Writer's Blog

A place where I write about the writing life and writing projects in progress

October 28, 2012

  • Ode to my co-author, on his 40th birthday
  • Haven’t posted here in ages because… well, I’m busy writing. This new book has an insane deadline. But hopefully things will lighten up.

    As most of you know, I have written and edited four books with Robert Smith?, the Paul McCartney of our McCartney-Lennon pairing. Today he turns 40. Last night a wonderful party was held for this occasion and Robert’s lovely partner Shoshana asked me if I could make a speech for the occasion. How could I say no to her? This is what I said…


    imageI have been asked to give a few…ish words tonight about our honoured guest, Dr. Robert Smith? Robert…what is there to say about you that hasn’t been said? Tenured professor. Published author. World traveller and adventurer. Media sensation. The most famous mathematician in the world outside of Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Legend of manhood. Really, what is there to say on the occasion of your turning 40?

    What is there to say except…about bloody time.

    No. Really. On behalf of those of us who have passed the threshold into our fifth decade, I want to say: thank god you’re 40. We’re sick to death of you making achievement after achievement and having the inevitable subtext of it being “and it’s so remarkable he’s achieved this while so young.”

    Do you really think it’s been fun hearing about your super spectacular achievements on the boundaries of curing AIDS, charting Bieber Fever, publishing book after book (oh, wait I think another one got published right now), having exploits that are a combination of Indiana Jones, Paul Bunyan and Paul Erdos and generally rubbing it in our faces that you’ve been doing all this in your 30s?

    Today, that is over.  Today all your remarkable achievements become ordinary, contextualized into part of a long lived career. Dr. Smith?, we have a cardigan for you and some butterscotches for your office.

    Personally, I think you’ve been faking it for the past couple of years. I mean, honestly, listen to your Facebook status updates:

  • spent all day being a media personality. I guess Hallowe’en must be around the corner!

  • “Dr. Smith? This is Saskatoon Radio calling. Justin Bieber’s in town. We need you.”—Actual phone call I got today.

  • working on three books at once: just starting to write one, submitting a second to the publisher and proofreading [another]. Somewhere in there he has a day job as well.

  • in Boston, where tomorrow he’ll be interviewed for a documentary on zombies for Discovery Channel. As you do.

  • My Bieber Fever model made the Huffington Post!

  • flying to Senegal. Well, it does involve a two-hour limo ride to Montreal first and a stopover in Morocco. But he’ll be based in Senegal for the next three weeks, teaching disease modelling to French-speaking students.

  • went to an axe-throwing party tonight… and survived not only unscathed, but with some successful targets to his name.

  • just took a microlight plane over Victoria Falls (just him and the pilot, in the open air). He even got to fly it for a while! Fear of flying: officially over.

  • You can’t be possibly doing this yourself. You must be cloning yourself, or hiring a sweatshop of look-alikes or something.

    I swear to god, if this keeps up I shudder to think of the Facebook status updates of the future:

  • Found out that the King of Norway is a fan of Doctor Who; or so he told me when he pinned the Abel prize to my lapel. And gave me his phone number.

  • Going to the premiere of Braaainnns! The Movie and meeting Winnie Cooper. Squee!

  • Discovered Time Travel and decided to go out dancing with Anneke Wills and Twiggy in 1966. As you do.

  • Who knew? My theory of stopping a zombie invasion actually *worked*

  • Now a few of you might be asking, “what is it like to work with such an internationally famous mathematician and writer.” Honestly, I don’t interact with him all that much. Most of the work we do for our books tends to go through his agent. I kid. Actually, I can offer one piece of insight: Robert Smith? The man who has a question mark on the end of his name as a manifesto and not an affectation at all?

    Don’t let the iconoclasm and fabulousness fool you. Robert is, without a doubt, the world’s biggest pedant.

    Oh my god. I have written two books with Robert, edited another two with him, and worked on another couple with him, and the biggest argument we ever got into involved whether or not internet should be capitalized (he won that one by the way). We can get along through just about anything that’s contentious but we’ll have a ten-round fight about whether or not it’s appropriate to use italics to emphasize prose.

