Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Monday, 29 April 2013

A Talk with Brookside Writer Helen East

Ms East advised a collection of budding Oldham writers on Wednesday 24th,
over at Oldham Lifelong Learning in the Cultural Quarter on Union St. She dished out a few nuggets of awesome advice.

A film script should be 90-100 pages in length.

Find info and examples of scripts over at BBC Writersroom

Find writing prompts over at CAKE.shortandsweet

A rough rule to work to: 1 page of script equals 1 minute of screen time.

A TV drama script needs a quicker set-up and structure than its film counterpart.

LA Productions and Red Production Company are two TV production companies accepting unsolicited screenplays.

Break rules. Reading books on screenwriting will teach you the rules. Know them, then break them.

Writers write. Don't put it off.

Send your work out as much as possible.

Look for stories. Be nosy. Listen to people. Eavesdrop. Be a voyeur. Read the news.

Once you have an idea, write a synopsis. Then research the subject to flesh it out. Your synopsis should indicate the tone of your proposed screenplay.

Start your script. In your first ten minutes (Act 1) we should know who the main character is and what world they inhabit. 10 pages in, something happens to them. At this point, Act 2 begins.

Know your characters inside out. Put them into different situations to see how they react and behave. Something has to be at stake for them. What do they want? Who has the most to lose? That's your main character. It's their story.

During the session we also analysed the opening scene of a courtroom drama. We looked at how the setting, costume design, casting and narrative all told the viewer what kind of story the programme was telling within the first few minutes. As mentioned in point 5, this has to happen quickly in TV.

I asked Ms East for some advice on screenwriting. I've got a synopsis and a feature script that I've been looking for feedback on. She suggested that the synopsis shouldn't go online, as it's hard to copyright an idea. Also, as the script goes through drafts, the synopsis will change. Feedback is much easier to get on the screenplay itself, so I should just go for it, tidy up the script and start dishing it out for critiques.

So. Very informative and engaging night down at the library. I may have another bash at screenwriting in a few months!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Three Strikes: Week 22

This week: watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on the big screen, thanks to Manchester Odeon Flashbacks

If you haven't seen this classic tale of a drug-addled journalist and his slightly unstable Samoan attorney going in search of the American Dream- do so right now. You need to. But don't Google “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas full movie”. Be fair on Universal Pictures, now!

This film introduced me the gonzo wisdom of Hunter S Thompson, back when I first watched it in about 2000, and is probably responsible for my obsession with documenting everything I do on this blog. Watching it on the big screen was a real treat.

I also went to a talk delivered by a screenwriter who worked on the now-discontinued soap opera Brookside. Very interesting discourse into the world of writing for television. Full post to come.

Other than that, I'm making progress with writing and NaPoWriMo. I've found a decent feedback site- a real rarity- and have written a handful of poems as well. Stay tuned for all of this.

I've been consistently smashing the gym. My only personal bests are STILL just the 10 minute run: up 4 speeds. It's getting incredibly difficult now. Which will come first- a shredded six-pack, or a cardiac arrest? Place your bets now!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Manchester's Shame

Let’s take a look at day 2 of NaPoWriMo. The prompt is a poem that tells a lie. Here’s a Mancunian tale of an “alternate” history.

Manchester, 1996.
A high-roofed, airy chamber:
The archaic, Gothic Town Hall
Suits and ties and darkened minds.
Overshadowed by colossi:
London, Birmingham, Liverpool-
The city stagnates.
This will not do, they agree. This must change.
Their sporting goal:
The Commonwealth Games. To host, to sell,
To rejuvenate.
To put a chain of events into motion:
To rebuild a city, to take on the UK’s Metropoli,
To make Manchester shine.
The meeting closes. A door opens.
The mayor enters with a man, Devant. They are alone.
They plot and scheme. They crusade.

A week later: a secret auction.
Worldwide moneyed tyrants argue.
The mayor oversees. Devant bangs a gabble,
Echoing, bomb-like.
The successor, the buyer: The IRA.
The merchandise: 9,000lb of C4,
Digital timers, blasting caps,
A battered old van.
A codeword.

Days later: The call is made.
Emergency services receive the codeword,
An IRA chant.
The town is cleared: ants,
From a dollop of cinnamon.
A van in ghost-town Manchester.
A distant camera, high angle,
Image greyed out and silent,
Zoomed far in and grainy.
A small white van, boxy and desolated.
Then, obliteration.
A ball of light. Zoom out:
A street engulfed in smoke
Up to the rooftops.

