Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Category Archives: plea

‘Escape Kit’ is nominated for a Saboteur award

‘Escape Kit’ has been short listed in the “best novella” category in the 2014 Saboteur awards.

I need votes.    Please follow this link, and vote for ‘Escape Kit’:


Voting closes on 25 May.

I will be attending the ceremony in Oxford on 31 May.  The results are not being revealed before the ceremony. 

If you want to go to all the trouble of reading it before voting for it, then you can obtain the printed version here:


and the Kindle version here:

Escape Kit – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00JLKBWZM/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=B00JLKBWZM&linkCode=as2&tag=sproutnet-21

(If you use this link, rather than a generic search, the publisher gets a better deal from Amazon.)

Your support is greatly appreciated.

Ten to One: I need votes

I am trailing in the poll to see who stays in the Ten to One novel writing project. Please vote for me.


All you have to do is to click on a button (unless you want to read my chapter first, of course. It is about a character called Tim and is section 1.7). The only personal information displayed will be your Facebook name and avatar. You don’t have to give your email address, or anything. It takes a matter of seconds.

Thank you for your support.

I’m on Brain of Britain: ask me anything

I am taking part in a recording of BBC Radio 4’s Brain of Britain on Thursday 15 December. 

I think you need to get about 20 points to have a chance of winning.  You get 1 point per correct answer, with a bonus point if you get 5 in a row (the most you can be asked in one round). 

Send me some questions.  Bear in mind that this quiz is for a Radio 4 audience (middle-class, middle-aged): nothing about daytime TV, soaps (except The Archers), Katie Price, footballers, or X-factor

If I could write my own questions, they would be something like this:

  1. What was the name of the Duke of Wellington’s horse?
  2. To what family of flowering shrubs does the tea plant belong?
  3. Which mathematician gives his name to the SI derived unit of pressure?
  4. What name is given to the sauce made from a vinegar reduction flavoured with shallots, pepper and tarragon, and thickened with egg yolks and clarified butter? 
  5. What name is given to the first battle of the American Civil War, a shocking defeat for the Union? 
  6. ‘Erythrocytes’ are more commonly referred to as what?
  7. Which composer’s only opera is called Fidelio?
  8. The UK had two prime ministers during the First World War.  One was David Lloyd George.  Name the other.
  9. Only two chemical elements are liquid under normal conditions.  One is mercury.  Name the other. 
  10. Two countries which are not former British colonies have joined the Commonwealth of Nations.  One is Mozambique.  Name the other.
  11. In which year did the 7 Years War break out?
  12. Since 1998, what has been the capital city of Kazakhstan?
  13. By what whimsical name is the hypothetical Higg’s boson also known?
  14. What was the name of the Royal Navy submarine which torpedoed and sank the General Belgrano in 1982? 
  15. Which poet wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree?
  16. In what year were the 5 pilot episodes of The Archers first broadcast?
  17. Which architect designed St Chad’s Roman Catholic cathedral in Birmingham?
  18. Which military figure was premier of Germany for 20 days between the suicide of Adolf Hitler and the armistice which ended World War Two in Europe? 
  19. After Hamlet, which is the longest part in Shakespearean drama, what is the second longest in terms of number of lines?
  20. What is the name of the novel by Julian Barnes which won him the 2011 Man Booker Prize?

An appeal for scripted TV drama

The comedy writer, David Quantick, recently wrote an article for the ‘Independent’ in which he made a lucid and impassioned plea on behalf of scripted comedy (mainly as opposed to improvised panel shows).


I agree with all the points that Quantick made.  If I was going to try my hardest to nit-pick, I would say that there are two arguable weaknesses in his position.  (1) He writes for ‘Harry Hill’s TV Burp’ (a fact which he openly admitted in his article and which some berk at the Independent obligingly repeated at the bottom).  While HHTVB is scripted, it cheats by being dependent on the week’s TV, i.e. other scripted and unscripted material.  (2) David Quantick himself appeared on ‘Celebrity Come Dine With Me’ – an (allegedly) unscripted programme (in which he came last, which was a travesty). 

