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Monthly Archives: March 2012

10 writers you should follow on Twitter

The main advantage of Twitter is that you can talk to and gain experience from some of the big names in any industry. And writing being my speciality…

Just think of it as a big #ff (follow Friday).

1.       Steven Moffat

@steven_moffat

Do you really have to ask? The Moff is the showrunner of Doctor Who and Sherlock, and has written some of the best television of all time. Why aren’t you following him already?

Typical tweet:

“About to do Sherlock interviews in Paris but WITHOUT @ Markgatiss. It’ll all be bad taste and no erudition.”

2.       Stan Lee

@TheRealStanLee

The living legend himself. Stan “The Man” Lee created Spider-man, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four – and countless more! He’s a true hero of mine.

Typical tweet:

“Wouldja believe I once got a royalty check for ONE CENT?!! They spent more than that to send it to me!”

Stan is The Man

3.       Tom MacRae

@tommacwriter

He burst onto the scene with Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen/ Age of Steel (2006) with Russell T. Davies as his mentor, but has since written for the 11th Doctor (in The Girl Who Waited) and created a hit sitcom for Comedy Central UK: Threesome.

Typical tweet:                  

“Email spam today: ‘Did You Know You Could Make A Living As A Full-Time Writer?’. Yes. I did, thanks.”

4.       Simon Guerrier

@0tralala

Science-fiction and freelance writer, who sums himself up as a ‘glorified typist.’ He’s written for many mediums and edited Big Finish’s Short Trips range. My favourite book of his is The Time Travellers: all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey!

Typical tweet:

“Transcribing an interview. Increasingly annoyed by my own nervy failure to ask a simple question.”

5.       Ben Aaronovitch

@Ben_Aaronovitch

Ben wrote the amazing Remembrance of the Daleks, but you’ll probably know his books better as best-sellers in WHSmith and Waterstones: Rivers of London; Moon over Soho and the upcoming Whispers Underground.

Typical tweet:

“The #halifax – screwing our customers because we can!”

6.       Gareth Roberts

@OldRoberts953

Screenwriter whose Doctor Who credits include: The Shakespeare Code; The Unicorn and the Wasp and The Lodger. He’s also written the novel, Shada, based on the work of Douglas Adams – and is getting rave reviews from everyone! He comments on TV a lot.

Typical tweet:

“Thank you midnight downloaders of #Shada. No idea who Kindle author Gareth Adams Douglas Roberts is. Will ask Queen Amazonia if she knows.”

7.       James Goss

@gossjam

A truly fantastic author, James wrote the fantastic Dead of Winter, a really creepy and shocking novel that’s one of my favourites – plus it’s got all 5-star reviews on Amazon!

Typical tweet:

“The woman next to me is colouring in her cv with crayons. Ten years ago I would have sneered. Now I want to applaud.”

8.       David Wolstencroft

@woollensocks

A true expert in the TV industry, David created the BAFTA award-winning Spooks, which ran for ten fantastic series. Surely that’s all you need to know?!

Typical tweet:

“I get it. All writing is re-writing. But re-writing, that’s also actual writing. So really what you’re saying is, “all writing is writing.””

9.       Mark Gatiss

@Markgatiss

Mark Gatiss is a man of all trades. But he’s best-known for writing Doctor Who, and co-creating Sherlock (with Steven Moffat – and Arthur Conan Doyle!) Aside from that, he’s a great actor and has a passion for horror.

Typical tweet:

“Charmingly fitting that, on such a sunny weekend, hundreds of Doctor Who fans will be inside with the curtains drawn.”

10.   Andrew Smith

@Andrew_Smith_DW

Smith was a Doctor Who fan, and sent a script in. Nowadays, it would never happen – but that was the Eighties, and his story was shot, and became a classic: Full Circle. He disappeared from the industry, becoming a policeman, but has since returned, triumphantly!

Typical tweet:

“My wife: “Which one’s the Project Manager?” Me: “The only one who didn’t speak.” #apprentice”

So that’s it for now. And you can even follow me, if you get the urge!

