Comedy-drama Press Gang was widely hailed as one of the best YA telly series ever, attracting critical acclaim and industry awards. As well as featuring some of the best names in the business it launched a dozen careers including those of Stephen Moffat, Julia Sawalha, Dexter Fletcher, Lee Ross, Paul Reynolds, Gabrielle Anwar and Lucy Benjamin.
Occupied author Andy Luke’s feature presentation includes character studies and reviews of ten episodes from Series 1-2. You’ll also hear from roving reporters Ian Lawther, author Tristan Shephard and comics artists Simon Hodgkiss-Rogers and Peter Bangs.
The week of the 16th May began with a meeting with Pieter Bell, an affable bar-fly of Belfast stores which stock comics. At the Enniskillen event under much lager, Piet had unmasked himself as an editorial bod and was keen to try out proofing the MS. Also from Enniskillen, an interview lining up with Andrew Gallagher for May 22nd. Initially, for guidance, but I couldn’t resist asking the purveyor of well composed sensationalist literature in neat smooth bound form would be interested in publishing Axel America. So, I push on with re-drafting. The daunting, dull task was tidying up the timeline which was a major challenge. I marked cut-off dates in the chapter listing and altered the temperature on a few details. Plot seeds and plants of different growths were uprooted and re-flowered and all other relevant small gardening metaphors. I shared the document link with Andrew and with Pieter on Wednesday, two more days to go.
Not in my notes was the fact a minor character disappeared from the final third of the book. He wasn’t essential to the plot but his character, like Axel, calls out for attention. Again, back to the chapter listing and marking up where he should be seen and what he’d be doing there. One final speed read over I see another characters doesn’t have traction to action demanded. Eventually, more spell and grammar, format and punctuation, (damn those commas wriggling into prohibited areas,) finally its done. 46k.
THe meet with Andrew Gallagher got off bumpy with my epileptic absences flaring up. On the plus side, Andrew is now a big fan of Absence: a comic about epilepsy. He dealt with it as a gent and both of us were so revved with lists of questions for one another that we made short work of the time. Andrew guided me through the process of publishing as he saw it, reeling out figures and processes with nary a glance at his laptop. A very productive day. I’d highly recommend would be authors to hire Andrew for a consultation. Having done a fair bit of self-publishing already I was able to bring enough to the table to compliment and enhance what Andrew has on offer.
So, I’m pleased to announce AG Publishings will be putting out Axel America, on September 5th.
Pretty cool eh? He’s been sending me bits and pieces of the finished version and it looks ace!
Axel is a patriot with questions. Torn between two loves: his family, and his one-man media crusade, news won’t be the only thing that’s breaking. Axel seeks to regain the love of his children and to cover the Presidential race. However the satanic forces he’s been warning about all his life come out from the shadows and are determined to pull him in.
I made the tough decision to put novella, Axel America, to one side for a while. The notion was to have it out for Belfast Book Week, but in a nutshell, the ratio of I’d-be-a-wreck to post-production-readiness is too wobbly. I feel sure the tale will resurface somewhere. I’ve been thinking over my working habits and how it might be time to go back to shorts.
Corpses move and feast on the innards, and city folk cram into the Occupy Belfast building! Now 99% are assembled, will they hold their safe-haven against the rotters as the summer brings another threat from outside? Andrew Luke, author of Absence, Twelve and To End All Wars, draws on his knowledge of the Occupy movement, abuse survivor therapy and neuro-philosophy to create an all-inclusive edutainment of chomping rotters and ways to hit them.
Oh look, got paperback! That’s Art reading the anthology at Farset. We were both so excited by the story, this is the only photo where he sat still.
‘Flesh Mob’ is in Tense Situations, which you can get through lots of different book-stores around the world. A good percentage of the sale price goes to Action Cancer. For a short while you can vote for the 2016 Titania Award for best story in collection at http://orb-store.com/tense.htm so please do. More info at that link.
Right, I’m off to see Mark Thomas at the Black Box. Have a good evening you.
