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Chapter 4 done.  18,300 words — supposed to be around 16,000, but fortunately chapter 5 will be shorter.  Throw in the fragments I've got for later scenes, and I'm just short of 19,500 words in total.

The chapter started off very unfocused for me; it's the first chapter that's really structured around events just on a plot level, intercutting between viewpoints, rather than following a character or two through one escalating situation.  So it sort of feels like I'm losing focus, as I introduce additional POV characters... but the ending finally came together, and in that last bit, for the first time in the book, I'm writing scenes I feel proud of on a sentence-by-sentence level.

I'm still struggling with the need for restraint in this book, but finally I'm at a point where I can take the brakes off a bit...

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Chapter 3 done, a couple of days ago now.  About 12,800 words — though some of them will be moved into Chapter 4 or 5, because I'm about 800 words overlength and that scene will ramble less if I factor a chunk out.

I've just written 5000 words in four days, which is astonishing for me in recent years.  My sudden burst of speed — besides being due to a break in my day-job schedule — was also because Chapter 3 is when the character who was the original point of writing this book turns up.  I can't spoil who because the book hasn't been officially announced yet, but I'm writing for an old friend, and they're just writing themselves.  I'm afraid I've got to cut back on the banter a bit...

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Chapter 2 drafted. Total 7589 words.  After the better part of a month off between Christmas and my parents' visit, I'm finally inching back into the saddle. I'm currently about 400-500 words below my estimated length, which is good because the next few chapters are going to be longer.

This is still such a strange book.  I'm longing to write something with the kind of expressionistic fire I had fifteen years ago, but this can't be that story; by its nature it's got to be stripped-back and less expressive.  I'm dealing with a very contained POV character, which shouldn't be a problem for someone who wrote a book starring Number Six... but in that case there was always an intensity to express both inside him and in the outrageous images around him.  Here so far everything's contained and human-scale; I need to figure out how to express something larger-than-life in a story which was deliberately conceived to be basically life-size.

(I dunno, maybe I can give more POV stuff to Jonesy?  Let him be a bit more intense and vivid about it?  After all, he's the one to whom the early action is personal on a level beyond "hey, they're trying to kill us"...)

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Chapter 1 drafted.  Total, with the prologue — 4640 words.  Meaning I'm already 600+ words over, and this was supposed to be one of the short bits.  I'm already poking around in parts three and four for story threads I can cut without sacrificing the good stuff.

My earlier worries about a general lack of poetry have somewhat abated; I'm finding space for a bit of intensity and thematic stuff in one of the secondary viewpoint characters, who started out as just a bit of attitude but has been surprising me by growing extra dimensions.  This is a weird case where I'm only working out what their experiences would really mean for the characters, and how it would shape their worldviews, as I actually write the scenes.

And to my surprise, a minor character who was utterly humdrum in the outline is beginning to become charming.  He's already turned scenes which were basically just one character prompting another for exposition into something more like a two-hander.  A bit more, and I might even manage a sub-Holmesian double-act. I'm going to have to go back to this chapter at some point, and revise it just to give him a little more banter — just so it'll be appalling when I kill him off!

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(no subject)

Two days into the new book. First draft of the prologue — 980 words.  I'd been aiming for 600-ish, but the implications of what I was saying kind of expanded on the page.  I'm afraid this is going to be a recurring motif throughout the writing.

One of the big challenges I'm going to have with this book is writing for such a practical, stoic, non-poetic viewpoint character, while still trying to get my own sense of poetry and insight across. It's hard for me to do all my trademark sub-Cornellian bollocks if the narrative voice has to be fundamentally sane...

Twice Upon A Time: The Novel

For the third time in my life, Paul Cornell has written exactly the words I needed to read.

The first time was early in 1992, when the blazing hot prose of Timewyrm: Revelation kept me awake — sitting in a hotel bathroom to finish devouring the book long after my roommate had wanted to go to sleep, compelled to keep reading by the feeling that a flower was opening in my head, a first glimpse of just how layered and human and emotionally true one of these Doctor Who adventures could be.  That the same crafting of words and motifs that I'd been learning to appreciate in Steinbeck could be turned to flesh out the characters at the heart of my own personal mental landscape, and find something rich and real to say with them.  It's one of the many moments where I think I learned how to write.

The second was the summer of 1995.  The girl I'd thought I was going to marry had just dumped me, and I was adrift.  Out of college, working an entry-level job, seemingly cut off from most of the life I'd built up at school — I had no idea how I was going to manage to get from where I was to a place where I'd be happy again, and not alone.  But then, while curled up and recovering, I settled down with a good book:  Human Nature.  And Paul's deft painting of those moments as John Smith and Joan Redfern were drawn together — that sense of heart-opening possibility, the realisation that once in a while the stars could align and the most romantic thing you could imagine actually could happen — filled my heart with the knowledge that everything actually was all right.  That even the wrong bits wouldn't have to stay wrong forever.

(Just a couple of months later, it happened to me and Kate.)

Fast forward: it's 2018, and we're bloody exhausted on every level.  Kate and I are holding on to each other for dear life, as two years of ever-escalating political horrors are now coming pretty much daily: a wave showing no sign of breaking.  Surely stealing children from their parents will be the last straw.  Surely when I point out that seeking asylum is perfectly legal, and that innocent refugee families who have followed all the rules and committed no crime at all are having their children taken from them, and being told that the best way to see them again is to confess to a crime and go back to where they're likely to be killed — people will realise the pure Kafka madness of America's new policy.  Surely my own mother won't ignore it when I tell her about this...  Surely my heart won't break.  Surely I won't despair.

And in the depths of this soul-weariness, Paul Cornell comes back to Doctor Who for one last time, to novelise the farewell of a Doctor I loved.  A story which, onscreen, left me cold — simultaneously glib and wordy, with shrugged-off sentimentality in place of the genuine hard-won triumph which characterised Peter Capaldi's Doctor for me.  (Neither Doctor's motivation for refusing to regenerate rang true for me on-screen.)  But Paul Cornell had been finding depth in dashed-off raw material ever since he took a brief Terrance Dicks description of the Doctor and turned it into a heartfelt principle worth clinging to.  Perhaps he might just pull it off again.
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Somewhere in the distance, I can still hear TARDIS music.

What I Want

In the midst of this latest attempt to persuade Americans to do nothing about their gun problem, I was struck by someone asking:

“Explain exactly HOW you intend to get America's numerous owners of guns to surrender their arms should the qualifiers for ownership be chsnged, without riots or causing civil war?”

And that got me thinking.

How do I intend for it to happen? Exactly the way it happened in Australia, for the most part — or indeed the way Americans generally actually *do* respect laws when they change, and are willing to comply with them even when things which were previously legal become illegal (from CFC-spewing fridges to the previous assault-weapons bans).

But what about the cold-dead-hand crowd? What about the people who the authorities know are outright determined to violate the law? What do I think should happen?

What do I want?

I want the Feds to treat them with all the grace and dignity they use when they swoop in on a brown-skinned man stockpiling fertilizer.

I want them to see the world respond to them not as American patriot martyrs, but as new names on the short list of ratbags headed by the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh.

I want peoples’ alarm to focus on what those nuts were planning to use all these guns for.

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"Hell Bent" Revisited

Well, it’s only taken me two solid years of hindsight, but I think I’ve finally figured out a way to make Hell Bent work a lot better!

At the end of Doctor Who series 9, I adored Heaven Sent, but thought its resolution in Hell Bent was the dampest of squibs. But the thing is, it’s the kind of misfire where I have nothing but sympathy and understanding for everyone involved. A Doctor Who showrunner is absolutely up against it at the best of times, and we can tell from Steven Moffat’s schedule that he was more miserable than usual while doing Hell Bent… It’s the end of the series, the deadlines are ganging up on you, your last script went surprisingly over budget so all you’ve got left in the till for this one is £2.50 and a bit of fluff, it’s time to make a traditional end-of-series-miracle out of no money and no time, oh and you won’t have time for a lot of rewrites because they’re shooting Christmas right after this one, so you’ve only got maybe five weeks after this to write another whole script from scratch… I’d be tearing my hair out!

Fortunately, hindsight is cheap. And with the luxury of all the time which Moffat and company didn’t have, I’ve been able to think of a few key changes which would have brought the same basic story across in a more effective way — and without breaking the budget, either!

I. The Matrix



The opening chunk of the story, with the Doctor making his stands in the wilds of outer Gallifrey, had a stark poetry to it which I admired… but whenever they cut to action in the Capitol I could hear the story creaking.

Now, I always knew part of that was simply my old-school-fan (and old-school-Who-novelist) perspective on the Time Lords; I’ve read, seen, and listened to a lot of tedious Gallifrey stories, and they hit a lot of the same notes over and over again. So when Hell Bent reaches the scene where Rassilon and his High Council are listening to the Cloister Bells and fretting over the latest predictions from the Matrix, my heart was already sinking.

(I really do think anyone doing a Gallifrey story is putting themselves behind the eight-ball — literally the first thing we found out about it is that the people there are cosmically dull. Even the few writers who’ve managed to come up with a take on the place which made it genuinely fascinating — Robert Holmes and Marc Platt among them — couldn’t catch that lightning in a bottle a second time.)

But I think this material would be hard going even for non-die-hard viewers who don’t have that level of overexposure. Because there’s a fundamental problem with all this stuff about the Hybrid, the Matrix, et cetera… none of it happens on-screen at all. It’s talk about a nebulous future threat, or talk about this awesome database of dead Time Lord minds which, on-screen, has to be represented by a couple of corridors, old monster props, and Time Lord extras on Segways… none of whom actually do anything to any of our main characters, or even talk to them. It’s almost emblematic of the inherent tedium of Gallifrey that the main thing people are worried about is that something at some point might actually happen.

Really this is the eternal challenge of bringing across something which is loaded with fannish backstory: how do you sell the impact of these ideas now, to people who neither know nor care about their previous appearances? Just talking solemnly about it isn’t enough. World Enough And Time is an example par excellance of how to give it impact; it takes plenty of story-space not just to show us the Mondasian Cybermen, but to build them up gradually, giving each note of their appearance a punch, so that instead of them just looking low-budget you’ve been led to think about why they look like humans under surgical gauze, and everything that makes the image harrowing. But what can we show the audience, which will give some of that impact to the Matrix and the Hybrid storyline?

When RTD wanted to dramatise Gallifrey facing a prediction of temporal doom, he gave us a mad Pythia-like priestess muttering and scrawling on a conference table in the void. That’s fairly awesome, that’s visual, it’s someone doing something that brings across both their oracular nature and the madness of the Time War. And the characters are presented with the prediction onscreen, and must immediately work out what to do about it. It’s present tense.

So how can we bring the Matrix and the Hybrid on-screen? How can we actually show the viewers a database of Time Lord ghosts, wraiths slaved to making predictions about the end of everything? How can we show them these dead minds?

We use Clara.

Consider the following restructure. Cut all the scenes about the Sliders patrolling the cloisters in the real world. In their place… instead of Clara walking through a glowing door into Gallifrey, we see her frozen in the moment on Trap Street and the Time Lords take her out, still frozen. And hook her unmoving body up to the Matrix terminals. They’re going to upload her mind and interrogate her there.

“There” is a surrealistic intercutting, with Clara in Trap Street, then the Cloisters, maybe her apartment or bits of set from Heaven Sent — all jumbled together for maximum nightmare effect. The Matrix ghosts swirling around her, trying to pull her into becoming one of them. Demanding that she tell them what she knows about the Hybrid, to add to their predictions. What Hybrid? She can’t get a coherent answer. But it’s relentless.

As far as Clara's concerned, she's dead and she’s in hell.

And the devils are demanding information that she doesn’t have.

It’s a reflection of Heaven Sent, but from a different angle — where the Doctor’s story was one of the long slow grind of grief, Clara’s is a peak moment of anxiety and a struggle to hold it together. Which reflects where she was before — Clara had summoned up all her courage to be brave for that one final moment, but now that moment is stretching on and on and she’s still trapped, she can’t escape her fate but it’s just being prolonged and she’s on the verge of losing it…

And then the Doctor arrives. This new harsh, emotionally raw Doctor. (Is it even him, or is it another Matrix illusion? Perhaps first do one, then the other, so Clara really doesn’t know what to believe.) He appears to have gone into the Matrix to hold back the Matrix wraiths, and gets them to coherently tell her about the prediction of the Hybrid — we get visuals of that too, showing us a crumbled Gallifrey and something in the future Cloisters.

You can even get the Matrix wraiths confronting the Doctor directly about his past, rather than having the Doctor just tell tales of his old encounter with them. Again, cut out the third-party narration, have them talk about it to each others' faces.

But of course what the Doctor is really there for, is to get Clara out. Back into her body, breaking the time bubble, and out of the clutches of the Time Lords. And we’re back on track. (Though again we can lose the beats in the “real” Cloisters, having covered them while escaping from the Matrix; we'll have covered all the same pages of story beats, just in a different setting. The Doctor and Clara can go straight from the extraction chamber to stealing a TARDIS from the workshop set, which the crew already has left over from Name of the Doctor.)

Seen from the inside, the Matrix experience becomes harrowing, and the stakes more immediate. It’s not just that they’re on the run, the Doctor and Clara are already in a bad place.

And the beauty of this approach is, it can be done without blowing the budget. The Matrix action can be realised using sets and props you already have. The only extra cost would be a voice artist or two to give voice to the wraiths; maybe an extra day or so on the shooting schedule because of the use of multiple sets rather than just the Cloisters. The Hybrid prediction can be shown with a single CG shot built around the “destroyed” model of the Capitol dome already created for Day of the Doctor, followed by shots of the ruined Cloister set from later in the episode with something shadowy walking ominously towards the armchair…

II. The End Of The Universe



Anyway. Once the Doctor and Clara flee Gallifrey, we’re into the next difficult chunk of the script: twenty-five solid minutes which are basically just continuous dialogue between three people in different combinations, in two or three different rooms. This is where you can really hear the last couple of coins clinking in the budget jar. My heart really went out to Rachel Talalay, when it comes to working out how to keep this much talking visually interesting!

And here… Again, I think the action could be brought much more in focus by dramatising the threat of the Hybrid in the present tense. How? Well, we’re eventually told that the Hybrid is the combination of the Doctor and Clara, acting together, and that the Hybrid eventually stands in the ruins of Gallifrey… but they never actually do this together.

Rather than parking Clara in the TARDIS for the scene with Me, they should face Me together. They land on the future Gallifrey, see the destruction... and conclude that the as-yet-unseen Me has caused it. They close in on Me, treating her as the threat, trying to take her down somehow. (Perhaps they have to break into the time bubble she’s using to sustain herself.) But in the process they demonstrate through their actions the recklessness and the way they egg each other on which Me then calls them on.

Ideally, what they’re doing at that moment should actually be shortening the remaining life of the universe, even that close to the end. With Me being the one pointing out that the destruction they've seen around themselves is not her doing, it's just the natural end of things... but what they're doing is making it worse.

If we actually see Clara and the Doctor acting in this completely unchecked way together, as opposed to just the Doctor going off the deep end, that shows why they’re a danger to the universe, without having to rely on vague “and you could trash the web of time” threats.

(Perhaps there could even be an implication that the universe is only ending so soon in the first place because of the Doctor interfering with the structure of time, by saving Clara… and that the collapse will keep working its way backwards from here. If I were taking a completely free hand with the story, I’d suggest that the universe is directly falling apart now because the Doctor is bending the web of time to breaking point by keeping Clara alive… but I doubt Steven would go for that, since the final script seems to want to want to give Clara as much still-alive wriggle room as he can manage.)

Anyway, the knock-on effect of having Clara present in those scenes means that when she realises the Doctor wants to wipe her memory… she needs to run back to the TARDIS, lock the door (just long enough to delay him), and pull her stunt with the neruoblock. Then we’re back onto the script as it stood, though at least with a little more onscreen dramatic action along the way.

III. The Coda



And then the finale… here’s the only bit where I’d really like them to actually change the underlying point of a scene rather than the details of its unfolding.

Again, for me, the whole story seems to be leading thematically to the idea that Clara has to go back to her resting place now. Given the whole theme of hubris running throughout series 9 — first her hubris which got her killed, than the Doctor’s in trying to bring her back — the only satisfying ending would be for both Clara and the Doctor to accept their fates. The Doctor accepts his; she talks a good game about having accepted hers… but then she decides to put it off, take a detour and have fun for an indefinitely long time, despite her continued existence apparently threatening the very stability of the web of time. And despite the repeated warnings throughout the series such far about the dangers of two time travellers egging each other on, and specifically the dangers of two quasi-immortals doing so with no human anchor… this is supposed to be an okay note to leave Clara’s story on?

So if I could have my way… just lose the last couple of pages of Clara’s material. She disappears in the other TARDIS with Me, to go back where she came from. It’s less upbeat, but it’s more right. But the thing is, I recognise that this is a case of me trying to tell my preferred story — as opposed to the other two sections above, which were me trying to come up with refinements that would sharpen Steven Moffat’s story.

And even without that fix, strengthening the journey along the way would go a long way to giving the episode more resonance. As it stands, there's such a gap between its epic ambitions and its thin-stretched realisation... even these small, achievable shifts in emphasis could have helped it pull off its aims that much better!

Why it matters why it happened

Well, it's official. The White House has confirmed to CNN that they deliberately excluded any mention of Jews from their statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day because they didn't want to privilege Jewish suffering over the other people who were killed: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/28/politics/white-house-holocaust-memorial-day/index.html

Know why that scares me so much? To quote the Anti-Defamation League's director Joseph Greenblatt... the UN established International Holocaust Remembrance Day not only because of Holocaust denial, but also because so many countries -- Iran, Russia, Poland, and Hungary, for example -- specifically refuse to acknowledge Hitler's attempt to exterminate Jews, "opting instead to talk about generic suffering rather than recognizing this catastrophic incident for what it was: the intended genocide of the Jewish people."

What we have here, is a "Holocaust remembrance statement" which is *specifically refusing to remember why it happened*. The Nazis didn't build an industrial-scale genocide machine to wipe out trade unionists. The Wannssee Conference was not called to discuss the final solution to the homosexual problem. Romani were sent to the camps, but they're not the reason they were built. The implication that they just *happened* to kill more Jews than everyone else put together -- no.

The Holocaust was not a generic suppression of enemies of the state; it was specifically built on religious and racial hatred. Hatred of us.

And ignoring that fact doesn't just play into the hands of those who hate Jews; it plays into the hands of those who want to target *other* minorities -- who don't want people to notice that the mechanisms used to target them have been used before.

Look at the Nazis' publication of the personal details of Jews who had committed crimes as small as pickpocketing, as part of their smear of the entire race in "The Jew As Criminal". Then look at Breitbart's running feature naming-and-shaming black criminals in their "Black Crime" section. Now look at Trump's executive order -- apparently written by ex-Breitbart boss Stephen Bannon -- which declares that the US government will publish lists of all immigrants who have even been *charged* with a crime.

All this has happened before. We must make sure it never happens again.

And we see this familiar strategy all over the place... when a group is being victimized, so often there's a push to deny that they're being singled out for victimization, from people who want to distract from the injustice at the root of it. Why should we single out Jews as having a special claim to the Holocaust? (Because the orders establishing the camps sure singled us out.) Why say "Black Lives Matter", when surely *all* lives matter? (Because black lives are being disproportionately threatened and taken by police in ways which other races aren't.) And those gays -- why do they need all those anti-discrimination protections, aren't they special rights somehow? (Because no one's actually trying to invalidate straight marriages, or deny people service for being straight.)

We have to recognize this sham neutrality wherever it occurs. It's been used on us, it will be used on others.

And just to add injury to insult... within hours of this statement, still on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump suspended America's refugee intake as part of the whole Muslim ban. Meaning that, immediately after saying the Holocaust wasn't particularly about the Jews... he returned to the sort of targeted refugee bans from World War II which closed this country's door specifically to Jews. The refugee policy which literally meant that Anne Frank died; as the Post just pointed out, if the US had accepted Otto Frank's bid for asylum, Anne would likely be alive and well today. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/11/24/anne-frank-and-her-family-were-also-denied-entry-as-refugees-to-the-u-s

Think about the parallels here. Specifically because they don't seem to want you to. This is the sort of thing we said "never again" about.