Monday, January 25, 2016

The great NutriBullet debacle of 2016

Anyone who knows me in real life (or irl as the kids say) will know that I eat, for want of a better term, like a four year old. Not as in I start a meal with a smile on my face and end it with the meal all over my face and down my pants, but rather that I don't necessarily eat as healthily as perhaps I could, or indeed should. Which I expect comes as something of a surprise bearing in mind that I teach yoga for a living; in fact, I remember one day someone asked me mid-class if I was vegan. Honest to god I laughed hysterically and stated rather loudly that I was heading out for a cheeky Nandos afterwards. Professional, huh?

But every now and then I do think I should buck up my ideas and look after myself a bit more, which has led to me actually adding the occasional leafy green to a meal and actually quite enjoying it. Spinach is rather lovely as it conjures images of having arms like Popeye, as is rocket purely because its name panders to my sci-fi whims.

However, in these first few weeks of January and after a particularly sugary Christmas, I decided it might be worth throwing caution to the wind and actually trying to be ridiculously super healthy. And that's how last week, after stepping out merely to post a letter, I returned home having bought a NutriBullet.

I've been aware of the NutriBullet for a while now, basically because every yoga person I follow on Twitter has been raving about them for what seems like FUH-EVER. Then, a few weeks back I woke up ridiculously early one morning and found myself watching The NutriBullet Show with David Wolfe and became mesmerised by the idea of its "600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action" which resulted in last week's - *BANG* - spontaneous purchase.

The model I bought was a limited edition cherry red NutriBullet, and three points swayed me to make my purchase. They were, in descending order of importance:

• It was reduced to £69.50 in a Tesco flash sale
• It was cherry red, meaning it would match the kitchen, my kettle and the new Starbucks insulated cup I got for Christmas
• It might make me healthier

Sadly, because I'd only popped out to post a letter I'd walked to Tesco rather than drive, meaning I had to lug it back home in my arms like a big, boxed up cherry red baby, and I didn't have any excess arm capacity to carry any ingredients to put in it. And no, I didn't already have some fruit at home; I've lived in Sparky Towers 10 years now and barely any organic produce has crossed the threshold in that time.

So a few hours later, having learnt my lesson I drive back to Tesco and pick up some almond milk, fruit and kale, which we shall henceforth refer to as HELLSPAWN PLANT for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Upon returning home and with the NutriBullet primed and ready, I hurl some raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, avocado and HELLSPAWN PLANT into the cup, click it in place and blitz the shit out of it using all 600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action.

A minute later I'm staring at a cupful of what I can only describe as a supremely unappetising beige drink. Still, the new healthy me steps up to the plate, and with a cheery fake smile on my face I declare "bottoms up!" to no one in particular and down the malevolent beverage, if not in one, then in at least a couple of mouthfuls. OK, five. And that's after I'd put it down following the second mouthful and gone for a bit of a sit down before returning to it 10 minutes later.

Deciding that HELLSPAWN PLANT was mostly responsible for ruining what should've been a delicious and nutritious fruity drink, I subsequently decided I'd have another bash. This time I used more raspberries, less blueberries, a bit of orange and some almond milk. This attempt was actually quite nice, and I settled down that evening with a look of unnecessary smugness on my face.

It did not last.

I shan't go into too much detail, but suffice to say, like Captain Kathryn Janeway, I now know what a Year of Hell is like. OK, so it was more of a Week of Hell not a year, but as 2016 is literally a few weeks old I think it counts. Basically, it seems my poor, Kitkat and Nandos fuelled system couldn't really cope with me ingesting a bit of fruit and decided to shut down.

Yes, like a desperate drug addict denied their fix, I went full cold turkey.

The first sign was a massive throbbing headache that felt a bit like someone was trying to punch their way out of my head (although on reflection this is entirely possible as there's very little brain in there to fill the space), followed by shaking and sweating, all of which intensified in the days that followed. Friday in particular was peak-cold turkey-ness, as it saw me stay in bed until quarter to two in the afternoon, at which point I got up and could do nothing more than sit on the sofa and stare at the TV, possibly while drooling a bit. Fortunately I'd just started the Gotham season 1 boxset, so I cracked through 10 episodes of that before going back to bed. It's really good and I highly recommend it (I'll leave you to work out whether I mean Gotham or going back to bed, or both).

Now fully recovered and no longer glancing across at the NutriBullet I haven't touched in a week like it's a fully primed nuclear weapon ready to go off, I can say that what I have learnt from this experience is that moderation is key. Yes, I *can* and *should* eat a bit healthier, and work a little harder to get those key five a day portions of fruit and veg into my body (rather than my previous five a year), but it's probably not best to cut out all the fun stuff in one go.

