Friday 4 October 2013

#FridayFlash - Keeping Watch

The knot of tourists huddled on the pavement, the late November rains lashing their battered umbrellas as they clustered alongside the wall. An overgrown tangle of bushes and grass lay on the other side of the wall, and a house stood beyond the wilderness. The tourists stared at the large bay window on the upper floor, a window that gazed out at the seafront promenade.

"Just another couple of minutes, then it'll be 3pm. She'll appear like she always does. Like clockwork, she is." The gruff old man in the threadbare flat cap jabbed his cane at the window.

“I’ve seen her afore. Tall, she is, in a black dress, buttoned right up to ‘ere,” said a man near the back of the group. He motioned to the top of his neck with his hand. “Black bonnet, too.”

The tourists stared at the man, fitting the description into their mental image. They all knew the story of the Woman in the Window. Legend had it that the house belonged to a couple named Ledersmark, and when the husband was at sea, the wife would wait for an hour at the window every day for sight of his vessel. On 15th November 1893, she arrived at the window at her customary hour and watched the returning vessel break up on the rocks in the bay. She died of a broken heart the same day. Every year, on the anniversary of Mrs Ledersmark’s death, she appeared at the window, as if still awaiting the return of her husband.

Somewhere in the town, a church bell chimed 3pm. The tourists huddled closer, staring at the window, waiting for Mrs Ledersmark to appear. By custom, she should fade into view, as though someone were retuning the picture on an old television set.

The window remained empty. The tourists stood for ten minutes, craning their necks, and clutching their sodden guidebooks to their chests as they fought for a glimpse of the Woman in the Window. Emily stood at the back of the group, her patience running out as the seconds ticked by.

“What are you waiting for?” A soft voice sounded behind her.

Emily turned around. A tall woman in a black bonnet stood behind her. Her great dark eyes reflected all of the sadness of the world back to Emily.


The rest of the group turned to see who was speaking, annoyance etched on several faces that someone might be talking during such an important event. Jaws dropped to see the identity of the speaker.

“We were waitin’ for ye, lass,” said the man in the flat cap.

“But as you see, I myself shall wait no more.”

The group watched as Mrs Ledersmark walked away from the group. She drifted along the broad promenade toward the harbour, oblivious to the rain soaking into the pavement.

Emily wasn’t sure, but she thought saw a male figure waiting in the drizzle.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

[Film Review] Insidious Chapter 2

I'll be upfront with you, I genuinely had no idea how James Wan intended to continue his 2011 film, Insidious. With the seeming possession of the main protagonist, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), the death of the psychic hired to help his son, and the house in confusion following an astral travelling jaunt into the Further (a spiritual realm, akin to Limbo, that exists alongside our physical reality), I really didn't see how he could make a sequel. Reviews have certainly been mixed and the reception mostly lukewarm, but for my own part, I rather enjoyed it.

In the first film, Josh's son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) went astral travelling (apparently such a talent runs in families) but strayed too far from his body. Imprisoned by a demon that looked more like Darth Maul, Dalton couldn't get back in order to wake up, and he spent most of the film in a medically inexplicable coma. Hence the decision by Josh and wife Renai (Rose Byrne) to turn to Elise (Lin Shaye), a psychic who thought she could help by sending Josh (also capable of astral travel) into the Further after Dalton. Trouble is, Josh was haunted by a mysterious old woman, intent on possessing Josh's body, and it isn't Josh that comes back.

Fast forward to Chapter 2 and the Lamberts are now staying with Josh's mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Strange happenings are still going on, like the piano playing by itself in an empty room, or baby Kali's babywalker switching itself on. Lorraine begins to see a mysterious woman in white wandering through the house, a woman who physically attacks Renai when she's home alone. Indeed, these scenes of ghostliness are some of the best in the film, using taut suspense to unsettle the home. All is not at all well.

Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), the amusing ghost hunting nerds from the first film, are devastated at Elise's death, but accidentally discover footage shot in 1986 of Elise's first meeting with a teenaged Josh, during which he was made to forget his astral travel abilities to keep the old woman at bay. Along with Carl (Steve Coulter), a psychic present at the 1986 meeting, Specs, Tucker and Lorraine begin contacting Elise, and investigating exactly who this shadowy figure is.

The film is not without its flaws. There is a lot of explaining - no character can do or say anything without feeling the need to expound at length about the why and the what of almost everything. Wan, believe me, the audience gets it. The motivation of the old woman is to regain why target Josh when he's an adult? Josh's gift is originally described as unique but given Dalton's ability, that's clearly not the case. Surely it stands to reason that others can do the same thing, and the old woman would be better off looking for someone else to persecute. There's also a time travel paradox, since apparently time does not function in the Further, meaning the present day Josh, trapped in the Further, can now influence the hauntings from the first film, and also the seance in 1986. Of course, time travel paradoxes only exist if you accept the premise that time is linear, and given the spectral construction of the Further it's entirely possible that time would not behave in a linear fashion, but I don't want to get into existential discussions here. The motivation of the woman in white is also unsatisfactory, and I felt the final denouement was just too 'neat', as if Wan realised he needed to keep running time down and simply tacked on an ending.

