2010: Doctor Who, Stormhouse, Sarah Jane & Other Fun Stuff

Hello tinsel-chops!

Sweet baby Jesus in a Pret A Manger: what a year that was. If ever there was a year in which I did a shedload of work and gained confidence in my ideas-flow, it was 2010.  I wrote my first produced feature film.  I wrote my first scripts for BBC Audiobooks and Big Finish, including one for the current incarnation of the Doctor, as played on TV by Matt Smith.

What follows are the details of pretty much everything I did (professionally, mind - you'll hear nothing of the time I fought a 15-foot clay badger in a quarry) in the last 12 months.  To be honest, writing this stuff is more for my benefit than anything else.  At this time of year, I like to stop and take stock.  So if you'd prefer to return to your New Year Limbo Period booze, I certainly shan't hold it against you.

Somewhere in the year's second quarter, director Dan Turner and I went for a drink.  We'd worked together before on various projects, including freaky, sexy short film Look At Me.  At one point during our beer-fest, Dan oh-so-casually mentioned his idea for a film in which "the military capture a ghost".  I immediately keeled over, picked myself up and became obsessed with the idea.  We spent the rest of the night quacking about it and deciding that this could well make a super-scary horror film.

The idea grew and grew, until suddenly it became Stormhouse, a film shot in August and starring the excellent Katie Flynn, daughter of Jane Seymour.  Yes, Stormhouse really happened that fast - and I'm glad it did. There's nothing like the rush of shooting towards deadlines like an Exocet to induce full creativity in the brain.  Stormhouse was filmed in a military base nestled away in the English countryside, with me as writer and executive producer.  That shoot was unquestionably one of the finest experiences of my life.  Cast and crew alike stayed in the base, which gave the production a real sense of camaraderie.  I slept each night on an airbed in a creepy office off a creepy corridor - both of which were locations by day.   I loved the whole experience - apart from the mad, incessant flies.

Stormhouse is currently in the last stages of post-production: music (Sam Watts!), FX, sound, grading - all with Dan and producer Dean Fisher toiling away at the eye of the storm.  We have a fine sales agent in AV Pictures, who handled the likes of Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (see their website page for Stormhouse here) and the film will be released in 2011.  Can't wait for you to see it, if supernatural horror is your bag.

The first thing I wrote in 2010, Forgiveness is a horror feature spec script.  It was created while I was in a hateful mood, which I'm convinced can be the best possible mindset with which to approach writing a horror film.  Or at least, it seemed to work with this one.  A rather bleak and harrowing beast, it loosely combines Misery with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as a story about a couple menaced in the middle of nowhere hopefully transforms into something a little different.  Forgiveness is now with a prospective agent.  Hooray.

Somewhere around June, my 24-minute TAPS film Ghost Writer became available for anyone to watch online.  It was shot on Emmerdale's Leeds sets in December 2009, benefiting from a marvellous veteran TV director in Miss Marple's Guy Slater and a lovely cast in Barrie Ryan English, Grownups' Fiona Wass, The Bill's Giles Ford, Waterloo Road's Lisa Brookes and Seamus O'Neill from one of my favourite films, Shane Meadows' Dead Man Shoes.

Especially given the limitations which were imposed by the good folk at TAPS (no more than six characters, no more than 20 scenes, no more than three locations and a four-hour shoot!), I'm very happy with the results.  Ghost Writer was a training ground in every respect, teaching me a lot about the realities and economics of television production.

Sadly, the TAPS organisation folded in 2010, after 17 years of helping new writers up the career ladder.  I'm honoured to have been among their final batch of graduates.  Thankfully, Ghost Writer remains online at the TAPS website, so if you haven't seen it yet, then I'd be delighted if you had a look.

God, the amount of time I spent this year, explaining the various different formats of audio-things I was writing!  Audiobooks, audio plays, mimed vignettes on half-inch tape... Well, maybe not that last one.

In October 2009, I hosted a couple of sessions at the Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival - and one of my panelists was Michael Stevens, the Commissioning Editor at BBC Audiobooks.  Afterwards, I shamelessly hustled the poor man, asking if I could pitch an idea for an Eleventh Doctor audiobook.  Being a splendid fellow, he said yes and advised me to submit something to his new range editor John Ainsworth in the New Year.

I was delighted when my two-page storyline, for something called The Language Of Spawn back then, successfully made it through the filtration process guarded by Michael, John, the remarkable Gary Russell (who is the nexus through which everything Doctor Who-related must pass, in order to gain a greenlight from BBC Wales) and supremo Steven Moffat himself.  The title became The Gemini Contagion (oh God, the number of alternative titles that got scribbled into a notepad, before I settled on that one) and I set to work.  Absolutely loved writing for Doctor Eleven and his companion Amy Pond - and I hope that, come the audiobook's March 3 2011 release, Who fans feel at least a fraction of my own enthusiasm!

While working on Doctor Who: The Gemini Contagion, I was invited to pitch for one of the BBC's two annual Sarah Jane Adventures audiobooks.  Elisabeth Sladen's performance as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who is inextricably woven into my childhood memories and it's fantastic that she continues to delight kids and adults alike in Russell T Davies' successful CBBC show. So I pitched a storyline called Deadly Download and was delighted when it once again made it through the filtration process which included Russell himself. I didn't have too long in which to turn this one around, but sheer enthusiasm bustled me along.