On the street: alarms ring.
The carcass of the van still burning.
Debris. Dents in lampposts.
An overhead walkway a gutted frame.
Smashed and battered shop fronts.
A dirty mushroom, filling the skyline.
Stragglers glassed, then hauled
Into standby ambulances.
Only the local post box, blood-red,
Remains untouched.

Days later, the clean-up begins,
Clearing a path for a glassy,
Metropolitan future.
Repaving. Reinstalling. Rejuvenating.
Day by week by month,
The city blooms, business booms,
Yet the IRA still looms,
In the minds of the people.
The locals’ prize for enduring this:
A large, modern sporting stadium-
And a grant from the Commonwealth.
In the stained-oak chambers
of the city’s boardrooms,
The mayor and Devant share
handshakes and visions of success,
as IRA money flows blood-like into the city.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Prohibition Cinquain

Day five of NaPoWriMo suggests a cinquain, a five-line poem with emphases on particular syllables.

Here’s one inspired by a recent night out in Prohibition Manchester. (I’ll be there again on Saturday, if the poem tempts you. Or I do.) Check out how to write cinquains, then let me know if you think I hit the stresses at the right points. It's a little bit literal, but it's a first attempt.

The bar
Has a DJ
The music binds us all.
With the dark-haired beauty in black,
I dance.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Strigiformes Assassination

Day 20 of NaPoWriMo suggested a poem using at least five of a collection of words.

Strigiformes Assassination

The Cyclops owl, Edgar
laden with heavy artillery
curls cheese into a bilious truffle.
He is a widow. A dairy farmer. A hitman.
His elusive nature,
svelte and accurate and deadly,
is renowned. But he is modest
and as vocal as a ghost.
He glides from willowy nest
to gutter, to sky, in a swoop, without a hoot.

Tonight's client: Elwin the cow-bird,
cattle hustler, moving in on Offa's land,
Edgar's superior.
Elwin sits atop the beast, horned and fat,
gorging on ticks in the black night.
Edgar flies high, his target upwind. He hears only
the breeze in his feathers.
And then he plummets.
He activates photon canons with
an acute feather rearrangement
Sending a coarse beam through the night,
a fluorescent javelin.
He kills twice: The bird: obliterated.
The cow: a cauterised arc in its back,
smoking, dead.
Edgar is the toast of Offa's steak-and-cheese party.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Have You Used Scribophile?

At the time of writing, we're past the half-way mark of NaPoWriMo 2013. In the midst of all this, I'm trying to get some feedback on some poems I wrote a while back. Hence, I've set up a profile on Scribophile, a creative writing critique site. Check out my page here

Have you used it? How did you find it? Comment below...

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Three Strikes: Week 21

I have booked Ibiza!

In September I'll be fulfilling a, what, 16, 17-year ambition and spending a week with friends in the Balearics . And as September is the month known generally for its epic closing parties, we can expect it to look a little like this...

So a good portion of my time will be spent in the gym between now and then. 20 weeks to get shredded. It's ON.

Oh, by the way, my Sing Date episode airs on Sky Living, 21st May, 8:30 pm. Don't miss it!

Gym records this week:

10 min run: up 3 speeds.
Lateral pull-down, elbows at right-angles, backs of hands facing face: up 1 notch.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Are you out there? Are you “there” at all?

Friday's NaPoWriMo prompt was to write a poem in the style of a personal ad. I based this on my own shaky dating experience.

Are you out there? Are you “there” at all?

Articulate, contradictory moron seeks naïve, open-minded head-turner. Nutters, nazis, pint-drinkers, smokers, pessimists, illiterates (well, you won't be reading this, will you?) need not apply.

Friday, 19 April 2013

"Translating" Foreign Poetry

Tuesday’s NaPoWriMo challenge is to translate a poem from a foreign language into English. The less you know about that foreign language, the better. Just make an absolute guess based on what the words look like. Hence, I picked this Finnish piece. The result: total surrealism. As Roy Walker used to say, just say what you see! A brilliant way of developing the best genre of poetry.

Bree Aldridge’s van made a cracker!
She said in biology, I’m a radio. Cracking
Faster, she snapped a video, dig her knockers pal!
The Fonz’s other brother: cracking but a little psychotic.
Ingesting hands and hair. Ingesting. Trade garders
I reckon. Citroen’s are a man’s car, and flock a major life, me!
Have to get others to video the running if I fall. Clock ornament
Genome dissect. Raking clangers. Jag’s sag and clang
The little flicker’s are gonna go mouldy: that’s very irrepairable!
Fran’s bojangles, that’s got on it. Moet drugs over at the den.
Violet organs lanced in the mouth
Pupils “ouch” Sedan can jag into
Full of the longer, Moet.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Salmon with Chilli Ginger Sauce

These Hairy Dieters recipes are getting HARD. This recipe took hours to prepare- partly because I had no squeezer for the oranges- my mum had lent me a lemon squeezer but I’d (presumably) given it back to her. I couldn’t find it after digging around in my myriad, cluttered cupboards. In retrospect, the pestle and mortar might have been more effective than trying to blend half an orange.

