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1. An Oxford Companion to being the Doctor

If you share my jealousy of Peter Capaldi and his new guise as the Doctor, then read on to discover how you could become the next Time Lord with a fondness for Earth. However, be warned: you can’t just pick up Matt Smith’s bow-tie from the floor, don Tom Baker’s scarf, and expect to save planet Earth every Saturday at peak viewing time. You’re going to need training. This is where Oxford’s online products can help you. Think of us as your very own Companion guiding you through the dimensions of time, only with a bit more sass. So jump aboard (yes it’s bigger on the inside), press that button over there, pull that lever thingy, and let’s journey through the five things you need to know to become the Doctor.

(1) Regeneration

Being called two-faced may not initially appeal to you. How about twelve-faced? No wait, don’t leave, come back! Part of the appeal of the Doctor is his ability to regenerate and assume many faces. Perhaps the most striking example of regeneration we have on our planet is the Hydra fish which is able to completely re-grow a severed head. Even more striking is its ability to grow more than one head if a small incision is made on its body. I don’t think it’s likely the BBC will commission a Doctor with two heads though so best to not go down that route. Another example of an animal capable of regeneration is Porifera, the sponges commonly seen on rocks under water. These sponge-type creatures are able to regenerate an entire limb which is certainly impressive but are not quite as attractive as The David Tenants or Matt Smiths of this world.

Sea sponges, by dimsis. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.
Sea sponges, by Dimitris Siskopoulos. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

(2) Fighting aliens

Although alien invasion narratives only crossed over to mainstream fiction after World War II, the Doctor has been fighting off alien invasions since the Dalek War and the subsequent destruction of Gallifrey. Alien invasion narratives are tied together by one salient issue: conquer or be conquered. Whether you are battling Weeping Angels or Cybermen, you must first make sure what you are battling is indeed an alien. Yes, that lady you meet every day at the bus-stop with the strange smell may appear to be from another dimension but it’s always better to be sure before you whip out your sonic screwdriver.

(3) Visiting unknown galaxies

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field telescope captures a patch of sky that represents one thirteen-millionth of the area of the whole sky we see from Earth, and this tiny patch of the Universe contains over 10,000 galaxies. One thirteen-millionth of the sky is the equivalent to holding a grain of sand at arm’s length whilst looking up at the sky. When we look at a galaxy ten billion light years away, we are actually only seeing it by the light that left it ten billion years ago. Therefore, telescopes are akin to time machines.

The sheer vastness and mystery of the universe has baffled us for centuries. Doctor Who acts as a gatekeeper to the unknown, helping us imagine fantastical creatures such as the Daleks, all from the comfort of our living rooms.

Tardis, © davidmartyn, via iStock Photo.
Tardis, © davidmartyn, via iStock Photo.

(4) Operating the T.A.R.D.I.S.

The majority of time-travel narratives avoid the use of a physical time-machine. However, the Tardis, a blue police telephone box, journeys through time dimensions and is as important to the plot of Doctor Who as upgrades are to Cybermen. Although it looks like a plain old police telephone box, it has been known to withstand meteorite bombardment, shield itself from laser gun fire and traverse the time vortex all in one episode. The Tardis’s most striking characteristic, that it is “much bigger on the inside”, is explained by the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, by using the analogy of the tesseract.

(5) Looking good

It’s all very well saving the Universe every week but what use is that without a signature look? Tom Baker had the scarf, Peter Davison had the pin-stripes, John Hurt even had the brooding frown, so what will your dress-sense say about you? Perhaps you could be the Doctor with a cravat or the time-traveller with a toupee? Whatever your choice, I’m sure you’ll pull it off, you handsome devil you.

Don’t forget a good sense of humour to compliment your dashing visage. When Doctor Who was created by Donald Wilson and C.E. Webber in November 1963, the target audience of the show was eight-to-thirteen-year-olds watching as part of a family group on Saturday afternoons. In 2014, it has a worldwide general audience of all ages, claiming over 77 million viewers in the UK, Australia, and the United States. This is largely due to the Doctor’s quick quips and mix of adult and childish humour.

You’ve done it! You’ve conquered the cybermen, exterminated the daleks, and saved Earth (we’re eternally grateful of course). Why not take the Tardis for another spin and adventure through more of Oxford’s online products?

