Justin Cawthorne dot com

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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.

February schmebruary

(Week 9: February 24 – March 2)

writtenedited
Feb 1 – 8603295
Feb 10 – 15506644
Feb 17 – 22396470
Feb 24 – 287980
Total: 3,7122,3031,409

The good news is that the New Morning Routine is so far working out pretty well—or it least it would be if I hadn’t gotten sick halfway through the week. I managed an average of 400 words (written) for each of Monday and Tuesday (not my best, but not my worst either) and then used Wednesday to catch up on my blogs (for which I don’t bother counting words any more). Then I got sick and declined to get out of bed on Thursday and Friday.

The also good news is that the short story ideas are starting to flow again, and plot points and scenes for my novella are coalescing nicely; a sign that my brain is on board with this new routine.

I’ve put my February stats up above. As predicted, they’re a whole lot lower than January. No commentary required here: February was all about getting back into the new getting-the-kids-ready-for-school routine and working out what (and when) time was going to be left over for my writing. No surprise that there wasn’t much time left over for writing, or much writing. Fingers crossed for March!

Watching

I watched bits and pieces of Star Trek: Discovery and Russian Doll this week, but I’ll save writing about them for a later post.

Consequently the main viewing report for this week is Night Of The Comet (which was my choice for Fridate horror this week). Firstly, this isn’t really the ‘horror’ film I remember—I remembered lots and lots of zombies, and in the end there are about one and a half zombies (ah, the Two And A Half Men spin-off we never knew we needed unit now! Three Men And A Zombie, anyone…?).

Anyway, the fact that Night Of The Comet isn’t really a horror film doesn’t reduce any of its charm. It’s an eighties movie through and through, but with a solid core of the kind of dystopian science-fiction conspiracy stuff that was more common in the seventies. It’s also potentially the world’s only apocalyptic thriller with an upbeat shopping montage right in the middle.

Night Of The Comet is fondly remembered in cult circles, but never quite broke out. I suspect this is for two reasons. Firstly, the budget doesn’t quite match the ambitious vision (which might explain the limited zombies)—that being said, the film looks incredible for the most part. Secondly, it’s not horrific enough to be a horror film, nor sci-fi enough to be a sci-fi film, and it’s a touch too grim to be sold as a classic eighties teen movie—in short, it’s a bit on the unclassifiable side, which makes it hard to market.

Overall, a good watch, with enough style and substance to make up for any rough edges that remain.

Reading

This week I finished a book, which is always a momentous occasion. It was a novel called The Chalk Man, which I friend of mine recommended last year, and which I only got around to starting a few weeks ago.

Overall I enjoyed it. On the plus side, the plot steered off in a few directions that I didn’t expect, and avoided a few potential cliches on the way that would have had me tempted to put the book right back down. I also enjoyed that the plot was split across two times (1986 and 2016). It was good to see this working, given that my sci-fi novella adopts a similar structure. It was also mildly nostalgic, given that I was a teenager in the UK in 1986, which was exactly the case for the novel’s main characters.

There were, however, some things I found distracting. The book was marketed as being ‘in the style of Stephen King’. In the end I found it too self-consciously Kingesque—a bit like It-lite. The dialogue scenes were often completely tag-free as well, which removed a fair bit of detail from those scenes. Both of these issues will be things I’ll start scrutinising my own work for, as I suspect I’m just as guilty of them.

Finally, while I enjoyed the plot, I came away thinking that it was more of classic thriller with a few horror scenes bolted on. In fact, you could remove all elements of horror from this novel and it wouldn’t affect it one tiny bit.

Ultimately, a book I’m glad to have read (and the fact that I finished it is a pretty good compliment these days), but could probably been a truly great read with a teeny bit more focus.


The wheels on the bus go …

(Week 8: February 17-23)

This week, just as I was starting to get into my new routine, everything changed up again!

I wholeheartedly blame the Elderbeast, who is at last starting to take the bus to school—the delay being caused by waiting for his Smartrider card to arrive, and endured because his bus fare drops from $4.80 to $0.70 once he has the damn card.

Anyway, if you can recall as far back as last week, I was working on getting up around 6ish so that I could exercise/write/drink coffee until around 7:15am, at which time I would have to rouse said beast from his slumber and prepare him to be picked up at 7:45 and driven to school.

Now that he’s catching the bus, he needs to leave the house at around 7:15am instead, so that’s my schedule completely out of the window. However, I have a new plan and it’s very promising!

  • 6:03am – turn off ludicrously ambitious first alarm;
  • 6:19am – get up following far more acceptable second alarm;
  • 6:20am – cancel third alarm;
  • 6:30am – brief workout on the cross trainer;
  • 6:40am – start the process of extracting the Elderbeast from his bed;
  • 6:45am – present the Elderbeast with his morning kill (breakfast);
  • 6:45am to 7:15am – this time is now used for showering, checking emails, and general pottering about;
  • 7:15am – take the Elderbeast to the bus stop;
  • 7:20am – give the Kinderbeast breakfast;
  • 7:30am to 8:10am – writing time!!
  • 8:20am – leave the house.

As you can see, I’ve carved out at least half an hour for my writing. The big difference is that I’m now writing later in the morning, after I’ve done most of the annoying stuff. It’s only been in play for two days, but so far seems to be working well. I shall report back in further detail in a subsequent post.

Watching

Three fairly interesting films this week. Firstly, the long awaited (well, by the Elderbeast, at least) viewing of Predator 2. I remember this being a reasonably fun film, but it’s really, really not very good. Not painfully–or even entertainingly–bad, just disappointing. There are a lot of elements that should work, but the signs of a rushed production are far too apparent.

