Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Cure

I finally got to Writers Connect after weeks of absences due to people getting married or christened or being snowed in, or the like, all falling on the Sundays on which the group was meeting. This week, for an exercise, we each wrote three random words on three separate slips of paper. We folded them up, threw them into a pile, mixed them around and pulled out three slips each. These words were the prompt for a short vignette. Mine were:


The slide was different this time, the microbes dancing under the lens and the clinical light of the room. Something was spurring them on to work, to eat away at the infected matter. He’d left a series of slides out overnight, an error borne of tiredness. Something green had appeared, as if dropped by God.

He needed to phone James- if anything was different, he’d said, if any pattern emerged, it needed reporting immediately. But Robert stayed, fascinated by the Amoebic feast. This was a first. A holy grail for science research, if only he could figure out what had changed. He ran sequence tests, altered variables. He searched for similarities in previous research. He was running out of infected cells to test on. But the system threw up a suggestion as the perspiration built up on his neck.

It was a herb. A common one. Ginger.

Who had brought ginger into the lab? And why? And where was Dave, his slob of an assistant? He needed him to record this and get it validated fast, before someone else discovered it. This was the only cure.

The hiss of the pressurised door startled him, and he guarded the microscope, like his discovery could be discredited instantly.

Dave stood in the doorway eating a sandwich.

You fucking idiot!” Robert exploded. “Where did you get your degree, you-“

Robert looked at the sandwich.

Oh.” He licked his lips. He had the cure. “Oh, don’t move.”

Of course, what I didn't know is that ginger is a root, not a herb. I also have no scientific knowledge past GCSE level, so I really didn't know what I was talking about. The group seemed to like it though!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Three Strikes: Week 9

Pic courtesy Scott Beale, Flickr

Project Screenplay Month is well under way. 

I've rewritten the synopsis for a very convoluted feature-length film that I wrote back in 2005. It’s incredibly weird, but still has potential. It was my intention to bring it to today's Writer's Connect meeting, but- typically- my printer had no ink and I had no spare cartridges. So I've got a HP black toner on order. This was after racing all week to get it polished up in time, which wasn't easy. I wrote it so long ago that it needed desperate, radical work to make it plausible.

I've searched around for screenwriting resources.

Madlab, Manchester's Digital Laboratory on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter looked a good start. They have a lot of meetups covering a range of interests within the creative industry. Nothing fits the bill for me right now, but I'll keep my eyes peeled.

Manchester Screenwriter, a Tumblr page, came up as a Google result but the page was missing.

Writers Connect appeared also. I've read a few scripts out there, and in fact took a part in the reading of someone else's script today.

Next step: contact Oldham Coliseum, my local theatre, who may be happy to act out some of my short scripts. They might also be able to point the in the right direction.

Gym improvements: (21st onward)

Pulley pull-ups- pulling a bar from waist level to chin, palms facing body, with added weights: up 1 notch.

10-minute run: up 0.1.

Pulley jab: up 2 notches.

Not bad, considering I'm only training on alternate days. Boom!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A Bit of Crumpet on a Saturday Morning

I took Fluffy's advice and tried out the Hairy Dieter's cookbook. I started on the first recipe. The first section of the book is just breakfasts, so I had breakfast for tea in effect. Recipe 1: Toasted Crumpets and Warm Spiced Berries with Yoghurt and Honey.

The instructions were easy to follow, although this WAS an easy recipe. Whether I'd manage to put it all together on a Thursday morning before work is another challenge, but it was fine trying again this morning. Reasonably enjoyable. A little too sweet, mind. It was supposed to serve two, but I mullered the lot. So much for dieting.

Time to learn a main evening meal, I think.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Fluffy Dieters

I flew by Oldham Zoo today to update Zoological psychological therapist and general all-round life-fixer Fluffy Oakes. The last time I met with him, he gave me a few suggestions for some challenges I was dealing with in life. Well, I got my arse in gear and gave them all a shot.

And whilst lovebird Terence did what can only be described as inverted chin-ups from his perch (using his feet; picture it if you can), I updated Fluffy on my current state of affairs.

I pulled out Delia Smith's How To Cook, the book he'd suggested, and mentioned that the first recipe resulted in what I called a “curry-tastrophe”

He seemed surprised that the book was so hard to use, and that I'd struggled to find the ingredients. “Delia's quite a good one to start with,” he'd said, bemused. “You could always go to Waterstones and flip through a few books to see what takes your fancy. But if I can make a suggestion...”

From his own non-fiction bookshelf, betwixt arms guide Jane's Guns and photo-centric avian textbook Birds in Focus, he pulls The Hairy Dieters.

As Terence continued working out, his grunts- heard from a cross the room- became more strained and vocal. As Fluffy and I talk, we need to raise our voices until we're shouting at each other.

The book focusses on healthy food, which I'm keen to stick to. It's simpler, the text is broken down into smaller blocks, the ingredients look reasonably attainable and- more to the point- the dishes look like the kinds of things I'd enjoy eating. Plenty of meat. Not too many obscure ingredients. I live near one of the biggest Tescos in the country, but they still fail to stock some of the bizarre food stuffs that recipe books occasionally come up with. The Hairy Dieters seem to go for their simple, mainstream edibles.

So I promised I'd have a go.

As well as this book, Fluffy suggested, I could always go into Waterstones and flip through the books to see which looks easiest or has the tastiest recipes.

Next, I showed him the new Sony Xperia P I'd bought a contract for. I was hoping to stay at the price range I'd been in with my previous contract. Unfortunately, you just can't get phones for £20 a month and unlimited internet, unless you go on GiffGaff, which I've heard enough bad press for. Also, if you find anything like that, the phone is likely to have a shitty camera. I explained to Fluffy that when you have memory difficulties, a camera can be a huge benefit in terms of memory promts. If the pictures are really high-quality, you can zoom in to check details if needs be.

