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.