Justin Cawthorne dot com

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The one where Age Of Ultron is no joke

(Week 19: May 5 – 11)

The new short story is proving a little elusive. I have the plots and the characters; I have a compelling start; and I have a conclusion that’s hopefully worth the journey. However, it’s not quite gelling yet. By ‘gelling’ I mean I’m not sufficiently confident that I can do the story justice, which means it doesn’t excite me as much as it should, which means it almost certainly won’t excite the reader as much as I hope.

I’ve opted for a little early surgery to hopefully get things on the right track: trimming a bit here, moving a bit there, and so on. It may, however, turn out that this one wasn’t quite ready to be written.

Watching

On Sunday I watched Avengers: Age Of Ultron with the Elderbeast. I had originally opted to skip this relatively disappointing entry in my Marvel rewatch, but the Elderbeast is lately obsessed with rewatching as many of the films as possible in the wake of Endgame. I suggested Iron Man 3. He suggested Age of Ultron. I lost.

If anything, my opinion of Age Of Ultron has sunk even lower after this rewatch. The Whedon zingers are still there, but lack their usual sparkle. Where the first Avengers outing was fluid and exhilarating, this one feels more like a series of tent pole scenes that were conceived before the plot had gelled. By rights, this should be a truly epic outing (rogue AI attempts to destroy humanity) but somehow the stakes come across as relatively small (certainly not Avengers-worthy) and the attempts to inject tension only serve to make the team feel fragmented: we end up watching a series of superheroes doing different things, instead of an Avengers movie.

Likely conscious of his reputation for killing off second-tier characters, Whedon spends a lot of the film building up Hawkeye to be a sacrificial lamb, only to save him at the last moment: but this only ends up coming across as a cynical attempt to play the audience. Equally, the faux single-take that opens up the movie feels less like impressive use of cinema trickery to emphasise the unity of the team, and more like the fiddling of a bored filmmaker who wants to show off. Meanwhile, I wonder at which point Joss Whedon decided he hated Iron Man because it’s hard to draw any other conclusion from the way the character is presented here.

However, this is far from Whedon’s worst misstep with his characters. One of my biggest beefs with the movie remains Whedon’s handling of the women. Look back at the first Avengers movie where Maria Hill is a key member of SHIELD, and Black Widow pretty much owns the film (yeah, two major female characters isn’t a great ratio). In Age Of Ultron, Black Widow is defined by her failed attempt to spark a relationship with Bruce Banner and her (still awful) self-identification as a monster; Maria Hill is now Tony Stark’s PA and serves little function than to provide exposition at key moments; Hawkeye’s wife is given little identity beyond being someone who stays at the farmhouse and raises children while Hawkeye is off saving the world (and, even more cynically, is arguably only there to show us what Hawkeye stands to lose if he were to die at the end of the film). Even Scarlet Witch is largely defined by her relationship with men: Baron Strucker, her brother—and her major pivot in the movie only comes after a pep talk from Hawkeye, another man. Worst of all is Black Widow, whose self-identification as a monster due to her infertility is still one of the worst moments in the MCU, while her only shot at redemption is presented as being in the arms of another man.

(I do want to clarify that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with being a PA, or a wife/mother, or needing a pep talk from time to time. My gripe is that all of the female characters are presented in roles where they either prop up men or are defined in terms of the men around them. Coming from the person who gave us Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I find this really disappointing.)

Among the highlights is definitely James Spader’s performance as the petulant Ultron. There’s also some great foreshadowing to the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are both handled well (though I wonder where Wanda’s accent wandered off to in future movies).

Ironically, the most consistently viewed post on this blog is something of a defence of Age Of Ultron.

Fridate horror was The Conjuring, which I initially remembered as a film that tries hard to be scary, but isn’t really as scary as everyone says. On this rewatch I’ve decided that everyone was probably right, and it does have some pretty effective scares. It devolves a bit towards the end, but I did like that the film has a few different threads that it weaves together into a fairly effective build-up (so effective, in fact, that it’s a slight surprise when the film has the decency to end, instead of continuing to escalate).

