Tim Clare DOTQ Couch to 80k Boot Camp: Review

I have been a fan of Tim Clare’s Death of a Thousand cuts for quite a long time, having had a piece of my own work gnawed to a pulp, spat out and incinerated on one episode. A bare-faced, unapologetic revelation about how sloppy a writer I was. This is the kind of revelation we all urgently need, the sooner the better, and one which we perhaps don’t get enough of in the safe space of creative writing seminars.

This happened when Tim was taking submissions from opening pages of novels (which I believe he is still doing, submit on his website if you dare) and analysing them section by section, taking no prisoners and crucifying them if necessary. Here he encourages a fierce and often careful critical voice when editing work.

In his latest podcast series (a whopping 53 episodes) Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp, Tim encourages writers to tell this voice to shut the fuck up and get the hell out of town. At the beginning of the series he starts soft and eases you into regular writing, encouraging listeners to write lists of names, objects or scenarios. Later it develops to free writes. Tim says just turn up, and for ten minutes don’t stop writing. The words you produce might be sappy, incomprehensible, meaningless or preposterous.

You might produce something like this-

Stabbing scythosaurs with scientists in Seattle. Umbrellas with undulating udders. Swimming again, why am I always swimming? James, wherefore dost thou swimeth so? That ladies and gentlemen is the question in question. Or, no, no, no that is not true. That would be unspeakable. We must not go there and together we must move somewhere else….

Or worse-

The dagger of life or the dagger of death? The dagger of the east or the dagger of the west? The dagger of the unborn, and the dagger of the unworthy, certainly. Swimming in the swamp, arms flapping about like newspapers in a London breeze, floating down into the underground. A sack inside a sack, inside a sack, lumpy lumps of lumpy lump and lump, which lumpeth forth into the lumpworld, where all are the lumpiest of lumps. Creatures feathered and friends also now with feathers. All armoured and conniving for the death and the destruction. Wanderers, (Bolton) will win the title and wanderers will wander, in this world forever.
But the actual production of words is paramount. You might not like what you’ve written afterwards, but stare at the page after a ten minute free write and you will see paragraphs and paragraphs of your own signature creation. Some of which might even have potential to be used in later projects, or even better, just turning up to write might even create ideas for projects in themselves. It’s actually quite a crazy thing to do, to create in such a way, experimenting in the laboratory of your brain. Looking at the words, you realise that was in your mind at the time. You might have things like that in your mind all the time, but you let them die like mindless lemmings, queuing up in their thousands to leap off the cliffs of doom. But if you wish you can freeze them, record them and look at them, clear, shameless, naked and inviting you to inspect and play with them. After all, the human creative capacity is the most exciting and mysterious thing in the universe for us, it’s why we get out of bed in the morning. So why not prod it, squeeze it and push it to it’s limits and see what happens?

Tim’s exercises are like an obstacle course, encouraging writers to flex their creative muscles in entirely new ways and approach their craft from exciting new angles. This can be anything from writing a scene with monosyllabic words, to writing from the perspective of an assassin hiding in a nearby tree. The possibilities are endless. But also, Tim encourages a change of setting when writing, having recorded one podcast in the woods, another driving around in his car at night. He argues that toying with your environment, routine and writing apparatus is essential for keeping ideas fresh, and the process fun.  I don’t think anybody could possibly disagree. 

Aside from listing a multitude of fun exercises that conquer the boredom, mental lethargy and pure dread that writing often brings with it, Tim is a truly warm, empathetic and hilarious guide. Listening to him speak is simply a pleasure. He says he doesn’t script the podcasts but if this is true he has an almost unbelievable, superhuman ability to conjure up hilarious and outrageously detailed metaphors (‘popping up everywhere like mushrooms full of hallucinogenic word juice’) and analogies to suit what he is trying to explain. He doesn’t even edit, it’s just one take and there it is, bang on the money every time.


Dali himself gave me the heads up for my marking structure. I’m sure Tim’s is very different. Red for exercise, green meditation, blue reading, purple writing, with a load of letters on top to indicate less healthy things. This method is so effective because you can actually see your progress, right in front of you, in your bedroom, on the wall. Your mind loves that kind of clarity.

Doing the exercises I grew to enjoy Tim’s insights about life as much as his ones about writing. He speaks about the benefits of having a calendar, and marking it with colours for achievements e.g exercise, writing, meditating. The idea never really crossed my mind before, but I am doing it now and I’ve never been anywhere near this productive in my life (I have probably NEVER meditated, written, and exercised in the same day. As you can see from my calendar I did this loads last month). He talks a lot about cold showers as well, which is a step I’ve not yet had the drive (or bollocks) to implement, but I will take his word and will definitely be open to blasting myself with a torrent of nipple-sharpening water in future.

