Award ceremony nerves

 Gah. It's half past one in the morning, and it's too hot to sleep. So I'm up in the office, and I'm unable to open a window. Because every time I do, the cat jumps out of it. I wouldn't mind, but the office is on the third storey of a Victorian house with very high ceilings. I know what he's trying to do - if I were covered from head to toe in thick fur, I'd probably want the cooling sensation of the wind rushing over me as I plummet to the ground. But it'd be messy. Very messy. So I sit here and swelter, because every time I try to make the room a little less muggy, my pet is hell bent on suicide. It's at times like this I'm relieved I'm not a father.

I'm not allowed to sleep yet anyway. In a little over twenty-four hours, I'll be on a train to Liverpool. Thursday night I'll be at the Edge Hill Short Story Prize award ceremony. I'm rather annoyed it's happening so soon - I've rather dined out telling people I'm a shortlist nominee of what's really rather a posh award, and the minute it's announced I won't be able to tell anyone any more. Trying to impress people by saying you didn't actually *win* an award, you just showed up and looked brave when someone else got the attention, doesn't really cut the mustard. I'd have been just as happy, frankly, if they didn't announce the winner until some time in 2020, by which point I'd be too old and grizzled to care. 

And I've been told to prepare a speech. Just in case I win. (It's been pointed out to me gently, as if I'd had any doubt, that I almost certainly won't. Of the five nominees I'm the least established, I'm the real outsider, the only one who's not published by a mainstream press. If this were a Frank Capra movie, as the underdog, I'd be sure to confound the odds and get the prize. Being stuck in Real Life instead, that's rather less likely.) Now, I've never written an award acceptance speech before. I've been at ceremonies, and have always winged it - to be honest, the audience don't *want* to listen to you thank everyone you've ever met since you were eight years old, they want you to shut up and get off the stage so they can hear what the next award is. In this case, however, as I've been reminded - there *are* no other awards. The entire ceremony is about *this* one. So getting up on stage, saying 'cheers', grinning, and sitting down again, is rather likely to be an anticlimax. Afterwards there'll be nothing for the audience to do except eat their dessert.

I really don't want to write a speech. Partly - no, mostly - because I'm lazy. Partly because I don't see the logic of it - if the chances are I'm not going to be in the position to *give* a speech, why should I be up at half one in the morning preparing one? I'm not going to waste any good jokes and feints of modest acceptance on a mere *possibility*, am I? But partly too because I'm superstitious. Something tells me that if I write a speech, it'll jinx any chance I have of winning. And so I'll only win - get this - if I put myself in a position where I'll get stage fright if I *do*. Brilliant.

Now I know full well that the winner has already been decided. There's no point in discovering religion now, and praying to God, or making Him sacrifices, or whatever else might persuade Him to help - it's all over. The winner receives a *sculpture* of their head. No, seriously. There's prize money too, and lots of kudos - but I'm drawn back to that sculpture. If I won, where would I put it? If I put it in the garden, would it scare the crows? If I keep it in the house, would my wife turn it on its side and use it as an ashtray? My point is that the sculptor must already know who's won. I'm sure she's very talented, but she can hardly be expected to knock out a reasonable facsimile of the winner's face between the envelope being opened and the end of the acceptance speech. (Certainly not in the case of my acceptance speech, at any rate, which is so far composed of the words 'thank' and 'you'.) 

If I could only find out who this sculptor was. Then friend her on Facebook. Challenge her to a game of scrabble, maybe. And then just subtly ask - look, is it really worth my writing a speech at all? (And I wonder too whether the judges will let *her* choose the winner. Maybe she'll just pick the nominee who's got the most straightforward skull. Maybe I'll lose out to some baldie, because my curly hair is way too tricky to get right with a chisel.)

I've been reading the short story collections by my fellow nominees. They're all extremely good. Every time I read a new story, I find myself hoping that this next one, at least, might stink. But they don't. Ask me honestly to rank the five books, I'd put mine fifth. No question. That's great, in a way - it'd be annoying to lose to someone I didn't think deserved it. But I'd like to have gone to Liverpool with a smidgen of arrogance intact - I'd liked to have thought, well, at least I'm *fourth*.

