Friday, July 23, 2010

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

A few years ago, the BBC World Service did an adaptation of my novel Anansi Boys. I’m a big fan of radio drama, and a huge admirer of the director who did it, but things went a bit wrong. The biggest thing that went wrong went wrong right at the beginning, when the World Service, coping as best they could with budget cutbacks and less broadcasting time for drama, decided it would have to be an hour-long adaptation. And bad things happen when novels get cut down to an hour. So despite a really terrific cast and production and as solid a script as could be in the circumstances, I was not happy. It felt like one of those Readers' Digest condensed books.

I decided to do Anansi Boys as a TV series, and to the script myself. And no sooner had I decided to do that, when I got a call from a Hollywood Producer.

“I was on tour with [a star who shall be anonymous for now],” he said. “And I bought the paperback of Anansi Boys in an airport to read on the plane. We started reading bits of it to each other for the rest of the tour. Can we make this into a movie? Will you write the script?”

I normally say no to adapting my own stuff into film. But I wanted an Anansi Boys adaptation I could be proud of, and the radio adaption had left me wanting to go "No, this is what I meant". So I said yes.

And I set time aside to work on it. I was going to start in late March 2009.

At the beginning of March 2009, my always-healthy father died unexpectedly, of a heart attack, during a business meeting.

Oddly enough, Anansi Boys begins with Fat Charlie Nancy’s father dying of an unexpected heart attack, which sets the events of the story into motion, although his heart attack is embarrassing and funny. My dad's wasn't really either.

And for about a year, I’d open Final Draft (my scriptwriting program). I’d open the Anansi Boys script. I’d look at the three or four pages that I'd done for a bit. Write a sentence, or delete one. Then I’d close Final Draft and do something else. Write a short story. Work on a book. Blog. Anything, really. I just didn't write the Anansi Boys screenplay.

Which carried on until March this year. I went out to LA for the Oscars, as CORALINE had been nominated for Best Animated Picture. I’d even written an interview with her, animated by Travis Knight, that was shown during the Oscar ceremonies, which is, I'm pretty sure, so far the single thing I’ve written that has been seen by the most people. The Oscar ceremonies fell on the anniversary of my dad’s death. It was a very strange, sad day – made peculiarly worse because I knew I should have been enjoying it, and I wasn't.

But it marked the end of something, too. And when I went home I got to work on Anansi Boys, interrupted only by the Doctor Who script which, having bounced from season 5 to season 6 (I wrote a Very Expensive Episode. I didn’t mean to. It just happened that way, and there was not enough money left in the Season 5 budget to make it) needed to change a bit, because Season 5 is not Season 6. And, because television production schedules wait for no man, they needed it now. Meanwhile Anansi Boys was ridiculously late.

Somewhere in there I decided that I would simply stop blogging until Anansi Boys and Doctor Who were handed in. The blog would be one less thing to worry about. And that blogging again would be my incentive to finish.

The sixth draft of my Doctor Who script was handed in on the 19th of June.

And the first draft of Anansi Boys was handed in on Monday of this week. (I think it's pretty good.)

Which means, you would think, that I ought to be blogging again now. There is a lot to blog about. Cabal-the-dog has almost recovered from his neck operation. (He just had the stitches out. I told people who asked about the five-inch long stitched up wound on the back of his neck that he'd had a gorilla-brain transplant. This was a lie.) Lola-the-surrealist-puppy is getting bigger and bouncier every day, like a little white cross between Tigger and Andre Breton. Princess the elderly cat gets grumpier, madder and older. Amanda just released an album “Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on her Magical Ukulele”, which has done amazingly.

It is a digital & vinyl only release, which will cost you $0.84 - the cost of Radiohead's publishing and the transaction charge, and it's, strangely, not a novelty album at all. Go and listen.

The bees are busy, the blueberries are getting ripe. Perfect blogging weather.

I should plug Coilhouse Magazine as well. I'm in issue 5.

Except that, just as the draft of Anansi Boys was handed in, the word came down from the powers behind Doctor Who that I was going to have to do another draft. The wonderful thing about books and comics is your budget is infinite: it costs the same to draw one thing as another, to write one thing as another. That’s not true of television, where a budget might stretch to prosthetics or CGI, but not both (quick! pick one! now rewrite to make it work) or you might find yourself being told that, no, we can’t make the Undersea Dancing Mermaids sequence work because the underwater cameras would blow the budget even before you factor in the mermaid tails but we already have a bird costume so could you just make all the mermaids into birds instead? And you’re sure you can, you can’t just quite figure out how...*

Truthfully, I’m not grumbling. I’m loving writing Doctor Who, and so far, each draft really has been better than the one before. But we’re now at the point where people in Cardiff are nervously drumming their desktops and checking their watches. So I’m putting blogging again off for a few more days.

Even last night, I went out with Amanda (she was making a guest appearance at a Steel Train gig), but spent most of my time backstage writing in a small green notebook, figuring out solutions.

The Seventh Draft of My Doctor Who Episode should be done in the next few days. And then I’ll start blogging again, just in time for the trip to Sydney. (The Graphic event tickets for the Opera House for the night of Saturday the 7th have almost sold out. You should come. It will be wonderful.)

Also, no, I am not at San Diego Comic-Con this year. But the CBLDF auction is - and I donated a page of Dave McKean art from Black Orchid to it. It's one of five pages Dave gave me a long time ago, showing Black Orchid and Poison Ivy, and it's been hanging on my wall for over twenty years. (I wrote on the back of the frame to this effect, and signed it.) You can bid whether you're at San Diego or not - see the bidding rules at the bottom of the web page.

And since I am here: Things I love right now: the Vignette photo Android app on my Nexus 1.

I really will be back.



*I've learned over the last few months that any comment one makes about Doctor Who is analysed, pored over, interpreted, and for all I know held up to a mirror and then combined with something from the Book of Enoch, by Doctor Who folk on the internet, who then have much too much fun using it to Build Up Theories. So this is a Disclaimer, just for them: There are no mermaids or birds anywhere in my Doctor Who script. That was just me making something up as an example. Honest. Also, this footnote is not a clever double-bluff, and really there are birds and mermaids but I am trying to throw you off the scent by mentioning them and then saying that there aren't.

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