Childhood’s start

I’ve been waiting all week to tell you something but instead a completely different, pretty much entirely forgotten memory has come back. I’d vow to you that it was entirely forgotten, except that obviously I’ve remembered it.

It’s about a friend I had in school. I won’t name him, chiefly because I cannot quite grasp his name across all these years – but we fell out. I’m not sure when it was now. Fourth year of school? Fifth? No idea. Plus I’ve no clue what happened, though I suspect that’s not just because the chasm of time involved. I’ve a sense that didn’t know then, either. I remember it hurt. It was one of those where your friend is suddenly someone else’s friend instead, you know the thing.

But as I close my eyes, really squeeze them tight shut and try to remember his name or even just picture him, what I’m seeing instead is a Doctor Who book. For some reason, and who knows why, the closest thing I’ve got to a concrete memory is of his reading a Who book called Horror of Fang Rock by Terrance Dicks.

I hope he was a Doctor Who fan, that it wasn’t just the book he’d happened to pick up out of the school library. Because he should’ve stuck with me, kid. For this week I’m the one who got to make an obituary speech about Terrance Dicks at the Writers’ Guild Awards.

More than 200 of the UK’s finest writers watched me speak – and so did Terrance Dicks’s family. I’m not sure which made me more nervous, but his family being in the room, these writers, the sheer honour of talking at those awards and the unimaginable privilege of being the one to deliver this writer’s obituary, I was shaking before I started.

I’m relieved to tell you it went fine. Actually, solely since it’s you, I’ll tell you that it could not have gone one pixel better.

But if it was all the thinking about my own reading of Dicks’s novels back in the day that brought this old school friend to mind, this has coincidentally been a bit of a week for nostalgia all round. And not all of it good.

I’ve been watching Alan Plater’s 1990s episodes of Dalziel and Pascoe, remembering the stories he told me about its production, and getting weirdly sentimental about the days when mobile phones were bricks and there were still Dillons bookstores.

I’ve been reading one of Isaac Asimov’s books, The End of Eternity. When I was a schoolboy, I thought it and he were marvellous. It didn’t take much growing up for me to spot that Asimov writes like a schoolboy, but still the ideas in that book are tremendous. Unfortunately, this week I learned that Asimov used to go around snapping at the elastic on women’s bras. And reportedly rather than shaking some woman’s hand once, he shook her breast instead.

Cheers, Isaac. Made me queasy. I read your autobiography, I want to un-read it now.

Fortunately, though, there was one more thing this week. Something much nicer.

This week I can tell you of a 1970s legend whose reputation will never be tainted. He might have a world-size ego, but this time he earned it, he deserves to think this highly of himself.

At the Writers’ Guild Awards this Monday, I met and shook paws with Hartley Hare.

He presented the Best Children’s Television Award with his friends Nigel Plaskitt and Gail Renard. (Danger Mouse won, by the way. I punched the air when I found that out, I was so pleased.)

Anyway, follow me for a second. You know that at an awards show, there is a winner and there are runners-up. The presenter says who has been nominated before they read out the winner’s name, and they also say a little something about each show.

There was nothing different about how it was done at these awards, but it was in every way different for me because I wrote the descriptions of the children’s shows. I wrote the descriptions that Hartley Hare read out.

I have written dialogue for Hartley Hare. And I got to be the one to pay tribute to Terrance Dicks.

Take that, you Horror-of-Fang-Rock-schoolfriend-somebody thingy thing.

Unacceptable Language

I don’t know why this has only now occurred to me, but online complaints are rubbish. We’re supposed to have this great online conversation, this ability to go back and forth with friends, strangers, colleagues, artists, but it’s a blunted conversation in every sense.

Someone will do or say something, and then someone else will tell them they’re wrong. It might get heated, it might have others joining in on all sides, but it’s blunted in the sense that it stays only in that moment, only in that level. It doesn’t progress, there isn’t any real back and forth, neither side moves so much as a pixel.

It comes down to someone does something, someone else complains, and the first person shrugs. There may be swearing, but ultimately that’s as flat as it goes.

