A few months ago you may have read here that I guest edited an online issue of Worktown Words for my old friends over at Live from Worktown. It was a new experience for me, curating a month of poetry submissions, all on my chosen theme of Celebration. The standard of entries was genuinely high. My thanks to editor Paul Blackburn for inviting me and his help.
Now a selection of the best of the first ten issues has been released in paperback form and I received my contributors copy a couple of days ago. Two poems come from my issue and they are both stormers – Magician on the Podium by Rosie Adamson-Clark, and My Human Brain by David Bateman. Dipping into it I’m impressed once again by the quality of the pieces. It’s full of emotion and ingenuity. Other highlights I have discovered include No Shock by Shaun Fellows about a notorious political figure and Freedom by Donna Hughes, a tale of meeting a Scottish salmon. The other themes during this first ‘season’ of books have been: Spring, Joker, Horizon, Escape, Shock, Silence, Stranger, Heritage and Tear.
Keep looking for opportunities they say. With no chance of Bolton Little Theater or indeed anyone else’s theaters opening for business anytime soon, creatives are turning to the internet to tell stories and keep connected with their audience. Quite a few local theaters and film-making groups have ventured into monologues, with their obvious advantage of combining lockdown friendly simplicity with potentially great acting and writing. After all, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is considered a drama benchmark. Not that I am presenting BLT’s own contribution to the genre as anything like on that level, but it is a versatile format and I hope our Life Bites are going to exploit it.
I was first approached in August with the idea of making short videos for Bolton Little Theater by Carol Butler, who has joined me as producer on this series. She had noticed several of our rivals were already producing them and felt our group was getting left behind. So we proposed the idea to the committee and it was accepted, along with plans for a larger group video filmed at the theater called Stages in Waiting and a short excerpt from ‘Allo ‘Allo, the play we would have been producing in September. Sandra Leatherbarrow suggested the title of Life Bites and it felt right immediately to me. My next act was to set up a dedicated YouTube account and create an animated ident out of the theatre’s logo. A simple coming together of the front symbol and the background coloured square.
Like me, Carol is a writer and performer and had recently been compiling her stories and poems into a forthcoming anthology. She drew on one of these comic stories for the first instalment and recorded it on her smartphone in an impressive feat of learning unknown technology. All I had to do was create the title sequence. I was influenced by the old BBC Play for Today credits from the Seventies. Since these monologues are likely to be all close-ups of performers, I did my best to find photos from old BLT productions which were a good close up of an interesting face and it was actually quite hard to find suitable images in my library. However I persevered and found enough to make the right length of montage, shuffling the actors around to find the best mix. The music was from YouTube’s copyright free music library. Why invite trouble?
Carol’s Pink Fluffy Handcuffs went down really well and has easily been the most successful episode so far. It was followed by Gig 13, Dean Lane’s comic tale of a nightmare gig, not drawn from his own musical career but inspired by it. Dean is an excellent storyteller as well as songwriter. Then there was lull.
After several busy weekends, I finally had time to venture into the local parkland and find a secluded spot to record my entry Helpline. I originally wrote this for the Octagon Theater’s 2014 Best of Bolton evening for local writers, where it was performed by Hylton Collins, before he became a regular on Emmerdale as Tubby Dingle. The idea was one of those that just came into my head and doesn’t have a defined origin. I was just trying to think of a quick story that would fit on a single page. For this video I revised it a bit further, making it a little punchier and adding a contemporary joke. In the end the version I filmed was a little improvised, using the script as a guide because I had not given myself enough time to learn it word perfect. I quite enjoyed editing it, adding a blue filter, some digital distortion, creating an animated message card and filtering the dialogue to give it that monitor quality. Now its out there and I would love you take a look at one of first bits of personal filmmaking I have done in quite a while.