    Honestly, you haven’t lived till you have received an acerbic lecture in track changes about grammar from “RS?”. My favourite remains to be this one to our copy editor Crissy on our last book Who is the Doctor about the word Scooby-Doo being hyphenated. Said Dr. Smith?, and this is a direct quote, “You don’t need this hyphen, because both the capitals and the italics take care of it. No one will imagine that it’s a ‘Doo affair’ that’s being modified by ‘Scooby.’”  It was then pointed out to Dr. Smith? that Scooby-Doo was being hyphenated by our copy-editor because the name of the cartoon character is a hyphenate…

    But that’s Dr. Robert Smith? for you. There’s a reason why he’s number two in page ranking on Google to the guy from the Cure: he’s a man of singular vision, talented, brilliant, funny, iconoclastic, and a genius. He’s also a wonderful collaborator and I’m proud he’s been one of my very best friends for the past 17 years.

    But more than that… I’m so glad he’s finally 40. About bloody time.


    Oh, about that party… the theme was to dress as the person or profession they most wanted to be. Naturally, I dressed as Robert Smith? Here’s a cameraphone photo of me with Robert (who apparently wanted to be Colin Baker’s Doctor Who)


    And Shoshana really loves him. Who else would go to the trouble of getting Robert a vegan birthday cake with a TARDIS on the icing!



    Posted by graeme | (2) Comments | Permalink

    October 02, 2012

  • The Next One
  • It all started with an e-mail to our editor…


    Four months later all the waiting is over, all the discussions have been concluded, all the contracts have been signed… and it’s official: Robert and I are doing a follow-up book to Who is the Doctor which will come out autumn 2013 for Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary.

    We’ll share the details of what it is we’re doing down the road, but suffice it to say Robert and I are very busy right now. (You might find updates to this site a little sporadic for one thing!)  But yay! The second book has been commissioned!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    September 11, 2012

  • Writery things I am rarely ever without…
  • 1) Uniball Vision Elite pen (0.8 mm)


    2) Legal Pad (usually one that’s full of stuff. This is my work version, which I tear off stuff from all the time)


    3) Notebook (you don’t write a book without one of these babies)


    4) Vessel with which to drink something (tea, coffee, scotch…)


    (This is a mug I got for appearing on a panel on SPACE. The logo has almost worn off. Note to self: get on another panel on SPACE. They provide nice mugs. And tote bags. And hoodies… SPACE swag is not essential to writing. But it’s still cool…)

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    September 10, 2012

  • Outside In
  • image

    Another fabulous book featuring me. But that’s not why you want to purchase it.

    It’s also an exciting collection of reviews of every Doctor Who story in the classic series, edited by my frequent collaborator Robert Smith? as his McCartney solo project. But that’s not why you want to purchase it.

    Outside In has the bravest remit for a Doctor Who book ever: 160 reviews of all 160 classic series stories, written by 160 people. In 160 diverse styles.That’s still not why you want to purchase it.

    It includes some massively talented writers. Still shouldn’t be affecting your purchasing choice.

    No, you want to get Outside In because it features the first published work of my wife Julie as she reviews the Tom Baker classic, The Robots of Death!

    So go order it from ATB Publishing when it becomes available later this month. It’s out this November!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    August 30, 2012

  • Second Printing!
  • Too late for Fan Expo (alas) but finally here! The second printing of Who is the Doctor has arrived!


    Yes, that is a TARDIS shaped mug on my desk at work.

    What’s different about the second printing? Mostly, we’ve fixed a bunch of mistakes, like the really embarassing one that inadvertently claimed Sydney Newman was responsible for Coronation Street and a bunch of airdates we got wrong (worst offender: The Time Warrior which was broadcast in 1973 but we said was broadcast in 1974. Every time!). We clarified a couple of convoluted claims. And we now correctly spell Gareth Roberts’ last name in one key instance.

    It looks even more lovely than the first printing. Why not order it and own two copies of Who is the Doctor!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    August 28, 2012

  • FanExpoed!
  • Wow. That was some weekend.

