Tuesday, 27 January 2015

internet is evil

when I wrote BAD TRAFFIC (my best novel) I didn't have internet at home. I went every morning to the Somali cafe round the corner and paid 50p for half an hour of internet access, and that was long enough to do all my emails and browse the news. Apart from that my life was completely internet-free.

When I was sitting at my computer, all I could do was work. My computer did not double as an infinite library of distractions, so I didn't have to constantly fight the urge to check email or look up random stuff. I wrote loads.

When my circumstances improved, and I got internet at home, I could still remember how productive and simple my life had been when I didn't have it. The internet is a Disneyland of diversions and I have little willpower.

I decided I needed a work computer that could run a word processor, do all the normal computery things, but couldn't go on the net.

But you can't buy one. Impossible. You'd have to get a typewriter.

So I got a Toshiba satellite: an undistinguished cheap laptop, but with one crucial (odd) feature - the wifi is controlled from a physical on/off switch on the side. I set it to 'off' and squirted super glue into the switch to jam it up. Ta-dah, no internet, a work machine.

But that was clunky and heavy and now, some years later, I am back working on an internet-enabled machine. Constantly battling distraction. I have Freedom, which is a simple program that will turn off your internet for a set period of time, but it just isn't the same.

This article - how the internet, merely by being available, destroys your ability to focus your attention - really chided with me.

Now I want to write another book and I'm thinking of finding another way to go back to being internet-less cause I can still just about remember how much more work I got done when it wasn't there.

So... bad internet! Bad for writers. Bad for readers. If I had my way, it would *only* be available in Somali cafes, and people would be slightly less connected and less well informed but actually able to concentrate.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015


One of my favourite Brit films is LONDON TO BRIGHTON. It follows a prostitute and a child running from a horrible pimp who wants to kill the kid. Check it out. It's a chase film, simple and direct, and very affecting.

One thing that interests me about it is Paul Andrew William's statement that he wrote it in a weekend. That idea, that you could do something very good, very quickly, is very alluring. Because a screenplay is not very long, it certainly would be physically possible to write one fast - but that would mean you got everything right first time. Sadly it almost never works out like that. Generally you have to write a vast amount that ends up being cut before you get to something that seems simple and straightforward. Simple is not as easy as it looks, just ask Matisse and Brancusi.

Anyway the characters in L2B were based on people Paul had written about in a short, a couple of years previously. So in a way, a lot of the work had been done earlier. And cause he was also the director he probably got to do a lot of rewriting on the hoof.

I guess if you do want to do something fast, a chase film is the easiest genre to get a handle on in a hurry. Something where you can set an antagonist and a protagonist against each other and just kind of let them tick through it. Know the world well enough so that you don't have to do any research. I don't think MEMENTO was written in a weekend...

Monday, 19 January 2015

quick review, AMERICAN SNIPER


Why are there so many films with the word 'American' in the title? It annoys me, it always sounds bombastic, like the film-makers really believe their country is exceptional, their pyschos and beautys uniquely place specific. In contrast, I don't think I've ever seen a film with 'British' in the title. And I can't imagine anyone ever thinking a title like 'British sniper' could be a good idea.

Anyway Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, a real life sniper and massive liar (look on the internet for debunkings of his cascade of bullshit) and the film tells the story of his Iraq tours, with plenty of juicy fiction - such as a duel with a deadly enemy sniper - added to what was probably quite dull fact - just one damn spurty headshot after another.

He's a big hunk of beardy manliness who wants to keep his buds safe by killin savages. Except when he's at home, when he gets freaked out by cars and dogs. But he has a good woman who keeps him strong. Turns out he can't keep all his buds safe and some of them die then the Horrors of Wah get to him and he can't bring himself to take a shot against a kid who picks up an RPG, the big pussy. But that works out fine and he kills more people from very far away and then lots of orcs, sorry Iraqis, try to overrun his position in a sandstorm and then drama and then he goes home.

There's not enough 'this war is shit' and there's some 'Americah fuck yeah', so guardian readers hate it and right-wing nutjobs love it, but politics aside, I'm a sucker for a good war movie and this does the job. I think it's brave to even attempt to do the Iraq war, and Eastwood is a proper old school director (ie a good one, not like these fancy directors they have nowadays). It doesn't set the target very far away but it hits the bullseye.

Monday, 5 January 2015

how DIP got made

DIP was the first thing I had shot. A twenty minute drama that was made for the Channel Four Coming Up series, directed by the lovely Lisa Gornick and starring dishy Robert Sheehan. You can see it here.

Coming Up is a Channel 4 scheme for new writers and new directors. As a writer you enter the competition with a pitch and some kind of writery backstory, you get interviewed, then (if you are lucky) you get shortlisted for a three day training scheme which involves being lectured by industry pros and they team you up and you make a short film.

The brief was to write a film that could be shot easily over a couple of days with a small cast. So I decided I'd come up with a story all set on a night bus. And then I had to think of someone who would have something dramatic to do on a bus - so, 'pickpocket' - then I had to give him someone to talk to - so that would have to be a victim... the story evolved out of those constraints.

The film was shot over four days on a bus driving round London - they shot on the upper deck with the crew downstairs. I spent one night on set. I learned that making a film is mostly boring and involves lots of hard work, that the hours are long and so it is important to wrap up warm. I remember being astonished that so many people were involved. There were people doing jobs I had not imagined - a 'script supervisor' who checks that everything is consistent from shot to shot, for instance, and another lady's job seemed to be running up to the top deck of the bus between every shot and damping down a Sheehan cowlick. Someone had to keep spraying the windows to keep them misted up. so the background wasn't distracting. And so on. I also learned that night shooting is an expensive pain, and if you're going to set something on a moving vehicle, make it easy for all involved and pick a luxury yacht.

Anyway it gets you on telly and you learn stuff. I figured I should mention it as I find myself recommending it a lot, to people trying to get into film.