Wednesday 30 December 2009

Science fiction or science fact?

The BBC's festive adaptation of John Wyndham's classic The Day of the Triffids has really gotten me thinking about the recent resurgence of science fiction into mainstream culture. I'm actually really glad that the BBC got their hands on Triffids since it will hopefully delay any godawful Hollywood version (probably starring Shia LaBoeuf) that may have been on the cards.

Wyndham's novel was published in 1951, right as science fiction was building momentum through the power of the B-movie. The BBC adaptation naturally updated the original story to place greater emphasis on the use of the triffids as a source of oil (in this case to solve the energy crisis, as opposed to replacing vegetable oil) and genetic engineering plays a greater part in the creation of the triffids as a worldwide plague.

See what they're trying to do here? The plot becomes both an entertaining narrative, and the means through which to discuss the energy crisis and the perils of genetic engineering. This is one of the reasons why I do enjoy sci-fi - it opens an intelligent platform on which to discuss contentious issues of the day. After all, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was a thinly veiled attack on the perceived threat of Communism, while Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) posited the dangers of women wielding any power of their own. Remember that this came after the men returned home from the war, only to find that the women didn't want to go back to being housewives.

However, I do think it's possible to divide the genre into science fiction, and science fact. The stories that fall into the former are concerned with aliens, outer space, other worlds and so on, whereas the latter deals with the likes of unleashed viruses, killer plants, and so on. Science fact deals with the extended versions of those stories you might read in New Scientist - and it's this element of plausibility which tends to draw me towards these stories, as opposed to those dealing with alien races or ships in outer space. These stories peel back the top layer of 'reality', exposing what lies beneath and providing us space in which to think.

It's funny - the soaps might think that they're representing real life, but it's within the arena of science fiction that we truly see what's going on in the world around us.

What about you? Do you prefer science fiction, or science fact?

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Writing Success for 2009

2009 is certainly ending with a bit of a celebration for me! Sadly I didn't win the Misfit Salon Micro Fiction contest, but I still got published in the first issue of the Misfit Magazine! You can read my entry, The Stairs, here. I also urge you to read the other entries as they're very good.

I also just learned that I've had another story accepted, so I'll be posting the link as soon as I get it!

Sunday 27 December 2009

Icy's Top Ten Films of 2009

It's been a funny old year for cinema, and I've seen an awful lot of films. Still, a lot of them were absolute guff, so it was relatively easy to choose at least five that I'd happily put in a list of good films of 2009. I doubt I'm likely to see any more films before the end of Thursday, and even if I did, I highly doubt that they'd be any good, so I've decided to compile my list now. Unfortunately I actually managed to think of seven films, rather than five, so I had to expand it to ten. So here, in no particular order, is my top ten films of 2009. Do you agree with my choices?

Let the Right One In
Star Trek
Inglourious Basterds
Paranormal Activity
The Hurt Locker
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Thursday 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Monday 21 December 2009

Random musing on melancholy

I'm pretty convinced that there's nothing more melancholy than the caw of a lone crow on a wet Monday in December.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Music or Movies?

The ridiculous Internet campaign to get an outdated Rage Against The Machine track to the Christmas no.1 spot in the UK ahead of limp offering from the winner of a TV talent show has made me really stop and think about how little music means to me these days. There used to be a time where I was always buying CDs, going to gigs and getting excited about bands. It's all...stopped. Now, I get excited about movies that are coming out, or forthcoming books and comics.

Give me a choice between getting jostled about by drunk people at a gig, or sitting in the dark watching the magic of cinema unfold, and it's fairly obvious what I'd pick. If you told me that I had to choose between the activities associated with music and the activities associated with cinema, and that this choice would be permanent, I would have no qualms about choosing cinema. Besides, I have two degrees in film so it's obvious where my allegiances lie. However, ask me to choose between the cinema, or a lazy afternoon curled up with a good book, and we'll have a problem.

Anyway. My point is, I think that I'd choose cinema and literature (which also encompasses TV and comics) over music because of the story telling. Sure, music can (and often does) tell a story, but it's difficult to feel compelled, or moved by the magic of the narrative, by a song that is often around four minutes long. Movies and novels can take you to faraway lands and different times, and they can introduce you to new people and interesting concepts. If a song tries to do that, it often ends up pretentious or overblown. Fairly odd, really, considering the original ballads were stories in song form.

So back to the choice. Unless it's a band that I really like, or who will entertain me for an hour, I'll shy away from the idea of going to a gig. But pop anything written by Oscar Wilde or Neil Gaiman into my hand and guide me to a comfy seat, with a hot drink and possibly a supply of cookies nearby, and I'll be truly happy. The fact that reading can often be a solitary activity, and I'm no great lover of crowds, is probably no coincedence.

So everyone else can have their gigs and their downloads, but I'll settle for a quiet library or a darkened cinema any day...

Saturday 19 December 2009

Why Photography and Writing are natural bedfellows

You hopefully won't be surprised to learn that as well as writing, I like to indulge my creativity with a spot of photography. I took the photo on the left last night, from a spot outside County Hall (this was before I got moved by security since, for some odd reason, you're not allowed to use tripods in that area).

London's a fantastic place to live if you enjoy photography. You've got your usual tourist-y locales, along with the many markets and shopping districts for those whose bent runs more towards street photography. Parks and nature reserves satisfy the nature photographers, and there are buildings galore for the architectural enthusiasts. Your two biggest problems are finding a spot among the other photographers, and trying to be polite to those idiotic passersby who seem to think it's vital that they occupy the pride of place in your shot.

Still, I love photography, and it satisfies the more visual side of my brain. Whenever I write, I try to paint a picture in the mind of the reader, so they can 'see' what I see in my head when I'm writing, but sometimes it's just easier to take a photo of it. Besides, photography is an excellent way to stimulate creativity - a favourite 'game' of mine is to browse the random shots gallery on Flickr, and use the first image that pops up as a story prompt. Try it yourself and see what you come up with!

Thursday 17 December 2009

Icy needs your help!

I entered a micro fiction competition over at Misfit Salon and I've made the final three! Voting is open until December 28th, and it would be nice if you could mosey on over there, and vote for my entry, The Stairs. Of course, that's if you like mine the best...

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Happy birthday to...

...Jane Austen!

The lovely lady of literature would have been 234 today. My personal favourite of her works is, unsurprisingly, Pride and Prejudice, since Elizabeth Bennett is by far one of the greatest heroines of English literature. I do also like Northanger Abbey as well though; Catherine is a fine heroine. The only one I've never been able to click with is Emma, and it doesn't surprise me that it provided the loose concept for Clueless...

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Good Example of Dialogue

I wouldn't normally post links to Youtube videos but in this case I thought I would make an exception. Here's a wonderful example of characterisation revealed through dialogue! I give you Iggy Pop and Tom Waits in Coffee and Cigarettes.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Reasons why I write; Why...?

So I'm sitting at my laptop, chatting on MSN and mulling over a couple of story ideas, when I suddenly realise I can't see properly out of the left lens of my spectacles. I take them off to find that a thumbprint has spontaneously appeared on the glass. It's not my thumbprint as I'm not in the habit of smearing grease all over my glasses, and I've been on my own all day, so it's not like it belongs to anyone else. Not anyone that I can see, at any rate.

This is why I write - for all those "Why?" and "How?" moments. How did a thumbprint suddenly erupt on my glasses? Whose is it? Why did they put it there? Also how did they put it there? The orientation was such that their hand must have been at a very peculiar angle indeed. It may even prove to become the vague concept that kickstarts a vignette or short story at some point in the future, but I wanted to share it for now as being the kind of incident that reminds me why I write.

