Dialect X/Waterland 1

3rd January 2021

An attempt at a panorama shot of Waterland

My first official visit to Lake 32/Waterland yesterday as Writer in Residence for January. A 15 minute cycle from home down the Quiet Lane, even quieter now it’s been sealed off with concrete blocks at both ends.

The threatened rain didn’t appear and I had the place almost to myself as I missed the early rush of outdoor swimmers when the centre opened at 8am. So, a first reconnaissance and a chance to work on some character and story ideas in situ. I walked around the entire lake recording what I could (despite a fair amount of wind noise), a few coots, some intriguing water sounds and the oddly sinister rattle of cables against yacht masts.

Everywhere had closed by the time I finished my circuit so I had the added fun of hauling my bike over the locked gate at Cotswold Water Park, my own fault for not checking the times before I set off.

Most of the recordings pretty much useless due to wind noise, so my first task is to buy get a proper ‘dead cat’ wind shield for recording outside.

Paper Human in Brighton

A day for good news, an opportunity I’ve waiting to hear about since 20th November: my 1 hour stage play ‘Paper Human’ has made the shortlist of 6 for Unmasked Theatre’s Brighton Scratch Night.

An extract from it will be performed at the Rialto Theatre in Brighton on 21st January 2021 and (if the Gods are smiling) potentially selected for a full production at the Brighton Fringe 2021.

After I had made the long list last week, I spoke to Luke Ofield of Unmasked who was full of enthusiasm for the script, so it’s something of a relief to finally hear I made the short list.

Vulpes Vulpes

Vulpes Vulpes began as prose, a story about City Foxes, inspired by the Fox who trotted past my office window (in the middle of Cirencester) back in 2000.

It’s grown into three interlinked stories. Three city dwellers meet and interact with the Foxes with whom they share the city, in strikingly different ways.

The Newcomer: unsure of her place in the city, startled by the Fox she sees outside her office window, becoming interested – and gradually obsessed – by what has driven them to the City. Amidst growing food shortages, she is eventually inspired by their ingenuity to give up her dull existence and attempt to become an Urban Fox herself.

The Crazy Guy: discovering Foxes in his back garden, inspired by their intelligence and cunning, he begins campaigning to have them elected to the City Council. He argues with passers-by, attempting to persuade them to join the Movement: to vote Fox. Secretly he dreams that should they win, he will become important as one of their earliest followers.

The Lover: drawn to a mysterious female on a station platform, he sets out to win her. Inspired by the City Foxes, he teaches himself to stalk her, track her movements and find the courage to approach her. Their relationship is passionate but brief; enraged by her natural selfishness, he accepts there is no room for both her and the predator he himself has become, ultimately deciding it will be necessary to kill her.

I now plan to turn it into a script and the basic idea has now been turned into a proposal and submitted to Paines Plough for their First Commissions opportunity.

Persephone’s Carpet : Synopsis

A Folk Mystery about Time and Family, in 6 30 minute episodes.

Submission for the Audible WriterSlam Audio Drama opportunity.

When Cathy Stone dies in a car crash early on New Year’s day, her estranged daughter Bella returns to Middle Churney, her sleepy Gloucestershire home-town, to handle the aftermath.

Bella reconnects with Olivia and Kate. Though born on the same day and friends throughout childhood, they have begun drifting apart, struggling with looming adulthood.

Bella is determined to return to University, denying Kate and Olivia’s insistence that Cathy’s untimely death breaks the chain of a hereditary sisterhood. She refuses Cathy’s brother John’s demands for help uncovering Cathy’s secret links to legendary local predator, the Churney Cat.

Kate discovers Cathy’s death not accidental, convincing Bella to help investigate. Bella helps them trace reluctant relatives, revisit mysteries Cathy taught them in childhood and deal with Cathy’s final legacy: an immense Planting involving Middle Churney’s gardeners, allotment-holders and farmers, entitled ’Persephone’s Carpet’, due to culminate at Midsummer.

Ultimately, they discover John himself caused Cathy’s death, jealous of secrets from which he was always excluded.

Unexpectedly attacked by the Cat, John’s last words are a warning that Persephone’s Carpet will unlock a centuries-old Temporal Prison, releasing its unknown inmate.

