Sunday, December 17, 2006

Results!

Just found out today my results for this year's Open University course: Grade 2 Pass! I am very pleased with the grade and also very pleased that I can now put that particular course (The nineteenth century novel) behind me. It was the least enjoyable year so far (mainly due to personal life strains) and, considering I had to skip entire sections of the course in order to just get the assignments done, I am amazed that I did so well. Throw in the fact that this was a Level 3 course (the equivalent of the final year of a degree), to come out with a Grade 2 Pass is, quite frankly, astonishing. I can't help thinking how well I might have done if I'd had the time to study it properly. Still, what's done is done and I'm looking forward to next year's course: Creative Writing. It's a jump back to Level 2 study and there's no exam at the end of the year (thank Gawd), and, obviously, it's a subject I love and enjoy. Should be a pleasant year of study, which will make up for this year's gruelling plod.

Three years down (180 points) and three years to go.

Also managed to sell my story 'Wizard's Gambit' to new ezine Sorcerous Signals, a sister zine to The Lorelei Signal. However, the story won't appear until June/July next year. Seems such a long way away...

Friday, December 15, 2006

SK and the Literary Snobs of America

Caught the tail-end of Mark Lawson's interview with Stephen King on BBC4 last night.
He was talking about the snobbery from the so-called "literary" section of the fiction world, describing them as a "country club" whose mentality to exclude anything that is or could be described as "popular" (i.e. anything which is plot-led or sells in obscene numbers) was simply short-sighted and self-destructive. He said it was "foolish" for them to ignore such a huge area of the field, and named authors like Ian McEwan and John Irving as some of the writers who are always snubbed by the American literary establishment because their work is quite often seen as "plot-driven and suspenseful". I was stunned by this, as was Mark lawson, who quite rightly pointed out that in Britain McEwan, at least, is viewed as being "literary". King responded by saying that it was different in this country because in England "story has always been greatly valued", (or words to that effect) and so it was not seen as "un-literary" to utilise a strong story or plot in a piece of "literature".
I think I was more shocked to discover that Americans literary snobs are more snobby than those in England. King concluded by saying it seemed there was an equation that comes into play with any author, which goes something like this: "the number of books sold, divided by the number of books that the author has written, equals the IQ of your readership."
King continues to be an inspiration to me in my writing, and I'm hoping that someone has bought me a copy of Lisey's Story for Christmas. It was top of my list.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The View From the Bridge

This little 1000-word piece of flash was originally written for a contest at the now-defunct AstoundingTales.com ezine. The zine folded shortly after I wrote this story so it barely saw the light of day. I dug it out a little while back, polished it up and sent it to From the Asylum. It appears in the current issue: Enter the Asylum here


‘The Boy Who Fell’ is due to appear in issue 231 of Bewildering Stories. This first appeared at AlienSkin. It's had a serious rewrite since then (particularly the second half, which was a little unsubtle in the way it explained the mystery at the story's heart). I'm much happier with this newer version.

I'm hoping to get some final decisions on some pretty 'big' subs this week. Heliotrope, Fantasy Magazine, and new UK mag Hub have all promised to put me out of my misery in the coming week or so. They're all pro-paying markets. What are the chances that at least one of those guys sends an acceptance? Wouldn't that make a lovely Christmas present?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NaNoWriMo Success!

With 24 hours to spare, I managed to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge 2006 and turn in just over fifty thousand words in thirty days. 'The Hotel Galileo' is far from complete, but the lion's share is in the bag. There are still maybe two or three chapters which need to be added, plus some fleshing out of the middle section before I can truly say the first draft is complete. But right now, I am very pleased with myself.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The End is in Sight

Hit the 40k word count mark this weekend with The Hotel Galileo. Hopefully, if I can put it in the work over the next three nights, I will achieve the 50k goal of NaNoWriMo and have a finished first draft novel to boot. I have never enjoyed writing a book as much as I have this one. THG is probably the happiest writing experience of my life. And what's more, I am now looking at a follow up - the first time in my life that I've ever considered doing a sequel.

Deadline: Thursday Night.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Glamour!


Short Story Sale - 'The Glamour'

After many rewrites and falling in and out of love with this little tale, I have finally found a market for 'The Glamour'. Chimaera Serials is a new online magazine which prints both short stories and serials. 'The Glamour' is scheduled to appear in their January issue.

'The Glamour' tells the story of scarred Wendy, who comes across a gypsy glamour - a vial of blood that, when imbibed, makes the owner appear beautiful and irresistible to men. Great for Wendy, not so great for the menfolk of her local town, as there is a dark twist in the tale. Well, I couldn't write something that was just 'nice' could I?

NaNoWriMo Update

A great deal of ups and downs during the past week. The Hotel Galileo got up to 25,500 at one point, then had to be severely rejigged (lots of adding and subtracting) so that the final word count last night was 26,600. Still hoping to complete the first draft by Nov 30, but I'm not sure there's fifty thousand words to be had on this draft. We shall see.

Lost Series 3

The new series of Lost started on Sunday night on Sky One. I'm going to try and stick with it throughout the entire series this time, not dip in and out as previously noted on this blog. I do love it. I'm just not very patient.

A Darkling Plain

Reading the final volume in Philip Reeve's Hungry City Chronicles, A Darkling Plain. The first three books are: Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, and Infernal Devices. Probably the most entertaining books I've read in a long time. Highly recommended, for adults and middle readers alike.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Revelation Volume III

My story 'Deus Ex Machina' appeared in Fourth Horseman Press's magazine Revelation last December, issue 3:2. The people at FHP collect all the stories published in the mag (all dealing with the theme of doomsday scenarios) into an annual anthology, and Volume III is now on sale -- priced $16.99. That's a whole year's worth of doom!
'The Man Who Ate Planets' is my second story to be published by them and is due to appear in issue 4:1 of Revelation, on sale later this month.

NaNoWriMo Update - Day 10
Things are still going well. Day 10 should be yielding a total word count of 16,660, or thereabouts. My total tonight is 17,200. So that's cool.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's going well

NaNoWriMo - Day 7

Things are moving steadily forward with 'The Hotel Galileo'. The word total so far is 11680, which is bang on target for the recommended daily word count.

It's amazing. This story is an Agatha Christie-type murder mystery set in deep space, with several convoluted plot twists and a plethora of surprises, and yet I have never written any of the plot down on paper. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I can't write any of it down on paper. It's alive in my head right now, as clear as crystal and bursting to be written. I feel that if I do commit the plot and all its intricacies to paper, the story will die. And I sincerely don't want that to happen. I know where the story is going, I know how each character (red herrings and all) fit into the larger plot, so I'm just going to keep at it. And in theory I should be finished by November 30th. So it's not like I'm going to forget any of it. Unless I get a bang on the head or something....uh oh. Where's that pen and paper?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Here we go again...