Friday 11 December 2009

Paranormal Activity

After much hype in the press, I finally went to see Paranormal Activity today. I'd heard mixed reviews in the UK, but I have to say that despite its tediously slow start, I actually enjoyed it. By the end of the film, I was aware that my heart was attempting to crawl up into my mouth - the last film to have that effect upon me was Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes. I do think in part that Paranormal Activity relies too heavily upon jump-scares, although its utilisation of sound to achieve these, instead of the CGI equivalent of a ghost train rubber skeleton, lets it wriggle somewhat off its hook.

It brought to mind the more 'Gothic' tradition of horror, as opposed to the gore-soaked franchises courting controversy that we have become used to of late. A slow burner in many senses, it scatters clues about the pasts of our protagonists thought the narrative, foregoing the typical chunk of backstory exposition that many filmmakers feel is necessary. The film piles weird occurrence onto weird occurrence until the suspense is pulled so taut that you could probably pick out a tune on it. Maybe Danse Macabre?

Anyway. It's nice to see a film that never actually shows you its 'monster'. It never manages to come quite as close to the pure genius of Robert Wise's 1963 classic The Haunting, and it's not quite as creepy as Poltergeist (incidentally the only horror film to actually scare me) but its low budget, limited location and restricted point of view serve well to ramp up the claustrophobia felt by the couple. We only know as much as they know, although we do clearly benefit from some awareness of cinematic conventions, i.e. ouija boards rarely spell out good news and broken pictures are often bad omens.

Still, I'm glad to see that people are still making ghost movies, and telling ghost stories. I am personally a bit of a believer in ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties having had a few very peculiar experiences myself, and there's something a lot more unsettling about a thud during the night with no obvious source, as opposed to a zombie lurching toward you clutching the scabby remains of a human arm. I was beginning to worry that ghost stories had become a dying art, but I think there's life in the old dog yet...

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Feeling Fear, aka Procrastination

I originally composed this entry while sat in a coffee shop just off Piccadilly Circus one rainy Monday evening. Yes, I wrote it with a purple fineliner, by hand, in a ringbound shorthand notebook. What can I say, it satisfies my inner Luddite. The purple ink was for my inner drag queen.

Anyway, I follow a very useful blog named Procrastinating Writers, designed to help writers overcome their inherent procrastination, and the whole thing got me thinking about how much I indulge in this particular artist's malady - and, more importantly, why.

I always told myself that I didn't write as often as I may have wished to because I didn't have enough time. I reasoned that if I had more time, I'd write all the time. Nonsense. It would have been incredibly easy to have simply spent less time messing about on Twitter, and used that time for writing instead. Now I actually have more time than I know what to do with and still I don't write.

I can only say it's because of two reasons. First, there is the matter of technique. I have the idea, but I'm unsure how to begin. Afraid of not doing justice to the idea, I then don't even try, and the idea scuttles off to hibernate in some dark, cobwebby recess of my imagination. Second, I just don't write in case anything I do write doesn't meet the ridiculously high standards that I set for myself.

I suppose it all comes down to fear, which is completely irrational since I'm fearless in so many other aspects of my life. Yet it is fear all the same, and it is this fear which I must conquer if I'm to progress down the writer's road further than the Inn of Indecision.

It's a few weeks early for resolutions, but now seems as good a time as any to start. I intend to stop being so afraid and simply get on with the thing I enjoy most - writing. And if it's not good enough? Well, that's what second drafts are for!

Who's with me?

Saturday 5 December 2009

Writer's Digest short story competition

I just decided to enter the short story competition currently being run by Writer's Digest. If you have a story under 1500 words that you'd like to here and do so! You never know what'll happen until you try...

Friday 4 December 2009

Cookie recipe!

I wanted to write something today. I wasn't sure what, only that I wanted to write. Given it's now 4pm and I'm absolutely shattered, I've decided to do something a little different. A very late night involving air hockey, arcade games, pool and wandering around London until 3am left me with a craving for peanut butter cookies, so I decided to make some...and share the recipe. Enjoy!

This recipe makes 10 cookies. Half or double the amounts to make 5 or 20. I'm sure you can work the maths out for yourself.

Preheat the oven to 190°c and lightly grease a baking tray.

Mix 60g butter with 75g peanut butter. Mix well!

Add 115g granulated sugar. Again, mix well.

Stir in 75g plain flour, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder.

By this point the mixture will be quite dry and look like crumbs. Stir in a few splashes of milk until it binds together.

When you have a wet (but not sloppy) consistency, spoon balls of the mixture onto the baking tray.

Bake for 15 minutes, and hey presto! Yummy cookies!

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Brand new site!

I finally got fed up of the limited templates offered by my previous website provider, and took the plunge into personal webspace yesterday. I bought my domain name, set up an email address, and cobbled up a site in Dreamweaver. My blog is still my main point of focus, but at least now I have somewhere to host those stories that I haven't been able to place. There are currently six stories, ranging in length, available for free for you to check out!

Feel free to check it out here, and you can always send me an email at icy [at] icysedgwick [dot] com. (Writing the address like that stops spam spiders finding it and sending me junk. Useful tip!) Let me know what you think!

As an aside, the photo at the top of this entry is one of my own. So I don't just write, I do photomanipulations and graphics as well!!

Monday 30 November 2009

Twilight - why vampires are rubbish.

Unless you've been living under a rock for a while, you'll be thoroughly familiar with the Twilight phenomenon. I myself have never been the greatest fan of vampires, either in fiction or cinema, finding them to be far too...well...dull for my liking. It's too easy to be a vampire. Good-looking, usually wealthy, strong, fast, blah blah blah. I'm still not 100% sure why people would even like to be vampires. The living off other humans is bad enough, but living forever? Surely that would get boring after a while. There's only so many times you can go around the world before it becomes repetitive. Taj Mahal? Seen that. The Eiffel Tower? Done that. The Empire State Building? Spat off the roof.

Anyway. I don't really like to slag things off without some sort of awareness of them, so I finally got around to watching Twilight this evening. I felt I should probably familiarise myself with the story in some form before continuing to vehemently rip it to shreds, and I decided that the film would be quicker to watch than having to trawl through the book. It's clearly aimed at lovestruck fifteen-year-old girls - oh, the clumsy new girl at school winds up making friends on her very first day (yeah, because that always happens) and catches the eye of the best-looking boy...excuse me, Ms Meyer, can you say "wish fulfilment fantasy"? Anyway. Throughout the entire film, I found myself thinking, "What would Cassidy do?" (If you say you like vampires and you DON'T know who Cassidy is, then go to the back of the class and write "I must go and research Preacher" 800 times).

Exactly why would a family of vampires decide to put itself in harm's way to protect a human, just because this human is dating one of them? Let's be rational for a second. Lions don't decide to date antelope, and if they did, I bet the rest of the pride would just tuck in, regardless of whether or not another pride had their eye on said antelope. Don't for one minute try and say it's any different - it's not. Vampires are predators, humans are prey. Just because they both have the same basic collection of body parts does not make them suitable bedfellows. Look at Morecombe and Wise.

Vampirism has somehow become romanticised in popular culture. Why? What is so 'romantic' about a human-shaped leech? Let's be honest, people, that's all a vampire is. The beloved Edward even explains this concept to the hapless heroine Bella, and she says she doesn't care. Ah well, love is blind, and all that. Or, in Bella's case, simply stupid. The idea of a very old man (Edward has been a vampire since 1918, and if he was 17 when bitten, then he'd be 107 in total by 2008, when the film was released) falling in love with a teenager is just a little creepy, isn't it? It might look like a seventeen year old male, and sound like a seventeen year old male...but that doesn't mean that it IS a seventeen year old male (I sound like those campaigns warning about online predators, don't I?).

I can't really slag off the book as I still haven't read it, and based upon the film certainly don't intend to, but I can certainly dismiss the film as trash. Enjoyable in a 'chick lit' kind of way, but trash nonetheless. So Hollywood, if you're listening, ditch the brooding Sir Fangs-A-Lot and ensure that all future cinematic vampires are Irish drunkards who are pricks as often as they are heroes. Cassidy FTW!