So, there we go. Thursday evening. I've got my invitation by my desk, I've got my smart clothes ready and pressed. Janie came home from her tour at the weekend, and she gave my hair a trim so I look more like someone capable of holding a pen against paper and less like a raving neanderthal. She won't be able to be at the ceremony, because she'll be performing a sex comedy in an open air theatre in Manchester that night. Yeah, that old excuse. 

Wish me luck! 

The cat doesn't. He's just sprung at the window again. He hasn't realised I've closed it. Ha! What a cretin.

Doctor Who. And, probably, stuff.

 It's been ages since I've written on here. Actually, it's worse than that. It's been ages since I wrote a decent email to many of my friends either. Some of those friends are on LJ, and no doubt scowling at me as they read this. (One or two of you have even sent me presents recently - you know who you are, and I'm extremely touched - and I *still* have been so snowed under to pop up and wave.) 

And I'm blaming Doctor Who. ...Some would say, I don't know, that my time management issues should be my own concern, and I should hardly expect some 45 year old TV programme to take the responsibility. But Doctor Who's shoulders are broad enough, it can take it.

Doctor Who is a bit like the Mafia. It never lets you leave. I used to think that was true merely of being a fan. I've been one since 1981, and it's *still* there in my life. But it's a lot more insidious once you've worked on it. My parents are still somewhat disturbed that I still have connections with the show they so hated from my childhood, and kept promising themselves I'd grow out of. (Sometimes, as I lay in bed, I could hear them downstairs, sobbing and gnashing their teeth.)

On Thursday morning I got a phone call from the BBC. I'd been out the night before having a little celebration because I'd completed a project, and unusually was a bit the worse for wear. (I'd forgotten that lager is alcoholic. Honestly, it had been a while.) Because I was still somewhat tipsy, I didn't really question *why* there was a cheerful voice in my ear asking if I had any particular fondness for a certain Doctor Who story that was broadcast in the 1970s. I said I didn't like it very much, really. There was a pause. The voice tried to stay cheerful. Okay, it said, but I bet you've lots of interesting things to say about it, haven't you? I said I doubted it. I didn't know. Probably not. Why? Well, said the voice, the cheer now being punched through the phone receiver with real insistence, how would I like to record a commentary on it for a forthcoming DVD? That would be fun, wouldn't it? Hmm? I agreed that would be great. And that if they told me at some point when they'd like to do it, they could stick me in front of a microphone, and I'd do my best to be very perky. I wouldn't need much notice, you know, say a week or two, just so I could sort out my diary, you know, and watch the story in question, get some thoughts on it. Oh, said the voice. We need you in about an hour and a half. 11.45 at TV Centre, just ask at reception. Thanks. Bye!

So I had to get up, and get washed, two things I really hadn't counted on doing before sunset. On the tube to White City I realised I couldn't remember the last time I had seen the story in question. (They only wanted me on one of the episodes. Somewhere in the middle of the adventure. And whilst I could just about remember essential details of the *entire* plot, for the life of me I had no idea what happened in episode four.) When I reached the BBC, I met all my fellow commentary people. I wondered if they too had been phoned earlier that morning and surprised into attending. Upstairs I was introduced to the producer, the script editor and the designer of the story, not to mention an actor or two. But that was okay, they weren't going to hear *our* commentary, we could be as critical as we liked, they'd be down being fed treats in the BBC canteen. Before I knew what was going on, and with the annoying taste of stale Stella Artois in my mouth, I was headphoned and talking about Doctor Who. It never goes away, I thought to myself. It'll never go away.

And do you know - it probably wasn't a terribly good bit of TV in the scheme of things. But it hit me that I'd been working on exactly the same show a few decades later, and that I'd tried so hard with my particular episode - and some bits of Dalek worked, and some bits didn't, and some bits were a bit eggy and dull, and some bits in thirty years time could no doubt be picked to pieces very smugly by a future writer with a hangover if he were in the mood. And so I said mostly nice things. And didn't poke fun at the very silly wigs. (That's a clue. I'm not allowed to say the story, but it does have very silly wigs in it.) Everybody who works in TV *hopes* that what they'll make will stand the test of time, or at least won't be compromised *too* much, or at least will entertain somebody for half an hour or so. No-one sets out to make rubbish. 