Over the weekend I also caught up a bit more with the final season of Game Of Thrones; specifically managing to watch episodes 2 and 3. If you’re keeping track, you’ll know that these episode comprise the prelude to the battle of Winterfell, and the battle itself. As such they make for an extremely effective double bill. There are some rightful complaints that this season is rushing a little towards its conclusion, especially given the languid pace of earlier seasons. However, these two episodes give us almost three hours of screen time focusing on a single day in the show. It’s an instance where television gets to show off the advantages it sometimes has over cinema. Episode 3 is a stunning and relentless depiction of the battle, while the preceding episode packs in all the foreboding and a bunch of character work (and proves surprisingly moving in many parts).

This final season may end up being as flawed (or otherwise) overall as the preceding seasons, but I feel like I’m unlikely to see two episodes of any other show as masterfully executed as these.

Reading

For my birthday, my friend brought me a copy of Doctor Who Meets Scratchman. This is a novelisation, by Tom Baker himself (!!), of a screenplay he developed in the 1970s, but which never made it to the big screen. It’s pretty cool having a Doctor Who book written by a Doctor Who, but I was even more excited to note that it’s written in the first person – i.e. it’s a Doctor Who writing a Doctor Who book as Doctor Who.

I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it. Tom Baker’s prose (written with some help from James Goss) is delightful, and the characterisations of Sarah and Harry are spot-on. I can totally see this story fitting into the era and, based on the story so far, am pretty disappointed we never got to see it made.

Rather excellently, a 1970s style concept poster has been created for the movie that never was by BrianAW over at Deviant Art (where you can see a full size version).


If only a picture was worth a thousand words …

(Week 18: April 28 – May 4)

This week I finished my new short story (which will now formally be known as the recent short story formerly known as my new short story … or maybe not). I opted to give it a rare final pass after completing the not-quite-final edit. This took place over two mornings and gave me the opportunity to make the tone and language a little more consistent throughout. As always, I wanted to be able to put my pen down thinking that I’d done the best job I could do.

And, with one story out of the way, I’ve just started on another new story. As many of my stories tend to be, this one is based on a dream I had recently. I don’t remember the detail of the dream, but one part of it—a specific image—was compelling enough to stick with me. It took a few days, but I finally sketched out a story to fit the image.

This is often my favourite part of the process: waiting for the characters and plot to coalesce around an idea. Sometimes it takes several days, sometimes a lot less.

After that, of course, comes the hard part.

Watching

It’s been a busy viewing week in the Cawthorne household, so let’s get into it.

oculus-poster

Fridate horror this week found us watching Oculus, which has been in the lower echelons of my To Watch list for quite some time. Turns out it’s a much better film that its been given credit for, and does an excellent job of slowly warping the viewer’s sense of what’s real and what isn’t as the characters get more and more drawn into the proceedings. Also worth noting that Karen Gillan does a flawless American accent, something which even the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch struggle valiantly with.

On Sunday my Awesome Partner and I reached Ant Man in our Marvel marathon. Not a whole lot to say about this, except I love heist films and I love Paul Rudd, and Michael Douglas rocks, so this one is an obvious winner for me.

We also started season 8 of Game Of Thrones, which is as compelling as ever based on this first episode. I particularly like the new(ish) opening titles: retaining the excellent aesthetic that has become an essential part of each episode (this being one series where you never skip the opening titles) but telling a different story that really hammers down where the focus is for the final season.

barry season 2

On Monday the Elderbeast and I started season two of Barry. I’m in a state of awe at the way this show manages to blend absurdist humour and some really dark themes. Plus Henry Winkler continues to be brilliant. More thoughts, doubtless, when we conclude the season.

I finished Love Death + Robots this week, and loved that too. There were some tales I enjoyed more than others, but the quality was remarkably consistent throughout, and it was a real treat seeing all the different animation styles that the various creators employed. I’d love a second season, but I’ll probably end up rewatching the first before too much longer.

Saturday’s Marvel instalment was Doctor Strange. I’ve written about this recently, so I won’t repeat myself here. One nice development was the Kinderbeast overhearing my watching it, and then asking about me all about it the next day. The following day I got home from work to find him watching the film for himself, and utterly absorbed in it.

