The Pen is Mightier than the Nerd: A Twitter Novel (part one)

I decided to write a twitter novel, once.

NOT a novel 140 characters long, of course, that would be insultingly easy (but no doubt if I was commissioned to write a 140-character long novel I’d still sit there doing nothing about it, twiddling my wotsits, leaving it right to the last minute, and then dashing out thirty words in an hysterical caffeine-addled blur).

No, this would be a full novel, tweeted out one line at a time.  I announced this to my partner.

‘I’ve decided to write a twitter novel,’  I announced, thusly.

‘Oh,’ she announces back.  ‘You’ll be wanting to write it in real time then?’

‘Oh,’ I say, my voice quieter, and a bit scared.

That’s a thought…’

And so it began.  A novel unfolding IN REAL TIME over a number of weeks.   I was doing it ostensibly to promote my ‘Mervyn Stone Mysteries’ books, so I used Mervyn as the central character, and it became one of the most interesting, exhausting, rewarding and above all, organic writing experiences I’ve ever had.

I decided on a start day, got my publishers to promote it, tweeted a bit of pre-publicity myself, pre-wrote page one of the novel to help me (which I promptly scrapped by the second tweet) and on the morning of that day I had my amateur sleuth wake up beside a dead body.

I have to say, at this point, before anybody else points this out; yes I know tweeting when you wake up beside a dead body is a somewhat unnatural thing to do given the situation, but no more nuts than tweeting at a live concert, or when you’re a juror in a trial, or having sex, which I gather is what the young people do these days.  Just go with it folks, I hoped, and thankfully a lot of people did.

On day one there was something I hadn’t bargained for; people tweeting to Mervyn while he’s tweeting; this gave the process a mad, improvised quality, with ‘Mervyn’ addressing their concerns at the same time as pushing the narrative forward. (If you’re confused by the ‘It’s Andrew Smith’ reference, it’s because one of the tweet followers happens to be a policeman).

The story mutated as it went along; elements were dropped, others were thrown in as they occurred to me.  I only realised several days in that I’d actually started the novel on april the first, so I incorporated that into the story.  I called a character the wrong name on one tweet, and not being able to correct myself, I worked that into the story too.  I got a bit bored a week or two in, and had a brainwave; so I got the murderer to start tweeting as well.  I decided to allow my followers to guess the identity of the murderer, and select one of the correct guessers to be in the story during the final day of the novel.

Every time I tried to plan something, the twitter laughed and shook its mocking birdlike head.  As my detective was involved with the world of cult TV (creator of an old Space TV show) , I planned for Mervyn to reveal the murderer from the stage of a Science-Fiction convention, and with ‘life’ imitating ‘art’, I would go to a Science Fiction convention myself, and tweet the identity of the murderer from the stage.

…Only I couldn’t get a signal for the bloody phone in the hotel, so I had to finish the climax of my novel sitting in a bus-stop down the road.

So anyway, I think it’s a shame to let something float away inside the twitterverse.  Understandably, a few people fell by the wayside as their twitter feeds were filling up with Mervyn’s investigation, a few others missed key plot points as they weren’t near their phones or their computers, so this is for those people too, and also, rather selfishly, for me too, as it’s time to promote more Mervyn Mysteries (the audio is out this month).

I’m reprinting it in chunks here.  Below is what happened on the first day.  Many thanks to Mike Bell for transcribing the tweets, and collecting them.  The story opened on the morning of april the first, 2011,  and twenty four days and twenty thousand words later, it was done.

A few notes:  I left some natural breaks during the day so that Mervyn’s twitter followers would wonder ‘what’s happening with Mervyn now’?  That’s why those dotted lines are there.

THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE NERD.

Oh God. My head…

Where the hell am I?

Jesus Christ. Are you alright?

Oh shit. Guys, I’ve discovered a body.

Well ‘discovered’ is a pretty pro-active term. I’ve just opened my eyes and its there, lying on the floor.

He looks about a quarter of a tonne. Ton. What’s the right spelling? Oh my bloody head.

He’s covering most of the floor. I can’t miss him. What’s a good image for a huge fat dead guy? Stunned walrus? Sunbathing German?

Anyway, he’s definitely dead. He’s not breathing. I’m looking over him now. Oh right. I see what his problem is.