The irony was, of course, that the project I'd been celebrating the night before was... Doctor Who. I'd just sent in my contribution to the BBC book The Story of Martha (available in all good bookshops just in time for Christmas! And probably quite a few bad ones too. If you have an elderly relative whose closest relationship with science fiction is reading the instructions for the microwave, then it'll be the ideal present.). It's been a few years since I wrote a *proper* Doctor Who story - I'd turned out a few bits and pieces for the Storybook each year, but they were more vignettes, really. And I'd forgotten how utterly hard they are to do. It was a real shock. I'd been beavering away on my own book of stories, and that was *so* much simpler - trying to fit into someone else's universe, something which is shared, to which you have a responsibility towards not only all the other writers but also the likes of Freema Agyeman and David Tennant... that gave me a few headaches. Really nasty stinkers.

And Doctor Who... it really never *does* go away. The last time I'd been drinking was at a party a couple of weeks ago. A friend of mine was getting married - and on a Saturday too, which meant I was missing the programme on broadcast! (I felt rather adult for that. My 1981 self would have screamed the house down if he'd had to dress up in a suit and miss the Doctor.) But it was Mark Gatiss who was getting married, and Mark was one of my fellow writers back when I'd written for the show in 2005. So Doctor Who people were *everywhere*. David Tennant was a whirl of energy, as ever, and looks even thinner - as he darted up to me I thought I could see the calories flying off. Steven Moffat was dressed in a suit - but then, he's *always* dressed in a suit. He's the sort of person I can no more picture in shorts than I can in a tutu. I stood by him a lot, because for once I thought we looked similarly smart. He told me that my tie was crooked. The bastard. Best of all, though, because I hadn't seen him for ages, was Russell T Davies. Russell is a strange giant of a man, six foot six, and in wedding attire he looks even more imposing than normal. He was just as huggy as ever. He was full of enthusiasm about my book and its nominations, which was very touching, because he's so manicly busy I was surprised he'd even heard of it. And we talked about Doctor Who - because, at the end of the day, it always comes back to Doctor Who. As I say, it's like the Mafia. I congratulated him on Who's success, since the last time we had the chance for a proper chat it'd been early days, and its future was very much in the lap of the gods. "It's not that much to do with me," he said. "Not really. It was just a marvellous show, it was always that. And I've just been allowed to make a contribution to it for a while. It's bigger than all of us." And we traded anecdotes about our childhoods, about the way we'd never suspected that that funny programme about the police box would still be haunting us so many years later. 

Like the Mafia. Seriously.

Coffee and catch-up

I drank coffee yesterday. I don't drink coffee, the whole thing was very accidental. The last time I had coffee was in February 1997. I was directing a play in Rome, and one day the producer told me that the next morning he'd booked me to go to a school some thirty kilometres outside the city and give a two hour talk to 600 teenagers about theatre. My Italian is not very great, and I really don't know enough words to fill two hours, let alone in any order that could be deemed grammatical. And I'd already met a fair share of Italian teenagers since I'd arrived - they all looked very cool, wore heavy leather jackets, and chewed toothpicks. (And don't get me started on the boys.) So I was naturally apprehensive as I was driven to the venue, not knowing what I was going to talk about, practising the first few sentences that would get me through - ooh - the first forty seconds of the ordeal, and showing no interest at all in the ancient Roman aqueducts my host kept on pointing to me out of the window. At one point we made a loo stop, and from out of a catering van I was bought a spicy sausage and an Espresso. It may have been the combination of the two, it may just have been the coffee - but I was so wired after that I not only survived the two hour speech, I even began to enjoy bits of it. But I've never quite dare to drink the stuff since, it made me so hyper I thought my heart was going to pop. (I bought a leather jacket that same day. My very first. Just to fit in with the cool kids. I didn't start on the toothpicks, though.)

