Deploy the weapon

I don't think there is a term for this, and I really want there to be. Maybe we can figure it out together.

Here's the thing. There is a certain type of dialogue where the character stops speaking, and the writer takes over. Specifically, the writer takes over in order to leave a note for him- or herself to fix later. And then doesn't.

I might've called it sciencefictionitis because it used to seem that it was always in science fiction. I feel as if there have been countless examples, but the one I somehow never forget is the line "deploy the weapon!"

Well, I say I never forget it. This line is the one that prangs into my head every time there's a similar example of this, er, whatever it is, but for the life of me, I can't remember which SF show or film it was in.

If only there were some kind of, I don't know, worldwide something… that had science fiction fans using it…

Oh, god in heaven, it was this? "Star Trek: Nemesis" by John Logan. I've apparently had this dreadful line in my head for 17 years. I've been mentally quoting a film I found gratingly bad. I tell you, if I had only read some more classics in my time, my quoting would be so useful now. Or at least not so annoying.

Star Trek: Nemesis has a lot of problems, but in this particular case the villain is trying to sound incredibly dangerous and, I believe, the writer is trying to sound very science-fictiony. "Deploy" is a good word, tick, there's a military feel to that, check, sounds really serious, fine.

But whatever value you or an actor can wring out of the word "deploy", it is somewhat punctured by following it with "the weapon".

I hear that line and I picture the writer staring at the screen, thinking how "gun" doesn't seem big enough. And having failed to find anything about phaser cannons in their thesaurus, deciding they'd come back to this line later.

There is another possibility. At worst, I see the writer actually thinking it's impressive – "The Weapon!" – but I really don't believe that.

I'm afraid I think the truth is in the middle. That the writer of this, or any of the many similar. lines across film, radio, theatre and television, doesn't think it's good, doesn't think it's bad, and instead just figures that it's fine because we won't notice.

I would remind this particular writer that I've noticed for 17 years.

But the reason I've taken this long to talk to you about it is partly because I really have never managed to find a term for it, and mostly also because I just heard the same type of line on the new big-budget drama "The Morning Show." Twice. In quick succession.

First, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) asks someone if they can maybe just stay home to watch "the British cooking show." She says that and I'm hearing "stay home to watch the British cooking show whose name a) I can't find on Google just now and 2) might need legal clearances anyway."

Then when that person can't stay, they insist "But I'll be back on Friday for The Event."

They didn't really capitalise The Event, but it sounded like they did. So did someone else talking about it in the immediately preceding scene.

Here you know the line is meant to intrigue us. We're meant to wonder what this big event could be, you know we are primed to stay in our seats and ignoring all the notifications that come up on our phones or wherever we're watching it.

And yet you know when they say "I'll be back on Friday for The Event", I'm hearing "I'm out of the episode for the next twenty minutes but you'll see me again just before the cliffhanger which will be set somewhere big, somewhere really exciting that I'l figure out when I'm writing act 5."

Nobody in the world has ever or will ever say they'll be back on Friday for The Event and therefore can't stay in to watch the British cooking show.

I do not mean, in the slightest, that there are rules for this kind of thing, though. "The Morning Show" is one of the tentpole series of the new Apple TV+ service and Dickinson, another, lower profile series on there, arguably does something similar yet it's great.

It's a period piece about 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson – I tell you now as I'll tell you over and over, she's my favourite – and it wilfully kicks around with dialogue.

After Dickinson writes her wonderful "Because I could not stop for death…" poem, she looks up and says "Nailed it."

Then the show is set around 1850 and in the middle of a perfect-sounding exchange of period dialogue, she'll say "Bullshit".

It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I adore it. There is something so vivid about it, I don't understand how writer/creator Alena Smith pulls it off, but she does with utter verve and I am racing back to watch more.

I do think some of it comes down to intent. I don't picture Smith sitting there thinking "What's a good 19th Century word for bullshit?" and shrugging, figuring she'll consult a historian before the next draft. Instead, I think she chose that word, and all these "wrong" words, knowing to the pixel what effect it has and what it does for the characters.

Frankly, she's also braver than I am.

At the opposite end of all this, I was criticising a soap script this week, saying I found it really hard to get through the cliched dialogue. The person I was reading the script for told me that was the problem with soap, they have to write naturalistic dialogue, they can't go off into great speeches or have the episode play around with music and effects.

