Stephen Fry’s “L” competition – and the little voice

When I started following Stephen Fry on Twitter (and was stupidly chuffed that he followed me back), I was one of just a thousand(ish) who did so.

Unsurprisingly, this figure has grown hugely.  As I write, he’s being followed by over 63,000 Twitterers, and to mark passing the 50,000 mark, he set a competition for his fawning accolytes (one of whom I cheerfully admit to being).

You had to write a tweet (a Twitter message) which contained exactly 50 “L”s – L being the Roman numeral for 50.  Quite a challenge, given that tweets have a rigid 140-character limit.  Even more so, when spaces count as characters.

And you had to mark the message with a hashtag: #L  so that it could be identified as a competition entry.  So that’s two characters gone already, I thought (fatal mistake, as you will see).

What I wrote

A quick look at the entries as they enthusiastically rolled in showed a lot like this:

gavski82: #L illegal llamas loll, a ball?hells bell!all call a folly.a hill will roll,willy nilly.bill fell ill, all still.a pull will lilt,will fall.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense, really.  Nor did most of the others.

I thought the only way to stand a chance of gaining Mr Fry’s approbation was for it to be about something, and ideally to have a bit of rhythm to it, like a poem.

So after a bit of scratching about, this is what I submitted:

Ill,dull lull. Poll-all well,lol! All hail jolly poll!All roll pell-mell,all ululate,all lalala!Hail BHO!Hail Michelle!Tell world,allswell#L

BHO, I hoped, was recognisable as Barrack Hussein Obama, whose inauguration had just taken place.  And I used as much punctuation and spaces as I could spare to indicate the rhythm of the piece (piece?  tut, pretentious, moi?), which should read like this:

Ill, dull lull.
Poll – all well, lol!
All hail jolly poll!
All roll pell-mell, all ululate, all lalala!
Hail BHO! Hail Michelle!
Tell world, all swell

I was quite pleased with it.  At least it wasn’t total nonsense.

But I messed up the hashtag.  I didn’t leave a space before it, so the hashtag engine didn’t pick it up, which means it wasn’t considered for the competition.

Boo, hoo, so what?

Why am I telling you this?  It’s because of the little voice.

I thought, to protect my idea of doing an Obama tribute, I’d leave it until close to the deadline to post my tweet.

I was writing scripts for The Archers at the time, which takes total concentration.

As I sat at my desk at 9.30 on the Saturday morning of the (noon) deadline, I read my “note to self” to post the tweet at 11.30.  A tiny fleeting thought passed through my mind: “shall I set an alarm?”  No, I thought. It’ll be fine.  I need to get on with writing this script.

Next thing I knew, it was ten to midday. Sudden panic. I grabbed my draft, carefully typed it into Twitter, and sent it.

When I came to the end of a scene about twenty minutes later, I went hunting for my entry in the hashtags.

It wasn’t there.

And then I realised that the #L wasn’t two characters.  It was three, because it needed a space to separate it out from the other text.  A space that I has used in search of my precious rhythm, but could have sacrificed.

God, I was annoyed.  With myself, which is the worst sort of annoyance there is, of course. I’d worked quite hard in my limited free time to come up with this offering, and I might just as well have not bothered, as I told myself, my wife, my nearest son, my Twitter buddies, and would have told the milkman if he’d been around.

Listen, you idiot (me, I mean)

So to make myself feel a tiny bit better, I tried to think what I might learn from this.  And, not for the first time, it was a lesson about that little voice.

My subconscious knew what the right thing to do was, and it told me.  If I’d posted the tweet a bit earlier, my error might well have dawned on me in time to put it right.

But the subconscious is so easily shouted down by the noisy, busy forefront of the mind.

I’ve told the little voice “no, it’ll be fine” before.  And I’ve almost always regretted it later.

So when you get that little whisper, remember me banging about the house at 12.30 on a Saturday lunchtime, ridiculously annoyed about a little word game.

And PAY ATTENTION TO IT!

(And I’ll try to, as well)

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Who’s Who in The Archers

 

The latest editon

Every year for the past ten years (more, actually) I’ve written a guide to the characters and places in The Archers. The latest edition –  Who’s Who in The Archers 2009 – is out now.

This is the book that I wanted when I first started listening to The Archers.  So many characters, with their interconnecting lives… Who were they all?  And why did so many people call this Tom Forrest guy “Uncle Tom”?

So when I actually started to work on the programme, I suggested we write and publish a guide and sell it direct to the public.  We weren’t allowed to make a profit, so the purchase price simply covered the production and mailing costs.

One of the early in-house versions

Various people worked on those early self-published editions, but it settled down to be my baby, and we sold over 90,000 copies.

BBC Books

Eventually BBC Books took it on and published it as a proper paperback.  It’s gone through some small changes over the years – expanded in size, adding a Frequently Asked Questions section and an index of characters’ forenames (as it can be many months before you hear a character referred to by their surname), and this year the cover has been redesigned.

But essentially it’s the same idea as the original – a guide to the main current characters – speaking and silent – and the main locations in Ambridge.  That’s about 120 entries.  We even list the numbers and types of animals and the acreages of the different crops on the farms.

Entertainment

“…Sid Perks is the nicest homophobe you could hope to meet…”

It’s a reference work, obviously, but I try to make it an entertaining read, which led to someone dubbing it “the little book with the big attitude”.  As well as a robust approach to the foibles of the characters, I’ve had fun with how the facts are presented.  Over the years I’ve had some entries that wrap up the basic information in formats such as a postcard from Grey Gables hotel, a rubbish website for Borchester Chamber of Commerce, and a Good Pub Guide review of The Bull, Ambridge.