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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Unpublished work

 

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Price of 1st Class Stamp to increase to 60p: will this signal the death of the letter?

The price of a 1st class stamp is to increase 14p to 60p from 30th April, while the 2nd class stamp will also rise to 50p. The incline is the result of regulatory board, Ofcom, loosening the reins on price controls.

1st class stamps are currently 46p while the 2nd is 36p, as businesses in particular will know. The cost of posting large letters will increase from 75p to 90p for first class and 58p to 69p for second class. It marks the biggest percentage annual increase since 1975.

Anyone who hates the phrase, ‘in the current economic climate,’ look away now; Moya Greene, the Royal Mail’s chief executive, said:

“We know how hard it is for households and businesses when our economy is as tough as it is now. No-one likes to raise prices in the current economic climate but, regretfully, we have no option. Royal Mail provides one of the highest-quality postal services in Europe for amongst the lowest prices for both consumers and business. That service is under threat from declining volume, e-substitution and ever-increasing competition.”

…Which seems to be a great reason to lower the price of stamps, encouraging people to send a traditional letter once again!

While I use email all the time, I’ll always have a place in my heart for good ol’ letters. I love the feeling you get when one lands on your doorstep, and it just can’t be simulated when looking at your inbox.

Cracking stamps, Gromit!

Businesses are starting to use their emails and tablets to send and receive invoices/ statements already, while the phenomenon of ecards provides a steady undercurrent for those dissatisfied with the postal service. And who needs traditional cards when you can send your ‘love’ over Facebook, which obviously shows such thought, effort, time and consideration? (It was rhetorical, okay?!)

Money-saving expert, Martin Lewis, said on Twitter:

“Huge stamp price hike. 1st class from 46p to 60p – 2nd from 36p to 50p on 30 April. Stock up now, if they say class not cost they stay valid.”

He has also heard from many who are planning to stop sending Christmas cards! It’s utter madness.

1st class stamp: 60p. A 2nd class stamp: 50p. A letter that really shows you care: Priceless. (For everything else there’s Mastercard…)

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Unpublished work

 

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How to make your blog enjoyable

Bloggers know how important search engine optimisation (SEO) is, and we’re always concerned about our stats. Nobody’s blaming you –seeing that three more people have visited your post on the 400 types of cigarette ash is enough to give anyone a giddy thrill – but there’s one thing more important than hits: your readers’ enjoyment.

The great thing is: hits and enjoyment go hand-in-hand. If your audience is engaged, they will come back. They might even recommend you to mates, tweet you or put you on their own blogroll.

As Homer Simpson once said, all he cares about is “M – E; My Enjoyment.”

Here’s what you can do to make your blog the best it can be.

What are you on about?

Tell us what you’re talking about, as fast as you can.

Readers want to know what, when, where, why and how. It’s what journalists do (supposedly) when writing news stories, but that directness can be applied to many forms of writing. Web copy is quickly skimmed over – with some claiming only 50% is read – so make it count.

Images et al.

Break your text up using as many mediums as you like. Images, videos, links, audios, semaphore: split your piece up to make it more aesthetically appealing. If you’re not happy using video or audio, that’s fair enough. But use images. Please. Use. Images.

A blog without pictures is a desolate landscape; one only the brave will tread.

Be the one-stop shop. Provide everything for the reader to digest in a clear, concise way and they won’t need to search around for further information.

What can you add?

There’s nothing wrong with staying topical, and reporting the news, but if you can add something to it, that’s even better. It doesn’t have to be much; just a brief opinion, or opening up a debate. Encourage comments, and pose rhetorical questions.

Entertain and inform your reader. Think about what he/she can take from your post.

Let your voice be heard

Consistency is great. Readers will come back if they know what to expect. Throwing a curveball is all well and good, but keep your distinct voice. Let people know who you are, what you believe in and be proud of it.