A fellow writer asked me last year, what’s all this got to do with me? We’d sat through talk after talk of production companies, the same each of BMF’s seven years. I was the least bit suspicious.
The keynote this year was from Wayne Garvie. It was inspiring. Wayne spoke about the quality of ‘reality tv’ against scripted material. Praising scripts, he warned scripted quality was eonomically un-sustainable. In this, an opportunity for new voices, who might take advantage of the lessons of low-budget shows (and film), produced outside the institutional framework. He said we should be brass-necked about who to pitch to, we should target the big guys, for whom one commission would keep our wheels turning. Northern Ireland’s remoteness was a disadvantage, for here we could work outside the London bubble.
.@garvie1 on TV Be nice Casting first, format second? Authenticity is everything Big niche Keep it simple Don’t fear digital #bmf2015
Wayne’s optimism empowered the room. In the Q&A Wayne admitted bringing our own people in, was a necessity for keeping vision and feasibility intact. I’m all for jobs for mates, but don’t the BBC have full-time staff, best trained in production?
‘Why is no comedy from Northern Ireland commissioned? Are we just not funny?’
That was the subtitle of an afternoon panel. I’d already been to it, in a dream, earlier that week. I woke myself up asking questions.
For years, NI TV Comedy productions have come from the Hole in the Wall Gang (HITWG), with quality sinking deeper since their debut twenty years ago. Think below-par Father Ted, Mrs. Brown’s Boys… “parochial”, remarked someone in the audience. That’s all that has been commissioned. The host of this panel was to be Tim McGarry, front-man for the HITWG; brave choice for a panel.
On the stage were comedy commissioners from the BBC, Channel 4 and RTE, with two folk from the Belfast Comedy Writers Group (BCWG). The BBC’s Chris Sussman I’m not sure I liked, but certainly respected his frankness, suggested no new NI comedy was produced, because nothing he’d come across was quite good enough. He’d looked. Claire Childs, co-founder of the BCWG protested, saying she’d sent him several works from different people and had heard they hadn’t been looked at. (One aspect of the BCWG is to share scripts, read them aloud in front of a large group, and provide feedback in criticism and praise) Just as the host put a pass on this, a voice interrupted from the second row.
“I have two million followers for my comedy channel on Youtube, two million on Facebook and Twitter, how come my work is being ignored? You have an audience for this stuff, yet you just look over it.”
The rant continued, despite calls to shut up, and the request of a commissioner two rows front to meet him after. Now, we’ve all heard this. BCWG members had, with a similar rant/no listen at a prior meet. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. It was conceivable, just maybe, this bloke was a member of Loyalists Against Democracy, the online comedy outlet that enjoyed global acclaim in 2012, re-branding fundamentalist’s FLEG. Maybe this guy was one of the anonymous members of LAD, the comedy circle which brought joy and amusement to people trapped behind the lines while riots erupted over Belfast? My business was ruined that year, a number of friends were terrorised during hijackings and blockades, and I wouldn’t have to look too far to find others in the same place. Point being, comedy has a business in Northern Ireland. It’s Maslow’s sixth need. It keeps us company, gives us the strength to go on. We’re now in a bullshit war on Syria. Trawling through Casetteboy’s archives doesn’t stop the massacre or the reprisals, but the escape into poking fun at tyrants serves to compassionately hold our hand and readjust our brain as we travel further down the rabbit hole.
NI comedy has to be given populist voice. LAD surely have racked up those two million hits. Shouldn’t commissioners be going to them? As the man asked, “why jump through hoops to get noticed if you already have a strong following?” Anyone who has commissioned work knows there are less hoops if you have that power.
Tim McGarry’s hosting style, when faced with such fireworks, was to use his eejit-Irish affectation to move quickly on. I empathise. However for all the palaver, there was a sense Tim was the elephant in the corner. Tim’s been employed as a writer/actor for ten or so years at the Beeb, and as a producer on one of his series for the Beeb. Last year’s Number 2s, was a Hole In The Wall Gang (HITWG) sitcom for TV, from radio. A below sub-par Thick Of It based at Stormont, Number 2s was wholly panned by non-critics too. According to one source, HITWG recur in debate at Belfast Comedy group-meets: have they monopolised BBC in-roads? Are they bringing down standards we can recover from? Do HITWG project a notion that the North-irish are just not funny? The same people asking, respect McGarry for his decades of plugging away, which is why no-one got volatile with him in the same way the commissioners got it.