Reading

Having wrapped up Dracula, I’ve returned to the audiobook of It while I decide my next listening choice. It’s bit like revisiting an old friend at this point. I’ll almost certainly move onto something new and fresh very soon, but it’s nice having It to come back to when I’m ready.

I also finished The Subtle Knife, which ended far more strongly than it began. The second half of the story had that same unputdownable quality that made The Golden Compass such a pleasure. My biggest criticism, other that the narrative and structural flaws in the first half of the story, is that The Subtle Knife is obviously set up to lead into the third part of the story and thus doesn’t really stand well on its own. Kinda disappointing, but still worthy in parts.

The Eighth … draft …?

(Week 17: April 21- 27)

This week I finished my rewrite of my Alien short story, The Eighth Passenger, and I’m pretty darned happy with the the outcome. I’ve been considering trying my hand at narrating an audio version of it, but haven’t yet found the time (I suspect, however, that my soft British tones may not be quite the right fit for an Alien story).

I’ve since resumed work on my new short story, which is also going pretty well. The decision to shift the narrative into the present tense has helped the feel of the story immensely, and I’m pretty excited about getting this one wrapped up.

One day.

Eventually.

Perhaps …

Watching

Fridate horror this week found us watching the original Prom Night, which I somehow never realised starred Jamie Lee Curtis. And which also taught me that Jamie Lee Curtis is a pretty good dancer–although, on reflection, True Lies had already proven that.

Given the year of its release–following Halloween and joining Friday The 13th–it’s a surprisingly restrained horror movie, which seems to have its roots more in the late 1970s thriller genre than in the fast developing slasher movie. As such, it puts a lot more work into backstory and the mystery surrounding the killer’s identity, but still manages a few good murders along the way. It perhaps brings a lot less to the genre than its counterparts, but it’s a fascinating example of a genre in transition.

On Saturday we managed to catch up with Avengers: Endgame. I’m not going to write much about it here since I don’t want to spoil those who are still catching up with their Marvel movies. All I will say is that it proved to be an immensely satisfying follow-up to Infinity War, but the creators are entirely justified in claiming that it’s more than simply Infinity War Part 2. I’m also still quite stunned that they managed to deliver a story that was even more epic in scope than Infinity War itself.

Monday was a day off for the family, which gave us a chance for some family movie viewing time. The Kinderbeast, for reasons unknown, decided he wanted to watch The Muppets (the 2011 film with Jason Segel). I’ve only seen this once before, and I’d totally forgotten that I LOVE this movie. It’s so shamelessly kind-hearted that you can’t fail to love it, but it also packs in a handful of hilarious meta jokes *and* some insanely catchy songs. If you want to feel something approaching joy in your cold dead heart for just a few hours, I strongly recommend watching The Muppets.

Reading

I finished the audiobook of Dracula at long last. My quick thoughts are that the vocal gymnastics performed by Simon Vance (reading Jonathan Harker) and Katy Kellgren (performing Mina Murray) were astounding. The narrative structure typically demands that each actor perform several characters, and these two somehow slip effortlessly into whichever accent required. Alan Cumming was excellent too. Tim Curry, however, was a disappointment, his careful enunciation making it sound as if he had never seen the text before and was reading it aloud for the first time.

One new thing that struck me during this listen was that Anthony Hopkins’ seemingly extravagant performance as Van Helsing in the Coppola version of Dracula was remarkably close to the characterisation in the book. Rather more so, in fact, than Peter Cushing who is, ironically, remembered best for portraying the Count’s mortal opponent in the Hammer films.

In conclusion: it took a while, but it was still a rewarding listen.

Releasing the tense

(Week 16: April 14 – 20)

Had a bit of a breakthrough this week with my new short story. I’d previously starting writing it as a sort of memoir, which I think is what negated any of the potential drama in the story. I’ve taken a bash at reworking it in the present tense, and so far it’s made for a huge shift in the impact: it’s now punchy and ‘immediate’. Whether the story ends up being good or not is an entirely different matter, but for now I think I’ve cracked the right narrative style for it.