Saturday 28 November 2009

Beauty is truth, and truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Photo of a Grecian urnThe title of this post comes from the final two lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn, written by John Keats in 1819. I'm not usually a fan of poetry, but I do have a soft spot for Keats. In my humble opinion, he was the greatest of the Romantic poets, and it's a crying shame he didn't receive the attention he deserved during his lifetime.

Since I'm such a fan, I decided to go and see Bright Star, Jane Campion's latest film depicting his romance with Fanny Brawne. Critics are touting it as her best work since The Piano, and I'm deeply saddened to say that this may be so, but it's also by far one of the most boring films I've seen all year - and I forced myself to sit through the travesty that was Dorian Gray.

Scenes are left woefully unfinished as though Campion got so bored of her own work that she simply wandered off to do something else, while the actors seem prone to occasional fits of over-acting. The costumes are gorgeous, but the dialogue lets it all down as it attempts to be pithy but instead comes across as self-indulgent. The film focusses more on Fanny and her talent for dressmaking, which in itself doesn't bother me as it's nice to see a film that re-trains the focus on the muse instead of the genius. What does bother me is how happily the film skips over Keats' actual poetry, only occasionally referring to it, in favour of burning glances between the star-crossed lovers.

As a seemingly headstrong, independent young woman, I desperately wanted to like Fanny. She's at odds with society around her and simply wants to pursue her heart, regardless of convention or practicality. Yet I couldn't like her at all. Yes, she inspired some of the greatest poetry ever written in the English language, but based on this depiction of her...I can't fathom how.

Friday 27 November 2009

The City's True Face (Flash Fiction)

The darkness of the early hours surrounds me as I walk up the street. Flickering street lights hum quietly among bare tree branches. Silhouettes dance across shuttered shop fronts. A fox lurks behind a phone box, nosing through discarded food wrappers.

The low drone of occasional traffic ceases. For a few moments, no cars pass. Only the steady rhythm of my footsteps breaks the silence. Darkened windows gaze down upon me. Could I be the only living person left?

London briefly raises her veil and I see her true face. Centuries of history dance in her eyes, a knowing smile playing about her lips. The blood, sweat and tears of millions roll down her pock-marked face. She is mine.

A motorbike roars past, tearing open the night as it scatters fallen leaves in its noisy wake. Their dry whispering tries to tell me something, but the illusion is broken. I am just another citizen walking home at 4am.

Monday 23 November 2009

Using a writing prompt

I stumbled across this post and decided to have a go using the writing prompt provided. Make sure you check it out, and maybe try it yourself. For now...enjoy.

Your boat rocks back and forth, and you peer over the edge, catching a glimpse of something you thought was gone forever.

Oh no, is that what I think it is? It can't be, but it is. Right there below the boat. A dark red 1972 Dodge Charger. Rust spots the hood like automotive acne. I briefly catch sight of the Barbie doll head hung from the rear view mirror. The blonde hair floats in dark green water, caught in listless currents. A white hand still grips the steering wheel, swollen flesh pocked with fish bites. The rope binding the arms to the seat is almost rotted away.

A motorboat blasts by. The wake rocks my boat, sending splashes of cold water over my legs. The force of the wake stirs the Charger. The rope gives way and a body slumps forwards. Bill’s bloated face gazes up at me, his eyes open and accusing. The skin around his mouth hangs in strips, his jaw contorted in a grin. I scream while Bill laughs.

You can never keep a bad man down.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Death of a NaNoWriMo dream

There are still a few days left until the end of NaNoWriMo 2009, but I'm sad to say - I've given up. Changes in personal circumstances have left me way behind, and I've lost interest in my idea. I wasn't exactly pleased with the work I'd done anyway, and now I have no impetus to go back and try to catch up. On the up side, it's gotten me fired up for re-editing the book I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo.

Normal posts will resume next week...

Thursday 12 November 2009

Antique Clock (Flash Fiction)

I thought I'd try to lighten the mood after my last post, and dig out one of my old flash fictions that I particularly like. Enjoy.

Antique Clock

The minute hand crept slowly around the elegant clock face, caressing the curlicues and spirals that embraced the numbers. It inched closer to midnight, pulling itself through the darkness with calm, firm strokes. The dependable sound of ticking filled the room, and it comforted him. As long as he could hear that deep, solid ticking, he knew that life continued outside.

Sitting in his armchair in the small house at the end of the world, Father Time prodded the burning coals in the fireplace. As the glowing embers crackled and popped, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Wednesday 11 November 2009


I don't really wish to make this blog overly personal, or political, but sometimes I'm overcome by a need to write something that isn't related to films, or art, or books. As a writer, I absorb influence from everything around me, and my writing is as much a reflection of me as anything else. Besides, today isn't about me, it's about remembrance. 11 November marks Armistice Day, and I want to take some time out from waffling about films or wittering on about my NaNoWriMo effort to remember, not just those who lost their lives in the cold mud of northern Europe, but for those who continue to lose their lives in pointless conflict around the world today.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Dulce et Decorum Est was written by Wilfred Owen, a soldier who fought in the First World War, writing poetry in the trenches. He was killed in action just a week before the war ended. The Latin title comes from a poem written by Horace;

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.

"How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country:
Death pursues the man who flees,
spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
Of battle-shy youths."

We should remember them. Today, we will.

The image at the top is my own photo; I came across the grave in Brompton Cemetery and found it incredibly poignant.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Just why I love Pixar

I may have a fascination for zombies, a lifelong passion for Die Hard, and undying respect for Ripley, but in my heart of hearts, I simply adore Pixar. I've seen all of their films at the cinema, with the exception of The Incredibles, and the release of a new Pixar film fills me with the kind of childish glee normally associated with Christmas Day morning.

So it was with a lot of excitement that I saw Up last week. It's not their best film ever, and I couldn't put it in the same category as Cars or Monsters, Inc., but it's still a cracking good yarn, and just proves that Pixar are slowly moving into slightly more grown-up territory, managing to tackle such themes as miscarriage and being widowed in a short introductory session that manages to communicate such themes without being preachy, or spelling anything out.

Why can other filmmakers not manage this? So often I watch a film, or read a book, and feel like I'm being spoon-fed the plot, as if the director or writer feels I'm too moronic to get what's going on. Dan Brown is guilty of this on an epic scale with The Da Vinci Code, and Chris Colombus over-egged the pudding to such a stupid degree in Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone that it almost ruined an otherwise enjoyable film. Yet Pixar avoid this trap. Personally, I think it's because they simply enjoy telling stories, and they trust that their viewers can detect and understand the visual clues that tell the story, without having to brow-beat anyone into epiphany.

The trend towards CG films has exploded ever since Toy Story came out in 1995, with varying degrees of success. The first two Shrek films were interesting and enjoyable ventures from Dreamworks, but then they also foisted the godawful Shark Tale upon us. Such a preachy, horrible film carried the core message that you should always be happy with your station in life, and never strive to better yourself because if you do, you'll fail. What kind of ideal is that to be pushing onto people? Yet among all the dross, Pixar have always shone as an example of decent filmmaking. Some of their efforts haven't quite connected as well as others (e.g. A Bug's Life, Ratatouille), but even their 'poor' films are strides ahead of the best films released by their competitors.

I think their success is due in part to their attention to detail. Fur moves like fur, water behaves like water, objects appear to have true weight - all a testament to their partnership with Disney. Old Walt used to send his artists to draw from life, so even if the animals or birds were cartoons, they still had a level of verisimilitude that is unmatched today. Beyond that, they're happy to cast an actor based on how well they fit the role, not on their box office draw at the time of casting. If an A-lister happens to win the role, it's because they're the best person for the job. The characters thus become believeable, and not simply star vehicles.