Image credit: Doctor Who poster, by Doctor Who Spoilers. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

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2. The real story of allied nursing during the First World War

The anniversaries of conflicts seem to be more likely to capture the public’s attention than any other significant commemorations. When I first began researching the nurses of the First World War in 2004, I was vaguely aware of an increase in media attention: now, ten years on, as my third book leaves the press, I find myself astonished by the level of interest in the subject. The Centenary of the First World War is becoming a significant cultural event. This time, though, much of the attention is focussed on the role of women, and, in particular, of nurses. The recent publication of several nurses’ diaries has increased the public’s fascination for the subject. A number of television programmes have already been aired. Most of these trace journeys of discovery by celebrity presenters, and are, therefore, somewhat quirky – if not rather random – in their content. The BBC’s project, World War One at Home, has aired numerous stories. I have been involved in some of these – as I have, also, in local projects, such as the impressive recreation of the ‘Stamford Military Hospital’ at Dunham Massey Hall, Cheshire. Many local radio stories have brought to light the work of individuals whose extraordinary experiences and contributions would otherwise have remained hidden – women such as Kate Luard, sister-in-charge of a casualty clearing station during the Battle of Passchendaele; Margaret Maule, who nursed German prisoners-of-war in Dartford; and Elsie Knocker, a fully-trained nurse who established an aid post on the Belgian front lines. One radio story is particularly poignant: that of Clementina Addison, a British nurse, who served with the French Flag Nursing Corps – a unit of fully trained professionals working in French military field hospitals. Clementina cared for hundreds of wounded French ‘poilus’, and died of an unnamed infectious disease as a direct result of her work.

The BBC drama, The Crimson Field was just one of a number of television programmes designed to capture the interest of viewers. I was one of the historical advisers to the series. I came ‘on board’ quite late in the process, and discovered just how difficult it is to transform real, historical events into engaging drama. Most of my work took place in the safety of my own office, where I commented on scripts. But I did spend one highly memorable – and pretty terrifying – week in a field in Wiltshire working with the team producing the first two episodes. Providing ‘authentic background detail’, while, at the same time, creating atmosphere and constructing characters who are both credible and interesting is fraught with difficulty for producers and directors. Since its release this spring, The Crimson Field has become quite controversial, because whilst many people appear to have loved it, others complained vociferously about its lack of authentic detail. Of course, it is hard to reconcile the realities of history with the demands of popular drama.

Crimson Field
The Crimson Field poster, with permission from the BBC.

I give talks about the nurses of the First World War, and often people come up to me to ask about The Crimson Field. Surprisingly often, their one objection is to the fact that the hospital and the nurses were ‘just too clean’. This makes me smile. In these days of contract-cleaners and hospital-acquired infection, we have forgotten the meticulous attention to detail the nurses of the past gave to the cleanliness of their wards. The depiction of cleanliness in the drama was, in fact one of its authentic details.

One of the events I remember most clearly about my work on set with The Crimson Field is the remarkable commitment of director, David Evans, and leading actor, Hermione Norris, in recreating a scene in which Matron Grace Carter enters a ward which is in chaos because a patient has become psychotic and is attacking a padre. The matron takes a sedative injection from a nurse, checks the medication and administers the drug with impeccable professionalism – and this all happens in the space of about three minutes. I remember the intensity of the discussions about how this scene would work, and how many times it was ‘shot’ on the day of filming. But I also remember with some chagrin how, the night after filming, I realised that the injection technique had not been performed entirely correctly. I had to tell David Evans that I had watched the whole sequence six times without noticing that a mistake had been made. Some historical adviser! The entire scene had to be re-filmed. The end result, though, is an impressive piece of hospital drama. Norris looks as though she has been giving intramuscular injections all her life. I shall never forget the professionalism of the director and actors on that set – nor their patience with the absent-minded-professor who was their adviser for the week.

In a centenary year, it can be difficult to distinguish between myths and realities. We all want to know the ‘facts’ or the ‘truths’ about the First World War, but we also want to hear good stories – and it is all the better if those elide facts and enhance the drama of events – because, as human beings, we want to be entertained as well. The important thing, for me, is to fully realise what it is we are commemorating: the significance of the contributions and the enormity of the sacrifices made by our ancestors. Being honest to their memories is the only thing that really matters –the thing that makes all centenary commemoration projects worthwhile.

Image credit: Ministry of Information First World War Collection, from Imperial War Museum Archive. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.

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3. ‘Danger Mouse’ Reboot Set for 2015

Television execs seems to be stuck in a neverending nostalgia loop. In just the past week, reboots or spinoffs have been announced for "The Lion King," "The Magic School Bus," "The Powerpuff Girls"...and now, "Danger Mouse." The iconic U.K. cartoon series, which was produced by British studio Cosgrove Hall from 1981 to 1992, is returning to the small screen next year with 52 eleven-minute episodes.

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4. “A Morning Stroll” Director Grant Orchard Gets Ready to “Chop Chop!”

Grant Orchard, the Oscar-nominated director of A Morning Stroll and a longtime Brew favorite, has created the children’s series Chop Chop! (working title) in collaboration with Studio AKA. The 52 x 7-minute preschool series has been commissioned by BBC Worldwide and will premiere worldwide on its junior arm CBeebies in fall 2014.

The series features the adventures of the Squirrel Club, an adorable menagerie of animals who are awarded badges after completing activities assigned to them by their club leader Chop Chop. According to Broadcast, the series is one of the first to receive tax break certification from the British Film Institute since the Department for Culture, Media & Sport approved animated programs for financial relief in April.