Given that Alien Day is fast approaching, I’ve also taken the opportunity to do a fresh edit on my Alien story, The Eighth Passenger. While I’m pretty happy with the story overall (and it was such an indulgent pleasure to write an Alien story), it was written to a [self-imposed] deadline and there are a few things that I’ve wanted to tidy up for a while. Mostly there are just instances where the narrative trips over its feet a few times—story points are needlessly repeated, and there’s a bit of sag in the middle that needs trimming. It’s all stuff that one last edit would have sorted out, so now I’m taking the opportunity to do just that.

Watching

The Elderbeast had an urge to rewatch The Social Network on Sunday—I’m not sure what it is about the film, but he really likes it. This time around I found the story particularly depressing. I’d already come away from our last viewing that it’s a basically a story about men fucking each other over. Obviously this [third] viewing did nothing to change that interpretation. Most of the characters are depicted as being completely without empathy. Meanwhile the one character who is relatively sympathetic (namely, Andrew Garfield’s) is the one who ends up being shafted in the biggest, most gutting manner possible.

As good a film as The Social Network is, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to watch it again any time soon.

For Fridate horror, we returned to Hammer Studios for Scars Of Dracula, the fifth entry in the Dracula series. I had relatively low expectations for this one, but it may well end up being my favourite. There are some bizarre tonal shifts (there are a few scenes that could have come right out of a Carry On movie, and then there are a moments of schooling violence) but it’s better value as a Dracula movie than any of the other sequels.

Christopher Lee, at last, is given more to do than snarl and show off his relatively poor dental work.He even gets an army of bats to control here, though sadly his powers don’t extend to the delivery of convincing special effects.

Particularly successful here is the concept of Dracula lurking in his dilapidated castle, waiting for careless travellers to cross his path. I would happily watch entire movies of Christopher Lee being disarmingly courteous to his guests, while effortlessly delivering an undercurrent of menace.

Reading

Not sure if I’m going to persist with The Subtle Knife. It simply hasn’t grabbed me in the same way that The Golden Compass did. Definitely starting to see why I failed to remembered it in any substantial way. Pretty disappointing.

A bit of everything

(Week 15: April 7 – 13)

Not the best writing week this week, following a few nights of bad sleep. I’ve spent a couple of mornings on my new short story, but it’s not quite coming together yet. There’s nothing terrible about it, but there’s nothing about it that’s particularly exciting me yet. Disappointing for a story that’s been gestating for so long (perhaps too long?)

In other writing news, I submitted my short story to the Corona short story anthology. If they like it, they like it; if they don’t, they don’t. I’m pretty pleased with the story, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be the right thing for their publication.

I’ve also been doing some work on a potential new podcast project. A few you may have listened to the pilot episode of The Fifth Quadrant, a podcast project I developed with some friends last year (and still hope to continue). This new one is a sort of companion piece to that, but I’ll say no more about it today … except to offer that it was inspired by the John Wick films. Make of that what you will.

Watching

This weekend, the Elderbeast had to work on a presentation about the Battle of Thermopylae. So, of course, we had to watch 300. It’s not a bad film at all, but on this rewatch (some ten years, probably, after the first time I saw it) I’m struck by how it’s the perfect Zack Snyder/Frank Miller movie. It presents macho heroism in a completely unproblematic, uncritical manner—almost celebratory, in fact. There are (I think) only two notable female characters: one of whom is entirely subjugated by men (and shown all but naked); and a second whose part in the story is partly defined by her sexual humiliation at the hands of another male character.

We already know that Frank Miller is reactionary and problematic, and that Zack Snyder is … much the same. They’ve both given us their interpretation of superheroes, which largely revolve around them being tools to beat down anarchy and dissent, and fuck whoever gets killed along the way. 300 gives them both the ideal vehicle: a clutch of near super-human warriors who get to kill a whole bunch of opponents clearly depicted as ‘other’.

