Saturday, January 29, 2011

History On Wheels

(pictured: Harold Holt's Foreplay)

Invention: “History on Wheels”: A GPS which alerts you to the presence of sites of historical interest which you happen to be nearing or travelling past.

The idea came to me driving through the Cotswolds a couple of years back. It was a lovely winter’s day with a pale blue sky, and sun suffusing a misted landscape of bucolic English charm – farms, brooks and quaintly cobblestoned villages. We were heading from Ireland back to London, which was our base on a three-month house-swap. After stopping at Stratford-Upon-Avon for the obligatory tour of Shakespeare’s House (he wasn’t in), we soon hit the Cotswolds and caught the district in all its glory - at least in all its glory for the twenty minutes or so before we were hoovered into the guts of a howling black storm and got horribly lost: we didn’t have a GPS, conventional or otherwise.

Anyway, I got to mulling over the sheer amount of bloody stuff that must have happened over the millennia in this country we were travelling through, just layer upon layer of densely packed history – Celts, Romans, Germanics, Vikings, Normans, Celebrity Chefs … All those invasions, battles and tribal wars (just imagine the wealth of relics still buried). Of course this also goes for Europe and most of the rest of the World as well. The predominant sense I get in such places is one of wonderment at the incredible length and richness of the history that lies before me and beneath my feet, especially compared to Australia, in which we’re still just scratching the surface.

So, this is how History on Wheels - or HOW - works. You’ll be driving along and the GPS will volunteer information. Maybe something along the lines of “coming up three hundred metres on your left stand the remains of Brentwood Abbey. It was built in the late 10th century by an order of Nasturtium Monks, an obscure and austere sect of albino flagellants who venerated badgers and survived on a diet of earthworms and sand”. The commentaries would of necessity be brief, although if you did want to investigate something more fully you would have the option to press for more detail. You could opt for a broad, general commentary of the area you were passing through which wouldn’t have to stick to just history, but could include stats and facts on the district’s agricultural and economic mainstays, population, demographic, weather etc.

Alternately, you could focus more narrowly and in more detail on an area of special interest, like conflict: “this was the site of the Battle of Hastings”, or “Agincourt” or “Evermore.” You could select crime and infamy: “you are approaching the one-time home of Peter Sutcliffe, better known as the Yorkshire Ripper, who in 1981 was convicted of murdering 13 women …” Or punch in science, art, sport, music, pop-culture: “This is where the Sex Pistols performed their first gig” … “You are passing the house where Gustave Holst composed the Planets.” Perhaps a political slant: “Here at Cheviot Beach on December 17, 1967 Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared into the sea. An inquest found him missing, presumed drowned, although there is speculation that he was abducted by a Chinese submarine.”

A literary focus would yield rich pickings: “The cottage on the right is where Enid Blyton lived and worked for thirty-six years, and, it’s rumoured, indulged in ginger beer-fuelled orgies with Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the village constable”. You could signpost locations used in fiction: “In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck, Tom and Nigg … err, Slave Jim come ashore at this very spot.”

Hurdles? Just how the hell would you research, edit and record all those millions of facts, those billions of words? I dunno, it’s not my problem. But it sure would create a lot of work for voice-over artists. Speaking of which, you could of course select from a range of voices. Or the machine could subtly change accents as you moved, so as to fit in with the local intonation of the area you’re passing through. Perhaps celebrities could be enlisted to give commentaries on their old home towns, so you might be guided about Edinburgh by Sean Connery. Though Billy Connolly’s lowdown on Glasgow might be more problematic, lasting, as it would, for twenty-six hours and refusing to switch off – “ES JUS FOOKUN GREEEEEET!!!”

So there you have it, History on Wheels (“HOW”, don’t forget). Get to work, pitch it, develop it and make a shitload of dough! (Just don’t forget to give me a cut).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Bible in an Hour

Shakespeare’s been abridged and had all his 37 plays telescoped into one breakneck production, so why not pull out the big guns and do the Bible? I mean, it’s a best-seller and has a huge audience with a limited attention span.

