The Mystery Of PROJECT WRITTLE Solved
Orbital Operations for 18 September 2022
Yes. PROJECT WRITTLE.
So. I've been talking for the last several weeks about a thing I've called PROJECT WRITTLE. I have a habit, apparently now taken up by many people, where I attach a codename to a project I can't yet announce so I can talk about it a little bit.
Writtle is a village about twenty miles away from me. It's famous. It's famous for Two Emma Toc. Two Emma Toc was the world's first regular radio broadcast, beamed out from a hut in Writtle run by the Marconi team. The success of 2MT led to the creation of 2LO, the London station, which led in turn to the creation of the BBC. Writtle is the birthplace of radio as we know it today.
Being a man of a certain age and background, I grew up listening to BBC radio. From music to news to audio drama. I was right there for Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, the serious drama radio plays, the weird fringe series like Earthsearch on a Sunday morning. I always wanted to write for radio. Never worked out how to do that (I've never had representation in the UK). And then audiobook companies started to move into originals, and I wanted to be in that, but never worked out how. Writing for audio was going to stay in the bucket.
And then someone dropped this lunatic opportunity at my feet, and I immediately threw a net over it. And then I'm pretty sure I just shrieked for a couple of hours. And then we got to work.
PROJECT WRITTLE is a slate of audio drama podcast series created and written by me. Titles, collaborators and other details to be announced soon.
Do I know how to write audio drama? Of course not. And I sat with this for a while, trying to figure out the approach. Until I realised I had a huge chunk of the form already. On CASTLEVANIA, we recorded the actors before we had the animation or storyboards, because we wanted the actors to be able to originate complete performances without putting artificial boundaries on them. So when we recorded a bunch of actors together, before anything in the show besides the script and the character designs existed.... we were making a form of audio drama.
And so now you know why I've been revisiting CASTLEVANIA scripts here, too.
Early autumn is crisp and glorious. I spent Saturday in the kitchen, batching lunches for the next few days. Everything will be shut on Monday, and I discovered Saturday morning that the shops were already running out of stuff. It reminded me of the way Christmas used to be, weirdly. Back in The Old Days, the shops would shut on Xmas Eve and wouldn't reopen for several days, and then would shut again around New Year. So you had to buy in ten days' worth of food, and everybody either stayed home, visited family or went down the pub. I don't know if Sandy Stores in St. Austell is still open, but I can't tell you how weird it was to be able to pop down there on Christmas morning circa 1990 and pick up the last few bits for dinner. Open on Christmas Day! Insane!
In the 21st Century, Britain has gotten used to everything being open all the time. So everyone is now hoarding like they have to live in a cave for a month because the big shops are closing for One. Single. Day.
This section has been brought to you by Yes, I Am A Hundred And Four Years Old, Fetch Me A Fine Fat Goose And I Will Toss You A Groat
A few people have asked me about plans for INJECTION recently. All I can tell you right now is that we are waiting for the stars to align to be able to finish our story, and it's something that, last time I checked, we all want to do. Just hang on with us, and hopefully timings and schedules and the elements will allow us to get it done in the near future. In the meantime? Yes, there is a script for Volume 4:
For those people into process - note that I can talk to any of my collaborators directly in the script when there's a specific effect I'm looking for, which will then turn into a conversation where I am proven decisively wrong and my collaborator will do something else that is better. But it starts with me establishing a zone, and us working it out later. Also, yes, you can just shove reference links into the script if that's what it comes down to — although later on I may do the other thing, which is to grab down all the ref myself and fold it into a PDF and send it as an additional document. But — and I was mostly talking to Declan as I was writing that bit of script — sometimes it's more effective to show someone a page of options like that to communicate the general visual space I'm thinking about. Jordie knows the script is mostly written for Dec, and she also knows I trust her completely to do pretty much whatever she wants because she's a genius, so I do an extra call-out when I want to grab her attention for a bit of colour business I'm thinking about.
The only real rule in a comics script is: am I communicating clearly and usefully?
Extra points if you get the International Klein Blue suit reference.
My name is Warren Ellis, and I’m a writer from England. These newsletters are about the work I do and the creative life I try to lead. I send them every Sunday to subscribers. Feel free to send your friends to orbitaloperations.com , where they can read the most recent letters and subscribe for their own.
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THE HOPE THAT KILLS
British crime fiction can be, in the ancient phrase, much of a muchness. Especially the television versions. "Cosy crime" is a term we have here, and on television that can extend to, say, John Simm as the faintly concerned civil servant that is Roy Grace, or Stephen Tompkinson wearing the head of a giant traumatised baby in DCI BANKS. Even Ann Cleeves' enduring creation, the disappointed gargoyle Vera Stanhope, is sweetened by the excellent Brenda Blethyn's invincible twinkle in the VERA tv show. A thing common to the majority of them is that they have That Single Terrible Event In Their Past that defines them. This Single Terrible Event tends to deform the plot towards their awful compasspoint. So, when I began THE HOPE THAT KILLS by Ed James, with its Single Terrible Event up front for Detective Inspector Simon Fenchurch and its milling-around of barely-engaged quotidian plods, I figured I was in for a slog.
The second thing I noticed was an attention to detail. Both detail in police procedure, which is a good way to convince the reader that something of import is happening, and detail in setting. It's all set in East London- which is where half my family comes from — and it felt authentic. Set in 2015, I could absolutely relate to the atmosphere. I was on those streets, right there and then, and it rang true. Nice job, I thought, but I'm definitely settling in for some grey crime fiction with lots of frowning people.
About a quarter of the way in, it starts to get odd. Halfway through, you realise that there may be something wrong with Ed James, because this is batshit. The real plot, when it emerges, is kind of grand guignol in its conceptual grotesquerie and hysteria. I was not expecting that. Nor was I expecting the arc of character development in Fenchurch, which - not to spoil it, but — does the thing these books never do. It brings some warm peace to the Single Terrible Thing and takes away its defining power over his personality. I was impressed by that.
If you're in the mood for a bit of London crime fiction that takes a swerve into horror movie plotting, THE HOPE THAT KILLS is a surprising pleasure.
I really need a way to memorialise and consolidate my podcast and Bandcamp listening.
And, of course, there's also my subscription list on BBC Sounds, which is getting fucking huge with unplayed episodes of Night Tracks and Late Junction and New Music Show and Unclassified and Slow Radio and on and on. Because I have to tell you, fusty dusty old BBC Radio 3, once the sole preserve of grey men muttering between endless playlists of the same dozen classical music composers of no less than a hundred years' vintage, is now the home of experimental music on national broadcasting. And you can access pretty much all of it through the BBC Sounds webpage wherever you may be.
The BBC throws all kinds of oddities on that page, too, like The Sleeping Forecast, which is gentle music combined with The Shipping Forecast, for all those people who used to nod off to The Shipping Forecast at quarter to one in the morning, as "Sailing By" played as the tuning signal for ships at sea. The sound of my country going to sleep in the 20th Century.
And guess what, foreigners? I've already paid for it with my license fee, so it's all free for you!
GOT MORE TIME?
Gas Stations (ways to imagine short story writing)
Okay, that's all I have this week. Aside from this. I was watching sumo the other day and the commentator described a series of strikes by one wrestler as "a lot of business to the face area." One presumes that this was technical language, and an English translation of what is probably a single Japanese word. The world can be wondrous. Take care of yourself, hold on tight, and please do avoid a lot of business to the face area.