If you are like me, you know that writing is the only thing you’re half decent at, but find writing, the thought of writing, actually writing and anything associated with writing tends to freeze your spine and make you want to run away as far as you possibly can and hide up a tree somewhere, then you couldn’t ask for a better course. This will make you realise, slowly that you can do what you want to do, and it doesn’t have to be agonising. Or boring. It can actually be rather fun.

Who knows? one day you might even publish a novel.








Peep Show Gone Wank

I’ve always championed Peep Show as the best, because it was the best. It represented the epitome of cynical and dark British humour and its unique interactive method of filming elevated it to a whole new kind of viewing experience. Its penultimate series was shown at the end of 2012, about 3 years ago, then at some point in this year we were all thrilled to hear that we would be given one final series. This series concluded this December, and the last episode ever was shown last night. And it’s safe to say, after watching all 6 episodes, its glorious mojo has well and truly evapourated.

The truth is that the plots in this series have become hideously implausible, and well and truly outrageous even by Peep Show’s standards. It’s almost as if they ran out of ideas, or lost connection with the show over the three years they weren’t active. Everybody who ever fell in  love with the show in the first place must have been having a lot of question marks at the lengths it went to here.

Everyone from JLB got back together working in the bank- Just a bit tediously convenient.

The central heating paranoia- Why does he become so obsessive about this? He buys cameras throughout his house. Is it money he cares about? It was executed well this joke, but again it’s implausible, and conveniently arrives in this final series.

Jeremy turns gay- A man just doesn’t come out gay all of a sudden. Yes Jeremy is quirky and sometimes unpredictable but come on!

Mark lets Jeremy draw on his eyebrows, thinking that this is a funny idea- Based on Indiana Jones. I re watched the clip of this, and it’s not even Harrison Ford who does it, it’s one of his female students. It simply doesn’t work as an idea. It’s preposterously bad. He later wears blue eye shadow to conceal it. Side splitting. He then refuses to blink for a long period of time. Also side splitting. He even draws on the stilton with permanent marker. Oh please. This whole episode was a pathetic mess.

Mark makes a caserole with lettuce, beans and eggs- Again incredibly extreme. Not really characteristic of Mark.

Mark does coke- Mark wouldn’t even drop a pill for a girl in the glory days. I mean it’s not that bad of them, but it’s certainly another implausible plot line, and they begin to add up.

A bank robber appears!- Bank robbers. Where have they been the previous 8 series?

April comes back- Some things are better off left in the past. He left her in Darty. Which was funny, because it was classic, slightly evil, incompetent Mark. He doesn’t just decide a few series later to go and track her down! Unless the writers can’t come up with anything else, perhaps.

Mark has sex with April in the toilet of a Kid Farm- Just another thing that is incredibly unrealistic for two very boring characters.

The snake goes missing in the Kid Farm- We’ve had the fucking snake going missing before! Why does it have to go missing again? I’m tired of this!

Jeremy drinks his own piss- Nothing to add.

Jeremy empties a cereal box on somebody’s floor antagonistically- Familiar?

Jeremy Kidnaps April’s husband- Jeremy does it so that Mark can replace him on a cruise holiday to Greece, by seizing April’s husband, and texting april on his phone saying he’s gone to Ibiza. This is just obscene. Jeremy is not this stupid, or this evil. I didn’t laugh, not even a tiny bit. I felt like I’d seen it a million times before.

Why did Peep Show feel like it needed to stretch this far?

Now a lot of people reading this might claim that all of this madness fits in with the storyline, that everything was meant to descend into chaos for the final series. And it may have. But the characters were simply not the same ones from the previous seasons. The same jokes were repeated over and over again, and they had absolutely none of the biting gumption of previous episodes but they were spoken as if they had.

It wasn’t all bad. There were glimmers of excellence, Superhans’ wedding for example, when the twins were momentarily revealed to us. The needless water boarding. The shoe laces method of homicide. The third-person camera angle at the end couldn’t have failed to induce melancholy. But Peep Show, oh my good friend from since I was 12, you forgot yourself this time, and you ran out of ideas.




Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

I recently watched The Force Awakens and I was largely very pleased with what I saw. It’s always a big gamble when it is decided that a long standing franchise will produce new films a while after the conclusion of a previous series, which in my view was something that Peter Jackson failed at with The Hobbit trilogy which was essentially a lengthy ejaculation of mawkish midget-wankery. I was rather apprehensive about how this one would pan out, having reminded myself of the scenes at the end of episode VI, when everyone is dancing all night long at that ewok rave in the woods. Behaving as if all evil has subsided for ever, and ‘order restored to the force’ … for ever.

