Thursday, 19 July 2012

Advance Copy Arrives

This probably seems a strange thing to do, but for anyone who dreams of being published, this is one of those key moments when the dream becomes a reality.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury died last week, on the 5th June, age 91. The news knocked me because Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books I've picked up so many times, meaning to buy, but has always remained on my "to read" pile. So the news caused me to get it and finally read it.

Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman. But in this world, a fireman's job is to locate and burn books, which usually means burning the entire house - even the owner.

The language is a bit of a hurdle. It is so colourful and loaded with metaphors that, at times, it strangles the story, and I had to struggle to get back on track. But I persevered and the story opened up. It's not the best novel I've ever read, but it certainly made me think, and that is the reason for this post.

More than anything, Bradbury's view of the future made me think about Facebook and Twitter and the way they can soak up huge amounts of time. In the story, books have been outlawed, but only because society has naturally moved away from them, wanting more immediate entertainment and boiled down versions of stories. Most people have huge, wall sized TVs, some have all four walls converted, but the only programmes are endless feeds of chatter of family and friends - and none of it having any real substance. The result is that they have no time for independent thought. They don't think; they don't question. All they care about is that they are entertained and kept happy. They have no idea they are being controlled, don't realise how doped up they are, don't even realised that other nations hate this future America and there is a war going on right above their own heads.

But Montage begins to question. Montag wants to know why he has to burn books. He realises that there is something wrong about subduing an entire nation like this, turning everyone into mindless zombies.


But what are the Facebook and Twitter addicts? There are too many times I've got up on a morning to write, only to waste all of that time reading feeds of people I don't know talk about stuff I don't care about. I've even found myself responding, laughing and nodding when people post anti-Facebook/Twitter messages, or merging the names as a parody of what an utter waste of time it is... and yet the first thing I did this morning was check for notifications and any new posts.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Prometheus - short review, no spoilers

Back in 1979, Ridley Scott shocked the world with Alien, a film that burst science fiction out of its shell and splattered horror all over the sci-fi genre. The movie remains a classic, and although the sequels were box office successes, they never managed to capture the disturbing atmosphere of brooding horror that Ridley Scott gave us. And so, with Prometheus promising to be a prequel, and directed by Ridley Scott himself, it poses the question if he work the magic himself.

Short answer: yes he can.

I'm not going to give an outline of the story because I went into the cinema knowing this was a prequel to Alien and nothing more. It started slowly, with breathtaking scenery and shots that give a fantastic sense of scale. Unlike the splatterfest action sequels to Alien, Prometheus offers a gradual, cumulative and atmospheric horror on a sci-fi canvas. There are moments that are genuinely creepy and scary rather than holding out for shocks and jumps (although there are a couple of these, delivered very well).

The casting isn't fantastic, and I totally disagree with other reviewers who say that Michael Fassbenger, who plays an android, steals the show. I thought he was overly robotic - especially when you compare him to the creepier, much more lifelike android, Ash, played by Ian Holm in the original Alien. And while I understand that the point of Ash being humanlike was the shock revelation, Fassbenger was so OTT that he might as well have a flashing light, arms held out straight while he repeats, "I AM A RO-BOT"

Noomi Repace, however, plays a belter as Dr Elizabeth Shaw. I'm dying to give examples and talk about scenes but daren't. Just go see it. Wooden android aside, Prometheus was otherwise brilliant. A fantastic prelude, but it also stands on it's own merit as a damn fine sci-fi thriller.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Walking with a Kindle

There's a big country park near me. My son was over there at the skate park and wanted to show me some new trick on his scooter - "dropping the extension," as he put it. So I had a walk over. Usually when I go for walks I take an MP3 player, which kind of ruins the tranquility of the moment. You can't really appreciate birdsong and the "baaas" of newborn lambs with Slayer blasting in your lugs.

So I left it behind. Instead, I picked up my Kindle. I don't even know why, because the idea of walking and reading seems stupid, not only for the opportunity of comedy accidents (walking into lampposts, falling down open manhole covers, etc) but it can't be exactly easy, can it?

Surprisingly, it was. Once I was over there, the obstacles and danger from the nearby road had gone, so I got through pages and pages as I made my way to the skate park, and more on the way back.