Bullshit.

Soaps do not have naturalistic dialogue, they don't have characters speaking the way people talk in real life.

Instead, soaps have characters speak the way other soap characters have spoken in the past. "What's that supposed to mean?" It is a contrived and specific language and I have no problem with that, except when you tell me it's natural or, it turns out, that I have to read it.

Soap writing is a truly specific skill that I do not have, yet I think even it would stumble with a phrase that was out of line with the rest. Dot Cotton will never talk about The Event. I can only imagine Ena Sharples saying "you deploy the weapon, Minnie Caldwell, and we'll have no more of your lip."

Pinned down and buttoned up

So this happened. On Tuesday I was at the celebration for the life of author Terrence Dicks, a wake for his family, friends, professional colleagues – and me. I never met him, unforunately, but I was there representing the Writers' Guild. I'm not planning to tell you about the day itself, it feels personal to Dicks's family, but I do want to examine a moment to do a compare and contrast.

The moment I heard a few weeks ago that Terrence Dicks had died, I was mentally back to a very specific summer in 1978 when a particular Doctor Who novel of his came out. I had to look up which one it was, but when I saw a photo of the cover, that book was in my 13-year-old hands. I could feel it again. And for a tiny moment, I could feel everything from that time.

Including my just-forming hopes of being a writer. I didn't know any writers, there were none in my family, I was just, just, just beginning to reach out to this idea.

Now compare to Tuesday, when I was in a suit and tie, standing there in a room full of people in television or for whom television drama was what their family did. I'm standing there, I've been invited as the official representative of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, and because of the obituary I wrote about Terrence Dicks for them.

Yet I was still a little boy.

Not so much mentally, certainly not so much physically, but really because I'd torn my trouser leg on the way.

It tore right on the seam, but it also tore right at the precise moment when it was too late to go home to change. I was committed to a long sequence of bus, train and tube rides and the only wriggle room I had was about 20 minutes at various train stations.

In case you ever need to know, John Lewis at Birmingham New Street is about the only place that sells sewing kits.

One other store tried to sell me a sewing machine, but I just gave them a Paddington stare.

The 13-year-old me of 1978 had no more talent at sewing than I do, but he'd have done it, I did it, and there is a certain smugness to striding across New Street Station with your trousers fully repaired by your own hand.

For about five minutes.

Doubtlessly it's down to the quality of my sewing, and I'll have a better go over the weekend just to prove to myself that I can, but the thread unravelled as I sat on the train. And it took more of the seam with it.

In case you ever need to know, HEMA is about the only place in Euston Station that sells safety pins.

They keep them in the back. Tell them I sent you.

I promise you that no one noticed at the event. I'd say I doubt anyone noticed me at all, but they did and it was a particularly warm and welcoming group of people.

There are two things I want you to take away from this. The first is that I did not embarrass the Writers' Guild, standing there with my trousers held up by three safety pins. I did not.

And the second is that it turns out that if you prick me, yes, I bleed quite a bit.

Wearing us down

I come not to insult a type of writing that is abhorrent and offensive and an embarrassment to our entire craft, but rather to try figuring out how anyone can actually type this stuff.

And possibly to admit that there is a decent case to be made that I’ve done some of it.

I promise you I haven’t, but it doesn’t half look like it. The other day, I wrote an article about how to wear an Apple Watch. Now, come on, tell me that isn’t stupid. I thought of it, I actually formed those thoughts and made a case to an editor about it, then I wrote the the words.

About how to wear a watch.

Only, give me this. The prompt to do it was that Apple updated a list of materials used in the Apple Watch and detailed what was used for what – and which were ever known to cause any skin problems with anyone.

I’m reading this, thinking how I’ve not seen this level of detail nor thought about people’s allergic reactions to any watch, when I come to the official advice on how to wear an Apple Watch.

Yes, I threw a quick glance at the sky.

Except, there was advice on how you could tighten the Watch strap when you’re doing a workout and loosen it afterwards. The whole piece was less about the style of wearing a watch and more how to make the thing’s health sensors work the best. And then there was a bit that explained why I’ve sometimes seen bright green lights under people’s Apple Watches.

All of these watches have these lights, it’s just that if you see them, the person is wearing the Watch too loosely and the health sensors can’t work.