Fortunately, I've since been told in hushed tones of a recipe for a ridiculously healthy NutriBlast (that's what they call the drinks - I know, ridiculous) that legend has it tastes just like a chocolate milkshake. In this way, I reckon I can fool my overly sensitive system into thinking I'm knocking back a Kitkat milkshake when in fact I'm downing the elixir of life. We shall see.

Either way, kale can still go do one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How I ended up writing an audio drama, Part II: fun times with Chancellor Gorkon

Having written the first part of what would eventually come to be The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas I figured my duties were done and dusted and I wouldn’t really hear too much more about it except for little updates here and there from TOH. Which was fine, because in January I landed a massive copywriting gig that had me chained to my desk writing everything from how to look after your roses, to re-roofing a garden shed and what plants won’t die if you’re a hapless idiot who forgets to water them (didn’t really have to research that one too much).

Nevertheless, as March of 2015 rolled along TOH asked me if I’d like to visit the studio to see my script be recorded. What a silly question - of course I would! So I took a cheeky day off from writing about the best way to trim your bush and headed off deeper into West London where I’d get to hang out at the studio, have a lovely lunch and get to meet the cast before seeing them do their thing. Now of course, because Dorian was an ongoing series it had it’s established leading man in the form or Alexander Vlahos, along with Hugh Skinner returning as the vampire Toby. But the main guest role - a villainous Santa Claus no less! - needed to be filled…

I remember when TOH first started discussing ideas for potential Santas. I was obviously intrigued by many of the names he threw out there, but as casting wasn’t really in my remit as writer, I tried to be a little bit… shall we say ‘dispassionate’ about it? I do recall the first time he mentioned David Warner (yes, *that* David Warner), though, because I enthusiastically went “Ooooooo!” before adding “but of course it’s not my decision.”

Anyway, TOH ultimately did ask David Warner, and David Warner said yes. And I did a little nerd squeal because David Warner’s been in two Star Trek films, two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Titanic, Tron and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and now he was going to be in something I’d written. Life can be crazy like that.

So on a brisk March morning TOH and I headed into the studio where I was introduced to Alex, Hugh, and David Blackwell who plays Simon Darlow in the one scene I didn’t write. From the outset they were all absolutely lovely and made me feel very welcome; Alex even popped out to the local shop and bought us all Freddos. Gul Madred David, I was assured, would be joining us around midday (no doubt after having finished asking Patrick Stewart how many lights there are for the day).

Recording got underway and everything was grand. It was a joy to hear such a lovely bunch of actors bring the words I wrote to life, adding a depth and nuance that lifted them beyond what had spilled from my brain onto the pages in front of them. But it wasn't just all me sitting there listening - I got to go into a recording booth too! Firstly to be involved in a brief chat for an interview that’s included as part of the Christmas special’s bonus features, then to record my cameo role as ‘Neighbour no. 2’ where I powerfully delivered the line “PISS OFF!” with a verbal punch that will no doubt lead to me being showered with nominations come awards season, and rewarded with my own critically acclaimed spin-off series in due course.

Shortly after delivering the performance of a lifetime, TOH asked if I would go and sit in the green room while everyone else was kept busy recording so I could open the door ‘when David arrives.’ I was simultaneously thrilled and shitting myself at the prospect.

For the next 15 minutes I sat alone faffing about on Facebook and Twitter on my iPhone when all of a sudden the doorbell buzzed. I jumped to my feet and scampered over to the grainy little screen that showed who’d pressed the buzzer. I couldn't really see who it was, but I *knew* who it is. I thumbed the door release and started hyperventilating. Moments later, he was standing before me: Federation ambassador St. John Talbot The legendary David Warner.

Now, I’ve met plenty of actors before; some are lovely, some require… a bit of pampering and TLC. From the outset, David Warner was just THE LOVELIEST CHAP. Straight away he introduced himself to me before saying “Ah! You must be our writer!” We chatted for a bit, then he whipped out a copy of the script and asked if we could go over some lines so he could clarify exactly how they should be delivered. My response was something along the lines of ‘ER, OF COURSE’/‘HELL YES.’

And that’s how, one Monday afternoon last year, I ended up running lines with Chancellor Gorkon of the Klingon High Council.

All in all, the whole process of being being involved with The Confessions of Dorian Gray was a delight, and just a few weeks ago, almost exactly a year to the day since I delivered my first draft of the script, I got my finished copy through the post. The Spirits of Christmas went on sale on December 21st, and the reaction to it based solely on what I’ve seen on Twitter has been very positive (one review gave it 9.7 out of 10!), which makes me a very happy bunny.