While Studio AKA’s top-tier client list, which includes work for children’s brands like Disney and Cartoon Network among companies like Lloyds TSB, BMW, Skype and BBC, Chop Chop! will be its first major contribution to children’s programming. The series producers are Sue Goffe and Janine Murphy, and executive produced Henrietta Hurford-Jones (BBC Worldwide director of children’s) and Jackie Edwards (executive producer, animation and acquisitions, CBeebies UK).

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5. Selling the Beatles, 1962

By Gordon R. Thompson


As a regional businessman and a fledgling band manager, Brian Epstein presumed that the Beatles’ record company (EMI’s Parlophone) and Lennon and McCartney’s publisher (Ardmore and Beechwood) would support the record. This presumption would prove false, however, and Epstein would need to draw on all of the resources he could spare if he were to make the disc a success. He began with what he knew from the retail end of the industry and commenced rallying Liverpudlians to write letters to both Radio Luxembourg and the BBC asking them to play “Love Me Do.”

Just as the stations XERF (in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico) and CKLW (in Windsor, Ontario, Canada) were able to broadcast deep into the United States with transmitters many times more powerful than FCC-regulated American stations, a station in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg carpeted most of Western Europe.  Perhaps surprisingly, Radio Luxembourg (broadcast in the Medium Wave band) was British-owned and its English-language service became a primary outlet for UK businesses whose advertising the BBC declined. (The BBC refused to broadcast anything that suggested product promotion.) Radio Luxembourg suffered its sometimes-scratchy signal; but British listeners tuned in every night to embrace the pop music that Aunty Beeb would not play.

Expo 1958 Radio Luxembourg by Wouter Hagens. Creative Commons License.

British corporations like EMI and London music publishers like Essex Music directly controlled much of the station’s airtime by buying broadcast blocks during which they played pre-recorded programs. Indeed, on Monday 8 October 1962, the Beatles taped an interview at EMI’s headquarters in London, which Radio Luxembourg broadcast along with their recording of “Love Me Do” on Friday 12 October. (George Harrison later recalled the thrill of first hearing himself on that radio broadcast.) The Liverpool letters solicited by Epstein that arrived in Luxembourg eventually arrived at EMI in London where the manager hoped they would catch corporate attention and result in better domestic support for the Beatles and their releases.

Tony Barrow, whom Epstein had originally contacted at Decca Records in his quest to get the Beatles a recording contract, began work for NEMS (North End Music Stores) as the Beatles’ publicist. (He could hardly have imagined how his job description would evolve from soliciting the press’s attention to holding them at arm’s length.) As a reviewer and a liner-note writer, Barrow had often worked from press materials prepared by agents and managers. These releases could vary significantly in kind and quality, but among them, Barrow thought that the press kits from Leslie Perrin’s office (which had represented London’s infamous Raymond’s Revue Bar, among others) were particularly effective. Notably, a color-coded press kit walked readers through a client’s story, which made a reviewer’s tasks easier. Barrow appropriated this format in his preparations for promoting the Beatles.

The role of the press agent involved finding the right people to contact and, for that, Barrow needed names, addresses, and phone numbers. Coincidentally, he knew someone who had recently left Decca’s press office. The Beatles’ new agent presumed that the individual would have taken a copy of the company’s mailing list and, after a casual meal, they reached a mutually beneficial agreement. Brian Epstein’s new part-time press manager walked away with a cache of contacts.

Barrow began by introducing the Beatles to London’s music press, escorting the Liverpudlians from the Denmark Street offices of New Musical Express to Fleet Street’s Melody Maker. They were willing to go almost anywhere to meet anyone with access to print or broadcast media. For example, on 9 October 1962 (the day after taping the Radio Luxembourg program), they visited the offices of Record Mirror so that writers there could see how different they were from other entertainers and to hopefully experience some of the charm that had swayed George Martin.

The mixed results both encouraged the band and its manager, and disappointed them. Alan Smith, writing in the New Musical Express (26 October 1962), briefly introduced the band, highlighting how Lennon and McCartney had written their “hit.” However, if you were the Beatles searching the papers for even the briefest mention (which they did weekly), you found little.

Brian Epstein in a 1967 interview would justifiably take credit for some of the band’s early success, citing his diligence and perseverance. The slow climb of “Love Me Do” up the charts would be his vindication. By December 1962, despite setbacks, the single increased sales and nudged into the top twenty on the most respected (if selectively read) chart. They were poised for something and they were sure ‘twas for success.

Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. Check out Gordon Thompson’s posts on The Beatles and other music here.

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6. Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke that Thiunders

BBC Documentary on Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Victoria Falls, in Zambia. Some incredible footage of the mighty Zambezi River accompanied by the story of those whose homes are near its banks and who depend on it for their livelihood.

 

 


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7. Why can't we have a decent book review series?

Programmes about books are few and far between, but this year promises to be a treat for book lovers as the BBC are running several series to celebrate The Year of the Book.  So far, I have especially enjoyed "The Beauty of Books", and not surprisingly my favourite episode covered children's illustration especially the many artists of one of my favourite books, Alice in Wonderland.

