Monthly Archives: April 2016

Guest post: James A. Tucker on ‘Game of Thrones’.

‘Game of Thrones’ returns to TV screens this week. Here is writer James A. Tucker to discuss the books, series and what should happen next.

Thanks for being involved, James!

Vic x

James A. Tucker on ‘Game of Thrones’. 

Observe your reaction when I say the following words:

Game of Thrones.

It probably runs through a spectrum.  A person not unconnected with this blog suffers constant attempts by her boyfriend to make her read the book or watch the TV series, and hence associates it with annoyance. Some of my friends go into rapture; music starts playing in their heads and their eyes take on what Peter Dinklage, the biggest star of Thrones, calls the “Nerd Glaze”. Others feel deep disquiet and worry at the cruelty and sexism you will find therein. There are people like me who sometimes would rather the TV series had never happened. There are rabid fans who troll the author online for not writing fast enough.

All this rich pageant of humanity is worthy of notice, but for me, the most interesting ones are those who like it despite themselves. Grace Dent, The Independent critic, once wrote one of the most scathing (and funny) slaggings-off of fantasy fiction and fans that I have ever read. However, she likes Thrones. Other watchers you might not expect are Sue Perkins and Clive James, who broke his rule about never having anything to do with dragons.

Those beasts do not appear for a while; there are no elves, hobbits or orcs, little supernatural, and the only dwarf is the kind we know from real life. This is reassuring for those who have trouble with such things. Although being a scientist and a nitpicker, I still see plenty of magic around in things such as the hundred-metre high ice wall.

It takes more than an absence to make something popular; so instead of those fantastical elements, it draws upon real-world history. The various atrocities, treacheries, villainies and iniquities are strongly reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses, or ancient Rome. A certain notorious wedding was based upon real events from Scottish history (The Black Dinner/Glencoe Massacre).

There are some good characters, including superb love-to-hate villains, although very few are black and white; a man who threw a child off a tower in episode 1 is now commonly regarded as sympathetic. But for my money, George RR Martin’s achievement is to do danger superlatively well. No matter someone is in their character arc, no matter how popular or infamous, it seems that anyone can die at the drop of a hat—and they do. Instead of suspending disbelief about protagonists surviving, you feel genuine fear turning the page. I might even lay bets that the world does not get saved in the end.

If anyone is safe, it is the dwarf Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage now receives top billing and probably has the best acting role for a dwarf in TV history. It tackles the way his character has been disadvantaged without being defined by it. He is flawed but admired; he drinks, he fights and schemes, loves or hates his relatives, whores but falls in love. Not to mention getting some of the funniest lines. But perhaps the best part is that it seems to have led on to genuinely height-blind casting with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Dinklage probably deserves some bigger height-blind awards than he already has.

But while we’re on the subject of PC… oh dear. Gratuitous titillation is a common affliction, but that doesn’t excuse it. There may be a fair amount of sex in the books, but the series has added to it and filmed it in HD with unrealistically beautiful and well-lit actresses. For extra sleaze they “method cast” porn stars as sex workers. No doubt the production company has made cynical calculations over how many viewers will be pulled in versus how many will be alienated.

More disturbingly, the TV added two rapes. Fantasy site “The Mary Sue” withdrew from Thrones; GRRM defended it, saying that to portray a medieval society or war without sexual violence used as a weapon would be dishonest. A Scissor Sister took the producers to task.

Why has this caused more disturbance than other horrible fates? While few liked the extended torture and castration of a male character, it did not lead to boycott calls. My best theory is that in real western-world life, misogyny and sexual abuse are far more common than being executed with molten gold, or having your skull crushed by an eight-foot knight. Yes, non-sexual violence is real and there are debates to be had about its depiction, but people are more worried that viewers might be influenced to sexually assault someone than to murder and torture.

Which is not to say that people do not leave the books and series because of its grimness; many have. However, I have quit other authors and series because I thought they were being dark for the sake of it, and I have not done so yet with Thrones; it seems in-keeping with the setting and does not break the story.

Should it simply have remained as books? The TV series has changed the public name (the books were “A Song of Ice and Fire”), altered characters and plots, and now it has overtaken the author. The smug sense I had of knowing roughly what was coming next, and the safety of being braced for the next horrible death, is now history.