A second complication was the inclusion of “two tablespoons of the syrup”. So ginger comes in syrup? Not the ginger I found. And the golden syrup I found didn’t have any ginger in either. So what I did was probably totally wrong.

I mixed up the rest of the ingredients. I needed to add water to get the oranges out of the blender, which changed the constitution later on. I boiled it up as instructed; the smell was weird.

The fish and the sauce both finished cooking around the same time, so at least I got that right.

It tasted as weird as it smelled. i.e. STRONG.

I probably need a zest grater, something with very fine holes. I should probably have cut up the orange peel and the ginger smaller by the time I put them in.

THD mentions adding veg right at the end of the recipe. Great.

Outcome: Fish great. Sauce not.  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Loss Pantun

Monday’s NaPoWriMo challenge is a Pantun. The site says, “A pantun consists of rhymed quatrains (abab), with 8-12 syllables per line. The first two lines of each quatrain aren’t meant to have a formal, logical link to the second two lines, although the two halves of each quatrain are supposed to have an imaginative or imagistic connection.”

Here’s mine. Hope you like.

Grappling futile with a bigger fighter
One arm slips and his grip becomes tighter
My woman has left me, I know that she’s cheated
I am left choked up and defeated

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Pass-it-on Poetry

A few months ago at Writers Connect, I got one of thewriting exercises totally wrong. This week, as the organiser and assistant organiser were absent, I was thrust into the executive position and asked to run the meeting. For a warm-up exercise, I figured now was a good time to revisit this particular challenge to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it right-child!

Paul McCartney mode deactivated.

So. The CORRECT way is to give each person a sheet of paper. We pass this around between each story element that we’ll write. And the elements are:

Type of person

A final pass should leave you with a sheet of paper written on by five different people. So. The premise of the vignette is: Your person is in that place. He/she has that many of those objects, and they are that colour. I had a painter in a flying tower with 3000 green vases.

As this is such a bizarre image, I figured an abstract poem might work in this instance. Not to mention, it’s National Poetry Writing Month and my head is in “that place”.

It hovers over Earth,
a mirage of architecture.
a once proud skyscraper,
deserving literally of that title
it’s his new assignment,
after his renowned success-
his wondrous painting of
the chapel of St Derek,
he has been summonsed to
the tower, a fortunate,
privileged appointee.
Armed with his brushes
and a Lake-Michigan-sized
vat of multicoloured paint,
he’s transported to the
sky-hooked behemoth
in his overalls.

behind the decaying plaster door,
a room drained of life.
he opens the many windows,
the ground separated,
divorced beneath him.
Is the tower moving,
or the Earth?
Shafts of light stab through
each open window.
On numerous shelves,
pottery adorns the walls,
vases of countless eras-
every one of them
a shade of their own green
some envious,
some environmentally friendly
some sitting in peace.
The painter climbs his
infinite ladders-
the tower may fly,
but he cannot.
At the top of his ladders
woozy with vertigo,
the painter lathers on
a rainbow. He moves
each green vase with care,
brightening the tower
with each weird stroke,
bringing light and vibrancy.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Three Strikes: Week 20

I'm hammering through NaPoWriMo at the moment, the fruits of which are dripping through onto this site. Keep your eyes peeled for these, also for possible published pieces over the next few weeks.

10 minute run: up 5 speeds. I'm running faster than I've ever ran, and quite comfortably, too. Crashing and burning at everything else, despite healthier eating and weeks of protein shakes. Despite all this, my weight is soaring. I've hit 70kg for the first time in my life. Now that I'm 30, my metabolism will have slumped, but is that the only cause? Is it a good thing or not? I dunno.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

I have officially given up on Writers In Touch

As April is NaPoWriMo, I've spent a few days looking for feedback on a few short pieces of poetry. Writers InTouch is one of a number of creative writing review sites that provide people with a platform to give and receive critiques, so I had a bash at this for a few days.

I focussed on reviewing poetry. I made an attempt to single out the poetry pieces in the list of review-able articles, so that I wasn't wading through fiction pieces. This took me to a list of subcategories, or genres. I clicked on one of these, and it took me to a list of articles. The articles were fiction AND poetry, though. Other links took me to a blank screen.

So. That was ball-ache number one. Also, the site is littered with Google ads that looks like links to other parts of the site, which is certainly a second pain in the groin.

A third problem: After you review an article, the original article stays in the list of pieces to review, so you find yourself wading through material you've already looked at.

Fourth, and most essentially, the reviews being given are weak. “I'm not one for poems, but this is good,” said one of them. ATTENTION, BUDDING WRITERS: If you want to be successful, you have to improve your work. In order to do that, you need constructive criticism. You need to be told what it is you need to change to make your work better. If you aren't getting that, you won't improve.

A fifth issue is that very few people are actively using the site. I looked up the “humour” section. Possibly to alleviate my annoyance, I wanted to read funny poems. The newest piece of writing uploaded in this section was dated 2010! Metaphorical dust-gathering, forgotten drafts of (largely rubbish) poems populated numerous other genres.

I checked out who actually was using the site by browsing a few profiles. From people's personal descriptions, there are very few people on there who know how to construct a sentence. One guy had written his “about me” section in third person, like his publisher had written it for him. ATTENTION: It's a feedback site. It's a site to help you LEARN. It's not a place to show off with a 500-word discourse about your every achievement.

Throughout all of this, I dished out as many poetry reviews as possible. I got to a stage where there was nothing left for me to review, yet despite this I didn't receive one review from other site contributors.

So. Moving on. What other feedback site should I try?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Movie Tanka

We're 11 days into NaPoWriMo. I thought I'd actually have a go at one of the prompts from the site, instead of solely bashing away at drafts of old poems.

So, here's a tanka I've whipped up. It's based on the plot of a movie. Two near-identical movies, in fact. Can you guess them? Leave a comment...

Jewel robbery
ends in murder and kidnap
the remaining men
weasel out the inside man
his confession leads to death.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Have You Used Writers In Touch?

A shot taken at a “poetry brothel”, by Neonsighs on Flickr.

A poem bared the moment to things he was not normally prepared to notice. This was the nuance of every poem, at least for him, at night, these long weeks, one breath after another, in the rotating room at the top of the triplex.

-Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis

We're a week into NaPoWriMo, a national attempt to get the masses to take up poetry. As it's already something I occasionally dabble in, I figured now is the time to focus on it. I'm going to be giving Writers In Touch a shot in hope of getting some feedback on a few poems.

The site isn't immediately user-friendly. I'm looking for a way to link to my profile so you can find me on there, but it isn't obvious. If you want to check me out there you'll have to search for my username, powerisastateofmind. Constructive critiques welcome. Unhelpful praise or straight-up slag-offs are not. Hit me up!

A warning: the poems I'm uploading to WIT are the pieces that I'm not comfortable reading out to people. i.e. all of the rude stuff. So don't expect any airy-fairy shit.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Three Strikes: Week 19

Two golden moments this week.

I made it into the Barking and Dagenham Post! After the Parkrun I mentioned last week
This article found its way onto Facebook.

Last night I hit Prohibition Manchester. It's one of the last bastions of house music- one of the few venues in the city still playing this genre- and it was a brilliant night. The venue, the people and the music (the later provided by the very talented DJ Bini) were astounding. We're all hoping a residency could be on the cards. Nudge nudge, Prohibition!

This week's gym-smashing:

10 min run: up 5 speeds
Lat pulley, backs of hands facing face, hands shoulders-width apart: up 1 notch
Cable crunch with rope handle: up 1 notch.

Party on.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Go on then. Let's have NaPoWriMo.

April is National Poetry Writing Month. Traditionally, participants should be aiming to write one poem per day throughout the month of April. I say, lame.

Instead of forcing out rushed, half-baked ideas and passing them off as poems without getting constructive feedback, I'm going to focus on digging out old drafts of poems, and jot down new ideas, find feedback websites and test them out, get some solid constructive criticism and fire out polished poems to magazines. I have some drafts that have been haunting my computer for 2 and a half years now, and it's getting ridiculous. I've been waiting for an excuse to single out the poetry form and develop my skills in it, and April's NaPoWriMo is the perfect opportunity. With so many writers having online presences of some kind, it shouldn't be hard to find contacts, get feedback and learn more about the art of poems.

(Also, as Duotrope has gone subscription-only and I'm too tight to pay their fees, I'll be looking for new ways to find magazines to publish my work. If you know of any, please comment below.)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Does Reading cure Insomnia? Results!

A month ago I decided to spend 2 hours per night reading before going to sleep, in an attempt to overcome a crippling bout of insomnia. I decided that the best way to make myself do this- to stop myself from putting bedtime off- was to go to bed at 9pm and read for 2 hours. This would stop me from looking at TV and computer screens, and keep my eyes away from the kind of light that keeps you awake.

This was Fluffy Oakes’ suggestion, the zoological genius who had also prescribed me with a course of Zopiclone. Think Kalms on crack. It’s heavy stuff. I’ve so far taken only 3 of the bad boys, in the course of the last 6 weeks. So something must be working.

Taking Zopiclone is like the heroin hit that Renton intravenously injects in Trainspotting- you sink into what you’re lying on and are- fairly quickly- smothered out of your consciousness. An instant heaviness presses on you, and you’re compelled to lie down quickly. Then it’s lights-out for ten hours.

That was my first pill. The next two took a little longer to kick in but they worked eventually, although I didn't sleep for quite as long.

One of the hard parts of doing the reading project was actually making myself go to bed. The 9pm reminder on my phone usually beeped when I was in the middle of something, like a blog post or cleaning the kitchen, and I’d ignore it for hours. But, more often than not, I’d stick to the rules and go to bed early, and crack out a book.

I’ve hardly drank any alcohol all month (largely because most of my mates behave like responsible thirty-somethings and don’t feel the need to cruise Manchester’s bars every goddamn weekend, meaning I’ve no-one to go out with), so there’s been no risk of the Zopiclone backfiring on me: the packet recommends avoiding alcohol. I’ve definitely not drank on the nights I took the tablet.

But here we are at the end of the month, and I still had to medicate on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning!

One of the things making this project so hard is that my phone beeps every time I get a notification on Facebook or Twitter- which is a few times a night. It's too much effort to figure out how to turn them on and off every night. My phone is my alarm clock (one of two I need to get my ass out of bed) so I can't keep it in another room or put it on silent. I had to learn to keep my phone face-down next to my bed so it didn't light up the room, and learn to just ignore the occasional noises until the deafening shriek of my alarm.

So is reading working? Does it help you to sleep? Perhaps. I’d say give it a shot, provided you're using paper books and not a Kindle. That would kind of defeat the purpose, no?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Glimpses of London

I spent last weekend in London seeing relatives. We were looking for sightseeing things to do, and we landed on the idea of visiting this place:

You might not recognise the area from this close-up shot, but it's on TV all the time. It's more commonly known as the Old Bailey.

We were hoping to see if we could watch some criminal proceedings, as there is a public gallery for such things. We got there too late though, and the guard told us the judge was wrapping up. He advised us that the best times to come were in the mornings or after lunch, Monday to Thursday. The Old Bailey doesn't allow you to enter the building if you have any cameras on you, and it doesn't provide storage. So if we do go back again (which I'd like to) we'd have to leave our phones at home.

St Paul's Cathedral makes an interesting tour no matter what your religious beliefs are. It's an incredible building, built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Services began in 1697. The MP3 audio tour is fascinating. You'll be given the headphone pack on entry to the building.

The cathedral floor takes up the majority of the structure, and the attention to detail in the décor both there and throughout the entire building is incredible. Watch out for a few hidden artistic gems, like the Henry Moore sculpture hiding in a conclave. The highlights of the building include the crypt at the bottom of the building, where you'll find the tombs of Lord Nelson, Lord Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren, among others, and the view of the city from the observatory at the top of the 111.3 metre-high dome.

On the Saturday I ran in the Barking Parkrun, a 5km, 2-lap dash of the East London public park. I enrolled beforehand so that my time could be recorded.

It was snowing. I find running in snow quite helpful: you need to run fast to keep warm, so you're always pushing yourself to stay at that pace.

To compare this to the rest of the running I do, I only ever run for 10 minutes. I last treadmilled at 12km/ph for 10 minutes, so 2km distance. So Parkrun was a bit of a slog. Good fun lapping the older folk though!

A few days later, Barking Parkrun administrators sent me this email:

Barking results for event #35. Your time was 25:30.
Congratulations on completing your 1st parkrun and your 1st at Barking today. You finished in 12th place and were the 10th gent out of a field of 22 parkrunners and you came 4th in your age category SM30-34.”

We checked out Greenwich Market, which is quite an eclectic trove. I would be the owner of this bad boy if I'd had actually been to a cash machine beforehand.

Yes, I know.


This is The Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe. I've now found that there's an observatory for the public. Next time...

Also next time, I might dive in here:

Macbeth is one of the greatest stories ever told, and I'm keen to read a bit more Shakespeare, to be honest. I'm not a theatre person really, but I would check this out.

I'll be back to see more of the capital later in the year.