So I was walking down a street in London, trying desperately hard to think of not only an ending to a story I'm writing, but a beginning and a middle too, when I suddenly found myself handed a tub by a young girl in an apron. There was some sort of sales thing going on, and *everyone* was getting this free tub, and I'm a sucker for free handouts, they could get me to have medical injections if I thought it was a freebie. I thought it was an icecream, actually - there was some sort of syrup on it, and lots of cream. I didn't stop to wonder why it was so hot. So I swigged the thing down, and thought it was really rather good. I went back to find out what it was. It was coffee. I hadn't remembered coffee tasting like that! I thought it tasted of adrenalin and fear and Italian toothpicks. I can now see why so many of you out there drink the stuff. Okay, you probably do without the whipped cream and the sauce, and maybe it wasn't a *real* coffee - it began with a 'frap' syllable - but it still made me feel quite adult. I may have coffee again.

The thing I was trying to write - and the coffee did nothing to help me with, sadly - is a Doctor Who story. I can say this because today the BBC not only announced the thing, they also released the cover. And here it is! I'll never ever get bored with seeing my name on the cover of a book, but I feel more than usually something of a fraud in this instance, as my contribution to this novel-with-excerpts-from-guest-writers hardly earns that sort of attention. But it's very odd to see it out there, all designed, when I genuinely haven't written it yet. I think this is a wake-up call. I'd better start the thing. It sort of fulfils a childhood urge. I've written Doctor Who for the telly, for radio broadcast, for audio CD, as short stories and as a comic strip. Now I am - technically - a Doctor Who novelist too. (Sort of. If you squint.) That's me sorted now. I need never do anything else. Until the day they reinvent it as a ballet or as a mime piece.

What other news? Oh, I received my invitation to the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the ceremony taking place in Liverpool on July 3rd. It's a very nice looking invitation, they used a good printer, I was impressed. And so I shall have to dress up smartly again. There are press releases about the thing now, with pictures of all five of the nominees. I'm alarmed to see that all the other writers look very professional and authorly, and none of them are smiling. Whereas I'm grinning at the camera as if I'm being given birthday cake, and look like the comedy warm-up. I suspect the entire prize will be judged by the quality of the photograph, so I'm sunk. BBC Radio Three are being very supportive, and have asked me to appear on an arts programme just before the ceremony, and to write them a new short story they can recite for the occasion. I wrote this a few days ago, just a very short thing. They've said they'll hire a good actor for the job - but I suspect they'll run out of money, so it may well just be me. (And because I have a very weak command of the letters 'l' and 'r', I tried to write something that would use them as little as possible, just in case.) I've also just conducted a big interview with a Malaysian online mag called Quill, in which I get to pontificate somewhat pretentiously about the State of the Short Story. It's here if you're honestly interested. There are pictures of me grinning again. They call it 'On the Couch with Robert Shearman', which is more suggestive than I'd have expected. I don't like couches - they don't help my posture, and you just know I'm going to pay for that when I'm older.

And I've been invited to direct again in India this autumn. Last year I took a play of mine over to the Old World Theatre Festival in Delhi. The producer, a rather scary old lady called Vinod whose face seems to be a perpetual scowl, has visited London and summoned me and my cast for coffee. (I didn't drink *coffee*. Obviously.) This time she proposes an extensive tour, taking in Calcutta and Mumbai as well. The annoying thing is that all the company are looking to me to make the decision, and seem interested in going - and I have to be honest, I'm not quite sure I can face India two years running. It's a fascinating place to visit as a tourist, I'm sure, and the Taj Mahal is just one of the extraordinary sights I was gobsmacked by. But its charms wear somewhat thin when you're trying to conduct technical rehearsals via lighting engineers who only speak Hindi. So I'm thinking about it. If I reject the thing, though, I feel as if I'm denying everyone else their chance of an adventure. Hmm.

That's it for me! I'm off now to panic about this bloody Doctor Who thing. ...No, not panic, what am I saying? Let's call it 'undergo a period of intense creative barnstorming'. Yeah, that'll hold.

The Sony Award ceremony! With description. And caramelised pear.

Everyone's been terribly nice to me about this Sony award. Which is very kind, and I'm very grateful. Some have emailed asking if they can see pictures of a statuette, others wondering if I gave a speech.

It'd be lovely to pretend it was really as grand as all that, and that I deserve all these compliments. But in the interests of truth and ego restraint, I've decided to put down what actually happened. Oh, and for posterity too - you know, if some great asteroid hits the earth soon and eradicates most human life from the planet, I'd like some future descendants, struggling out of a new neanderthal civilisation, to prise open this Dell computer and extract from it a fair description of what a Sony Award Ceremony really is. (Maybe they could start a new religion around it.)

The black tie invitation was somewhat frustrating. I have lots of smart suits. If I'm not going to a wedding of some sort, I'm finding ways of getting out going to weddings. In this sort of London climate, my posh clothes for best get more outings than my sunglasses.  But I've not been to a black tie do since I was at university, and even if I could find the right wardrobe, I doubt I could squeeze into the trousers now. So I had to rent. That was useful, though, that was the first great social divider. I spent half an hour crammed into the BBC toilets, alongside lots of other men buffing their shoes and trying to work out what a cummerbund is for. ...And then, in the corner, there'd be the odd man who *knew*. Who didn't need his bow tie to be a clip on. Who had trousers specially laundered to his exact thigh thickness. They were the *serious* nominees. The ones who had done these awards so often, they'd actually *bought* the suit.

I'd never received a Sony nomination before. I was longlisted once, I gather, for the drama award, for one of my plays - but I'd given up expecting to get any further. The two most contested awards are the ones for Comedy and Drama, and they're also the only two for which I'm ever going to be eligible. I'm unlikely to get the nod for Most Hippest DJ, or Disaster News Reporter of the Year. So when a text came a couple of months ago, telling me I was going to the Sonys, I honestly had no idea what it was talking about. I didn't even recognise the name of the programme - because the title I'd written under was specific for my story, not for the show itself. Last year the chaps at BBC7 had the bright thought of commissioning a writer to devise and script the first instalment of a serialised short story - something odd and intriguing enough that it'd get the audience's creative juices flowing, and they could submit further episodes building upon and twisting the plot, leaving it each week on a cliffhanger. My job was to stimulate discussion of it on the message boards, give the odd encouraging radio interview, and pick up the strands for episode thirteen and conclude it all in a coherent way. (Which I did. Sort of. Although the lesbian lover artificial intelligence plotline introduced in episode seven never really made sense to me, and I left it as a loose thread.)

So it was a game, really. And the category we were nominated for was Best Competition. Over the evening I was asked by a lot of BBC honchos wearing black tie suits, all of which were better fitting than mine, what I was in for. It was a little like what you'd expect in a prison. When I said I was up for Best Competition, they'd smile and pat me on the head and give me a biscuit. I began to understand this wasn't one of the most prestigious categories. I felt a little bit like it would be meeting Al Pacino at the Oscars, and telling him I was hoping for the award for Best Achievement Used in Piano Sound Editing in a Foreign Film.

But the funny thing was, being in the same room, wearing the same clothes, we all *looked* equally important. It was a big event. On the way in, arriving in our respective taxis, we had to pick our way through two levels of security checks, and gaggles of autograph hunters. And the hotel that was booked for the event was massive. To give you a sense of that: all the invited guests were seated at numbered round tables, with a dais in the middle of the room where we would collect our awards. Each table seated about ten people. There were 136 of these tables. I was allocated table 25. I had hoped to meet up with a friend during the ceremony, and get a little sloshed with him - but he was on table 111. Which was about two and a half miles away. Because it was hard to see, high above the seating area were ten huge video screens covering the event. When the ceremony was taking a breather, when we were networking or eating, photographs of all the nominees were projected upon these screens, one by one, in rotation. Oh, look, there's a huge photograph of Jonathan Ross! There's a huge photograph of Chris Moyles! There's a huge photograph of Robert Shearman! (Who the hell's he? I don't know. He's got a very moody looking picture, though.) I'd say that you can get used to seeing your face glaring out of a big screen in artistic pose - but you don't. Every five minutes the rotation would get round to me again, and I always squawked, and pointed, and laughed. The more with each glass of wine, probably. Jonathan Ross didn't do that. Jonathan Ross was cool.

There were 35 awards to be given. That's a lot. Checking the programme we were given, I found out I was up for award number 13. I was told that was a good position to be in - early enough so that the audience aren't too bored and drunk, late enough that no-one actually cares much. We were given first courses of our supper, as Paul Gambaccini warmed up his host act, and the BBC prepared all their hand held cameras so that each award could be beamed into the houses of anyone fool enough to be watching the live webcast. I thought it was a savoury pie. It turned out to be caramelised pears. It still tasted pretty savoury to me. 

It was agreed that my producer, my actress, and myself would all be the ones to get up on to the dais should we win. And that the producer would give the speech, whilst I stood behind smiling and looking gracious. I thought was a great idea, and practised my acceptance smile for ages. The first award was the Live Event Coverage Award. I relaxed - I thought it'd be pretty unlikely I'd get a last minute shoo-in for this. I was surprised that they read out not a single winner, but opened with the Bronze Award, then Silver, all the way up to Gold. Only the Gold had to get up and do the speech thing. I was delighted. I told our producer that meant we had three chances od getting a legitimate award! He agreed. He said that if you were one of the nominees who *didn't* get placed, though, that it made it that much more humiliating. I didn't care. I was now hoping we wouldn't get a Gold. Silver or Bronze would mean I'd won a Sony, with all the publicity it suggested, but would mean I wouldn't have to get up from my seat and put down my wine glass. Everybody wins!

Consequently, when award number thirteen rolled around, and some celebrity I didn't recognise got up to read out the winners (they'd used up Joan Collins on one of the cooler awards), I was the only one on the table who shrieked with delight when we got the Bronze. "We got the Bronze!" I said to my producer. "It's brilliant!" "Yes," he said, "it's quite good." "I should say," I agreed, and poured us both more wine. Someone else won the Gold, and gave a speech, and got some plaque in perspex. I don't know who. We moved on to the champagne.

It was now about nine o'clock. I think. There were another 22 awards to be presented. (Including The Promo Award, and The Station Imaging Award.) I ate a little. I didn't drink that much, actually - I sort of wanted to go home now and get into my comfy clothes, but had to wait it out. There was a lot of schmoozing. I lied to a lot of people that I'd really found their work contributed to the overall glow of excellence to which the radio services must strive. At about two in the morning I reassured a lot of drunken BBC producers and editors that not winning an award probably wouldn't be the end of their career, and that they should be happy with their nomination. (They didn't believe me. One woman cried.) I was asked to dance by the producer of the Jonathan Ross Show, but I'd been getting on so well with her that I didn't want to ruin any illusions she might have of me as svelte and smart and declined. And I met Paul Darrow. And didn't tell him he'd been hammy in the Doctor Who story 'Timelash' in 1985. I was proud of myself for that.

So there you go. I'm the winner of a Sony Award! It makes me feel very proud, and it sounds great. But it's not for a particularly *good* award, and it was the Bronze. But that's okay. It was for short story experimentation, and what they said about that makes me very proud. And I got to eat caramelised pear. You can't do that every day.

The aftermath of drinking champagne in a rented tuxedo

 Just a quick word, because it's dawning on me as I blink at the sunshine that I won a Sony award last night. That's rather nice, isn't it? It actually justifies my looking like a waiter for the evening. An award, as was explained to me, for my innovative experiments in the short story form. I like that. I'll put it on a T-shirt.

I can't write now, though, because I've got to take all my rented clothes back. I seem to remember avoiding any spillages. And that dancing on the table was certainly nothing to do with me, and any splashes which were occasioned as a result can only be regarded as secondhand splashes, surely, for which I cannot be held accountable.


Desperate attempts to look sophisticated

This weekend, I have been mostly eating cucumber. I quite like cucumber - although, you know, if I were sentenced to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and were allowed one foodstuff to have with me, I don't think the cucumber would be in the running. But I read somewhere that it's mostly just water with bits of green stuff round it, and you can eat tons of it and become ever so slim and impressive looking. I'd quite like that. That'd be useful.

I wouldn't normally care, but tomorrow night I go to the Sony Awards. The Sonys are a bit like the Oscars, and a bit like the BAFTAs. But they're for *radio*, so no-one takes much notice. I've been nominated for some writing I did, and I'm duly invited to sit on the table of My Production Team in a rather posh hotel off Park Lane, drink champagne, and pretend to look mature and not-bitter-at-all when someone else wins. I thought that would be rather fun. I think it will. But a few days ago the BBC sent me my formal invite. It instructs me that it's a black tie event.

I haven't been to a black tie event in years. To be honest, the only awards I've ever been won before have been in the theatre. In theatre, they're usually impressed if you show up wearing trousers and a clean shirt. On Friday I went to a dress hire shop, and spent a couple of hours being measured and prodded and quizzed, just so I could get clothes which make me look like James Bond. ...Or, more likely, in my case, the waiter in charge of the dessert trolley. Looking smart tomorrow night will be something of a treat. I quite like looking smart, once in a while. I shall take a camera, and demand to be photographed from every angle. (But, I must say, hiring posh evening wear isn't half expensive. When I lived in Devon, you could get a mortgage for that.)

So that's it. It's going to be a heatwave tomorrow, so I'll be heading off to the BBC in scruffy shorts and a T-shirt. There I shall miraculously change into a waiter. Possibly a very sweaty waiter, if, as usual, the BBC are being cheap on the air conditioning again. And from there I'm being taxied to the Sony equivalent of the red carpet walkdown. Which, in this case, will probably involve us all filing into the hotel via the tradesman's entrance trying to avoid the bins.

The best laugh I had all weekend was when Janie asked if the award ceremony for radio was going to be televised. (Spouses are not invited. Which seems a bit churlish. Or, alternatively, something of a mercy.) There is, however, a live webcast of it, at - I won't be tuning in, for obvious reasons. If you're especially bored, mind you, at half past six tomorrow evening, that's where I'll be. I'm the one who'll keep getting asked for the lemon meringue pie and the chocolate fudge gateau. And trying to lose weight by munching on cucumber just *slightly* too late for it to have any physical effect. And gasping with absolute astonishment if I actually do end up winning something.

More award news. Forgive smugness.

My publisher gave me an excited phone call just now. "Tiny Deaths is up for an award!" he squawked.

"I know," I said. "It's that international short story prize. I'm on the longlist. Nice, isn't it?"

"Not that one," he said. He'd been at a literature festival, and at the closing ceremonies they'd announced the shortlist for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. It's an award given to short story collections from the UK by a single author. There's a shortlist of five books, with the prize awarded in July. Last year it was won by Booker nominee Colm Toibin, with Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things runner up.

Comma are especially delighted because Tiny Deaths is the only book on the shortlist from an independent publisher. They think that'll guarantee us a lot more publicity when the press release is announced on Monday.

I'm rather amazed by it all, really. When I wrote my book, I honestly expected that not a soul would be interested in it. That it'd drown without a trace in the wastelands of the Amazon website. Now it's a nominee for two of the biggest short story prizes in the world. And, as Comma say, we actually stand a chance of *winning* this latest one...!

I phoned my Dad. He nearly cried. So did I.




I've woken up very early this morning. I've got the same rush of adrenalin I used to get every time I sat an exam at school. (Which is a long time ago now.) There are butterflies in my stomach and my brain is jabbering away at me, stopping me from sleeping. Great - both the stomach *and* the brain are ganging up on me. And they never agree, that's the reason I always fall for that chocolate cake with wasabi in it whenever I eat at that noodle bar. All it'll take is that they have a word with my knees or my kidneys or something, I'll have a full scale body revolution on my hands.

The reason for the nerves? I'm a talking head on a Doctor Who DVD this afternoon.

It's silly. My brain is telling me I should be *revising*. That I should get out my old videos, and study what I'm talking about. You can take away the A-levels, but twenty years later the same instincts kick in. I know a fair amount about Doctor Who. When I was a kid, I accidentally learned the plotlines, cast lists, and production codes for every single story ever broadcast. They're still in my head. It's utterly useless information, but it's still there. And I have no nerves whatsoever about talking in public, especially about Doctor Who - I've done it too often at conventions. But somehow, if a camera is pointed at me at the time, different anxieties seem to apply.

I'm not allowed to say what Doctor Who story I'm talking about. The BBC are very strict about that. If I were to start even typing the title, I'm quite certain that I'd be taken out by a sniper. Suffice it to say, it's a story broadcast before I was born. Again. They do like getting me in to do those. There are *tons* of Doctor Who stories that went before the cameras when I, you know, actually existed and things, but for those I never get the phone call. A few months ago I was very animated giving the camera my impressions of a story so old my parents probably hadn't even started holding hands yet. Today's story is, at least, a few years further into the show's run. They're edging ever closer to the date of my conception. One day I'll be able to sit at camera, and talk about that. I can even pretend that it was as a result of my parents watching a particularly fine adventure with the Ice Warriors that they decided to abandon all contraception that night and have a little Martian all of their own. ...Or, indeed, maybe not.

And now I'm off to wash my hair, and scrub at my face very hard, and find the most slimming clothes in my wardrobe. Just so, in a year or so's time, when this DVD actually gets released, no-one gets confused about who the monster is.

Promise to self

Right. I'm starting work on a new story tomorrow. 

I'm telling this to Livejournal, because I know the first thing I'll do when I get up in the morning is go on the computer. And I'll find - as I have these last few days - a dozen good reasons why I shouldn't start. ...Actually, they're not *good* reasons, and mostly involve my trying to get a 'Q' a triple letter score on the scrabulous application on Facebook. But if I go on to LJ, as I'm wont to do, and see that I've declared to the world that I'm writing something new, then I might be able to guilt myself into it.

I'm supposed to be writing a little Doctor Who thing which is due worryingly soon. So it's only natural that I shan't be working on that at all, but something which has a deadline so many months away it looks from this vantage point vaguely futuristic and dystopian. I'm writing instead a love story for the new book, which happens to involve a certain amount of cat exorcism. It's a measure of how addled my brain is that I've just spent the best part of an hour on google, trying to research how cat exorcism actually works - only to remember it doesn't exist, that I made it up. I'm an idiot.

So I'm heading off to the South Bank and the Thames Path in the morning with my notebook and pen, far away from the lures of the triple word scores (if I only had a 'U' to go with the 'Q', how much easier life would be), and I'm not coming back until I've got something pretty damn concrete written. If not actually finished, at least a reasonable stab at a first draft. And if not exactly a first draft, then at least a half draft. ...Oh, look. I'll be cheerful if I come back with a paragraph spelled right. It'll be a beginning, won't it?

And I'll be wearing shorts. It's surprisingly warm here in London at the moment. I don't like being in shorts. I managed to avoid wearing in shorts in both Los Angeles and Perth earlier this year, in spite of enormous provocation. I only have two pairs of shorts: the so-called respectable ones, which aren't respectable at all but rather embarrassing, and the so-called leisure ones, which are just as embarrassing but coloured a slightly brighter hue. I'm not built for shorts. In ordinary trousers I stand just shy of six foot tall, thirty-eight years old, and of average build. In shorts I look like a four foot tall monkey with an ageing disease and a fondness for lard. I'm not sure which pair I'll plump for yet - I'll see what the morning brings. When I read this post on LJ, and realise with a sinking sensation that I'll have to go out writing after all.

A bit stunned

Hi, everyone!

I haven't many words for now about this - I'm somewhat too excited, and utterly too surprised. But the longlist for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize has been announced, and I'm on it with my book, Tiny Deaths.

It's sort of the equivalent of the Booker Prize for short story collections, really. (And indeed my fellow nominees include Roddy Doyle and winner of this year's Booker, Anne Enright.) It's widely seen as the most prestigious award for the form - and certainly the wealthiest - and is given to single author collections written in English over the last year. So fellow nominees are from Ireland, the US, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan - and elsewhere in Britain, of course.

I'm somewhat flabbergasted. I don't think I have a chance of winning the thing - most of my fellow nominees are internationally renowned. I'd say that to get on to the longlist is something of a dream come true, except it was so far out of my sights I'd never even started to dream about it. The stripped down shorlist will be announced in mid-July, and the final winner in September. But just to get this far is absolutely extraordinary - and I hope it raises the profile for the book a little, as well as for Comma, my publishers.

Sorry for bragging. I can't help it. I won't stop smiling for days. Or squirming, probably. I can barely sit still as I type this.

And now I'm off to eat a celebratory meal of frankfurters in pasta. Yum!