We should at least be able to review complainers. rank them. You can’t do it, if you even try to say a complainer is wrong then they act like you’re calling them a troll and consequently they act like a troll.

I think this is on my mind now because I had something like three complaints this week and they slotted so easily into categories that I long for there to be categories.

One was just a nutter. Once I’d decoded it and comprehended that his complaint about a piece I’d written was that it wasn’t a piece about something else and therefore I am, I don’t know, a stooge of the capitalist society who should be first up against the wall when then revolution comes, I ranked him as Delete.

I really did just delete it and so now I can’t check whether it actually was a man. but you know it was.

The next definitely was, because he put his name on it. In this case, he was telling me that I’d got something wrong about him in an article and he was right. He was right, I was wrong, I would rather not have had the mistake, I would rather he not have had to email, but I was glad he did and I corrected it.

I also just enjoyed the conversation. That was a pretty good kind of complaint.

But then there was the case of last week’s Self Distract. That featured me boasting about everything I’d done in 2019 and you saying oh, come on, it’s all either typing or yapping, waddya talking about?

Tthe complaint wasn’t that I’d gone on too much, though. I’d have nodded at that. instead, it was saying I’d missed something out.

It was saying that I’d skipped over a five-week workshop series I’d run late in the year and how good it had been.

That’s a pretty lovely complaint to get.

It’s also unequivocally lovely. You get that complaint and there’s no question, it gets slotted into the Lovely category.

So that’s Delete, Lovely and Usefully Enjoyable in the middle.

However, this week I did also have a producer telling me – not as a criticism, just as factual information – that for what I want to do with it, a script of mine features unacceptable language.

She didn’t mean it as a complaint, I didn’t take it as anything other than what I needed to know. But I have never in my entire life been told I use unacceptable language.

I need a category of complaints called William Feels Like a Searing Dramatist Now.

A few thrilling moments (2019)

I need you to work with me on this. There’s a huge part of me that wants to tell you what I did last year. A huge part of that huge part is because I’ll dismiss everything, forget everything, and concentrate instead on what I failed to do if I don’t write it down somewhere like this. If I don’t tell you, basically.

I have written “A few thrilling moments” before – the title is a quote from Grosse Pointe Blank – but I haven’t for a long time and I wasn’t going to show you this year either. But I got a lot of response over Christmas from a tweet and a Facebook status where I recommended that you write this stuff down, specifically if you find New Year’s Eve hard.

Because, man, it’s hard sometimes. I can be having a fine old time and then midnight strikes like a hammer. All I can think of then is what I have failed to do all year and there’s of course so much of it that this thinking takes up the entire next day and multiple aspirin.

Plus, a friend, Heddwen Creaney, wrote her version on Facebook and it was so good that it lifted me, it emboldened me.

So may I tell you about my 2019? If that doesn’t already seem a very long time ago.

For a start, it included the best thing I’ve ever written, so far anyway, which was an incredibly short but deeply intense series of lines of dialogue for the National Trust’s What Is Home project, currently on display at Croome. That was more than a year’s work on what must’ve ended up at around 300 words. Worth every minute.

Also in 2019, I took a week-long research trip to Hull and that is the first time in my career that I’ve ever spent a continuous week on a single drama project. And I produced and directed a Cucumber night of theatre at the Birmingham Rep. That included a brief off-stage spot of acting from me because I was too cheap to hire another actor. And that may have led me to performing short stories of mine at Mouth Pieces or anywhere else that would have me.

I wrote something like 30,000 words in a month by month review of the year for AppleInsider.com, for where I also wrote many hundreds of features and news articles across the whole of 2019.

BBC Radio Wales got me on the phone once as a TV expert, and then BBC Radio Stoke immediately did the same, followed by my first time speaking down an ISDN line to BBC Five Live. I’ve done down the line before, representing Radio Times, but this was a first as myself. And it threw me a little: untold years ago, I used to earn a nice fiver during a BBC Radio WM early morning shift by showing people how to use the NCA Studio (News and Current Affairs) when they were guests on the Today programme. And now someone had to show me how to do it too.

That was in the BBC Mailbox, but Rosie Boulton came to my office to record me for a BBC Radio 4 documentary about writers in Birmingham. She followed one day across the city and I was first up in the documentary because I was first up in the day.