Friday’s relatively disappointing horror viewing was The Silence, a new Netflix title. It’s not that it was especially bad; just that everything in it has been done better, and relatively recently too. To be specific, if you’ve watched Bird Box and A Quiet Place, then you’ll find nothing new in The Silence.

Saturday’s treat was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a strong candidate for my favourite Marvel film. I love this one particularly for its deliberate take on the 1970s conspiracy thriller genre—solidified both by the casting of seventies icon Robert Redford, and the relatively quiet, character-building opening with the White House placed very prominently in the background. This time around, I was also able to note how many of the plot developments are picked up and taken further in Captain America: Civil War—which has gone some way to finally convincing me that Civil War is a legitimate Captain America movie, rather than Avengers 2.5.

Reading

Nothing exciting in reading world this week. The Subtle Knife is plodding along, though we are finally getting towards a discrete plot for this one, rather than dealing with loose ends from the end of The Golden Compass.

The mythical final edit

(Week 14: March 31 – April 6)

This week I revisited another couple of stories I wrote last year. This may well end up being a bit of a rabbit hole as I have a fair number of stories that I feel could do with that mythical ‘one last edit’.

Final edits, for me, are usually a case of making the language flow.
It’s important to me that the mere act of reading a story and letting the language do its thing should bring pleasure. If the words are getting in the way of that, then they’re the wrong words. As a writer, there are few things that make me more restless than reading an old story of mine and finding the language clunky. It’s hard to resist the call of a final edit once that happens.

Occasionally I will also embellish details, or try to develop the sense of place a little more. By this time the story will be pretty firmly set (typically if I find a problem with the structure, it’ll be dealt with before I even finish the first draft). The final edit, therefore, is my chance to turn a decent story into a good one.

It’s been a fun and rewarding exercise. However, as the week draws to a close, I’m feeling my novella calling out to me. It must be time to return to that particular project.

Watching

On Sunday I finally got around to watching Into The Spiderverse. And it was every bit as good as everyone has been saying. The animation style is amazing (the first time I can confidently say anyone has replicated a comic book on screen) and the script effortlessly navigates between spot-on wit while never underplaying the emotional weight of what the various characters are going through. There’s also a couple of nice twists and turns along the way.

As a side note, this was my first experience of watching a film in 4K. Admittedly, my new 4K TV is hardly top of the range, but I honestly struggled to see much of a difference between the 4K version and the bluray. There’s a slight challenge in that the bluray is automatically upconverted to 4K by my blurayplayer, so it’s not a legitimate comparison from the outset. I could certainly detect a bit more sharpness in the fine detail, but this is not the profound sea change of going from VHS to DVD, or even from DVD to Bluray.

Reading

This week I finished off Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds: The Musical Drama. This is not to be confused with Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds; rather it’s a dramatisation of the original novel, incorporating some of Jeff Wayne’s musical cues, but omitting the songs.

Now, I’m a huge fan of the musical version, so I was equal parts fascinated and trepidatious going into this. Fortunately, it was pretty great. The dramatisation was excellent (with Michael Sheen coming across a bit like Tom Baker in his lead performance) and the music added some welcome energy to the proceedings. While there were certainly some moments where I ended up with the songs playing in my head, there were never any parts where their absence was a distraction.

It was also interesting to compare the ways in which Jeff Wayne adapted the story for his musical version (this audio drama obviously being truer to the source material). At times, lines had clearly been used word for word; while at others, entire scenes had been excised or repurposed. Improvements in this new audio version include a far greater emphasis on the apocalyptic nature of events (something that also came across pretty well in the Spielberg version), which played well against the initially laissez-faire attitude of the narrator’s society.

I am now/still tremendously excited for the BBC adaptation (if it ever emerges).

I also started The Subtle Knife, the second part of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (at least, when it used to just be a trilogy). I’m slightly disappointed to note that this one hasn’t gripped me as readily as the first part did. I’m very much into the journey that the two young lead characters are taking, and the developing mystery around Will. However, the scenes that directly follow up events from the end of the first book seem oddly out of place and have the effect of slowing the [new] story down.