I've changed my chosen novel again for this year's NaNoWriMo challenge. Who said I was indecisive? I've decided to dust off 'The Hotel Galileo' for a second attempt. This is actually the novel I started during last year's challenge, only to end up scrapping the original idea halfway through the month. This new version starts from scratch - and reads like a murder mystery in space. I realised I could have a lot of fun with this, more fun than I would writing 'Judas Pike', anyway, which is a very sombre and serious work. If I end up changing my mind again tomorrow I will really be angry with myself. I might just throw myself under a milk float. It won't kill me, but I'm sure it'll really hurt.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Na No Wri Mo 2: 'Judas Pike'

Well, in a surprising twist, I sat down tonight to begin my second National Novel Writing Month challenge with supernatural thriller 'The Estate', only to end up switching projects at the last minute to a novel idea I've had simmering away on the back burner for quite some time - 'Judas Pike'. I won't give too much of the story away, except to say that it's an alternate history novel, mixed in with a bit of sci-fi. I'm very pleased with it so far. 1700 words on the first night. Already better than last year. But it's early days and things could go wrong at any point in the next thirty days. Need to keep focused and keep turning out those words every day.

The reason for the change? I felt 'The Estate' just wasn't ready. The story was underdeveloped, and the cast of characters were not interesting enough. Yet. A project for the future, though, I'm sure. 'Judas Pike' is just a cracking story with big themes that I can really get my teeth into.

Monday, October 23, 2006

5%

Well, my hopes weren't high...

Finally got a decision on 'Medea's Children' from Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. After 360 days since submitting (just five days short of the full year, drat it!), new editor Edmund R Schubert replied with a polite 'no'. Space in the zine is limited, he said, although he wanted to let me know that my story was in the top 5% of all stories submitted in the past year, and invited me to submit more work in the future. That's very encouraging.

Unfortunately, what could have been my very first pro sale, has now turned into, well, nothing. Zilch. A year of waiting and worrying, wondering whether or not to query, wondering if my story was lost in the slush vortex - the usual writer's angst. And in the end, there really is no prize for coming second, not in the world of short story publishing. IGMS was pretty much the last suitable paying market for 'Medea's Children' - mainly due to its word length. I've now submitted it to small press print zine Jupiter SF. Their only payment is one contributor copy. Right now, I just want the story published. Can't wait another year or two waiting, wondering...

Dark Recesses Press (who published my story 'The Midnight Men' back in July), have just rejected my latest dark fiction piece 'The Glamour'. Shame. I was paid $10 for 'Midnight Men' in issue 4. From issue 5, DRP began paying pro rates. That just sums up my luck, really.

Still, onto brighter things...

Began work on the second draft of Lazarus Island last week. Reached about page 62-3 and left it at an exciting point. The story is really growing into itself, if that makes any sense.

Also doing some preparatory work on Novel #2. The working title is 'The Estate', but this may, obviously, change. I'm quietly excited about it. The storyline draws together some very interesting and thrilling subjects - everything from asylum seekers, chemical warfare, and East European folklore, mixed together with a generous dose of modern supernatural horror. Writing starts November 1st.

As that American bloke with the loud jumpers used to say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stairs..."

Or something like that...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back on Track

Last Wednesday I sat my exam for this year's Open University course (The Nineteenth Century Novel) and afterwards felt a huge wave of relief that it was all over for another year. It's been a tough year. A new job, a new baby, constant financial worries, etc, all added up to probably my least productive year for writing. Having said that, since last Wednesday I've been reinvigorated and now have all of my best stories out there doing the rounds:

Medea's Children - Has been with Intergalactic Medicine Show for a year now. Final Decision pending.
Juju - Hub Magazine
Pleasure Units - Forgotten Worlds
When I have Fears that I May Cease to be - Heliotrope
The Glamour - Dark Recesses Press
Symbiosis - Entry in Specficworld's Short Story Contest (Results Oct 30th)
Defence Mechanism - Aoife's Kiss

Hoping to get some good news in the not too distant future.

I'm gearing up to tackle the second draft of Lazarus Island very soon, but I'm also contemplating having another go at National Novel Writing Month again this November. I've got a handful of novel ideas simmering away nicely on the backburner. But which one?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dabbles With Drabbles

Not so long ago I decided to turn my hand to the tricky art of the 'drabble'. For those who've never heard of such a thing (and not so long ago I was one of them), a drabble is a short-short story which is exactly 100 words long. Sounds easy, you say? Well, I tried it and it proved harder than I first thought. So hard, in fact, I only did it once. Thankfully, that single effort paid off and the resulting story, "A Dirty Job", appears in the newly-published issue of The Drabbler. This anthology of alien-themed drabbles, edited by Terry Leigh Relph, is available to buy at Sam’s Dot Publishers.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Lost Without Lost

The second series of Lost has just finished its initial run here in the UK, and once again I'm left feeling exasperated and thrilled in equal measure. The show's success is well-deserved. The programme-makers have expertly kept us enthralled for two series now, but I wonder how much longer they can keep this level of intrigue up. I love the show, but I've stopped watching a couple of times: once in the middle of series one and quite early on in series two. But I keep coming back. When the show first started I thought it was a mini-series. Hah! Mini! When it became clear that this show wasn't going to give up any of its secrets by the end of the first series my interest dropped off. But I came back to it because it so finely constructed, so entertaining. And it's got Evangeline Lilly in it, which is always a good reason to keep watching. Now I have to sit and stew for who knows how long, waiting for series three. Waiting for answers. If I was running the production I would be looking to wrap things up by the end of the third series. Then the show would go out on a big big high. But then, the American TV networks don't work like that. How many great US TV shows have been spoiled by that "one series too far"?
JJ Abrams said in a recent interview that they had an ending for Lost in place for the end of series two (I think), but the success of the show prompted a big rewrite and extension of the entire plot. Let's hope that ending is not too far off.

Monday, September 25, 2006

First Draft Complete

I've done it!

Tonight, after about an hour of writing, I was able to type 'THE END' on the last page of the manuscript. Lazarus Island has moved one significant step closer towards a full resurrection. I looked up the date that I started this story, and found - to my horror - that it was December 2003! Almost three years! Except, of course, I haven't been working on it for all that time. There was a period of about eighteen months where I wasn't even thinking about it, when it had been dumped unceremoniously in the metaphorical 'sock drawer' on my PC. But here I am, excited at having reached this milestone. There is a lot to do on the second draft - and I mean, a lot. But the bare bones of Lazarus have been laid down. The second draft is hopefully when it really comes to life.
In his book Plot, Ansen Dibell says: '...keep writing away until you have one whole first draft done. Then go ahead and start the kind of invention, addition, and deletion only possible in solid second-draft writing.'