By his own admission, GRRM is more of a “gardener” author, plotting as he goes along. However, he now has to plan to the end and tell the TV series what happens, and let them fill in the details. I can feel for his plight; I doubt he anticipated the TV rights being used before the series was complete, or ever imagined it would get this big.

Or he could let them finish it themselves, then write a completely different version. This has happened before with a Japanese manga called Full Metal Alchemist, where a second TV series was made with the book’s ending. But with a plot as vast and complicated as GoT, you might wind up needing two brains.

So… a well-regarded series amongst fantasy readers has now become a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. In the process, it has opened minds, set records for internet piracy, been visited by the Queen and joked about by the US President, made stars, annoyed, shocked, courted controversy, and broken a few moulds.  Love it or hate it, the Thrones explosion has changed things…

James A Tucker
Thanks to Martyn P Jackson for suggestions and comments

Review: ‘From there to you, from here to me’ at Northern Stage, 20/04/16.

From there to you, from here to me

ODDMANOUT’s newest production is a riveting play about motherhood, relationships and identity.

Agnes – played by Christina Berriman Dawson – is trying to complete her PhD. She’s using this as a way to get to know her mum better. Her mum, Mary, is dying. In effort to discover who fathered her, Agnes chips away at her mum’s façade, only to discover some very uncomfortable truths.

From there to you, from here to me plays with the audience’s perceptions of identity and what happens when elements of your identity are called into question.

There were some tremendously moving scenes between Mary – played by Jackie Lye – and Agnes. There were quiet laughs of recognition during their sparring matches which were so realistic and well-executed. The tension between the two actors, despite thawing relations, continued throughout and I thought that uneasy truce was so true to life. It was actually very touching to see a realistic portrayal of a difficult, but ultimately loving, mother-daughter relationship.

The script, by Scott Young, was deftly crafted and full of nuance. The use of film and sound throughout added yet another layer to this thoughtful production.

Vic x

Review: ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ by Jennifer

Kindred Spirits Tower of London


A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers…

In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Anne Boleyn rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews.

Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury.

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘ is a light-hearted, imaginative read. It’s a new take on historical fiction but make no mistake, this is not only a fun read but an educational tool. If you get lost off between your kings and queens, this is the book for you. It makes what was essentially a messy historical period understandable and even makes the reader empathise with previously maligned characters. Having chosen Richard III and Anne Boleyn as protagonists, one might have expected this to be rather a different book but it is fun and full of heart.

It’s obvious that Jennifer C. Wilson is passionate about history and has a comprehensive knowledge of the period. My one criticism is that I would have preferred the list of characters at the beginning of the book.

However, this is a brilliantly unique idea from a distinctive new voice in fiction.

Vic x

Getting to know you: Nicky Black

Nicky Black is a writing duo consisting of Nicky Doherty and Julie Black. Their book The Prodigal is set in Newcastle and has enjoyed tremendous success across the UK. I’m thrilled to say Nicky and Julie are joining us on the blog today to share their secrets with us! 

Vic x

Nicky Black

I’m really intrigued by the idea of writing partnerships. Tell us about your writing partnership. How did you two meet and decide to write this book together? How does it work, do you write side by side or one draft and the other edit?
Nicky: Julie and I met when we worked on run down council estates in the north east in the nineties. She was a community worker and I was a project manager for grants programmes. When I discovered she wrote plays and had recently finished a movie script I was fascinated. When I read them, I loved them, and wanted to help her get the movie made. She has such an ear for dialogue, and I love reading dialogue driven books like Roddy Doyle. Julie’s talent was spotted by a producer at ITV and she was commissioned to write The Prodigal as a two part TV drama. It was never green lit and many years later over a glass of wine, I said it would make a great novel. I asked if I could have a go at adapting it, and here we are!

Julie: We work apart and meet up now and then (I still live in Newcastle and Nicky is in London). Nicky takes the script, asks me lots of questions about the characters, how they feel, what their surroundings are like, what the tensions are between them, why they are motivated to do certain things and I try to describe all this over the phone, because it isn’t on the page, it’s in my head. Nicky transforms that into emotion, thoughts and back stories which gives the characters texture and brings places to life. Sometimes she’ll say that there isn’t enough material and we will work on an extra bit of plot together or she will add or remove characters.