Horror and childhood are closely linked. Not just because we are having the formative experiences that future storytellers will be tapping into for the rest of our lives, but because children are paradoxically one of the major markets for terror filled merchandise. Halloween is around the corner and the supermarkets are full of gaping mouthed zombies, scowling skeletons and howling ghosts, all aimed at the family market. Plenty of toy franchises have their share of monsters. Harry Potter is infused with fairytale gothic. Nineties children made Goosebumps a phenomena. Eighties kids could enjoy Freddy Kruger replica gloves and dolls. But I’m a child of the Seventies and let me tell you we had some messed up merchandise aimed at us, material which somehow seemed a lot closer to the horror aimed at the supposed adult end of the market. Writers and artists on comics like Misty, Scream and 2000AD deliberately tried to get away with as much as they could when it comes to disturbing stories and illustrating them. Children’s television drew from the visual language of Hammer and its rivals. Even the public information films wanted to scare us. Merchandise like the infamous Aurora horror model kits, including one of a screaming girl known only as The Victim! Whilst at school we were playing Top Trumps, which included two marvellous Horror sets. Now Rik Hoskin, Tim Brown and Chatri Ahpornsiri have paid homage to these inspired games with their very own Horror Hot Trumps.
The original Horror and Horror 2 sets were distinguished by wonderfully lurid artwork printed in bright four-colour comic strip style. Blood spurted from victims as monsters attacked them. Everything rendered with dark dramatic inks, the artwork could be ugly, but that was part of its energy. They were recently reprinted by Winning Moves in new retro editions. Just in case you have not come across them, it’s a simple card game where players draw a card, compare stats and player with the highest value wins the round and the other’s cards. Eventually the winner owns all the cards, although in practice when a game dragged on and we got bored, a majority was accepted. Aircraft, football players, motorcycles were typical subjects. Now with these set we could compare the merits of the Madman (killing power 69) against The Living Skull (killing power 63) or The Sorcerer (killing power 72). But Top Trumps had a secret weapon of collectibility. Long before Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, its maker knew enjoyment came as much from flipping through a pack to read their info. For a generation of young fear fans raised on Saturday night TV double bills, and Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, we loved the artwork, not least because we could often recognise the famous publicity stills which the artist had cribbed from. For a Doctor Who fan like myself there was the bonus of seeing a Sea Devil carrying a blood drenched axe, here renamed Venusian Death Cell, or a Daemon now employed as a Fire Demon.
Hot Trumps is labour of love by Rik Hoskin, multi-media writer and no stranger to this blog, and comic strip artists Tim Brown and Chatri Ahpornsiri. I received a promo pack of Horror this weekend and I love them. Designed to played in their own right or mixed in with the Top Trumps originals, they perfectly capture the gleeful, gory style and humour of the Seventies cards. Amongst my favourites in this set are Martian Machine (horror power 90), Raw Rex (Fright Factor 80) and Dracula’s Daughter (Physical Strength 69).
If you would like a set of your own, the team will be unleashing a Kickstarter very soon. You can find out more by visiting their new website http://hottrumps.com/ and joining the mailing list.
Rik’s having a busy month, not least because he’s still been on the publicity trail for his new novel Bystander 27. He’s written articles for The Nerd Daily and File 770. He’s been interviewed by Roni Gosch for the Litcast of Doom podcast about his marvellous tribute to the Silver Age of comics.
Perhaps most impressively he’s now on YouTube, in conversation with Pierce Brown, author of the New York Times bestselling Red Rising SF series. Talking about Rik’s Bystander 27, and their collaboration on the Red Rising: Sons of Ares comic book series, as well as taking questions from the audience. Enjoy. It was organised by publishers Angry Robot. And read Bystander 27 if you haven’t already.
Long time readers of this blog may recall that my friend Rik Hoskin has already had a long career of writing novels under other people’s names, like James Axler. So it was overdue that he got a chance to write one emblazoned with his own. A name that can already be seen on many a comic, graphic novel, DragonCon award and much else. Bystander 27 is a hugely enjoyable SF adventure set in a world of original superheroes, but told from street level. What’s it like to live in a place in a place which is regularly invaded by aliens, or threatened by monsters created by mad scientists, where only a team of uniquely powered men and women can save you? Ex-SEAL Hayes had never really thought about the superheroes, beyond seeing the on the TV news. But when a battle above Manhattan claims his pregnant wife, Hayes’ search for answers take him down a dangerous route into a secret world.