Humour

I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

You don’t have to cause a riot, and you don’t have to shoehorn in Only Fools and Horses jokes. But having wit laced through your blog can really help you engage with your audience. You may know someone with no sense of humour, but they’re not typical – and I’m pretty sure they have a quick giggle to themselves when someone walks into a door.

Confidence

You know what you’re talking about. So don’t say stuff like ‘I suppose’ unless it’s for a particular purpose. Walk with your head held high, and people will trust you’re an authority.

A wise man once said that experts are just people who know a centimetre more about something than you. So become an expert.

Grammar and punctuation

Grammar and punctuation is important. Get something wrong and it’ll undermine that confidence I just talked about. Because if you use the wrong variation of ‘there’/’their’… what else are you wrong about?

Length

Don’t rattle on and on and on. Get to the point; say what you want to say, and get out as soon as possible.

Nobody has a big attention span on the interweb, and that’s the reason why so many posts are short (excluding this one).

There’s a link…

You might notice that nearly all of the above is just good journalism. And that’s the key to being a great blogger; be a great writer.

Sure, some blogs are terribly written – with bad grammar, punctuation and voice – but they know what they’re doing: delivering what their readers want. And surely that’s the true sign of a good writer?

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Unpublished work

 

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Jenna-Louise Coleman is the Doctor’s new companion!

Jenna-Louise Coleman has been revealed as the Doctor’s new companion in Doctor Who.

The 25-year old actress will begin filming in May, though her debut won’t air until Christmas, taking over from Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond and Arthur Darvill’s Rory Williams, who leave in episode 5 of the next series.

… And that’s all we know about Jenna’s appearance on the show! We have yet to find out her character’s name, what time period she comes from – and if she’s even human.

Showrunner, Steven Moffat said:

“It always seems impossible when you start casting these parts, but when we saw Matt and Jenna together, we knew we had our girl. She’s funny and clever and exactly mad enough to step on board the TARDIS.

“It’s not often the Doctor meets someone who can talk even faster than he does, but it’s about to happen. Jenna is going to lead him his merriest dance yet. And that’s all you’re getting for now. Who she’s playing, how the Doctor meets her, and even where he finds her, are all part of one of the biggest mysteries the Time Lord ever encounters. Even by the Doctor’s standards, this isn’t your usual boy meets girl.”

Jenna, who has previously appeared in Emmerdale and Waterloo Road, will, of course, be the Doctor’s companion at the time of the show’s 50th anniversary in November 2013. She said:

“I’m beyond excited, I can’t wait to get cracking; working alongside Matt I know is going to be enormous fun and a huge adventure.”

The critics are already milling about – she says she has banned herself from Google – but I remain very positive about her, despite the fact I’ll really miss Karen and Arthur.

You can see what Kasterborous editor, Christian Cawley and regular contributor, James McLean, think about Jenna in their 15-minute ‘ReaktionKast’ here:

… Although I’m really shocked neither remembered that sole Dalek in The Wedding of River Song. (Check out the regular “PodKast with a K” on Kasterborous.)

I was impressed with her performance in Waterloo Road, and think she’ll be fantastic in the TARDIS. But she’d better practice her running…

Rumour had it that Sophia Myles (who has previously appeared in the series as Madame de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace) would take on the mantle of new companion, but it might’ve stretched credibility a bit too much.

You can see Jenna in ITV’s Titanic.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Unpublished work

 

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How to make your blog titles more SEO-friendly

You can have the most interesting post in the world, but if you don’t use search engine optimisation – or SEO – people won’t read it, and a vital part of this is the title and first paragraph.

Search engines, Google in particular, use ‘spiders’ to trawl through content and bring up the most relevant results. And if you want to get onto that prestigious first page, you need a killer title to every single blog post. But what makes a great title…?

Keywords

So you’ve written a blindingly good post, and you want the whole world to see it. Narrow down what it’s actually about. You could make a list of keywords. Take my post about The Simpsons being mispronounced by Channel 4 presenters. My list would include:

  • The Simpsons;
  • Channel 4;
  • Mispronunciation.