The Prodigal

Do you ever disagree on where the story should be going? If so, how do you resolve it?
Julie: I have to appreciate how much work goes into the narrative and I give Nicky the freedom to get on with it. Sometimes she’s nervous about what I’ll think and I have to admit sometimes I’m nervous about what she’s doing with it but it turns out alright in the end. My strength is story and dialogue, my weakness is descriptive stuff and adjectives, I don’t really do adjectives

Nicky: I love them. Probably a bit too much…

I tend not to run with ideas Julie doesn’t agree with. They are her characters and she knows them much better than me, so when she says, ‘Lee would never do that,’ then I believe her. If I introduce new ideas or characters and she likes them, then we’ll run with it.

What inspired the story of The Prodigal?
: The Prodigal was inspired by a meeting with a local police chief who had been checking my Heads movie script (now being adapted into a book by Nicky) for accuracies in police procedure. As an aside, I asked about informers: who did it and what for? He said there were 3 types – petty criminals who informed for small amounts of cash, bigger criminals who wanted to drop other criminals in it or get plea bargains, and the others tended not to be criminals, they were people who informed for moral reasons – mainly women who were worried about their families, husbands, sons who were involved in crime. He told me these women were at the greatest danger because if their families found out they would suffer the consequences at home. I talked to him about their handlers, where they would meet and wondered if they ever built strong bonds, he said they did. Then the million dollar question, did they ever fall in love? He said it had happened and the consequences were horrendous, they could never be together, the woman would be ostracised by her family and the police officer would lose his job.

My mind drifted to Romeo and Juliet, my favourite play, and thoughts of star crossed lovers. I told Carolyn Reynolds, Head of Drama at Granada, the idea. She said I should give up my day job and write it and promptly gave me a commission for a 2 part drama for television. I left my job, rented an office and wrote. The story came easily but it took a couple of years working with Carolyn and a script editor to get the script just right.
Are the characters and/or situations based on experiences you’ve had?
Julie: The characters are not based on real people per se but they have a lot of characteristics of people I know. Some of the experiences are real but I’m not telling you which ones!

How has the book been received in the north east? And what about elsewhere? Does it ‘translate’ for other parts of the UK and further afield?
Nicky: I found myself removing some colloquialisms on the final edit, particularly where it could be misconstrued as a typo (like polis for police), but I kept those that transcend regions in (only one person has asked me what ‘haway’ means). I left in a scattering of words that non-Geordies might not understand, but I love them and Geordies love them, and I want Geordies more than anyone to love these books. So ‘worky ticket’ stayed in, even though the copy editor hadn’t a clue. There will be more in the next book too, but not so many that it would render it inaccessible to posh southerners… It has translated incredibly well right across the UK. The subject matter and the ‘mother ship’, Valley Park, is universal. Not sure how well it would do across the pond. I’ve yet to see any significant sales outside the UK. But I’m okay with that right now. I want to build up a local readership first, it feels right for this kind of series of stories.


What’s the best piece of writerly advice you’ve been given – and who by?
Julie: The best piece of writerly advice was given when I first began writing on the soaps ‘don’t get it right, get it written’. I never have a problem with starting a piece of work but I do break it all down into a storyline first and then follow each step of the plot to bring it to life in scenes.  As a TV scriptwriter you expect to do five or more drafts before producers are happy so getting something on paper is the top priority, you can always change anything that doesn’t work later. I couldn’t work without a plan though – that’s my worst nightmare. Call me a control freak…


What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Nicky: This is hard, because I still feel like an aspiring writer myself and am constantly on the prowl for advice from experienced authors. I suppose, you have to believe in your story and your characters. If you’re not passionate about the story and the people in it, then the prose and the dialogue will be boring. If you’re desperate to tell a great story, just tell it. Also, don’t stop reading novels. Oh, and I have a bible called How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N Frey. It’s brilliant.


What’s next for you?
Nicky: I’m currently adapting Julie’s script of a movie called Heads.  It’s the first thing of hers that I read back in the day. I loved it then and I love it now. We even tried to get it made into a movie, but we couldn’t make it happen (we had lots of fun along the way though). We made a promotional tease for it which is here. It’s set in 1989, the second Summer of Love, and is about a young man called Shaun Collins who wants to be a big-shot music promoter. He gets the chance to organise a huge, illegal rave in Northumberland, but the police and the loan sharks are on his tail, and the organised crime networks are moving in for their share of the profits. I’m aiming to get Heads released in August or September this year.