So after dinner I tried the same trick again. This time, my walk was to go up to Penshaw Monument the back way. There's an old country track up there, used by dog walkers and horse riders. (see below).This time, success was mixed. I didn't bump into trees or lampposts and I didn't fall down any open manhole covers...

but after a splodge through the biggest mound of horseshit, it's going to take a while to clean my trainers.

:o)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Penshaw Bowl

We have our own way of celebrating Easter up here. We all climb up Penshaw Hill and roll eggs down for the Penshaw Bowl competition. The event is run by Sun FM. They section off an area on the hill and get the kids to line up and roll their eggs in age groups. It used to take place at the top of the hill, but due to erosion, it's now about halway up. Still a climb though - especially if you're in a wheelchair.

We tried to push our Matthew up there two years back, but the hill was too steep, so he couldn't take part. This year I tried the back way, which is a slightly easier incline along a bumpy country trail. We got there, but then had to slide his wheelchair down a ridiculously steep slope to get to the Bowl area.

We made it! And once the younger ages had had their go, Matthew got his. His egg did really well. It just kept rolling and rolling. This is Matthew with his prize. And me, knackered!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Eggcellent!

I've been meaning to do a parent entry to our school's Easter Egg competition for years. I work there as a TA and I still have a son there. This year I went for it. Didn't win. But got a creme egg for entering.
Cameron didn't win either. He's been studying blood, bones and body bits at school (Y4) so he did the heart and brain (with blood!)

Mind you, there were hundreds to judge and some were incredible.

I might start planning for next year.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Swearing in YA fiction

Does strong language have an impact on the commercial success of a book?
There is a big difference between dialogue and transcribed speech. When people talk, in the right environment, every other word can be expletive and no one cares. Usually, this is because the swearing in speech is often used as a wild-card adjective to save having to think of anything more suitable. With teens, there is the added whammy that bad language can define independence. It becomes such a prominent part of their language that some kids can speak in nothing other than swear words and still get their point across.
In a book, that would be awkward to read and ultimately dull. Some writers of adult fiction suffer from this; their novels are so peppered with profanity that you end up having to skim through repetitive crap to get to the story. That bugs the hell out of me and usually puts me off.
So when is it appropriate?
A carefully placed f-bomb can have real impact in certain situations. Rather than just anger, attitude or strength, they can define a specific turning point for a character, their failure, or sudden confidence. There are only a few instances in Clash, and I battled with each one, deciding whether they were justified. If not, they went.
The alternative use of bad language is to show realism - because in the real world, villains tend to swear. The problem with this is that if you have villains in several scenes, you need to be consistent in their language. The single f-bomb no longer works, because that first instance wasn't a revelation; it wasn't a surprise. So if your baddy swears in chapter two, you need to follow through wherever else they appear. If you do that, the f-count rockets up and you end up wondering if this is going to cause a problem. Book sellers can refuse to stock it if they don't consider it suitable for teens, as can libraries and schools, parents...
But can you have a strong, violent thriller without bad language?
Two writers come immediately to mind. Suzanne Collins and Lee Child.
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, a book that’s chock-a-block with childhood violence and murder, but has no bad language. Is that because it’s a children’s novel? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop it selling to adults. The three books in the trilogy top the ebook charts as well as paperback sales. Does a lack of bad language hamper the story? Well... in places I can’t help thinking Katniss would react a bit more strongly.
But Lee Child is something else. Lee Child writes commercial thrillers for adults. His books are violent, include murder, imprisonment, brutality, violence, rape and paedophilia with a main character who is strong, moody, and at times explosive. But no bad language. Nothing. I actually reached the end of the first novel (actually, I read #11 first) before realising. So in that case, it worked perfectly well.
But why? Do these authors feel like I do, that too much bad language is repetitive and boring, or that too little makes it obvious that it has been toned down? Or is it a commercial strategy? It might not make a difference with adult thrillers, but I can't help wondering if the Hunger Games was splattered with swear words, would it still be the massive success it is?
I don’t know. All I do know is that Arabesque goes to proof in a couple of weeks... and I need to decide if the strong language I've got so far is essential to plot, or a bullet in the foot.
What do you think? Should YA novels have strong language, or can you maintain the illusion without?