Terence gave one more climactic yell as he completed his final chinup, then swoops to the floor of his enclosure, exhaustedly mumbling something about a new personal best. Shunning the fatball strung up in his cage, he gorges on sunflower seeds and a small bowl of protein shake powder before falling asleep.

I'm getting somewhere here. The problems I've dealt with since moving out- the bills, the friendship circles I've struggled to make and keep, the cooking and healthy eating, they've all diminished and in their place is a world of opportunities. It's partly thanks to Fluffy for pointing me in the right direction, but it's mostly my own graft that got me ontop of this situation.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Screenplay Month

In 1997 I picked up one of the first few editions of movie magazine Total Film, mostly because it came with a free copy of the screenplay to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. I was in fifth form when I spotted it in the newsagent's, and I'd seen the film over the previous summer holidays. I'd watched a SHITLOAD of films in the summer of '97, but Reservoir Dogs stood out like a bleeding man in an empty warehouse. It was an incredible eye-opener: a story where characters chat like regular people in boring, everyday locations- yet the dialogue crackled and grabbed you by the ear, not letting you tune out for a second. The film isn't actually that violent, but- given that I'd watched The Fly and numerous other 18-rated films that month- it felt more extreme than anything I'd ever seen.

So when I saw the Faber & Faber screenplay on the front of the magazine, I jumped on it. I read it in my lunch break in the fifth form block, ignoring the twats trying to distract me and slag the film off.

They say a script has to leap off the page and bite you on the nose in order to be picked from the thousands of others on the slush pile, if it is to be picked and funded for production. Just reading the text I could see how Reservior Dogs had managed that distinction. I picked up on the formatting of the text, saw how Tarantino had put it together, and only then did I notice how powerful the betrayals are in the film. And I thought to myself, I want to do this. I want to write a script.

That was half my life ago. I've written a shitload in more recent years, as you can see on this blog, but this is mostly non-fiction musings on celebs, social media and other ridiculousness. I've managed to get a number of prose stories and poems into magazines here and there. The only script success I've had was landing The Mix in Eskimo Pie magazine, which I'm pretty proud of. Maybe it's time to go back to my roots. For the next month, I'm going to give screenwriting a shot. I'll dig out a load of ideas, polish up a few shorts and a full-length script I wrote between 2005 and 2008, search for feedback groups in Manchester, use online resources and see if I can get a script acted out by a drama group. So if you're reading this, Hollywood, please brace yourselves for some British carnage!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Three Strikes: Week 8

I have a busy month ahead- with another monthly challenge on the horizon alongside Three Strikes- so I've been chilling before the onslaught begins. Unless you count going to the gym six times a bastard week. This week's improvements:

10 minute run up 4 speeds.
Pulley jab up 1 notch.
Pulley cross up 1 notch.
Cable crunch with the rope handle up 1 notch.

Away from the gym, however, I did make this reggae track about Manchester's Metrolink.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Three Strikes: Week 7

Achievements at the gym from 7th onwards:

Pulley jab up 1 notch

Pulley cross up 2 notches

This literally is “jabbing” and “crossing”- punching forward with the front and back hand, like a boxer. Only with the pulley machine, you're holding the handle attached to the cable lifting the weights. To do this, turn your back to the mechanisms and take a fighting stance. Extend your arm like you're shadow-boxing, only slower, and you'll pull up the weight. Don't stick out your elbow as you do it, though. You wouldn't in sparring, unless you wanted your opponent to know what you were throwing. Remember to twist at the hips. Kinda like this guy, only not: 

Squats with weights up 1 weight.

Away from the gym, my biggest achievement this week was picking up a beauty in Manchester. Elegant, refined, fascinating and of course looks great... I'm talking about a book, by the way. I found The Godfather Treasures in The Works in Manchester's Arndale Centre.

This hardback cased project contains everything you'd want to know about Francis Ford Coppola's gangster trilogy masterpiece. I'm steadily working through it at the moment, and I'm loving all the trivia. (Did you know Frank Sinatra offered to play Don Corleone, but his offer was politely refused? This was despite the fact Mario Puzo, the author of the book on which the film is adapted, based a character on Sinatra himself- the singer Johnny Fontaine, seen performing at Connie and Carlo's wedding in the opening scene.) Included in the book are pullout reprints of call sheets, pages of the script, original posters and a special brochure from the American Dental Practice on the prosthetic teeth created for Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Fascinating stuff.

Marked down from £30 to £13, this was an offer I couldn't refuse.

Discount bookstore The Works is well worth a browse around. There's a lot of unsellable guff to wade through when you get there, but this book isn't the only treasure to be found. The stock changes regularly and the markdowns are considerable. Check it out.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Three Strikes: Week 6

I have drank a LOT over Christmas. At least, by my standards I have. I've been out loads and haven't been to the gym much. But what do you expect? I practically had a week off from the gym, as well as work, and when I started back up again I felt malnourished and frail. But I still beat a couple of records.

Cross trainer: up 0.02, during a warmup. I'd already hit three stikes on it during a time when I was doing 2 10-minute cross-trains per session, but I have always kept this as my first exercise.

Squats with weights: up 1 weight.

And what have I achieved in this, the first week of 2013? Well, aside from attending a hilarious new-year party at a mate's house, not a great deal. “Saved some money”, I suppose you could say as I didn't do the whole club thing for NYE. Chilled with the family. Survived work by pretending I wasn't so hungover that I thought I was having a stroke.

But I survived.

Smokey Mountain: officially the most repugnant "whiskey" known to man. DO NOT drink it.