So what did I call it? ‘The Simpsons mispronounced on Channel 4.’ There are more inventive names out there, yes, but it says exactly what it’s about. It gets plenty of hits because my audience know what they’re getting. And that’s the key:

Say what it’s about.

Celebrities

Celebs are popular. So if you’re writing about one, say who in the post’s title! People search for their favourite ‘personalities’ all the time.

My favourite writer is Steven Moffat; in fact, he’s probably one of the only screenwriters Average Joe could name. So I included his name in my post, ‘Steven Moffat on writing for TV.’ Combine his name with a few keywords associated with him – yep, ‘writing’ and ‘TV’ – and people will find the post. And more importantly, they’ll read it too.

Forget puns

You’re a funny guy. I can tell. I mean, ‘ha ha’ funny, not weirdo-funny, and you love puns. You have a great one to use as your title. But wait right there.

People don’t search for puns. Because great puns aren’t clichéd – they’re as close to unique as you can muster. So put them in the text, not in the title. You can try putting them in the first paragraph to show people that you’re a witty blogger who has interesting things to say, sure, but Google’s spiders don’t appreciate all that. They just search for what people type in.

Be topical

Pay attention to the big news stories of the day. And comment on them. Simple. It all depends on how fast you are. If it’s breaking news, and you write about it on the day that interest has peaked, you’ll get hits. After that, interest will decline, but there’ll still be people interested. A few years down the line and you’ll still get readers who thrive on the question, ‘do you remember when…?’

But that’s not all. Because you’ve got to put the news story in the title. Think like a newspaper. What do readers want and need to know?

Let’s use my post on the BBC’s Project Barcelona as an example. It’s topical, and uses the three words – yes, again with the keywords! – people will be looking for: ‘BBC’ and ‘Project Barcelona.’

Google trends

To remain topical, look on Google trends. Google’s suggested searches are also a great help. We’ll use my post on Jeremy Clarkson saying that all strikers should be shot. Firstly, I used his name. He’s a celebrity. Secondly, it was written soon after the controversy started. So it’s topical.

Then I used a direct quote. Why? Because people would’ve heard snippets of it, and certainly the most controversial point of his argument. It’s also suggested by Google.

We all know how annoying the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ is. But I put that in there too. People search for it; Google suggests it even as you type in ‘political correctness.’

All together, the final title is… ‘Jeremy Clarkson on strikers: “I would have them all shot.” Political Correctness gone mad?’ I’m sure it looks ugly and long, but it gets readers in and tells them exactly what my post’s about.

The first paragraph

The title goes hand-in-hand with the first paragraph. So make it good. Make your audience read on. Carry on with the keywords; that’s one of the ways search engines judge its relevance.

Once again, think about how newspapers tell their stories. In the first paragraph – or even the first sentence – journalists aim to tell you: who, what, where, when, and why. Perhaps ‘how’ too; it depends on the actual story.

So remember to tell the reader what your post is about using keywords in the title and first paragraph. While it’s not vital you’re topical or mention celebrities, it definitely helps. And don’t try to be too clever by using puns or witty one-liners in the opening: be clever by optimising your blogs so readers can find it easily.

(Thanks to Simon.)

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Unpublished work

 

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Steven Moffat on writing for TV

Steven Moffat, showrunner of Doctor Who and Sherlock (the latter with Mark Gatiss), has discussed his career and television in general with The University Observer’s Emer Sugrue.

I make no secret that The Moff is my main inspiration for writing, especially screenwriting.

Even though he wasn’t the sole writer of Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (he was initially involved until he was offered the top job on Doctor Who), his influence is certainly felt throughout the brilliant film. It’s very simple to say things like, ‘get rid of exposition; make it more visual;’ it’s quite another to pull it off masterfully. But he’s an expert. Tintin is a must watch – because it comes from an ingenious creative team.

So interviews with Steven Moffat are a great help with getting your head around the TV industry, and in this particular one, he talks about some of the things that really concern me.