    For those who have never been to Fan Expo Canada in Toronto… it’s hard to explain. It’s several hundred thousand fans of TV shows and comics in a ginormous convention centre. It’s crowded, but often the person in front of you is dressed like Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl (or something similar) so you find yourself not minding quite so much.

    Dr. Smith? and I were there to promote Who is the Doctor. The Doctor Who Society of Canada were nothing short of amazing. They rounded up a huge consignment of copies of the book to sell. Lucky thing. ECW Press were hoping to have the 2nd printing of the book in but it got delayed getting across the border from the printer in the US. Consequently, the only copies of the book at the con were at the DWSC table.\

    Right from the start Robert and I were thrown into the maelstrom, beginning with being interviewed by SPACE. I did slightly better than my interview at the launch (though I still look pained on air!). Dr. Smith? however handled it like a pro…


    I hate him and his easy, telegenic manner…

    In the midst of the insanity, two cool things happened: the first was that I found a beat-up copy of Justice League of America #3 for $50. (Not bad for the third issue, published 50 years ago!). The second was that, after several interminable line-ups and sitting in on the InnerSpace panel, Robert and myself got tickets to go to the special screening of Asylum of the Daleks a week before it airs on TV! Here’s me with my “Charlie found the Golden Ticket!” pose…


    I signed my life away in non-disclosure agreements and agreed to turn in my phone before the screening (and they had security patrolling the screening with night vision goggles to ensure no trouble), so I can’t really say much about the episode. Except that it’s awesome. Oh you’re in for a treat.

    The big day for us was Sunday. That’s when Dr. Smith? and myself did our big panel…Here we are with panel moderator, the Doctor Who Society’s Mike Deed.


    We knew from our Doctor Who Society friends that FanExpo had booked a room too small for the crowd. (They tried to negotiate a bigger space, but failed, though their effort was valiant). Which was frustrating because we filled a 200+ seat room at Toronto Comic Con and it was the only panel talking about Doctor Who all weekend. People lined up over an hour to get in. In the end it was standing room only. I counted over 170 people. Our editor, Jen Hale, had to beg to get in!


    So we’re in a room that’s packed to capacity. Good thing we know how to talk about Doctor Who…



    It was a fantastic panel, and everyone seemed to love it.

    We had a great signing afterward. Indeed we had great signings every day. It’s humbling to be told there’s a 12 year old boy waiting at the DWSC table to have his copy of Who is the Doctor signed. We also had an unbelievably enthusiastic teenaged girl come by having already throughly read the book. And there were all sorts of people who came and brought their copy having purchased the book before and having noticed we were there, which was really cool.

    We had all sorts of people come by. In the end we sold every copy the Doctor Who Society brought. Woo hoo!


    I had a lovely time hanging out with people I don’t get to see often, like Mark Askwith from Space and author J.M. Frey. Probably the nifitiest thing that happened all weekend was being able to have the opportunity to hang out with Dan Slott, the writer of the Spider-Man comic book for Marvel. (Who is also a massive Doctor Who geek. Yes, I gave him a copy of my book!)

    We also had a great time talking with our pals from ECW Press, especially our esteemed editor, Jen Hale, who had some great news for us (that we’ll tell you about later).

    Both Robert and myself would really like to thank the Doctor Who Society of Canada, especially Mike Deed and Cindy Peters, for their incredible work in making everything—our attendance, our signings and our panel—happen. Their work was absolutely astounding. And we’re very grateful to them.

    And we really had a great time talking to fans of various sorts. For all the madness that is FanExpo what can’t be denied is that it’s populated by creative, thoughtful people who care about popular culture. What’s not to love about that?

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    August 21, 2012

  • FanExpo!
  • Well, isn’t this kind of cool: Robert and myself among the Author Guests at this year’s FanExpo in Toronto! FanExpo is the mega mega convention in Toronto. Huge guest list (including Doctor Who and Torchwood’s John Barrowman!), loads of exhibitor space, and tons of cosplaying crazy kids!

