Justin Cawthorne dot com

read, write, ramble

Category: Ramble Page 2 of 51

2020: Week 4

(January 27 – February 2)

The novel is continuing to fall into place very nicely indeed. The formerly abandoned chapter is now finished (yay!) and has become one of my favourite chapters so far. It’s new position means it leads very nicely (thematically and emotionally) into the next chapter, which is a further bonus. 

With the new chapter I’ve once again enjoyed that excellent writerly experience whereby the words ultimately go where they need to go, but have taken some interesting and unplanned detours along the way. This, again, is why I prefer not to plot things out in too much detail: nothing more than a beginning, a middle, and a working idea of the journey in between, but enough space in between to let the characters find their own way if they want to.

One good thing

This week I’ve been rereading Dust, the third part of Hugh Howey’s excellent Wool trilogy. I dithered a bit with the first book, but then tore through the second. I’m keeping pace with this one, but it’s got to be said it’s a bit slower than the other two. It’s still an excellent read, but the plotting seems a bit less … compelling.

The principal issue is that not a great deal happens over the first 10 chapters: there’s one thing going on that proves integral to the plot, but it’s mostly scene-setting and catching up with wherever characters are in the wake of the previous book. Then, suddenly, a bunch of really interesting things start happening (and all is good again; except for the characters, for whom things are terrible).

So my main takeaway is this: when you have a handful of really good plot bombs to lob at your reader, don’t hold on to them. There’s at least one thread in Dust that could have kicked off much earlier, and would have helped carry the relatively unengaging first chapters.

That said, in Hugh Howey’s defence, the reason that those first ten chapters remain readable is that he’s an excellent writer who crafts strong, complex characters that you want to stick around with. So, I strongly expect he doesn’t need writing advice from the likes of me 😉

One bad thing

My ‘thing to fix’ this week was originally not going to be writing related. It was going to be a mini-rant about how hazardous YouTube is (in its capacity as a primary enabler for alt-right indoctrination) and, by extension, how much of a nightmare it is for parents like myself, given that Google provides only the most basic—and almost entirely useless—tools for controlling what your kids watch.

As a consequence, and mostly because I don’t know what else to do at this particular moment in time, I’ve taken a few dramatic steps towards limiting the Kinderbesten’s access to YouTube. For starters, I’ve blocked it by default on my kids’ device. I’ve mandated that there is no viewing of YouTube during the week. I’ve also set things up so that YouTube can only be viewed at other times via the living room TV (which at least have some capacity to monitor what’s being watched).

And that was going to be it. But then I happened to listen a recent episode of Our Opinions Are Correct, entitled “What’s The Matter With Star Wars?” Broadly speaking, this episode discussed how toxic Star Wars fandom has become. It also briefly addressed the reported interference of Russian bots into this space—you might recall the seemingly outlandish stories about bad reviews for The Last Jedi being blamed on Russia? Well, it turns out the strategy at play here is far more subtle and insidious than those news stories might suggest, and perfectly illustrates just how easy it is to gain a foothold within a relatively vulnerable and impressionable mind.

I’ve included a slightly edited quote below from the episode at the bottom of this post (from trans-activist Elena Rose Vera). What fascinates me about the quote is how it reveals the intersection of story and indoctrination. There’s a reason that Star Wars is so popular: it’s because it tells a universal story that we can all latch onto in some way. Almost all of us can find a way that it relates to ourselves. It’s the same with most pop culture phenomena: these things are popular because we can inject ourselves into those stories and, to an extent, either imagine ourselves living them or wish we were. 

So, when someone comes along and is able to tell you that ‘your’ story is being broken, or interfered with, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that such interference is a threat to yourself. And when we’re threatened we often fight back, but we prefer to do it with the support of other people who are ready to fight for the same cause as us. And once we’ve identified the enemy … well, it’s much harder to stop fighting and admit we were wrong in the first place about them than it is to carry on fighting.

Which is why something as seemingly trivial and inconsequential as YouTube is one of the things that has me most concerned as a parent, because big problems always have very tiny roots.

Elena Rose: [00:06:33] … These are widespread narrative power sources … where people are involved in story and also invested in what those stories mean about the story of themselves, and of the groups that they belong to and the people they identify with. And [right-wing agents have] clearly have figured out: … we can introduce some really poisonous discourse here and it will spread like wildfire and we will be able to sow the seeds of a lot of discontent and resentment and anger, and we can use it to sort of farm for angry young men who will lash out.

