Saturday 26 June 2010

Getting Soaked at Alnwick Gardens

Wake up, make sarnies, grab crisps, pop, kids and go...

It was fantastic weather up at Alnwick Gardens today. This time, we had the forethought to take a change of clothes for the kids and a towel. This is because there is a fabulous water feature there. It's a huge column that gradually fills with water. When the water reaches the top, a valve opens and water jets shoot up around it.

So yeah, the kids were okay - they had a change of clothes. But Matthew got so excited that we couldn't leave him out - and that meant someone would have to stand in there with him. Me.

But Matthew loved it, so I didn't mind walking around for the next three hours with a damp arse. The gardens are so fantastic that it wouldn't have mattered anyway. I must have been taken with it because I've agree to go to a garden centre tomorrow. Fancy doing something creative. Maybe a bamboo maze like this...

Maybe I'll just buy a pot-plant.

Colin Mulhern

Friday 28 May 2010

Review: The Knife That Killed Me

The Knife That Killed Meby Anthony McGowan

It was clear in Chapter Two where this novel was going, but I think that was intentional. It’s a bit like a crime novel where you’re presented with a corpse, so you know someone was murdered, but you climb aboard to find out why; you know the outcome, but you want to know the how and why. This is like that. You buy into the ride.
And it’s a pretty damn good ride.

Unfortunately, like the best rides, it’s over just a little too quick, but it leaves you wanting more. There is an incredibly fresh feeling to the writing that makes the voice of Paul come across as genuine, and a similar underbelly of black humour to Henry Tumour.

The other characters are great and Anthony McGowan has pushed the boundaries in order to make his baddy, Roth, something more than a cardboard bully. How he does this... well, that’s for the reader to find out. It certainly made me sit up and think, ‘Oh, he’s never going to go that far!’ Brilliant.

As for Shane – the mysterious, cool, confident leader of the nerdy goth/freaks (his words, not mine!). I felt a bit short changed. I wanted to read more, especially when hit with a scene of Shane self harming. That was enough to crack the too-good-to-be-true image that Paul had built up, giving him a shadow that I really wanted to explore. But, maybe a sprinkling of pepper is better than a coat.

Overall, good, strong teen fiction. A little too short, but still worth 5 stars.

Colin Mulhern

Thursday 18 March 2010

Review: Under The Dome

Under The DomeBy Stephen King

Three hundred and thirty six thousand words.

That really needs it's own paragraph. This is one monster of a book, and a great story. I've been up, night after night, until the hours are late and my eyes are dry, glued to every page.

In brief, this is the story of a small town cut off from the outside world by an inpenetratable force field they come to call The Dome. No one can get in to help; no one can get out to escape. For one man, that isn't such a bad thing. As he tries to take dictorial control over the town, the body count mounts.

There is something about this book that feels like it was written in the eighties alongside The Stand and IT. On the downside, the characters aren't as well drawn as the kids in IT, and the story isn't as impressive as The Stand. It also feels way too long. There are a lot of sections that could be trimmed or cut, and having finished it, the story that stays with me doesn't reflect the size of the book.

The other thing that got me was the mystery aspect: what the dome actually is and why it's there. It felt like Series One of Lost when they find the hatch. In fact, there's a reference to Lost in the book, so maybe King's a fan.

I'm not giving any spoilers away, but at first, when I discovered what the dome was, I was hit by disappointment. However, once I realised the point the author was getting at, it all made sense and gave for a very satisfying conclusion.

Overall, a great story. Was it too long? I don't know. Some sections felt like waffle, and it was good to reach the end, but it was also sad that it was over. I'd have happily continued reading for another 300 pages.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Bloody Mary

I was hit with a real sense of nostalgia today when a few of the boys in Year 5 (9-10 year olds) told me of their fab new game.

‘It’s called Bloody Mary,’ one boy said. ‘We do it in the toilets. You stand in front of the mirror, then turn three times and say “Bloody Mary,” for each turn. If you do it right, you see Bloody Mary in the mirror and get scratches right down your back.’

‘Have any of you done it?’

One replied, ‘Yeah! I did.’

‘Did it work?’

He checked his mates’ faces before answering. ‘Not yet.’