I ran the Room 204 buddying programme for my fifth year and started my first online mailing list for writing projects in 2020. That feels like the next thing I should do: in 2019 I did 90 workshops or other public speaking engagements for various firms and it’s a bit scattershot, I can’t tell you much in advance when or what they’re going to be, and I want to sort that out. Please consider this your personal invitation to join that list of mine: it’d be weird not having you on there.

Mind you, that 90 for other people and organisations did include working on some tremendous projects which were a true privilege to be involved in. I ran or assisted running Writing West Midlands’s Spark Young Writers’ workshops in Walsall and Wolverhampton, for instance. Through that same organisation’s National Writers’ Conference, I finally got to work with friends like Tom Wentworth, Stephanie Ridings, Lisa Blower and Casey Bailey, whose writing I deeply admire, plus spoke on a panel where I learned far more from fellow panelists than I contributed.

Speaking of speaking, I also spoke a couple of times at the National Youth Film Academy. I got to be a part of the Solihull BookFest where it turns out that an attendee had come there in part to check me out.

I didn’t know which person it was, or that they were there for that, but I seemed to do okay because I consequently got hired for a day working with USA teenagers. That was amazing, actually, there’s this decades-old education organisation called Experiment in International Living and I got to be part of the tour they gave these American teens.

Then the 90 speaking things doesn’t include something like 45 podcasts. Nor 7 YouTube videos I’ve produced for a series going live later in January. Nor an evening working with the Royal Television Society at their Big Telly quiz. And through the RTS, I had a great time working with a producer on a radio series proposal that went through some serious consideration at CBBC. It ultimately failed, but what a time.

For a writer, I did seem to spend a lot of time talking, but I did also get to edit Spark Young Writers’ magazine, and write a fair few pieces for The Space, an excellent arts organisation co-funded by the BBC and the Arts Council. I wrote a short story for a friend’s dad, wrote and rewrote many Time stories for a collection of mine now due out in 2020, and toward the end of the year cracked some seemingly impossible drama problems with the Hull project.

I can’t tell you what that project is yet, or even what the problems were, but, grief, they were gigantic. So much so that simply to prove to myself, and a producer, that it was physically possible to write this play, I wrote her the opening and closing scenes as a proof-of-concept. And I tell you this just because it’s you, those closing lines make me cry every time.

I can’t summarise the year without saying that I also cried a lot at my friend the writer Lindsey Bailey’s funeral. Can’t stop thinking of her, either.

Because of that, because of her, I did write my first half poem in some years. As much as poetry now gets to me as a reader, it’s one type of writing I can’t do and that I have never before been compelled to really try. This time, I had to, and poet friends tell me it’s half a poem. I just can’t ever complete it and just can’t stop myself showing you.

Liar

She’s not dead and I don’t know why she keeps saying she is.
She’s waiting to pop back in and it isn’t funny.
She’s in half the people I pass and I don’t want her there.
She’s not dead and I’m never talking to her again.

I don’t know. Nearly a year later, that burns me but I don’t know if it can even warm anyone else.

I also cannot measure where this next thing comes on the scale of good to bad. I’m again Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild, which is great; I represented the Guild at an event, which is great; but that event was Terrance Dicks’s wake.

He was a writer whose Doctor Who work was so influential to me that when I heard of his death, I could feel myself back in 1978 reading one of his books. And I mean feel: the sun of the summer holiday, the weight and the texture of the paperback in my hands.

I wrote an obit for him in the Writers’ Guild and I’ll be presenting another obit for him at the Guild’s awards in January. In 2019 I had a blast attending the Writers’ Guild Awards, for 2020 I’ve worked on them in my capacity as Deputy Chair. Now I just need to write something worth winning one.

I mean it when I say I’m telling you all of this because I will sink if I don’t make myself remember it. And I’m never going to diminish how bad we can all feel if we concentrate on failures.

But there’s also no earthly way that I pretend I haven’t just boasted at you. It’s only a boast if you’re impressed and I don’t know whether any of it seemed more than a shrug to you, but it meant a lot to me. Plus, I was there, I saw it all as it happened.