One interesting distinction between the writing style required by both audiobooks was the POV.  Doctor Who audiobooks are written in the third-person and enjoy different narrators each time, while the Sarah Janes are necessarily first-person because Elisabeth Sladen will be reading them in character.  As a result in Sarah Jane audios, nothing must be described which Sarah Jane wouldn't be aware of in some believable way.  This makes things a little more challenging, but I like that.  The Sarah Jane Adventures: Deadly Download was released in early November and has since had some nice reviews.  I'm very happy with it indeed.  Elisabeth Sladen does a brilliant job of reading the story and whole-heartedly bringing characters to life, while producer Neil Gardner and Simon Power's soundscaping is exemplary.

Also during the Summer, I pitched a storyline for something called Nightfall to longstanding audio production company Big Finish. This was retitled The Mindkillers and then finally The Demons Of Red Lodge, which ended up as the title-story of the anthology Doctor Who: The Demons Of Red Lodge & Other Stories (see recent blog for full details). The first thing I actually wrote for Big Finish, however, was The Lions Of Trafalgar. 

That one is a short story featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan, which has been read for audio for Peter Davison. It will be published as part of one of 2011's three Doctor Who: Short Trips anthologies for CD/download. The research for this tale happily involved a couple of trips to Trafalgar Square, which is always a pleasure. I was excited to learn about a historic dinner party which took place on top of Nelson's Column, which ended up becoming a big part of the story.

I contributed a fair deal to a fantastic new annual-style Doctor Who book, Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2011, which emerged in plenty of time to be snatched up for Christmas. My work on this included a fun piece of short fiction, The Stone Totems, which took the form of a Natural History Museum plaque explaining the Stone Daleks' alleged history.

In February, I was pleased to number among the speakers at Newcastle's Story Engine event - a really friendly and intimate affair, which I'd recommend to any writer.  It's back again in March 2011!

With so much of my work in 2010 being bound for audio and film, it was good to write something for an actual book. That something was The War Of Art, a short story in Big Finish's hardback print anthology Bernice Summerfield: Present Danger. Floating lizard-heads, firey death, enormous art installations and timey-wimey tomfoolery were the names of that particular game.

I was among the judges in The National Student Film Association's inaugural scriptwriting competition.  A fun process, looking through the scripts and enjoying some really nice work.

On a journalistic front, I was delighted when the readers of Doctor Who Magazine voted my Tom Baker and Christopher H Bidmead interviews as their favourites of 2009. Amazing to get that kind of appreciation from a readership which I've numbered among since 1979.

And that reminds me of perhaps my proudest moment of the year. Andrew Smith wrote the 1980 Doctor Who TV story Full Circle, which I watched and enjoyed when I was eight years old. In November this year, Andrew sent me a message on Twitter to say that he'd bought my Deadly Download audio for his eight-year-old daughter's birthday. Wow. Talk about full circle...

2011: WHAT NEXT?
As happy as I am with my progress over the last 12 months, I'll be aiming to achieve more than I did in 2010.  But everyone says that.

As I said in the the last post, I have a couple of irons in the fire with Big Finish - one of which is a rather large iron which should keep me busy for most of January. I also have a couple of TV spec ideas knocking about the brain, two features in development and a non-fiction e-book which I want to write.

I will be writing a short story for an e-book anthology called Voices From The Past. This will be published by H&H Books in April 2011 and features a whole host of fine writers like Paul Cornell, Paul Magrs and Rob Shearman (see the current list here). All proceeds from Voices... will go to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

I fully intend to keep blogging in 2011, although as in 2010, the influence of Twitter will mean that blogposts tend to be reserved for longer pieces which couldn't be adequately conveyed in 140 characters. Incidentally, you may find my various Twitter lists to be of use - I have several, listing directors, scriptwriters, producers and all sorts. If you're wondering who to follow on Twitter, then these lists may be of some use.  I currently follow far too many people and seriously need to cut down on new follows, I'm afraid - but if you follow me, I will at least endeavour to put you on one of my lists in return if you're serious about one of the professions covered by them.

Right, that seems to be everything. I can now stop talking about myself. Phew.

Happy New Year!

Actually, no. That's not good enough.

Amazing New Year!


Helen Smith said...

What a fantastic year - congratulations. Here's to 2011 xx

Anonymous said...

Sheer erectile awesomeness.

Now do it again, only better.

Paul said...

A wonderful, intoxicating year for you, sir! It 's been delightful to follow you on Twitter and it was splendid to catch up at The Story Engine.

All the best for 2011!


Marjorie said...

Happy New Year! And a most impressive list of achievements for the Old Year.

Ihope 2011 is at least as good, if not better.

Anonymous said...

Congrats and well done on all your accomplishments this year, and good luck in 2011!

Piers said...

You're too modest, sir.

That clay badger was 20 feet tall. At the LEAST.

If you hadn't managed to re-activate that giant kiln, I dread to think what might've happened.

Let's hope there's more fantastic writing and less fantastic earth-defending from you in 2011!

(Because they've given up invading. Not because you've given up defending.

Piers said...

You're too modest, sir.

That clay badger was 20 feet tall. At the LEAST.

If you hadn't managed to re-activate that giant kiln, I dread to think what might've happened.

Let's hope there's more fantastic writing and less fantastic earth-defending from you in 2011!

(Because they've given up invading. Not because you've given up defending.)

David Lemon said...

A lovely round of achievments, Baron Arnopp. Here's to an equally- no EVEN MORE SUCCESFUL 2011.

rob said...

Congratulations on all your success this year Mr A.

You're a great example of what hard work and a positive attitude can achieve.

May your 2011 shit all over your 2010.