Expect a fuller review soon but in the meantime you can read three excellent interviews with Rik released this week. Find out about the origins of his first original novel and some of his other recent projects over at Dynamic Forces.
John Freeman’s regular blog about the comic industry Down the Tubes catches up with Rik to talk about the novel, his recent graphic novel collaborations with Indian publisher Campfire, and being the lead writer of the computer game Game of Khans.
Finally there is quite an in-depth conversation with Rik about the novel over at paulsemel.com in which he talks about his writing methods and what he thinks about Abaddon Books’ description of his new book as “Megamind meets John Wick“!
My association with Live from Worktown goes back to 2014 and the first Live from Worktown festival in Bolton. Since then the group has diversified into several artistic ventures and one of their recent successes has been the online magazine Worktown Words. It’s a celebration of new writing from the region, both poetry and short prose pieces. Each issue has a guest editor and I was honoured to be asked to curate Issue 9.
After some thought I chose the word celebration as the theme and over the last few weeks I have been reading a fascinating collection of submissions inspired by my word. From joyful nonsense, through fond nostalgia to bitter irony. Choosing my final ten was a challenge.
Recently I had a pleasure of guesting on Dylan Rees’ hugely entertaining podcast about the wider world of Doctor Who – comic strips, Big Finish audios, independent videos and similar. For this issue we were celebrating the Dalek’s own comic strip, printed in TV Century 21 at the height of Sixties Dalekmania. Although credited to Terry Nation, it was in fact largely written by David Whitaker, then script editor for the programme and was fairly sophisticated for children’s title. Certainly compared to the Doctor’s own adventures over at TV Comic. All driven by spectacular artwork by Richard Jennings, Roy Turner and Eric Eden.
In addition, we talk briefly about my BBV career, becoming a fan, and the Fine Line Doctor Who audios. It was a lot of fun to record and Dylan has done a good job editing our long conversation into a slick hour. You can find Doctor Who – Too Hot for TV on your podcast app or via:
Hello again. How are you? It’s round-up time again and whilst I’ve been recording some more reviews for the Talking Pictures TV podcast, some good friends have been much more productive.
The latest edition of the Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out now. Now being overseen by Mel Byron, Daniel Reifferscheid and Scott Phipps, it’s in a slightly shorter but hopefully more regular format. And they’ve kindly included my cheerful appreciation of Hammer Film’s loony fantasy adventure The Lost Continent, which will be appearing on the UK channel on 4th March at 12.10am. You can download the podcast from your favourite player or the home page.
Rik Hoskin has let me know that his second graphic novel set in the world of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising books is about to be unleashed on the 19th March. Set in an empire that spans the solar system, where people are born into strict castes and most are forced to live as slaves for a ruling elite called the Golds. Red Rising – Sons of Ares: Wrath continues the story of how disgraced Gold Fitchner became the leader of a ruthless resistance movement known as the Sons of Ares. I loved the first volume and I can wholeheartedly recommend this SF epic. You can get a taste of it from the trailer below:
Finally I’ve been continuing my work at Bolton Little Theatre, producing soundscapes for Things I Know to be True and Brighton Beach Memoirs. I’m grateful for the help of two fresh volunteers Steven and Sam who come on to the sound side lately. Here’s two promos I’ve put together for the productions too.
Who says Christmas must be a time for traditions? The latest episode of The Official Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out now in time for Christmas and once again I’m pleased to say I have been included, despite submitting two decidedly unseasonable movie reviews. Creator and outgoing producer Adam Roche has selected my thoughts on Straw Dogs, the infamous 1971 thriller starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.
Looking at the list of upcoming films and television on Talking Pictures last month, I was aware that this was likely to be a Christmassy edition, but when it came to titles I could talk about knowledgeably, it was generally the darker hued ones. Although I did consider the Alistair Sim Scrooge but I had a feeling it has already been covered, or at least would likely to be a popular choice by my fellow #podcastpals.
