Saturday, 19 May 2007


Whoo! The covers for the three September Doctor Who novels have been released - and very nice they are, too.

Strangely enough - and totally coincidentally (unless Lee Binding, who designed the covers, has a secret plan) it seems to be a visual sequel to the cover of Relative Dementias, my first novel.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Sit-down comic

Well, 2007 gets more and more exciting: I've just been commissioned to write a comic strip for Doctor Who Adventures magazine! Whooo! As this is the first time I've done anything like this, it's all a bit scary.

For those who don't know about such things ('Do you draw the pictures?') how it works is that I've come up with the story (stretching over two installments of six pages each) and the dialogue that goes in the speech bubbles. I pass the script onto Moray Laing, the magazine's editor, and he gets talented artist John Ross to draw the pictures to fit my descriptions.
It's called Cold War and features the tenth Doctor and Martha (as played on TV by David Tennant and Freema Agyeman - like you didn't already know!). And it'll be out in October!


Friday, 30 March 2007

A little extra (part 2)

Well bugger me sideways. No, silly. Not literally.

After all that fannying around with the Halifax (see below), I did write back to them, arguing that indeed it was their mistake that meant I was needlessly paying £20 for a mortgage interest statement that arrived too late to be of use. I expected another 'we are not to blame - tough shit!' letter from them.

Imagine my surprise (go on - imagine it. I'll wait here for you. I'll have a fag. Take your time.) when this morning they wrote to me, noting my comments, and saying that 'because of your long-standing relationship with us' they were refunding me the £20.

Bloody hell - really didn't expect that. They add: 'I sincerely hope that we will have the opportunity in the future to restore your faith in us' (as opposed, I imagine, to having the opportunity in the past).

So, as my mate Will Shakespeare said, all's well that ends well.

Lesson learned? As with the Virgin Media business, it pays to complain. So go on - get complaining.


Thursday, 15 March 2007

The power of complaining

Bloody hell!

I'm writing this, just half an hour after posting the whinge-fest that's the post below. I've written a follow-up letter to the Halifax (I'll let you know how that goes) and called Virgin Media about the £5 non-direct-debit charge.

And bugger me, if the nice chap at Virgin Media (call their customer care number, 0800 052 9403, not the customer services number, 150) didn't look at my bill, say: 'Yes, I don't think you should be paying all that, actually,' and offer to chop my bill by about £9. He said he couldn't actually remove the payment handling charge, but didn't think I should pay as much as I do for my 10meg broadband or the £1 itemised bill and said that from now on there'd be a 'loyalty discount' of £9 every month.

I think the phrase is: 'Result!'

I must admit, I'm a bit surprised at how easy it was - especially considering I've come away with a lower bill than before. Even the bloke (David, BTW - nice man) said that he thought that eventually the payment handling charge would be scrapped.

A little bit of my dwindling faith in humanity has been restored.


A little extra

Those of you tuning in to read exciting snippets about the progress of my Doctor Who novel may be a tad disappointed, since all I'm going to witter on about here is the current propensity for big companies to try to squeeze out every single penny from their customers as possible.

This, of course, is nothing new: there's recently been much hoo-ha about banks' overcharging of customers for going overdrawn. Fortunately, I've managed my meagre finances well enough to avoid that for some years now, but the ever-creeping desire of banks and other companies to wring a bit of 'added value' out of their customers goes beyond charges for badness.

Because I'm self-employed and rent out the house I own and used to live in, every year I need to let my accountant know how much mortgage interest I've paid on it. Until two years ago, the Halifax (who own the house - I'm under no illusions there) used to send out an 'annual statement of mortgage interest' free of charge to every one of their mortgage customers. And then, in a double whammy of greed, they decided a) to only send them out to people who actively requested them (saving them an absolute fortune, since most people didn't really need them and wouldn't have requested them) and b) charging £20 for the privilege.

So, on January 12th, I rang the Halifax and asked them to send them one, agreeing that it would cost me £20, and pointing out that I needed it for my accountant in time for her to do my accounts and submit them to the Inland Revenue by the end of the month.

Come the 24th of January and nothing had arrived, so whilst in Leeds, I called in at a branch, spoke to a customer services person (I think they used to call them 'salespeople') who put me through on the phone to someone in the mortgage department who said that the certificate hadn't been sent out because the woman I'd spoken to had forgotten to ask if it was OK for them to debit the £20 from my current account. Rolling my eyes, I said yes (even the woman in the branch thought it was ridiculous!) and the woman on the end of the phone said it would be with me in two days.

Two days later (yes, you're probably ahead of me here), nothing had arrived, so I rang them again and was told it had been sent out on the 26th. Reluctantly, because I'd been told I needed a printed statement, I accepted a verbal statement of my mortgage interest (which, amazingly enough, was free!) and gave that to my accountant.

The actual statement arrived on the 30th of January. And despite the letter itself being dated the 26th, the postmark on the envelope was the 29th: either they'd lied to me and not posted it until the 29th, or they put their post into a very poorly-visited postbox.

I rang them and asked for the £20 fee to be waived since, because of their catalogue of errors, the printed statement arrived too late to be of any use. I also wrote to them, detailing all of the above.

Imagine my surprise when, a week or so later, I got a different mortgage statement from them, detailing all the payments and interest and what-not I'd paid over the last year - including three debits of £20. I rang them and was told that two of them were mistakes and that they'd credited my account with £60, but that they were still debating whether to refund the final £20.

And imagine my lack of surprise when, a week or so ago, I got a letter saying they wouldn't be refunding the money. In their own beautiful English: ' this error was not caused on the behalf of the Halifax.' (sic)

Considering the whole fiasco started because the woman forgot to ask me about payment, it seems a bit rich, their claiming that it wasn't due to them.

At the moment, feeling weary and drained as I do, I'm not sure I can be arsed taking it further. I know I should, but this kind of thing just wears you down.

And as if that isn't enough, now that ntl has been bought out by Virgin Media - and because I pay my monthly phone/broadband bills by cheque rather than direct debit - Virgin Media are slapping a bloody great £5 per-month charge on our bills. The £4 that ntl charged was bad enough. If I can be arsed, I might just ring them and complain - I've read on the interwebnet that many people have been successful in having this charge removed. It might cheer me up a bit - or, if unsuccessful, depress me even further.



Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Remember remember this coming September

Well, I can finally spill the beans. Well, a few of them. And no, this isn't more of me rattling on about 'Doctor' Gillian McKeith. This is much more important.

After two months of having to keep quiet and bite my tongue, I can finally run to the top of an Alpine hill in a nun's outfit and declare that the hills are alive with the sound of my keyboard as I finally get around to writing a new novel.

Yes! Come September, every bookshop in the land, every supermarket and every library will proudly be stocking three new Doctor Who novels. And one of them will be mine. At the moment, it's going by the provisional title of Wetworld, but that could quite possibly change. Tieing in with the absolutely brilliant new TV series, it features David Tennant as the Doctor, and Freema Agyeman as new companion Martha (pictured above.)

The other two books are also by newcomers to the NSA (New Series Adventures) range - published since the Russel T Davies-helmed series burst back onto our TV screens in 2005: one by acclaimed author Paul Magrs (possibly called The Wicked Bungalow - the book, I mean, not Paul) and one by veteran horror and thriller writer Mark Morris (called Forever Autumn). I'm absolutely chuffed, not only to be asked to write one, but to be in the company of the two of them. I'm hoping some of the shine from their books rubs off on mine, actually.

Can't tell you what Wetworld is about, obviously, but suffice to say there are swamp monsters in it. The NSAs are aimed at a slightly lower starting age (8 and upwards) than the two previous Doctor Who novels (and the Professor Bernice Summerfield novel) I've written which is proving to be an interesting challenge. For a start, I'm having to struggle against my habit of writing ludicrously long, multi-clausal sentences: ones full of colons and semi-colons; ones full of multiple, often unnecessary, adjectives - and clauses separated off with dashes.

And as if the excitement of being asked to write an NSA wasn't enough, me, Paul and Mark - who are absolutely lovely, as well as being great writers - were forced at gunpoint to go down to Cardiff to view rough cuts of the first three episodes of the new series, and it really is the bee's bollocks!

And this afternoon, I got to interview Phil Collinson, Doctor Who's producer, for my gay paper, Shout! - which was very weird, considering I'm writing a Doctor Who book at the same time. He's a lovely bloke, he really is: I'm just hoping that the battered old dictaphone that I used to record the interview has recorded everything well enough, otherwise I'll just have to make it all up. Check Shout!'s website over the next month or two to see the finished thing. If you discover that he was born 'Phyllis Collings' and spent his formative years at a sex-change clinic in Rio de Janeiro, then you'll know it's time I got a new dictaphone.


Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Smoothie operator

Not that you'd think so from the fine figure of a man that I am (see the pic on the right if you don't believe me - but don't believe the strangely pointed head that I appear to own - it's not like that at all. And the pic on the left isn't me at all. Honest.), but my diet is pretty appalling. Cigarettes supply me with most of my vitamins and minerals, thank God, otherwise I'd be dead. And vitamin pills provide the rest. I seem to be surviving on a diet of chocolate, coffee, tea, microwave ready-meals (which probably contain a lot of energy, due to the fact that they soak up microwaves) and lots of jacket potatoes with cheese, mayo and toasted sunflower seeds, along with beans on toast (with added Marmite and cheese) and peanut butter (with added Marmite) on toast.

Oh, actually, that doesn't look too bad, does it. Well, apart from the almost complete absence of those vegetable and fruit things.

Having found myself being sucked into the weird, faecal world of hamster-woman 'Doctor' Gillian McKeith (oh, that's who the picture on the left is) the other night, I thought: 'OK, let's try a few fruit and veg, just to see if they give me boundless energy and the skin of a 16 year-old (available on ebay, I would imagine). '
So I went, with typical Michalowski class, to Lidl today and spent ten or fifteen quid on an assortment of brown, green, red, orange and other unnaturally-coloured items that normally I would sooner shove up my bum than down my throat. The plan, you see, is to turn them into smoothies and soups. So - basically - I don't have to actually taste any of the viler ones. Actually, that's not quite true: when faced with fruit that I've actually bought, I can quite happily eat most of it (as I did back in 2005 when I got hepatitis A and couldn't eat any fat for several months - the amount of fresh fruit I got through was obscene, and probably contributed to the shade of custard yellow that I turned). But vegetables are Satan's Turds, and I've sworn never to allow most of them to pass my lips - in solid form, at least.
So, armed with the products of a small smallholding, me and Mike spent an hour or so this evening liquidising, simmering, chopping (and washing up. Never forget that - making smoothies and soups requires a ridiculous amount of washing up: God knows what our carbon footprint is now. It would probably have been more environmentally friendly to have flown to Rio de Janeiro to drink smoothies there).
And the end result?
Well, the soup that Mike made (containing butternut squash - always a favourite of Our Gillian - onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic and, erm, some others) was nice but needed a bit of salt or some herbs (yeuch!) or something to give it real bite.
The smoothies I made (one with orange juice and one with peach juice as a base, along with various selections of pomegranate seeds, kiwi fruits, bananas, carrotts and grapes) were lovely, if suspiciously similar-tasting ie the orange juice-based ones tasted very orangey, and the peach juice-based ones very peachy). I think I need strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and, well, lots of berries basically, to create a variety. It's fun, but we need a bigger liquidiser. I'm planning on making big batches and freezing them (although, apparently, frozen banana ones go brown). And a bigger freezer.
So next time you see me, take a close look: if I have the skin of a 16 year-old, either the fruit'n'veg are working, or I've been on ebay.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Hoarding - my genetic inheritance

My mother does it, I do it.
And if - God forbid! - I ever have kids, I'd like to think that they'll do it too. I hoard. Not quite obsessively (although if you ask Mike, he'll say differently) but throwing anything away is always difficult. We're having a bit of sort-out at the moment (basically, trying to find ways to fit more stuff into the same space). It's not as if we live in a shoe-box: a sizeable three-bedroomed house with more shelves than the British Library. But still...
Youngsters today are dead lucky that, just as house prices are shooting through the roof and everyone's having to live in tinier and tinier spaces, boffins have come up with more and more compact ways of storing media: DVDs, CDs, mp3s etc. I have shelves full of 12-inch singles and albums, the complete (yes, yes, I know...) Star Trek: Voyager and Deep Space Nine - on video - and hundreds of 7-inch singles. Collectively, they take up the space of a one-bedroomed flat in Kensington. If we got rid of them all (ie if I spent a fortune on replacing the Star Treks with DVDs - which I have no intention of doing, thank you very much: remember, I've seen them) and turned all the albums and singles into mp3s (at least I might actually listen to them again), we'd have room to rent out space to a family of Polish plumbers. Which, actually, would be quite useful at the moment.
But of course none of that will happen, and slowly, month by month, Mike and I will be squeezed out of our home by my accumulated stuff.