    Robert and myself will be doing a panel on Who is the Doctor (the only fan panel on Doctor Who the whole weekend) on Sunday at 3 pm. We’ll also be signing at the ECW Press booth (556) at 1 pm on Sunday, and signing after our panel at the Doctor Who Society of Canada table (L94) on Sunday at 4pm. There will also be a signing on Saturday at the Doctor Who Society table as well at some point, and we’ll be at the Elephant and Castle on King Street for the Doctor Who Society FanExpo after party on Saturday night.

    Plenty of opportunities for you to say hi, ask us any questions about Doctor Who or or book and even get us to sign your copy. If you see us, stop by and say hello! Don’t be shy!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    August 13, 2012

  • Break the Format
  • I was interviewed at an ungodly hour today for the Preacher’s Podcast, (which is a Doctor Who podcast and nothing to do with religion). Along with a lot of questions about Who is the Doctor I was taken aback by being asked “What advice would you have to aspiring writers?”

    I fumbled through a somewhat decent answer, but it did make me think: what was the best advice I was ever given as a writer?

    Once again, I go back to Andy Lane. Poor Andy has no idea how influential he’s been to me. Not only did he write my first rejection letter, not only did he inspire my first published short story, but he gave me the best bit of advice on writing fiction I’ve ever been given.

    imageIt was 1998 and I was living in Britain at the time I was out with him and some other friends, drinking somewhere, probably at the Fitzroy Tavern. (As I recall, it might have been when Dave Owen was in London on a visit). I was loudly complaining about some reviewing I was doing for Dreamwatch magazine at the time. I was the go-to guy for reviewing “uncategorized” materials (stuff that weren’t Star Trek. Doctor Who, X-Files and the like). At the time, one of those things was a recent series of novels based on the film The Crow. I had read two or three of them by that point and I was sick to death of them.

    “The trouble with them is it’s impossible to write a good one.” I opined, probably with the aid of dreadful Samuel Smith beer, “Every book rigidly sticks to a formula.” The formula being (and forgive me if I don’t have this quite right, it’s been almost 15 years): a person in love is murdered, and the violence of their murder and the intensity of their love cause them to be resurrected by the power of the Crow to wreak terrible revenge. Every novel closely hewed to it. No matter what trappings they added to it, it never escaped the format.

    Andy looked at me and said. “It’s easy. Break the format.” A micro-second’s pause and he demonstrated it to me. “Two people in love with the same person die violently and are resurrected by the Crow, and they wreak revenge on their killers while trying to kill the other to get their love.”

    It was staggeringly brilliant.

    Ever since, anything I’ve done—short stories, screenplays, non-fiction, even my professional communications work—has stopped and asked the questions: What’s the format? and How can I break the format?.

    It’s a beautiful piece of advice that says you don’t have to be beholden to anything in writing. The best things to write are the things that challenge a common assumption.

    I’ve only seen Andy once in the past decade (in Los Angeles in 2008). I hope I bought him some drinks then. I still owe him some now for that.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    August 01, 2012

  • Briefly…
  • I’m back from a cycling holiday on Prince Edward Island. 7 days, 308 km (191 miles). Muscles I never knew I had are currently aching. Here’s a picture of me on the road, by the sea. (Not seen: the road.)


    Not much else to report… oh, just one thing: Who is the Doctor is getting a second printing. That’s rather gratifying to hear.

    Once I’ve recovered from cycling (and get caught up my day job) I’ll try to get back to writing some columns for this website. No, really!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    July 16, 2012

  • Feedback, Giving and Getting
  • I recently sent off a script I wrote to someone I respect to get their opinion of it. I’m frankly nervous about hearing back from them.

    A long time ago, I wrote about how awkward the business of getting feedback can be. That dynamic still is thorny. But let’s avoid that element of the conversation.

    The risk you take in sending out your stuff for feedback—whether from a peer, a publisher, an agent or a professional—is that you get negative feedback. And after all these years I’m better at taking it, but still not very good.

    I remember when I was about 25, I pitched a short story to Andy Lane, who was then editing one of Virgin Publishing’s Decalog collections. I sent a synopsis and a writing sample. Andy sent me back a thoughtful, constructive rejection note. It was my first real rejection letter as an adult. I did not take it well.