And they look at something like Star Wars and they go, this is something everyone is going to be watching. This is something everyone’s going to be talking about. And if we can inject ourselves into this conversation, we can essentially put out a signal across the world that will help us identify more people to bring into our movement by seeing who stands up and is ready to hurt people for this cause we’ve made up. We can say your childhood was destroyed by The Last Jedi and if you are with me, here are the people we need to harass and threaten today. And then you just scoop up all the people who say, “I’m in.”

2020: Week 3

(January 20-26)

The novel has been going gangbusters this week: I’ve beaten last week’s impressive 3,000 word spree by a clear 1,000 words (while also fitting in an additional thousand-word chunk of editing on the way).

I’m particularly gratified by this progress because it’s on the same chapter I stalled on—and ended up abandoning—last year. Turns out that swapping the offending chapter with the one that originally came after it has really helped it to find its place in the novel. It’s almost writing itself now.

I’m hoping I can wrap up the first draft of this chapter next week and then move on to a brand new chapter (scary/exciting). However, I’ll just be happy writing what I can while my start-of-year motivation is still firing away.

One good thing

I rewatched Mad Max: Fury Road with the Elderbeast over the weekend. It remains awesome: a truly balls to the wall road movie actioner, which also does a great job of putting its characters through a compelling emotional journey.

One of the things I admire most about this movie (other than the incredible blend of directing, editing and cinematography that makes the action sequences all but rip themselves out of the screen) is the minimal dialogue. For starters, our title character barely speaks during the first act. He’s barely a person—a presence: forcibly injected into a story that’s already happening (in fact, he’s a passenger in someone else’s story, but this is the way of all but the first of the Mad Max movies). Sure, there’s exposition later in the movie, but the vast share of the story is communicated through action and the audience just has to buckle in and stay along for the ride.

Even the main character of the movie, Furiosa (played to excellence by Charlize Theron), purposefully speaks only when necessary. Those around her are expected to follow her lead, not her instructions. 

Interestingly, the characters who do the most talking are the ones trying to maintain the apocalyptic status quo, alongside their unquestioning devotees who have developed a faith built, in large part, upon packaged, repetitive mantras and other verbal symbology.

Conversely, it’s telling that Max grows more communicative as the movie progresses. He begins (in his own words, ironically) as a broken man driven to survive for survival’s sake. However, by the end of the movie he sees a chance to redeem himself for failing all the others that were left behind. This requires him to communicate; to interact with those around him.

So what have I learned from this? For starters, this is a story that could almost certainly only work on the screen. Sure, you could do it as a graphic novel but I suspect the non-stop action panels would cease engaging the eye after a few pages. More, it’s an example of how silence can be used to build character—easier to achieve in a visual medium. Finally, it’s yet another good example of how stripping exposition to the bone can be the prompt that forces you to devise even more inventive ways of communicating what your story is.

One bad thing

One of the things I have struggled with over the last several years is that I’m not a very good reader. I find it hard to get into books, but very easy to get distracted and wander off towards other pursuits. As a consequence, I find I don’t read anywhere near as much as I need to, or even as much as I want to.

A small part of the problem is my nightly routine (spoiler: I only read at bedtime so this routine is a rather critical contributor towards my reading habits). I go to bed; I catch up on the various blogs that I subscribe to; and then I read. You might see the problem right away.

Catching up on blogs can sometimes take just a few minutes, or it can end up being a 20 minute rabbit hole at the bottom of which I’m suddenly too tired to read (or my brain is still expecting that constant zap-zap influx of information, and is no longer in the best frame for digesting a single, lengthy narrative).

The potential answer is simple: read first and browse later (and if I’m too tired to browse afterwards, well those posts aren’t going anywhere). I’ve managed to do it a couple of times this week, but it’ll take time to make it a habit. Hopefully the difference will start showing in my reading list for 2020.

2020: Week 2

(January 13 – 19)

It’s been a good writing week. I’ve taken full advantage of my extended mornings (free from having to prep the Kinderbesten for school) and written just over 3,000 new words for the novel. This falls comfortably above my target average of 600 words per day, though I expect I won’t be able to keep this rate up once the beasts return to school.

