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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 12 February

Some recent BBC drama or podcast output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

As Innocent as You Can Get
written by Rex Obano, directed by David Hunter
A contemporary urban play written in a very cool, Shakespearean rhyming style. The meter bounces the story along in something of a contrast to its relatively dark tone. “A story about guilt and innocence focusing on two men. One is a prison psychologist and the other a prisoner convicted under ‘joint enterprise’.”

Spoonface Steinberg
written by Lee Hall, produced by Kate Roland
A wonderfully written and performed monologue from the viewpoint of Spoonface – a terminally ill, autistic 7-year old. It sounds grim, but Spoonface will draw you in with her powerful and unique view of the world. A remarkable performance from Becky Simpson in the title role who by my reckoning was just 10 or 11 years old when this play was first broadcast at the beginning of 1997.

Demon Brother
written by Matthew Broughton, directed by James Robinson
A dark two-parter about identical twin brothers, Jasper and Eddie, their relationships with each other, their father and all those around them. A play with twists and turns and a sting in the tail.

The Bat Man
written by Amelia Bullmore, directed by Mary Peate
If you’re enjoying the return of Happy Valley – and why wouldn’t you be? – check out this play written by Bullmore, who plays Happy Valley’s Vicky Fleming. Starring Bill Nighy, Katherine Parkinson, Jenny Agutter and Home Front’s Sean Baker, The Bat Man skips along with a wry humour that perfectly compliments the characters’ backgrounds and motivations.

and finally…

Season six of Home Front… has finished! The end of each season always catches me out and this was no exception. The writing and acting performances in Home Front are always wonderful but the last two weeks, written by Shaun McKenna, have been absolute belters, shifting from the comedic to dramatic depths and everything between. I have a feeling that somewhere down the line, however, Team Home Front is going to break my heart as far as one particular character is concerned.

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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 27 January 2016

Some recent BBC drama or podcast output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

A History of Paper
by Oliver Emanuel, directed by Kirsty Williams
A beautifully written and performed play with just two cast members that will gently draw you into a comforting embrace before pulling out your heart. A keeper.

Mountain of Light
by Simon Bovey, directed by Marc Beeby
Really enjoyable 19th Century heist drama with a plot to steal the Koh-i-Noor from The Great Exhibition in 1851. High quality stuff with great acting.

Jebbediah doesn’t like it in this elephant

How to Conduct a Rishta Meeting
by Nafisa Muhtadi, read by Sohm Kapila, produced by Jeremy Osborne
A great short written in a dynamic contemporary style that reflects the juxtaposition of modern life against the cultural traditions the story depicts. Nafisa Muhtadi is a fellow member of Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 Writer Development Programme for 2015/2016.

See my previous radio drama posts here.
Sign up to the BBC radio drama newsletter here.
Follow @BBCRadioDrama on Twitter.
Download the indispensable BBCiPlayerRadio app here, or go to the website.

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Public Lending Right

Around 12 months ago I registered my Structure novels for PLR (Public Lending Right – the royalty writers receive as a result of their work being borrowed from libraries). Since then I’ve earned £6.97. I can’t help but wish I’d done this in 2004 when The Affinity Trap was first published, and then for the subsequent books, instead of registering them 10 years later. Naively, I thought someone would do this for me – someone at the publisher, or my agent at the time perhaps. In retrospect I should have known better.

This is one of those little things no one tells you but which can make a difference. So if you’re a writer with books in libraries, register them for PLR. Do it now. It only takes a few minutes.

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ADDENDUM: Apparently registering with ALCS is a good idea, too. I hadn’t even heard of this one!

A Guy That’s Been – the death of David Bowie

Are you like me feeling moved by the death of David Bowie today? Perhaps you’re wondering at the media outpouring, or young enough to think he was just some old guy who used to dress weird. You could even be like David who?. I’d have to admit to being somewhat unmoved the day Elvis died, although it ruined my mum’s birthday no end. Thing is, now I understand why.

Bowie’s been present throughout my life, immeasurably creative, making it OK – indeed you better believe it cool as Clough – to be different. He produced incredible seemingly unlimited art let alone music. I had a crush on him when I was a kid. Both him and Mick Ronson who played guitar with Bowie for so long. A double whammy with their spangly pants, big hair and fuzzy Les Pauls. Let’s face it, they looked like the girls from ABBA, but with fuzzy Les Pauls. What’s not to love?

For many people of my generation Bowie’s longevity means he wrote the soundtrack to our lives, was the ever-changing odd-eyed face of avant-garde, both King and Queen of misfit cool. So now like the millions moved by the deaths of Elvis and Lennon et al before him, the feeling on the day of his farewell is that some part of us has died too. A part that previously spangled and sparked. Can the overnight popflop X-Factor age produce an artist capable of engendering such a reaction upon their passing? I’m not so sure. Because that was no DJ. That was hazy cosmic jive.

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Standing Proud

Some time ago I became aware of standing desks, apparently the answer to something called “sitting disease”. While I wondered whether this was just another lifestyle trend from across the pond it was undeniable that I felt uncomfortable sitting all day. My natural desk posture when sitting at a desk is kind of hunched; when thinking or browsing I tend to twist to one side with my left elbow on the worktop, or with my left fist against my hip and my elbow cocked out to the side I’m a little teapot-stylee. These poor habits resulted in the need to visit Jean at the local health centre for back-fixing massages on a regular basis. This would do the trick for a while but after a few more weeks of poor posture the aches and pains would return – and not only while at the desk, but when sitting on the sofa, lying in bed, walking the dog… you get the picture. The discomfort would rise from my lower back all the way up either side of my spine, across my shoulders, into my neck and, at its worst, over my scalp into my forehead. I felt like a twisted wreck, ladies and gentlemen. Constantly.

As a result I looked further into standing desks. I read about how bad it is to sit down all day, with lower blood pressure, lower calorie consumption, your innards all squished up and everything, and while I did harbour some scepticism a lot of it made sense. The thing is, standing desks are expensive, and I don’t have the skills necessary to make one myself: I can just about chop wood into kindling for the fire, and my idea of Hell is the screws and nails aisle at Wickes. At the time other members of the family also used the computer at this desk, so any solution would have to offer sufficient versatility that anyone who didn’t want to stand could still make use of the machine. After some searching I came across Varidesk.

Hence the name…
Varidesk offers a variety of, well, variable desks. These enable your workspace to transform from a sitting to standing setup in a matter of seconds by simply grasping the levers on either side and giving a little push, whereupon the whole workstation elevates to a position appropriate for standing. This seemed to be just what I was looking for, so I ordered a Varidesk Pro Plus 30.

When the desk arrived there was very little to do in the way of setup, although there was a fair bit of heaving and cussing to get the thing upstairs – this is one heavy piece of kit. The packaging was extremely impressive – a complex collection of cut cardboard that presumably offers benefits of light weight, strength, recyclability and low cost. To some extent the Varidesk is a compromise all round. Certainly when in “sitting” profile it looks good, but my keyboard is too high and so is my monitor. Another factor to consider is items other than your keyboard, mouse and monitor. Got a lamp on your desk? A radio? You’ll need to make sure the cables are long enough to reach the plugs when the Varidesk is raised, otherwise they’re going to have to remain down there on your existing desk, which might not be ideal.

Depending on which model you choose you’re likely to lose a fair bit of space. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it reduces the amount of clutter your can accumulate in your workspace, but if you need to spread a lot of printed reference materials around as you work, or have to work on a printed manuscript, this might be a disadvantage, or you’ll need to buy one of the larger – and thus more expensive – variants. The Varidesk does encourage you to focus on work, however, raising only the essential components to standing level – in my case the Mac, keyboard and mouse, a lamp and a notepad pencil for those little jottings. There’s also room behind the Mac for a couple of backup drives.

When using the desk I did find some noise when typing, the sound being transmitted from my keyboard into the plastic structure. There was also a minor vibration from my Mac’s fan. I’m sensitive to unwanted noise so I used a combination of a typewriter pad beneath the keyboard and a leather desk pad underneath the Mac to dampen both sounds.

Wobble
One somewhat disconcerting aspect of the Varidesk was that I found my Mac wobbled when I typed. Quite a lot. Maybe I’m a particularly heavy typist – I do also own a typewriter, after all – but looking online I see I’m not the only user to consider this wobble something of an issue. The wobbliness is not only distracting, it makes the whole shebang feel cheap, Mac and all.

I put up with this movement for a long time until it began to bug me to the extent that I made enquiries about how much it would cost to raise my existing desk to standing height, at which point I could sell the Varidesk. I gave the problem some thought, however, examined the rig to determine just why the Varidesk wobbled and came up with a solution, albeit a bit Heath Robinson.

The wobble seems to be transverse, a side-to-side movement resulting simply from hitting the keys. I determined that some kind of support beneath either side of the desk, just behind the keyboard platform, should do the trick. After a little pondering I cut a couple of pieces of the aforementioned packaging so that they fit between my desk’s surface and the underside of the Varidesk. Trimming these pieces of card to the appropriate length and sliding them into place transformed the unit, almost completely eliminating the wobble. The difference is considerable, with the entire platform feeling sturdier. The pieces of cardboard don’t look great but this is more than compensated for by the improvement they make to Varidesk use.

I also found my keyboard at the time – a Matias Quiet Pro – was slightly too wide to fit between the mounts that attach the keyboard tray to the desk. This was frustrating as it meant the keyboard had to be positioned closer to me than I preferred. This might seem a minor point but when you’re using a setup like this all day every day the slightest discomfort or irritation can become quite a major factor. I now have a Filco tenkeyless model which fits well, and although I’ve lost the number pad I like using this much more than the Matias anyway.

So how do you find standing, Martin?
I found the transition from sitting to standing easy. For a week or so I alternated regularly during the day but it wasn’t long before I was standing pretty much all the time. Now I rarely sit. I’ve found that when standing I don’t get as tired as I used to, and can now sit for only ten minutes or so at the desk before I become too uncomfortable and have to stand again. When standing I can move more easily, stretch and twist and walk away from the desk for a few minutes. When sitting I quickly start to feel drowsy, perhaps as my blood pressure drops and I become generally less active. For some reason I find I’m a less accurate typist when I’m standing. I’m not sure why this is but I certainly make a lot more mistaks than I used to.

Standing to work at a computer won’t be for everyone, and sitting somehow feels more writerly, but for my money the benefits of standing to work far outweigh any disadvantages. I can’t imagine sitting to work for long periods again by choice. In fact at some point I may well invest in a complete new standing desk set up, which offers more workspace, greater flexibility, no compromise and zero wobble.

Would I recommend a Varidesk? Yes, particularly if you’re not sure whether a standing desk would suit you, or you need the versatility to accommodate users with both sitting and standing preferences. If you’d like to buy a Varidesk the company is offering 20% off all models until 23 December 2015, with a free mat included. Go to the company’s website and enter the code XMAS15 at the checkout stage.

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