Elisabeth Sladen 1946-2011

I didn’t know Elisabeth Sladen, and I regretfully never got a chance to meet her. I’m just a fan, but I wanted to say why I loved her in Doctor Who so much. My era was late 80’s Baker and McCoy, and some of my earliest memories are of Doctor Who (Bonnie Langford in a spinning bubble to be precise), but in 1992 the BBC reran some old episodes, including the marvellous Genesis of the Daleks and I got to meet the brave, resourceful and clever Sarah Jane Smith.

Sarah Jane was the ultimate Doctor Who companion, encapsulating the eyes and ears of the young viewers at home, stuck on Earth. She wasn’t a savage, a Time Lady or called Perpugilliam, she was YOU. She was the ordinary Earth girl who just so happened to be the Doctor’s very best friend and got to travel in his TARDIS.

When she later returned in School Reunion opposite David Tennant, I was struck by how talented she was. The script gave her a chance to shine like never before, and as we saw her sense of abandonment, I was heartbroken. Even hearing her voice sent shivers down my spine. What was interesting was that you could see it sending shivers down Tennant’s spine too. Looking back at old adventures, she was far more than “the girl”, watch her possessed in The Hand of Fear; teasing the Doctor in Pyramids of Mars; begging the Doctor to erase the Daleks in Genesis – all subtle, and compelling.

She continued to bring heart and soul to the new adventures – check out her reaction to hearing Davros’ voice; bonding with adopted son, Luke; meeting her long-dead parents or finally meeting Jo Grant in SJA. Rarely has children’s TV been so rich and dignified – that was all down to Elisabeth’s performance. Just think, a CBBC show about a crabby old journalist and her teenage sidekicks should have stank in all honesty, but suddenly a new generation got to see a very different type of hero. In many ways, SJA was more Doctor Who-like than the main show: Sladen as a Hartnell figure in her mysterious attic with an alien-bred son.

There was a reason Russell T Davies picked Elisabeth from all of the past companions for School Reunion – because she was the best. She’ll be sorely missed by generations of fans, and I’m so glad Sarah Jane had those four years of solo adventures.

Stuart Warwick Interview

The above video, It Gets Better, is a winning piece choreographed and danced by Nathan Makolandra for the 2010 Choreographic Honors Concert at the Julliard School of Performing Arts in New York. However, the soundtrack song, Ex Gay, originates much closer to home with Brighton-based singer/songwriter Stuart Warwick. As he prepares to re-release his album, The Ordeal, I met up with him to discuss how this spellbinding collaboration came to be.

“My friend, (the musician) Richard Walters has also had some of his songs interpreted by Nathan in America. As Richard appeared on my album, Nathan had downloaded it through Bandcamp and then the email correspondence started. He told me about the It Gets Better campaign, which I had no knowledge of, but as soon as I researched it, I was wholly supportive of it.”

In September 2010, US author and columnist Dan Savage and his partner posted a video on YouTube, horrified by the recent suicides of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youths in America. Their message was simple – hang on in there, it gets better. From there the movement snowballed into a worldwide message of support and hope for young people coming to terms with their sexuality.

Makolandra chose the song Ex Gay to support his vision. The first single from Warwick’s album is a scathing message to organisations that claim to “cure” homosexuality. “Aversion therapy won’t tame a lion,” muses Warwick in the track, who married his husband, Steven, in 2009. What did he think of the finished performance? “I was incredibly impressed. Obviously a lot of work had gone into it…it was beautiful.” The performance also brought unexpected celebrity perks when the recital was judged by none other than Oscar winner Natalie Portman. “She said she loved the dance and the song, which is lovely. But maybe she goes around saying that about everything! It’s weird to think of Natalie Portman listening to your music though!”

Ex Gay came from Warwick’s first self-titled album, although he released two successful albums previously under the pseudonym Jacob’s Stories. I ask him what prompted the rebranding. “I suppose I wanted to put of bit of distance between myself and some of the earlier material. There’s nothing radically musically different, but it was a chance to wipe the slate clean.” I suggest the Jacob’s Stories albums are more personal. “That was problem with the first albums. Perhaps I was wallowing. There’s a difference between wearing your heart on a sleeve and giving yourself up entirely. It can be embarrassing, although there’s nothing wrong with documenting a time in your life.”

This brings us to The Ordeal. Now happily married, Warwick had to capture his signature melancholy elsewhere. The Ordeal is inspired by ten actual traumas, including the “fake” kidnap of Shannon Matthews on I Promise U, and Elisabeth Fritzl on The Ordeal. “I suppose I was in quite a sedate place in my life, so I looked to these atrocious stories to provoke the feeling I wanted. I was apprehensive about being that vocal about what some of them are about. I don’t know if it’s tasteful that one of the songs is about Fritzl, but it was one of the most horrendous stories we’ll ever hear in our lifetime – so deeply upsetting.” I remind Stuart of Emma Donaghue’s Room, which also takes inspiration from the Fritzl case, and went on to be one of the best-selling books of 2010. He looks quietly vindicated.

It’s not all doom and gloom on the album. Artemis 20 tells the uplifting tale of quadriplegic sailor Hilary Lister’s voyage while When Plagues End is about the AIDS Memorial Quilt. “The idea of The Ordeal was that from horror, some beautiful things can be born. If you think about Hilary Lister completing that sail, I was just overwhelmed when I read about it. I wanted it to be inspiring, although it’s the least popular on Spotify!”

