Tag Archives: television

Work in progress

One of the writing exercises I sometimes ask of students is for them to pen me a six-word novel. This is harder many people think. It’s an exercise in synthesis, in communicating an idea or emotion without wasting a word.  Keeping it raw and visceral.

Over the years I’ve been speaking in schools, I’ve read six-word novels that tore at my heart, tickled my funny bone and silenced classrooms. One standout, to paraphrase, read something like, ‘Mum in psych ward. Social stigma.’ Tell me you couldn’t find an entire YA novel in that effort.

I’m reminded of this exercise today because the book that gave me the idea for the six-word novel activity features another powerful story. I don’t have it with me today but it is similar to: ‘Not quite what I had expected.’ And that’s sort of my story of 2015.

Or, ‘Took full time job. Manuscript stalled.’

Perhaps that’s doing myself an injustice. While working two jobs this year, and speaking in schools now and again, I did manage another draft of my long-term project.

A friend recently read the manuscript and had good things to say. But the clincher was that I could do specific parts of the story better. The friend even named an author (way out of my league) and challenged me to aim higher. That’s the task for me for 2016; take the best parts of my manuscript and make every other part reach just as high.

I’m already on a third or fourth draft but I’m going to define, delete and cull big time on on the next one. That’s writing. A story can always be improved.

Speaking of which, every year brings stories of pain, hope and resilience but 2015 delivered several that still echo inside me. My Christmas prayers go to families dealing with mental illness, addiction, chronic illness, grief and disharmony. Good news stories are out there, people. We do overcome all sorts of challenges. Racism, hate and sickness can be defeated.

Enough sermonising. I usually throw in a list or two to my end of year post, partly to remind myself of highlights from page, stage & screen. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Listening: Meet the Eels – Essential Eels (1996-2006);  The Decemberists’ What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World; Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams; Oz by Missy Higgins; Tame Impala – Currents; the Blade Runner soundtrack; Gon’ Boogaloo by CW Stoneking.

Reading (highlights): American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Summers of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell; Born to Run by Christopher McDougall; The Walking Dead graphic novels.*

Watching: The Walking Dead; X-Files reruns! (Very excited Scully and Mulder are coming back!)

Lastly, I was very chuffed to have a football story included in The Footy Almanac 2015 and *I’m loving reading the work of other authors within. The Almanac would make a great Christmas present – perfect for beach reading. You can whack in an order here: http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/

To all the readers who have stuck with me, thank you. I hope your 2016 brings good health and good times.

Remembering Rick (& The Young Ones)

I used to love the BBC series, The Young Ones, possibly because of the time it exploded into my life. During a year when I was fully immersed in HSC (that’s the vintage VCE) study stress and adolescent unrequited love angst, it was a welcome 30-minutes a week of shouty, rude, politically incorrect, violent, stick-it-to-the-man, anarchic comedy mayhem*. Just what every teenager needed.

My brother went completely fan boy. He perfected the sneer and dressed as Rick for a costume party. He owned the Cliff Richard single on vinyl, the etiquette book and Neil’s Heavy Concept Album. The book, with its section on How To Use Hyphens (to make better insults), gave us hours of fun.

And so the sad news this morning of the death of Rik Mayall prompted this detour down memory lane. I figure a spot of Googling is the least I can do to acknowledge the impact Mr Mayall and his mates had on my teen years.

Please find below, via IMDB, a snippet of the script from the Cash episode in Season 1, along with a clip of the people’s poet in action.

*If you’re new to the Young Ones, consider yourself warned.


Neil: Guys, guys, guys, I think I’ve solved our money problem. I’m writing to my bank manager. See what you think…”Dear Bank Manager.”

Mike: Yeah?

Neil: Well, that’s it. I’m quite pleased with it so far, though.

Mike: Oh, well, it’s a strong opening, certainly.

Vyvyan: I don’t like the “dear.” Sounds a bit too much like, “Will you go to bed with me?”

Mike: Well spoken, Vyvyan. What do you think instead?

Vyvyan: Uh, what about…”darling?

[everyone concurs]

Neil: [writing] “Darling Bank Manager…”

Rick: No, no, no, no, no, not “Bank Manager,” it’s far too crawly bum-lick. Tell it like it is, put “Fascist Bullyboy!”

Neil: “Darling Fascist Bullyboy…”

Mike: That’s nice, yes, so far so good. So what do you want to say?

Neil: Well, basically, I want to ask him if I can have, like, an extension on my overdraft, but I know there must be a better way of putting it than that.

Mike: Well, what about, “Give me some more money”?

Vyvyan: …”You bastard!”

Neil: Don’t you think that’s a bit strong?

Mike: Ah, Neil, people like that respect strength.

Neil: Yeah, you’re right. Uh, “Darling Fascist Bullyboy, Give me some more money, you bastard…” Uh…”Love, Neil.”

Vyvyan: Not “Love, Neil”! That sounds far too much like, “Come and get it like a bitch-funky sex machine!”

Neil: Yeah, you’re right… Uh, what about, “Yours sincerely”?

Rick: Oh, come off it, Neil. If you’re going to be that sycophantic, why don’t you go ’round there now and stick your tongue straight down the back of his trousers?

Neil: Oh, look, I know, I know, why not “Boom Shanka”? It means, “May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman.”

Mike: He’ll never understand “Boom Shanka,” you’ll have to write the whole thing out.

Neil: Right, okay, here we go. “Darling Fascist Bullyboy, Give me some more money, you bastard. May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman, Neil.”