There’s a big bloody crater in his head. Where his forehead used to be. Someone’s going to get into trouble for that.

I’m going to clean up now. God my head…

I’ve just splashed some water on my face in the bathroom. That’s supposed to make things look better, right?

Wrong.

Bloody hell…

I’ve just realised I was holding something when I woke up on the floor.

I put it down on the table, just a reflex. I’m looking at it now.

It’s not pretty.

It’s a brick. A huge Perspex brick. Like they give out at the cheaper awards ceremonies. The ones where they don’t feed you.

The ones where they just supply booze and hope a fight breaks out later.

Inside the brick is a scrap of paper. A bit of old newspaper. A photo of a smiling girl. There’s writing on it.

It says LOT’S OF LOVE GERTIE! XXX

I’m feeling pretty queasy now. Not at the nasty punctuation, but at the fact that the Perspex brick has got blood on it.

This Perspex brick has been impolitely imbedded in the head of this fat guy…

Just like the apostrophe has been impolitely imbedded in the phrase LOT’S OF LOVE GERTIE! XXX

Okay, thanks guys, you’re right. I’d better look around. Find out where the hell I am. I just need to sit down and rest.

I’m shaking here.

———————————————————————————————–
FUCK!

I just fell asleep on the sofa! Here I am with three acres of dead body and I fell asleep!

Oh my GOD!

The Perspex brick…

It’s back in my hand!

Someone put the brick back in my hand while I was asleep!

The murderer must have still been in the house when I woke up!

He might still be here!

You’re right everyone. I have to get out of here. I’ll try all the doors and windows.

@mikegbell: @mervynstone take the brick with you. It has your fingerprints on and this Gertie could be important

@mervynstone: @mikegbell Easier said than done, Mike. The door’s locked. And the windows. I’ll try upstairs.

@Andrew_Smith_DW: @mervynstone. Calm down. You’ve nothing to worry about. You don’t have to say anything but it may harm your defence if…

@mervynstone: @Andrew_Smith_DW Easy for you to say. You haven’t got a dead man downstairs looking like he’s trying to impersonate the island of Jersey.

Everything locked upstairs too. I could try smashing a window…

There’s nothing I can use. There’s a Klingon head on the wall, a big wooden sword with ‘Prop: Xena Warrior Princess’ under it…

I’m realising who the dead man is. Funny I didn’t recognise him before.

But I know so many big fat guys in this business; they all melt into one big fat guy after a while.

It’s Alistair Guffin, cult shop owner and ace collector of bits of sci-fi nonsense. That’s why I’m here. He had my boots! The bastard!

Oh no…

I can hear lights. And a siren. There’s tyres on gravel…Let me look out of the window…

Oh dear. Guess who’s here?

I think it’s Andrew Smith!

Or someone who looks a lot like him. He’s certainly brought a lot of policemen with him.

They’ve rung the bell. I think I’d better stop tweeting now.

Does anyone know the name of a good lawyer?

———————————————————————————————–

If they think locking me up in a tiny cell’s going to intimidate me, then more fool them.

I’ve had much smaller hotel rooms for science fiction conventions. And the police facilities are much nicer.

They’ve finally allowed me to make a phone call. I’ve asked if tweets count, and the policeman just gave me a look like he doesn’t like me very much.

I’ve been divested of the contents of my pocket, and been asked to pee into a bottle.

I made a joke about selling the urine on e-bay, as the fans might like to buy it. The policeman looked at me like he really didn’t like me very much.

I don’t think he’s heard of the TV show ‘’Vixens from the Void’

And even if he did, he looks like he wouldn’t be impressed if he knew I wrote most of it.

In contrast, the copper who took my possessions, Clive, is a cheery little man. It’s his job to bag up the evidence.

At the house, I watched him put the Perspex brick into a little bag, and then into a bigger bag, then into a little box and I don’t know if they had a bigger box to put the little box in..

…because then I was bundled into a police car and brought here, sirens wailing like Vanity Mycroft in a number two dressing room.

I’ve been asked questions for a few hours, and the conversation has been chugging around in circles for a while now.

They’ve pointed out that me not phoning the police and trying to leave the scene of the crime makes me look very suspicious.

I’ve pointed out that being found at the scene of the crime with a murder weapon in my hand makes me look suspicious anyway…

so the best thing I could have done is not make me not look suspicious at all, i.e. get the hell out of there.

