Acting on the Edge

M’brother Rafe taught at East 15 Drama School on something called The Project.

It’s a big part of their training, and basically involves a metric shit-tonne of research, followed by an in-depth week-long semi-improvised residential workshop where you will be in character almost all week long. It’s completely immersive, and if you’re interested in how to merge yourself into a character completely is an experience unlike any other.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been through the training has said it’s helped them as an actor, and most have said that it was the high point of their training.

Also that it was physically and emotionally draining, and not something to go into lightly.

He and Kelly Golding have teamed up to make the training available for those outside a drama school for the first time.

The training is for professional actors only – you need to have been to a drama school or have half a dozen paid gigs under your belt even to apply.

Basically, this is a postgrad course for actors. There are no workshops, showcases, or films made as a result of this. It is purely and simply an opportunity to get new tools to help make you a better actor, without the pressure of public performance.

The cost for nine days of training is a heavily-discounted £550.

Find out more and apply on the Red Table website.


Final Draft Stage Template

Ages ago, I made a Final Draft Template for Stage Plays.

People keep asking for a copy, so here it is.

Stage Play

Just add it to your Final Draft Templates (or double click on it to open it) and, voila!

This version is for FD8. I may have an older version for 7 lurking around somewhere. Ask if you need it and I’ll try to dig it out.

D&D Adventurers League

Dropped into my FLGS yesterday to try and play some 5th edition D&D, and it was a bit unclear exactly how the organised play system was supposed to work. So when I got home I armed myself with a glass of whisky and dropped down the rabbithole. If you want to give the new edition of D&D a try, here’s what I found out…

(Or if you want some dragon-killing action on the side, if you know what I mean. It’s all right. I won’t tell your DM.)

There’s a huge overarching storyline – Tyranny of Dragons (ToD) – which will be lasting over the next six months or so in *everything*.

Video games. Stores. Home play. Written fiction.


You can create or consume as much or little of this story as you like. If you want to play it at home, you can. Just buy the two main adventures Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat, and you’re done. If you want to play those adventures at a store with people you know (or don’t), that can happen too.

D&D Encounters is the pickup game on Wednesdays for stores, 1-2 hours a sesh, and is basically level 1-4 of the main storyline. You can just turn up, be given a pregenerated character (or bring your own), and start playing there and then.

After that, you can either carry on the main ToD storyline at-home or in-store – either way someone needs to person up for a hardback at that point – or start turning up to D&D Expeditions, which can only be played in-store.

D&D Expeditions are 4-hour games set in a different part of the world, but still all connected to the main storyline. If your character is of the right tier (levels 1-4, 5-10, 11-16, 17-20), you can play any adventure in that tier. There are “levelling bumps” for in-store play which will get your character from one tier to another if you miss a few sessions, so it’s easy to continue playing with friends. There are *many* of these adventures, and more on the way.

They all tie into the main storyline, showing the events and consequences of ToD in a different area of the world. After playing a storyline, the DM reports back the decisions made by the players – did they destroy the dragon? Sell out the old man? Eat the tasty basilisk and tell the street traders in the local city just how delicious they were? The majority decisions as reported back then become facts in the history of the world, and may have long-term consequences…

D&D Epics are fifty-plus player world-shaking events. Whatever happens in these gets wrapped into the overall storyline and will affect the world in a big way. There are none scheduled for the UK yet. 

You can swap between any of these stories at-will provided you’re the right level. So you could start with Encounters, move to a few Expeditions, drop into the main storyline for a level or few, decide the fate of the world in an Epic, and then have some home play with the character, switching between between them all as you like provided the games they’ve played through are official ToD products.

The adventure in the starter box is also completely legal for organised play. Take the characters who’ve played through it to your FLGS, and they’ll be fine. Or play through it there.

Want to give D&D a try?

Then all you need are an adventure logsheet (to show what happens in the game) and a pre-generated character. Print one of these bad boys and girls out, take them to the store, and you’re good to go.

The store should have both of these available, but I’d print one of each out and take it anyway on the off-chance they don’t.