The reason for my nostalgia was twofold. When I was at school we had a game just like this. We told each other that if we said the Lord’s Prayer backwards, while looking in a mirror, we’d see the face of the devil. It was a kind of a rite of passage. Most of us of were too scared to do it. Those who did... well, we never knew whether to believe what they said they saw, but the plain fact that they had done it made them somehow different. Not just a little bit braver, but wiser. They’d gone through something and come out the other side. And it felt like they had the upper hand.

Twenty six years later, I wrote that all down. That seed of an idea, the idea that boys need to face their own fears to gain maturity, grew into my very first novel: CLASH.

So if people ever ask where ideas come from, in my case, it’s the daft things I did - or was too scared to do - as a kid.

Colin Mulhern

Thursday 29 October 2009

Pumpkin 2009

Finished! I could clean it up a little, but I wanted to get the candles in.

and here's it with the lights out...

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Pumpkin Head

I'm all fired up for Halloween (or Hallowe'en, if I'm really picky). However you spell it, it's a great time of year. I wish it was the big time horror fest that it is now when I was a kid. We never had pumpkins to carve; we used turnips, or suedes, if you're southern - we called them snadgies. They were cheap, but they were incredibly hard to carve. Pumplins are a doddle.

I'm busy playing with ideas for what to carve this year. This is last year's effort:

as modelled by Cameron. There were so many teeth, it was almost cut in two and started to sag after a few hours.

This year I fancy taking it to the next level. I had a practice this afternoon carving a photographic image of Matthew into a pumpkin.

The result is okay, considering it was rushed, but it's not as much fun as a scary face. So I think I'll keep to tradition and do a proper scary pumpkin, but I might go for 3D teeth or something.

Whatever I come up with, I'll post a pic. So come back soon.

Happy Halloween!!!!

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Child Snatchers and White Vans

Lock your doors. Shut your windows. Turn out the lights.

No matter what, don’t... DON’T... leave the house.

This was the advice of a Year 5 girl yesterday morning, backed up by a group of friends, because... (cue haunting music) There is a man driving a white van, with blacked out windows, who is abducting kids from the streets around our school!!!!

Not true, of course. It’s an Urban Legend: the kind of story that sounds real, usually because the teller says something like: ‘It happened to a friend of my mam!’ hence their other name, Friend-of-a-Friend stories. Usually, the more macabre, the better.

When I was a kid I knew loads of these stories, and took great pleasure in scaring the hell out of kids bigger than me. Once, on a school trip away, when we were all supposed to be tucked up in bed, I reduced the hardest kid in the school to tears with a series of ghost stories that I swore were true. (Years later, this inspired a scene in CLASH).

I think the reason Urban Legends work so well is that because they are word of mouth, they come across as a shared secret, and in being told as, ‘it’s true – this definitely, definitely happened, honest!’ they have a stronger affect our imagination and natural fear of the unknown. You’re left thinking that if it happened to the kid in the story, it could happen to you.

And Urban Legends don’t just freak kids out. I’ve heard many, many stories told to me by adults, convinced they are true; convinced they have happened to a friend of a sister at college, or an Aunty out shopping, including such classics as:

  • The escaped lunatic hiding in the car

  • The axe under the driver’s seat

  • The flat mate’s scarf

  • The babysitters and the killer upstairs.

The internet has created new versions: Michael Jackson’s ghost on YouTube is a big hit (in the eighties it was the ghost in Three Men and a Baby, and further back there is the ghost in The Wizard of Oz, later debunked when the DVD showed it to be nothing more than a bird stretching its wings!). The April Fool’s Day virus is an annual event, and 9/11 resulted in hundreds of urban legends of terror plots and government conspiracy.

Basically, if there’s something you can gossip about that makes someone else look first in disbelief and then horror, then you’re halfway there.

Of course, this didn’t help the year 5 girls with their fear of the white van. One girl was in tears at the prospect of going home that day. Telling her it was just a story wasn’t enough. Luckily, I found an Australian newspaper reporting the very same story back in May. I showed her the most important line in the report:

Two days later, police informed the media that the attempted abduction report was false, that the young girl had made it up.

‘See how stories spread? It’s taken 5 months for that story to get from Australia to here.’

She finally nodded and agreed not to spend any more time worrying.

But there is another side to that story; the real curse of the Urban Legend...

If there is someone in our local area, driving a with a white van with blacked out windows, the poor bloke is probably wondering why groups of kids are pointing and screaming whenever he drives past.

colin mulhern

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