More importantly, this has very nearly brought me to the end of the chapter that I was a bit stuck on at the end of last year. I’ve stuck to my first draft philosophy—which is to just keep writing and avoid the temptation to fix potential problems—so I’m certain that a fair amount of rewriting will eventually be required, but I’m also happy with the random tangents that scenes have travelled down in some instances.

Once this chapter’s wrapped up I will be plunging straight back into the chapter that I abandoned last year. However, this time I’ve got a much better idea of where I’m starting, and where things will end up. In fact, I’m almost excited about getting stuck back in.

One good thing

The other week I talked about the very excellent Watchmen TV series. This week I’ll talk about the original graphic novel, which I’ve reread over the last two weeks. There are dozens of things I could learn from this rightfully revered comic, but the thing the moats fascinated me on this read was how Alan Moore managed to cram so much story into each individual issue?

I typically read collected volumes of comics, but something that often strikes me when I read individual issues is how rarely I feel that I’ve been given a satisfying chunk of the story. Doubtless, one of the great challenges of the comic is how to tell a story over a strictly limited number of pages; but my view is that each issue should feel like an episode of a series (or a chapter of a book), and not just one act.

While I haven’t fully digested this latest read of Watchmen, I can see that one of the tricks Moore employs is to focus each chapter (or issue) around one of the main characters. Each issue will also typically include a number of flashbacks (which can often be delivered very economically over a panel or two). There’s also a snippet or two of information to drive the main story forward.

Consequently, we get at least three things going on in the typical issue:

  • Whatever’s currently happening with the main character;
  • Some background to that character;
  • A progression of the main plot

There are almost always other things happening too: conversations between background characters; the additional texture added by the Black Freighter comic within a comic device. Equally, the detail in Dave Gibbons artwork, and even the layout of the pages at times, helps convey other story elements.

The result is that each chapter has limited plot progression, but as a reader you still walk away immensely satisfied due to the multiple threads of narrative combined presented in a richly detailed format in which barely even a frame is wasted.

This is why most mainstream stories will have at least an A and a B plot, but Alan Moore (with all due credit to Gibbons) has found a way of making all the plots in Watchmen equally important and thus indivisible from one another.

One bad thing

We may only be two weeks into the year, but I’m hoping to get my morning/weekly writing routine established as quickly as possible. As such I’ve been getting up at (or near to) 6am and doing as much writing as time allows. Over the last week I’ve noticed that my enthusiasm levels remain fairly high early in the week, and then take a noticeable dip from Wednesday on.

This is not ideal. My working theory is that I’m sufficiently refreshed from the weekend to hit the ground running on Monday, but the tedium of the general working week begins to grind me down relatively quickly and delivers a Wednesday slump. Once that’s passed I pick up again a bit, but I’d prefer to maintain a more even momentum during the week.

Obviously, it’s too early for a real pattern to emerge, but I’ll keep an eye on this and consider how I might give myself a little mid-week boost if it becomes an ongoing issue.

Making a difference: one me at a time

One of my not-resolutions / aspirations for 2020 is to make better, more ethical, more environmentally-conscious decisions about the products that I buy and the services that I use. Just two weeks into the year and I’m already making changes and investigating options for other changes. So I thought it might be a good idea to blog about it all on a semi-regular basis, so I can share my experiences and hopefully get a few tips from other people who have been down this road.

Read More

2020: Week 1

(January 6 – 12)

I finished the short story I was revisiting over the last few weeks! It’s a good feeling to start the year having finished something. And I then sent the finished story to a friend for a beta read and promptly rewrote the last 1,000 words …

Occasionally I find it hard to judge when a story is done. I might tinker on something endlessly, and not realise that it’s ready to go; or I might wrap up a story and then go back to it months later and realise that it’s fundamentally flawed. 

Getting at least one person (and, ideally, you want more) to beta read a story gives me the benefit of another opinion, and the confidence to see which bits are working and which might benefit from a little more work.

One good thing

I started a new project this week: compiling a timeline of my life. This isn’t part of any greater plan; it’s simply due to the fact that while I remember a lot of the things that happened in my life, I’m terrible at remembering when they happened.

During the course of this work, two interesting things happened. Firstly, I found a pile of letters from some pen pals that I had completely and utterly forgotten about. I feel quite ashamed and embarrassed about this, given that we clearly exchanged letters for a couple of years. I scanned through several of these letters, trying to pick through the mystery of who these people where, and why I had no memory of them. Finally, in one of the letters, they had enclosed a photo. Now, the photo I did remember, and seeing it was my first assurance that there was some part of this epistolary relationship that I could be sure really happened.

