The following articles were authored by Niall

The Story of M

OK, so this blog is WAY overdue an update. What can I say? I’ve been busy.

Today, July 13 2021, sees the release of ‘M, King’s Bodyguard,’ an historical thriller based on actual characters and events that I have been working on for over ten years, since I came across William Melville in a website article headed ‘Ten Amazing Irishmen You’ve Never Heard Of’. I am not the first to try and tell his story in fiction, but to the best of my knowledge I’m the first to get to publication.

William Melville left Ireland at fourteen, joined the London Metropolitan Police in 1872, and rose to become head of Special Branch and occasional bodyguard to British royals. In 1901, in the leadup to the funeral of Queen Victoria, he received a tipoff that a gang of European anarchists planned to attack the cortege and assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. With the Kaiser’s bodyguard Gustav Steinhauer in tow, Melville set out to see off the plotters – but nothing went according to plan…

Last time I blogged here the term CoVid would have sounded like some sketchy phone app that allowed you to watch movies with mates. In 2021 we know Covid all too well, and it’s a lot less fun. What it means for us authors (Us Authors! Sounds so cool!) is that book tours remain firmly virtual and I don’t get to sneeze on any would-be readers. Instead we have Zoom and YouTube, and if anyone reading this today is interested in watching/joining my launch event – 1pm in Texas, 7pm UK time – here’s the link:

King’s Bodyguard is intended to be the pilot for a series. Steinhauer, who in 1901 stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Melville when the bullets were flying, went on to head the German spy network that infiltrated Britain during the years preceding the First World War. Melville was recruited by what was to become MI5 to counter him, and the two men played a lethal game of cat-and-mouse across Europe for over a decade. I have to say historical novels are bloody hard work – did you know that the ‘crossword’ as such was not invented until 1913? So why does this character mention it in 1901? And there’s a dozen of those on every page.

It is an epic yarn though. Watch this space. (Not this space, obviously. I’m hardly ever here. Maybe try Twitter, where I’m @Noghar…)

Roll Up Roll Up… But Mind the Wet Paint

Look at the state of this website! The Crusher trilogy is complete, and the home page still says Parts 2 and 3 ‘coming soon’? Bear with us – (Here imagine frantic sounds of sawing, hammering and cursing behind the scenery…)

Ladies and Gents, the third and final part of the Crusher trilogy, Shredder, is out this month, June 2014. The official launch is Thursday 3rd July (which is next month, I know, shut up at the back) and to mark it I am going to raffle off three sets of the novels in the paperbacks with the cool matching covers, autographed of course (so you can’t send ’em back.) The draw will take place on Sunday 6 July and a link to the entry widget is on the front page of this website… or will be very shortly…  (Hoot! Let’s stink a link to the comp on the home page!) I will mail the signed sets to winners anywhere in the world.

What can I say about Shredder […] Continue Reading

An Imperfect Science

The narration over the wonderfully absurd opening* of Sunset Boulevard, where we learn that the man talking to us is the dead guy floating in the pool – includes every screenwriter’s favourite observation: that no regular moviegoer knows or cares what screenwriters do because ‘they think the actors make it up as they go along.’

If a screenwriter does their job right, all the artifice – setting up the story and introducing the characters and moving the narrative forward – disappears.  The viewers suspend their disbelief, ignore the contrivances and the coincidences that hold the story together, and let themselves imagine they are watching something real. The impression of spontaneity – that the ‘actors make it up as they go along’ is pretty much the effect every writer is trying to achieve. At the same time we’re also trying to make viewers forget they are watching actors at all, and convince them that that bloke who resembles Tom Hanks might just die horribly before the end of the movie.

Of course these days critics and audiences are much more sophisticated.  They understand that in movies today it’s the director who makes the story up as he or she goes along.  (Joke! LOLZ, etc.)

A lot of other screenwriters have made this point much better than I ever could – notably William Goldman in Which Lie Did I Tell? where he slams his head repeatedly into the great stone edifice that is ‘The Auteur Alfred Hitchcock’ to no avail whatsoever.

But to this day we still get critics who will analyse everything about a movie in terms of what the director was trying to achieve, or how this work fits into that director’s oeuvre, ignoring the fact that much of the time it’s the writer who has shaped the story. Sometimes the director is only driven to ‘explore’ this subject matter because he has two mistresses, a coke habit and a condo in Malibu to support.

Some producers are under this impression as well – that only the stars and the directors matter, and that writers are disposable and interchangeable; if one writer doesn’t fit or gets awkward, hire another.  Two writers must be twice as good as one, and six must be… hold on, the maths is too hard. And if the script these six writers produce, by some amazing misfortune, lacks all coherence, and the star complains, hire yet another writer to hold the star’s hand.  That writer can always wedge a few lines in somewhere to make it look like the star’s opinions are being listened to.

Of course, we writers don’t help matters by going along with this idiocy. All writers need high levels of self-belief to produce anything, which naturally leads to the conclusion that you are at least as talented, if not infinitely more talented, than any of those hack losers your respected colleagues.  You are therefore doing them a favour by dropping in like a merciful angel and rescuing your bastard scumbag rivals friends from their own lack of talent the impossible situation the producers have put them in.  Screenwriters are especially liable to believe this if they need the money – and the vast majority of screenwriters, at any given moment, desperately need the money.

At this point I was going to neatly conclude that a good script by a good writer whose work is treated with respect will always result in a good movie that audiences will enjoy, and that the ‘hire more cooks’ approach creates inane sprawling patchwork movies that waste vast percentages of their budget by shooting material that makes no sense and cannot ever be used.  But I can’t, because film making is an art, not a science.  In science, results can be replicated by following a formula; in moviemaking, it’s never that simple. As Goldman said in his other brilliant book Adventures in the Screen Trade, no-one knows anything.

One of my favourite blockbuster movies ever was the original Pirates of the Caribbean. The script, the cast, the direction, the effects – everything about it was superb. For the sequels they dispensed with the original pair of writers and brought in a new, less distinguished team who, among other things, frequently changed the proposed plot to suit the whims of the stars.  The result, in my opinion, was an utterly incoherent mess – compared to the first movie, a debâcle.  Yet the second movie made more money than the first, and the same team went on to make a third and fourth movies that made even less sense and even more money.

The truth is that many witty polished beautifully crafted movies with great scripts sometimes sink like rocks, while some overblown incoherent buckets of drivel that deserve to die a miserable lonely death fill the multiplexes for weeks.

I’m going to stop writing this blog to go and drink Beer.

*There is of course nothing intrinsically absurd about a dead man narrating the story, since the whole idea of narration is a contrivance anyway…