There are regular programmes that review new films, and countless digital stations dedicated to music of all genres, but we are seriously lacking a regular television programme that discusses and reviews new books.  The few book programmes there are, by and large, are made on shoestring budgets, with dire and unenticing graphics, and appalling sets (a few shabby sofas and a coffee table).  Yet, we read and buy books in their millions every year.  Don't we therefore deserve something more?  As a license payer, why should I continue to fund other people' sporting obsessions when my desire for an intelligent and long-running book programme goes ignored?

It is in recognition and celebration of the Year of the Book, that I am reviving "The Bookworm Reads."   Whereas previously I have reviewed mainly independently published children's picture books, from now on I will be reviewing every book that I read and in between, reviewing and commenting on books that have inspired and moved me in the past.

Please come back tomorrow for a review of "The Various Flavours of Coffee" by Anthony Capella.




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8. Fry to star in Borrowers adaptation

Publication Date: 
Tue, 21/06/2011 - 07:55

Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood and Christopher Eccleston are to star in an adaptation of Mary Norton's classic children's novel The Borrowers this Christmas.

The 90-minute drama, penned by “Merlin" writer Ben Vanstone and produced by Working Title Television, will be directed by “This Is England"'s Tom Harper for BBC1.

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9. SoA takes short story campaign to BBC chief

Written By: 
Charlotte Williams
Publication Date: 
Thu, 04/08/2011 - 09:20

The Society of Authors, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain and actors' union Equity have jointly sent letters to both BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and director general Mark Thompson, asking them to stop the BBC Radio 4 cuts to the short story.

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10. The Slap adaptation for BBC Four

Publication Date: 
Thu, 25/08/2011 - 09:49

BBC Four has acquired an Australian adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ Man Booker-longlisted novel The Slap.

“Hotel Rwanda” actress Sophie Okenedo, Jonathan La Paglia and Melissa George will star in the series of eight one-hour episodes, described as a “very well made tale of our times” by the channel. BBC Four will broadcast in October.

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11. Five picked for BBC National Short Story Award

Publication Date: 
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 19:30

Stories from Jon McGregor and M J Hyland have been shortlisted for the sixth BBC National Short Story Award, announced this evening (9th September) on BBC Radio’s “Front Row”.

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12. Shortlist for the BBC National Short Story award

This is the sixth year that the BBC has run its short story competition - only open to authors who have already been published - and throughout this week you can listen to the shortlisted entries.

The winner will be announced on Monday 26 September live on BBC Radio Four's arts programme Front Row and will receive £15,000 which must make it one of the most lucrative - as well as prestigious - short story competitions in the world. Honour and glory is great, but it's even better when it is backed up with some money, especially as there are few paying markets for short stories.
The runner-up gets £3,000 and the other three authors £500 each.
This year's shortlist is:
'Rag Love' by M J Hyland 
Set in Sydney, a magnificent cruise ship is in harbour and all one down-and-out couple want is an hour together in the top suite. Described by the BBC as "eerie".
'The Heart of Denis Noble' by Alison MacLeod
This story is drawn from real life; it shows  Denis Noble, the pioneering systems biologist, awaiting an operation on his heart – the organ that he has spent his whole adult life studying – and looking back to consider the relationship between the heart of love and the heart of science.
'Wires' by Jon McGregor (runner up last year) 
A young woman's life flashes before her eyes as an unusual object flies towards her windscreen on the motorway.
'The Human Circadian Pacemaker' by K J Orr
As an astronaut attempts to re-adjust to life on earth, how will his wife cope and can their relationship ever return to its old rhythm?
'The Dead Roads' by D W Wilson 
An American road trip story where two old school buddies try to win the affections of a free-spirited girl; then a mysterious man enters the picture...

Each of the shortlisted stories will be broadcast daily on BBC Radio 4 at 3.30pm from today Monday 12 September. It's also available as a free podcast available to download for two weeks from www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/nssa.

Margaret Atwood says that writing is an apprenticeship and that we all learn from our masters, some of them are alive and some of them are dead...This short list should offer a real insight into contemporary writing that demand

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13. Dan Snow tie-in for Anova

Publication Date: 
Fri, 14/10/2011 - 11:28

Anova Books imprint Conway has acquired the official tie-in to forthcoming BBC series "Dig WWII" fronted by historian Dan Snow.

Publisher John Lee acquired world rights through agent Luigi Bonomi on behalf of documentary makers 360 Production.

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14. Steve Martin set to turn his tweets into a book

Veteran actor and comedian Steve Martin is writing a book based on his Twitter posts, with all profits going to charity, the book publishers said on Friday. Martin announced the book via Twitter in a tweet that said “Due to absolutely no demand, soon I’m publishing a book of my tweets. Many of your replies included! All my profits to charity.”