Pregenerated Characters
D&D Adventurers League Logsheet

Wizards of the Coast (the company that make D&D) will only tell people about D&D Encounters events which happen on Wednesday. So if your FLGS wants new people to come in and spend money (they almost certainly do) then they’ll be running Encounters on that night for sure. Maybe another night too, but almost certainly on a Wednesday. So that’s where you start.

Want to create your own character?

Then the free entry level is a copy of the Basic Rules, and a copy of the Adventurers League Player’s Guide (which tells you how to make a  character legal for organised play).

Player’s Guide
Basic Rules

Don’t like the character you’re playing with? Any time from level 1-4, you can change anything about them except their name. Class, Race, Stats, anything you like. You don’t get locked into a choice until they hit level 5.

Want more options? 

Then buy yourself a Player’s Handbook. The Player’s Guide tells you what’s legal. (It’s pretty much everything.)

Want more or higher level games?

Anything that’s not a drop-in Encounters games (ie the main ToD storyline past level 4 and D&D Expeditions) can be scheduled by your FLGS on any day of the week. It might be Wednesday, it might not. Talk to them to find out what they have on.


If you’re in London, your FLGS is Dark Sphere. Other FLGSes are available.


Loncon 3 Schedule

Here’s my schedule for this year’s Worldcon in London, for  those as are interested in that sort of thing.


Friday, 15 August 3:30pm – 4:30pm

The play what I directed.

The masked villain known only as Mastermind has hidden a bomb somewhere in the city. When it goes off, it will kill hundreds of innocent people.

It’s going to explode within the next hour.

Reporter Liz Lassiter knows how dangerous Mastermind is. What she doesn’t know is if she and her boyfriend J.D. can escape the city in time.

But that might not matter any more either. Because J.D. thinks that he might know the location of the bomb, and how to defuse it.

Because J.D. thinks that he used to be Mastermind.

Cast and Crew details here.


Saturday, 16 August 3pm – 4:30pm

I’ll be signing copies of Cthulhu Lives! and Outside In, both of which will be available from the bookshop in the Dealers Room. Dealers Floor. Whatevs.

Cthulhu Lives! isn’t even officially released till the 26th, so you’d be getting your copy before anyone else in the world.

If you happen to have a copy of something else I’ve written and want that signed, feel free to bring it along. Spaceships of Science Fiction. The Actors’ Year Book. 

Hell, I’ll sign whatever you like. A printout of this blog? First edition of Grey Lensman? Sure!




Other than that I’ll be wandering around, in panels, or in the bar. Do please come up and say hello.


Helen Oakleigh as Liz Lassiter

I’m immensely happy to be able to announce that I’ll be directing a play at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention in London.

It’s called Mastermind.

The masked villain known only as Mastermind has hidden a bomb somewhere in the city. When it goes off, it will kill hundreds of innocent people.

It’s going to explode within the next hour.

Reporter Liz Lassiter knows how dangerous Mastermind is. What she doesn’t know is if she and her boyfriend J.D. can escape the city in time.

But that might not matter any more either. Because J.D. thinks that he might know the location of the bomb, and how to defuse it.

Because J.D. thinks that he used to be Mastermind.

Rhys Lawton as J.D.

The play is written by Michael Patrick Sullivan, and as soon as I read it I knew it was something that I wanted to direct. Claire Childs will be in charge of the Lighting Design, and my wonderful cast includes Helen Oakleigh as Liz Lassiter, Rhys Lawton as J.D., and introducing as Mastermind…

Well. That would be telling.

If you’re planning to attend Worldcon, I hope you’ll come along and see it.

3:30pm, Friday 15 August.


The Politics of Cowards

You might not know about the bill that’s going before Parliament next week to force telecoms companies and ISPs to retain data so that the security services can look through it at a later date.

This is because it’s being rushed through as emergency legislation.

The leaders of all three parties are claiming that there’s an emergency because, due to a recent ruling from the European Court of Justice, it turns out that hoovering up everyone’s data was actually illegal.