Pixar love their craft, and it shines through in the finished film. They tell a story for the pure joy of telling a story - they leave the money-making aspect of the business to Disney. You can go into the cinema feeling burdened by the weight of the world, and come out feeling lighter, as though maybe this crazy lil thing called life isn't so bad after all. And in this day and age, that's no bad thing.

Monday 2 November 2009

Day Two

So I've written over 5,000 words for my NaNoWriMo attempt. Over 10% written and it's only Day Two. Don't worry, there's no way I'll keep up this pace. Anyway. I'm not at all happy with what I've written so far, but instead of expecting myself to write something perfect straight out of the gate, I'm going to keep what I've written and just keep going. No rewrites until December. I keep forgetting that other writers have a process of revision, and that great novels aren't birthed without corrections, edits and even complete rewrites. The grammar needs to be tightened up, I need to work on my characters and iron out the plot, but you know what? To hell with it. I'm just going to run with it and see where it goes...that's what this is all about, surely?

Friday 30 October 2009

Fiction Friday #2

Here's my attempt for this week's Fiction Friday challenge on the Write Anything blog. Today's challenge is;

A couple of adults get dressed up for some Halloween fun but the night doesn’t go as planned…

"Are you ready, honey?"


William adjusted his tie and smoothed down his hair with one hand. He grimaced slightly at the oily feel of the gel Mary had insisted he use.

The top step creaked as his wife made her way down the stairs. A halo of tight black curls surrounded her pale face, and she'd balanced a pair of horn-rimmed glasses on her nose. A string of pearls drew his attention to her neck, that beautiful neck which first attracted him to her so many years before.

"Sweetheart, you look amazing!"

"Thank you, darling. You look rather handsome yourself. I love that look on you." Mary smiled at him as she twirled, giving him a better look at the pastel pink skirt suit she’d found in a thrift store.

"Then we're ready?"

"Almost. I just need my treat bag."

Mary darted into the kitchen, her heels clacking on the wooden floor. She came back carrying two plastic pumpkins with black handles, found in the bargain bin of the 24-hour supermarket over on Eighth Street. Mary handed one to William, and beamed.

Leaving the house, William thought of just how clever their costumes were. 1950s car salesman, and dutiful wife. Such a normal choice, so different from their normal selves. The Pattinsons would simply crack up.

"It's quiet, isn't it?" said Mary. He could hear her sniffing the cold night air as she peered into the gloom ahead.

"Yeah. I thought all the neighbourhood kids would have been out trick or treating, or something," replied William. He heard faint footsteps behind them.

"It is late, I suppose. Maybe they've all gone home."

A rustle made William look sharply at the dark bushes to their right. Four shapes melted out of the shadows, forming as gangly young men in front of them. The tallest, a buck-toothed youth with greasy blond hair and bad acne, stepped forward. He held a flick knife in his badly bandaged left hand.

"Money. Now."

William and Mary exchanged a glance. The initial surprise on Mary's face morphed into excitement. William suppressed a snigger.

"What's so funny, Pops? Gimme your money, or I'll cut ya." The youth's voice squeaked as he struggled to sound threatening.

"You're supposed to say, 'Trick or treat', you fool." Mary stepped towards him, suddenly seeming so much taller than her usual 5ft 3ins.

"What? Just give us your money." A second youth spoke. He stood behind the first, lank black hair curling over the collar of his biker jacket.

William heard Mary growl, a soft rumble rolling around her throat.

"Er, trick or treat?" The first youth took a tiny step backward. William noticed the knife trembling in his hand.

"Treat. For us!"

Mary pounced on the blond, knocking his knife to the ground. He cried out as he hit the tarmac, his cry turning into a wet gurgle as she sank her fangs into his neck. His three accomplices screamed as they fled down the street. William watched them leave.

Mary looked up from the corpse, blood smeared across her face. Her eyes faded from yellow to green as she smiled at William.

"Did you enjoy that?" he asked.

"Yes. I’ve had better, but he’ll do for now. Do you think they’ll tell anyone?"

"They’ll try, but who’ll believe them? Come on, let's get rid of this as quick as we can. We don't want to be late."

Mary stood up, straightening her jacket. William bent to grasp the ankles of the body, dragging it behind them. He would dump it in the Pattinsons' pond.

Thursday 29 October 2009

The Fugitive (Flash Fiction)

Charlie crouched under the porch, listening intently. The pounding of feet on the stairs subsided hours ago, but that didn't mean they weren't hiding, waiting for him. His ears buzzed with silence as he lay there with his head cocked on one side.

He poked his head out into the backyard. Abandoned toys littered the lawn, but their owners were nowhere in sight. Breathing a sigh of relief, he crawled out into the open. Almost immediately, a rough hand grabbed his collar and dragged him toward the house.

Yet again, he had failed to escape his monthly bath.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Literary Remixes

The tendency towards remakes and sequels has been present in cinema for decades now, but for a long time it seemed that literature stood apart. A book was an individual creation by an author/genius, and was therefore sacrosanct. They could be adapted for performance in the theatre, or on screen, but it was rare for other authors to continue the story, or to retell it altogether. However, this seems to have changed over recent years, with more authors 'retelling' classic fairytales, or taking inspiration from earlier works.

There have already been plenty of novels released that either continue the story after the final page of classics such as Mansfield Park, or that tell the story of an alternative character (see the series of 'Diary' novels for Jane Austen's heroes), but now a new literary 'remix' trend seems to have exploded out of leftfield. Horror is being injected into the works of Austen - we've already had Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters and Mr Darcy, Vampyre, with Vampire Darcy's Hunger: A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation due in December. Exactly what has prompted this trend? Personally, I can't help thinking that a great deal of it relates to the publishing world's grudging acceptance that women do read horror, and they enjoy it. They also enjoy romance and the classics, so...why not combine the two?

However, I cannot work out whether this trend either devalues the original classic, or devalues the horror genre as a whole. Horror is a particular genre, defined less by its iconography, themes or typical characters and more by the feeling it provokes in the reader or viewer. It has long been seen as the 'poor man' of both literature and cinema, looked down upon by loftier genres, a sort of 'trash' for a less discerning audience. Therefore on one hand, injecting this 'lowest common denominator' genre into classic novels brings the reputations of these novels into a sort of disrepute. The subtle social commentary or historical value of such works is obliterated by the introduction of zombies, vampires and sea monsters, rendering the (often poorly written) original text almost worthless. However on the other hand, horror is actually a complex means of conveying wider themes as it reflects social anxieties current at the time of its inception, and to ham-fistedly cram it into a classic novel tells the world that actually, horror is a bit of silliness, only good for amusing or entertaining the reader as a new spin is put on a well-known story.

Beyond this, I also can't work out why it seems to only be Jane Austen's work that is so far afflicted. She only wrote six full novels, two of which are in my opinion truly dire (Mansfield Park and Emma, in case you were wondering), and surely there are other authors with a larger oeuvre who would benefit from the introduction of a little silliness in their stories? Charles Dickens is a po-faced bore at the best of times, and I can't help thinking that a scene depicting Pip battling a werewolf Miss Havisham would truly improve the work as a whole.

Still, it's an interesting trend, and with any luck will prove that horror is a viable genre for female readers. I shall be watching with interest...

The image in this post is actually a drawing by me!

Monday 26 October 2009

The Music Man (Flash)

The peace doesn't last on a Tuesday morning. Footsteps ring out on the cobbles as streams of notes curl down the street like wisps of smoke. Children too young for school press their faces against windows, and adults stand smiling in doorways. Coins flash in the air, and for once, money buys happiness as the music man goes by.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Stuck for inspiration?

I just came across this amazing post on the Write to Done website, about using Tarot cards as inspiration when writer's block strikes. Try it!

