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A letter from Warren Ellis


Autumn has arrived, out here on the Thames Delta.  In a few weeks, we can probably expect a week of Indian Summer that fools us all into thinking we live somewhere nice.  And then the rain will start again.  I'm listening to an episode of Mindful Cyborgs in which I am called the Godfather of the newsletter movement.  Which I have mixed feelings about.  It's hard not to feel old when it's cold and you had A Medical Event and autumn is arriving.  And it's quiet.  Email is at an all-time trickle, the apps are silent, and I'm just out here watching the rain stream off the eaves and cascade through the leaves.  It's a chilly kind of peace, but we take peace where we can find it.



So I didn't talk about this last Sunday, but late the previous week the news broke that the RED films are being redeveloped for TV with NBC.  Didn't talk about it because, honestly, I don't currently have much more information for you than that.  We always talked (we being me and the producers) about RED as an international TV format, because it internationalises really well -- local secret intelligence service + local ageing actors = your own RED story.  In France, you do the DGSE with, say, Jean-Hugues Anglade (and if you haven't seen the first season of BRAQUO, fix that).  In Germany, you do the BND and, hell, I dunno, is Gotz George still working?  I have fond memories of SCHIMANSKI being the single thing on TV at 4 in the morning in 1991.  95% of you have just blanked out.  Anyway.  The basic concept is obviously easily transferrable to TV, especially the (RED film writers) Hoebers' adaptation.  I'd watch a Swedish version with Michael Nyqvist.  Anyway, that was a long digression -- short version is that I don't know much more than you right now.  TV has been part of the conversation with Mark and Lorenzo, the producers, for years, so it's not a huge shock or anything.  This has been in possibility space for ages.  

(Lorenzo and Mark, it must be said, have always been really good to me, as have the Hoebers.  Cully and I still shake our heads at what that little book has done for us.)

Television works like this: a network or production entity will cause something to be developed by saying, okay, write us a pitch or treatment or package.  That's "being developed for tv."  There may be some back and forth depending on how well it's going.  Lots of little hurdles to clear.  You can fall on any of them and development will be abandoned.  Then, in success, the trigger will be pulled on the writing of a pilot episode. Sometimes that script is judged to be so unfixably bad that it'll kill the whole thing right there.  Sometimes it'll go through a few drafts before being deemed worth committing to production.  If you're really lucky -- and we're eight or ten hurdles down the line here, maybe -- it'll get filmed.  And that can be the end of it too.  The filmed pilot comes back and someone says, no, this is awful, what were we thinking, bin it.  Or reshoots.  Or it gets pushed to the next development cycle for another go, which can mean shooting a new pilot with a new cast and crew or just starting the whole damn thing from scratch.

Television's advantage is that it has the logic of commerce.  There is a clear, linear process from spoken idea in a room to pilot on the air.  But it is long and difficult and stressful and littered with landmines.

Note that I'm talking about American tv here.  My brushes with British tv have suggested that the British process is far more arcane, and frankly I'm not sure how anything that isn't dogs-doing-tricks shows even get on the air over here.  
So, if you're one of those people who likes to yell at writers on Twitter about why they haven't made a tv show out of some book or other, start with the knowledge that someone has to buy it for tv development first, which is not something you can magic up out of nowhere, and then re-read the above.  Vastly more things are rented and developed for tv than you even know about, and probably 90% of them fall at the first hurdle.  There have been something like four different attempts at GLOBAL FREQUENCY over the years.  Five, if you count an abortive stab at developing it for film.

Here endeth the incomplete and off-the-cuff lesson.

More tv-related news is expected to pop up within the next few weeks.


So Loud It's Lonely

"My internet generation has a ton of muscle memory for communicating and reading in several windows and apps across a couple of devices simultaneously.  The new silence has my muscles twitching..." (link)



FINCHES OF MARS is Brian Aldiss' final science fiction novel.  The old boy - whom I met very briefly in Brighton once, and what a luminous gent -- intends to retire, and who can blame him, as he's knocking on ninety and has been writing steadily for something like two-thirds of that time.  It's a peculiar little book that's had some furious reviews.  No characters, no plot, no structure, no blah blah.  I think a lot of people didn't really grasp what was in front of them.  It's a philosophical consideration in the vague shape of a science fiction novel.  From some perspectives, a consideration of what a science fiction novel is and has been.  You see these, from time to time, and they usually illustrate the point where the writer's concerns entirely part ways with the audience's expectations.  It has no real answers.  It has no real protagonists.  It obeys the genre only in the most eccentric ways.  It has a four-page lead-in to the best joke in the book, the sort of high-wire act that you can imagine Aldiss giggling over as he set it up.  It's not a science fiction novel, and the sf terminologies and novums he introduces are often almost contemptuous of the form.  It's a literary novel.  And, in some ways, I think, an exegesis of sorts, wherein Aldiss circles the summit of the ideas and philosophies he's arrayed across two centuries.  Approach with an open mind and enjoy the meander.