As a separate part of this exercise, I was walking through Google Streetview trying to locate a place where I used to live many … many years ago. My youngest son came to watch, and I ended up showing him my old school as well as the house I grew up in. 

In doing so I reflected that these would simply be pictures of buildings for him. There would be no context, no memories. For me, however, those images would be associated with all manner of stories and history. The images were simply a cue to the various memories.

It all made me realise a couple of things. For one, my memory is strongly visual. I have a very poor memory for dates and details, but I remember visuals. I may not recall addresses, but I can see every place I lived in. I don’t remember the dates, but I remember the occasion of almost every film I went to see at the cinema. This realisation reassured me a fair amount that I don’t necessarily have a terrible memory for things; I simply remember them a different way.

The other thing I took away from all this was how our memories become stories, and that’s how they survive. When showing my youngest the images of my childhood, the only way they’ll become more than mere buildings is if I start to tell him stories about my life inside them. Then those stories become his memories. If one of them captures his imagination it could become a story that he, in turn, passes on.

This, obviously, is how civilisations and cultures traditionally preserved their history: by turning memories into narratives that could be shared. Stories live longer than memories, after all.

One bad thing

Tied into my targets for this year is the need to be more disciplined and focused with my writing. One of the steps I pledged to take towards achieving that is not having my phone sitting next to me on the desk when I write (since I will inevitably pick it up and start browsing social media as soon as my mind wanders).

More often than not, I’m still finding that my phone is there on the desk, but I have made a point of moving it to the other side of the room when this happens. This is already proving beneficial: when my attention wanders now, the interruption is only for a few seconds, and there’s less of a cognitive leap to get back into writing mode.

Also, if I do feel compelled to grab my phone, at least I have to get out of the chair and stretch my legs to do it, which is another net benefit.

2020: Week 0

(January 1 – 5)

Before we begin, a few quick notes on the blog format for 2020. As with last year, the intention is to have my blog posts focus mostly on writing. I also want to make them a little more straightforward to write (and as a consequence, one hopes, better to read). Last year I ended up getting a bit drawn into endless write-ups on films and books, and while I do like writing about films/books/podcasts that inspire me, I’ve decided that I don’t need to write something about every single bit of media I consume. Therefore you’ll see two brand new sections below this one, with a little intro on each.

For the curious, I’ve labelled this first post as ‘Week 0’ partly because it’s not a full week (I’m stubbornly starting from Jan 1, instead of the closest Monday) but also because this week has been less about actual writing and more about setting things up for this year.

So what needs setting up? One of the first things I habitually do at the end of the year (or, more realistically, at the start of the new one) is to analyse my writing stats from the previous 12 months. That typically requires some extra time to update all of my daily totals in my tracker, to write them up in a blog post, and to then set up the tracker for the new year (and if anyone’s interested in checking out the spreadsheet I use for this, I’m always happy to share).

Next comes the blog. I’m usually a fair bit behind on the blog by the end of the year, but I always have my notes written up, and the Christmas break gives me the free time needed to turn them into readable blog posts. Once that’s out of the way, I finally feel mentally ready to set up the blog for the new year. This is usually requires nothing more than setting up a fresh Google Docs template to use, but as always part of the thrill of the new year (for me) is getting to start something new. That means I like to tweak the format (as covered above) and make sure the template is juuust right. 

For this year, the main change has been putting a table at the top of the template for me to log everything I’ve watched, read and listened to. Clearly this is not something that’s going on the eventual blog posts, but I find it tremendously helpful to have an ongoing log such as this.

And now, once all that’s done—cleaned up the old and prepared the new—I’m ready to begin.

Learning from the good

This new-ish section of the blog is for me to pick one thing that I’ve learned from something that I’ve watched, read or listened to, and which will hopefully contribute towards me becoming a better writer. That’s it. A bit like last year’s blog, but more focused.

One of my very modest ambitions for the two-week Christmas break was to finally sit down and watch the new Watchmen series. Now, watching nine episodes over two weeks might not seem that ambitious, but having two kids means I can only watch in the evenings (once the Kinderbeast has settled down—and sometimes one episode can take a loooong time to get through if the beast is not settled), and Christmas shenanigans means that my available number of evenings is also reduced (but for the best reasons).