Tuesday 20 October 2009


I finally saw The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus at the weekend, and as much as I'd like to discuss the film as a fantastical swansong for the much-missed (by me, at any rate) Heath Ledger, I'd much rather discuss the film in slightly more highbrow terms. Terry Gilliam presents the film as a meditation on the inherent benefits and downfalls of immortality, particularly the peculiar form of immortality presented by a life captured on celluloid (see the rather ham-fisted attempt during the Johnny Depp segment to prove that those that die young, e.g. James Dean, Princess Diana, will always live on). However, scratch the surface of this visually impressive, though occasionally slightly gaudy, piece, and you'll find that at its heart, the film would much rather discuss the dichotomy of Imagination vs Temptation.

Christopher Plummer's Dr Parnassus represents Imagination, a fertile inner land particular to every individual. In this mental expanse, stories are born, and these stories offer the path to Immortality. Indeed, he firmly believes that the universe is sustained because someone somewhere is always telling a story. The film itself tells a story, and thus maintains this belief in the mind of the viewer.

However, his nemesis is film's old friend, the Devil, played here to excellent effect by Tom Waits, and he, as ever, represents Temptation. It's not such a stretch to boil these two opposing forces down to the Mind (or Soul) vs the Body. It has long been held by many schools of thought that the Body is somehow dirty, and sinful, and purity can only exist within the Mind, and by extension the Soul. Clearly, if we pursue this particular theory, Dr Parnassus represents Good, while the Devil represents Evil. So far, so typical.

Yet this eternal struggle between Imagination and Temptation goes back further than Terry Gilliam's concept for this film. Indeed, the poetic genius that was John Keats continually tussled with the two throughout his career, perhaps reaching its apogee in his epic, Lamia. In it, Lycius must choose between the pure world of Apollonius (the Imagination) and the senuous world of Lamia (Temptation). Apollonius exposes the cruel reality of Lamia, and the deprivation of one option proves too much for the young chap and he dies. Keats believed that only a balance between the two could sustain man, and that by living by one or the other, he was only living half of a life.

What does this then mean for Dr Parnassus? In forcing humans to make a choice between Imagination or Temptation, these people are surely doomed to living their lives to only half of their potential. Or is there in fact a deeper paradox within the entire situation, since in order to choose the path of the Imagination, one must first be tempted by it?

Top image: Lamia, by John William Waterhouse

Monday 19 October 2009

At last! An idea!

I now have my NaNoWriMo idea. It's not the one I was previously brainstorming, particularly since I think that idea better lends itself to a short story. No, the Big Idea is one I've had rolling around in the back of my mind for a while now, but which I finally think I can do something with. I'm excited about it, and thus excited about NaNoWriMo. I last felt this excited about writing last year, so with any luck it'll pan out well and I'll have another finished book by December!

Sunday 18 October 2009


So I went out today and bought a brand new A4 notebook. Normally I'd tell myself that I'll do all of my word sketches, brainstorming and other assorted brain dumps on the computer, since I can type faster than I scrawl, but for once I felt I should do it all by hand. I'm less distracted by the allure of the Internet if I'm bound by the constraints of pen and paper, and already I've been scribbling down ideas to help articulate the image I currently have held in my mind's eye, as clear to me internally as the image of this laptop is on my retinas.

Whether this current image will spark an idea for this year's NaNoWriMo attempt or not remains to be seen, but essentially this notebook has already made me reconnect with the process of writing, and that can only ever be a good thing...

Tuesday 13 October 2009

NaNoWriMo again!

Further to my last post, I've been having a long, hard think about this year's NaNoWriMo competition. I think it's a fabulous idea - most people work better under pressure with some sort of deadline to work towards. Without an end goal in sight, it's all too easy to procrastinise, to get lost in the idea of writing without actually doing any. Alternatively, you can get too caught up in the editing process, so keen to get what you've written right that you continue to edit what you've already written, but fail to produce anything new. NaNoWriMo encourages you to simply get down a minimum of 1667 words a day - the re-writing comes in December. What you might write be rubbish, but at least you'll have produced something.

But how do you choose exactly what to write? Last year, I knew what I was going to do. My lead character walked into my head one glorious summer afternoon while visiting Glamis Castle in Scotland, and refused to leave me alone until I'd written about him. A short vignette followed, but he continued to pester me until I decided to write his story. NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect opportunity, and 50,000 words later, I'd written a novel.

However, this year, I'm not sure. Do I write a follow up to the book I wrote last year, despite the fact that I still haven't finished redrafting my 2008 effort? Do I write a collection of interlinked short stories that will still take me over the 50,000 word limit? Do I work on an entirely new idea? If I choose the last option, which idea do I pursue?

Decisions, decisions...

Monday 5 October 2009


How did it get to be October so fast? I can't believe that we're into Halloween Month already. Just a few weeks to go until November, and we all know what that means...NaNoWriMo! I did it last year, and actually managed to bash out my first novel. I'm quite pleased with it, although it's still languishing in the rewrite process as I've been distracted by other projects. Still, I'm going to do it again this year, and anyone else who's doing it can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as 'Icy_La_Grande'. Good luck!

Friday 25 September 2009

Fiction Friday #1

This flash has been taken down as it is out for submission!

Thursday 24 September 2009

Dorian Gray

I went to see the turgid, unmitigated disaster of a movie that was Dorian Gray on Sunday, and it's taken until now for me to feel sufficiently in possession of my credulity to compose an entry about it. I know, you may be (logically) wondering why I keep discussing films in a blog supposedly devoted to my writing career. Firstly, I have two degrees in film and it's a great passion of mine, and secondly, I believe that film faces the same technical problems as writing, in terms of pacing, structure, dialogue etc.

Now, Dorian Gray is somewhat unsurprisingly based on the genius work by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The original novel is an absolute delight, whereas the movie is a lacklustre blight on the face of the film industry. I'm often somewhat skeptical of adaptations, as few of them manage to retain the subtle subtexts and wide-reaching nuances of the original source, and I should have guessed by the trailer that the makers of this limp movie would have managed to strip everything out bar the basic plot, and refuse to replace it with anything that might go over the heads of the target teenage audience.

The novel is a meditation on the nature of immortality, of truth versus beauty, of the strength of morality and conscience when faced with the temptations of debauchery, but the film chooses to dispense with these to promote the message, "Wouldn't it be fun if you could do what you want?" Responsibility and principles are jettisoned for a selfish gratification of the ego. It's hardly unsurprising in our youth-obsessed times, when people inject botulism into themselves in an attempt to stave off the ageing process, that the film places heavy emphasis on the value and virtue of youth. It ties in nicely with that other cinematic debacle, Twilight, in which vampires stay forever young and beautiful.

It's simply a bad, bad film. The costumes seem somewhat wrong, and I cannot quite understand why the stylist decided to give Sibyl long red hair, when such an appearance in Victorian art would denote the woman as a prostitute, or 'fallen woman'. Victorian art was extremely preoccupied with the idea of the 'angel of the hearth', of the quiet, obedient wife who would run the household for her husband without complaint. Naturally this image appealed to the highly repressed Victorian consciousness, yet man was still drawn to her sinful sister, the harlot. This scarlet-haired temptress allowed men to be experienced before marriage, and represented those who had fallen from grace and would usually end up falling off a bridge into the murky waters of the Thames. Indeed, this is the same fate that befalls Sibyl, despite the fact that she is intended to be a shining beacon of virtue and innocence in Dorian's increasingly dark world.

Part of me wonders that Sibyl's hair is inspired by the fact that when Dorian first sees her, she is playing Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet, although her appearance owes more to Ophelia in John Everett Millais' painting of the same name. Ophelia drowns herself, and Shakespeare hints that she does so as she is pregnant, and it's an eerie echo of the situation in which young Sibyl finds herself. I can understand the inclusion on the part of Mr Wilde, as he was clearly a genius, but I can't help feeling that any similarities featured by the filmmakers are completely accidental.