Rick: Well, if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.


Increments & inspirations

8765 hours, give or take. That’s how long it’s been since my 2012 Wrap. A year isn’t long when you think of it that way.

But context matters. Imagine if you were an asylum seeker detained in an Australian detention centre. Each arduously dull hour would become a feat of survival, not that you’d savour the achievement. Indefinite detention would slowly decay your soul, second by horrible second. Time would be torturously slow.

In a hospital the opposite can occur. There are wards where time is languid but there are theatres, cubicles and trollies where it gushes uncontrollably and is gone all too fast. Minutes or seconds can make the difference between life and death, miracle and misery.

Yes, I’ve had an unusual year. There were slow hours, express ones and some that went missing. There were sleepless nights, minutes that felt like hours and moments to savour.

I started 2013 as an editor within an enormous entity, perhaps the megalomaniac bull cousin of Patricia Piccinini’s incredible Skywhale. I departed with the nerves of a father and provider and the relief of a teenager who had just finished their exams.

I finish 2013 as an author, speaker and tutor. I’m deep into a YA speculative fiction manuscript that may be the first book in a series and certainly looks to be the longest work in my career to date. At present, and I take nothing for granted, the story feels strong and my confidence is unusually resilient. The story gains colour and vigour every day. Several other projects are unfurling like green shoots in our vegetable garden.

I’m also about to take my family on an international adventure and research mission. We’ll swap three weeks of summer for a foreign winter but the trip will add flavour to the recipe I’m mixing in my manuscript. I can’t wait.

So, with a plane to catch in a matter of days, I need to tidy up. Thunder Road tradition requires that I end the year listing favourite moments from books, television, music and film for 2013. Here are some highlights:

Art (new category): Having developed a keen interest in street art appearing around my city, I helped one enigmatic artist by pasting their work around town. Maybe 2014 will see me paste some of my own ideas! I also greatly enjoyed exhibitions by Meredith Squires, Ghostpatrol and TwoOne.

Film: I recommend Gravity (especially in 3D), Rust and Bone and Zero Dark Thirty. Aussie western Mystery Road also deserves a mention for the atmosphere it invoked.

Music: Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Hanging Rock was one of the absolute high points of the year. Chet Faker has been on regular rotation in my car, along with Lana Del Ray and Johnny Cash. Watching Vika Bull play Etta James was excellent, too.

Reading: As per my previous post, I’m still immersed in George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. I’m late to the party on Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series but the voice(s) and concepts in book 1 were brilliant. Fiona Wood’s Wildlife, Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective and Chris Ware’s Building Stories were great. The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi, made me gasp. Wonder by RJ Palacio, made me cry.

Television: Breaking Bad (no spoilers, please, I’m still going); Broadchurch; Gruen (various series); Game of Thrones.

That’s pushing it for my already addled memory. Thank you to everyone who has shared the peaks, troughs and rollers of 2013. May your festive season be fun-filled and your new year deliver on hopes and dreams.

NB: Vale to Nelson Mandela today and Valeria, some weeks back. R.I.P.

It's been that sort of year.
It’s been that sort of year.

Setting dialogue in time and place

When I do writing workshops with students, one of the topics I cover is how to set stories in a particular time and place. Time is worth some serious consideration because it determines the way your characters think, act, dress, speak, drive, communicate and much, much more. In researching Game as Ned, I (helped by my wife) tracked down a speech expert to get a seal of authenticity on some of the phrases I wanted my characters to use in a 1970s rural Australian setting. In other words, would people really speak this way, in this time and place?

Which brings me to one of my favourite TV characters, Life on Mars‘ dodgy detective Gene Hunt. Detective Chief Inspector Hunt is offensive and flawed in too many ways to list. He’s also loyal and indomitable … and he gets all the best lines.

The BBC version of Life on Mars is set in London in the ’70s. The scriptwriters delight in giving Hunt and his colleagues cracking dialogue that would be unthinkable in any contemporary cop show. Hunt’s dialogue is very much a product of his times, contrasting him with his sensitive, time-travelling off-sider DI Sam Tyler. (The new series Ashes to Ashes is set in the ’80s so it will be interesting whether 10 years have softened or enlightened Hunt in any way.)

Here are some ’70s Hunt-isms, hunted down online:

Hunt to a gaggle of kids staring at his beloved Ford Cortina: “Anything happens to this motor, I’ll come ’round your houses and stomp on all your toys. Got it? Good kids.”

– Hunt bantering with Tyler: Hunt: “I think you forgot who you’re talking to.” Tyler: “An overweight, over the hill, tobacco-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.” Hunt: “You make that sound like a bad thing.”

– Tyler: “I think we need to explore whether this attempted murder was a hate crime.” Hunt: “What as opposed to one of those I-really-really-like-you sort of murders?”

– Hunt: “If a villain farts in this city, our snout should be able to find the arse responsible.”

– Tyler speaking about an injured colleague: “He shouldn’t be here. He’s got PTSD.” Hunt: “The man’s a bloody hero and you’re accusing him of having the clap?”

– Hunt: “I want this man caught before he kills again. This is my city and it will be a safe place for my wife and my mum to walk around, is that understood?” Others: “Yes, guv.” Hunt: “Right, find out who that dead woman was, find out who killed her. Do it now.” (Checks his watch) Hunt: “Hold on, hold on. Do it tomorrow morning first thing. Beer o’clock, gentlemen.”