I’d held off watching the show until now mostly because of Damon Lindelof who, in my experience, is a writer who distributes massive plot-holes and dangling threads throughout his work, and then fails to stick the landing. For that reason, I’d already decided to wait until the show had concluded before considering it safe to venture forth.

Well, the short version is that I’m now ready to completely reappraise my view of Lindelof because Watchmen is an incredible show that holds together from the very first moment, to the final scene. In a year that has seen some incredible television, this is easily one of the best shows I’ve watched.

But what have I learned from Watchmen? One of my favourite aspects of the show is the way it parachutes you directly into its world without any hand-holding. There are things going on which don’t get explained until towards the end of the series. There are numerous tiny details—things which distinguish this as a very different world from our own—that the viewer is not only required to notice by themselves, but are trusted to. Because of this, far from feeling lost and confused, I was utterly gripped right from the first scene. I didn’t always know what was going on, but I knew I wanted to find out, and I knew that I would be given all of the information eventually. Every moment was like its own little cliffhanger, built with the promise of a pay-off to the patient viewer.

It takes skill to do this, to bury exposition into every scene, but it also takes courage to trust that the viewers will join you for that ride. We see so many films and shows where everything is explained to us. For comparison, check the first episode of Daybreak (which I really liked) which makes an admittedly stylistic choice to use narration to set the scene, but still requires that you’ve fully understood the world you’re in by the end of the first episode.

In my own writing I naturally try to keep exposition to a minimum—since exposition is the enemy of good writing—but I’ll look back on Watchmen as evidence that you can trust the reader so long as the world you’re building is compelling and fully realised.

Fixing up the bad

This section is for me to look at an area of my life that requires some degree of improvement. Ideally writing related, but probably not every week since that’s likely to get repetitive in short order.

Before the New Year I’d considered taking a break from social media. There are a few reasons for this: mostly that it’s depressing to see how awful [a small minority of] people can be; but also because the people in charge of platforms like Twitter and Facebook seem to have no interest in cleaning things up and working harder to protect their more vulnerable customers (or products, if you like). So, it’s hard for me to keep supporting platforms that work this way.

But, there is also a lot of good on social media: I engage with friends there; I keep up with news; I learn things every day that help broaden my understanding of the world. Hence the idea of taking a break, just to see if I missed it or not.

In the end, I did not take a break as whatever it was that was driving me to do so seemed to diminish over the last couple of weeks of the year. Maybe it was Christmas spirit 😉

Instead, I’ve decided to take a more active approach to blocking people. If I encounter anyone that I feel compelled to engage with in a negative way, or that really makes me despair of humanity, then I simply block them: out of sight, out of mind. There’s a risk that it will turn my twitter into a bit more of an echo chamber, but my opinion remains that you should tolerate and analyse a wide range of views, beyond your own, but you don’t extend that courtesy to Nazis or to people who actively promote harm to others. You do not tolerate the intolerable, and you do not offer balance to those who have no intention of engaging in good faith in the first place.

And, so far, it’s working.

… my only friend

(December 22 – 28)

Woohoo! The story is finished! There’s not really much left to say at this point, other than let the story speak for itself. You can read it on Vocal.

Watching

With two weeks of not having to go to work, I decided that it was finally time to settle down and ‘binge’ the new Watchmen TV series. So far it’s every bit as good as everyone says it is, but my version of bingeing is a maximum of two episodes an evening (less if I get interrupted by kids) and not every evening is going to be free for TV viewing, so we’ll see how I go—and there will be thoughts when I’m done.

I did manage to finish up The Mandalorian however, so here are some thoughts on that. Firstly, this was a fun ride through the Star Wars universe; don’t expect anything more than that, and you’ll have a fun time watching it. Also, Baby Yoda is a stroke of genius—you can be as cynical as you want about why Baby Yoda was created in the first place, but he’s the character that keeps us coming back to the show each week.

There were some minor issues. The first three episodes tell a compelling ongoing story (and one of the best tricks The Mandalorian pulls is to make you think it’s a bounty hunter show, only to tell you in the second episodes that it’s a Lone Wolf and Cub show instead) and definitely earn the ‘chapter x’ prefix that each episode bears. Unfortunately, it actually does then devolve into a bounty of the week format for several episodes which, more than anything, gives the impression that the show is treading water—a bit unforgivable when the series is only eight episodes long. Things come back together for the two-part finale, but I would rather all eight ‘chapters’ had been used to tell a cohesive long-form story.