That was the point that made me think of writing about this.

I did, and while I don’t know how many readers the piece got on AppleInsider.com, I’m told it was lot. A big lot. A lot of lots.

So in terms of writing success, I got readers. In terms of what I was writing about, this falls into a category that I’m very happy with: it’s a piece where I’ve found out something I didn’t know and I rush up to you like a puppy to say it. I’m never sure how I square that puppy-rush with the way that I assume if I know something, you’ve always known it, but that’s how it is.

I’m doing more journalism writing now than I have in a long time and I am enjoying it, but I also haven’t forgotten why I stopped.

It was because I can’t solely write about something other people are doing, I have to do something myself, to make something, to create. I need that mix. Right now, I seem to have that balance and I hope it lasts, but you know that whenever you’re writing something, you’re reading it too. So I am reading more journalism now than I have in a long time and I am enjoying most of it.

Just not all.

This has been bothering me for months now, but in the last week, I’ve come across a specific example of what ails me. It’s a news article about Strictly Come Dancing. Or rather, it is several. None of them are making anything, but they’re also not reporting, as I know the term. They are shouting.

They’re clickbait headlines followed by Shock Gasp Awe in order to stand up the headline. There’s no possibility that the story will warrant the headline, but the writer has a very good go.

Let me give you the example from this week’s Strictly. Last Saturday night, Claudia Winkleman was doing that post-dance interview with one or other of the celebrities, and the camera cut to his mother in the audience. He tells Claudia that his mum doesn’t like being on camera, and Winkleman politely sympathises.

This became a news story saying that this dancer celebrity fella was furious and Winkleman was forced to apologise on air for the enormous Strictly gaffe.

I know I’m sounding as if I think I’m a better writer because I couldn’t manage to write that crap, but actually I just think I’m normal. There is no possibility whatsoever that I would’ve thought to write about this – er, okay, I’m writing about it now, and I don’t have a smart comeback about that. But, okay, say I did think to write about it or, maybe more likely, an editor assigned me.

The very best I could do with this material would be to think about what I could tell a reader that was interesting or new. The event, if you can even call six seconds of nothing an event, wouldn’t cut it for me.

Maybe I could find a paragraph to say about Winkleman. I think she’s witty and there are many times when the sheer speed of her reactions has been impressive. But this didn’t particularly happen to be one of those.

Perhaps there’s something in this business of not liking being on camera. Certainly that’s something you can identify with. I’m not going to get the time to talk to psychologists about how we’re all shifting about on the spectrum between introvert and extrovert. I’m not going to get to muse about how we all photograph each other and especially ourselves.

If I were already primed to be anti-BBC, I could look into this business of them filming a woman who doesn’t want to be filmed.

Only, she chose to come to Elstree Studios for the recording of a live Saturday night show, a show she’s probably familiar with because her son is in it and because it’s been a giant success for BBC1 for 15 years.

And when the show cut to her reaction shot, a full-size BBC studio camera had been lined up on her face, ready, and her son was talking about her on the monitors. It’s possible she was made up for the cameras: I’ve been made up for TV and makeup people somehow manage to simultaneously tell you what’s going on and make you relaxed about it.

I don’t doubt that she dislikes being on camera, but I cannot even force myself to pretend that she was actually all that bothered. I don’t doubt that she might have preferred not to be on the telly, but I can’t get from that to how it was a monumental blunder that required an on-air apology to soothe a furious celebrity.

Yet others did.

Hello magazine, The Sun – you’re not surprised at that one – plus the Mirror, the Express and the Birmingham Mail all managed to find the story that I still can’t.

You know full well why they did it, that any story bashing the BBC and mentioning Strictly is going to get readers. I read it. I don’t actually know now which one I read because I read most news through RSS or aggregate services like Apple News+, but I read it. I’d seen the show, I saw what happened, and I still read it.

And that is all that matters here.

The writing does not.

Journalists Jenni McKnight, Carl Greenwood, James Rodger, Kyle O’Sullivan and Charlotte Manning all found a way to spin 200 words or so out of this empty air. I think I can admire that they physically found something to type, that given nothing to write about, they conjured up something.

And I can definitely think that this is sheer bollocks, that I am offended any of them think I am so insanely stupid as to believe what I actually saw was actually this horrendous awkward gaffe.