Not counting the Apocrypha, there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New, giving a total of 66 (spooky). This means in an hour-long show you’ve got roughly 1 minute to perform each book (any leftover time could be lavished on Revelation for a nice big bang of a close).
Forget Ben Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Keep it simple and make it a one-man show, with snappy costume changes to denote some of the major players, like Pharaoh, Pilate and a couple of the Maries. Use slides, props and models, like a light-up globe of the world for Genesis, a desert diorama for Exodus, a bathtub with shower for Noah and a K-Mart nativity scene for J.C’s birth. For the Revelation finale you’ll want a smoke machine and slide of Sarah Palin as the Whore of Babylon. (Judas, of course, is Bob Dylan).

Get Nokia on board as a sponsor and then Paul can preach all his epistles to the apostles via a simple group text: “Hey guys, I’m gay! p.s. love one another, coz Jesus is way cool! XX”. The crucifixion would have to be tasteful so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. Maybe McDonalds could also be a sponsor and instead of a cross the actor could hammer himself to a pair of glowing Golden Arches (of course, as ever, the last nail would be problematic).

Inevitably, the integrity of the Bible might be somewhat compromised. For instance, I think there is something like 42 generations from Moses to Jesus and their lineage is all meticulously listed. So all that essential “Zebulun-begat-Gad, Naphtali-begat-Simeon” stuff would obviously have to be trimmed into, say, a 10 second Begat-the-Begat scat.

But on the bright side the Bible’s chockers with comedy gold. Somewhere in there there’s the story of a she-bear that attacks and kills several dozen people, which makes you wonder what the hell all those dozens of other people were doing while the she-bear was busy chewing on their buddy’s skull – not running like hell, but patiently queuing up till the she-bear can get around to them for dessert? (And have she-bears ever been native to the Middle East?)

It’s not all smooth sailing. One bummer is that in order to write the show you have to read the whole Bible and then carry out the severest edit on it since John the Baptist parted ways with his head. But with a little elbow grease you’re onto a winner. Publicity shouldn’t be a problem as Christians who aren’t watching the show will be picketing it, and I’m sure some deliciously illiterate death-threats will be forthcoming, particularly when your tour swings through Alabama.

Once The Bible in an Hour is a bona fide hit you can expand the franchise by adapting other seminal religious works for the stage. Though the Koran may be problematic.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Here's an Idea!

Over the hols my sister suggested that I start a blog. Why not? Nothing much else is happening on the creative fiction front. Why not join the rest of the planet in airing my dirty laundry in public (assuming there is, or ever will be, a public to sift through the soiled garments of my mind). So my buddy Benito set up this blog for me. Seconds later I hit the wall. What the hell do I write about? I mean I’m full of ideas, bursting with ‘em – one-liners, puns, poems, outlines for novels and plays, concepts for films, short stories, radio shows, character names, band names, business names, song titles, gadgets … . I don’t invite these ideas, they just come knocking, and then insist on being put them down in my Ideas File (96 pages and counting). But that’s as far as the ideas ever go. They remain ideas. I couldn’t be arsed developing all these wonderful ideas into anything more substantial.

One idea I’ve kicked around till it’s black and blue is to turn my Ideas File into a book, a Book of Ideas. But that would take work – discipline, dedication, ambition, energy, time, sacrifice … (just add nauseum). And all that stuff would eat deeply into my leisure hours which I’ve been jealously nurturing for a number of years now. But for what it’s worth, the idea for my Book of Ideas is that people would buy the book and if there’s an idea in the book that they like and want to develop then they’re free to do so, on the condition that if the idea they develop – book, script, play etc. – blossoms into some megahit of the magnitude of Harry Potter – or even the minitude of a new Matthew Newton show – then they pay me a royalty. Now I realise that this idea is fraught with problems. How do I collect royalties from realised ideas from my Book of Ideas? I suppose I’d have to somehow patent every single idea and then any interested parties could negotiate with me, which would prove to be prohibitively ridiculous. In any case the point is moot as the Book of Ideas will never get off the ground, let alone off my p.c.