Reading

I’ve already been distracted away from Norse Mythology.

ComiXology had one of its infamous, wallet-draining sales on so I picked up a few treats. First was a digital expanded edition of Watchmen, which I shall read once I’ve finished the show. In addition to that I picked up two collected volumes of Kieron Gillen’s amazing Darth Vader comic—which does an excellent job of taking the character of Vader from the slightly risible one-dimensional villain we see in A New Hope, to the ultimate galactic badass of Empire Strikes Back. I’m particularly looking forward to revisiting Doctor Aphra and her psychotic droids that hilariously parallel R2-D2 and C3-PO.

The Rise of Disappointment

(December 15 – 21)

I’m on the home strait for the short story. I even worked on it over the weekend, which is a habit (writing on my weekend mornings) I’ve slipped out of in recent weeks. Regardless of whether the story gets read or not, I’m reasonably gratified that I’m managing to maintain a schedule towards this self-imposed deadline.

Watching

This week’s big viewing was The Rise Of Skywalker, which I ended up seeing just a few days after release as it seemed unlikely I’d get a good chance to see it otherwise.

I went in really, really wanting to like it, despite the middling reviews—mostly because I don’t care to fall either side of the ‘JJ Abrams vs Rian Johnson’ divide, and also because Star Wars has become somewhat toxic in the last two years and I want no part of that: I just want to enjoy the films.

Unfortunately, I had a sinking feeling right from the opening crawl that things weren’t going to turn out well. I’m typically not one to fault the dramatic choices people make with their stories, so my main problem with TROS is the structure. I generally expect that people being paid millions of dollars to craft the final movie in the ‘Skywalker saga’ should come to it with a basic understanding of how to structure a good story.

Instead we get something that should be a first act reveal right in the opening scenes (along with, arguably, something that should be a second act reveal moments later) and things just keep happening from there. And happening. And happening. There is almost no pacing in TROS: a lot of Star Wars things keep happening on the screen, and that’s it for the whole movie. There are maybe two moments where we get to pause for breath, and they’re the best bits in the movie, otherwise it’s a dazzling roller coaster ride (but one that you probably wanted to stop after about the tenth time around).

My other issue with the film is that it completely throws out what Rian Johnson was trying to in The Last Jedi. I won’t go into detail, to avoid spoilers, but you can’t craft a trilogy (especially the final part of a trilogy) if you’re going to work your hardest to ignore what has taken place in the second part. It’s not so much the specific story choices, as it is failing to build on the story blocks that have already been established. Imagine watching Return Of The Jedi, and Yoda says “Oh, your father he isn’t. Made that up we did. Also, Han and Leia: best friends they are.” Sure, we follow the basic events that happened in TLJ, but thematically that movie gets thrown out with the bathwater. It come across, at least to me, as a cowardly/lazy/disrespectful (delete as appropriate) decision on the part of the filmmakers.

Worst of all, Rose Tico—having been a main character in TLJ—is reduced to barely a supporting role here. The treatment Kelly Marie Tran received a few years ago should be a clear sign to Disney that representation is more important than ever. Instead we’re left with the impression that they’ve once again folded to a small, vocal, toxic subsection of ‘fans’ by sidelining her presence here. It’s unlikely that this is actually the case, but it’s still hard to wash that bad taste out of my mouth.

Reading

Having finished Dead Mountain in fairly short order, I once again found myself without a book to read. I’m feeling a bit of a non-fiction vibe at the moment, but ended up going somewhere halfway between by starting Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Pretty much anything I know about Norse mythology comes from Marvel movies (and therefore is barely has anything to do with the mythology itself), therefore I’m quite interested to learn more about the source tales, and read them as retold by Gaiman.

Grosse Force Trancers

(December 8 – 14)

First draft (of the second version) of the Christmas story is complete! This means people may actually get to read it this side of Christmas 2019. It still needs work, but it’s looking good.

Watching

Got a few viewing highlights this week, so I’ll zip through them quickly. 

I gave the Elderbeast the choice of film to watch over the weekend, and he opted for a rewatch of Grosse Point Blank (which scores him some serious credit). I spent this viewing trying to figure out the exact combination of things that make this film so special. Is it the script? The direction? Is it the chemistry between John Cuscal and Minnie Driver? Is it the tonal disjoint provided by an assassin attending his 1980s themed high school reunion? It’s probably all of those things. It’s not quite a perfect film, but it’s still one of the most perfect films to have come out of the nineties.