That said, there's much to admire. The set design of the Lambert house is far creepier than either of the houses in the first film, being more of a Victorian homage to claustrophobia. The character of Dalton is a revelation, given far more to do than in the first film, and he proves to be a resourceful, brave and intelligent character. Renai even surprises with sudden bursts of courage, despite her propensity to run around screaming, and Specs and Tucker balance the suspense with their 'bromance' bickering. Patrick Wilson is truly astonishing in his dual role as Possessed Josh and Trapped in the Further Josh. Possessed Josh is creepy and genuinely unsettling, and I hadn't thought Wilson capable of such dexterity. While I'd like to sit James Wan down and have a solid discussion about use of narrative in a Gothic horror film, I do think there is a lot to admire in his direction, and Insidious 2 veers closer to his recent success, The Conjuring, than the original film.

I wouldn't recommend Insidious 2 for anyone who hasn't seen the original film, but those who enjoyed the first film, and the eerie world it created, then I'd highly recommend Chapter 2.

Four blunt pencils!

Monday 30 September 2013

#BookReview - Traitors

I can't believe it's a year since I wrote a review of Carrie Clevenger's Crooked Fang, but here I am again with my review of the novella-length follow-up, Traitors.

Again narrated by sexy vampire bassist Xan Marcelles, Traitors picks up shortly after Crooked Fang. Xan is without a band, and bored in Pinecliffe, Colorado. The presence of Nin, a different breed of vampire, seems to give him something to muse about, but she's not especially trustworthy.

A late night phone call from his shadowy kinsman, M, brings Xan's past right into his present, and he's forced to pick up the threads of his previous work as a hitman of sorts, cleaning up the messes left by others. In essence, he's pretty much The Wolf from Pulp Fiction, just more prone to violence and happy to shoot on sight. Nin invites herself along, and the pair head off to Traitors, by turns both bar and vampire nest in Texas.

The thing I've always liked about Xan is, surprisingly, his humanity. He makes mistakes, and admits to them, and his fondness for humans makes him a likeable protagonist. He does stupid things, but when it comes down to it, he gets the job done, each time hoping that this time, he'll get left alone. Normally I don't like vampires due to their attitude problem but Xan's desire for peace and quiet makes him a lovable rogue. In Traitors, his time among humans has blunted his edge when required to fight, which makes Nin a useful addition to his life, and stops Xan from being one of those dull 'perfect' invincible heroes (*cough* Superman *cough*). He actually gets hurt, but he just keeps on swinging.

This being Xan, his soft spot for the ladies means there's obvious chemistry between Xan and Nin, and while I have to admit I found it really difficult to warm to Nin, she's not one of those princess type characters who needs to be rescued by the big strong men. Nin's more than capable of kicking butt on her own terms, and for that alone I suppose I have to salute her.

Traitors might only be a short work, but it's packed with action, and sets us up nicely for whatever the next instalment might be. Highly recommended, with five blunt pencils!

You can buy Traitors for your Kindle here or from Smashwords, here.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Handknitted Notebook Cover

I've talked a bit about the new Twitter community I've found, #craftblogclub, which meets on Tuesday evening between 7 and 8pm UK time. Our fabulous founder, Emma Berry, set us all a creative challenge for September - I finished this last week but it's taken me until now to post! Our challenge was to create a notebook cover using whichever craft we liked. As much as a sewn cover might have been quicker, sewing has never been (and I suspect will never be) my forte, so I decided to knit one. I even went so far as to concoct a pattern myself.

This is the first time I've written a pattern, so I hope it makes sense. If you want to adapt it, bear in mind the central chevron pattern is worked in blocks of twelve stitches and sixteen rows, but you can always add more stocking stitch rows for the flaps, or more for the spine, if your notebook is bigger than mine. You'll also need to take yarn into account - I've used 100% acrylic DK as I had some lying around - I didn't have enough so part of the back flap is knitted in a different colour, but a 100g will easily be enough. My notebook measures 21cm by 16cm and is 1cm thick.

Using 4mm needles, cast on 48 stitches using your preferred method.
Row 1 - Knit.
Row 2 - Purl.
Repeat these rows another eighteen times so you have 20 rows of stocking stitch.

Now begin the pattern for the front cover. There is a moss stitch edging so on each right side row, add (k1, p1, k1, p1, k1) to either end of the chevron pattern. On each wrong side row, add (p1, k1, p1, k1, p1).
Row 21 - Moss stitch band, (yfwd, skpo, k10)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 22 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 23 - Moss stitch band, (K1, yfwd, skpo, k7, k2tog, yfwd)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 24 - Row 22 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 25 - Moss stitch band, (K2, yfwd, skpo, k5, k2tog, yfwd, k1)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 26 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 27 - Moss stitch band, (K3, yfwd, skpo, k3, k2tog, yfwd, k2)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 28 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 29 - Moss stitch band, (K6, yfwd, skpo, k4)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 30 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 31 - Moss stitch band, (K3, k2tog, yfwd, k3, yfwd, skpo, k2)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 32 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 33 - Moss stitch band, (K4, k2tog, yfwd, k1, yfwd, skpo, k3)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 34 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.
Row 35 - Moss stitch band, (K2, k2tog, yfwd, k5, yfwd, skpo, k1)x3, moss stitch band.
Row 36 - Moss stitch band, p36, moss stitch band.

Repeat this block three times - the pattern block should be 48 rows. That finishes the pattern for the main cover. Knit ten rows of stocking stitch, continuing the moss stitch pattern at either edge.

Repeat the above pattern block of 48 rows, continuing the moss stitch edge, for the back cover. Knit twenty more rows of stocking stitch for the inside back flap, and cast off. With right sides facing, sew the edge of the flap to the cover at either side for the back, and repeat for the front. Turn the right side out and slip onto your notebook!