Another exciting aspect about the point I'm at right now is that, for the first time in my life, I don't know what I'm going to write next. I've always been plagued in the past by too many ideas, and have always ended up jumping from one new idea to the next and never finishing any of them. Things have changed. By choice or by circumstance, I've managed to focus my energies on one story, one novel. And that focus has paid off so far. Yes, I've got a couple of inklings for my second novel, but that's all they are at the moment - inklings. Part of me would like to keep it that way until I've fully completed Lazarus Island, second draft and beyond. But the other part of me - the writer - needs to be producing new material. It's always advised to leave a novel after the initial draft, to work on something else for a while so that the dust surrounding the first novel can settle. That's the plan.
But I'm excited. Very excited. And I can't wait to see what the future brings.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

50K

Lazarus Island reached the exciting milestone of fifty thousand words tonight. I estimate that the first draft will come in at about sixty thousand, possibly a bit more, with some heavy fleshing out to be done on the second draft. Sadly, I'm only able to write at the weekends at the moment. I would probably have finished it by now if I was able to write when I wanted to write. But isn't that always the case? I'm reminded of the story about Tolkien who famously complained all his working life that he wished he had more time to write, only to find after retirement from his day job that he spent most of his newfound freedom sitting in his study playing Patience.
Anyhow, Lazarus Island is shaping up to be something quite extraordinary, at least in my humble opinion. It's ironic that I wrote the first half of this novel about two years ago, then abandoned it for some unknown reason. I then spent those two intervening years trying several other novel ideas in different styles and genres, all unsuccessful, all coming to nothing. In all that time, Lazarus Island never went away. The story wouldn't die, one could say. It remained alive and vibrant in my mind. I look at it now and see that it is absolutely the perfect story, the perfect first novel, for me to write. It encapsulates so much of my own personal philosophy and sensibility that I can't believe I left it on the shelf for so long. I simply must finish it. I don't want to get all heavy here (God forbid!), but one of the most fascinating ideas raised in Stephen King's Dark Tower series is that a writer doesn't 'make up' stories - the stories seek out the author and demand to be told through them. It's a very romantic concept, but one which certainly makes me think sometimes: Who's controlling the pen here? Where did that (character/sub-plot/twist) come from? What are those whispering voices I hear in the dead of night?
Hmmm... anyone know a good psychiatrist?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Four little hours

Stephen King has a very simple formula for learning to write well: "Read four hours a day and write four hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can't expect to become a good writer."

I'm currently reading Misery (which, you may be interested to know, was intended to be a Richard Bachman novel until the whole Bachman/King thing was uncovered) and I'm finding it hard not to see Kathy Bates in my mind as Annie Wilkes. I've only ever seen the film adaptation once on its initial release, and whilst it is one of the best King movie adaptations, I prefer to enjoy King's books without preconceived images of characters or scenes. Unfortunately, Kathy Bates's association with the role is so deeply ingrained in the public consciousness that it's hard to shake off. Never mind.
I'm also reading James Herbert's The Fog and finding a world of difference between the styles of Herbert and King, not least in the level of characterisation - 'nuff said.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Back to Lazarus Island

After a break in the schedule, I was able to return to Lazarus Island this Bank Holiday weekend, producing 6000 words in three days to bring the grand total to 41,000. I'm at the stage now where I can see the finish line not too far ahead and I'm trying not to rush the third act. Things are happening in the story which I had not planned, but which improve the narrative, whilst other things I thought would be huge dramatic highpoints have fallen a little flat. But I'm trying not to dwell on it too much. The worst thing now would be to go back over what I've already written and engage the Editor side of my brain. The Creator still has some work to do so it's best to leave him alone and let him get on with it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Scifantastic

The latest issue of UK spec-fic mag Scifantastic has just gone on sale. The issue contains my story 'Groghol's Staff', a light-hearted fantasy tale which first began life under the auspicious title 'The Wizard Apprenticeship Scheme'. It was originally envisioned as a fantasy take on the 70s hit record 'Camp Granada', in which a young man writes home to his parents telling them what a dreadful time he's having at camp. In the end I had to trim it down considerably and lose the epistolary element. The resulting story is still one of my most enjoyable writing experiences, one which contains much of my own humour, and a dash of pathos, too.

The issue is priced at £2.50 for the print version. A PDF version is available for £1. You can order a copy here: Scifantastic

The cover is by Roderick Gladwish. See more of his work:(http://www.gladwishes.freeserve.co.uk)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Twisted Tongue

My story 'Death's Head' appears in the new issue of Twisted Tongue, scheduled for release August 1st. The paperback version can be ordered through Lulu.com, as well as a much cheaper PDF. version. I'm really pleased that the story has found a home in this magazine. Can't wait to see it finally in print. 'Death's Head' originally apeared in the now defunct ezine Astounding Tales.com, where it won that issues Editor's Choice Award. So, as you can imagine, I'm very proud of this particular story.

'Lazarus Island' continues to grow. Total word count tonight is the magic 35,000 word mark.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Keep on Keeping on

So far this week I've managed to put down a thousand words of Lazarus Island each night, with the exception of last night which was Torbay Carnival night and we were all too exhausted to do anything once we got home. I'm determined to keep up this pace. At this rate (1000 words per day) I should be able to finish this first draft in a month. That is very exciting.

Current total: 33,300

Sunday, July 23, 2006

30,000 words and counting

Reached a major milestone tonight in the rehabilitation of my novel Lazarus Island. 30,300 words to be exact. I'd always imagined that it would be a short-ish novel of about 60,000 words, which would mean that I've just hit the halfway mark. Great! Fantastico! But as I'm writing, and as the supporting characters are beginning to really come alive, I'm beginning to see the novel open out, becoming a much richer, more exciting proposition. I'm not overly concerned with how long or short it turns out to be, I just want to finish it. The more I think about it, and the more I work on it, the more I believe in it. I was miffed at having to stop writing tonight, but I know that this is a good sign. They say as a writer you should leave your novel at a point where you're itching to get back to it next time. I haven't had that feeling in a long while.

Next stop: 40,000 words.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Resurrection

Slowly but surely I can feel myself being re-energized. Monday night I sat down and finished 'Inheritance', one of my most interesting short stories - one I should have completed months ago. The result needs a good tidy up and polish but it 's very exciting to see something new in the OUT tray. I've also spent the last week making detailed revision notes of my half-finished novel and I am very excited about the results so far. The only thing that's dampening my efforts now is this damned heat. I don't work well in the heat, and there's no escaping this wave of high temperatures. Still, my outlook for the future is positive.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Healing Power of King

It's happened before. Many times. When I'm feeling down, moping about in what Dorothea Brande called that "slough of despond", there's only one tonic I can rely on to reinvoigorate the creative juices, to fight off the shackles of despair and stop the old Muse from draping herself languidly over a metaphorical sofa like a pampered tart with a headache. The name of this miracle tonic? Stephen King.

In tough times I've always turned to one of King's books. Non-fiction works are just as good as novels. 'On Writing' always helps relight the fires. As does 'Danse Macabre'. But anything from the opening passages of 'Carrie' to the epic conclusion of 'The Dark Tower' is usually enough to drag me from the pit of despairing writers and hoist me, breathless, onto safe ground. This latest bout of fear and self-loathing has been a pretty protracted affair (months rather than weeks or days), and even the surefire King cure-alls failed to work. But in the end, I found the pill I needed. (All right, enough with the medicinal metaphors!) The book I needed was 'Cujo'.

I know, not hailed as one of his classics, but when your a fan of King, all his works have a place in your heart. 'Cujo' is one of those books I bought back in my early teens when I just couldn't get enough of the guy's work. I had fond memories of that paperback. It was the Futura edition released shortly after the movie came out with the kid recoiling in horror as the 'BADDOG' lunges in for the kill. I know I read it way back then, but I couldn't remember anything apart from just a few key moments early on. So it was nice to get hold of a reasonably good copy of this little gem off Ebay (sadly not quite the same Futura edition) and to sit down and soak up King at his creative height. And as I was reading I felt the old creative juices beginning to flow again, and within the first fifty pages I had already decided to tackle the difficult second half of my own stalled novel and to complete the unfinished short stories in my 'To Do' list. Once again, Doctor King has worked his voodoo magic.

What would I do with out him? Honest answer: Without King, I probably wouldn't be a writer. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Who Review: Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

Rose Must Die!

The foreshadowing began as early as episode two of this series, when Queen Victoria warned our time travellers of the fate that awaited them if they pursued “this terrible life”. The Beast in ‘The Satan Pit’ predicted it in a more direct fashion with: “the valiant child, who will die in battle so very soon…” All in all, things were looking pretty gloomy for Rose as we approached the season finale. Now of course, we can see that this was all a very cleverly constructed ruse to keep us watching. And it worked. In dramatic terms, to foreshadow something so heavily almost always means there’s a surprise in store. You can’t keep telling an audience one of your main characters is going to die and then duly kill them. That’s not very dramatic. That’s just cruel and depressing. If you are going to kill off a main character it’s usually best done with the element of surprise - there’s great drama to be had in shocking an audience with a big death. But in Doctor Who, the build-up towards what seemed Rose’s inevitable demise was merely leading the audience down one road only to surprise them with something better than a ‘mere’ death. The war between the Daleks and Cybermen was great and epic and fun, but the real highpoint of this episode (and the series) came with the separation of Rose and the Doctor in the final fifteen minutes. In this episode, we saw how good a Doctor Tennant is. Here, in the most dramatic moments of his tenure, Tennant played it perfectly. The fear and helplessness in his face as he saw Rose putting herself in such a dangerous predicament; followed by the scream of undiluted horror and pain as Rose was sucked into the void; to the moments of quiet mourning as he came to terms with losing her, not to death, but to the alternate world she had escaped to (saved at the last moment by her once-dead father). Tennant was at his very best in these moments. And the final farewell between the Doctor and Rose on a beach in Norway (Bad Wolf Bay, would you believe!) was truly touching. “I love you,” Rose says. “Quite right, too,” the Doctor replies, with a lump in his throat. Excellent. And I have to say, Billie Piper equipped herself admirably, too.
Respect to Russell T Davies and the rest of the Doctor Who team. They got it spot on.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Writing? Oh, yes, THAT!

It's been a pretty grim time in the productivity stakes. Due to the many and varied demands on my time (including adapting to a new job and the mental drain of Open Uni studies) I've not been able to work on the handful of stories sitting in my "OUT" folder, nor turn my mind to producing anything new. I feel totally bereft of any drive right now. I've completely lost interest in reading, movies, my Literature course, and, most worryingly of all, my writing. I sincerely hope this is all a passing phase. Perhaps after producing over twenty short stories in two years I have reached a (temporary) "burn out".
The only thing that has kept me going these past few months is my weekly fix of Doctor Who. When Doctor Who reaches its truly epic finale next Saturday, I'm hoping that my old passions will rush back in to fill the void created by the good Doctor's absence. If they don't, I'm going to be seriously worried. I really will need a doctor!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who Review: Fear Her

"Fingers on lips!"

Easily the funniest moment in the episode (if not the series so far). 'Fear Her' is a low-key Who episode in all respects. A small budget affair, based in a single suburban street, and with minimal effects. The result is a solid adventure in its own right but ultimately an episode which comes across as being a bit of a 'filler' before the epic two-part finale. In fact, it seems as though the finale has taken the budget of both this episode and last week's 'Love and Monsters'! Whilst I enjoyed 'Fear Her' I was actually more excited by the sixty-second preview of next week's 'Army of Ghosts' - and I wasn't disappointed. That single shot of Rose standing on some colourless beach, looking so sad, so lonely, added with the voice-over "This is the story of war on earth...This is the last story I will tell..." Ooh, I got goosebumps I did. Like most fans of this series, this is what I've been waiting for. We all know now that Rose 'leaves'. What the BBC have expertly managed to keep a secret is exactly how she leaves. Can't wait for Saturday.

Egads! What am I going to do when the series finishes?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Who Review: Love and Monsters

Something of a curio this week for Doctor Who: an episode which is heavy on the comic side and in which the Doctor and Rose barely appear. On initial viewing I found it amusing and it definitely kept my interest, but did I really enjoy it? Not sure. I enjoyed Peter Kay's performance as the Abzorbaloff and I thought Mark Warren as nice guy Elton did a good job of playing, well, a nice guy, which, for an actor who is used to playing edgy, psychopathic characters, was actually quite a stretch. Considered seriously as an episode of Doctor Who, however, I thought it was very hit and miss. But taken on its own merits, I don't think it did any harm to have a bit of fun (the viewing figures actually went back up with this episode). Although I found it entertaining in its own way, I wouldn't want to see another episode in this mould. I look at it like an intermission, a pause for light relief before we get into the really dark stuff that will lead us into Billie Piper's recently announced (and much-speculated) exit. Yes, she's on her way out. The BBC are still refusing to say if she'll actually be killed off in episode 13 (Doomsday), but she is definitely leaving the series. I think Piper was absolutely right for the part of Rose, whose job was not only to introduce a new generation to the Doctor through her eyes, but to also change the dynamic of the Doctor and his assistant forever. She did a fantastic job, but now it's absolutely right for her to go. As I said earlier in this blog, I felt like her character had run its course.
Exciting questions now spring to mind: how will the Doctor cope with her departure? And who will be the new companion, making their first adventure in the Christmas special? Only time will tell...

Friday, June 16, 2006

In this haze of green and gold...

What a gorgeous June. The sun is shining. England are still in the World Cup. I have a fantastic new job. Doctor Who is still running. And I have a handful of my favourite stories scheduled for publication in the next few months:

'Groghol's Staff' will appear in Scifantastic issue five (Aug)
'The Midnight Men' will appear in Dark Recesses issue four (July)
'Death's Head' will appear in Twisted Tongue issue three (August)
'The Man Who Ate Planets' will appear in Revelation 4:1 (Sept)
'Guardian' and 'The View From the Bridge' will appear in future issues of From the Asylum.
'Pleasure Units' is set to appear in anthology Tabloid Purposes III in August.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Who Review: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

I deliberately waited until I’d seen both episodes of this two-parter before making any comments here, mainly because the first part was so good, so promising, that I was a little scared the second part would be a colossal let-down. I needn’t have worried. In fact, this two-parter has been so enjoyable it has actually made me look back at the earlier episodes with a somewhat critical eye. Looking back at my Who Reviews, I’ve been exceedingly positive about the series (apart from New Earth which still rankles), but compared to this adventure, even the better episodes look like pale, sickly cousins to the real thing. In short: this adventure is everything I imagined Doctor Who to be.
Quick story synopsis for the uninitiated: The Tardis arrives on a Sanctuary base on a remote planet which - impossibly - is suspended beneath a black hole which is sucking in everything around it but the planet. “How could this be?” the Doctor wonders. “That’s impossible!” Quite. But there it is, being all impossible. We quickly learn that there is a strange energy source emanating from below the planet’s surface - an energy source powerful enough to stop a planet being sucked into oblivion. Before the Doctor and Rose can say, “Oh well, let us know how it turns out, guys, we’re off,” the Tardis gets lost - pulled down into a giant chasm after an earthquake - leaving our duo stranded and contemplating a future without time travel, a future with shared accommodation and (gulp!) a mortgage! There’s nothing for it but to venture down into the pit and find out what the heck is going on down there. What the Doctor finds deep down in the bowels of this planet appears to be the Devil, or at least a creature which insists it has existed since “before time” (the Doctor quite rightly asks what the hell that means, “before time”) and is therefore the original idea which sparked the notion of The Devil in our universe. It’s a very interesting concept and one which is never completely resolved - even the Doctor is unable to fathom the truth here. Naturally, the Beast is trying to escape from its eternal imprisonment, but the Doctor (with a convenient but joyful reunion with the lost Tardis) saves the day, almost sacrificing Rose in the process, but not quite.
The episodes together are a satisfying whole and I hope the new Doctor ventures to more alien worlds (instead of hanging around that bloody London estate all the time!) This Doctor Who story has raised the bar higher than ever and I hope the two-part season finale is able to live up to this standard. One important point to mention, though: the Beast character said that Rose would “die in battle”, which she became naturally every concerned about. At the end, the Doctor dismissed it as a lie by the Beast (she didn’t die in this battle) but I have a strong feeling this is an omen pointing to a (very near) future battle. There is a growing sense of tragedy about the climax to this series, and if I were Rose Tyler, the next time I popped home to see dear old Mum on the estate, I’d start looking at some life insurance policies. Seriously.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Who Review: The Idiot's Lantern

I always remember Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis, the co-creators of that other great time-travelling series Back to the Future, saying that an audience needs someone like Michael J Fox (as Marty McFly) to go on a time-travel adventure with, someone they trust, someone who is "reassuring". In short, a figure who can take you to the strangest, darkest places and still make you feel safe whilst you're in their company. David Tennant's Doctor is that figure. As the series has progressed (we're now past the halfway mark) I've seen Tennant take to the role with relish and make it his own, so much so that it now seems impossible for him to ever leave it (but I know he will, of course, but please, David, give us another series at least!) This week's episode was eight parts Fifties romp and two parts "scary movie". The scary parts were proper scary, too - for kids, at least. I'm in my mid-thirties now, but I can imagine if I was a youngster watching this, the faceless grandmother and the Doctor's encounter in the cage full of similar "sans-visage victims" would have given me the willies for months! But, like I've said, when you're travelling with Tennant's Doctor you always have that reassuring sensation at the back of your mind. No matter how bad things get, the Doctor will win through and throw in a few cheeky gags whilst he's at it. The reinvention of the Doctor (which includes Eccleston's phase last year) is a great one. They've brightened up the Doctor and made him accessible for all. Yeah, the hardcore fan base will probably be twitching in their cagoules at every flippant joke and moment of romantic melodrama, but this is just too much fun , dammit. As Tennant himself said, the show's about a guy who travels round the universe in a blue box - if you can't have fun with that, well... And I agree.
The story this week, written by Mark Gatiss ('The Unquiet Dead' from last season), was another effortless piece of entertainment. The Doctor and Rose set out to see Elvis Presley in Vegas just in time for his breakthrough moment, only to end up in suburban England on the day of the Queen's coronation. Confound that Tardis! A sinister force known as the Wire is using the new technology of television to feast on the people of England and what better day to do it than the day when most of the country is sat around the old "idiot's lantern" - telly to you and me. Our time-travelling heroes quickly twig that all is not proper and things lead to a showdown between the Doctor and the Wire, personified as a plummy BBC-style presenter, and played with chilling menace by everyone's favourite mother figure, Maureen Lipman. (Remember those BT ads? "He's got an 'ology'!") Along the way, though, Rose ends up "face/off" and the Doctor gets really angry and shouts really loudly for a while, which is always entertaining. Another great episode and a huge slice of British nostalgia.
Doctor Who trivia point: did you know that the Union flag is only called a Union Jack when it's at sea? Well, there you go. You learn something every week.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Who Review: The Age of Steel

Well, it’s been almost a week since viewing ‘The Age of Steel’, and I’m undecided as to whether it was great or just good. To be honest, my appreciation of most new episodes has improved considerably on second viewing (with the exception of ’New Earth’ which is still my least favourite episode of this second series). I’ve not had a chance to watch ‘Age of Steel’ a second time which is probably why I feel unsure of how good it really is. The episode provided some great moments, although the way our leads escaped the cliff-hanger was a little too convenient. (But then, aren’t they always?) That aside, the story was action-packed and ticked all the boxes of a good Doctor Who adventure. The armies of Cybermen marching through the streets at night was fantastic. Lumic’s transformation into the Cyber Controller was brilliantly done (“No! I’m not ready!” cried the evil genius.) The scene in the tunnel filled with ‘sleeping Cybermen’ was suitably eerie, and the escape via airship was a rousing end to the adventure. Two surprises for me, though, this week: one minor, one major. I enjoyed the shock of Rose’s mum being turned into a Cyberman (Cyberwoman?) My initial reaction was amusement, but then I thought how disturbing it was, that no matter who you were, man or woman, black, white or Asian, you were destined to become one of these characterless ‘things’. Not nice. The second major surprise was the resolution made by Mickey at the end. I had a feeling that his character had really run its course and that he was destined to either be killed or be dumped by Rose. The writers came up with the perfect solution ‘the Mickey situation’ and gave him a story arc.
Mickey the idiot becomes Mickey the brave and decides to stay in this alternate world to fight the evil of Cybus industries around the world. Mickey effectively dumps Rose, saying that it will always be the Doctor she runs to, and his decision comes as quite a wake-up call for Rose. She realises then and there how much she undervalued Mickey, and because time is short, she must say goodbye forever. I thought it was a touching finale. Rose can’t be too gutted, though, because next week it’s early-1950s quiffs and big pink skirts! Hooray!
And Maureen Lipman!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Who Review: Rise of the Cybermen

The relentless thud-thud-thud of steel boots. The Doctor’s fearful, “It’s happening again!” The iconic silhouettes. The Cybermen are back and they’re beautiful!
Just like the resurrection of the Daleks in season one, the Doctor Who production team have brought back one of the Doctor’s most revered enemies and they’ve done it with style. The art-deco look of the new Cybermen is a sublime rendering of an iconic figure. When you look back at past incarnations of the Cybermen - always a variation on a theme - the new version beats them all hands down. It is the integration of all production departments on this series which makes it work so well. The Cybermen are not designed merely to look cool (which they do), but because it fits with the overall look of the episode, the universe they exist in. This episode (the first of a two-part story) sees The Doctor, Rose and Mickey inadvertently falling into a parallel world, very much like ours but one which has numerous echoes of the 1930s - for a start, everyone rides around in zeppelins, and the set design is reminiscent of the old Flash Gordon serials. Art-deco is ‘in’ in this universe. And it looks great.

As for the main characters: Rose finds that her father is alive in this parallel world, he’s still married to Jackie Tyler, and he’s a hugely successful businessman - the only difference is, they don’t have Rose. As I’d hoped, Billie Piper was given much more to do in this episode and she delivered some nice moments, like when she realises that her parents are happy and have everything they could ever want because they never had her, and later when she discovers there is a ‘Rose’ in her parents’ lives - a little yappie-type dog!
Mickey also gets a storyline! There’s an emotional visit to his Gran who raised him - until, that is, she fell and broke her neck on the stairs! Then Mickey finds out that his counterpart in this parallel world is an activist called Ricky (nice irony!) who is fighting to uncover the sinister truth behind Cybus Industries. Apparently, next week, Mickey really comes into his own. But will he survive?
And the Doctor? Definitely taking a step back this time around, understandably so, allowing his assistants to explore their own storylines, but Tennant is such a good actor that he packs a broad range of emotions into the smallest screen time. See him acting the angry “Dad” when Rose and Mickey threaten to run off! See his horror when he realises the awful truth about Cybus Industries! See him laughing at ‘Rose’ the yappie-type dog!
Naturally, the episode ended on a suitably cliff-hanging cliff-hanger, and it was nice to see that the BBC had learnt from last year’s faux pas and didn’t show a trailer for next week in which everyone clearly survives the cliff-hanging cliff-hanger!
Roll on “The Age of Steel”!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Writing is such sweet sorrow...

Feeling very frustrated at the moment. Three of my leading stories are out of circulation because I'm unhappy with them in their current forms. The thing is, the rewrites aren't going well at all. In fact, it's like pulling teeth. The problem is the endings. They just aren't satisfying on any level. I don't know if it's because I'm tired (getting up at 6:30am every morning with the baby is pretty draining, especially when you've a full day of work ahead, too!) or because my degree studies are demanding so much of my mental power (what's left of it, anyway!), but the burst of inspiration which set these stories in motion has fizzled out and left me fumbling about in the dark like a fumbling-about-in-the-dark-type-person. I can't remember the last time I sat down to write feeling refreshed, invigorated, and with all my synapses snapping away like good synapses should. What happened to the guy who wrote a 120,000-word novel in thirty days? Anyway, I'm changing jobs in two week's time so hopefully things will all change for the better.

On the plus side, I've just sold my story "The Midnight Men" to Canadian magazine Dark Recesses Press. The editor, Bailey Hunter, informs me that an artist will be producing an original illustration to accompany my story. I can't wait to see it!
My longest story to date "Medea's Children" is still at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (trying saying that after one too many Pangalactic Gargle-Blasters!). It's been there for almost seven months now. I queried after three months and was assured that it had made it through the first cut and was being considered by Mr Scott Card himself. Four months have now passed since then and I'm beginning to wonder if I will ever hear anything back. But the sub-editor said I would hear "one way or the other".
Seven months! Can my nerve hold out...?

Coming soon:
GROGHOL'S STAFF - Will appear in Scifantastic issue 5 (Jun/July)
THE MIDNIGHT MEN - Will appear in Dark Recesses Press issue 4 (July)
DEATH'S HEAD - Twisted Tongue issue 3 (Aug)
GUARDIAN - From the Asylum, later in the year

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Who Review: The Girl in the Fireplace


Steven Moffat’s critically-acclaimed Doctor Who writing debut 'The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances' last season was always going to be a hard act to follow, but I'm glad to report that he has produced another fantastic and totally satisfying Who adventure. The story involves a group of sinister clockwork robots from the 51st century who are pursuing a young French aristocrat called Reinette Poisson from the 18th century. Why? Well, why indeed. The Doctor forms a very quick relationship with the young French girl who he first meets through a time portal on the spaceship which opens up on the girl's fireplace. The ship is full of such portals which enable the Doctor (and the evil robots) to flit in and out of the girl's life. In the space of five minutes, the Doctor has visited her three times and sees her growing up at an alarming rate, until she is a beautiful young woman who he realises is the renowned Madame de Pompadour. "How could you be a stranger to me?" she says. "I've known you since I was seven years old!" Before he knows it, the Doctor is in love.

The episode is packed with great moments: the juxtaposition of the ship and pre-revolutionary France is delightful; the clockwork robots with grinning masquerade ball faces and that sinister ticking noise are a wonderful creation; the Doctor's first 'proper' kiss (we'll ignore that silliness in the first episode because Rose wasn't herself!) is beautifully played; and the unusual sight of the Doctor crashing through a giant mirror on a horse into a crowded ballroom - well, you just don't see that every day! But as with all the successful Who episodes, the best moments are the quiet moments. When we reach the inevitable tragic denoument, there are two moments to savour: firstly, the look on Rose's face when she senses the Doctor's sadness. It is a look which only lasts a few seconds, but in that short time she conveys such feeling that it makes up entirely for the fact that, once again, her character has been sidelined in this episode. And then the Doctor's quiet moment as he leans against the Tardis console and reads the letter left to him by Madame de Pompadour. And then, to top it off, just as the episode is about to end and we realise that the central question (why Madame de Pompadour?) has not been answered, we get a shot of the spaceship's exterior and we see that the ship was named after her! Brilliant!