Friday, 12 January 2007

Dress for success - or failure

This blog writing thingy starts to get a bit addictive, doesn't it? You remember something that you were complaining to friends about recently, and suddenly, BANG!, you're putting it on the interwebnet for all and everyone to ignore.
So what's with bloody night clubs and so-called 'dress codes'? And no, it's nothing to do with 'hanky codes' (go Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about). Recently, I've been clubbing in all sorts of clubs I'd never have set foot in before August, and despite being a card-carrying woofter, I've found that straight clubs (or, at the very least, mixed clubs) have the best music (a bit of a switch from 'the Devil has all the best tunes', really): back in the 70s and 80s, it was accepted wisdom that us benders were at the cutting edge of music and fashion etc etc. Maybe it's still true in big cities, but up here in Leeds - and Manchester - it doesn't feel the case at all. In Leeds, where the gay scene is pitifully small for the city's status as the fifth largest, by population, in 2001, the only full-time gay club is the upstairs bit - The Loft - of Queens Court (yes, no apostrophe! Tsk!) - which, if I recall, is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The other late-night venues are 'gay-friendly' - places like Mission and SpeedQueen.
Which explains why, if I want a full-on queer night, I'll go across the Pennines to Manchester, where there's at least Legends, Cruz 101 and Essential. But it's a trek, and - at least with Legends - the music and atmosphere can be very variable.
So (to get back to the point), I've been doing more clubbing in Leeds at mixed venues, where the music is usually guaranteed to be pretty good, and the crowd, despite being overwhelmingly straight, are very, very rarely homophobic, and usually very, very gay-friendly. But for some reason, it's these clubs that seem to go for weird dress codes for the punters.
Glasshouse, an 11pm-9am Saturday nighter, at Mission has turned me away on two occasions for not wearing 'expensive enough' trainers. (Their words). Despite there being loads of much more skanky-looking people inside, wearing much skankier-looking trainers (and other gear) than me. Boots are fine though, it seems.
GladRags, an 11pm-5am Friday nighter, at The Space nearly turned me away for wearing black boots (and jeans and T-shirt, which were fine). Trainers are OK there. But not sportswear (clothes with sports logos - Umbro etc - two mates were turned away for that particular sin).

SpeedQueen (pictured), 10.30pm-4.30am Saturday nighter, at Rehab - which has the best atmosphere and music of the lot - has no apparent dresscode, which is great.
Historically, gay clubs have never had dress codes (unless they've been fetish nights with particular themes); straight clubs have, historically, been of the 'no jeans, no trainers' mentality, so maybe this is all just a blurring of the boundaries. It's a shame they can't all be a bit more consistent or a bit more flexible: you don't want to take a change of shoes, trousers and tops out with you on the offchance that you'll end up somewhere you weren't expecting.


Behind the times - but catching up

As I mentioned in my first post, down at the bottom, the main reason for starting this was to be able to put my latest accomplishments on the web quicker than if I did it via my proper website.

Last year saw the publication of the Professor Bernice Summerfield anthology Collected Works. Published by Big Finish - who've also published the Doctor Who short story anthologies to which I've contributed over the past few years (see the list of my published stuff, right hand column). Edited by the very talented Nick Wallace, Collected Works is - in my opinion - just about the best DW-related anthology I've read, with some brilliant stories, and only two duffers (and no, I won't say which!!).

That heading

Forgot to explain the blog title, just in case anyone's wondering....
It's a line from a Bill Nelson song, He and Sleep Were Brothers, from way back when, that I've always wanted to use as a novel title 'cos I love it so much. In the absence of a suitable novel on the horizon, I thought I might as well use it here. I've not heard anything of Bill's recently, but back in the 80s and 90s, he was a fascinating and incredibly prolific musician. If I wasn't so lazy - and so much more into dance music nowadays - I'd have a dig around and see what I can find. What sticks in my mind most about some of his stuff were the incredible titles: The Love That Whirls (Diary of a Thinking Heart), The Crystal Escalator in the Palace of God Department Store....



Well here's something I (sort of) swore to myself that I'd never do: have a blog. Not because I'm completely averse to the idea of it or that I hold bloggers in low esteem, but because I've never really seen the point of it where my own thoughts are concerned. None of them have seemed interesting or thought-provoking enough for me to feel that they should be inflicted on the world. And, God knows, it's not like the internet needs another person telling the world what they think about life, the universe and everything.

The main reason I've gone for it is that it's been, ooh, almost two years since I updated my website ( or - mainly because I keep forgetting the ftp settings for uploading new stuff, and because I keep forgetting how to use whatever package it was that I used to design and lay out the site. Every time I came to do something new to it, there was this horrid learning curve whilst I relearned even the basics.

So I figured that a blog, linked from the front of my website, might be a better way to keep things up-to-date.

And why have I decided that I need to keep my 'web presence' updated? Aha! Well that would be telling - and, at least for the next couple of months, I'm keeping my mouth shut for fear of jinxing things.

Besides, there are a couple of things that I've written since the website was last updated that I thought I should mention.