I’m a writer, a British writer, an ex-Catholic British writer, my stomach is in knots discussing all of this, even with you. But on the one hand, it’s better my stomach than my head.

And on the other, you know I’ll get over myself.

Now, it’s January the 3rd and I have completely failed to do anything at all ever.

Timeless

Apparently it’s Friday, specifically December 27, 2019. Doesn’t feel like a Friday. Feels more like a blurring of times, like 23:30 in the morning, or like some cross between Sunturday and Wedhursday. I know that this is chiefly because of Christmas, but there is also a fair bit of blame to put on Star Wars.

Forty-two years ago, my mom took me to see the original film and yesterday I drove myself to see the last one. That I thought more about that night with my mother than I did the new movie might tell you something, but really, the last Star Wars is fine.

True, I’m not a child anymore who longs for a lightsabre. I’m an adult who yearned for a blaster to shoot some of these characters to stop them talking. For a film series famous for its visuals, it’s astonishing how much we have to be told, such as the fact that there are so many hours before something happens. Er, okay. No earthly way the characters could know that, and they then ignore it except when they remember to tell us again.

It’s when they’re being “funny”, though, that’s when I rooted for the Dark Side.

We are also told again and again that the Dark Side is more fun, basically, but all we actually see are some hellishly uncomfortable-looking seats and no snacks.

I do have a very strong visual memory of being in the cinema to see that first Star Wars film. It’s a stronger visual memory than I have of yesterday’s movie, but I only have flashes of most of them. I don’t mean I’ve forgotten the films, though whenever Episode II or III comes on the TV I cannot be sure I’ve seen them. But I remember leaving a press preview of Episode I with an editor. I remember getting into my seat late for Return of the Jedi in 1983 which meant the first thing I saw of that film was the Death Star. And the first thing I feel is oh, we’ve seen all this before, then.

If I could talk to myself that day, I’d tell me that this is nothing, you just wait for The Force Awakens, kid.

Presumably younger me would then ask how long he had to wait, but I don’t think he’d be that fussed when I told him.

He’d be more interested in whether I turned out to be the man he hoped. But then I could dodge that one easily because little me didn’t think ahead much anyway.

An 11th Top Ten Writing Lesson

Back in 2018, I decided to read a script every day for a year and the only failure was that I got a wee bit carried away and ended up reading 624 of them. I counted. But as you can imagine, my first thought on January 1, 2019, was that thank goodness that was done, I had completed the year, I could relax now.

Unfortunately, my second thought was that I really wanted something to read.

So 2019’s pledge was to stop this reading a script a day, but I screwed up nearly completely. When you and I are done talking today, I’m off to read my 596th of the year.

Give me credit, though, that is less than 624. This is the quality of information you get from me: 596 is less than 624. I’m not wrong.

Then true, as I write this it’s December 20 so there are another 11 days, including today, so there’s a fair to decent chance that I’ll end up having read 606. But that’s still less.

Also, on March 24, 2019, I forgot to do it. So that’s failure in every way possible.

Last year I wrote about the ten things I’d learned from reading daily and this year did reinforce every one of them. But I’d like to add one more, an 11th in my top 10.

It’s this:

11) A good bit at the end isn’t enough

I read most of these scripts for the fun of it, but maybe 70 were actually for work. I’m involved in many different projects that required me to read scripts, and one of them was from a soap. I’m not a soap watcher, nobody expected me to be of any particular use on this part of that project, but I started reading it.

And then asked the person who’d hired me whether I really had to finish.

We both knew there was nothing useful I was going to be able to contribute – and there may even have been a dozen other people on the project so I didn’t matter – but she insisted yes, I had to read it, because there’s a really good bit at the end.

I pointed out that every line on the first few pages was a cliche and she argued that this is the trouble with soaps, they have to have realistic dialogue. They can’t do great speeches, they can’t rely on music and sound effects and green screens.

Yes, I said, but they don’t have to talk bollocks.

Soaps do not have realistic dialogue. They have dialogue that sounds like every other soap. What’s that supposed to mean?

I’m being unfair. This year I read a radio script that you could argue is a soap and it was so good it made me cry. In my mind, that makes it drama, but there’s a decent argument that it’s a soap and so clearly I’m wrong with my all-encompassing, all-sweeping description of soap dialogue.

Whether you like soaps or don’t like soaps, though, if you’re not into the first part of any script and/or you can’t bear the dialogue, my 11th Top Ten writing tip is that a good bit at the end is not nearly enough.

This was all very early on in 2019 and, besides, it’s only you and me here, so I’ll tell you. I didn’t read to the end.

Roguishly handsome

The only time I haven’t written to you on a Friday in at least eight years now is the day after the Brexit vote in 2016. Couldn’t do it. Paralysed. Today, the day after yet another UK General Election, I’m numb.

But I’d like to tell you a story anyway, and it’s this.

I have a thing where I will describe myself, probably far too often, as being roguishly handsome. I can’t remember when or where it started, but I do easily remember how because of course it was a joke.

It was somewhere you couldn’t see me, something like radio or a podcast, maybe just somewhere in text where there was no image of me. And the joke was really in the next line, which ran: “Ah, nobody’s going to check.”

Don’t ask me why it’s roguishly, and please don’t tell me that I do it too often because I know. But if it’s not always followed by that next line, that actual joke, it is always clear from the context that I’m lying.

I know I’m lying, you know I’m lying, it can be quite a happy little moment.

Today I thinking that I might just keep saying it seriously. I might keep saying it with a straight face. I’ll still know I’m lying, you’ll still know too, but on the scale of lies one can apparently tell now without consequences, it’s pretty piddlingly small.

For years, I’ve been politically engaged and then politically enraged, too.

I think I might be spent.

Skip

I’m not sure now whether it’s my age or just the age that we live in. But really often, I’ll start watching something and there will be an advert first, with a countdown. We never used to have countdowns or progress bars, but now we do and typically it says something like “your video will play in 10 seconds, 9, 8…”

And I’m exasperated at having to wait six more seconds.

I mean, I know I’m busy, but now five seconds, four, come on.

Some ads have to be played to the end –– and actually, if you’re on YouTube, for instance, the YouTuber only gets paid if the whole ad is seen –– but others do have that skip feature.

“You can skip in four, 3, for god’s sake how long is 2, 1…”

Back when we had terrestrial TV but DVRs had come in so that you could pause live television and then fast-wind through the ads, I thought advertisers missed a trick. Someone, surely, should’ve done an ad that only made sense when seen played at 20 times normal speed.

But today’s advertisers have caught on. They know you’re going to skip, so they front-load the first six or ten seconds of the ad with the best bit they can.

The first ten seconds of an advert are now like a pilot episode of a series. They come in fast, establish the characters, make their point and hope that you want to stick around for the next episode or, in this case, the next twenty seconds.

And just as with TV pilots, you’re now seeing a range of approaches. There’s the big, splashy, look-at-me flashy advert. But over time, we’ve started to get ones that are more slow, subtle, and gently seductive ones. And the ones that will stop me tapping on Skip tend to be ones with characters talking.

Both TV drama and adverts need to get your attention and then they want to persuade you to do something. With drama, it’s to keep watching and please come back for episode 2. With adverts, it’s stop watching videos and go buy something.

Adverts are meant to be a punch to your attention and drama wants to move in with you. But in both cases, I think there’s friction between grabbing your eyes and then keeping your brain.

And – this could well just be me – I think in both cases the makers get one shot. I could be wrong, and I may be unfair. Especially as at the moment I appear to be being hounded by ads for SquareSpace and I’ve been through the stages of shrugging, harrumphing and on into thinking I might look into them the next time I do a website.

But usually, if I’ve skipped an ad the first time I see it, I skip it every time.

And it’s exactly as hard to get me to come back for the second episode of a show. I understand, for instance, that Luther is a good series, but it lost me on episode 1. Maybe you remember the show better than I do, but I recall there being an impossible crime and if was ever even solved, the real conclusion was that the person who did it is an incredible criminal mastermind of evil.

But I’m sitting there thinking even I could’ve done that exact same crime and been back home in time for lunch. That meant the criminal mastermind of evil wasn’t much cop and the lead police detective character was no cop.

I’d have kept watching if that had been deliberate, but I was supposed to admire both characters and so I simply never watched another minute.

Grief. That was ten years ago. I just looked it up to see how many episodes I haven’t watched – 19 out of the 20, as it happens – and the first one aired in May 2010.

Who could’ve imagined even a decade ago that today episodes would also end with “Next episode begins in 10, 9, 8…”?

As I write this to you, the next Self Distract is in 606,300 seconds. 606,299. 606,298… You could kill a few seconds by joining my new mailing list or perhaps by buying one of my books or Doctor Who radio dramas. I’d be fine with either.

Critically important

I’m a weekly guest on an American podcast and during the latest recording, I was told off. A listener had written in to say that I shouldn’t talk about television because my opinion was no more valid than anyone else’s.

This isn’t the first criticism I’ve had. Previously, as a British writer on a US podcast, I have been told to drop the fake English charm shtick.

But it is the first time I’ve responded.

So, yes, I did it. I said on air about having spent more than a decade being a paid TV critic on Radio Times, BBC News and BBC Ceefax. I said I was Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. I said I was a scriptwriter and a dramatist.

In my defence, I didn’t mention that I was once fired off a TV drama.

But in my attack, I don’t think I can describe what I did here as anything better than having been a prat. I did it quickly, it was under 15 seconds, but the prat level was high.

In that lightspeed moment, though, I did build to a point, which was this: everybody has an opinion about television shows, but hopefully mine comes with an informed background. Rather than just saying something is the best show ever, I’m hopefully able to capture what is so good and convey that to help you decide whether it’s worth watching.

There is an argument that this is more useful now than ever. Since we have so much television and film, since so very much of it is so tremendously good, it is a wall of drama and comedy. The sheer volume of it all is a barrier to finding any of it to watch.

So anything, anyone that can bring your attention to a show that you will then love, that has to be good.

Except, there used to be paid, professional TV critics who really just wrote about themselves and how clever they are. Who perhaps sneered about a show being exactly the same as every other one before it –– or sneered at a show trying to be different. And who tell you details about a show in order to sound as if they’re the ones who created it, regardless of whether that detail spoils the series.

Today we have fewer paid, professional TV critics, and about eleventy-billion more unpaid ones.

So many of whom have recently been damaging a show that I like, If you don’t already know it, I think you’ll like it too.

As I write for American publications, I have a press pass to the new Disney+ service. It’s not available here in the UK, but I can see whatever shows Disney’s press office wants to show me. So far there’ve been about eight shows, so it’s barely a fraction of what is on the actual service, but it has included the Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

I watched the first one for my work but I’ve watched another two since purely because I enjoyed it so much.

And there is definitely one stand-out element of the series.

I don’t think you can actually separate out elements of a drama, you can’t solely say that an actor, for instance, is the reason to watch because he or she couldn’t act at all without the script. But you can identify something that is attention-grabbing, and The Mandalorian has one of those.

It is excellently well done, it is even a delight, and if you won’t read what it is from me, unfortunately all you have to do is look left or right on the internet and you’ll find out.

I think it’s unlikely that Disney’s press office will continue to put episodes of this show on its screening service for writers like me: anyone writing about the show has seen these and I’m sure Disney+ has other shows it wants to push.

So any moment now, I’m going to have this supply of Mandalorian episodes cut off and will have to wait until whenever Disney+ comes to the UK to see the rest.

And yet, I’m still going to know more about it than I want to. TV critics, journalists, all media writers, have already revealed this delightful element and they’re going to continue doing so. I’m not trying to seek out spoilers, I am trying to avoid them, and still have got through to me, still they will continue to.

I think the critical part of TV criticism is gone and we’re left with being barkers. Shouting about shows to get attention, ideally for the show but usually for ourselves.

I love that any drama can get inside you so much that you want to talk about it. I think that’s wonderful. I just get bored when the talking is empty. I get annoyed at spoilers. And I merely fear for the soul of humanity when the reaction to a finely-crafted piece of emotionally true drama is that the star used to be in Frozen.

Now excuse me, I need to go practice my English charm.

The world at 5am or so

Write Brummie, the BBC Radio 4 documentary by Rosie Boulton that I’m featured in, aired this week and you can catch it on the BBC Sounds app. If you can find your way around that rather confusing app, that is, or if you cheat and just follow this link.

In it, I mention how it feels as if the world expands outwards during the morning. If you get up to work at 5am, it’s just you and a sense of no-one else going on, then slowly you become aware of movement around the city. I mentioned traffic and the bins and kids, but I think it’s also just plumbing.

I like that sense at 5am that the air is different, that it’s waiting. Air and wind have a long day ahead of them and they’re just taking a minute, eating some toast, before they have to get going.

And I’m obviously telling you this because of the documentary, but actually as I write to you now it’s a little before 7am and for once, it all feels the same. I’ve put the bins out, I’ve waved to a neighbour, if I stop typing I can hear traffic. And that very second I said this, I just heard a sound from next door’s pipes.

But mostly, it’s as still now as I’m used to earlier. Maybe Birmingham is having a lie-in.

It’s funny how a city has a personality, and possibly not funny how it doesn’t, it just has what we project onto it. Maybe we do this with people too, maybe nobody has a personality other than that we expect of them.

I’m simply conscious this week of how I would like to live in the Birmingham that is portrayed in the Write Brummie documentary and yet obviously I do. I know some of the other writers featured, I know the work of more of them, I certainly know and like every single place they mention.

Maybe it’s that when you string them together as Boulton did, it makes you reconsider what you know. Or maybe it makes you conscious of we all know so much, we hold so many thoughts and facts and feelings, that we see one whole mass of sensations and miss the the detail.

It’s possible that I’ve just found a long way around to say something about wood and trees.

Still, I want to be part of that documentary’s portrayal of my city, and yet I am.

I do also now want to be every one of the other writers in the show, and I especially want all their kitchen tables and crackling fires, but I’ll work on that.

Unintended perspectives

Listen, for alll that you and I talk, you’ve still never been round my house at 5am on a weekday morning, have you?

Producer Rosie Boulton has and you can hear why in Write Brummies on BBC Radio 4 at 11:30 on November 21.

She’s charting writers through a day in my home city of Birmingham and I am first up because, well, I am first up.

I don’t remember what I said when she interviewed me, but of course I know I tried to sound interesting. What I’m most curious to hear, if not a little anxious, is what you make of me. The impression we think we give is of course rarely, if ever, the impression received.

And this has been on my mind all week because of a tweet I saw that just boomed with insight – but into the sender rather than what he was trying to say.

I can’t seem to find it now to show you and I suppose it doesn’t matter, this is maybe a universal rule.

But to use this tweet specifically, it was from some software developer. He stated that he could take 20 such software coders and they could be a fully-functioning newswriting team by the next morning. And that it is impossible to take 20 journalists and make them good coders in the same time.

He’s certainly right about the latter. I’m a writer who is also a journalist and also at times a coder, and I’d say there’s a sliding scale of my ability there. If sliding scales step off a cliff for the last part.

But of course he’s also wrong about the first part. I know software engineers who can write, but I also knew one who – literally, I do mean literally – hid under a desk rather than write something for people to read.

What I’m interested in, though, is that this tweeting coder stated all of this. Didn’t suggest or propose or opine, he stated it. And he did use that laughable justification you regularly hear, the one that goes "well, all my friends agree" line.

By making what he believed was a declarative statement, a statement of utter fact that we should take notice of, he was really telling us a lot about himself.

You already know factual parts such as that he’s a coder, although admittedly I told you that. You’d have got it anyway. You also know that he’s arrogant. I’m afraid it’s not a shock that he’s a man.

In maybe fifteen words, he conveyed so much of himself that I feel I can picture him. If he did that deliberately, if he fashioned that tweet to reveal a character then, yes, oh definitely yes, he is a writer.

But you know he didn’t.

He doesn’t see what he’s done, and that’s why he’s a coder and not a writer.

I’m not saying he needs to be, I am saying I don’t want to know him.