“…Cynics would say that Kate getting pregnant by a black South African was just another ploy to shock the more conservative elements in Ambridge…”

And if any entry has been substantially the same for two years running, then I completely rewrite it, to keep it fresh.  I don’t want someone picking it up and saying, oh, no I’ve got this already.  This means that in some cases I’ve  written the same basic information several different ways, which makes it interesting for me, too (I don’t always use the word “interesting” when I’m racking my brains for yet another approach, I must admit).

Accuracy

Of course, the main thing is that it has to be accurate, which poses a particular set of challenges.  Most of the writing is done in April/May for a July press date and an early October publication date.  When I’m writing, we haven’t planned in detail exactly what’s going to happen on air in publication week.  I work from our longterm planning “grids”, which give me a fair idea, but there’s always a lot of fine-tuning at proof stage.

Even then I don’t always get it 100 per cent.  In one edition I anticipated by two weeks a character (Kenton Archer) moving in with his girlfriend, for example. A small error, but it annoyed me.

And there’s also the challenge of keeping the book as accurate as possible once it’s been published, because things are changing all the time in the programme.  I’ve developed a cunning use of the perfect tense, so that an entry is still accurate even when I know a character’s circumstances will change over the life of the book.

So, for example, I won’t say: “Ed is serving a community punishment for breaking and entering”, even though that might be entirely accurate at the time of publication.  I’d say: “Ed was sentenced to a community punishment for breaking and entering”, which is true even when the character is no longer cleaning graffiti off the bandstand.

Blogged

The first mention of the book in the blogosphere – at least the first that I was aware of –  was by Tim Relf, who writes Farming Today’s entertaining Field Day blog.  He hates The Archers, apparently, so it was nice of him to give it a mention.

Academic study of Archers fans

For the past few months, a small number of academics has been looking at the online behaviour of listeners and fans of BBC radio.

It’s part of a knowledge-sharing project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

One of the areas of fandom it studied was The Archers, looking mainly at the Archers Addicts fan club, the Archers Appreciation Facebook group and (to the greatest extent) the BBC’s own Archers message board, for which I am the host.

It had some interesting things to say about the conflict – which is certainly there on the BBC’s board – between people who simply want to discuss the characters and storylines in a more or less straightforward way, and those who, in the words of the report, take an “ironic” or “anti-fan” approach.

I’ve posted on the message board in the past about my worries that a very energetic and vocal group who tend to take a negative line can set the tone for the board, discouraging milder users.  Indeed the report says that some users are put off by this, and choose to go elsewhere.

But the BBC board – funded by all licence fee payers – should really be a place where everyone can feel they are welcome to post their views.  It’s a continuing challenge.

Having said that, I should count my blessings, as overall the discussions on the BBC board are of far higher quality than in many other (non-Archers) online forums.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings, by Lyn Thomas, of London Metropolitan University.

You might also be interested in this report on specialist music fans (and indeed producers) by Andrew Dubber and Tim Wall of Birmingham City University.

Stephen Fry is following me

For some reason, this made me irrationally pleased:

Google Mail - Stephen Fry is now following you on Twitter! - keri.davies@googlemail.com
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

I know he won’t really be hanging on my every utterance.  How can he, when he was already following over a thousand people at this point, and it’s over 3000 as I write.  But I don’t care.  Stephen Fry is following me on Twitter.

I’ve never met him, but my wife and youngest son Dominic have, at a party at St James’s Palace, hosted by Prince Charles for The Archers’ 50th birthday.  While I was somewhere else in the room, no doubt making small talk with the BBC’s deputy controller of napkin rings, Stephen (he’s following me on Twitter, you know) discovered that Dominic plays Daniel Hebden Lloyd.

He lifted Dom up in the air and cried “Dominic!  I’m your biggest fan!”

What a nice man.

Did I mention that he’s following me on Twitter?

The Archers goes to Bestival

This week, two examples of British eccentricity come together, as two of the younger characters from The Archers (Alice Aldridge and Christopher Carter) are off to Bestival.

As it happened, it fell to me to write all this week’s Archers episodes (31 Aug – 5 Sep), which was quite handy, as I know Bestival fairly well.  I went to the first one, when it was a small hopeful punt by Rob da Bank. In fact I bumped into Rob on the site and asked if he was going to do another one.  “If I can afford it”, was his answer.

It’s become a great success, of course, and I went again in 2006, when it had grown substantially.  I couldn’t make it this year (going to the End of The Road instead), but I took two off my sons to its new small offshoot Camp Bestival, which was great.

When I was writing the script, the Bestival folk sent me a full site plan and stage running order, so that I could get the details right, supplemented with my own knowledge of the festival atmosphere. So I now know where the Hidden Disco is (although I’m sworn to secrecy).

There’s a bit of run-up on Thursday evening’s Archers episode (1900hrs, repeated the next day at 1400hrs), and quite a substantial chunk on Friday.

If you’re familiar with festival-going, I’d be interested to hear what you think of the episodes.  In fact any feedback is always welcome.

btw, I’ve been writing a bit about equipment for festivals:

tents

sleeping mats

This week’s Archers – I take responsibility

I wrote the episodes of The Archers which go out this week: Sunday 6 to Friday 11 July, plus the omnibus on Sunday 13 July.

They pick up from an exciting cliffhanger last Friday, when it became absolutely clear to Fallon that her boyfriend Ed was still in thrall to his former partner (and brother’s ex-wife) Emma.

On a more comic tip, it’s the moment that David’s been dreading, as his 15-year-old daughter Pip takes part in a “Moulin Rouge” parade. Voulez-vous watchez avec Pa?

You can hear The Archers on BBC Radio 4 (1900 hrs and 1400 hrs), or via a plethora of trendy methods such as streaming and podcasts.  All via the BBC’s Archers website, which also has a lot of useful background if you’re thinking “Fallon?  Ed?  Who are these people?”