It’s another excellent show, with lovely reviews from the regulars, most of which have a holiday feel. It also marks a changing of the guard, as Adam is moving on to new opportunities, although he’ll still be contributing the occasional review in his inimitable style. In 2020 I’m excited to hear that the podcast will steered by three superb podcasters and regular voices Mel Byron, Scott Phipps and Daniel Reifferscheid.
This is probably my last post of 2019, so I wish you a Happy Christmas and a marvellous New Year.
According to Charles Dickens, Christmas is a time when old ghosts come back to haunt you and I’m getting a small taste of that at the moment. Dick Whittington, the first pantomime I wrote, together with Pamela Hope, for my local group Mawdesley Amateur Dramatics Society, and the second to be published, is now appearing on BBC1’s early evening magazine The One Show.
Winterslow Drama Group in Wiltshire chose to perform my version of the famous English panto, and now they are being mentored by actor and pantomime legend Christopher Biggins. Clips of their rehearsals and his advice are being threaded into three editions of the programme leading up to Christmas, starting from 12th December, and continuing on 13th and 16th December. You can watch them for up to 30 days later on the BBC iPlayer.
This may or may not surprise you but I don’t retain a full memory of previous scripts in my head. So there are moments watching this where lines and names come as a surprise to me too. I think the cast are doing a superb job. Christopher Biggins is an actor I’ve respected for both his comedy performances in the likes of Porridge and Psychoville and drama too. Who can forget his sociopathic Nero in I, Claudius? When it comes to pantomime he has an incredible fund of experience as a performer and director, so I would always pay attention to him. I’m hoping he liked our script, even with its alterations to the classic plot.
You always have a special place in your heart for your first, and Dick Whittington will always have a lot of good memories for me. Not only was I learning the ropes of what made a good panto script, but I was also playing the Dame, which might make you suspect I gave myself all the best lines, but that is absolutely not the case loves! Since this series has started, it has been fun to hear from my old former cast mates who are amused to be reminded of their old lines again, just as I am. At that time MADS was a fairly low ebb in terms of cast and resources. We had the village hall (which looks uncannily similar to Winterslow’s btw) and good costume designers but in terms of sets, props, light and sounds we had recently lost a lot of expertise. So one of the driving factors of that script was that it was simple to stage and its a virtue I have tried to keep to with all my subsequent scripts. I always advise that groups can build on my descriptions and effect suggestions if they fancy it. Probably the most important lesson I learnt that initial time out was not to try to be too surreal or too intellectual with my jokes. All the best laughs come from audacious groaners – the chicken run joke for example, or good character stuff that the audiences recognise in themselves, or logical stupidity, such as the henchmen threatening Hugo and the Baroness with pretend guns because they cannot afford a real one, followed by established idiot Hugo claiming he’s helpless because they have got him covered. And don’t be embarrassed by happy accidents. I wrote a line about Dick being spotted around the docks just as a plot point, not realising the innuendo until audiences started laughing on the nights.
If you would like to read the script yourself or maybe even consider it for your own theatre group, please take a look at my author’s page at Lazy Bee Scripts.
I knew about this One Show coverage from the Winterslow Drama Group home page, and only knew it had started when a friend texted me to say he had just seen my name on the telly. So I have no idea what is going to happen in the next few editions, but I’ll certainly be watching to find out! Merry Christmas!
Hello, hope you’re well and keeping busy. I am delighted that four productions of my pantomimes are underway this Christmas season.
The Bodicote Players in Banbury and Woodhouse Phoenix in Hatfield are staging Rumplestiltskin. You can watch the former between 3rd December and 7th December, and the latter in the new year, January. Meanwhile, down the road from me, in Oldham, there’s a production of Aladdin in January.. Wish I could tell you more about that production but I have not been given any more details. Finally Winterslow Drama Group, in Wiltshire are staging Dick Whittington. Intriguingly their website tells me that they have been filmed by BBC1’s The One Show for a feature in December. You can rest assured I’ll be reporting on that when I know when it’s being broadcast. Many thanks to all these groups for showing faith in my writing, and that of my co-scripters Pam Hope and Adrian Barradell.