Sunday, 25 July 2010

Extract from The Treasure of Saint Woody

Joanne's series of daily book extracts continues today with an extract from The Treasure of Saint Woody.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Big Brother 11 - Half time report

With the final UK Big Brother series halfway through its 11 week run it's a good time to report on how the show is doing, and against all expectations it's going well. Viewing figures are up, the show has been fun, the professional OFCOM complainers have been strangely quiet, and the stench of death that I assumed would hang over the series isn’t there.

This year the housemates are relatively ordinary with no great characters such as last year's Marcus, Freddie or Bea, but then again there are no depressingly dull housemates such as Charlie, Rodrigo or Sophie. The housemates also provide an interesting barometer on the nation. Ten years ago it was deemed a significant moment when a gay man won the show. A few years ago every show had to have a token gay person. Now almost everyone in the house is either openly gay, gay but haven't admitted it yet even if they're so camp they make John Inman look like John Wayne, or lied about being gay to get on the show. It's refreshing to see people be outed as straight.

In addition the production values are fairly high and best of all a change to the way housemates nominate each other for eviction has led to the uninteresting characters being evicted early. So we've lost Beyonce lookalike Rachael, teenage brat Govan, foul-mouthed Nathan and bald Ife. The only unfortunate losses have been trainee doctor (!) Sunshine, a vegan who didn't eat vegetables whose capacity for annoying everyone was so huge she sadly crashed and burned quickly after an argument about crisps. And Shabby, an erudite and lively bit part actress, who treated the show as an extended audition for her acting abilities, but who sadly decided to stage a walkout and nobody followed.

This leaves 11 housemates in the house and using my ten tips for how to win the show, I thought I'd look at who is using each method.

1. Go on a journey

Andrew is the only one attempting the journey route. We can tell that because he tells everyone he's on a journey about three times a day. He's modelled his journey on Glyn from BB7 of being the shy teenager who is trying to shyly grow up and get over his shyness by being shy and cute and a bit more shy. He's the only one in there I hate.

Prospects: Like Glyn he'll probably come second.

2. Represent a hitherto unknown socially disadvantaged group

Steve was hand-picked to take this role as the producers actively sought an amputee soldier. He's either a good choice or a bad one depending on how you look at it. The moment he clambered out of his wheelchair to go in the house every viewer and every housemate decided they might as well end the show there and then as he was clearly going to win. It's a testament to him that after five weeks viewers rank him as the most hated housemate and he has no chance of winning. But his presence has provided an interesting social experiment of the kind the show used to regularly provide. It's shown that if you're cute and 19 you can tell a woman you'd like to divide her legs and everyone will laugh, but if you're 40 and have no legs you can’t look at a woman without viewers deciding you're a disgusting pervert. And it's shown that if you're disabled, people will be nice to you and deem you a great bloke even if you're a dullard.

Prospects: Frankly he hasn’t got a leg to stand on (Steve would find that funny, honest). I expect him out in a shock eviction in 3 weeks.

3. Pretend to be stupid

This year there's a few intelligent housemates and the stupid ones are stupid in a boring way. Loud and annoying Corin is trying for the active stupid role with her fake tan, fake hair, fake bolt-ons, fake annoying accent, fake character, fake monologues in the Diary Room, and fake catchphrases. Claiming to have a vocabulary of about fifty words has proved tough for her and so she did slip up and suddenly used 'controversial', but the viewers didn’t mind. They love her, but then again they don't have to live with her.

Prospects: She'll probably win and in some small way the country will get a little dumber.

4. Start and end your faux-romance

Faux-romances have been mainly headed off at the pass this year. Rachael clearly wanted one and she got evicted. Corin tried to start one with Nathan, but he got evicted, so we're left with Josie and John-James trying the variation that hasn’t been done before of unrequited love on the part of the woman. I don’t know what to make of this as Josie is the only housemate that regularly makes me laugh. She's normal sized, which on reality tv means she's fat, and she's normal and real in every way, which means she often comes over badly on reality tv.

Prospects: If she forgets about the fake romance she'll win, otherwise she's doomed to go before the end.

5. Break the fourth-wall

Dave is going for this one in a big way in his attempts to promote his religious beliefs. He supports an unusual religion that as far as I can make out consists of running around shouting, jumping on furniture, dressing as a monk, and pretending to be drunk. I'm not sure whether his method can be deemed to be working as he's the sole member of his own religion and when he comes out it'll still have only one member. I'm amazed he's still there.

Prospects: Even the hand of God reaching down into the mire couldn’t elevate Dave's chances to the depths of hopelessness.