I read this the first time about 15 years ago, and remember startlingly little about it, so I’m particularly interested to see what it’s like the second time around.

New stories from old ideas

(Week 13: March 24-30)

I took a break from rewriting old stories this week to start a brand new one. It’s a story that’s been batting around in my head for quite some years, and has even had much of the plot attached for a lot of that time. This week a few more of the missing pieces fell into place and the story decided that it was ready to be written.

I don’t have it completely ready in my head, so there may be a couple of sessions to get the first draft right, but I’m excited about finally getting started on this one.

Watching

This week the Elderbeast and I finished watching season one of Barry, starring Bill Hader. What a superb show—with Henry Winkler, in particular, getting a rare second shot at a career-defining role. I can’t really say too much about it (both because of spoilers, and because the show is not altogether easy to summarise) but both the Elderbeast and I loved the blend of comedy, pathos, darkness and slapstick that these eight episodes delivered. And I’m terrifically excited that a second season is just about to start.

For Fridate horror we revisited Nightmare On Elm Street. The viewing was marred slightly by some audio sync issues on the bluray, but if anything the film is better than I remembered (and it’s been a few years since my last viewing). I was particularly impressed by how quickly and efficiently the script gets things underway. It’s also interesting how Freddy is revealed almost right away—there’s plenty of mystery around exactly who he is and where he comes from, but the movie puts him front and centre fairly quickly without angling for any sort of a big reveal.

On Saturday I got to introduce my Awesome Partner to yet another one of my all-time favourite films: the 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. One of the things I particularly enjoyed this time around was the steady pace at which we’re introduced to the various characters. We start off by establishing Brooke Adams and her husband (with some brilliantly economical character notes that offer just enough to leave us in no doubt when things start to go wrong). Only then do we meet Donald Sutherland, and get to understand his relationship with Brooke Adams. Finally, almost in the second act, we meet the other key characters—played by Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy and Veronica Cartwright. From that point there’s a superbly crafted build-up of menace as our characters realise all-too-late the scale of what they’re up against.

Reading

I decided I still needed a break from Dracula in my audiobook listening adventures, so I checked out some of the Twilight Zone Radio Dramas I’d picked up a while ago. These weren’t bad, but didn’t really engage me. There seems to be a stylistic difference between dramas that were crafted for the radio vs. the dramatisations that are put together today. Consequently, these Twilight Zone episodes came across as somewhat quaint.

On the plus side, they’re perfectly timed to last for one day’s worth of driving (i.e. the journey to and from work), so will make for great stopgaps if I fancy something different on a given day.

Revisitation

(Week 12: March 17-23)

I spent much of this week re-editing a horror story (called The Doorman), which I wrote last year, and am considering submitting to the Third Corona Book Of Horror. There was no major surgery required, but after an initial readthrough I did decide some of the language could do with tightening up, and I decided to give it more of a direct POV feel. There’s an ever present risk with unpublished stories of constantly tinkering with them, yet never quite feeling they’re finished. Nevertheless, I’m now very confident that I’ve written the best version of this story that I can. Probably.

Watching

It’s been a heavy TV week this week. The Kinderbeast is still keenly rewatching the last season of Doctor Who, and this week brought us around to Rosa, easily the highlight of the season. This is where the season was still daring to be different, and hadn’t yet slipped into the disappointing mundanity of the later episodes.

We’re also keeping up with Star Trek: Discovery. I’ll admit to some slight disappointment that this has now turned into a more traditional Trek series (particularly with the A/B story plotting) but I’m still enjoying it (as are the Kinderbesten) and I shall miss Captain Pike when he inevitably doesn’t return for the next season (remember: we’re in the classic timeline here).

I’ve also been watching Barry (the Bill Hader series) with the Elderbeast. We’re both very much enjoying the mix of comedy and darkness and can’t wait to get to the final two episodes.

On the movie front, our Friday Horror choice this week was Cube. This had come up in discussion for a possible rewatch a few weeks back, after which it promptly appeared on Netflix. A clear sign!! It’s a curious film this one. The acting is mostly terrible; the script is laughably pretentious throughout; but the core idea is so strong that you still come away pretty satisfied.