The book will be called “The Ten, Make That Nine Habits, of Very Organized People. Make That Ten,” and will be a collection of Martin’s tweets as well as responses from followers, publishers Grand Central Publishing said in a statement. Surprisingly, the theme will also include fetish movies and porn videos.

The book is due for release in summer 2012, and all profits will go to charity. The 66-year-old “Pink Panther” actor has embraced the social networking site, building a fan base of more than 1.7 million followers. Martin’s tweets made news in December 2010 when the actor claimed to be tweeting updates from legal proceedings at jury duty, which are usually subjected to confidentiality. He later confirmed that the tweets were false and posted as a parody.

The actor’s last book, a novel called The Object of Beauty was published in 2010 and made the New York Times bestseller list. Martin is currently appearing alongside Owen Wilson and Jack Black in the comedy, The Big Year, which was released in US cinemas earlier this month

Book publisher and Self Publishing Information provided by S&D book publishers and christian book publishers as a courtesy.

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15. My Favourite Place | Scottish Book Trust

Write About Your Favourite Place In Scotland

Open to all ages...


Where is your favourite place in Scotland? What makes it special to you?
Scottish Book Trust and BBC Scotland want you to write about your favourite place in Scotland, whether it's a remote beauty spot or an urban hideaway, a famous landmark or a favourite cafe. Did you holiday there? Is it the place you got married? We want to get Scotland writing, inspired by our country's best-loved places.
Write a story, poem, song lyric, diary entry, letter or sketch about your favourite place, submit it on our website and your story could be appear in a book or be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland!

My Favourite Place in Scotland will run from 19th March to 21st August 2012, and in that time Scottish Book Trust wants to involve everyone in Scotland in building a written picture of Scotland's best-loved places.

Submissions should be made to the Scottish Book Trust website and can be written in a huge variety of different forms, such as a story, poem, song lyrics, a short play or sketch, a letter or even diary entry.

Marc Lambert, CEO of Scottish Book Trust, said: "Exploring some of Scotland's wilder places has meant a huge amount to me over the years. Scotland holds some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world. My own submission is about my favourite fishing spot, a magnificent sea loch on Lewis. But equally, one might pick an urban hideaway, a famous landmark, or a favourite café or park as the place to write about, because Scotland is a country of great variety, interest and charm.

"My Favourite Place is about channeling the inspiration Scotland gives to its people into a written tribute to its treasures, both known and unknown. We are proud to give a platform to this celebration of Scotland through writing."

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16. The lessons of hunger – past and present

By Peter Gill


A fresh famine is threatening Africa, this time in the semi-desert Sahel region of Francophone West Africa. The greatest concern is Niger where a third of the population cannot be sure they will be able to feed themselves or even be fed over the next few months. In the region as a whole there are some ten million people at risk.

The process by which the world has learned of this crisis is familiar. The big relief agencies are allied with the broadcasters, notably the BBC, to report on the growing hunger. This publicity puts pressure on official western aid donors, governments and others, to make sure that threats of mass starvation do not turn into catastrophic reality. Relief agencies add to the pressure by reminding donors that delays to similar East African alerts last year may have contributed to upwards of 50,000 deaths in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

As a means of raising the profile of hunger emergencies, the media-aid agency connection has been a familiar pattern for decades. It is underpinned by increasingly sophisticated international early warning systems that monitor rainfall and cropping, and predict with accuracy the human consequences of drought and poor harvests. All but the most negligent governments in Africa take their responsibilities more seriously than they did, and mobilise local resources alongside the international efforts. The result is that the world should never again witness suffering on the scale seen in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s where 600,000 died of starvation and a new era in the aid relationship was born.

For the past quarter century, the rich North has not been allowed to forget the poor South. As western economies boomed, money flowed into the official and private aid agencies and flowed out again to the Third World. It was a movement that reached its high point in 2005 with the Gleneagles summit, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 and Make Poverty History. Yet there has been no reduction in the number of hungry people in the world; the reverse, in fact — the number has grown and major food emergencies persist.

The worst of them are those exacerbated by conflict. Fighting hampers relief and restricts the media from detailed reporting on the ground. The epicentre of last year’s East African famine was Somalia whose people have been the victims of chronic political instability for the past 20 years and where the militant Islamist group al-Shabab crudely prevented relief from reaching the starving under its control. In neighbouring Ethiopia, the worst of the suffering last year was in the border Somali region where central government faces an armed revolt — just as happened in the North of the country in the 1980s — and across the continent in Niger the current crisis is made worse by an influx of refugees from insurgencies in Nigeria and Mali.

If the world is getting better at managing the effects of extreme poverty, it is simultaneously failing to make poverty history. After more than half a century of application, the promised transformative effects of aid in the poor world have yet to be realised. Major western economies are now losing ground to new powers in the East, and with it the chance to direct the development effort in future. Western aid agencies have concentrated their efforts on health, education and welfare, yet all the new signs of African prosperity are to be found in home-grown entrepreneurship, in a growing middl

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17. Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer

For all of you Murakami fans out there, embedded below is Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer, an hour-long BBC documentary by Alan Yentob (presenter) and Rupert Edwards (camerawork).