6. Remember your target demographic

Teenage girlies who write in txtspk and smiley faces on Facebook love grumpy Aussie John-James this year. He has the look of a surfer dude, but he enjoys belittling women, has issues, is aggressive, rude, arrogant, stupid, humourless, self-absorbed and he could start an argument in solitary confinement while asleep and gagged. In other words he has everything the teenies love.

Prospects: Will win if he keeps his shirt off.

7. Remember that most people only watch the highlights

Although Corin is the master of doing nothing for 23 hours and 58 minutes a day then providing 2 minutes of entertainment for the easily pleased, I've already mentioned her so this category will go to Rachel. She's a loud, chirpy Scouser TM and so she must be annoying to live with, but she comes over as only mildly annoying in two minutes clips a day.

Prospects: Negligible. Will get evicted next week.

8. Stick to the script

Do what the producers ask you to do and you'll get preferential treatment is a fundamental rule of this show, and this year reality tv veteran Ben is filling that role well. He's posh, lazy, selfish, self-absorbed and so dim he tried to tell 'war hero' Steve that Hitler was a decent chap. But he's filling the camp role he was picked for (essentially Freddie from last year without the warmth or humour) to perfection and so is strangely popular.

Prospects: Will probably go in a shock final eviction.

9. Have a no game-plan game-plan

Dull, alien loving geek Mario is trying to go for the under the radar approach of doing nothing for the first half of the show and then gradually exposing himself. Unfortunately now that we've all seen Mario's dangly bits several times I think he might have peaked too early.

Prospects: Will make the final and be first out.

10. Be a Alt-hero

The two remaining housemates Caiomhe (pronounced differently) and Keeley are fighting for this role. They'll both probably be up for eviction this week and whichever one survives has a shot at being the alt-hero.

Aloof Caiomhe hates the show, has never watched it, is too cool to have friends who'd watch such nonsense, and she hates the other housemates. So her couldn’t give a stuff attitude is gradually gathering a cult following.

Prospects: Zilch

Small Keeley arrived late and managed to annoy everyone within ten minutes, which is always a good sign. She actually had a job, so she's deemed to be bossy. The men in the house drool over her so she could become an Internet phenomenon. Unlikely to pick up any female votes though.

Prospects: Less than zilch.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Bleached Bones in the Dust

I was pleased to get an early look at the cover to my Black Horse Western Bleached Bones in the Dust. It's a different composition to the ones I've had in the past so I like it, even if it doesn't have any bones, bleached or otherwise, or dust! The book will be out in January 2011.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The day British news sold its soul

In the early hours of this morning a man from the NE of England shot himself. He was wanted on suspicion of killing one person and wounding two others. That was the news. But when did the facts ever get in the way of a good story? The real story was the spectacle of the rolling news coverage's chase for ratings by making true crime and suicide into entertainment.

We are told here in Britain, by the media, that our news service is the most responsible in the world; that we're spared the sensationalist dumbed-down nature of news elsewhere. I don't think that claim can ever be made again and I don't think I'll view British news in quite the same way again, as this morning I feel dirty. I feel as if I helped a man to die because I watched the coverage of 'The Hunt for Moat, Britain's most Wanted Man!' and worse, I found most of the coverage amusing. In my defence I'm a fan of media satirists Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker and I have long viewed the news as the best deadpan comedy show on tv, but perhaps I should stop doing that now. Someone died and I was laughing at the media.

It started a week ago. A prisoner came out of jail. He went round to his former girlfriend's house. He shot her, killed her new boyfriend, and then as he'd got the idea that she'd had an affair with a policeman he shot a random copper. Then he ran. As stories go it's horrible for everyone involved, but its newsworthiness is minor. At least once every few weeks something like that happens in Britain and it usually gets a brief mention on the news long after the big things going on like wars and the Tory government trying to ruin the country. And as it happened Up North and far from London where all the proper news happens it was even less likely to get on the news. Except for the fact that a few months ago a gunman went on a killing spree Up North. Although that man shot everyone before the media arrived, he still provided plenty of non-stories with which to fill up the schedules. That meant that this gunman deserved to be followed because he was still on the loose. He could kill again! So unlike the previous time where the media could cover only the aftermath, now they could cover the rising death toll as it happened, live on screen in a sure-fire ratings winning spectacular.

The first couple of days were entertaining. We had a chief constable with a perm that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1980s cop-show Juliet Bravo. We had bluff northern coppers delivering press conferences in which they talked for half an hour in amusing copper speak (t' public are oor eyes 'n ears) to report that nothing had happened other than them getting a new incident room. And we had southern reporters struggling to pronounce northern town names.

With the media taking an interest, and with budget cuts and senior jobs on the line, the police realized they needed to catch this man quickly, so they employed several thousand more coppers. The media then realized this was a big story because thousands of coppers were running around fields frightening sheep and tripping over cowpats, so big-gun reporters and presenters were turfed out of their plush London offices to visit that weird world north of Watford. So the police sent every copper in the country along with the SAS... Within a few days the media were reporting on their own over-reaction and the gunman had become Britain's most wanted man, despite having done nothing new and despite being in hiding. With it looking as if NATO would get involved the media frenzy descended on a small picturesque Northern village with plenty of nice looking pubs and hotels where the gunman was rumoured to have holed up.

The media were desperate for the body count to rise so they could spread fear, and yet nothing was happening and nobody was dying and nobody was particularly frightened. With everyone going about their business, the media tried harder. When the gunman phoned the police to say he wasn't a nutter and he wasn't a threat to anyone, the media and police reported that the gunman is a nutter who is threatening everyone so stay indoors wherever you live in the country as there's an armed nutter on the loose. The news agenda was 'a pall of fear hangs over the frightened, cowering villagers like a giant fearful pall of scary fear'. Except the images behind the media circus were: woman walking dog, farmer tending sheep, children skipping, old ladies chatting, man waving at camera. Reporters shoved mikes in the faces of locals and demanded: 'How utterly petrified are you at the terrifying thought of a heavily-armed crazed nutter on the rampage in your very own garden?' To which they got the reply that: 'Wy-I-man, I'm a canny lad, me, and t' daft bugger ain't note t' fear, pet.' While the local wandered off to do his shopping the reporters decided that was Geordie for the pall of fear was descending ever lower. We even had a BBC reporter asking a local what terrible, scary things were happening in the village right now and being told that he had no idea as the pub's tv couldn't pick up Sky News.

It became clear that the real story was one the media didn't want to report: The gunman was a local man who'd gone off the rails. The only people in danger were people who had crossed him. Everybody felt sorry for him and nobody was worried about anything other than the sight of thousands of heavily-armed police officers guarding the local chippy in case he came in for a fish supper and the scary vision of media-vampire Kay Burley from Sky News on their village green. Everyone hoped he'd give himself up, preferably after shooting up Kay. After seven days of blanket coverage of nothing happening other than locals doing their shopping, kids playing, dogs peeing on camera stands, and reporters reporting on how everything was chaotic because of all the reporters everywhere, it all came to a head last night. It turned out the gunman had been hiding in a hole on the village green where the reporters were all week and the entire British police force plus the media had missed him because they'd been too busy giving press conferences.

Hours of continuous coverage followed of the gunman threatening nobody but himself. We had excited reporters excitedly reporting that the petrified villagers had been told to stay indoors, while being jostled by happy villagers enjoying ice-creams and filming footage for youtube. We had reporters blocking the road reporting on the fact they were blocking the road and had been told to stop blocking the road and then blocking the road some more. We had reporters trying to scare random people outside the pub with rumours that their mothers might be a mile away from the gunman. We had the joy of flicking between channels to get multi-angle panoramic views of reporters from one channel interviewing reporters from other channels while being told to bugger off by police. We had a ten-mile exclusion zone that was keeping everyone from venturing within 200 yards of the scene. And we had reports from bedrooms within the exclusion zone that were more detailed and calm than anything the real reporters could manage.

After several more hours of nothing happening other than reporters running up and down the road getting in the way of the police and scaring holidaymakers, a couple of locals arrived to ask: 'Wy-I-man, why y' daft buggers settin' up t'cameras 'ere? We been watchin' t'shoot-out up yon track, pet. It's reet borin' so we're off down t'pub.' Cameras were dispatched and the footage changed to film of a tree. As darkness descended and it started to rain it got surreal. A boozed-up Paul Gascoigne, a suicidal ex-footballer with severe psychological issues, arrived to talk the gunman into giving himself up in exchange for a dressing gown and a fishing rod, and I realized I was better off watching the more realistic events on Big Brother on the other side.

I gather it went on for a few more hours until 'a shot or shots' were fired, but somewhere along the way something else died last night. Now I guess it's only a matter of time before the media are promoting a new most wanted man seeking his few moments of celebrity. Apparently shooting yourself live on tv gets better ratings than Big Brother does these days.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Review of a Fistful of Legends

Review at Western Fiction Review.

Also, last week Matthew Mayo attended the annual WWA conference in which he was honoured for his short story Half a Pig which appears in the anthology. More on this later, perhaps with some pictures.