The ECJ ruling was on 8 April, three months ago. This is the lightest session of Parliamentary business in living memory. MPs were sent back a week early to their constituencies in May because, apparently, there wasn’t enough legislation that needed scrutinising. And any legal challenges to the current state of affairs will be six months away.

And yet, this bill needs pushing through in three days?

This is, frankly, bollocks of the highest order.

Pushing this legislation through stops the House of Commons from properly examining laws before they are passed and making certain that they are fit for purpose. The three main parties are literally stopping MPs from doing their job.

And that’s before we even get to Clause 1 (3). “The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision about the retention of relevant communications data.”

Or in other words: After this, the government can make as many new regulations about data retention as they like without reference to anyone else.

This, my friends, is a god-damned stitch-up.

I’m not necessarily against the bill. I am against it being pushed through on the word of the three main party leaders without a proper debate. Because that’s not how politics in this country works. 

You take the laws you want to pass, and you put them before Parliament, and Parliament does its job.

You don’t push them through quickly so that nobody gets a chance to look at them.  That’s not believing that the laws you’re trying to introduce will stand up to scrutiny.

That’s cowardice.

If you’re as angry about this as I am, rather than clicking on a petition, why not do something that actually might make a difference, and write to your MP?

In our parliamentary democracy, the MP knows that something their constituents care about is more powerful than what their party thinks.

Because you are the person that will vote them in or out of office.

Not their party, not their party leader.


Thanks to organisations such as They Work For You, contacting your MP is easy.

  • Go to Write To Them and enter your postcode.
  • Click on your MP’s name.
  • Write your letter

Here’s the letter I wrote to mine.

Hi Kate

Some years ago I wrote to you about the planned introduction of ID
cards by the then-Labour government. You replied with assurances that
you had voted against your own party on the measures, and would again
in the future should it become necessary.

I treasure that letter, and often refer to it when speaking in favour
of our parliamentary democracy.

I was very concerned to learn yesterday that the government plans to
pass emergency legislation regarding data retention which will be put
before the house next week.

We are not in a national emergency.

Legislation written in haste is bad legislation.

The idea that this government will attempt to use emergency legislation
to push through controversial laws without the due scrutiny of the
House appals and disgusts me.

I would be grateful if you could assure me that you will do your best
to ensure that this bill gets the attention from Parliament that it


I hope that you’ll take this opportunity to write to yours as well.

Parliament can, and has, made some bad collective decisions in the past. No doubt they will again. But if they’ve all had the time to look at the proposed laws, consider them, amend them, and vote on them, fair enough. That’s the way a parliamentary democracy works.

But this, trying to push through ill-thought-out laws that cede power to the Government in just three days?

This is wrong.

There’s still time to let your MP know it’s wrong. And remember, they’re not the one with the power in this relationship.

That would be you.

(Amended 12/7 to clarify the difference between legislation and regulations)

Come and have a go (if you think you’re hard enough)

For the last few years, myself and a few friends have been entering the Sci Fi London Film Festival Pub Quiz.

(It says it’s a pub quiz, but it’s actually in a cinema. There are, however, drinks included in the entry price. So that kind of counts.)

Every year, we win.

Every. God. Damn. Year.

(It did come down to a dance-off one year between Dave Green and Paul Cornell. That’s the closest it’s ever been.)

Frankly, we’re just bored with being so awesome. It’d be nice to have a challenge, rather than just pissing all over the other teams from a great height.


So, here is my challenge to you:

Sign up.
Come along.
Do some SF pub-quizzing.
And make me eat my god-damn words.

The Blog Tour: What, Why, and How I Write

So Jason Arnopp tagged me into this a while back, and today’s the day to publish my answers! It’s a sort of Q&A thing about my writing.

Gosh, this takes me back. I remember in the days before Twitter, where everyone updated their blogs on a weekly basis, these things used to go round all the time… I kind of miss those days…

[gaze drifts off into the distance, reminiscing]

Anyway. Here are my answers.

1) What am I working on?

I’m writing something for a game which I can’t tell you about, but it’s a really nice and interesting gig.

That probably wasn’t terribly helpful.