It is almost upsetting how easily the filmmakers tore the witty heart out of the novel, to replace it with a glossy absence of substance. Dorian's supposed debauchery seems tame compared to the goings on of most soap characters, and when we finally see the painting of Dorian in the final act, it looks more like Vigo from Ghostbusters II than a damning indictment of the havoc wrought upon a misguided man's soul. Where the book revealed the price to be paid for man's folly, the movie turns Dorian into a reckless pretty boy seemingly devoid of personality or charisma. Maybe if the filmmakers had taken a leaf from the diabolically bad League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and cast Stuart Townsend as Dorian (the only good thing about LOEG), then the film might have been saved. Otherwise, it's just a poor adaptation of an amazing book.

Buy the novel; ignore the movie.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Bye bye, short challenges...

I've been part of the EditRed writing community online for quite a long time now, having been introduced to it by a friend. I haven't been particularly active of late, having been partially deserted by my Muse, but I got a message from one of the top users, inviting me to take part in the final wee challenges. These challenges were flash fiction contests, restricting writers to a word count and given title, or first line. I used to really enjoy doing them as they always provided a nice little creative prompt, a nudge towards writing something when work on the larger stories appeared to have stalled.

I'll be sad to see them finish, but I thought I'd have a bash at the penultimate challenge. Given the title of 'One Last Dollar' and a maximum word limit of 150 words, this is what I produced. Enjoy.

Saturday 12 September 2009

The Final Destination

So I'm back from the cinema again. A friend and I originally intended to see Dorian Gray (despite the fact that The Picture of Dorian Gray is my favourite book and it shall no doubt have been utterly butchered in its translation to the big screen) but it wasn't on at either of the Cineworlds in the West End so we went to see Final Destination 3D instead.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the franchise, each film essentially begins with a big disaster sequence, which is in fact a premonition had by one of the characters. Their subsequent freak out leads several people who should have expired in said disaster to avoid their impending doom, although Death then stalks throughout the rest of the plot, offing them in the order they should have died in increasingly implausible and ridiculous ways. Its fundamental message is that you just can't cheat Death...though one would wonder why on earth one of them would have the premonition, and then the subsequent visions which hold clues to how each of the survivors will die, if they were just going to die anyway. Does the Grim Reaper get a bit bored with his/her endlessly mundane task, and seek ways to spice things up a bit? I'm surprised - humans can usually think of enough inventive and creative ways to kill each other, without Death having to step in and start squashing people with plate glass or garotting them with a shower cord.

Anyway. The film wasn't entirely bad, even if it was entirely formulaic, but it did feel a tad too much like an extended health & safety video. The moral of the story is...always store your tools safely, don't leave containers of flammable liquid open and near anything which could cause them to topple, look both ways before you cross the street, and basically watch what you're doing. There. Now you don't need to see it, and I've probably ruined business for all of those godawful companies that get you compensation when you've done something idiotic at work.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Becoming A Writer

I finally finished reading Dorothea Brande's seminal text on creative writing last night. Becoming A Writer was first published in the 1930s, yet the wisdom contained within is still just as relevant today. Most writing texts concern themselves with the mechanics of writing - grammar, character, dialogue, setting etc. While these elements are clearly important, being able to implement them can only occur in the first place if you've managed to establish a set routine, and flicked that switch in your brain that allows you to write whenever, wherever. Essentially, this book is intended to help flick that switch. Brande is more concerned with the personality problems of the fledgling writer than the technical errors and it is these which she seeks to help the writer to overcome.

The language is a little old-fashioned and her insistence that the author is always referred to as 'he' is a tad annoying but considering the age of the text, it's still an immensely readable, useful book that prompts the writer into doing exactly what they do best - write.

Wednesday 26 August 2009


I have never been a big fan of spiders. I wouldn't say that I was ever arachnophobic, especially since I can quite happily catch an errant eight-legged visitor to my flat using a glass and a coaster, before depositing them safely outside, but I just don't really like them. So it was with a mixture of dismay and fascination that I met a Chilean Rose spider at an animal handling session at Wingham Wildlife Park in Kent on Monday. The handler started us off with a pair of cute baby lemurs, before progressing to a young raccoon, then a baby alligator, and finally a royal python, before bringing out the finale.

At first, I decided not to handle her (she's called Rosie). However, I remembered that I have a reputation as being fearless to defend, and so thrust my phone at my mother with the instructions to take a photo, before sticking out my hands. I can honestly say it was bizarre, but not a bad experience. She was so light that I could barely feel her sitting on my palm, and the fact that she was furry simply let me look at her as a fuzzy creature instead of a spider.

I don't think I'll ever actually like spiders but now I think I'm a lot less worried by them.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Inspirational Flashes

A single shoe sits in the gutter, sheltering beneath the bumper of a battered VW Polo. The cracked red leather is spotted with splashes of dried mud. A dead spider floats on the stagnant water that pools in the shoe.

Whose shoe is it? Why is it in the gutter? How long has it been there? What happened to the owner, or even the spider?

It's moments like these that remind me why I write.

Friday 7 August 2009

In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream

Twitter went down for a while yesterday. Apparently, it suffered a "denial-of-service attack". Essentially, too many people were directed to the site at the same time, which stopped those actually wanting to use the site from logging on. I can honestly say that as much as I enjoy using Twitter to pass the time, the very fact that it was offline for a few hours didn't bother me in the slightest. I wish that I had so little on my mind that I could be devastated at the loss of a social networking site. There is even a trending topic on Twitter today, #whentwitterwasdown. I couldn't resist adding my own thoughts - "I simply got on with my life. I just didn't tell anyone about it."

Reading the answers of others, they range from people being unaware that Twitter was down, to people assuming they must have a problem with their Internet, to people simply not caring, to people feeling isolated or lonely that they could no longer connect through the Internet. I can relate to the first and third groups, as there is plenty that can be done that doesn't involve Twitter. Work, for example. One user tweeted that she hadn't realised Twitter was down because she was spending time with friends in the real world. Another tweeted that she spent the time catching up on reading blogs. Someone else started combing Amazon for bargains.

As for the second group, I find it slightly worrying that users place so much faith in the power of a social networking site that they believe that the Internet itself must be having problems, rather than accepting an individual site may be plagued by technical gremlins. It reminds me of the time Google went down, and people began predicting that Google being offline would be the death of the net.

As for the fourth group...I truly hope that those who tweeted about suffering withdrawal symptoms are being sarcastic or facetious. I find it slightly worrying that people have become so addicted to being able to constantly tell people every little thing that pops into their heads. It's like digital Tourettes. Twitettes, perhaps? So you couldn't publicise the minutiae of your life for a couple of hours...big deal! What did you do before Twitter came along? You probably picked up the phone and talked to someone that you actually know, out there in the real world. Yes, I know the world is big, and scary, and often a harsh environment, but it's real. It's concrete. It actually exists. You can have proper relationships with people, and actually enjoy the company of a real human being.

I know some people use Twitter as part of their work and naturally, its absence must have been frustrating, but no more than if you'd had a power cut and couldn't get online in the first place. Technology will always have its ups and downs and you have to learn to roll with the punches. Use the time you'd normally spend on Twitter doing something else. Maybe you'll find a more productive way to do something. Learn to see the world slightly differently, instead of through Twitter-shaped spectacles.

In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream. Unless, of course, you feel compelled to tweet the fact that you're screaming, in which case it's akin to running into a room filled with people and shouting "I am screaming!" before running back out again.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Public Enemies

So I went to see Public Enemies last night. I had high hopes; after all, I've yet to see a Johnny Depp film I didn't enjoy (in my universe, the two Pirates sequels don't exist). Oh, Hollywood, how you continue to let me down. Was it not enough that you buried the Indiana Jones franchise last year? You didn't twist the knife with all the "hilarious" family sequences in Transformers 2?

