The following articles were authored by Niall

Roll Up Roll Up… But Mind the Wet Paint

Look at the state of this website! The Crusher trilogy is complete, and the home page still says Parts 2 and 3 ‘coming soon’? Bear with us – (Here imagine frantic sounds of sawing, hammering and cursing behind the scenery…)

Ladies and Gents, the third and final part of the Crusher trilogy, Shredder, is out this month, June 2014. The official launch is Thursday 3rd July (which is next month, I know, shut up at the back) and to mark it I am going to raffle off three sets of the novels in the paperbacks with the cool matching covers, autographed of course (so you can’t send ’em back.) The draw will take place on Sunday 6 July and a link to the entry widget is on the front page of this website… or will be very shortly…  (Hoot! Let’s stink a link to the comp on the home page!) I will mail the signed sets to winners anywhere in the world.

What can I say about Shredder […] Continue Reading

An Imperfect Science

The narration over the wonderfully absurd opening* of Sunset Boulevard, where we learn that the man talking to us is the dead guy floating in the pool – includes every screenwriter’s favourite observation: that no regular moviegoer knows or cares what screenwriters do because ‘they think the actors make it up as they go along.’

If a screenwriter does their job right, all the artifice – setting up the story and introducing the characters and moving the narrative forward – disappears.  The viewers suspend their disbelief, ignore the contrivances and the coincidences that hold the story together, and let themselves imagine they are watching something real. The impression of spontaneity – that the ‘actors make it up as they go along’ is pretty much the effect every writer is trying to achieve. At the same time we’re also trying to make viewers forget they are watching actors at all, and convince them that that bloke who resembles Tom Hanks might just die horribly before the end of the movie.

Of course these days critics and audiences are much more sophisticated.  They understand that in movies today it’s the director who makes the story up as he or she goes along.  (Joke! LOLZ, etc.)

A lot of other screenwriters have made this point much better than I ever could – notably William Goldman in Which Lie Did I Tell? where he slams his head repeatedly into the great stone edifice that is ‘The Auteur Alfred Hitchcock’ to no avail whatsoever.

But to this day we still get critics who will analyse everything about a movie in terms of what the director was trying to achieve, or how this work fits into that director’s oeuvre, ignoring the fact that much of the time it’s the writer who has shaped the story. Sometimes the director is only driven to ‘explore’ this subject matter because he has two mistresses, a coke habit and a condo in Malibu to support.

Some producers are under this impression as well – that only the stars and the directors matter, and that writers are disposable and interchangeable; if one writer doesn’t fit or gets awkward, hire another.  Two writers must be twice as good as one, and six must be… hold on, the maths is too hard. And if the script these six writers produce, by some amazing misfortune, lacks all coherence, and the star complains, hire yet another writer to hold the star’s hand.  That writer can always wedge a few lines in somewhere to make it look like the star’s opinions are being listened to.

Of course, we writers don’t help matters by going along with this idiocy. All writers need high levels of self-belief to produce anything, which naturally leads to the conclusion that you are at least as talented, if not infinitely more talented, than any of those hack losers your respected colleagues.  You are therefore doing them a favour by dropping in like a merciful angel and rescuing your bastard scumbag rivals friends from their own lack of talent the impossible situation the producers have put them in.  Screenwriters are especially liable to believe this if they need the money – and the vast majority of screenwriters, at any given moment, desperately need the money.

At this point I was going to neatly conclude that a good script by a good writer whose work is treated with respect will always result in a good movie that audiences will enjoy, and that the ‘hire more cooks’ approach creates inane sprawling patchwork movies that waste vast percentages of their budget by shooting material that makes no sense and cannot ever be used.  But I can’t, because film making is an art, not a science.  In science, results can be replicated by following a formula; in moviemaking, it’s never that simple. As Goldman said in his other brilliant book Adventures in the Screen Trade, no-one knows anything.

One of my favourite blockbuster movies ever was the original Pirates of the Caribbean. The script, the cast, the direction, the effects – everything about it was superb. For the sequels they dispensed with the original pair of writers and brought in a new, less distinguished team who, among other things, frequently changed the proposed plot to suit the whims of the stars.  The result, in my opinion, was an utterly incoherent mess – compared to the first movie, a debâcle.  Yet the second movie made more money than the first, and the same team went on to make a third and fourth movies that made even less sense and even more money.

The truth is that many witty polished beautifully crafted movies with great scripts sometimes sink like rocks, while some overblown incoherent buckets of drivel that deserve to die a miserable lonely death fill the multiplexes for weeks.

I’m going to stop writing this blog to go and drink Beer.

*There is of course nothing intrinsically absurd about a dead man narrating the story, since the whole idea of narration is a contrivance anyway…

 

 

A Day In The Life With The Wife

First published in the Huffington Post, 12 September 2012

 

‘So, Monsieur Leonard, you have written a book for young adults, yes?  A crime novel?’

‘Called Crusher, yes…’

I’m being interviewed by a French TV crew. I don’t know if my book’s even coming out in France, but like most first-time novelists, I’m a shameless publicity whore.

‘I was going for a contemporary Raymond Chandler.  I’m trying to evoke some of that noir cynicism in a modern context.’

‘Very good.  So, tell us… ‘

‘Yes?’

‘What’s it like being married to EL James?’

Bloody hell.

As I have said before, being married to EL James, author of international bestselling erotic romance The Fifty Shades Trilogy, is mostly like being married.

It’s 07:10 on the first day of school term, Herself is in the bathroom, the older son is still asleep and the younger, more organised son has emerged from his room in his new uniform, spotless – apart from the disintegrating shoes.

‘What happened to the new shoes Mum bought you?’

‘I like these ones.’

‘The bloody soles are coming off!’

‘It’s OK. I’ve got black socks on, nobody will notice.’

‘Go put your new ones on, and throw those away.’

Crusher comes out in eight days, and the wife’s trilogy has been at 1, 2 & 3 in the Sunday Times Bestseller List as long as any of us can remember.  The woman hogging the bathroom is now officially the UK’s bestselling author ever, and according to deeply unreliable sources, our red brick semi is a throbbing temple of lust with a fully-fitted dungeon in the basement, and I am the inspiration for the lithe, inexhaustible sex god she depicted.  I must be the first podgy middle-aged Irish Catholic sex god since… hold on, is Chris de Burgh a Catholic?

07:20. I stomp downstairs to make breakfast, followed closely by the dog, clearly hoping I’ll drop a piece of bacon on the floor. There’s barely room for breakfast on the kitchen table, scattered with prints of the PR photos from last week when I led a photographer round the local neighbourhood where I based Crusher.  He wanted urban and gritty, but the council have disobligingly been cleaning the place up.  We did find some graffiti depicting a massive knob, but decided two of them in the one photo might have been confusing.  All of his shots are better than the glum portraits the Guardian printed last Saturday, which made me look like a constipated bloodhound.

Tidying the pictures up I find a half-filled provisional driving licence application for the 17 year old.  It’s been there since June.  Now I think of it, the 17 year old has been in bed since June.  I go chuck a boot up the stairs at his bedroom door.

Piled on the bench on the far side of the table are sample editions of Fifty Shades of Grey in twenty different languages.  Most foreign publishers have stuck with the simple iconic cover, with the notable exception of the Bulgarians.  They clearly thought the original tie lacked class and have replaced it with what appears to be a polyester number from the bargain bin at Sofia C&A. I wish this house did have a dungeon, it would be somewhere to put all this stuff.

The older son is out of bed!  He’s still asleep, yes, but it’s progress.  As an actual 17 year old living in London I consulted him when I was writing Crusher.  ‘So my hero, he’s seventeen, from a single-parent family…’ ‘OK.’ ‘He finds his Dad murdered and sets out to find the killer.’ ‘Sounds cool.’  ‘The thing is… the way I’ve written it, he gets a lot of sex.’  ‘Right, yeah,’ says my son. ‘So what was your question?’  ‘Never mind,’ I said.

The cleaner’s arrived. Why is the dog always so pleased to see her?  I’m the one who bloody walks him. Maybe today I’ll work up the nerve to ask her to pair off the hundred and fifty odd socks heaped in the spare room.

‘So, Monsieur Leonard, your wife and you are now both novelists.  Is there any rivalry between you?’

‘No, not at all.  We each tell our own distinctive stories in our own distinctive voices.  She does her book tours and I do mine.’

‘Ah, she is going on tour!  To where?’

‘She’s starting at LA, moving on to San Francisco, then on to Seattle, Portland, Houston and Minneapolis.  But she’s not leaving until I come back from my book tour.’

‘And where are you going?’

‘Nottingham.’

07:50. The younger son has left for school.  The older one is dressed, and awake, if texting your mates from the breakfast table is a sign of higher cognitive functions. But he doesn’t want to eat anything apart from a banana.  The dog seems to know this and is eyeing up his bacon.  The wife is answering emails from the USA that have piled up overnight, and there’s one from my UK publisher about the Nottingham trip I am making with three other authors to talk about our work.

I’ve really been looking forward to this – a chance to escape the madhouse briefly, to hang out with fellow writers, to drink beer and earnestly discuss our favourite books and whether Crusher is a crime novel or a murder mystery and where first-time novelists can find the tweediest jackets.

‘Just to let you know,’ says my publisher’s PR person, ‘the other authors on the panel will be Graham Garden, Barry Cryer, and John O’Farrell.’

Sweet Jesus Christ.

The wife wants to know why I’ve slumped into a chair.

‘Are they insane?  A first-time novelist, husband of EL James, and they’re putting me on a panel with three of the funniest men in the UK.  Me, whose biggest comedy moment was a gag about a kilt in Monarch of the Glen.  They’ll rip me to shreds.’

‘No they won’t.’

‘Have you heard I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue? They rip Jack Dee to shreds, and they like Jack Dee.

‘If you’d rather not do it, don’t.’

‘Hey… it’s publicity, isn’t it?’