    One thing I really remember was Andy taking my writing sample to task because my prose would switch from a third person narrative from one character’s point of view (which was the preferred house style of Virgin publishing at the time) to omniscient third person. “But there are multiple ways of doing narration!” I thundered to friends by e-mail afterward, “Why does it have to be that one way!?”

    Flash-forward eight years or so. I’m working on the same short story to put into an anthology for Richard Salter. I’m working through the prose I wrote years ago and I have this sudden revelation.

    “Holy fuck. Andy was right.” And he was. The narration was choppy and discordant and really should have stuck with third person from a single POV.

    Ten years later, I was asked by someone to look at a short story they did. It was a good piece, but there were a few things missing, and the ending needed rethinking. I tried to send a thoughtful, constructive note, that praised what was good but pointed out what needed attention.

    And somewhere along the line I realized: I was now Andy. It’s interesting how the world works.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    July 05, 2012

  • Polaris
  • imageI’ve been going to Polaris (nee Toronto Trek) since 2000 (missing 2009 and 2011). It’s a convention near and dear to my heart. I’ve met one of my dearest friends there. I experienced one of the best room parties of my life there. Robert Smith? and I pitched Who is the Doctor there. I even met one of my past girlfriends there. I’ve argued with several programming heads and one constant innocent bystander (sorry, Dave Ennis!) about the quality of their Doctor Who programming. I’ve had a lot of good times there over the years.

    I love the fan panels, which for me, no matter the guest, are the heart of the convention (I think I’ve seen about 6 hours of main stage guest programming in the 10 or so conventions I’ve attended!). It’s a great place for fans to gather and talk about shows they love, and I love that immediacy and the thoughtful, fun, enthusiastic people who bring their all to those discussions. As a Doctor Who fan in the days before the New Series, it was a magical place for that reason. It was wonderful to share enthusiasm and speak the same language of geek.

    I love Polaris particularly because it’s like an extended fan family and I love being able to come back year after year and see the gang. Every year, I walk through the hallways and wave at people I haven’t seen since last time and I love that sense of, for lack of a better word, continuity and community.

    I’m what Polaris now calls a “pro participant” (they used to call us “author guests” back in the day). So I’ll be there with a semi-guest badge on, promoting Who is the Doctor, including a session devoted to it and a signing. Here’s my schedule for the weekend:

    7pm. Doctor Who News - Newmarket

    11am. Sherlock: How Did He…? - Gormley
    Noon. Who Is The Doctor - Newmarket
    1pm. Meet The Pros Brunch - 1080
    2pm. Autograph session - Dealer’s Room/Marketplace
    3pm. TimeWarp 87: Doctor Who In 1987 - Oak Ridges
    5pm. Yes Amy, I Am A Mad Man With A Blue Box - Gormley
    6pm Being Erica: The Session Is Over - Gormley

    1pm. A Half-Century Of Doctor Who - Unionville
    2pm. Torchwood Miracle Day - Stouffville
    4pm. Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Classic Doctor Who Monster? - Unionville
    5pm. Move Along, Pond - Aurora

    As you can see, they’re getting their money’s worth out of me, though I’m doing this as a volunteer!

    Sadly, this is the last year of Polaris (“in this form” so the organizers say. Who knows what it will return as?). But this year is going to ensure it will go out with a bang. If you haven’t been, and are in the Toronto area, you should definitely come. It’s at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North, located at 600 Highway 7, Richmond Hill, Friday-Sunday July 6-8.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    June 28, 2012

  • RIP Nora Ephron
  • If there is one film that defined so much of who I was and the relationships I was in during the 1990s it was When Harry Met Sally.

    When Harry Met Sally was also, by a striking coincidence, the very first screenplay I ever read. I borrowed it from a professor when I was studying screenwriting at university and never returned it. (The copy I had, it was still titled Harry…This is Sally and Rob Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman are credited as co-writers on the script.) My copy is buried somewhere so I can’t quote excerpts but I was amazed at how vividly drawn Harry and Sally were even on the page.

    I love the closing scene. It’s such a beautifully smart ending. Harry needs to convince Sally he loves her and isn’t just lonely and confused and tells her exactly why. For 20 years I have adored the dialogue in this sequence. It’s such a wonderful payoff to the whole movie.

    If Nora Ephron is missed for a few things I hope this is one of them.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    June 26, 2012

  • Borrowing From Ourselves
  • I love Aaron Sorkin. I love him when he’s brilliant (The West Wing, the first season of Sports Night); I love him when he’s lurching from bad to good to really weird (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the second season of Sports Night). I love his new show The Newsroom though I think it’s a bit from column A and a bit from column B.

    But he does something every writer does: He steals from his work, recycles it and uses it somewhere else. If only there was some means of editing that together, and then putting it on a website that disseminates short video clips via the internet. (Cue Jeff Daniels: “YouTube! YouTube! YouTube!”)

    Reading the comments about this fascinates me. People cite this as (and the ways his dramas tend to have similar type characters) as a case for Sorkin being unoriginal. Hell, I think it’s a case for Sorkin being a writer. Writers borrow from their past works all the time. John Irving writes novel after novel featuring wrestling and dominant females and boys schools in New England. Russell T Davies loves characters named Tyler and Jones. Have you seen a Steven Moffat episode of anything that didn’t feature some smart mouthed woman somewhere? And don’t get me started about Matthew Weiner…

    Someone who has read most of my screenplays commented, “You always have a gay character.” And it’s true. I do. And when writing non-fiction works like Who is the Doctor I found myself discovering I used the exact same phrase in three different places, reviewing three different things. And don’t get me started about our overuse of the words “astonishing”, “via” and “stunning”. People have quirks, and go-to things they like to write. I think it makes the work far more integral to them.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    June 18, 2012

  • Why I Love John Irving (#1672)
  • imageAs I have said before, John Irving is my favourite living author. Naturally, I set my google calendar to send me a reminder to my blackberry the day his new book In One Person came out. And then had to navigate all sorts of hurdles put out for me when the main Chapters in Downtown Ottawa didn’t have the book in stock(!)

    Of course wouldn’t you know it, the book came out during a month where a) I was moving, b) I was starting a full-time job and c) said full-time job was keeping me very busy, when moving and my own book promotion wasn’t. Consequently, I’ve been proceeding through this book at a far slower pace. I’ve been enjoying it, though it is, to be certain, going to be one of Irving’s more middling books. I can tell early on.

    But there’s still enough of the genius of John Irving’s writing to keep me enraptured, so I’m happy. Such as this little bit of exposition, nestled in a conversation between our hero William Abbott and his childhood crush, the librarian Miss Frost:

    I confessed to her that I hadn’t come to the library to read. I told Miss Frost that I was trying to get away from friends—so that I could write.

    “You’ve come here, to the library, to write,” she repeated. I remembered that Miss Frost had a habit of repeating what you said. Nana Victoria said that Miss Frost must have enjoyed the repetition, because by repeating what you said to her, she could keep the conversation going a little longer. (Aunt Muriel had claimed that no one liked to talk to Miss Frost.)

    I love what Irving has done here: he’s finally drawn attention to a character tic which has been going for the previous 50 pages or so, but has done so through anecdotes from his bitchy grandmother and aunt, which adds to the setting of a small town where everyone gossips about the other, makes the relatives seem more judgmental and elicits more sympathy for the haughty Miss Frost. It’s a tiny piece of prose that accomplishes so much. I love that man.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

    June 06, 2012

  • RIP Ray Bradbury
  • “Can’t we,” he pleaded to the world, to himself, to the officials, to the Machine, “can’t we take it back, can’t we make it alive again? Can’t we start over? Can’t we-”

    - “The Sound of Thunder” (1952)

    Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:

    “Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…” 

    - “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950)

    I can’t say all that much about Ray Bradbury except the man’s ability with prose has left me in awe since I was a teenager. And probably will do forever.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink
    Page 2 of 9 pages  <  1 2 3 4 >  Last »