On Saturday I also had the opportunity to introduce my Awesome Partner to Night Of The Demon. This remains one of my all-time favourite films, so this rewatch held few surprises for me other than to note how efficient the plotting is. We move from scene to scene with minimal padding; each scene menacingly, but gradually, building the case for our sceptical main character to accept that there genuinely could be a monstrous demon due to slaughter him at the appointed time. The main premise (a stubborn protagonist ruled by science vs a vain antagonist in thrall to the supernatural) gives the film a weight that makes it feel relatively modern, and drives things forward so effectively that we rarely notice that most scenes feature little more than people talking to each other.

And, despite the dodgy special effects, it’s still the payoff at the end that makes the whole thing worth watching.

Reading

This week I finally succumbed to one of Amazon’s trial offers for Kindle Unlimited. For a few days I wasn’t sure if there was anything I’d find to read before my two free months ran out. Then I discovered that the first three collected volumes of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman are on there (along with various other comic-based treats). So that’s my reading sorted for a while.

A writer’s cheat

(Week 11: March 10-16)

This week I started writing some new material for the novella. Had a brief panic when I realised that the changes I mad to the scene I was working on last week would mean I had to rewrite a bunch of stuff earlier in the novella … then realised I wouldn’t after all, and all was good in the world.

For the new scenes I’m trying out a minor cheat. The previous chapter ends on a cliffhanger; the subsequent chapter starts sometime after the cliffhanger has been resolved (in other words, we get the resolution as a flashback). I’ve done this because there are a number of ways to get from A-Z, and covering every letter in order can eventually get tiresome for the reader.

It’s a bit of a gamble, and I may well end up having to go back and rewrite it, but it’s a trick I’ve seen working on TV shows before. Either way, if you don’t try these techniques out, you’ll never know.

Watching

It’s been a busy movie watching week this week, so strap in and let’s get going.

First off, I took the Elderbeast to see Captain Marvel this week. It was a fair no-brainer than we’d see it, but given the film’s reception from a certain subsection of weeping, spineless men, I thought it important that I take my son to see a movie that placed a female hero front and centre. There’s never a bad time for some positive reinforcement.

And the film was pretty damn good as well. While the first act was a little clunky in parts (but never less than enjoyable) there were some pretty clever narrative tricks at play throughout. I won’t spoil anything, but one thing I liked was how the film managed to be tell an origin story without being an origin story. (As I mentioned above, you don’t necessarily need to go from A-Z in order for people to be able to follow).

For Friday Horror we watched Bone Tomahawk. This was excellent! For the most part this was a superb western (seriously, the script is genius) which escalates dramatically in the final act into some of the most full-on gore and violence that I’ve ever seen. More western than horror, but filled with the callsigns of the horror genre. The most remarkable thing, for me, is how the horrific scenes towards the end don’t clash with the rest of the movie. This isn’t mere torture porn; rather, this is the violent culture clash that the rest of the movie has led us to expect, and which the main characters fatally underestimate.

On Saturday I finally watched Avatar. Yes, I had somehow managed to not watch it up until this week. While I hadn’t actively avoided it, I hadn’t been much inspired to watch it following the reviews. The film more or less lived up to my expectations: gorgeous visuals, and a strong, classic, if highly derivative, narrative. My assumption is that Cameron’s focus was on the technology needed for the film, along with the best way to showcase that visually, and it therefore made sense to ‘borrow’ a well established plot so he wouldn’t get mired in extensive plot issues and rewrites.

The revelation for me was how engaging Sam Worthington was. I was kind of expecting him to steal all the life from the movie, but he carried things along pretty well (with a lot of help from Zoe Saldana). I also loved Sigourney Weaver’s character; it’s great to see her playing up the more cynical aspects that her previous characters have hinted at, but still provide a strong moral backbone to the movie.

I’m honestly intrigued, now, to see where the *four* upcoming sequels go. I’m hoping that Cameron has found a story worth telling over four films, and that the now well-established tech will take a bit of a backseat. We’ll see.

