Desperate marketing: Robin Williams Edition

Private Eye magazine has a relatively new, sadly regular column called Desperate Marketing, where corporate marketing communications desperately try and shoehorn themselves into contemporary news stories in a way to attract attention to their product.

I was reminded of this when receiving an email from an otherwise reputable publisher of technology and computing books:

Robin Williams was a great actor and comic, with a singular talent that could make other comics laugh out loud. He would even crack jokes about joking itself. Comedians and actors have long explored the possibilities of meta-dialog, a play-within-a-play, and other higher-level dramatic devices. It’s a world-changing idea.

Metaprogramming can change your programming world, and open up possibilities you may never have known existed. Embrace the new-found freedom and power that metaprogramming can bring to your career.

Author [REDACTED] will show you all the magic, with examples, challenges, and over 30 “spells” that you can use right away. Now in print and shipping from [URL REDACTED]

Usually these sort of things are done in the heat of the moment, aren’t meant to be offensive, and may be meant genuinely (“We’ve been thinking about this topic for a while as this book was being prepared, and this tragic event seems to tie in, so we’ll tell you about it!”)

I suspect the person who wrote those paragraphs is now beating themselves up at the ineptitude. But in case she or he isn’t, if there’s the remotest chance they did so in the hope that it would get their communication talked about more than your average weekly email shot, I’ll refrain from mentioning or linking to the actual publisher.

And I’ll put off buying their book on metaprogramming… for now.

A new range of Doctor Who fiction ebooks? Yes, please

According to SFX magazine, BBC Books (an imprint of Ebury Publishing, which is itself an imprint of what is now Penguin Random House) is to start a new range of Doctor Who ebook fiction. Time Trips will be a range of 10,000-word self-contained short-story-cum-novellas, seemingly featuring any of the series’ eleven (to date) Doctors, priced at £1.99 each. At a later date, the stories will be collected for a print edition.

The first tranche of authors include Jenny Colgan (who, writing as JT Colgan, has already written the DW novel Dark Horizons), AL Kennedy, Nick Harkaway and Trudi Canavan.

As with the 50th anniversary Puffin ebooks which are being published at the rate of one a month, it seems that Ebury are looking outside the “traditional” pool of authors which created the first print novels after the series returned in 2005. This can only be a good thing – the wider the range of authors, the more variation in the worlds and challenges that the Doctor will face. I do hope that some of the authors whose DW novels I have enjoyed in the past haven’t said goodbye to the range for good, though – this is all about expanding the DW universe, not jumping to a new version.

It’s also notable that three of the four authors so far announced for Time Trips are women – which kind of puts the TV series’ own track record in perspective.

Series like Time Trips are a sign that traditional publishers are finding new ways to make digital publishing work that don’t just ape the old print-based systems. Random House’s Dan Franklin was on the panel for a special edition of BBC Click for which I was in the audience in April 2012, and  he really seemed to have his head screwed on. The involvement of the big guns doesn’t prevent the enterprising self-publishers from making a splash, too – if anything, providing mainstream quality products from traditional publishers helps ensure self-publishers work to the same standards, as well as providing the incentive for the growth in ebook reading to continue.

• Just a reminder that my own (non-fiction, unauthorised) Doctor Who ebook, Ten Things About Who, is available to buy from More details »


Ten Things About Who: the book

So the fourteen Ten Things About Who posts that I wrote about Doctor Who series 7, from Asylum of the Daleks to The Name of the Doctor, are now available to buy as an ebook on the Kindle platform. That means you will be able to read it not only on a Kindle hardware device, but also via the gamut of free Amazon Kindle apps for various computing platforms.

It’s my first ebook, so this is as much a learning curve for me, finding out what the platform can (and cannot) do for me as an author prior to using it for slightly less frivolous publications.

What’s in the book

Each chapter of the book contains ten points for discussion raised by an episode of Series 7. Why does the Doctor go on about needing milk for Oswin’s soufflés, when the obvious ingredient to ask about is…? Where on earth did Rory go to get coffee in New York city? Would there really have been a black priest in the American West town of Mercy? Why was The Rings of Akhaten so blooming dreary?

In taking the blog posts I was writing each week as the series aired, I’ve revised, and often expanded, many of the sections. To keep things simple, any included videos and audio files have had to be dropped, which is unfortunate – but thankfully they were mostly incidental to the points being made. What I’ve tried not to do is lose the immediacy of the posts. Some of the thoughts about who Clara is, or could be, for example, are way off-base now that we’ve all seen The Name of the Doctor – but to remove that speculation would have been to abandon the journey just because we know now the destination.