The  thing I’m working on which I can tell you about is a spec feature. I’ve had the idea in my head for, I don’t know, maybe five years or so now. It’s a big, ballsy period action-adventure in the Hollywood style, and it’s something I’ve wanted to write for ages.

I spent most of last year plotting it.

Most. Of. Last. Year.

The cards were on the corkboard all that time. Sitting at me. Jeering. “Call yourself a writer?” they whispered. “You can’t even fix this. Also, I had your mum.”

Little fuckers.

They moved around, they were replaced, rewritten, scribbled-and-re-scribbled. Act three was thrown away in its entirety. Because it was shit.

Finally got the little fucker beat, though, and I’m now 30 pages in out of an estimated 120. Going well so far. He says, fate-temptingly.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hm, not something that’s easy for me to answer. But here’s a couple of things that I move towards and away from.

I like short, sharp scenes rather than lengthy ones.

Character revealed through action rather than dialogue.

The thing that I hate most on screen is a long, lingering shot of the beautiful countryside. There’s a lot of that in UK TV and film. Stop it. Get me to the bloody story.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because I don’t see enough of the stories I like to see in the world.

4) How does my writing process work?

Well, I’ll start with an idea. A paragraph maybe, scribbled in a text file. Then perhaps  half a page on the main characters  – who they are, what they believe, what their attitude is. I might skip this step, though, and go straight to the corkboard.

I talked about the corkboard earlier.

I’ve got two cards pinned above the corkboard as lodestones. They help keep me on track.

The first is John Rogers’ three rules of writing:

  1. Who wants what?
  2. Why can’t they get it?
  3. Why do I give a shit?

And the other is this:

  • How does that make it worse?

I’m a planner. I like to have a map. With the use of the corkboard I know that every scene in the script will have a purpose. Sure, I can go off-map later if I find something interesting to explore, but having the scenes plotted out beforehand means that I already know the shape of the piece, and the major protagonists.

I’m never going to have writers’ block, because the heavy lifting’s already done.

Once I’m happy with the cards I’ll go to script. I used to write a treatment from the cards and then work from that, but these days I just move the board onto the wall behind my computer and go straight from there.

The first draft is Draft Zero. It splurges from my head onto the page. I write fast and – crucially – don’t go back and revise anything. The aim at this stage is to get words onto screen. Not good words, just words. I get to make them good later. But if the scene cards are the skeleton of the script, this is where the muscles to make it move go.

(I know some people who call this the vomit draft, because it all comes out quickly and messily, but I don’t like that phrase because, well, puke.)

Some days this is easy. You get flow, and the pages come quickly and easily, and you know that they’re good, and this is the best job in the fucking world!

Other days it’s like pulling teeth.

But either way, on either day, when I’ve scheduled myself a writing day I sit down and write the damn pages. I have a target number, and I keep working until I hit it. These days I generally aim for five pages a day, but I can crank that up if there’s a deadline.

When it’s done, I put it away. For a month if it’s for me, for as long as I can if it’s for someone else. After that it comes out and I re-read it.

This is the point where I realise that some of it is all right. Some of it might even be quite good. And some of it… Well. Let’s cheer ourselves up with the thought that now we get to fix those.

I print it out, grab my favourite pen (Pilot G-2 black with a 0.7mm nib, since you ask) and start to scribble. Read from front to back, fix. Type up changes. Repeat.

The first couple of passes are for plot. Does it make sense? Am I communicating what I mean to? Is it exciting where it should be exciting and funny where it should be funny?

After that, I use an old actors trick. For each scene, I become the character in the scene and think as that character:

  • What are they feeling at this point?
  • What is their objective?
  • How are they going about achieving their objective?

And changing dialogue and action to reflect their point of view and decisions.

Their objectives will change over the course of the scene. For example:

  • Find out what the ticking sound is
  • Warn everyone else about the bomb
  • Flee through the door (but, when they find it locked…)
  • Flee through the window

Stanislavsky called these individual moments “beats”. If you hang around with actors (and you should, it’ll help you write) they will be parsing the script into these beats to find out how to play the character. And if you don’t put the beats in, the actor will make them up.

They have to. They need something to play.

