Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7): The Puzzling, Playful World of the Crossword

7 November, 2013

My book to mark the centenary of the crossword is published today by Penguin. Here it is…

2girls_kew_quotes03

…in Kew Bookshop.

Reviews, etc: Sunday Times; Mail on Sunday; Spectator; Telegraph; Scotsman; Financial Times; Metro; Times; Herald; Globe & Mail.

Hear me: on The Verb and on Weekend.

From the blurb:

• How have crosswords helped international relations, caused a strike by welders, become embroiled with espionage and even caused a moral panic?

• What have Frank Sinatra, P. G. Wodehouse and Stephen Sondheim got to do with the humble grid?
 
• What connects Bletchley Park and the Daily Telegraph?
 
Two Girls One On Each Knee• Which famous fan starts each day with the Telegraph crossword and kippers?

On 21 December 2013, the crossword puzzle will be 100 years old. In the century since its birth, it has evolved into the world’s most popular intellectual pastime. In Two Girls, One on Each Knee, Alan Connor celebrates the wit, ingenuity and frustration of this addictive sport and how it has grown.
 
The story of the crossword takes us from the beaches of D-Day to the banks of the river Neva, via Fleet Street and the Old Bailey. It involves the most fiendish setters, such as Torquemada and Ximenes; famous fans (both real and imaginary) from P. G. Wodehouse to Frank Sinatra, Inspector Morse to Reggie Perrin. You’ll discover how crosswords have featured in films such as Brief Encounter and songs by Madness and Ian Dury; how they intersect with espionage, jokes, class and morality; and how they reflect back how our language and behaviour has changed over the last century. You’ll also discover how listening to white noise can help you do a crossword, why you should start in the bottom right-hand corner, and why cryptic crosswords are actually easier than quick (honestly).
  
This is a book about language and how it speaks to itself, twisting and transforming through cryptic clues before resolving itself, with a bit of luck, into an answer. Where else would you find words such as Intussuscept, Obtemperate, Zibet and Raisiny?

You can buy it from your local bookshop, or from Penguin, Waterstones, Amazon, on Kindle, via Google etc…

Two Girls, One On Each Knee: A Crossword Book for Penguin

3 June, 2013

crosswords

My book about the crossword, Two Girls, One On Each Knee (7), has a publication date of 7 November 2013.

Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe for BBC Two

28 January, 2013

I am a proud member of Team Weekly Wipe, which starts on BBC Two on Thursday evening at 22h00.

Update 01-02-2013: Here’s the programme, while it lasts:

A Young Doctor’s Notebook DVD

7 January, 2013

Good news for those who don’t own a squarial: A Young Doctor’s Notebook is available today on DVD from BBC Worldwide and Big Talk.

A Young Doctor's Notebook on DVD

Charlie Brooker’s 2012 Wipe for BBC Two

1 January, 2013

I am a proud member of Team 2012 Wipe, the fruit of whose toil will be on BBC Two tonight:

Update 02-01-2013: Here’s the programme, while it lasts:

A Young Doctor’s Notebook: How We Adapted Mikhail Bulgakov

5 December, 2012

Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm in A Young Doctor's Notebook

A piece for the Guardian about A Young Doctor’s Notebook: how we adapted the short stories for the screen and why Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm are playing the same nameless doctor:

Our focus was the emotional core of the hospital tales: the hardening of the junior medic. In Bulgakov’s book, in interior monologue, the young doctor wonders how a more experienced practitioner might react, wishing he had the composure of his future self. But as the story Morphine warns us, that older self may not be wiser; he might, in fact, be a junkie. We wanted to incorporate that story: on screen, the older doctor (Hamm) is right there for the younger (Radcliffe) to talk to; but he turns out to be a damaged man: nostalgic, regretful, not above the occasional pratfall.

A Young Doctor's Notebook - as seen on TV

An extra treat in the past week has been seeing Hugh Aplin’s and Michael Glenny’s translations now sporting AS SEEN ON TV labels

Mark Chappell writing A Young Doctor's Notebook

Mark Chappell in the office where we wrote AYDN

A Young Doctor's Notebook design department

In the design department

Shaun Pye as Yegorych

Shaun Pye relaxing on set

Models for the set of A Young Doctor's Notebook

Models for the hospital set

Alan Connor and Daniel Radcliffe

‘The cultured miller’ asks YD for a diagnosis

A Young Doctor's Notebook scripts

Oxford Textbook of Medicine...

A Young Doctor's Notebook

A Young Doctor’s Notebook for Sky Arts

19 May, 2012


I am working on an adaptation of Mikhaíl Bulgakov’s Записки юного врача for Big Talk and Point West Picures, as A Young Doctor’s Notebook. It is part of Playhouse Presents….