More like for 32 years then. So all of the space invading, the rainbow of laser swords, the strange desert creatures, the cute robot pets and the fleets of charismatic and deadly ships capable of travelling at the speed of light, all return pretty quickly. The evil now lies with the (perhaps weakly named) First Order, led by a Sith Lord named Kylo Ren who owns a lightsaber that looks different to any lightsaber that has ever appeared in Star Wars. Welcome to the new age.

I was delighted to see Oscar Isaac in this. I always enjoy watching him closely, whoever he plays because he is essentially the coolest man on the planet. His role as ‘the best pilot in the resistance’ is well cast and I was routing for the guy from the off. I thought he died when he crashed, but then I was very pleased to see he survived and will no doubt be exhibiting his extreme skill at flying X-Wings in a spell bindingly flamboyant fashion for the remainder of the films.

The rest of the casting was also very much on point. I can’t comment on them all but I’ll pick out a few ; Dohmnall Gleeson was barely recognisable in his stone cold portrayal of General Hux, but that is very much a good thing, considering that he is playing an extremely evil bastard. The diversity between this character’s traits, in comparison to the character he played with Isaac in Ex Machina (a remarkable film) is testament to how decent an actor he is.

I noticed Gary Neville starred in this also, and I hope Valencia aren’t questioning his commitment to the club as their new manager (okay I’m being facetious, but did anyone else notice him in this film, playing some resistance fighter?). Gwendoline Christie was another interesting cast- as a very in-fashion actress. Although she had very few lines and her character despite being meant to be evil, didn’t really show it. I was interested to see Serkis was included in the cast, but I only realised this after I had seen the film. I was a bit disillusioned with his character; The Supreme Leader if I’m honest. He seems to have emerged completely out of nowhere (I accept this may be accounted for in due course) and his appearance is very uninspiring, in spite of how colossal it appeared as a hologram. He looks like an exact cross between the hideous orc leader at Minas Tirith, and Lord Voldermort. They could have done better when they created his appearance, I’m sure many will agree.

Needless to say, Harrison Ford was excellent. One of the moments where I really felt emotional was when Han got back into the Falcon and he was by the turret. As he was smiling at being reunited with the love of his life, we really were reintroduced to that same devilish smile that we saw in the original trilogy what seems like a lifetime ago, and it was something extremely beautiful. On the subject of Ford, I hope others noticed his extremely vulgar line that he said later in the film. I was shocked when he said it because of its overtly filthy connotations. Then he repeated it! It’s not like it even had any real purpose for the film. It could so easily have been rephrased as well, to mean exactly the same thing, and certainly no eye lids would have been batted. It was extremely peculiar…

Another thing that was tremendously conspicuous was the difference in Fisher’s accent. She has got a lot more American, her voice is entirely different now. But that’s not really a criticism, it doesn’t really matter at all, and I’m perhaps getting a bit fastidious here but hearing it did trip me up a bit.

I have some question marks about the character of Kylo Ren. It was extremely laughable how he was unable to defeat Rey and Finn in the forest, having undergone the training he had from presumably- the best Jedi in the Galaxy. He should have creamed them into the snow effortlessly with his knowledge of the force (God Abrams where has the damn realism gone?). And another thing, I really hope he isn’t simply of the ‘good guy turns bad then turns good again’ school because we’ve already seen that with Vader and worn that black, robotic, semi-asthmatic, t-shirt. They also basically did a repeat of destroying the Death Star, destroying a planet about five times its size, almost effortlessly. As soon as they set out to destroy it, you know it is going to happen. Did they have to include this, again?

Repeats aren’t good enough, of course. The storyline HAS to be something completely different this time round. The galaxy cannot just recycle itself over and over again pointlessly until it becomes like some kind of inter galactic Midsomer Murders that nobody watches. But of course I won’t be making any assumptions at this stage. I feel like they have deliberately concealed a lot of  extremely important information from us at this point, which will answer a lot of the burning questions about what the hell is actually going on with everything.

In typical Star Wars fashion the dialogue was astronomically cheesy from start to finish. “Oh my God look at how much courage that ordinary guy is displaying!” “Oh no we are in a potentially life threatening situation but I am going to pretend that I’m relaxed about it and make some kind of vacuous joke.” “I’ll rub your face son, right before I die because I love ya.”- those kinds of sentiments. But again we make allowances for that. The whole idea of the Force and the Dark Side itself is damn cheesy if you think about it. Every time I heard a line that made me cringe, I turned to a person who I had gone to the cinema with, to register it, and by the end of it I just about got whiplash. But on the whole the film was incredibly made and I was captivated throughout.

The new droid was extremely likeable, the weapons, the effects, the planets, the ships, the weird bread, they all carried a nuanced aestheticism to them which I was extremely captivated by. Everything slid into place very nicely and really set the tone for the new films, which have a lot to prove if this coming trilogy is to become admired by the galaxy’s true Star Wars fans, and for the gamble to pay off.