Corvidae Diary in Stroud


My short story ‘The Corvidae Diary’ has been selected as one of the 10 to be read at Stroud Short Stories 20. Originally planned for April, the event (ironically entitled ‘Disruptions’!) has understandably had to be postponed to November, due to the restrictions recommended by the Coronavirus AKA COVID-19.

I am delighted to be reading again, this will be my third time, following ‘A Winter Wedding’ in 2015 and ‘Cargo’ in 2018.

The Corvidae Diary is possibly the most topical story I have ever written. Its narrator, stuck in self-isolation following the outbreak of a virulent virus, contemplates his life and attempts to work from home while enduring the Climate change protesters camped outside his apartment building. Slowly, as his daily temperature readings rise to dangerous levels as the virus takes hold, he begins to accept a connection between the biosphere, the virus and the enthusiastic young protesters he resents yet comes to admire.

I named my virus Corvidae after mishearing/misreading COVID-19 as CORVID-19. I think I assumed that the WHO (in an act of spectacularly dark humour) had selected CORVID from Corvidae, the order of Passerine (it’s to do with the configuration of their toes) singing birds including the carrion birds Ravens, Crows & Magpies.

I once studied a famously gloomy Scottish poem (about death, naturally) entitled ‘The Twa Corbies’, Corbie (from Corvidae) being an old Scottish word for Raven.

One Tiny Play about Wiltshire

Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 09.33.32I have now submitted my short script ‘Two Minute Warning’ to the BBC Wiltshire Ten Tiny Plays about Wiltshire competition.

The brief was to write a radio play – maximum 2 minutes in length, a maximum of 2 voices, set at any time, at any place provided it was in Wiltshire. Ten plays will be chosen and recorded in conjunction with Swindon’s Prime Theatre. The plays will be broadcast as part of the Swindon Spring Festival.

It took me a while to come up with an idea, but after reading an article about Dr Who I worked out a neat little story about Time Travel. I originally planned to set it in an exotic bit of Wiltshire, but in the end I chose Swindon station. However mysterious Avebury might be to visit, it doesn’t sound any different from any other part of the English countryside.

Paper Human at British Theatre Challenge

BritishTheatreChallenge‘Paper Human’ has been longlisted for the British Theatre Challenge 2019. There were over 200 entries for this year’s competition (which has been running since 2011) from 14 countries, 25% of which were selected for the longlist.  Up to 30 plays will be shortlisted by the 14th July and 5 winners are due to be announced by the end of July.

So a long way to go, but a real buzz to have made it this far!

Paper Humans

us__en_us__ibm100__punched_card__80_column__620x281Lentz and Carmille

I have been struggling to write about Jacob Lentz and René Carmille for over 15 years.

I first read about them in Edwin Black’s book ‘IBM and the Holocaust’, a chilling history of how the Nazis used data processing technology during World War II. When the Nazis took control of Germany in 1932 they used IBM technology to implement the Nuremberg Race Laws. Returns from the census were punched onto cards and run through a series of sorting and matching processes (including alphabetical matching, the rocket science of its day). Any person identifying themselves as Jewish on a census form could be matched to any of their descendants (using name, place and date of birth), and the number of Jewish-identifying ancestors a person had could be tallied: the Nazi definition of ‘Jewishness’ was anybody with a minimum of 3 Jewish-identifying grandparents.

During WWII the SS applied this processing in every territory the Germans conquered, particularly in Holland and France. In Holland, the head of the Population Registry Jacob Lentz was tasked with applying the Nuremberg processing to the Dutch population. In France the job went to René Carmille, head of the French Demographic Service and former Comptroller General of the French Army.

Lentz eagerly did as he was told, not because he was particularly anti-semitic, but more from an obsession with the accurate processing of data, no matter the human cost: a geek before his time. His goal was a ‘Paper Human’, a regime where the interaction of every citizen could be tracked using punch-cards and tabulators. Thanks to his willing implementation of the Nuremberg processing and the widespread implementation of IBM technology in Holland, 75% of the entire pre-war Dutch Jewish population died in the camps. Lentz served a 3 years prison sentence after the war and died in 1963.