Later in the week I rewatched The Force Awakens with my Awesome Partner as prep for seeing the third part of the sequel trilogy. TFA remains a fun film, and I will never forget the joy of going to the cinema and *finally* seeing a new Star Wars film that felt like a proper Star Wars film. Sure, it’s a hugely derivative retread of A New Hope, but as an reboot of the Star Wars franchise it does an outstanding job.

My final movie of the week was Trancers, a low budget eighties sci-fi thriller which I developed an irrational urge to rewatch recently. As I always do, I checked to see if anyone was streaming it and found a service called Tubi TV—which is free (ad supported). Not only did Tubi work with my chromecast, and even had an app for my TV, it also has an amazing selection of truly terrible films that I can’t wait to get stuck into.

Reading

This week, while gorging on more episodes of the Radio Gaga podcast, I started Dead Mountain: a book about the Dyatlov Pass incident, in which a group of Russian hikers were found inexplicably dead after being reported missing during the course of a hiking trip in 1959. I won’t spoil the eventual outcome, but I really enjoyed this book. The author made a really smart choice to present the narrative in three concurrent timelines: the first detailing the hikers’ expedition (and giving us enough of their personality that we develop a proper sense of dread knowing what’s coming); the second describes the official investigation from the point that the hikers were reported missing; the third follows the author’s own investigation, including a hike to the Dyatlov Pass itself. 

The Dyatlov Pass incident is a dark mystery that I’ve had a sideways fascination with for several years, so I enjoyed finally getting into the detail of the affair, and I’m chuffed that I picked such a good book (out of the range of books written on this topic) to explore it with.

The wha..? of the worlds

(December 1 – 7)

The Christmas horror story continues (the actual story I’m writing; not a reference to my christmas plunging into despair and chaos). As mentioned last week, I’m taking a first-draft story from last year (which, much to my surprise, turned out to be complete) and working it into something new. That first draft never felt quite right. So, for this ‘refreshed’ version I’ve kept the bones, but twisted a few bits into new shapes, added a few new scenes here and there, and tried to generally improve the language. I like where it’s heading so far.

Watching

After spending several years waiting for the BBC’s new adaptation of War Of The Worlds to land, it was something of an anticlimax when it suddenly arrived with minimal fanfare—especially as I was expecting it to be more of a Christmas schedule ‘event’. Unfortunately, I found the adaptation itself to be a bit anticlimactic as well.

It was one of those curious affairs (a little like the last season of Doctor Who) where I liked almost everything about the show–every choice made, all the visuals, etc, etc–but found something lacking. In this instance I think the writer forgot that he was meant to be doing a War of The Worlds adaptation and opted instead to tell a story that happened to be set against the backdrop of the classic H.G.Wells narrative. 

I’m generally in favour of disrupting traditional storytelling, especially when there’s a good analogy to be struck, or outdated conservative mores to be played against, but it’s important to tell a compelling story first and foremost. If you don’t do that then everything else you’re trying to do with your narrative comes to nothing. In the case of War Of The Worlds, you also run the risk of commentators deciding that ‘woke’ narratives just don’t work and I worry that we’ll end up sliding back to standard white male heroes, and traditional ‘safe’ stories.

Reading

My exciting new listening experience this week is the Radio Gaga podcast (and I can’t remember who told me about it, but they would be receiving my profuse thanks right now if I could). Simply put, Radio Gaga tells the stories behind famous albums (and, occasionally, famous songs). I love getting the behind the scenes scoop on films, books, music, anything, so this is right up my street.

The first episode I chose to listen to focused solely on Elton John’s song, Tiny Dancer. After listening to this, I genuinely have a new appreciation for the song. I then listened to the episode on Bohemian Rhapsody (also excellent), before checking out my first album-focused episode covering Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill.

With every episode I’ve learned things I had no idea about, and have come away wanting to re-explore the music—to the extent where I’ll likely be checking out episodes about albums I don’t know just so I can be led into some new music.

The host, Justine Piehowski, has a huge passion for music which comes across abundantly in her narration (and she has a voice I am more than happy to listen to, which isn’t always the case with podcasts). The production and sound quality is also top notch, which makes a huge difference. If you’re into music, then I’d say this is a must listen. I’ve already got another dozen or so episodes lined up in my queue.

Page 2 of 51

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén