19 February 2009

Talvin Singh, Shoutcast and Media Monkey.

Currently listening to some Talvin Singh, courtesy of Spotify.

Not sure what to make of Spotify yet. I tend to like music applications that present me with random stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise known about. From what I can tell, it doesn't do that. But then I haven't read the instructions for it yet, so maybe I'm talking arse.

I have, however, been very much enjoying some online streaming radio stations courtesy of Shoutcast. In particular, a station called WFMU, recommended to me by a splendid chap on Twitter called RupertG.

If you have the time, I recommend that you download a piece of software called MediaMonkey , then have a look at Shoutcast and see what it has to offer. There are much worse ways of wasting a few hours.

That's it really, I don't have anything else to say at present.


13 February 2009

Write Club, Teddy Says, and the birth of The Gentlemen's Club

About six years ago, while working in an office, I found out that someone a few desks away wrote film screenplays. His name was, and indeed still is, Simon.

In conversation, Simon informed me that he and a few friends were shortly going to be starting a writing club, primarily for fun, and that I should come along. The rules of the writing club were as follows:

1. Every fortnight, the members of the club would meet up.
2. During the meeting, two envelopes would be produced, one containing a wide variety of 'locations' written on scraps of paper, the other containing an equally wide variety of 'MacGuffins', also on scraps of paper.
3. A piece of paper would be drawn from each envelope, creating a random location and random MacGuffin.
4. Each member of the group would then have precisely one week to write a script using these two pieces of information, no more than ten pages in length.
5. Each script would be submitted to the organiser who would then distribute them all amongst the other members.
6. Each member would read that week's scripts and then assign a first, second and third place to the best three.
7. This would continue for ten weeks.
8. The ten winning scripts would then be re-read and voted on one last time.
9. The script with the highest number of votes would be named the winner.
10. The winning script would be produced and directed by one member of the group with access to professional quality filming and editing equipment.

The name of this group of disparate writers was 'Write Club'. I hated the name immediately, but went along with the idea because it seemed like rather a jolly jape.

On one occasion, the location chosen from the envelope was 'a car park' and the MacGuffin was 'a teddy bear'. I submitted an entry entitled 'Teddy Says', and was fortunate enough to be voted that week's winner.

When ten rounds had been completed and we had to choose an ultimate winner, Teddy Says was voted as the best overall and, in accordance with the original scope of the club, would be filmed.

After a series of false starts, Teddy Says went into production. Actors were cast, a location found, and props purchased.

Sadly, there were technical difficulties (mostly caused by the sound-guy who, so I'm told, did an atrocious job) and the footage was unusable. Apparently, a rough cut exists somewhere but I've never seen it.

Thus it was that Teddy Says died an unpleasant death, never to be seen again.

However, it did mean that I became friends with Simon and Mike, two other members of Write Club. It was obvious from reading each other's scripts that we had a number of similarities in style that were pleasing, and a number of dissimilarities which complemented each other nicely.

So, although Teddy Says never happened, something very much more important and valuable came out of the whole exercise: we decided to start working together on a full-length screenplay. I shall soon be explaining how we managed to write an entire screenplay between three of us, whilst maintaining a consistent voice. There will also be the full, unexpurgated tale of how The Gentlemen's Club was born, lived and died, all in a couple of years.

For any budding writers out there, I strongly suggest that you involve yourself in some sort of writing club. It can be a fantastic way to meet new people and practice your craft. More importantly, a little competition amongst like-minded people can be a wonderful way to get the creative juices flowing.

For those of you who are curious, I've uploaded the Teddy Says short script, just for the hell of it. Please bear in mind that I've just re-read it for the first time in about 4 years and it's made me cringe. There are many, many things that I'd love to change about it, but that would be cheating wouldn't it?

So, for your reading pleasure, here's the link to the Teddy Says PDF.

Twitter, strangers on a train, and Peter Serafinowicz.

I'm new to Twitter and haven't quite become comfortable with it yet. It confuses me greatly, and here's why.

Stephen Fry, the Twitter poster-boy, makes a comment like "Home. Fast falls the eventide and so forth. Time for a little voddie in the bathtub" and many thousands of people instantly read this via PC, laptop, mobile, etc, and are INTERESTED in hearing it.


A man who many of them will never meet, has announced that he's going to have a drink and a bath, they're pleased to received this nugget of information via the technology of their choice, and I DON'T KNOW WHY!

What is of even more concern, is that I'm a follower of Fry's tweets and I was also interested. What's happening? Since when did a stranger's life become something to read about in 140-character segments?

I don't understand Twitter. I don't understand what it's for, or why it's so bloody addictive. I demand explanations.

Strangely, I was on the train to Nottingham on Wednesday afternoon, and sent out a tweet saying, "Cattle class train from St Pancras to Nottingham. Dirty, scruffy and perfectly unpleasant. I miss 1st class."

Checking my phone about ten minutes later, I'd received the following reply from a complete stranger, "Rablenkov I am on the same train - A23 - the guy with the laptop setup -"

Several thoughts tumbled through my mind in rapid succession: 1) Is this some sort of chat-up line? Have I stumbled into the sordid world of same-sex Twitter dating?, 2) No, obviously not, the guy is just doing what Twitter's all about - social networking, and finally, 3) Will he suggest meeting up for a coffee and a chat?

At first, I was greatly concerned by this new development but, after a few messages back and forth, we went our separate ways and the universe returned to normal, slightly shaken but otherwise unharmed.

It was an exceedingly odd experience. Furthermore, I couldn't help thinking that if the poor chap had been sitting directly opposite me and suddenly said, "How are you? Having a good day?", I may well have yelped, fumbled in my jacket pocket for a can of pepper spray and shouted "Somebody help me, I'm being engaged in friendly conversation against my will!"

That's the odd thing about Twitter - you'll happily chat to someone or tell a group of random strangers what you're doing right at that moment, but if a living, breathing, sitting-in-front-of-you person tries to talk to you in real life, you're rather more likely to engage them in a bout of fisticuffs than a conversation.

I'm sure there's some deeper point behind all this, but for the life of me I can't think what it is. Far too busy having fun drinking this brandy.

On an unrelated note, I saw the excellent Peter Serafinowicz at St. Pancras station on Wednesday, with his wife Sarah Alexander. For a brief moment, I contemplated approaching him and saying something along the lines of "I'm a huge fan of yours. Just wanted to say hi", but then I realised that it would make me look like a massive cock.

I walked away instead, self-respect intact, not feeling like a complete and utter spanner.

Other things have happened over the last couple of days, but most of it has been so mediocre that even a healthy dose of outrage and 'humour' couldn't save it from being crushingly tedious.

My next post shall be about writing.

12 February 2009

Ideas, ideas, lots of ideas.

This is being written on my G1 phone, so will contain none of the usual whizzbangery that has been my stock in trade since, well, about two posts ago.

I've had a few ideas tumbling around in my head the last day or two. These have now solidified into some pending action.

I shall be spending my next few posts talking about how The Gentlemen's Club script came to be., and how it came to not be. It shall be a tale of touching innocence and crass stupidity. Stay tuned.

It's now snowing in Nottingham and I continue to be without proper net access. It's immensely frustrating. Thank goodness for this phone which allows me to experience the goodness of the web in miniature, headache-inducing form.

Back home tomorrow night, thank Jebus. Looking forward to a large brandy, some proper coffee and indoor smoking.

I am a man of simple pleasures.

Also, there shall be talk of how myself, Simon and Mike came to form a writing partnership.

Oh, in this blog are such delights...

9 February 2009

The House At The Edge Of The Woods

Via the magic of e-mail, I now have in my possession the full script of The House At The Edge Of The Woods (what on Earth was Mike thinking when he gave it that title?)

Additionally, he has furnished me with an alternate opening that he couldn't make work, and a couple of previous versions of the script back when it was called 'Mortal Remains'. (Actually, I think I might go back to that title, is has a certain ring to it.)

This means that I can now immerse myself in the script in all its various forms, find out what works and what doesn't, do a bit of mixing and matching, and insert my own take on the entire thing.

I'm actually rather excited about it. It feels good to be embarking on a writing project once again.

In a brief e-mail conversation with Mike, we've decided that once this collaboration is complete, we'll have a chat about working together on a couple more projects, one called "Malzburg's Last Theorem" and another simply entitled "A".

"Malzburg's Last Theorem" is an intriguing concept which I won't go into just yet, but it has shades of William Peter Blatty's "The Ninth Configuration". I think it has enormous potential.

"A" is a different kettle of fish entirely. If I recall correctly (because we originally discussed it some time ago) it deals with the concept of isolation. At one time, I was doing research into the phenomenon of acute social withdrawal which, in Japan, has been given the name Hikikomori.

Again, I think this has the potential to be something rather special.

But, for now, I must warm up my writing muscles with some rather lighter fayre. Thus, I immerse myself in the world of teen horror. With a twist...

On a separate note, I've been thinking lately about The Gentlemen's Club. At present, it's languishing on a couple of hard-drives somewhere, unloved and unwanted. We should really put our minds to sending it out there again.

In the meantime, I'm considering putting a few choice excerpts from it on this blog. Not quite a serialisation, but just enough for people to get a flavour of it.

I'll cogitate on the idea for a bit longer.

7 February 2009

A missed opportunity.

I've just spent the best part of an hour reading back through some of my previous posts, removing the occasional ill-considered line here and there, and completely deleting some posts to either protect the innocent or hide my shame.

Annoyingly, two technological marvels that I proposed in December 2004 and May 2006 respectively have both now been produced, and I've received no credit whatsoever.

In one post, I spoke about the artificial flavouring of cigarettes and how this could be a very good thing. These are now being made, kind of, by The Electronic Cigarette Company. You too can enjoy a soothing nicotine hit with the flavour of coconut, chocolate, vanilla, cherry or a number of other varieties.

In another post, I conceived of a piece of software called Drunksense which would prevent you from making idiotic drunken blog posts in the middle of the night. The following application has been written for the Android platform: "DrunkBlocker for the Google Android Phone is an application that can block phone numbers to keep you from calling the wrong person at the wrong time. If you do not want to call the wrong person when you are drunk, this is for you!"

Although the link between my original ideas and the finished products are somewhat tenuous, I demand royalties.

How to beat writers block, the Warren Ellis way.

Ever since The Gentlemen's Club and it's torturous rise to obscurity, I've had a bit of a problem writing.

I have, over the last couple of years, embarked on a few different projects, most of which involved much researching, reading, note-taking and the like, but very little in the way of actual writing. Procrastination became my constant companion.

Indeed, this was summed up nicely by some research I was doing for someone else's script, on the psychological effects of space travel. As mentioned here, studies have shown that people "begin confinement with every intention of engaging in creative activities such as writing, completing a project, or accomplishing some serious reading. These worthwhile goals rarely are achieved, or even attempted. Instead, most hours of confinement are spent in time-marking activities such as solitaire".

I am living proof, if such was needed, of the veracity of the above statement, having become a devoted prisoner of Stumbleupon, which I love and detest in almost equal measure, and an expert on all manner of online games.

All the while, I gaily cantered about researching a large number of topics, scribbling notes furiously, and steadfastly refusing to accept that I simply wasn't able to write anymore.

That was until I came across a YouTube video of Warren Ellis answering a question about writer's block. In it he says, "Writer's block? I've heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? That's the one? Then that person isn't a writer anymore, is he? I'm sorry but the job is getting up in the morning and fucking writing. If you get up in the morning and you can't write then you're something else, obviously. Common sense right? You're a gardener or someone who watches television. You're that guy who scratches his arse for a living."

Sage words which rather rocked me back on my heels. In a wonderful moment of Damascene revelation, I realised that I simply wasn't a writer! It was fantastic.

Suddenly, I was torn free from the shackles of writer's block. I was unable to actually write anything, but it no longer bothered me. After all, I'm clearly not a writer.

Of course, this allowed me to devote rather more time to Stumbling, playing games, smoking and drinking vodka, so it was undoubtedly a good thing, right?

A few weeks back, I was given a hardcopy of a horror script penned by Mike Burry, one of the co-authors of The Gentlemen's Club. It was a generic teen horror called The House At The Edge Of The Woods.

I read it and immediately saw ways in which it could be improved - mostly in relation to the dialogue. But, of course, to make such changes I would have to be a writer. And I'm not.

But, the pages kept turning in my head, and little bits of dialogue kept popping in there. Eventually, I sat down to make some notes for improvement, and suddenly found myself opening up the document and rewriting it. In two and a half hours, I'd rewritten the final 20 pages.

This was duly presented to Mike who was very pleased with the results and asked me, over a few pints of Speckled Hen, whether I'd be interested in doing a rewrite of the entire thing.

I agreed.

So, there we have it. I am now a writer once again. At least I will be when Mike returns from holiday and sends me the damn thing via e-mail.

Warren Ellis was right. If you can't write, you ain't a writer. If you can, you are. There is no writers block; there is no middle ground. You either do it or you don't.

I am, once again, invigorated and enthused, and looking forward to getting my teeth into The House At The Edge Of The Woods.

The first thing I plan to do is change the bloody title.