Reading

In audiobook world I’ve decided to take a short break from Dracula. No comment on the quality: it’s a great story and an excellent adaptation; I just feel I’ve spent too long in its company. I really need to start choosing shorter audiobooks …

While I’m in between novels, I’ve picked up the Second Corona Book Of Horror Stories. This has only happened because I’m considering submitting a story to the Third Corona Book Of Horror and figured that some market research would be prudent. So far I’ve enjoyed all the stories I’ve read, although they have a curiously common tendency to either stop or drift off, rather than end properly.

I will provide a summary of highlights when I finish consuming this particular volume …


Back to the novella

(Week 10: March 3 – 9)

This week was marred by a second round of illness, but it was the sort of illness that meant I was up and about, just not office-safe. Consequently I was able to use some of the time to catch up on my writing.

I’ve now reached a section of the sci-fi novella that was earlier in the narrative in my first draft, but I’ve now decided to move to a later point. This means that I have words to edit once again, but that editing is substantial due to the reshuffling. There’s a lot of stuff that no longer makes sense now that it’s been moved.

This, to me, is the crux of editing: being prepared to throw your words out. There were a few mighty chunks that no longer made sense where they were, so they’ve gone. Occasionally there are bits worth keeping, but more often than not it’s better to drop them entirely and let your story flow naturally. Trying to shoehorn a few paragraphs into the wrong place just because you want to use every word you’ve written will almost always be to the detriment of your story.

And then I ended the week by closing out this particular editing session, which means I’m once again facing the blank page and entering a scary new section of the novella. Wish me luck.

Watching

Earlier in the week I wrapped up Russian Doll, which is the latest pure delight that Netflix has granted us. I can’t say too much about this without spoiling everything about it, so I’ll just share a few quick points. Firstly, Natasha McElhone is brilliant. I’ve not greatly warmed to her before now, but her performance here has totally won me over: it’s caustic, funny, and full of heart. There are moments of laugh out loud humour in this show (at least for me—and I love something that gets me physically laughing), but the end is overwhelmingly touching. Finally, I am, of course, inevitably, completely hooked on Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” now.

For Fridate horror we watched Splinter, which I only heard about after seeing it on Amazon Prime’s 50 Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen. I’m amazed there hasn’t been more buzz about this 2008 movie because it’s terrific. It’s more or less an eighties style high concept horror movie: four people trapped in a gas station by a mysterious parasite (though, the effects are definitely better than anything we had in the eighties). It’s short and punchy, has some good character work, some properly gory moments, and doesn’t overstay its welcome with needless exposition. There’s a nasty thing trying to kill people: that’s all we find out and all we need to know.

Saturday brought a repeat viewing of Solo, thanks to the film turning up on one of my streaming services. I came away from this second viewing with much the same thoughts as the first time around. Perhaps one new thought that struck me is how low the stakes are—at least in comparison to every other adventure we’ve shared in the Star Wars universe. That said, supposed low stakes are turned on their head right at the end when we find that Solo has inadvertently played a big role in kickstarting the rebellion.

In the end, there’s a good fun heist movie here that suffers a bit from having to carry the baggage of the Star Wars universe, while being further encumbered by workmanlike direction and some niggling structural flaws.

I genuinely hope Disney will find a way to bring these characters back—I particularly like Aiden Ehrenreich as Solo, and we can never have too much of Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando. But the less said about the huge character fail represented by Thandie Newton’s Val, the better.

Reading

This week I finished Fellside, which confirms that M.R.Carey is clearly one of my favourite authors given that this is the third book of his that I have all but torn through (unfortunately he has only released three novels so far; at least under this particular pen name).

This was a very different kind of tale than The Girl With All the Gifts and its prequel. I likened it to “Stephen King writing Orange Is The New Black”. It pivoted a few times over the first several chapters, and kept me guessing what kind of story it was going to end up being for a while there. There are also some good twists along the way. Unfortunately, the big final twist was telegraphed so far in advance that the only surprise was how long it took the main character to work it out.

But that’s just one very forgivable misstep in a book that is otherwise a damn good read, and highly recommended.

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