried about the fact that I am getting career benefits based purely on another man’s death – while it’s possible we would have done a programme about Senna’s early years in Norfolk had he lived, the fact he died gave an anniversary to hang it on, and possibly gave him an almost mythic status that added to his legend.

But I take comfort from the fact that those I have interviewed and others with whom I have communicated during the process of making this programme, who all knew Senna, seem comfortable and happy with celebrating his legacy, and perhaps drawing attention to a part of his career not often lingered over in other broadcast programmes about him.

Overall, then, a very satisfying spring, both creatively and professionally. Where it all leads is another question… I’ve been lucky enough in recent years to make programmes for the BBC about several of my great interests – Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, The Beatles, and now Formula One motor racing. I do wonder whether my luck will run out at some point, but I’ve had a great run.

Now, though, I think it’s time to turn my attention back, at least for a short while, to the business of novel-writing, and finally getting Another Life submitted to some agents and publishers.