But I set out to write to you about this thinking I would end up just about there, this moment where I can express at least an acknowledgement of there being some craft in writing nothing up into, well, nothing.

And I knew I’d be thinking a lot about this business of rushing up to you with facts, about how creating something is better than describing someone else’s creation.

Yet since I went to find where I’d read this story and, perhaps because it was more widespread than I’d known, I’ve also realised this.

Whatever you’re going to write, you try to write it well because it’s going to be read. Except here. I truly don’t think that’s the case here. I think the headlines were read, I think the headlines were clicked-through, and I think that’s the end of it. Not only do I struggle to accept anyone read to the end of these pieces, I know that nobody on the publication from the writers to the publishers gives the faintest shit whether they do or not.

Not only is the writing worthless, it isn’t writing. It is a graphic. It is a visual part of the page designed entirely to space out the adverts around it.

Get the reader in, give them some ads and count the clicks, job done.

That’s not enough for me as a reader, so it sure as all hell on Earth is not enough for me as a writer.

It’s not you, it’s me

Yesterday I had a rejection in – hang on, it was over email, I can check the details. Right, nine minutes. That’s nine minutes from my pitching to my being told nope.

It actually stung a little, I’m surprised to say. I wouldn’t have pitched if I didn’t want to do it, but it was something I fancied doing rather than something I needed. But, I realise now, I was profoundly tired when I emailed. In other circumstances I can see that exhaustion would’ve made my pitch poorer, but this was quite a simple one.

What the exhaustion did was let the rejection stick in my head far more than it should, it let the rejection colour the rest of the day.

That’s not the problem, though.

The person who rejected me did so in nine minutes, did so quite thoroughly but was just straight, just told me no and why, there wasn’t any flannel. She was a pro and she treated me as one. I’ve no complaints about being rejected or how it happened.

I have a wee problem with the exhaustion as that’s happening too much lately. Hang on, let me check another detail. Okay, this one isn’t so hot. I’ve only worked 48 hours this week. But the first 29 were last Saturday and Sunday, and those came after a couple of days of driving. I’m making excuses for myself now.

What I have a big problem with is me. And specifically how I decided to pitch to this person something like four days before I did. It sat on my To Do list for four days, or approximately 640 times longer than it took get rejected. I think I probably spent 10 minutes on the pitch – told you it was simple – so my problem is why I didn’t do that four days earlier.

I see a lot of similarities between you and me, and I think we can both take a lesson. We have to get on with things.

And also sleep more.

By gum

This just happened. I’m researching a project – can’t tell you about it yet, sorry – and you know what it’s like whenever you dig into something. You find interesting things.

Usually it’s a little fact, some detail and it Is incredibly exciting to you – though, okay, maybe not to anyone else.

Such as a time I was reading the original typescript of a novel I love but which has a startling mistake in it. A plot mistake, I suppose, but one that made a character so wrong that you just ignored it.

In the manuscript, I found a last-moment change to something else and that fix is what created the mistake later. I ran to the archivists to enthuse. They were very patient.

Anyway, sorry, this is not the kind of thing I just found.

I found chewing gum.

Included in with a letter sent in 1978 is a single, unwrapped stick of chewing gum. It’s a little jokey present to the letter’s recipient, and it fell out of the envelope into my hand 41 years later.

Ewww.

Four-decade-old chewing gum.

Both the sender and the recipient are now quite long dead, I remain upset to tell you, and I’m doing this research at their request.

So I am now the recipient. That chewing gum is now meant for me.

I put it back in the envelope.

Windy dishes

I have a cold. And all night, I've been thinking of you and how I must tell you about a set of browser bookmarks I've got called Windy Dishes.

Only, and I promise this makes absolute sense at three in the morning, this collection of website bookmarks contains a pile of paper notes. Detailed descriptions of work I was doing ten years ago. There's a photograph that I could describe to you in such pixel-perfect detail that I should surely be able to upload it too, except it doesn't exist and it's of an office I've never been to.

It most specifically is not the first BBC office I worked in, but that's what my cold says it is. Speaking of the BBC, this Windy Dishes set of bookmarks also contains an extremely thorough memory of exactly the route out of room 7540 In BBC Television Centre. That memory is correct, that one is real, this truly is the way I would go out of that fantastic newsroom and to the crush bar on a late night shift.

But it's a memory, it's not a bookmark, it's not even a physical thing like the detailed photograph.

Nor, too, is the collection of games that I never had. I'm no gamer, but in this Windy Dishes bookmark set, there are floppy disks with names of games I don't know but apparently remember fondly and anyway can't play.

I don't mean I can't play them because I'm rubbish, I mean they won't start.

And that might be the only solid thing in this whole nightmarish nonsense. We live in a time when we can call up things we wrote ten or twenty years ago pretty much as easily as what we wrote yesterday. Yet we can't always then read them. Documents in WordPerfect or WordStar are preserved perfectly, but can be unreadable.

We can decipher cuneiform scribbles from 5,000 years ago more easily than we can prise a Word 5.1 for Mac document off a floppy disk.

And we can read an email we send ourselves at 4am today which says "tutor if self duster is Windy Dishes" and think ourselves brilliant for deciphering that it means "title of Self Distract [must be] Windy Dishes".

I have a cold.

Count on it

Maybe this is just something male. It feels a bit male. But one way I can make myself feel like I’m getting somewhere, is to count.

Actually, no, hang on, practically every novelist I know has their word count figure in their head. Maybe it’s not just me, not for everything.

But I know my absolute limit of how many words I can write a day – it’s 10,000 words or 20 pages of script, and I can keep that up for ten days straight, after which I am dead for a month. And I know too many numbers.

I know that since September 2012 when I was asked to speak at the PowWow LitFest, I’ve since done a further 667 public speaking engagements. It might only be ten minutes Skyped into a venue, or it might be a day-long residential thing, but I count them all.

And I don’t think it’s any surprise that as a freelance writer, I count my invoices. I don’t really, I don’t go over the totals and remember them, but the invoices are numbered so it’s a bit obvious what the count is.

Whereas this isn’t.

I also count the jobs I do.

That’s harder to define, really, as some of it is quite clear such as ‘writing script X’ is quite certainly a job. I just still do not know what do about counting draft 2.

And then a feature article I write is clearly one job, but a site I write for has me do a particular repeating piece of research and, frankly, I count it if I think about counting it, and most of the time, I don’t.

So this is not really a statistically useful count, and whatever you’re doing today, if you counted each separate task as a new job, you’d get bored very easily.

No, wait, that was a poor choice of words. I shouldn’t have said ‘task’ because any one job can have dozens of tasks in it. Just a sec. Okay, a rough and ready export of my OmniFocus database says I currently have 630 tasks across 55 projects to do.

So that’s not 55 jobs, but it’s also far from 630. Somewhere in the middle is what I call a job. And whatever way I have conjured up of defining that, this is approximately how I count it.

And although I see what we’re doing here as you and I getting to chat, it’s still something I set time aside for every week, so it’s a kind of job. It’s one I look forward to, but it’s a specific thing I do at a specific time of the week. We really, really should do this over a drink some time. You just never answer the phone.

But the reason for wibbling on at you about counting is that this chat right here, this natter with you, is my 1,000th job of 2019.
Counting the number of jobs I do
I did have to cheat a little. I was writing a horrible news story that was going to be the 998th and I knew if I didn’t take care, the 1,000th would come up on me before I noticed and it’d be something dull.

Oh. Or it could’ve been a script I’m writing that I have entirely forgotten to count. Bugger. This count is rubbish, isn’t it?

So I added a new job I was going to be doing yesterday evening, called that 999, and then wrote the subject of this Self Distract so that I could call it 1,000. After that, I did another news story, wrote an article and talked on a podcast, so now I’m up to, what, 1,003.

This can’t matter to anyone. But it’s still useful to me. I like that you’re the 1,000th, it makes me beam. And I also like that whatever cockeyed insane Dewey Decimal System I’m using to count all this, 2019 has hit a thousand jobs.

I constantly fear that I’m not getting enough done, that I am letting deeply precious time roar by and achieving nothing, so being able to see a thousand of anything, helps.

Plus, it turns out that in total, 2018 had 823 jobs. In total. Smug.

Grief: 2017 had 326. Then 2016 was 792.

I’m sure I was counting before then, but since 2016 I’ve been using a FileMaker Pro database I call a Job Book, and finding out those figures for you was more clicking a button and less an extremely pointless, daft exercise.

It’s still a bit of an extremely pointless, daft exercise. But if a poorly-counted number in a database can make me feel happy, I’ll take that.

I didn’t plan this

I appear to be changing, please stop me.

Previously on William Gallagher, I was opposed to planning or outlining stories and scripts. It was better to dive in, start writing, see where you got, and accept or even relish how you had to be willing to throw away a lot of writing.

Only this week, I told someone that if I write 100,000 words and 90,000 of them are rubbish, that’s a bargain. I’ve got 10,000 words I like, and all it cost me was a hell of a lot of time.

I said that in a workshop and even as I said it, since this topic has come up before, I felt my polite brain prodding me to say one thing more. Which was was this: “Of course, everybody’s different, and whatever it takes to get you to the end result is fine.”

Not only did I also say this, I have also said it before, and not one single time have I convinced anyone that I mean it. I do, but I don’t. Not for me, anyway.

Except.

About 15 years ago now, I was in Hollywood – get me – interviewing a producer for Radio Times. On the wall behind him was a breakdown, a kind of basic outline, for the episode of Battlestar Galactica that he was then working on.

And he told me the one thing, the first thing, that made me think outlines and plans have a point. He said you can’t have a blank screen on Tuesday night’s TV, or whichever day it was. Writing to see where you go is fine, but it goes wrong and you have no possible way to guarantee that it will work at all, let alone in time. Outlining, planning, story breakdowns, they get you to the goal in the most reliable way.

Curiously, though, that producer/writer was Ronald D Moore and I can’t remember now whether he told me or I just read it somewhere else, but he had done exactly this thing of just writing to see what happened. But it was under one very specific and unusual circumstance.

Battlestar ran as a two-part miniseries in something like 2003 or 2004, I forget which, and it was an enormous success. Deservedly so: that show is remarkable. But even though its ratings success was so good –– uniquely, the second part’s ratings were higher than the first because everyone was talking about how great it was –– the decision to go to series hadn’t happened yet.

It was going to, there was no doubt, but it hadn’t happened yet. So he couldn’t hire staff, he couldn’t set anything up, and there was Christmas in the way.

So over that Christmas, Moore just wrote an episode by himself, start to finish, no outlining. When the show went to series, that script became the first episode. It’s called “33” and I’m sure you can watch it on some streaming service or other, but you can also read the script right here.

It is a superb piece of work. I remember, so vividly clearly, sitting in a corner of the Radio Times office with a VHS tape – VHS? then? – starting the episode on this tiny CRT television –– CRT? no flat screen? then? –– and wondering if it could possibly be any good. The mini-series was two feature-length episodes and it was all so rich and filmic that it was easy to imagine squeezing it down into a 42-minute episode would lose a lot.

Except it didn’t. I wish I’d written “33” and I’ve rewatched it, I’ve re-read it, many times.

You can tell that in my heart, I still believe in the writing to see where it goes. And you can tell that in my brain, I accept that there are circumstances where you can’t do it.

Only, about six weeks ago now, I finally outlined a radio play script that I’ve been piddling about with since at least 2017, and I did so because writer Alex Townley nudged me into it. And four weeks ago now, I finished the whole play. I don’t mean the outline, I mean the play.

And one week ago, I was struggling with a novel that I’ve been working on for at least a year, and this time it was me who said to writer Alex Townley that maybe I should outline it.

I don’t wanna.

But it’s a story that on the one hand is bleedin’ complicated, and which on the other hand needs the most enormous, huge, gigantic finish. Which I didn’t have. I was writing all this ominous stuff with no idea what I could ever do to pay it off. Until I was piddling about with the outline and I realised what this big ending could be.

Everybody’s different, and whatever it takes to get you to the end result is fine.

Nope, I’m still not convincing.

Slow punctures

I don’t think that it’s very often the case that we stop writing something because of a big situation that defeats us. It’s much more often that something small gets in the way and we’re deflated.

It’s just been a week of slow punctures, for some reason. There was a problem at a venue, for instance, but not only did it work out fine, I didn’t have to do one single bit of the working out. It was all done for me, to the extent that if I hadn’t arrived just when it was going down, there’d have been no way for me to even know there had been a problem.

And it’s not as if it really threw me. By the time the event started, I was Performance William, and the only difference was that climbing up to that was a fraction harder than normal. Even then, it was such a small fraction harder that I’d not have noticed, except that the entire week has been a list of these.

Projects going wrong because I made mistakes, projects going wrong because someone else did. The misunderstood email, the notification on your phone at 3am that you shouldn’t have read and can’t do anything about except worry.

I am really tired this week, and multiple bad nights in a row are not helping. But lying there, thinking about how you and I would be getting to chat now, I did realise a couple of things.

One is that this is a pretty normal week.

But the other is that I’ve noticed it, that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been grumpy about it, at least in part because I haven’t been writing.

Well, I mean, I have. I’ve written thousands of words, but they’ve all been published. (Around 2,000 is being translated into Dutch even as we speak. That’s new.)

But for about a month up until actually just about the time we spoke last week, I’ve also been writing a play. There is some interest in it, but not much and it’s really just for me. So I hope it will get produced, but right now it was not written on a deadline, it was not published and perhaps this particular one never will be.

I have just been substantially more grumpy since I finished it and have nothing to write except for all these things I have to write. Since I finished it and am not writing anything except for all these things I’m writing.

There’s a bit of an obvious solution though, isn’t there? Screw the overnight Facebook messages, sod all the slow punctures, I need to get the next thing written.

Thanks. That helped.

He said, She said, It growled

Maybe it’s fashion, maybe it’s just right, but at the moment the general consensus is that in good writing, people say things. Say or said. Not enunciated, pontificated, bellowed, whimpered. Just said.

As a scriptwriter, I like that because I think the bellowing and the pontificating and all that should be in the dialogue itself. Let the character speak that way, don’t point at their lines and tell me how I should hear it.

But when pressed on this point in workshops or wherever, I cannot help myself. I always – I’m irritated at me even writing this – I always say that you’re only allowed to use “he said, she said, it growled”.

Now, for one thing, I loathe that I say all that because as you know, there are no rules in writing. Although if you break them…

I also loathe it because it’s a joke based on something so few people can know that it’s impossible to really call it a joke.

You have to know the Target novelisations of Doctor Who.

The thing is, even if there aren’t really that many of us who do, if you’re one of us, you know those books extraordinarily well.

The most prolific writer of the range, Terrance Dicks, died this week and it came as a huge jolt to me. He was 84, I’ve never met him, and yet my head jerked back when I read the news.

And then this happened. Since he wrote something like 60 of these novelisations of old Doctor Who stories, naturally a lot of the covers were being shown on Twitter and Facebook and the rest.

It didn’t happen with all of them, but there are certain covers of his books where I would see the image on screen but I would feel the book in my hand. The weight, the heft, the shape, the texture. I’d feel the book and I’d even feel just an echo of the excitement.

Truly, this little book range had electricity in it. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, you never knew which Doctor Who story was going to be novelised and you didn’t know when. I remember so clearly being on holiday with my family and phoning a friend to ask if a new one was out and, if so, what it was.

It was Death to the Daleks, by Terrence Dicks. Published 20 July 1978.Cover of Death to the Daleks

That’s the thing with Doctor Who, if you can remember even a scintilla about anything to do with it, you can find the full details online. So I didn’t remember the date, didn’t even remember the year, but I remember the sunshine and the phone call and the book when I got home.

I also remember thinking that Doctor Who books, at the time, and in so many cases, were the scripts to the TV show with he said, she said, it growled added in. And that was unfair. It wasn’t always unreasonable –– there’s a ten-part, roughly five-hour Doctor Who story called The War Games whose novelisation is a pamphlet –– but it was unfair.

I know this because since Dicks died, I’ve re-read three of his Doctor Who novels. They’re not exactly long, they’re not exactly hard reading, but I started from nostalgia and I carried on because I was enjoying them.

This would be a good point to say, as so very many other people can and have, that it was these Doctor Who novels that made me a writer. It wasn’t. I’m a writer because of Lou Grant. But there’s no question that they helped.

There’s also no question that they belong to a long ago era. Target Doctor Who books were published when there was no possible way to see a Doctor Who story that aired last week, let alone across the show’s 50-odd years. They were Doctor Who for us, and there is an innocence to that whose loss is hanging a little heavier this week since Terrence Dicks died.