According to this post about it:

Haruki Murakami holds the titles of both the most popular novelist in Japan and the most popular Japanese novelist in the wider world. After publishing Norwegian Wood in 1987, a book often called “the Japanese Catcher in the Rye,” Murakami’s notoriety exploded to such an extent that he felt forced out of his homeland, a country whose traditional ways and — to his mind — conformist mindset never sat right with him in the first place. [. . .]

Rupert Edwards’ camera follows veteran presenter Alan Yentob through Japan, from the midnight Tokyo of After Hours to the snowed-in Hokkaido of A Wild Sheep Chase, in a quest to find artifacts of the supremely famous yet media-shy novelist’s imaginary world. Built around interviews with fans and translators but thick with such Murakamiana as laid-back jazz standards, grim school hallways, sixties pop hits, women’s ears, vinyl records, marathon runners, and talking cats, the broadcast strives less to explain Murakami’s substance than to simply reflect it. If you find your curiosity piqued by all the fuss over 1Q84, Murakami’s latest, you might watch it as something of an aesthetic primer.

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18. Storytelling on British and American Television

by Deren Hansen

I enjoy British sitcoms more than American ones.

There I said it. And I'm prepared to face accusations of a lack of patriotism or, worse, elitism.

Part of it is the cultural distance: it's easier to believe people across the pond are like the ones I see in the programs because I don't rub shoulders with many counter-examples. Cultural distance is, however, even more important on a structural level. The British programming with which I'm most familiar has come through the good offices of various PBS stations, who presumably have selected from among the best programs.

I also confess a weakness for the language. Between the accents and the slang, viewing British comedies is a more engaging experience because it requires effort on my part to follow along. Their writers seem to have a particular gift for articulate, literate, sarcasm.

But I think the most important reason is the format. Thanks to the commercial interruption, American sitcoms have two acts, where their British counterparts have only a single, longer act.

In addition to forcing the story into two acts, the American format requires the first act to end on a strong enough note to keep the viewer's interest during the commercials. Then the second act must bring down the tension in order to have enough runway to build to the climax of the story. In other words, the story has to have two high points: a false climax at the end of the first act and the narrative climax at the end of the second.

In contrast, British sitcoms can spend the entire half-hour developing the characters and building the narrative tension toward a natural (in the sense of having only one climax) resolution.

This is why there's some truth to the generalization that British comedies are driven by character, while American comedies are driven by caricature.

Of course my point here is not to argue for English superiority but to show how structure effects storytelling.

If you haven't seen any British sitcoms, you owe it to yourself as a writer to compare and contrast. It's an eye-opening exercise.

2 Comments on Storytelling on British and American Television, last added: 5/2/2012
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19. Why Go Into Journalism?: A Video

A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending BEA2010 (no not the BEA that happened last week) which was part of the 2010NAB conference. I was there to celebrate the launch of the BBC College of Journalism Website (COJO) a collaboration between OUP and the BBC. The site allows citizens outside of the UK access to the online learning and development materials created for BBC journalists. It is a vast resource filled to the brim with videos, audio clips, discussion pages, interactive modules and text pages covering every aspect of TV, radio, and online journalism. At the conference I had a chance to talk with Kevin Marsh, the Executive Editor of COJO, and I will be sharing clips from our conversation for the next few weeks. This week I have posted a clip in which Kevin shares why he choose journalism as a career. Read Kevin’s blog here. Watch the other videos in this series here and here.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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20. My new book Where's Stig? The World Tour - Book Cover Revealed!



At last, here it is, the first look at Where's Stig? The World Tour, the sequel to my quarter of a million copy bestseller Where's Stig? for the BBC TV show Top Gear. It's been 6 months solid work, but you don't have too long to wait to see the full results as it's in the shops on September 30th 2010, & available to pre-order on Amazon now!

Where's Stig? The World Tour illustrated by Rod Hunt - Every now and then, Top Gear’s tame racing driver needs a change of scene, and after a power-lap-packed year that’s seen our fearless man in white elevated to bone fide celebrity status, Stig’s decided he needs to escape the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi and do something for himself. It’s time to hit the tarmac with an Esperanto language CD and a pet passport for Where's Stig? The World Tour.

Stig’s journey will span the continents, from the snow-capped mountains of the north, to the tropical jungles of the equator and dusty deserts of the south, and we’ll be watching him every step of the way. Stig will be hidden within every brilliantly drawn scene, along with Clarkson, Hammond and Captain Slow, and there’ll be plenty of other Top Gear gags to keep readers going back for more.

Where’s Stig? took readers by storm last year, and Where’s Stig? The World Tour will have Top Gear fans revving their super-charged engines to come along with him on the ride of a lifetime.

1 Comments on My new book Where's Stig? The World Tour - Book Cover Revealed!, last added: 8/12/2010
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21. I'm proud of it too - John Dougherty

Just for the benefit of anyone who hasn't seen this yet:




Well said, that man.