The BBC Comedy commissioner expanded on the production company theme. Paraphrasing, writers are not likely to be commissioned by the BBC without having gone through a company, without having a group around them. I am unsure if that’s true. There was a call-out (in January?) from the BBC Writers Room, for new Northern Irish sitcom scripts. I put up an innovative, amusing piece with legs on. I read scripts by colleagues that were very good. The short-lists were announced hush-hush.
In the pub the evening of Day 1 of the festival, I was told the result of that call-out was the commissioning of Number 2s. It’s not the first time open call outs for fresh work has brought in ‘the gang’. Selecting industry veterans as new voices defeats the purpose surely? Certainly there’s enough history for the BBC to see HITWG as a safe choice, but the writers who took months preparing for the BBC’s call out have bills to pay, families to look after and time they cannot waste.
For the most part, writing is a solitary desk job. I would like the luxury to form networks of lighting and sound-men, actors and stage-hands, but it’s not convenient. The third row ranter ended his spiel with, “Do you know why I get ignored by the commissioners? Because I use the word ‘cunt’”. A laughable response we think, but what gets commissioned relates to the language you use. Number 2s (like all of HITWG output), fights Stormont’s parliament of pantomime with pantomime, a limp-wristed fey giving in to the schoolyard bully with drag-dress and a silly dance. Whether Northern Ireland on the box speaks of our own exclusive divides, or just as any-place (you could be here), it’s time we were treated to something more than he’s-behind-you.
The Belfast Comedy Writers captured the panel on video. Worth a watch before the shit all stinks.
I’ve been giving a bit of a hand to Ian Lawther, the on-the-ground showrunner of TitanCon. With three weeks to go, Ian is, I think scheduled for some fairly major surgery, so trying to organise a major Game of Thrones and pop art media festival must be a royal pain in the hole.
Ian has a good heart, so cool and mannerly that I’m fairly sure he might just be one of the Legion of Doom. He has helped me outof a few pits this year and made me feel very welcome in among a new group of friends.
Ian has a history of con-running being involved in salvaging the last few MeCon events.
TitanCon is running from Friday September 6th this year at the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast. I’ve been invited to do a comics workshops and I’m pleased to announce here there’s a comics panel on adapting Irish myth featuring Paddy Brown, Will Simpson and special guest Rich Clements. It’s a great programme (I’ve sneaked a peek), and features many Games of Thrones guests and crew, panels. There are a lot of progressive local authors attending too, including publisher Blackstaff House, who opened their doors across genre earlier in the year.
How do I know Jordan? How do I know Jordan? A fast food coffee, a friend of a friend? Jordan plays Dean, the in-your-face, animated pox, STD-riddled, alpha male antagonist chav/spide in Nordie Shore. Oh eck.
Northern Irish sitcoms have a track record of being badly managed, bottom-feeders. The BBC wouldn’t invest and UTV would only market the Julian Simmons ‘family uncle queen’ type. (Much as Julian does it brilliantly, it was not something to base all original programming on) Shows trying to appeal to all, but appealing to none and inspiring as much hate as they seek to soothe. Nordie Shore was a different beast. Sure, it used the reality show pleaser at it’s base, but Nordie Shore: funny. A barrage of comic gags, mini-stories, freakshow exhibits, surrealist trips, capturing the yobbish under-class of Belfast (or any major city), relatable to as had never been related before; oddly. Nordie Shore has that Uber-Viz-like quality that’s not to everyone’s taste: at times it’s like being in a whorehouse with a flooding toilet.
Past the excessive crudeness there’s a good work there and a hint of the grass-roots comedy resurgence springing up around the city.