Kudos to them for the casting of Depp as bank robber John Dillinger. I don't know much about the man in real life, but Depp portrayed him as a charming Robin Hood type, robbing banks but never their customers, ever mindful of his adoring public. Unlike his somewhat violent and thuggish associates, Dillinger would prefer to use the fear engendered by his various machine guns and pistols, as opposed to the bullets they fire.

But exactly what was Michael Mann thinking in casting Christian "I haven't opened my mouth properly to speak since 1999" Bale as Melvin Purvis? I used to simply adore Bale back in his American Psycho days, but since then, he's lost some of his sheen. The fact he seems to play the same character over and over doesn't help, and in this case, it feels like he's reprising his 3:10 to Yuma role, in which he was out-classed and out-acted by Russell Crowe (there's a sentence I never thought I'd find myself typing). In that film, he played the reluctant lawman escorting Crowe to prison, while in this film, he plays a reluctant agent in the fledgling FBI attempting to get Dillinger into prison. In both cases, his co-stars outshone him in every way, portraying their criminal characters as lovable rogues. Bale, on the other hand, portrays his with all the charisma of a mouldy Stilton.

My other two problems were the clunky narrative (please, leave the 'skipping about with little exposition to explain what's going on' to Quentin Tarantino) and the constant shaky cam. It does not make a film feel more realistic - if I were running in real life, my brain would automatically compensate for the fact that the world around me would appear to be jumping about. In a film, this doesn't happen, so instead it simply looks like you dropped a film camera into the monkey enclosure at London Zoo and asked them to tape something.

And it's so long. My right knee actually seized solid with the herculean effort of sitting still for all that time. I mightn't have minded if I'd enjoyed it, but all I could think was "Nice to see Depp taking on a proper role, instead of his 'Woohoo, look at me, I'm CRAZY!' casting of late, but pity about everyone else"...

Tuesday 14 July 2009

One Word

A couple of months ago, Demi Moore posted a link to a website called One Word. As the title would suggest, you're given one word and sixty seconds to write something. The aim, much like the very good Write Or Die, is to simply get you writing without much thought about what it is that you're writing. After all, that blank page is often the killer for creativity - that blank page can seem like a mountain too high to climb, and the words simply refuse to come.

So today's word was "lazy". Below is my sixty second splurge on the word.

Lazy. Not doing anything. Not able to do anything, not willing? No motivation or just no desire? Or is laziness true happiness? The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide? The ability to put aside the stuff we think we need to do in order to do the things we actually want to do? Is it a shirking of responsibility, or taking control of our own destinies?

Monday 13 July 2009

Flash Fiction #2 and #3

More flashes written in response to challenges on the EditRed website.

The Oldest Trick
Emascula the Great waved the wand above his assistant. The audience gasped and cooed with delight as she pulled the swords from her body, tossing them to the floor with a clatter. She posed, apparently unscathed. Emascula smiled cheerfully, but sighed inwardly. These cretins were so easily fooled. Parting them from their money was the oldest trick in the book.

Dragon's Teeth
"How long did you say it would be until the harvest?"
"If the weather holds out, these will be ready for you in two weeks".
"Just two weeks? My, that is impressive. That should give us plenty of time to get them armed before the King's last stand. Though I forget, what is it that you've been sowing?"
"Dragon's teeth".

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Flash Fiction #1

This was written in response to a writing challenge on EditRed a couple of years ago, but I wanted to repost it here. It's called "The Joker".

The darkened room holds the game in its silent clutches. Flames crackle and dance like frenzied showgirls in the fireplace. The table creaks in time to the sighs of the players. Concentration hardens the faces that loom from the shadows, solemn and focused. A flicker of light caresses the edge of a silver blade. It splits the darkness, and meets its target. Cards are thrown into the air. A heavy chair falls back, spilling the player onto the cold stone floor. The cards scatter harmlessly across the heavily pocked surface of the table. Only one lands face up.

The joker.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Topical - Michael Jackson

When I started this blog, my intention was to stick to the topic of writing. The process, the product - whichever. I had wanted to keep politics or current events out of it, which is why I never intended to write a post about Michael Jackson. However, as the world and his wife seems to be chipping in their two cents, I thought I might as well follow suit.

Now, before I begin, let me state that I am sad that he's gone. I wasn't that bothered initially but after re-watching some of his old videos lately, I do feel how much of a shame it all is. He made some truly impressive music and he was a real trendsetter in his time. Despite this, I have not wept or wailed as I never met him and never felt that he made an impact on my life, beyond my liking the music he made.

However, I can't decide if I'm more disgusted or disheartened by the number of sick jokes doing the rounds. Jokes about celebrities are all well and good but I really don't like to hear them when someone has passed on - it smacks of cowardice, since the deceased can hardly defend themselves. And in a way, this is why I wish that the media in general would just let the poor guy rest. He already made a song asking people to leave him alone - why is this so difficult for anyone to do? Can't people stop raking over his life, or his final days, looking for stories they can sensationalise in order to shift magazines or newspapers?

I had a rant on Facebook about this the day I heard the news. Out of laziness, I'm going to use some of it again here. All the histrionics displayed by his so-called "fans" annoyed me somewhat. His passing is very sad, yes, but it was NOT the day that "the music died", as proclaimed by a hysterical American on the news. Music is a universal thing, it won't 'die' just because someone who made it their profession died. You wouldn't say that literature died when Roald Dahl did, for Christ's sake! Acting didn't die with the demise of Laurence Olivier!

My biggest gripe is not that people are upset, but rather I want to know where were all of these distraught "fans" when he actually needed the support a few years ago? Hiding in the woodwork, that's where! No one wanted to stick up for him with all of those allegations flying around, no one wanted to associate with someone who had all that hanging over them, but now he's gone, everyone wants to be seen to be 'grieving'. No one wanted to hear his music when he released his last album, but look at his record sales now. One word for that - pathetic. For Christ's sake, pull yourselves together! If you never actually met him, or had any personal connection with him, then it's hardly a personal tragedy. It is sad, and it is a shame because he was incredibly talented, but these things happen. Be sad he's gone, but be glad he left such an awesome back catalogue of work.

If these people were truly fans, and truly wanted to do something useful, then instead of keeping their O2 tickets as a "souvenir" of something that never happened, why don't they get the promised refunds and donate the money to a cause close to Michael's heart? Maybe the allegations about him were true, maybe they weren't, it isn't my place to say, but at least the guy wanted to see change happen.

I'm ignoring the newspapers, and I'm ignoring the reports about his final days. I've seen the footage of his rehearsals and that's how I'm choosing to remember him - as a supremely talented entertainer who just happened to have a sad life. I suggest you do the same.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

What is a good short story?

I found a post on Emma Newman's blog on what makes a good short story. As short stories have so far been my weapon of choice, I thought I'd give the matter some consideration. After all, I've read far more than I've ever written, and in some ways, I prefer the short story to the novel for its brevity. Short stories are far more difficult to sabotage - a good idea in a novel is all to easy to hijack and turn into a ridiculous flight of fancy (ever read Dreamcatcher?), but with a short story, you feel compelled to do the idea justice as you're with it for such a short period of time.

I've read some brilliant stories. I think my favourite short story ever written is Chivalry by Neil Gaiman - it's delightful in every possible way. It's also the first thing I ever read by him. It's short, it's to the point, and yet he manages to capture a little snapshot of an idea, complete with characterisation and a sense of place.

Yet ultimately, I like stories that grab the attention with a wonderful first line, stories that transport you to another person's reality or imagination for a short time, and stories that take me away from the mundane constraints of everyday life. A good short story, for me, should be like a little holiday.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Tradition vs Technology

I just read a very interesting post on Zoë Westhof's Essential Prose blog about the benefits of uni-tasking, but it's gotten me thinking in a slightly different direction.