So if you’ve not listened to it yet, do be a dear and go order a copy, yeah?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How I ended up writing an audio drama, Part I: Saying no when you mean yes

As you might’ve guessed from my last post, rather a lot happened in my little life during my absence from this blog. One of the loveliest things was that I got to write an audio drama.

As with many things in life, getting the opportunity to do this came not exactly from what I know, but who I know. And in this instance, that who turned out to be my lovely significant other, who we shall henceforth refer to as The Other Half. Among other things (he’s a veritable swiss army penknife of talents), TOH writes, produces and directs audio dramas, and shortly after we began seeing each other he gave me some episodes of his to listen to. These included some Doctor Who stuff (and assorted spin-offs) and a series that he created All By Himself called The Confessions of Dorian Gray, which suggests that Oscar Wilde’s rebellious literary creation was not in fact a rebellious literary creation, but rather a rebellious real life person, and his confessions are made up of predominantly supernatural tales spanning the last one hundred years or so.

By this point TOH had produced three series of Dorian along with a handful of hour long specials, and I listened to them all in the space of a couple of weeks.

Now, I should interject here to explain that I’ve never really been a massive fan of audio drama because I don’t actually know *how* to listen to it. If I just pop my headphones in and plop myself down on the sofa I tend to fall asleep and thus only get to hear the opening lines and the end credits. And they're not something I can listen to while doing housework because, basically, I don’t do any housework. But as each episode of Dorian was only around half an hour long they were perfect to bung in the car and listen to on my regular drive to the yoga studio - which takes, as if you couldn't guess, about half an hour.

To my delight (because I could imagine nothing worse than having to skirt around TOH’s inevitable questions asking ‘what did you think?’ by nervously shuffling my feet and pretending I was going through a tunnel and clicking my phone off) I found Dorian to be thrilling stuff - exciting, scary, a bit sexy and even rather funny in places, with some wonderful performances. So when the inevitable ‘what did you think?’ question did arise I could honestly answer: ‘I loved it.’ Around this time (late 2014) TOH also started telling me that he planned to produce a two-part Dorian Christmas special for 2015, with him writing the first part and another writer tackling the second. The idea was that the two stories would be loosely connected, with the first being a somewhat lighthearted, scary festive romp, and the second being a bit more serious and tying in more closely with the series’ ongoing arc. Sounded good to me.

As time went on, however, TOH kept dropping into phone conversations that he was struggling to find the time to write his Christmas tale, most likely because he was spending a significant portion of his time in conversation with me on the phone. As a result he said was thinking he might have to hand it over to another writer. “That’s a shame,” I said, because I’m considerate like that. I was nevertheless being sincere, because I knew he had what he thought was a great idea and really wanted to write it himself.

Days and weeks passed and the same thing kept coming up in conversation until eventually one night TOH said: “Do you want to write it?” Now, TOH knew that I wrote stuff - he has a copy of my novella (still available on Amazon, just sayin’), and he’d read and apparently enjoyed a short story of mine - and of course in my head I clasped my hands to either side of my face and shrieked “YES! YES I DO!!” But then I remembered how much he *really* wanted to write it, and how enthusiastic he sounded every time he talked about it, and how he somehow managed to squeeze a ridiculous amount of work into a mere 24 hours each day meaning surely he'd find a way to get it done.

So I said “No.”

Over the next few days TOH asked the question again. And again. And again. And each time I said “No.” And then one day, he just said: “Look, if you don’t write it I’ll just get somebody else to do it.”

So I said “Yes.”

I won’t go into the fine points of writing the script because all that basically entailed was sitting at my desk and relentlessly tapping away at my keyboard. What I will say was that writing it came rather easily to me, mostly because as TOH had planned to write it himself he’d prepared loads of notes for me to work from, but also because having listened to the series in its entirety so recently I really felt like I had a good handle on the characters and their voices. I should also add that while I had all those notes to work from, TOH did give me free rein to go off piste and add in my own bits here and there to spice it up (and then de-spice it later on when he reminded me this was audio and we weren’t working with a £35 million budget). It also helped that I was given a rather tight deadline, and as long-term readers (surely there's at least some still out there?) will know, I do love a deadline.

So anyway, I turned in my first draft just before Christmas 2014 (writing it around the Christmas period certainly helped me bring an authentic festive feel to it) and nervously laughed when TOH said something along the lines of “don’t be surprised if I massively rewrite it if it’s shit.”

As it turns out, he didn’t*. I think the one major change he made was the addition of a scene between two characters (the Toby and Simon one at Dorian’s house, if you’ve listened and you’re wondering) that ties in with the second part, which mainly came down to the fact that I didn’t really know what the second story was all about. Aside from a little bit of fiddling and tidying up here and there, what was eventually recorded was pretty much as I wrote it.

And the recording? Well, we’ll come to that…

*So much so, in fact, that shortly after I'd submitted it, TOH mentioned that at some point in the future he'd let me write a regular episode of my own devising. Being the eager beaver that I am, I subsequently, and very quickly,  devised and sketched out a spooky little half hour episode. Unfortunately for me, around the same time as the Christmas episodes were recorded, TOH and Alex, the lovely chap who plays Dorian, decided that they wanted to end on a high with the fifth series (which has now been recorded and will be released sometime in 2016), meaning my spooky little half hour (which TOH said was a lovely idea) will go no further than the five pages of outline scribbled hastily in my notebook. Ya win some, ya lose some, capiche?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Lost weekend

Sitting here at my desk where I started writing this blog almost 10 years ago typing these words now feels both comfortingly familiar and, after such a long gap since my last *proper* post, dangerously new. Truth be told, I never meant to stop. I think this unexpected break came about because a) I got really busy teaching yoga, and b) after having gone freelance in mid-2011 I got the weird thought in my head that if I wasn't getting paid for writing something I was doing something heinously wrong. Put that down to a strange freelancer's mentality where any minute of the day you spend not working, or at the very least not pursuing something that *could* lead to work brings on a sense of guilt akin to being a virtuous Catholic girl caught flashing your knickers at the hormone-driven boy next door.

And so here we are, a couple of years down the line and as 2015 wheezed its last breath I very randomly got a tiny bee in my bonnet that seems to have led to me spurting a little fuel on the dying embers of this blog just to see what comes of it, and whether anyone (most of all me) actually cares any more. Aren't blogs a little… 2006? I don't know. I mean, I didn't even know what emojis were when I started this. I don't think they even existed then.

So two years, huh? Thinking about what to write by way of a reintroduction (and what to leave out *winky face emoji*) made me realise that the last couple of years have been rather an interesting, tumultuous, heartbreaking, life-affirming, frustrating, exciting, mostly brilliant whirlwind of a time - basically all the emojis, ever. It reminded me a little of how John Lennon went off and had what he called his 'lost weekend' in the seventies where he disappeared, did a lot of drugs and knobbed his PA while Yoko turned a blind eye. I didn't do a lot of drugs (and by that I mean I did none, unless we're including neurofen in which case: OOPSIE) or knob my PA (I don't have one), but the idea of a lost weekend resonated somewhat. And anyway, I don't want to document everything in detail, because that would take two years and that's time we don't have. Plus, by the time I finished I'd have to start all over again with the following two years. So I figured the best way would just be to fling the key points at you, and like birds sitting in a tree shitting on a nice car, see what sticks. Make sense? Good. Here we go:

Taught a lot of yoga, met someone for coffee/they thought it was a date, learned something about myself, had a birthday, did a lot of yoga, lost a lot of weight, got a tattoo, had a very sad birthday, dealt with some shit, had a very sad Christmas, started dating, met someone nice, had a lovely time, walked the length and breadth of London, taught a yoga class dressed like a lady, got dumped, went through some shit, cried a bit, told my mum I liked boys as well as girls, cried a bit more, grew my hair, saw two Star Trek movies at the Royal Albert Hall, went up the Shard, went to Norwich, taught lots of yoga in Norwich, liked Norwich, came home, taught more yoga, drank a lot of coffee, thought about life, messed about on Tinder, tweeted a lot, met a friend of some friends for coffee, watched the Alien movies in order (yes, the AvP ones as well), made an excuse to meet the friend of some friends for more coffee, asked "is this mates or dates?", got told it was "definitely not mates," smiled a lot, went to Cardiff, went to Norwich again, went Facebook official, went to Birmingham, met the mother-in-law, hung out at a Supernatural convention, ate lots of Nandos, cut my hair, had a very happy birthday, wrote an audio drama, went ice-skating, was given the most amazing Christmas present, got a massive copywriting gig for a huge company, got a huge tax bill, introduced the other half to the parents, rewrote audio drama lines with the legendary David Warner, had a post-it note portrait drawn, hosted a Supernatural convention, got hugged by Jared Padalecki, hosted a superhero convention, rode a Segway, got offered a job at huge company (turned it down), hosted a Vampire Diaries convention, got hugged by Ian Somerhalder, got horribly sunburnt, went to Cardiff, bought an Apple Watch, had the other half move in with me for a few months, spent some more time in Norwich, got chased by a man with a chainsaw, had the other half move back in for another month, saw the new Star Wars movie, had an awesome Christmas, saw the new Star Wars movie (again), saw the Peanuts movie, got merry, and started thinking about the future.

How's things with you?