2 Comments on I'm proud of it too - John Dougherty, last added: 10/21/2010
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22. Not Wearing My T-Shirt and vibrating ducks

posted by Neil
Despite (possibly because of) not living in the UK for most of the year, I remain incredibly proud of the BBC.

It's facing a future of real-world budget cuts (of the kind that leaves me hoping that Doctor Who will not soon be about two people who live in a small flat in Cardiff having a tiddlywinks contest for the fate of the universe).

Mitch Benn is proud of it too. Watch this video to find out why and how...



Here's the story of how he made the video. He sent me my very own Proud of the BBC T-shirt which I would be wearing right now if it wasn't in the wash.

In lieu of me modelling it, I will simply point you to http://mitchbenn.com/proudofthebbc/
where you can get your own T-shirt. You can wear it all over the world to signify your pride in the BBC, or just show that you look wicked in a black T-shirt.

...

My episode of ARTHUR went out today in the US. (There are parts of the US where it has't gone out yet. Check your local listings. It's called Falafelosophy.) PBS have said they plan to get it up online soon - I'll put up a link when it is.

And here's an interview done by the Ace Hotel in New York when I stayed there. The interview includes vibrating ducks and the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Also a photograph of me playing the ukulele.



...

I loved this:

I have no idea whether this is the proper way to comment on blog entries. If it's wrong then just pretend that I didn't send it. :-)

A comment to the latest blog entry:

"You know, there aren't enough traditions that involve giving books."

When I and my husband moved in together, we joined our libraries. But we had one problem: all the books we both liked, and now had two copies of. In the beginning, we didn't do much about it. I mean - what if you decide you don't belong together anyway, then you want to take your books with you when you split, right? But after a while, we decided that we wanted to get rid of the duplicates - as a sign that we would live together forever, and not ever need two copies of Neverwhere again.

So we arranged our wedding according to this idea; we gave each of the guests one book (or cd) from our duplicates, so that they could share this decision with us. Also they got a good book - obviously it was a book that both me and my husband liked (Well - with the exception of The Sword of Shannara, which we would have given away both copies of if we had found anybody who wanted them. :-) and would have it as a memory of our wedding.

And yes, we've lived happily ever since (nine years now), I don't ever see the need of reacquiring any of the duplicates we gave away, and I like it as a ceremony; it had a lot more meaning to us than most kinds of wedding ceremonies.

Regards (and thanks for all those great books!)

Monika


and this:

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23. Why we all love Mrs Beeton


By Nicola Humble


BBC 2 has rediscovered Mrs Beeton, with Sophie Dahl tramping the streets of Cheapside and Epsom looking for the real woman behind Household Management. It is worth the shoe leather – Mrs Beeton’s is certainly a story well worth telling. The author of the most famous cook book ever published began work on it at the age of twenty-one and finished it at four years later. Her book was first published in volume form in 1861 and has never been out of print since. Isabella herself died seven years after its publication of puerperal fever, contracted during the birth of her fourth child. She was 28.

The crisp, authoritative tones of her book, along with its immense size and heft, and the range and assurance of its advice have all encouraged generations of readers to imagine Mrs Beeton as a stately matron, doling out the fruits of long years of domestic experience. It is a model of the author deliberately encouraged by Ward Lock, the book’s long-term publishers, who tacitly avoided all mention of the author’s untimely death. In fact the real Isabella Beeton was the polar opposite of what we would expect. She had spent much of her adolescence living with her siblings in the grandstand on Epsom race course, where her step-father was Clerk of the Course. They slept in the committee rooms and ran wild, while Isabella, the eldest, presided over the ramshackle domestic arrangements. She followed this highly unconventional upbringing by taking herself off to learn pastry-making in Germany – conduct, according to one of her sisters, that was considered ‘ultra-modern and not quite nice’. On her return she became engaged to a young entrepreneurial publisher, Sam Beeton. For the rest of their brief married life she was to work alongside him, contributing to his publications. She wrote columns on fashion and travelled to Paris with great enjoyment to report on the fashion shows, she translated French novels for serialisation, and wrote on food and household management for the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. It was these that formed the basis of the book.

Mrs Beeton gets rediscovered every generation: there was a huge stir in the 1930s when her son, Sir Mayson Beeton, presented a picture of his mother to the National Portrait Gallery and people tried to reconcile the fashionable young girl of the picture with the mature woman of their imaginings. In the 1970s, when traditional English food enjoyed a renaissance, there was again a new surge of interest in Beeton and her book. And in the last decade there have been flurries of media enthusiasm in reponse to Kathryn Hughes’s 2005 biography (The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton) and to my own edition of her work for Oxford World’s Classics. When the latter appeared in 2000 I was astonished by the degree of interest the book received on national and local radio, in broadsheets and tabloids alike. It was even the subject of a Mark Rowson cartoon in The Independent. The curiosity was two-fold: it was news-worthy because a highly respected literary series was allowing a cook book to join the hallowed ranks of serious literature, but there was also a lot of interest in the book and its author: in the oddities of Isabella’s story and in the anomolous cultural status the book possesses, as something both immensely famous and largely unread.