The writers are Mark Chappell, me and Shaun Pye and the medium is comedy-drama. It’s set in 1917; while some press has inferred that the background is the first world war or the Russian revolution, the setting is in fact snow. Lots of snow.

More details in the Guardian

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm [will] play the same doctor at different stages of his life in the four-part series, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, by Russian writer and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov.

Hamm will play the older man, who has a series of ‘bleakly comic’ exchanges with his younger self, played by Radcliffe.

…and I am sad that Variety’s piece includes no puns or jargon.

10 O’Clock Live for Channel 4

19 February, 2012

I am back at 10 O’Clock Live. When it isn’t live, you can again watch clips, like this one people like [NB: the final “…unless you count all those times they had a go at witches” is unforgivably omitted and archivists should note that what sounds like “Tory boys” is in fact “toy boys”]:

Screenwipe Review of the Year 2011 for BBC Four

29 December, 2011

I am a proud member of Team Screenwipe 2011, the fruit of whose toil will soon be on BBC Four:

Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World for the BBC

10 December, 2011

Mont St Michel

A piece about Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World for the BBC.

It’s also irrepressibly public-spirited, people shaking hands on the street are, apparently, ‘saying I love you’ – illustrated in the Attenborough video, oddly, by two hippopotamuses fighting each other in the Okavango river.

And this is not the first time What A Wonderful World’s generosity of spirit has been juxtaposed with less-than-cheerful imagery.

No room, sadly, for Armstrong’s 1957 refusal to join a goodwill visit to the Soviet Union, saying: “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell.”

Sue Perkins’ Dilemma on BBC Radio 4

20 November, 2011

I wrote for this Radio 4 programme, which was invented by @captainward and which you must listen to:

Party Conference Music: Primal Scream or Dandy Warhols?

5 October, 2011

Staithes rocks

A rapid-response piece for the Guardian about Primal Scream’s outrage over being played at Conservative party conference:

“But whoever initially misidentified the music must have a tin ear. Bohemian Like You sounds like a Rolling Stones megamix with an emphasis on One Hit (To The Body) off Dirty Work, while Rocks sounds like a Stones megamix with an emphasis on Little T&A off Tattoo You.”

I am also compiling a Big List of all music played at all party conferences, politicians’ Desert Island Discs, etc. This will help.

Autumn Asparagus: Are ‘Reverse Season’ Spears the Same?

12 September, 2011

autumn asparagus

English asparagus is back for a new autumn season; I test the spears and tips for the Guardian.

I have happy memories of every spear and tip I ate between St George’s Day and Midsummer’s Night, but as the ancient folk maxim has it: “Never eat asparagus while watching Strictly Come Dancing.” And contemplating eating asparagus in September, it struck me: the elation I feel when the vegetable appears is bound up with the way it heralds summer. Pondering the changing of the seasons at this time of year is likely to throw you into a panic over Christmas arrangements.

So I put Santa out of my mind and the spears onto a plate.

Twittiquette – or Twemes among Tweeple who Tweetup for Twirting and/or Twisticuffs

5 September, 2011

The

I’ve written a piece for the BBC about words beginning with “tw-“, and why people enjoy coining them on Twitter.

“Flick through a dictionary and you’ll notice something about the English language’s ‘tw’ words. We have a few related to ‘two’: twin, twelfth, twilight and so on. And there’s a tiny minority of what you might call fairly sensible words: tweezers, twig and of course tweed.

“The rest, though, tend to be of a type that’s more playful or, depending on taste, more grating. ‘Tw-‘ words can be about inanity or ignorance: twit, twerp, twonk or twaddle. They can suggest lightness, smallness or delicacy: tweak, twiddle or twinkle. Or they can flag up that you’re being self-consciously old-fashioned: ’twas and ’twere; ‘twixt and ‘tween. All very twee.”

Sadly there was no room for the etymology of “twonk” – coined/popularised, according to the Telegraph, by John Sullivan to give Del Boy a non-sweary swear word; nor for gay slang “twink” (“with a slender build, little or no body hair, and no facial hair”).

Also, now that we know that “twilight” relates to “two”, why not let’s enjoy some twilights I’ve seen?

The Guardian Crossword Blog

18 August, 2011

Guardian crossword

I’ve started a blog about the fun of doing cryptic crosswords at the Guardian. The first post is now live:

“Others suggest [that] those of us hooked on crosswords might want to justify the time passed by pointing to the large vocabulary we’ve amassed – or, perhaps, to our pleonasm, to our Brobdingnagian prolixity. Well, boo-poo to that. (I admit I enjoyed learning the word ‘pleach’ from last Tuesday’s Times, but it may be many years until I get to use it in a sentence near a hedge.)”