They’ve asked me about the mess upstairs, the opened drawers and the clothes on the floor. They asked me if I did that. I said no.

The mess didn’t even register with me when I went upstairs – I always assume fan’s houses to be messy.

They tell me that there’s signs of a burglary, and there’s items missing. I’ve said I know nothing about that.

The policeman wants my phone back. I’ve had it long enough. Bugger. I should have called a lawyer.

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In 1492, The Doctor sailed the TARDIS blue…

As well as ‘The Axeman Cometh’ I also have this coming out in June, as part of Doctor Who’s birthday celebrations:

There are five things ye should know about Doctor Who historicals, sire…

I like doing Doctor Who stories in history; it appeals to the lazy writer in me, to do without all that tedious process of inventing stuff.  None of those head-scratching mornings, pecking at the keys on the computer at random, trying to come up with space age character names that don’t sound like brands of suppositories.

I also love  mucking around with cliches in my stories, and your typical Doctor Who historical is full of them.  Finding cliches in a Doctor Who Historical is like shooting fish in a barrel (did you see what I did there?).  Now I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure how ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ became so ubiquitous that it entered the lexicon as a cliche; did they have massive international Piscine execution tournaments that went on for ages and ages, in huge arenas covered with splintered wood and fish guts?  I bet it was probably the national sport for about a week in the eighteenth century, before they found tobacco sponsorship on the side of the barrel, or there was a fish doping scandal, and they had to resort to snooker.

Any Doctor Who story gives you the expectation of a collection of things that’s ‘supposed’ to happen (corridors, monsters, villains, threat of oozing death), but a Doctor Who historical gives you ANOTHER set of things that are ‘supposed’ to happen, to put on top of all the other things.  The result being there are so many elements you feel you ought to put in that it’s tempting to write it like a pantomime; ticking the boxes as you go.   Over-familiar characters and set-pieces jump up and demand their voices be heard, like a strangely amorphous crowd of oddly articulate peasants.

Here are five, but there are many more…

1.  The Doctor gets pally with/threatened by a famous historical figure, who usually talk a bit like they’re from a Shakespeare play or, if it’s after the renaissance, like they’re in a Dickens novel.

‘If you insult my beard, sirrah, then mayhap you insult the whole make up department of the BBC.’

2. The Doctor says something enigmatic about the future which we as a modern audience understand, but none of the historical characters get.  This comment is directed at no-one in particular, and usually makes you want to punch him.  Yes, Doctor, you’re a time traveller.  You’d think the buzz would have worn off by now.

3. The Doctor discovers a villainous alien bent on changing history, but in a very fiddly way, like unscrewing Edison’s lightbulb or replacing Newton’s apple with an orange.  You never get the Master stopping the industrial revolution in its tracks by simply destroying the north of England, probably because the Thatcher estate would have sued for breach of intellectual copyright.

‘If we could just get George Stephenson to call his steam transportation machine ‘Thomas’, then we would create a franchise that could rule the universe.’

4. The Doctor, companion or his adversary inspires/causes a famous moment in history, which the Doctor thinks is hilarious, despite frantically stopping everyone else from mucking about with history for the other 99% of the time.

5.  The companion gets separated from the Doctor and gets locked up, usually by another faction from the ones they met when they first arrived, and always with inferior dental hygiene.

Tell me more about this thing called ‘flossing’, of which you speak, Doctor…

You only have to fiddle with one of the above to look incredibly clever, and look like you’ve re-invented the wheel, which co-incidently, is what the Master attempts in my next story, when he rips the fabric of the universe apart by telling Ug about dual suspension.

‘Trouble in Paradise’ is available here:

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/trouble-in-paradise-853

Hi. My name’s Clive, and it’s been ten years since ‘Firefly’ got axed.

June is going to be a busy month for me; after two years a new Mervyn Stone Mystery is going to surface, this time on a shiny CD…

Image

…in which Mervyn is challenged to solve a murder, and comes face-to-face with Phyllis Trilby, the TV executive who cancelled his show in 1992.

Any fan of a Television programme that gets suddenly ripped from their screens will sympathise with the murderous rage this person inspires…

‘Cos it ain’t fair, is it?  We don’t want the story to ever end, and we never have.  The frustrated grinding of teeth from deprived fans are, ironically, over-familiar sequels from years past; it’s probably the distant ancestors of ‘Babylon 5’ fans who bullied Homer into recounting ‘The Odyssey’, that disappointing follow-up to the Iliad.