I do not propose to hold either of these things against Mr Quantick, nor do they contradict or devalue his polemic. 

I say that the same rationale applies to drama. 

Decades ago, as the UK teetered on the brink represented by the arrival of cable and satellite broadcasting (few people had heard of the Internet in those days) it was publicly observed that breaking the duopoly of the BBC and ITV would only make things worse.  UK observers from North America reported “36 channels [an unimaginably large number] by cable – and crap on every one”.  In those days, all drama was scripted.  Those who did not like classic serials were well-supplied with contemporary drama such as ‘Minder’. 

Both comedy and drama (as they have always done) pushed the boundary of what was considered acceptable.  As we get nearer and nearer to the present day, audiences expect more and more terrible things to happen to the characters in TV drama.  The art of writing a good drama script (as Lynda la Plante seems to deliberately ignore sometimes) is to produce an ending which is plausible and realistic but still allows the viewer to feel that he or she has gained something from watching, and has some grounds (however complicated) for optimism. 

The scripted element of searching for new material on the borders of acceptability is no longer fashionable or, so Simon Cowell would have us believe, marketable. 

What do the following programmes all have in common?

X Factor, Masterchef, Dragon’s Den, The Apprentice, Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity, Come Dine With Me, Four Weddings (and so forth.)

Answer:  the tension in all of them is provided by unscripted scenes of emotional abuse. 

The camera always lies.  Everything you see in photographs, on film and on TV is artificial.  At the very least, it lies by omission, by being highly selective in a manner that the viewer never gets to examine. 

I say that seeing horrible things being done to people in a scripted programme (such as an adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, or an episode of ‘Waking the Dead’) is never as bad as seeing it happening in a so-called ‘reality’ TV programme.  In ‘reality’ TV, the cruelty is in the moment and represents the sum total of what the viewer is expected to get out of the programme: an  admiration for the sarcasm of the perpetrator, a contempt for the victim, and a satisfaction or relief that the person it happened to wasn’t oneself. 

Before I conclude, I should also point out that when I say ‘scripted drama’, I don’t mean soaps.  Soap operas do not accord writers the freedom that talented writers deserve.  Soap scripts (so I am told) are written at two levels: the storyline and the individual episode.  The writers of the individual episodes (the subordinate role) are told what the storyline is and which characters they need to involve.  The rest is just getting through half an hour.  It is to this strait-jacket that I attribute the fact that most soaps (Corrie, Eastenders, Emmerdale – and The Archers –  for example) leave almost no impression on me.

As well as everything that Quantick said about scripted comedy, I say bring back prime time, scripted, non-soap drama.  Make it edgy, contemporary, dark.  Even disturbing.  But no vampires, no wizards, no stately homes, and a believable ending which makes the viewer think that there might be some point in carrying on after all.

Please sign the OU e-petition

Supporters of the Open University need 100,000 signatures in order to obtain a parliamentary debate about proposed cuts in the OU’s funding.  The granting of parliamentary time for this debate is the best possible chance of preventing the cuts.  It beats any amount of placard-waving, marching and shouting. 

In an era of general cuts in higher education funding, the Open University assumes greater and greater importance.  Its flexibility and accessibility are greater than that of any other university on Earth.  In the breadth of its curriculum it competes with most bricks-and-mortar universities.  OU podcasts on iTunes are breaking records for downloads across the globe (now over 40,000,000 and rising all the time).  The United Kingdom needs the Open University to continue to grow in order to provide academically rigorous alternatives to other forms of higher education which are become more expensive and hence ascending above the reach of more and more of the population. 

Please sign the e-petition:

The Petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22316

At the time of writing, it had reached just over 14,000.  I have signed it.  Let’s get to 100,000 as quickly as possible.