28 February, 2010

Ian Scoones RIP

I've just learned that Ian Scoones has died.

Ian was a visual effects designer who worked on many episodes of Doctor Who and the first series of Blake's 7 in the 1970s. He also worked on Thunderbirds, Hammer Horror movies and the Hammer House of Horror television series.

I found out about his death on Total Sci-Fi Online, and have since learned that he passed away from liver cancer on 20 January this year.

I first become aware of Ian when his name appeared on the end credits of Doctor Who. To see that someone who had the same surname as myself was working on my favourite television programme made a big impression on me in my pre-teen years. At the time I didn't know of anyone with the surname Scoones who wasn't part of my extended family.

Over the years I've sometimes been asked by Doctor Who fans if I'm somehow related to Ian. Now I do have an uncle who frequently crops up in BBC television credits, but that's underwater cameraman Peter Scoones, best known for his work on David Attenborough's nature documentaries. As far as I know Ian is not a relative - or is he...?

In the mid-1990s, I tried to find out if there was in fact a family connection. Ian Scoones offered for sale via mail order a series of art prints of his production paintings from Doctor Who. A representative of his wrote to TSV, the Doctor Who fanzine I edited, to see if we would advertise these for sale. I took the opportunity to write back, confessing that I was curious to find out if there might be a family connection.

Ian didn't reply directly, but his representative wrote on his behalf, saying that Ian had read my letter. The letter said that Ian didn't know the Scoones side of his family at all as his father had left his mother when he was very young. He did however very kindly send me a complimentary set of his art prints, which I've kept to this day.

In later years myself and my father both conducted a fair amount of research into the Scoones name and put together a fairly comprehensive family tree. Two people called Ian Scoones crop up in my research; one's my father's cousin, and the other's a professor at Sussex University with a prodigous collection of books and papers to his name. But I'm still none the wiser as to how and where the visual effects designer Ian Scoones fits into scheme of things.

Here's the interesting thing though. Judging by the various photos I've seen of Ian Scoones over the years, there was definitely a resemblance to members of my branch of the Scoones family. Could it be that we are in fact related? Was his absent father one of the Scooneses who appears in my family tree? It's a mystery that will probably never be solved.

24 February, 2010

Vworp Vworp!

I received my copy of Vworp Vworp! Volume One today.

This is a publication of particular interest to me as it focuses on the history of Doctor Who Magazine, with a particular emphasis on the comic strips. Naturally, some of Vworp Vworp!’s material will be referenced and footnoted in volume two of my book, The Comic Strip Companion.

Vworp Vworp! is currently - and very deservedly - receiving many positive comments online. The A4, perfect bound full colour glossy publication is produced to such a professional standard that it could easily pass for a DWM special issue. It. What is most remarkable is that it is a fanzine, produced not for profit but as a labour of love by editors Grant Kavanagh and Colin Brockhurst.

The content includes an impressive line-up of articles and interviews with such familiar (to long-time DWM readers) names as Dez Skinn, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons, Pat Mills, David J Howe, Andrew Pixley, Jeremy Bentham, Scott Gray, Clayton Hickman, Ade Salmon, Alan Barnes, Martin Geraghty and more.

Even though the written material is impressive it is just about eclipsed by the visual feast of colour and imagery throughout. If this were a professional publication I would still think it superb. That this quality has been lavished on a non-profit fanzine is, quite frankly, simply astounding.

All this aside, I must declare my own vested interest. My name appears in the “with thanks to” list, but that’s my one and only appearance in the issue. It wasn't always going to be this way, and in fact my involvement in its gestation stretches back over one and a half years.

I first got involved in October 2008 when I discovered online that a one-day event was shortly due to take place dedicated specifically to Doctor Who comics. I greeted this news with mixed feelings of delight and dismay; delight because it was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to attend since I was (and indeed still am) involved in writing a book on this very subject; and dismay because it was due to take place in a pub in Manchester, on the far side of the world. Frustratingly, had this taken place a few scant months earlier when I was still in London, you couldn’t have kept me away.

Had I been able to go, I would most certainly have volunteered as a guest speaker to talk about my book. Instead I did the next best thing. Gareth Kavangh, the organiser, was preparing a Doctor Who comics-themed fanzine called Vworp Vworp! to launch it at the convention. I emailed Gareth and offered to write an article for his zine, and he gladly accepted. I also provided him with some research material for a panel he was running at the event. So, in lieu of being there and giving a talk, I wrote down what I would have said instead. My article discussed my particular interest in Doctor Who comic strips and my book. I knew a number of like-minded comic strip writers, artists and fans would be in attendance and it was an opportunity not to be missed to let them know who I was and what I was doing.

Good plan - in theory. Trouble was, the convention came and went. Gareth ran out of time to get his fanzine together so it wasn’t published in time for the event. These things happen. Not to worry, he was still determined to produce the publication, and still wanted to use my article. In February 2009, Vworp Vworp! writer Matt Badham interviewed me by email about my book. The plan was for this interview to appear alongside my article.

Months passed. Gareth was busy with his Masters degree and the zine understandably had to get placed on the back-burner. By July, Colin Brockhurst had joined Gareth on the project. At this time I pitched a second article idea for the zine, this time a look at how Scott Gray got himself established as a comic strip writer. I interviewed a number of usual suspects, including, crucially, the elusive Scott himself. Before I could deliver the piece I learned that there was no room left in the issue and that the piece was instead under consideration for a planned second volume.

By December I learned that my earlier article and accompanying interview about my book had also been dropped from the issue. This wasn’t too much of a disappointment; during my years as a fanzine editor I was frequently faced with the agonising decision to drop a piece from an issue. That never gets any easier, and I could certainly appreciate that my article and interview were no longer a good fit for the issue's repositioning as a celebration of all things DWM. Besides which, my book still wasn’t finished, let alone scheduled for publication, so it made sense to hold the article over to a later date when it would be more timely.

Still very much eager to help out, I offered Gareth and Colin my services as a proof-reader and fact-checker. This was accepted, and shortly before Christmas last year, I pored through eighty pages of PDFs looking for errors. I came up with a list of sixty corrections, most but not all of which made it into the issue (if you see a few typos on page 79, rest assured that I did point them out!)

Gareth very kindly has sent me a complimentary copy of the issue, which I received in the mail today. I cannot recommend this publication highly enough. Although I saw it all on my computer screen when I was proof-reading, I cannot help but marvel at the final, printed product. It is a thing of beauty; Gareth, Colin and their team of contributors deserve to be very proud indeed of what they have achieved.

Go to www.vworpvworp.co.uk to order, but be quick - they're selling fast!

My only hope is that at least something of mine gets published in volume two...

08 February, 2010

Confessions of a Subtitle Script Writer

I write for Doctor Who.

At least that's what many people seem to think when I attempt to explain exactly what I do.

In fact I write for the BBC Doctor Who DVDs. I write Production Information Text scripts. Production Information Text is a subtitle option on Doctor Who DVDs that appears whilst as a series of on-screen captions, providing a constant feed of factoids about each episode as you are watching.

These subtitles include such fascinating trivia as deleted scenes quoted from the scripts, details about when and where certain scenes were shot, potted histories of cast members' careers, observations of continuity errors, and discussions about the writer's influences, amongst other gems.

I delivered my first set of subtitle scripts in September 2008. This was for Planet of Fire, Peter Davison's penultimate adventure. I've been intending to write something about creating the subtitle scripts for this story, but I've been waiting patiently to do this until the DVD has been released. That way it will be relevant and it will also enable me to post screen-grabs to illustrate what I'm talking about. Planet of Fire was to have come out last month (as part of the Kamelion box set), but has been delayed until sometime around June.

I've just delivered a second set of subtitle scripts. I can't say yet which story this is for, as there has yet to be an official announcement. Such information is commercially sensitive. Numerous threads on Doctor Who message boards are filled with postings fervently speculating which story will be announced next. (As the number of stories yet to be released on DVD decreases, the chances of guessing the next title correctly correspondingly increases; it's expected that every old surviving Doctor Who story will be out on DVD by some time in 2013).

I was commissioned to write this to-be-announced story, along with another couple of 'TBA' stories, not long after delivering my first set of scripts. At the time, a delivery date had not been set (or at least not communicated).

When I wrote the subtitle scripts for Planet of Fire I set aside around six weeks during which I worked on no other projects so that I could apply myself to the task with minmal distractions. This time around (possibly unwisely in hindsight), I decided instead that I would tackle the project in small concentrated bursts. The scripts were not needed anytime soon, so I worked on them as and when I felt like it; the odd day or few hours here and there. This was a great way of taking short breaks from my other writing, which is a fairly long non-fiction book analysing comic strips, and quite a different disicipline from the subtitle scripts.

Three weeks ago I received a wake-up call in the form of an email out of the blue from my editor, asking how I was going with the scripts. He explained they were significantly over-deadline. There was a bit of leeway for late delivery, but they were needed as soon as practicable.

Although I had done most of the groundwork and had compiled a set of rough notes, I had yet to actually start writing the scripts. I may not have known what the deadline was until it had passed, but nor had I asked about it in the intervening months. At this point I went into a state of mild panic.

I can at times be a terrible procrastinator which is a trait I've discovered I have in common with many freelance writers. An overdue deadline is however a powerful motivation tool. I made a concerted and sustained effort to sit down at the computer and force myself to just keep going, hour after hour, day after day. I devoted just about every spare hour I could to working on these scripts. Even when I wasn't writing, I was constantly thinking either about what still needed to be done, or how to compose the next section I needed to write.

I finished and sent the completed set of scripts yesterday evening - three weeks after learning that the deadline had passed. I felt an immense weight shifting from my shoulders after I wrote the last line on the final script.

I'll blog about the specifics of this set of scripts as and when the story is released on DVD, but I've written about this experience here and now, whilst it is still fresh in my mind, as a reminder to myself not to let myself let a writing project sit on the back-burner by for so long again.