So why is it worth us reading Beeton’s book today? For one thing, it is a record of a society caught at a crucial moment of transi

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24. Martin Amis: A Response from a Children's Author - Lucy Coats

On Saturday night Martin Amis was talking about his antihero, John Self,  on the BBC's new book programme, Faulks on Fiction.  During his piece to camera, apropos of nothing the interviewer had said or indicated, he laid into children's books:

"People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book.  I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book,' but [here he shakes his head] the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable."

Now, Amis is entitled to his opinion, (we live in a democracy after all) and he was, of course, speaking only for himself.  However, I too am entitled to an opinion, and my thoughts when I heard Amis spouting this arrogant twaddle from the rarefied upper reaches of  his ivory tower are unprintable here. No doubt he would consider that to be an intolerable restraint.  However, for the moment, I'm going to ignore the implicit insult to those of us who do write children's books (and, as far as I know, none of us have serious brain injuries, though I have often been told I am off my rocker) and concentrate on the last part of his sentence, because it made me ask myself some questions about how I write. 

Am I conscious of who I am directing my story to?  No.  At least not in the sense of 'writing down' to an audience that is obviously, by its very nature, younger than I am.  Children are astute observers of tone--they loathe adults who patronise them with a passion, adults who somehow assume they are not sentient beings because they are children.  When I write fiction, I research and plan just as (I assume) Amis does.  Then I sit down and let what comes, come. The story generally tells itself without any inner voice saying 'oh, but you're writing for children--you mustn't say this, or--oh goodness, certainly not that!'  Amis says of  the process of writing Self that, "I was writing about his subconscious thought--nothing he could have written down for himself...he's an ignorant brute."  Well, goodness.  Writing subconscious thought?  Does that never happen in children's fiction? We are all the amanuensis for our characters--and yes, often we do use language they never consciously would.  It's not a feat of the writer's art exclusive to highbrow literary fiction. When I write, I think about langu

57 Comments on Martin Amis: A Response from a Children's Author - Lucy Coats, last added: 2/12/2011
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25. It's That Man Again... Celia Rees


Lucy Coats has already blogged (Wednesday, 9th Feb) about the remarks that Martin Amis made when he was interviewed by Sebastian Faulks for the BBC 2 programme, Faulks on Fiction. Her blog has attracted 60 comments and the outrage felt has resonated as far as the national press and the Huffington Post. Martin Amis, as the Guardian on Saturday pointed out, is no stranger to controversy.

I, too, saw the programme and after the first dropping of the jaw, I thought that he actually had a point. Just in case anybody doesn't know, or does not want to scroll down the page and see his words in purple 18 point type, he said:

'People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."'

So far, so insulting. He then went on to say:

'The idea of being conscious of who you are directing the story to is anathema to me because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.'

Once I heard that, I could see where he was coming from. I did not think he was saying 'all children's writers have half a brain', that would be false logic. He was just explaining his own writing stance and he is entitled to do that. He writes literary fiction for adults, as such he sees it as his task to write to the top of his register and would not, could not accept any restraints on that.

The disregard for the reader that Amis expresses is just not possible when one is writing for children. Children's writers, and I include writers of Young Adult fiction, are ALWAYS aware of what their readers will and will not tolerate, or will or will not understand. Anyone who denies this is being disingenuous. Quite apart from the target readers themselves, there are other agencies involved. We have to worry about things that would not trouble writers of adult fiction in the least - see Leslie Wilson's blog below. How many writers for adults would feel the need to explain and justify their use of swear words or the incidence of sex in a novel? How much we take these factors into consideration, how much we allow them to limit our fiction, is up to us, but those limitations are there. We do not use our full palate, as Patrick Ness would say. How can we? We have to write at a lower register because we are adults and our readers are children.

There are other pressures on us, too. Pressures that have nothing to do with our writing but everything to do with the market place. In a squeezed market, there is more and more demand from publishers for novels that will sell. Books that fit into an obvious, popular genre - action, dark romance, whatever. A book that is perceived as 'too literary' is seen as problematic. The equivalent of the literary novel is a rare beast, and becoming more endangered by the minute. If one or two do sneak through, they usually turn out to have been written for adults in the first place and tweaked a bit in a bid to capture that holy grail, the crossover market.

In an interview in the Observer Review (13th February, 2011)) Nicole Krauss attests that the comment she heard most frequently on a U.S. book tour for her novel, The History of Love, was: 'this book is difficult'. Krauss worries that 'we are moving towards the end of effort'. Readers don't want to have to think too hard, it appears, whatever their age. That is the spectre that frightens me. In the hope of keeping that at bay, I actually want Martin Amis to write to the limit

15 Comments on It's That Man Again... Celia Rees, last added: 2/15/2011
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