Friday, November 20, 2015

Adventures in Audio - Part 1: The Back Story

Image by Alan Levine, via Flickr
My husband is nothing if not diversified in the range of his creative enterprises. Board game enthusiasts, for example, will recognize the name Bob Harris as the creator of the classic fantasy board game Talisman.1 Following the world-wide success of Talisman, Bob a made the lateral move into writing Y/A fiction when our friend Jane Yolen invited him to be her co-author for Queen’s Own Fool, a tale of Mary Queen of Scots (Philomel Books, 2000), the first of eight successful collaborations. And thereby hangs the tale of how he made yet another lateral into script-writing.

Bob has always been a fan of vintage American radio comedies like the Jack Benny Show, Amos and Andy, and Duffy’s Tavern. In the wake of writing Queen’s Own Fool, it occurred to him that the life of Mary Queen of Scots, which affords so much serious dramatic material, might on a lighter note provide the basis for a uniquely Scottish sitcom.

In 2003 he mentioned this notion to his long-time friend Alan McFadzean, and the two of them set to work on a pilot for The Queen’s Heid, a comedy set partly in Mary’s palace of Holyrood and partly in a tavern across the street (the Queen’s Heid of the title), run by the scheming-but-lovable Lachie Marr. Originally conceived as a TV show, this concept was eventually developed as a one-off special for BBC Radio Scotland, first aired on St. Andrews Day (Nov 3) 2005. A sequel, The Knox Factor, was broadcast by the BBC in 2007.

Thereafter, contractual obligations compelled Bob to focus on his career as a children’s author. Alan, meanwhile, pursued his career as a science consultant, co-authoring the acclaimed book Engineering Animals. In their down-time, they continued to produce new comedy scripts - though finding a market for them proved difficult.

Then came new inspiration.

For several years, Bob had been involved in professional role-play work, both for businesses and for St. Andrews University’s medical department. He suddenly realized that from his various colleagues he could put together an excellent cast. With this prospect in mind, he and Alan went back to work on their flagship project Watch The Skies!, a comedy set in an observatory in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.

Watching from the sidelines, I was thrilled when the actors fell in love with the first script at first reading. Since then, rehearsals of this and follow-on scripts in the series have been pure joy. To bring the series to fulfillment, we’ve been very fortunate to be given the use of Sunnybrae studios, run by Bob’s cousin AJ Harris, who also added the music and sound effects.

This has been a fantastic collaborative project in which everyone has given their services for free. At the time of writing two episodes are available online along with a host of extra features. Over the next few weeks there will be another episode added plus a Christmas special, with more to follow in the New Year.

Watch The Skies! is available absolutely free at Quantum Fridge.

You can Like it on Facebook at the Watch The Skies Comedy page.

You can also follow on Twitter @QuantumFridge

In my next article I will explore with Bob the difficulties and delights of writing purely for audio.

1 Talisman was first published by the British-based company Games Workshop in 1983. The Fourth Edition is currently produced and marketed by the American-based company Fantasy Flight Games.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.


  1. Nicely done by hubby, Debby ... oh, and if you wanted to make moi jealous, you've succeeded.

  2. You have written both eloquently and convincingly of teamwork and collaboration. What a fabulous article about inspiration and following your dreams -- even when you have to put them on temporary hold to fulfill other obligations. This brings me to the lesson I gleaned from your post: we need to care for our contractual commitments, but we also have an obligation, a commitment, to ourselves not to stifle our dreams and inspirations. These may evolve over time from their original forms, but they are part of who we are and should be honored as such. Great post, Debby!

  3. Great post, Debby. Good for Bob. Part of success, I'm convinced, is meeting the right people to work with along the way. For writers, all it takes is for the right person to read your book or script. The more people working with you, the more chance for success.

  4. The internet age has allowed artists to collaborate and experiment in ways our parents could never have imagined. It's a wonderful time to be an artist.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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