Don’t let an actor write your script. Put the beats in yourself.

After I’ve done that for every character in the scene, I’ll do a pass of the action lines to make sure they make sense. Is there enough room in here for what’s going on? How does the environment affect the world?

And then onto the next scene.

Once I’ve done all these passes (probably a dozen or so), then the script is ready to show to someone else.

As far as I’m concerned, this version is the first draft.

On a show or game, it’ll go to the script editor or lead writer. For a spec, I have writer friends who’ll have a read and give me notes on it. Either way, when the notes come back I print them out, and mark them all up. Line underneath the note, and a circle in the margin. When I address a note then I’ll put a line through the circle to show that it’s done. Sometimes, more rarely, I decide that the note isn’t a good one. Those ones get a cross through the circle to show that I’m deliberately not doing it. This way I can go back and double-check later – did I really mean to ignore this note?

I’ll go through the script, correcting and amending notes as required, until everything’s done.

I might do this two or three times on a spec, sending it to different people each time.

Then it’s time for the table read. I get some actor buddies round, they read the script aloud. I’m making notes the whole way about where the words cause people to stumble, and which speeches go better (or worse) than they did in my head. Where the laughs and gasps are, if there are any.

Then get some feedback from the actors. Were they confused at any point? Any comments they have on characterisation? Anything unclear?

Then take those notes away, and rewrite again.

Finally, after all that, it’s ready to send out.

So, there you have it. The What, Why, and How of my writing. Hope it was of some interest.

I’m probably supposed to have passed on the tour at the bottom here, like some form of benevolent chain letter, but I haven’t.



Some thoughts on BBC3

Reports are coming through that BBC3 is going to become an online-only channel in the near future.

I’m absolutely fine with this.

Back in about 2000, I saw my first TiVo, which itself was the first PVR. A PVR (Personal Video Recorder) has a big-ass hard drive, and gathers information from the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) that’s transmitted along with the programmes. When it sees a TV show that you’ve asked it to record, it saves it to the hard disk.

What this means is that, unlike previous TV-recording formats, you could set up the PVR to record your favourite shows. And it would carry on recording them, week after week. TiVos even had the technology to record shows it thought you might like, based on the ones you were already recording.

That’s when I knew that channels were dead.

A channel has a curatorial aspect. You know the sorts of programmes you’re going to get on BBC1 vs ITV1 vs C4 vs ITV3. Pre-PVR, you could have loyalty to a channel. One of my exes, growing up, had a mother that wouldn’t let her watch ITV.

Post-PVR, the loyalty drops as you can get recommendations based on what you already like, rather than what a channel controller thinks you’ll like.

Barring special events such as live TV or Christmas, I cannot think of a single person I know my age or younger who watches television live any more.

Not. One. Person.

Sure, they watch TV on their telly, but it’s mediated through iPlayer or Apple TV or a PVR or downloaded off the naughtywebs and piped through to the living room over wireless.

This is how I watch television now. The only reason I even know what channel a programme was broadcast on is because of the dog when I watch it on TiVo (And weren’t we all so snobby about those when they came in? I include myself there.)

The statement makes clear that BBC3 the brand will continue in its curatorial aspect; it just won’t be going out over the telly box any more. But, importantly, this aspect is no longer tied to the broadcast capability and bandwidth of the transmitters.

I think the future will be virtual channels.

Consider: the BBC creates a virtual channel on your EPG called BBC3, which curates all of the shows that are BBC3-like. Some panel shows or comedy shows shift to BBC2 or BBC1 – but they are still marked on your virtual channel as BBC3. Some shows are commissioned directly for BBC3 and are broadcast in dead space on one of the BBC’s muxes, in the middle of the night, say 2-6am.

Why stop at four? You can have a hundred BBC channels, one for every taste.

Disruption will occur. Old shows will get cancelled. New ones will be commissioned.


The only thing that surprises me is that this hasn’t happened already. Think of the new BBC3 in the same breath as Netflix, Amazon, or Geek & Sundry. All commissioning for online premieres already.

This gives the BBC a chance to get ahead of the US networks, and I think it’s nothing short of visionary.