It’ll be a mixture of the week’s best and funniest clues, tips for n00bs and features on awesome stuff like when crosswords feature in programmes like Rubicon and The Hour.

The Clash’s London Calling for the BBC and NPR

28 July, 2011

London punks

As the countdown to the 2012 Olympics kicks off with an unlikely theme song, I look London Calling and its zombies and heroin for the BBC.

“The Clash were supporters of pirate radio and considered launching their own station; this love song to the wireless signal recounts what, in punk terms, is up-to-the-minute and truthful news. But it isn’t saying ‘come and enjoy the canoe slalom’.”

Major hoorays to Marcus Gray’s Route 19 Revisited for the key fact that London Calling was originally inspired by Joe Strummer’s dislike of sports fans visiting London, as he explained to Kosmo Vinyl (Clash On Broadway box set booklet, 1991). Awkward [Update [1 Aug]: Praise be! Route 19 is imminently in paperback. There is nothing more interesting to say about 1979; I know – I tried! Buy it – it is The One.]

Sadly there was no space to mention Clash fan of Indian origin Harraj Mann, questioned in 2006 under the Terrorism Act after a taxi driver taking him to Heathrow airport became alarmed that he was listening to London Calling and called the police. The incident was seen as a massive overreaction, suggesting either that the song has lost its incendiary power, or that the authorities were being over-cautious – or both.

Also neglected was the way Strummer starts “doing” Tommy Steele’s Singing The Blues at the end (“I’ve never felt so much a-like…”), never better described than by Tom Ewing: “No consonant is safe with Steele around, words pool into one another in a shrugged gush of pre-meditated moodiness.”

Update [30 Jul]: Here is wireless nabob Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday yakking with me (see also NPR’s blog The Record):

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for the BBC and NPR

15 June, 2011

the Alhambra in Granada

Radio 4 listeners have chosen Queen’s opera-headbanger as their favourite Desert Island piece of pop; I explain all in a feature for the BBC News Magazine, What is a Bohemian Rhapsody?:

“Freddie Mercury used a piano as the headboard of his bed. The double-jointed Mercury would awake with inspiration, reach up and back behind his head and play what he’d heard in his dreams. This was how Bohemian Rhapsody began.”

Update [22 Jun]: Here is Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday yakking with me about Bismillah and Scaramouche:

Eating Asparagus Every Day (2)

13 June, 2011

Day 64 and the end of the English asparagus season approaches, bitterly early. I have been eating the recommendations of Guardian readers and I offer my findings in a new piece headlined Tears For Spears.

“[P]eople ask coyly about the, um, after-smell. I’ll spare excess detail [but] I welcome it as a reminder of a glorious meal. Everyone’s smells, incidentally, but not everyone can smell it. It’s better to avoid picturing the medical research that led to that finding.”

The experiment is enough to give Comment Is Free users a good name.

  • If you too love either asparagus or repetition, you can watch the slideshow of the 2011 season above.
  • Recipes are either provided or linked to under the Flickr images.

Google-Proofing the Pub Quiz

1 June, 2011

060812thatched_pub.JPG

I’ve written a feature for the BBC News Magazine about how pub quizzes can survive the smartphone era.

“Text-messaging Is Destroying the Pub Quiz As We Know It, noted the Super Furry Animals in 2001. Little did they know that the pub quiz of 2011 would start with the host insisting: ‘OK, iPhones away, please. Yes, very clever – and Androids. All phones away.’

“Cheating has always been possible in pub quizzes. But while once the dishonest quizzer had to pop out to phone a friend, or wait for a text message reply, phones with fast internet access have taken cheating possibilities to a new level.”

  • Photo taken at Bekenscot Model Village.
  • One type of question which there wasn’t room for was the Blurred Cover. Below are four best-sellers. But what are their titles and authors?

Blurred books

Eating Asparagus Every Day (1)

11 May, 2011
Sunday 10 April: Asparagus against sky

I eat English asparagus every day in season. I have asked readers of the Guardian to help by suggesting recipes.

“I was able to avoid this punitive pricing, having heard that a pick-your-own 20 minutes from my home was planning a one-off ‘early Sunday’. Thrilling, certainly, and less than half the price of the supermarkets, but also tense. Word was sure to have spread – would the early crop be abundant enough? There were already nine other cars queueing 20 minutes before opening and the mood was edgier than a crack den in a power cut.

“Once the gate had opened and we were picking, one pensioner made the mistake of switching rows halfway. If it had been one of those farms that offers pickers miniature serrated scythes, he’d have perished among the remaining stumps.”

Update [13 Jun]: The results are in.