I'm always fascinated by what processes other writers follow to actually get the words out of their head and onto paper/screen. Some writers write longhand on those yellow legal pads that you see in American films but never in the UK, others keep fancy journals from places like Paperchase specifically for the creative act, and others just boot up their laptop and dive into Word. I must admit, I'm usually the latter - typing makes writing feel easier. Don't like that passage where it is? Cut and paste it somewhere else. Not sure how long your piece is? Check the word count. Want to change your formatting? Easy, just a couple of clicks.

Though it's not that easy. Computers are wonderful inventions (when they work) but because of the way they perform multiple functions, it's all too easy to become distracted. You can "quickly check your emails", pop onto Facebook or waste time Twittering about seemingly insignificant stuff. All that time you waste doing unnecessary things is time you could have spent writing - and you just know that you'll tell people you simply don't have time to write these days. You do, you're just spending it on frivolity.

So every now and then, I will sit down with a pen and paper and write longhand. I've got a rather funky A5 spiralbound notebook with a manga design on the cover that I keep for just such an occasion, and the pages are covered with electric blue scrawl (and the occasional doodle). I find the quality of what I write is usually dubious at best, downright awful at worst, but at least I’ve produced something concrete, something I can physically hold in my hands, and which I can edit on the computer at a later date. Pen and paper provides a limitation that forces you to do what it is that you sat down to do in the first place.

Of course, the other, more mundane, advantage to pen and paper is that its not subject to random crashes, power failures, incompatible software or Windows tantrums…

Tuesday 9 June 2009


So I've decided to write a weekly serial. Now I have the problem of deciding what to choose. Do I start from scratch, use an existing work, or adapt one of the novels-in-progress that I'm currently working on? So many questions...

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Ways Forward

I'm trying to come up with some new ideas, specifically related to building a fanbase of my writing. My links (both on the website, and down the side of this blog) take you to my published writing, but they're only any good for anything that's been accepted. Don't get me wrong, I'm hugely proud of the things I've had published, but it would be nice to have an ongoing project.

I know of a lot of comic artists who do very good work by publishing their comics online, either daily or weekly, and I was wondering if there was a way of doing something similar within a creative writing context. Perhaps a weekly flash fiction, either based upon random concepts or a set theme? A serial of some description? I'd welcome any suggestions.

I'd also welcome comments on which platform to use - do I update my website itself, or use a blog? If I choose the latter, do I continue to use Blogger, or do I give Wordpress a go?

So many questions...

Monday 1 June 2009

Another story is live!

I have a new story online! It's in the third issue of Silver Blade. It was originally written as a spring-themed entry for their first contest earlier in the year; it didn't win, but they still wanted to publish it.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Go read, now!

I don't normally like to "big up" other things, unless I'm reviewing a book I've found particularly helpful, or a web magazine that I think others might like, but I did stumble across a new blog that I wanted to tell people about.

To start with, I subscribe to Chris Guillebeau's blog, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to make a living in a way that suits them (particularly artists). After all, it's the dream of most creative people to make a living doing what they enjoy, or what they're good at, and in an age where a lot of people seem to work in offices doing jobs that seem not to matter a great deal, it's a good way to approach things. Anyway, through Chris' blog, I came across Zoë Westhof's blog. I've been reading back through her old posts, and I'm particularly interested in planning my own "creative mini retreat", since one of the biggest bugbears when it comes to writing is fitting it in. If you're interested in writing yourself, take a look.

On a slightly sillier note, I've now added a Twitter feed to my website. You're so lucky, you get to read all the drivel I come out with during an average day...

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Recommended Reading

There are a lot of creative writing manuals available, most of which teach the technicalities of grammar, style or theme. Occasionally these are accompanied by short stories to illustrate the points raised, and almost all of them include exercises designed to get the creative juices going. However, few succeed as well as Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse. Full of photographs to kickstart the imagination, as well as inspirational anecdotes, story ideas or 'fill in the blank' exercises, it's possible to follow them chronologically, as part of a homespun writing course, or you can dip in and out, opening the book at random and using the suggestion or photo as a starting point for that day's work. I think all writers, both experienced and otherwise, should own this book.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Accepted again!

I had another story accepted and didn't even realise! You may remember my earlier entry in which I praised the Postcard Shorts website. Well, I submitted a story, and promptly forgot about it. They didn't reply, so I assumed my story hadn't been selected. Lo and behold, I was browsing through the posted stories today, and I found mine! So you can read Picasso by clicking here. It's less than 200 words long, so you have no excuse.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Catching the muse

Writing. It's a funny old game, isn't it? You want to write, you really do, but you find yourself making all sorts of daft excuses not to. For example, I've recently taken up knitting and I find myself wanting to relax in front of the TV, needles clacking away as my current project slowly grows, and it's only when it's too late to begin anything else that I lament not having spent the evening writing.

I'm currently reading Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction, and as with most creative writing manuals, it comes complete with writing exercises at the end of each chapter. I'm making a note of these, and mulling them over, but do I actually do any of them? Do I heck. I wrote loads of material when I did a creative writing night class, and I usually write my fingers off whenever a magazine or website has a closing date for a reading period. But without a teacher/editor to give me feedback, or a deadline to which I have to work, I often find it difficult to muster up the impetus to get the thoughts down on paper/screen.

So I've come up with a solution, in conjunction with a friend. He'd like to get back into writing himself, so I'm going to set us writing tasks based on those given in this particular book. We'll each have until Monday to complete them, by which point we swap work, and then have until Wednesday to read them, and come up with comments. Then the whole cycle will begin again. Hopefully, having someone to provide feedback, and having a deadline, will kick me back into writing again...

Watch this space.

Thursday 30 April 2009

Submissions welcome

I just came across a delightful little flash fiction website which requires stories of 250 words or less - the ethos springs from the concept of what kind of stories could you fit on the back of a postcard. It's an interesting idea, and I think that Postcard Shorts have hit upon something workable. After all, with the rise of the Internet and the ability to send email as long as you have a computer and a connection, postcards seem to have become somewhat passe...which is such a shame, since I find that there's nothing nicer than receiving a postcard, to see another corner of the world, and to have a snapshot of somewhere I've never been landing on my doormat. Logging on to view someone's photos on Flickr isn't quite the same.

Friday 27 March 2009

Tenth story online!

I've hit a mini milestone in that my tenth short story has now been published online - you can read it here. I'm particularly proud of this one, not least because it's the third story I actually sold. So that's five published in 2009 alone...onwards and upwards!

Thursday 26 March 2009

On A Novel

God, where is this year going?! It seems like New Year's Day was only yesterday. Oh well. Plenty more of experience means plenty more ideas. I'm trying to read as much as I physically can right now, meaning I've got George R. R. Martin's A Sword of Storms, Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life, Max Barry's Jennifer Government and various issues of BPRD and Hellboy on the go at the moment.

Checkmate should be appearing soon - I feel like I should do something to celebrate my tenth publication, but I think I might save that for the twentieth. In the meantime...I just need to write more work so I have more to submit! I have gone back to the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo's 2008 campaign, so I'm editing and polishing with gay abandon. Time throws an unflattering glare across the work; the flaws are blindingly obvious, but thankfully that just makes them easier to correct. I keep finding bits I like about it, so with any luck I'll soon have a redraft I'm happy with. And then I'll redraft it again.

It's funny, I first "met" the character in 2007. I was on holiday in the Trossachs (Scotland), when my family and I decided to have a day trip to Glamis Castle. I'd heard about all the weird stories about the place and wanted to check it out myself. As the journey's navigator, I was poring over the map, when I noticed a tiny village named Fowlis Westenby. The name caught my attention, and a cavaliar named Fowlis Westerby strolled into my head to say hello. I originally wrote a short flash piece about him at the time, but he kept coming back to nag me to tell more. It took me until last November to give in to his demands. Hopefully he'll be happy with the finished novel...or he may nag me even more...