And online…

The original blog posts remain in place for free, and will do so for as long as the blog itself exists. I probably won’t go back and add in the expanded information from some of the sections, although some of the more glaring spelling mistakes that I somehow missed the first time round may find themselves getting corrected!

And of course, I’m now in the process of revisiting Series 1 in the same format. Next weekend, I’ll be up to Aliens of London. Depending on how my experience with this first ebook goes, I may well collect these retrospective Ten Things… posts in a similar format.

Do let me know what you think – as I said, this is a learning process for me, and opinions from people I trust is going to be invaluable. Thank you.

Ten Things About Who is available to buy, or to borrow for free for Amazon Prime members

How to interview anybody… now even more easily

Hard to believe it’s over eighteen months since I reviewed Jason Arnopp’s How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else. Back in September 2011, I said:

A lot of the time, you’ll read what he says and think, “Of course – that’s just basic common sense.” That’s the hallmark of a well-written instructional book. To get the best out of it, of course, you can reassure yourself that you’re going about things the right way, but also acknowledge where you have bad habits that get in the way of turning your good interview into a great one.

To simplify getting hold of the book, Jason’s now offering an easy-to-buy “triple pack”, which will give you the same book in three formats: Kindle, ePub and PDF. His epistolary horror tale, A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home, is also available in the same triple format.

For more, see Jason’s blog post.

Pulling Faces (script version)

I’ve just finished reading the script of Helen Goldwyn’s Pulling Faces. This play, about a TV presenter in her mid-fifties facing up to pressure to go under the knife, has previously been recorded as a full-cast audio play in Big Finish’s Drama Showcase range starring Louise Jameson, which I reviewed upon its release.

But the piece had genesis as a one-woman play, performed by Jameson, who also edits this edition – and who recently excelled in Gutted at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. And what a sight that must have been: seeing the words in black and white make you realise how little had to change for the audio version, and yet also how much must have been lost. I’ve never seen Jameson perform this piece on stage, but you can’t help but admire the tenacity. Several scenes feature fast-paced back-and-forth dialogue that is hard to get right with two actors onstage, let alone one playing both sides of the conversation.

At some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll see a new stage production of this play, whose themes will I’m sure remain sadly relevant for far too long. Where that’s a full cast piece, a one-woman performance or maybe even as a hybrid, with a central performance as Joanne assisted by a couple of supporting actors playing the other roles. However it gets back on stage, it’ll be exposure for a cracking short play. Until then, reading it is a great substitute. Even better, at the moment it only costs 99p for the Kindle ebook version…

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Lauren Graham will be a name familiar to some viewers of American TV shows, most notably for seven years as Lorelei Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, one half of a close mother-daughter relationship in an eccentric New England town.

Now she is striking out as a novelist. The heroine of Someday, Someday, Maybe is Frannie, who gave herself three years to make it as an actress in mid-1990s New York, and is now just six months away from her deadline.

Anybody who has even the slightest tangential knowledge of the acting industry, on whatever side of the Atlantic, will recognise the difficulties that Frannie finds herself, from struggling with auditions, humiliatingly embarrassing showcases, and potentially life-changing interviews with agents. And while there’s an occasional retro feel to the time setting – the reliance on landlines and answer machines in particular – that also lends the feel that these are stories plucked from the actress-turned-novelist’s own life, that nevertheless ring true nearly 20 years later.

Like the characters Graham projects on television, Someday, Someday, Maybe is smart, warm, funny – and often all three at once. In Frannie, Graham has created a character you can’t help but root for, even as it’s clear when she’s making a bad decision or ignoring a situation that you suspect she’d spot coming a mile off in real life.

I’m currently listening to it on audiobook, which is read by Graham herself – and that just adds to the enjoyment, although the tradeoff is that you don’t see the facsimiles of filofax pages that are printed in the book (they’re available on the CD as PDFs, apparently, but I get my audiobooks as downloads from Audible, which excludes the extras).

Update: If you buy the book from Audible, a link to the PDF can be found in your ‘My Library’ page.

How to interview almost anybody for fun and profit

Editor’s Rating

After last week’s posts about the deception, plagiarism and Wikipedia editing conducted by Johann Hari (see Johann Hari’s apology is a “lesson in cynicism” and And another quote about Johann Hari), it’s beneficial perhaps to remember that the vast majority of journalists aren’t actually venal, immoral, plagiarists and phone-hackers.

Jason Arnopp has been interviewing people for so long that he reckons he’s amassed over 1,000 subjects in his 23-year career. And now he’s decided to write his own, self-published ebook full of interview technique tips.

Thankfully (because he’s a mate and it would be really embarrassing if it was awful) it’s good. Really good.