Carmille took a different path. France had more serious demographic problems than Holland, much lower levels of tabulator usage and a far less settled Jewish population. Through various subterfuges Carmille delayed his processing for as long as possible. Seeing the human issues from the beginning, he cheated the Germans of their prize. Not only did he sabotage the punch-card process, so that answers to the vital question ‘Are you a member of the Jewish race?’ were not punched onto the cards at all, he covertly used his Tabulators to perform a secret mobilisation of an entire Army in Algeria, ready to support the Allied invasion of 1943. Thanks to him, ‘only’ 25% of the entire pre-war French Jewish population died on the camps. Carmille was finally arrested following an anonymous tip, interrogated by Klaus Barbie (the Butcher of Lyon) and died in Auschwitz in 1945.

What drew me to the story? At the time I read ‘IBM and the Holocaust’ I was working in Direct Marketing, developing/maintaining software that used methods strikingly similar to those used by Lentz and Carmille on behalf of the SS. That made it personal, made me think ‘What would I have done in the same circumstances’. How could I tell their story?

Cards for Clara (2011)

35‘Cards For Clara’ was written for Theatre West’s ‘Picture This’ project in 2011. A group of writers were each given photographs found in a German street market and tasked with writing a 10 minute piece inspired by it.

My photo showed a shipyard, so I wrote about an IBM salesman visiting a German shipyard owner in early 20th Century to sell him the benefits of using punch-card technology to track components and construction. The owner is interested, but is distracted by his daughter, who never speaks but communicates only through the business cards she has acquired from her father. Through the cards she offers, it becomes clear (to the audience) that she is seeing the future, sensing the dangers the punch-cards pose.

The play received a rehearsed reading at the Alma Tavern, Bristol on 29th May 2011.

Paper Human (2014)

For the final hand in for my MA in Scriptwriting I wrote a radio play based on the story.

This time, I focused on Lentz preparing to stand trial after the war, struggling to accept the consequences of his actions while he learns for the first time the truth about Carmille. Meanwhile, Dutch officials and IBM representatives connive to prevent too much embarrassing truth from emerging.

Paper Human (2019)

With hindsight, the issues with the story of Lentz and Carmille have been –

It’s about two people who never meet

It’s too much about technology and not about people

The events play out over months and years, something not always easy to put over on stage or satisfying to experience

I didn’t want to end up with something like one of those TV mini-series set over a number of years where the actors appear to age (grey in their hair, different hair cuts) every 20 minutes.

Over the Winter of 2018/2019 some ideas fell into place. I had always assumed that Lentz and Carmille would be the protagonists of the story, but I remembered reading that one of Lentz’ subordinates had approached him, concerned at what the SS would do with the data they had amassed, and suggesting they sabotage or even destroy it.

I decided to invert the story and invent a new, younger protagonist: one of Lentz’  former employees who has decided to destroy the cards to prevent the SS using them to target Dutch Jews. Lentz becomes the antagonist and the whole story becomes focused on a single moment, an hour in time when Lentz must defend his data (his life’s work), justify what he has done and persuade the would-be saboteur to stop what they are doing. And if Lentz had a would-be saboteur employee, I could give Carmille one too.

And rather than alternating between scenes set in Holland and France, both stories now play out on the same stage, virtually at the same time, the occupants of each story (set in their different countries) almost completely unconscious of the the other, the lines of dialogue following each other like punch-cards speeding through a tabulator, with a few instances, specific phrases, where the characters speak lines simultaneously. Until the end, when Carmille’s dialog diverges from Lentz revealing the differences in what both men actually did.

Like Philip Pullman’s ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ – whose story begins so close to the original Gospels but by the end tells a completely different tale – Lentz and Carmille’s stories are virtually identical, but finally diverge.

The final version of the story was around 30 minutes long and has since been submitted to the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award, Script Space and the British Theatre Challenge.


The Destiny of Shoes on Youtube

screen shot 2019-01-24 at 20.20.45Back in 2017, writer and former Radio 4 Producer Paul Dodgson led a workshop in radio drama at the Somewhere Else writers group. One of the exercises involved writing about the shoes we were wearing and I happened to be in some relatively interesting shoes, bought cheaply (from Burton’s for £5) as one had become slightly faded from exposure to the sun while sitting in the shop window.

I ended up writing a complete script based on the idea, in which a pair of shoes (with very different personalities, one laid back and philosophical, the other pessimistic and anxious) contemplate the threats to their existence and the possibility of an afterlife for shoes.

I submitted the completed script to Off the Rock Productions for their Soundwaves opportunity, it was recorded by them in late 2018 and now available on Youtube.