Firstly, I’m constantly worried about the state of children’s TV; CBBC has really dumbed down, and doesn’t feel as comfortable as it always was – with a few exceptions, naturally – while ITV has junked CITV completely! I think we forget how important kids are, and Moffat has previously written about how we shouldn’t alienate them, because clever storytelling should appeal to all ages. He elaborates on this:

“[Coupling’s] ‘The Man with Two Legs’ was a very funny show – my son would love it, I’m sure – but it’s just a bit too naughty. But with just a little bit more inventiveness and a little bit of cover phrasing you could make that show for a mainstream audience as opposed to a niche audience. What is the point of addressing a smaller section of the audience? And God knows kids love telly, so actually stopping them watching is stupid.”

A further point of interest is the difference between drama and comedy:

 “I don’t think there’s any excuse really unless you’re making people cry when you should be making them laugh. I wrote comedy before I officially wrote comedy because Press Gang was always funny. I honestly don’t change the approach very much at all; the difference is when you’re doing a sitcom, you’re actually thinking ‘they’ve got to be laughing on this page and this page and this page’.”

I recently workshopped a drama, and got quite a few laughs, just from the banter between a couple. It was a lovely surprise: the scene was low-key, but relatable. Comedy and drama shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, as Moffat says here:

“I think comedy sits better in a drama – the way its sits in life, really – but then successful comedies come often from dramatic elements. The line can be blurred because comedy is an artificial distinction unless you’re actually talking about a comedian: if you’re talking about narrative comedy then it is just story telling.”

Moffat, on the set of Couplings, with his wife, Sue Vertue.

A big worry when writing a script is length and timing. Steven, here, offers insight behind the length of Sherlock, compared to Doctor Who:

“I think the longer length in some ways is a blessing because, I mean, I think I spend most of my life trying to get Doctor Who episodes down to 45 minutes and that can be really, really tough. Whereas, you know, when I was doing [A Scandal in Belgravia] this year, it was deliberately set over a year so you got a big chunk of their lives. Things like the Christmas Day scene would never make it into a normal length episode because it’s just a bit of indulgence – no doubt could be called self-indulgent! But the 90 minutes allows you that degree of character, in effect. And character is very important in that show.”

When a show is shorter, it can occasionally lack depth; however, a great writer should be able to seep character into every line of dialogue. It’s tough, but you shouldn’t be a writer if you don’t love what you’re doing enough to put some serious man-hours into it.

Finally, a foray into Doctor Who territory, as he remembers first writing for Doctor Whoin 2004:

 “It felt impossible that we were actually doing it and could go to the set and see the police box. It hadn’t been on for 15 years, it was so incredibly exciting! And I remember sitting down for the first time and thinking ‘bloody hell, I’m actually writing Doctor Who.’ That never completely wears off to be honest; I’m always very excited about writing Doctor Who but it’s now harder for me to recapture the feeling of it being entirely a novelty.”

I’m using a clip from Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment in my script, and – even though it’s somebody else’s words – it was so, so incredibly exciting to write ‘THE DOCTOR.’ I hope I get to write it a vast amount of times!

Tone is always important, and Moffat shares his thoughts (and those of Gareth Roberts’) on the subject in Doctor Who:

“Gareth Roberts [The Shakespeare Code; The Lodger], one of my fellow writers on Doctor Who, had a theory that you write the Doctor Who you remember; he tended to remember the funny ones, so he writes funny Doctor Who and I remember just being terrified of it so I tend to write the scary Doctor Who. Neither memory is more accurate, it’s all kind of nonsense but I do like the fact – the sort of weird sense of transgression of it being slightly wrong to have a television show whose mission statement is to petrify kids. Try and pitch that and get it made today!”

And to end… we all know Amy and Rory leave the TARDIS later this year, and Steven has stated it ill be ‘heartbreaking.’ I’m 100% sure he’s right. But he has elaborated with this lovely sentiment:

“Heartbreaking doesn’t mean unhappy.”

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Unpublished work

 

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An interesting segue from freelance journalism by my mate, Marc Leverton.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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