Warwick tells me there are personal messages on the album, although they are “under a cloaked veil.” He is now working on a new album, seeing The Ordeal as a transition from his old Jacob’s Stories material. The fourth album, he tells me “is more lavish, more epic, with a lot more strings. I’ve been working a lot with the cellist Martin Radford, who has worked with Patrick Wolf. He’s been amazing. The next one’s going to have a lot more gusto.” But before that he is relaunching The Ordeal, he admits for publicity following the It Gets Better appearance. “You have to be so shameless. It’s still an unknown record so you have to tout yourself about. I’m not so good at it, but it’s just what you have to to. It’s why I’ve been touring so much – as you soon as you stop, the momentum slips.”

2011 is a busy year for Stuart Warwick. He’s on a continual tour of the country, both headlining his own shows and supporting a wide range of acts from Vessels to Lucy Rose. As soon as he’s done promoting The Ordeal, he’ll put the finishing touches to the fourth album. “I’ll keep it to myself for a couple of months, and just listen to it. I used to think that if I wasn’t constantly throwing out new things, people would get bored and walk away. But I don’t think they will, if they like me now, I like to think they’d come back in a year, five years.”

With momentum gradually building behind the thirty year-old, it seems like his following will only continue to grow. Warwick has recently performed for the first time on BBC Radio 6 with Vessels and The Ordeal feels like the new beginning the singer desired. “I think I’m getting better at this,” he smiles, and I honestly don’t know if he’s referencing It Gets Better or not.

The Ordeal by Stuart Warwick is available from iTunes or at Bandcamp. For further information about tour dates visit www.stuartwarwick.com

I Scre4m, You Scr3am, We all 5cream for 1ce Cream.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that Scream (1995) is a key inspiration for my writing – the razor sharp knives and razor sharp dialogue were so fresh, so killer; 15 year-old me was hooked from the first stab. HOLLOW PIKE fits the same mould of darkly comic teen thriller, so even ten years after the dire Scream 3, I was willing to give this “franchise reboot” a go. Hell, I was even excited.

Set ten years after Scream 3, the new installment sees celebrity survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) return to the sleepy town of Woodsboro where she’s reunited with old chums Dewey and Gale (now ex-couple David Arquette and Courtney Cox – AWKWARD). She’s only been home 5 minutes when the mates of her young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) start being butchered by ol Ghostface.

Kevin Williamson (who is thought to have written MOST of the script after having a barney with studio bosses), once more turns in a sparkling script with twists and turns galore, not to mention bucket loads of film references and pithy one-liners. Don’t be put off by the 15 rating, Scream 4 is every bit as gory and violent as the others, if not more so. What do you have to do to get an 18 these days?

Let’s face it, at their worst, the Scream films are way ahead of any other horror franchise in terms of intelligence – no cliche is left unturned or unreferenced. However, this strength is also its weakness. There is WAY too much going on in this film – Scream 4 is in no way a hopping on point or reboot, it’s a sequel drowning in its own mythos. For instance, Dewey and Gale are completely unnecessary to the plot and seem to have been included because they’re in the franchise (also Arquette, drunk. Cox, plastic surgery). The bloated cast means it’s hard to develop sympathy for any of the new blood, despite a heroic (LOLOLOLO) effort from Hayden Panetierre as Jill’s film-fan bestie, Kirby.

The biggest shame is the ending, which comes so close to being clever and original, but then isn’t. You’ll have to see it to see what I mean.

Ah well, still well worth watching, if a missed opportunity. Better than Scream 3, not as good as Scream, about as good as Scream 2. So there you have it.

My First Book Fair

Not a hot dog or waltzer in sight, unfortunately, but yesterday I made my first visit to London Book Fair. Of course, I was interested to see if there was a three mile queue of people lining up to buy Hollow Pike and turn it into a film, but I was mainly there to have a nose around and see what goes down at a book fair.

The answer is business, people. BIG business. Essentially, these are rights markets – book traders from all around the world buying and selling rights to foreign markets. It was interesting to see some sexy looking books on the stands, but the real buzz came from the meetings going on across tables and in the hundreds of tiny booths. The Bookseller site has details of many of sales happening as I type.

The big boys had the biggest stands, as you’d predict – Penguin, Random House, Hachette UK and Harper Collins were all especially fly. I dropped by the Hachette UK stand to hang with my rights manager from Orion – books by Liz Kessler and Annabel Pitcher were proudly displayed. Alex (from Orion) tells me that Bologna Book Fair is the biggy for kids and YA, and I should try to squeeze a  place at next year’s fair.

The most mental part is the International Rights Centre (previously known as the agent’s zone). Hilariously, as I’m not scheduled to meet with my agent, security won’t let me in to this area – and rightly so I suppose. The IRC is a hotter, more cramped version of the main hall. Smaller booths, more people, even more serious looking business.

Basically, Book Fairs aren’t really for readers – they’re for trade people, although I’m thrilled I went as it’s given me an insight into the inner workings of the publishing world. The real highlight came as I left Earl’s Court, however. On the steps, security staff were blocking the entrance to an irate woman, waving a manuscript around. She was determined to a) get to a publisher and b) get publisher that day. Respect to the security staff who managed to politely explain that even if she bought a ticket (she wanted in for free) no-one would be able to meet with her. She was NOT happy as she walked away, mind.

After the fair I went for an editorial meeting to iron out some Hollow Pike details (including the all-important cover art). Obviously, I’m not going to share the finer points of that meeting – you’ll have to wait and see!