But now another idea is fermenting: rather than let all these fine ideas just moulder in my mind, maybe I should publish them on my blog. Yes! That’s the plan. At least for now. Like an intellectual garage sale I’ll lay out all my ideas and concepts – old, new, borrowed, blue - and see if anyone wants to have a rummage. If at the end of a short trial period – say, three years – I have more followers than just my sister (she promised) I might be encouraged to continue. Who knows, I might even strike a fat publishing deal and my Blog of Ideas will become a Book of Ideas and rocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Then again, people may think my ideas are a) crap b) plagiarised c) plagiarised crap.

Speaking of which, one of the ideas in my Ideas File is for a how-to handbook for criminals. It’s a short entry that I put down about five years ago and reads like this: “A How To book for criminals – how to shoplift, murder, mug, burgle etc.” Okay. I’m not claiming it’s genius, but it’s an idea none the less and ideas are about all I have. I’ve just been reading Steve Toltz’s book “A Fraction of the Whole”, published about two years ago, and its plot features … guess what? Yep, the publishing of a how-to handbook book for criminals. Now, I’m not suggesting Steve Toltz ripped me off. I don’t know Steve Toltz and as far as I know I’ve never met Steve Toltz (then again I do drink a bit). I’ve never published the idea or spoken about it from stage, so unless Steve Toltz is some kind of psychic burglar (now there’s an idea!) then it’s just purely co-incidental that this idea of mine happens to feature in Steve Toltz’s fine novel. Ideas ripen and fall off the vine and if you don’t want them then some smart, industrious bastard will come along and scoop them up before they rot. So I might as well try and find a nice loving home for my malnourished intellectual property (Lost Intellectual Property Office, anyone?).

But I’m not precious. If by chance there’s an idea that you like, you’re welcome to it. That’s right! Take it and develop it, flesh it out into something fat and substantial, and if it’s a hit all I ask is a small credit in the titles and a modest reality cheque of, say, five percent. I suspect this, my first entry, my mission statement, is longer than your average blog, if not smarter. If you’ve got this far congratulations. As I say this is an experiment and I may alternate the ideas with the odd poem, satirical snippet or scathing piece of social commentary.

Okay, so here’s my first idea. (And please, don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before):

Idea for an illustrated children’s book: “The Boy Who Cried Shark!”

You get the picture, an Ozzified update on a classic. Simple but effective, and there shouldn’t be any copyright issues as I’m sure The Boy Who Cried Wolf has been in the public domain for centuries.

The setting is a packed beach on a boiling day with a mischievous brat – shall we call him Gavin Meany? – who scrambles hundreds of swimmers from the surf with the cry of “Shark!” Confusion, panic, sirens, p.a. announcements, screaming kids, old folks having heart attacks, lifeguards in a frenzy, assisting people and launching boats. But there’s no shark to be seen. The lifeguards quiz the kid who swears he saw one.

Next day, with normality restored at the beach, same deal. The kid hollers “shark!” and hundreds of swimmers come boiling from the water. The third time it happens the lifeguards click that young Gavin is pulling their leg, so they decide to pull his. They construct a massive fake shark fin propelled by a diver – let’s borrow the one from Jaws – sneak up behind Gavin in the water and scare the shit out him – literally! (I suppose they scare the shit out of everyone else as well?). With young Gavin screaming and thrashing they reveal the fraud of the fake fin and give the boy a stern dressing down. Having learned his lesson a snivelling Gavin and the lifeguards are about to head back to shore when someone cries “shark!”

They turn around to see a humungous fin slicing through the water straight towards them, but this one’s real! … How to end? On a closeup of their horrified faces? With the shark being repelled by the smell of Gavin’s poo? With the real shark trying to hump the diver with the fake shark fin? (err, perhaps not for the kids), or very blackly with a bloody massacre? … The thing writes itself. Get a good illustrator on board and Bob’s your uncle!