FINCHES OF MARS, Brian Aldiss:  (UK)  (US)



Interview at Publishers Weekly

I am Embracing my Indie Side, apparently.  Longish interview about CUNNING PLANS, digital self-publishing and etc.


On Safari

On Saturday, I went into London, to visit the Safari Festival, a single-day comics small press fair.  Which, on the hottest day of August, was absolutely packed.  To the point where I just couldn't reach every stall or grab everything that caught my eye.  Bumped into Dean Simons and Tom Muller, which was nice -- even though it seems I never get to talk to Tom for more than two minutes at a time whenever we meet.  Decided to make a day of it, stopped off at the new, lovely, but somewhat understocked Magma bookshop in Covent Garden, nipped into Forbidden Planet to buy the first two issues of ISLAND (and discovered that I no longer have my own creator section in the bookshelves there, hahahah), and then had a serendipitous few hours in a pub in Bloomsbury with Eleanor Saitta and Laurie Penny.  I win my I Saw And Spoke To Other Humans badge for the year.  Which is pretty much how it is, these days.

It occurred to me the other week that I haven't read any printed comics in probably a few years.  Even my daughter recently saw fit to comment that for someone who writes graphic novels, I never really seem to read any.  It was easier when I was on comps lists -- a company would send their entire output to you every month in a big box or fat envelope.  If you were writing an ongoing book for them.  Which I don't do, except for Image, who don't operate a comps list because it is, after all, a significant expense and I would call them insane if they did it.  But, yeah, back then you could keep up with the form without expending any real effort.  

(And there are SO many prose books to read.)

So you can find yourself creating comics in something of a vacuum.  Which I honestly think can be a good and valuable thing.  But, after a while, it becomes time to go out and see what the rest of the world is doing.  And it's that time.  I have a box of graphic novels coming from Amazon, too, so I can catch up with HELLBOY IN HELL, because I find Mike Mignola's line and composition just exquisite.

(When I write comics, I read prose fiction.  When I write prose fiction, I read non-fiction and play music over documentary films.  I am perverse, and wrong and stupid.  But I'm also interesting in bringing things from other artforms into whatever field I'm working in.  And comics is the original hybrid artform.  It's appropriational almost by design.)

("Appropriational" in the apolitical usage.)



  • BOJACK HORSEMAN, two seasons on Netflix.  Some episodes are the sort of cringeworthy situation comedy that I switch off.  Many of them are blisteringly grim psychological dissections and instances of brave, ruthless writing.  It hits its stride towards the end of the first season and pretty much sustains through the second.  
  • FSG just sent me TERRA FIRMA TRIPTYCH, a forthcoming digital collection by JM Ledgard, and my god it's beautiful and I don't want it to end.  There's a bit of it here.  FSG still love me and send me things, and I am so grateful.
  • I used a service to check my actual reach on Twitter: @warrenellis is followed by some 538,000 people.  Guess what?  Only 18% of those accounts are active.  Because @warrenellis is a very old account.
  • James Bridle's final ebooks column for the Guardian, on moving stacks of print and an accommodation with the ephemeral.


This feels like it's run long.  Has it run long?  Not used to this text editor yet.  Shall we call it a day and come back next week?  Yes, we shall.  This email is emitted to you via, which is the new and permanent email address for this newsletter.  It comes to you via four smoothies, five cups of espresso and one cigarette more than I should have had, but, as my dad said as he laid in a hospital bed dying of heart failure and lung cancer, a little of what you fancy does you good.  That is actually a true story.  My entire genetic line is basically a dank, viscous stream of idiocy.  So, treat yourself to something this week, but try not to let it kill you.  Or, if it does, follow my father's example and try and take someone with you.

The unsubscribe link is around here somewhere, and clicking it activates a clause in the small print that means I get use of your organs for medical and other purposes, while you are still alive