Also, as much as I enjoy seeing Danny Glover scrapping with aliens, the lead role should really have been rewritten to suit him a little better: he just doesn’t quite work as the sort of macho, flout-the-rules type character they’re trying to play him as. Also, he wears a range of perplexingly baggy clothes during the course of the movie.

Next up, this time for Friday horror, was Gerald’s Game: a film that’s been on my list for quite some time. This really was superb—a concept that I couldn’t quite convince myself would work as a movie, but proves to have plenty of mileage. And, this might be the first Friday horror film to contain a scene that I literally had to shield my eyes from. Let’s just say: degloving.

Finally, having recently read Northern Lights, I checked out the 2007 movie adaptation, The Golden Compass. As the reviews and lukewarm reception had suggested, this wasn’t an outright disaster, but was nevertheless a pale substitute for the book. To my mind it suffered from two critical flaws: they gave away pretty much the entire driving mystery of the book in the opening monologue (doh!); and the movie was edited so brutally that it came off as little more than a whistle-stop tour of scenes from the book. I don’t know if the original director’s cut would have solved that, but I’m left more with a sense of a missed opportunity than an outright disaster.

Still, at least I have the BBC adaptation to look forward to.

Reading

Bit of a reading lull at the moment, so you can take this week off 😉

The crack of the dawn whip

(Week 7: February 10-16)

Until very recently, my morning writing routine has been pretty simple: get up at 6:30am; make coffee; write until 7:30am; then get the kids ready for school while getting myself ready for work.

Unfortunately, the Elderbeast is now at a high school which, inconveniently, is somewhat further than a walk down the road away. This means I have to have him out of bed by about 7:15am to have any hope of him getting out of the house for 7:45am. Also, because he is apparently a high-functioning buffoon, I have to spend that entire half hour constantly reminding him of what he needs to do next in order to finish getting ready.

To further complicate matters, I’ve started using my cross trainer in the mornings. I’m only doing 5-10 minutes each day (my goal here is for it to become a habit; not for me to immediately do my 20 minutes a day). If you’ve done your calculations right, you’ll realise that this now leaves me with about 10-15 minutes of quality writing time.

The obvious answer—other than to give up on everything!!—is to start getting up earlier. Accordingly, I’ve started moving my alarms forward by 5 mins to ease me into an earlier start (I have three morning alarms, set at various intervals … though I typically get up on the first one). I’m currently managing a reasonable 20-25 minute writing session, but I am craving the return of my old 45 minute window. In promising news, I’m finding that I’m starting to wake up naturally just before 6am.

The struggle continues.

Watching

At the Elderbeast’s request we took in a rewatch of Edge Of Tomorrow at the weekend. I really like this film: it’s comfortably settled into the Good Fun category for me, but I’m always pleasantly surprised to remember that it also belongs in the Really Good Film category. On this rewatch, I ended up paying closer attention to Tom Cruise’s performance, and the way his character basically evolves from arsehole to hero. I can easily buy him as both/either, but the way Cruise manages to convincingly transition from one to the other is one of the reasons I find myself giving him a lot more credit these days than I would a few decades ago.

At the weekend, thanks to the dubious magic of Foxtel, I was able to catch the end of The Matrix and the beginning of a second film that looked like the Matrix, had a lot of the same characters and actors in, but can’t have been a Matrix film because it was terrible.

All joking aside, the catastrophic cliff-drop in storytelling competence between The Matrix and its two sequels is one of those things that will endlessly fascinate me. It’s (probably) what happens when you get carte blanche to do whatever you want and no one is prepared to tell you otherwise. With The Matrix, the Wachowskis had no choice but to hone the script to perfection in order to sell it. Then, it becomes a huge hit and they’re given all the money they want by the studio to make, well, more money (a.k.a sequels). Thing is, when you’re not challenged as a storyteller, you get lazy: you take shortcuts and you forget that the rules are typically there because they work.

I’ve always figured this is what happened with George Lucas. With A New Hope he faced an uphill battle to get the film made at all. With Empire, he still had to prove that he could sustain a franchise. By the time the prequels came around he had a licence to print money, and no one was going to say no to any of his terrible scripts or dubious ideas.

Anyway, I’ll park this discussion with two links for you. The first offers up Syd Field, screenwriting guru, explaining why he likes the script for The Matrix so much. The second is written by Carson Reeves, accidental script guru, and gives ten basic storytelling errors that The Matrix Reloaded makes (and which help explain why it’s such an unsatisfying film).

Reading

This week I started a new audiobook: a full-cast adaptation of Dracula. I was mostly drawn by the overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it also slotted in nicely alongside my rewatching of the Hammer Dracula films. Obviously this is a very different beast.

I’ve read the novel of Dracula precisely once, which is about the right number for the majority of novels, but seems a bit on the low side for something as noteworthy as Dracula. Either way, this is already proving a pretty good way to revisit the novel. At this point I’m spending most of my time in Castle Dracula with Jonathan Harker (performed by my new favourite narrator: Simon Vance). Despite the epistolary format of the novel, Vance also takes the opportunity to perform as Dracula (in scenes where Harker is recounting his encounters with the Count … sorry). Vance gives Dracula a voice reminiscent of the classic Trahn-sill-vahy-nyan Draculas gone by but also manages to reflect the fact that at this point in the story the Count is an old man. It’s a performance that enlivens an already engrossing listen no end.

This one is 15 hours long, so we’ll be on this journey for a few weeks yet. Sure, I know the story, but it’s good to rediscover it all over again.

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