Continue reading “How to interview almost anybody for fun and profit”

How to interview almost anybody for fun and profit5Scott Matthewman2011-09-27 12:32:49

After last week’s posts about the deception, plagiarism and Wikipedia editing conducted by Johann Hari (see Johann Hari’s apology is a “less…


I’m indebted to Jon Slattery for inducing a bout of nostalgia in his mention of the 1950s board game, Scoop, which he found in a Camden charity shop.

My grandmother had the same game, and seeing Jon’s photos of the box and the “editor’s phone” – a quasi-random device that determined the outcome of your attempts to fill your front page. Pulling a handle back and forth would move a circular dial with a number of options, one of which would be the editor’s decision regarding your story. It had the sort of tactile, role-playing greatness that merely rolling a die could never achieve. The whole post brings back happy memories of playing the game, kneeled around the coffee table in the front room on many a wet and dreary Doncaster day.

On the subject of newspapers and telephones, I’ve been reading Phone Hacking: How the Guardian Broke the Story, an ebook from The Guardian for the Kindle (and Kindle apps on your iPhone or iPad, etc.). The newspaper doggedly pursued the story when others wouldn’t touch it – at one point in 2009, Rebekah Brooks (former News of the World editor and, until recently, CEO of News International’s UK operation) said:

It [the Guardian] is rushing out high volumes of coverage and repeating allegations by such sources as unnamed Met officers implying that ‘thousands’ of individuals were the object of illegal phone hacking, an assertion that is roundly contradicted by the Met assistant commissioner’s [John Yates’s] statement yesterday.

The Guardian coverage, we believe, has substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public.

Two years later, we found out that the Guardian’s coverage was spot on.

The ebook splits the developing story into a number of chronological chapters, each starting with a brief timeline before reprinting the news articles covering the unfolding story. It’s a good reminder of how the evidence against NI started piling up, until the possibility that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been hacked up caused the story to blow up so spectacularly and the media who had previously ignored the issue.

True, the book is basically just repackaging articles which can be read for free on the Guardian’s website, but the linear format of a book makes for more pleasant reading than jumping from web page to web page. And you can read it on the tube…

The book is the first in a planned series of Guardian Shorts, topical ebooks which provide background for current news stories. By sidestepping the traditional print route, existing content can be repurposed – and charged for – cheaply (the phone hacking book costs just £2.29 for the Kindle, and will presumably be a similar price when it makes its way to Apple’s iBooks store). There’s also a speed issue: the paper can publish a book electronically months before a bound paperback can hit the shelves. In comparison, Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ own book on the saga won’t be published until autumn 2012.

The most annoying thing about the book is that it shows up just how awful the typographical defaults of Amazon’s Kindle iOS app are. I don’t know how much freedom Amazon’s implementation of the ePub format allows designers, but both this Kindle book and others I’ve purchased make me yearn for a well-designed page. Apple’s defaults within its iBooks reader do look nicer. Still, I’ve yet to find any ebook which is as well-designed, or comfortable to read, as a paperback that’s been typeset by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult

It’s a while since I’ve reviewed a book – unlike my theatre reviews, I don’t have a professional sideline in the field any more, and with writing about & watching a lot of television and radio as well as numerous theatre trips, my recreational reading is much less frequent than it has been, or should be.

I have, however, utilised the time I spend walking and/or commuting with a subscription to, which gives me a credit for one new audiobook every month. My most recent ‘purchase’ under this scheme has been Sing You Home by American author Jodi Picoult.

It’s the first of the author’s books I’ve either read or listened to, having been spurred on to investigate after seeing her do the rounds of UK daytime TV shows while I was off work ill last month. I’m glad I did, because it’s a fascinating literary look at some contemporary issues that, while maybe not bringing too much to the table for someone who’s been aware of (and at times immersed in) LGBT politics for years, demonstrate to a wider audience just what’s at stake in allowing gay and lesbian couples the same rights that straight couples automatically enjoy.

Continue reading “Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult”

This is the end, but was the moment prepared for?

A couple of weeks ago, in the regular list of [notable radio programmes]( I prepare each week, I plugged Radio 2’s relay of a recent live performance of **[Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds](**. That mention spurred me to listen once more to the album. This prog rock opera contains some of the most well-known riffs and melodies, but what really makes it is Richard Burton’s narration — and even more so, HG Wells’ original story.

It’s not for nothing that the original novel has become known as one of the greatest in the history of science fiction literature. It has a real sense of terror occurring in the most mundane of places — Martians landing in Woking, of all places. And while the anonymous journalist who is our narrator makes his way to a similarly ravaged London, it’s the effect on individuals that still resonate.

The ending, though? The ending sucks.

(Despite the novel being over 100 years old, I should warn you now — _there be spoilers ahead…_)

Continue reading “This is the end, but was the moment prepared for?”