Queen Elizabeth used the force of her magisterial power to fight wars, kill catholics, and nudge Shakespeare into rolling out Falstaff one more time in a crowd-pleasing but ultimately unwelcome prequel.  In many ways she was the first ‘Star Wars’ fan.

(Apropos of nothing, are the ‘Star Wars’ prequels the most sophisticated textual joke ever played on a movie-going public?  The message in the films is ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, a cautionary motif that is contained both within the narrative of the story and the fact they exist at all.  Is the should-have-seen-that-coming impending doom visited on the Jedi actually a metaphor for the gullible optimism that fans deluded themselves that ‘this time round it’s not going to be a disaster’?)

Scheherazade saved her own life with the promise of ‘just one more story’.   Perhaps like many fans today, that Persian king might have looked back on his huge Scheherazade box set, and actually wondered if staying up red-eyed for a thousand and one nights was worth it, and he should have just chopped her head off and gone out to play football, or learned to play the piano, or something.

Writers pretend to share the fan’s rage, but secretly, we love it.  I’m sorry to tell you that, but yes, we do.  Joss Whedon may have popped his bottom lip out when ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dollhouse’ got the chop, but he’s a writer and writers are unsentimental bastards; his brain had finished with them the precise second they died, and already busy forming quips that could be delivered by buff men and women in spandex.  I’m sure the only reason why Chris Boucher regrets there was no ‘Blakes’ 7’series five is because then fans would not keep asking him WHAT THE F*CK HAPPENED NEXT?  because i’m sure he had no idea either.  He had the best thing that could ever happen to a writer.  He got to write a fantastic cliff-hanger and never had to resolve it.  As ‘Sherlock’ series three advances on us, and we are on the verge of what happened after that impossible ending, Steven Moffat  knows full well what a lucky bastard Chris was, because if the BBC pulled the plug after series two, Steven could still tantalise the viewers for years with ‘what could have happened’ anecdotes on chat shows, but he could have also powered down the macbook and gone to the pub.

We writers love it because it give us a feeling of power without having to do any work.  Someone has very helpfully taken our creations hostage on our behalf, put a gun against their head, and reminded the fans why they care about them.  And how much do fans care about them?  A lot more than the writer does.   We get bored much quicker than the audience, because we have to write the f*cking words.  Just look at Sherlock Holmes again; most of the time we just kill them off ourselves, Conan Doyle stylee, just to see if anyone cares anymore.  Marvel and DC comics do it every other week, to jolt some passion into their readers.  Shame they’ve done it far too many times and it doesn’t work anymore.

‘Stop the debrillilators boys, I’m calling Superman at 1992’

To this end, I have given ‘The Axeman Cometh’ a subheading of ‘Mervyn Stone’s Last Story’.  Modelled as it is on Agatha Christie’s ‘Curtain’, Poirot’s final bow, I am going to tantalise you and enrage with the possibility that this is the last you will ever hear from Mervyn Stone EVER again.

Of course it’s all rubbish, but you can’t blame a lazy writer for trying, can you?

‘The Axeman Cometh’ is available from here:

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-axeman-cometh-908

The Drapes of Wrath.

Here is Lee Binding’s very lovely cover for a thing I have written.  It’s called ‘The Eternal Actress’.

Fans of the old television series ‘Dark Shadows’ will recognise the actor Donna McKechnie playing Amanda Harris.  Non-fans of the old television series ‘Dark Shadows’ will recognise skull, roses, pretty lady, curtains and creepiness.

It will be available from Big Finish in may.  If you buy it and get me to sign it, I guarantee all sorts of hilarity where I search for a non-murky bit where I can put my name.

Close the curtains Geoffrey, I'm Amphibious.

Tomorrow is Big Finish day.

Just a note to say I’ll be on my way to Barking tomorrow (the place, not the state of mind) where I’ll be signing copies of my books and CDs under the wary eye of such Sci-Fi luminosities as Tom Baker, Paul Darrow and David Warner.

http://www.tenthplanetevents.co.uk/big-finish-day-2—february-11-446-c.asp

Don’t miss it, or you’ll be completely barking (the state of mind, not the place).