Next week we have the Rise of the Cybermen, the first part of a two-parter. This series just gets better and better.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Who Review: School Reunion


Episode three was another strong entry in David Tennant’s run, although not quite up there with last week’s season highlight of ‘Tooth and Claw’. The much-publicised return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9 was a nice addition to what was already a neat little story (aliens called the Krillitane have taken over the local school and are using the children to calculate something known as the Skasis Paradigm which will enable them to “control the very building-blocks of the universe!”) The episode was evenly-paced and the characters had enough room to have a little fun amidst all the chaos and mayhem. The most touching scene came at the end when Sarah Jane implored the Doctor to say goodbye this time, to finally give her “closure”. It’s scenes like this which make the new Doctor Who a success for me. There’s real emotion, real sentiment, on the screen and that’s always a good thing.
I have to say that so far in season two, Rose seems a little ‘lost’. The first series was very much told from her point of view - she held centre stage as much as the Doctor himself. But this time around she hasn’t shown any of the traits which made us like her in the first season. I know it’s early days and there’s bound to be much more character-oriented episodes later, but I do wonder if Rose’s character has enough mileage to survive into a third season. I understand that there’s much debate about her staying or leaving at the end of this run, something which the series producers are happy to keep a mystery, but I have a feeling that Rose may not just leave at the end of season two, but die in some spectacular Doctor Who-type way that will no doubt be very moving. Then again, I may live to eat those words.
I’m really looking forward to the two-parters coming our way - the TWO Cybermen double episodes, and the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit sounds very intriguing. It’ll be nice to see if the programme-makers can achieve the heights of last year’s 'Empty Child/Doctor Dances' as well as matching, or hopefully outdoing, the season finale. So far, though, Tennant’s Doctor is growing on me with each episode, and if I remember rightly, I wasn’t that sure of Ecclestone’s Doctor until the fifth episode, ‘Dalek’, aired last year, when I realised how good the new series could be.
Can’t wait for next Saturday. Oh! for my very own Tardis!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Who Review: Tooth and Claw


The second episode of Doctor Who was a much more satisfying adventure than last week’s “New Earth”. It had all the great Who elements: a scary monster which isn’t just a monster but an alien force; an instantly-recognisable historical figure (Queen Victoria played with great panache by Pauline Collins); lots of running; lots of screaming; and, of course, warrior monks! The story was also well-paced, not rushed or overstuffed like the first episode. Everything blended together (even the CGI werewolf was good) to produce what could be one of the best episodes so far - including series one.
Tennant and Piper sparked off each other well, and I loved how we saw their mischievous humour regarding time-travel was turned on its head at the end when Queen Victoria gave them a right royal telling-off - no, she was definitely NOT amused.
One thing that left me wondering was the resurgence of the “Bad Wolf” enigma. I’m sorry, I thought that was all answered at the end of the first series? Wasn’t Bad Wolf simply a message scattered through time by the Time Vortex, or whatever it was, to enable Rose to save the Doctor? Or did I completely misconstrue that? Probably. Anyway, there are enough seeds of mystery being sown in this series already, what with The Face of Boe’s promise to impart some great “Truth” when he and the Doctor meet again, and Billie Piper’s even more enigmatic declaration that we will have to wait and see what happens to her character in the final episode to truly know if Rose is going to continue as the Doctor’s assistant.
I canna wait…

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Desert Island DVDs

Here are just a handful of movies I would have to have on a desert island...

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
The first time I saw this movie I was eleven years old, and I was so knocked out I couldn’t believe what I’d seen, and had to go back the next night to watch it again. From that cool opening stanza to the set-piece-laden last third, I was in movie heaven. Even now it still gives me tingles. And Harrison never looked cooler. I still think it’s Spielberg’s most satisfying movie and not even the magnificent sequels can match it for raw energy.
Favourite Line: “It’s not the years, honey - it’s the mileage.”
Favourite Scene: Boulder-Dash!

ED WOOD
This movie came along at a time when I was feeling pretty disenchanted with the movies and life in general. I’d always been a Tim Burton fan, but, like many people, this was one film I avoided on its initial release. I finally caught it on Moviedrome some years later and was absolutely blown away. I watched it over and over for weeks afterwards. As well as echoing feelings in my own life it also enchanted me with its wonderful characters and the crazy world they inhabited. Forget Burton’s big blockbuster mulch - this is his best film yet. Martin Landau deservedly won an Oscar for his bravura portrayal of Lugosi. Burton should have won, too. Bliss.
Favourite Line: “Right, let’s shoot this f***er!”
Favourite Scene: Pull the string!

MIDNIGHT RUN
This film just makes me laugh from start to finish. The chemistry of the characters (particularly DeNiro and Grodin) is just sublime, but even supporting characters like Marvin Dorffler are a treat. It may be foul-mouthed, but the sheer joy of it all makes it inconsequential. DeNiro brings great weight to what is essentially a formula buddy-buddy road movie and the quality of the acting raises the whole movie to another level. Director Martin Brest hasn’t done anything as good since, and come to think of it, neither has DeNiro. A couple of sequels were made for cable TV but without any of the original cast - but forget them. This is the real deal.
Favourite Line: “You’re gonna be suffering from fistophobia.”
Favourite Scene: Pilot?!! You’re a goddamn pilot?

WONDER BOYS
One of those rare things: a movie for writers. It’s a wonderful, understated movie that crackles with great performances and comic moments. Douglas is at his laid-back best as Grady Tripp, an English professor struggling with his second novel and his own uncontrollable life who has a weird weekend to beat all weird weekends and somehow ends up coming good. The film has some wonderful things to say about writing and past glories and the music (including the cracking Bob Dylan song “Things Have Changed”) gives the whole movie a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Favourite Line: “Gee, Grady, that sounded so sincere…”
Favourite Scene: Shooting Poe

JAWS
Another Spielberg classic, and the first film I recall seeing at the cinema. I was four years old and the image of the ORCA’s mast sticking out of the water at the end is one of my earliest memories. For a film with such an obviously rubber shark, this still packs a punch. But once again, the most enduring part is the central trio of characters, who spark off each other beautifully, and Spielberg’s bravura visuals and camera acrobatics make it timeless. I can’t believe that the “blow it up” ending only came about after a suggestion by Brian DePalma. A movie I could never tire of watching
Favourite Line: “Hooper! Tie it up, will ya!”
Favourite Scene: We’re gonna need a bigger boat…

THE FISHER KING
Terry Gilliam is a genius. Fact. Although this movie isn’t quite so overblown and visually astounding as many of his other works, it’s all the better for it. Here he’s able to coax some wonderful performances from his cast and goes on to create a touching, emotionally-satisfying whole. The fantasy elements are still there, but much of it is in the minds of its main characters (who are mostly out of their minds to begin with). The train station/ballroom dancing scene is just one of the stand-out moments, and Jeff Bridges portrayal of a tortured soul looking for redemption gives the movie great pathos.
Favourite Line: “There are no little floating people!”
Favourite Scene: The train station…

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Who's better? Who's best?



Next Saturday April 15th Doctor Who returns to BBC1 and I can't wait. The first series with Christopher Eccleston exceeded all my expectations. I was a little unsure of where they were going with it at first. Some of the comic touches felt a little out of place and the Slytheen were a bit rubbish, but apart from that the series was a revelation. Before they relaunched the Doctor I always felt that the idea of Doctor Who was fab; unfortunately the budgets of the past were never able to do it justice. Now they have every resource the BBC wishes to throw at it and the results have so far been mesmerising. The finale of series one was a real highlight for me - not just because of the Dalek war, but the emotional core of the episode. Call me an old softy, but when the Doctor duped Rose into the Tardis and sent her back to 21st Century London, to safety, I was really moved. Silly really. It's only a tv sci-fi show, but hey, I cried at the Rings movies.
So will David Tennant be as successful as Eccleston? I think so, especially if the quality of the writing remains of the same high standard. And from what I've read and seen, I think it will be. Can't wait to see those crazy Cybermen. And K-9. Come next Saturday, we shall see...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Harry Potter and the Importance of Being Decisive


Okay, so I've changed the title back to "P&C". Should've just left it alone. That kind of behaviour just sums up my mental state at the moment. Can't decide on anything. Always tinkering and generally annoying myself. There's just too much on my "so-called mind".

Saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire recently. My first impression was that it seemed a little muddled, certainly not as cohesive as the previous instalment, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. But I gave it a second watch last night and I enjoyed it a lot more. What threw me, I think, was that for the first time the film-makers have chosen to make a movie that doesn't entirely stand alone. You really do need to have at least seen Azkaban to know about Sirius Black, for example, otherwise - how confusing would that face in the fireplace scene be? I understand they had to cut a lot of stuff, and the stuff they cut certainly doesn't harm the enjoyment of the overall movie, but it can leave newcomers scratching their heads.
Now I'd read the book last year so I knew what happened in the story and what stuff was going to get chopped out (like the entire Dursley's sequence), so I should have been prepared. But the reason I felt a bit lost on first viewing was that there really isn't any grounding scene at the start. It opens with Harry's dream about Voldermort (which is great), then you jump to Harry and Ron in some tiny bedroom and the next thing is they're sauntering through a forest with the rest of the Weasley's and then - Kapow! they're at the Quidditch World Cup. Now I knew they were in the Weasley house because I've read the books, but I just thought for pacing it would have been good to have an establishing scene inside the house, a noisy breakfast or something, before they set off. Just so we knew where they were. Just a quibble. The rest of the movie was pretty good. Much of it was exactly as I'd imagined it from the book, but then Hogwarts is so well-established in the public consciousness that it's very easy to dive back into Rowling's world.
I'm actually looking forward to the next film, Order of the Phoenix. I know it's supposed to be one of the least popular books (way too long, for a start) but it'll be exciting to see the bits I can remember - like the showdown in the Department of Mysteries, you know the scene where ****** ***** gets killed. That'll be magic!
I'm also looking forward to the final book, which J.K. told me the other night is going to be called Harry Potter and the End of the Franchise. This, however, may change.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Change is as Good as a Rest

Yeah, so I changed the title of the blog. Not sure I'm happy with it, though. Sounds a bit grandiose - a bit like "Lee Moan: Bicycle Repair Man!!!" If a better title comes to me I'll change it again.
Trying to keep up a more regular blog. It's hard, though, as my life is now swamped by degree studies and family duties and everything else. My writing has virtually stopped. I have ten stories under consideration with different mags at the present, so there's plenty to look forward to. I have three stories which are on the shelf, two which have never been submitted anywhere and one which has been submitted everywhere and is now under review/rewrite. Forthcoming publications include "Pleasure Units" in The Ethereal Gazette issue four, due for publication any day now (available through Lulu.com); "Madrigal" will appear at Antipodean SF mid-April; "Guardian" will appear at From the Asylum in April; and "Death's Head" will be published in issue three of Twisted Tongue in August.
Hoping to get some (positive) responses from the ten submissions soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Power of Flight

Here's a fifty-worder story which appeared at Antipodean SF a little while back. Thought I'd reproduce it here because...well, I like it. Short and sweet.


The Power of Flight

When the New Order usurped their kingdom, the Winged Men were given a simple choice: give up the power of flight and live there forever, or leave their homeland and never return.
By dawn of the following morning, the Winged Men filled the skies.
Not one of them stayed behind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Serenity (DVD)

I never managed to get into Buffy. (Oo-er!) Never saw a single episode of Angel. In fact, until last year, I didn’t really know who Joss Whedon was. I know, I’m a philistine of colossal proportions, but hey, I’ve been busy. Then, just by chance I came across an article (I think it was in Empire, my favourite movie magazine) talking about a fab sf tv series called Firefly which was famously cancelled after fourteen episodes, but was doing great business in DVD sales. The article urged all sci-fi fans to buy it. Now I don’t know why I listened to that particular piece of advice as I’ve been monumentally underwhelmed by sf tv shows of recent times (e.g. Farscape, Babylon 5, Andromeda, and all the Star Trek spin-offs,) but there was something about Firefly that promised something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. So I bought it, and found out what that thing was.
It was the sf show I always wanted to see.
It was cool, it was funny, it was well-written, the characters were strong and engaging, and it wasn’t ‘safe’ - it had a dark edge to it that kept you wondering what was going to happen next. It was the best thing I’d seen on tv in years. So why was it cancelled? No idea. And I’m not going to spend any more time trying to explain it, because it’s basically something that was decided by tv studio execs and trying to understand them is impossible. But cancelled it was and now we have a movie. Serenity. (Personal aside here: I think they should have called the tv series Serenity - sounds a bit cooler than Firefly, but what do I know?)
And the big question here is: is it any good?
Well, that all depends on whether or not you saw the tv series. I have, so I can only really give an opinion from that perspective. If you haven’t, I do think the movie stands alone as a good space western adventure. The only drawback is that newcomers might find the opening of the movie a little muddled - we are introduced to River Tam (Summer Glau) and it’s natural to assume that she is the main character, but it’s actually Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) who takes centre stage for the rest of the movie. In the director’s commentary, Whedon explains that test audiences were confused about who the main character was so he added a sequence just before the payroll-robbery sequence in which she subtly “hands the movie over to Mal”. After the first action sequence the movie really sets out its stall. We know we’re in for a good time. We’ve got laughs (“faster would be better!”), we’ve got cool lines (“let’s be bad guys”), and we’ve got proper ‘threat and menace’, supplied by the Reavers, (barbarian self-mutilating cannibal rapists), and some amazing SFX sequences achieved on a very small budget (the scene where Serenity leads the Reaver armada through the ion cloud has to be one of the great show-stopping moments).
Thematically, Serenity is about the search for peace, happiness, utopia. Capt Reynolds is a man being slowly eaten up inside by his past, and at the start of the movie he is “in a bad place”, both morally and spiritually. By the end, he has found a certain peace. The great secret buried by the Alliance strengthens this through-line (but I won’t give it away). Two of the main characters die during the movie (again I won’t divulge) but their deaths add dramatic weight to the story and create a subconscious but menacing sense of doom - who’s next? - and Whedon confirms his deliberate placing of these deaths in the commentary. “I want the audience to be thinking ‘Is this going to be the Wild Bunch?’” he says. I know that I was on the edge of my seat, so it worked for me.
All in all, I loved it. I haven’t enjoyed a movie as much as this since the Lord of the Rings. The parallel there I think is that in both cases I was invested in the characters. I cared about them. I feared for them as they faced up to the greatest challenge of all: trying to do the right thing against almost insurmountable odds.
Like getting a movie made out of a cancelled tv show…

Friday, March 03, 2006

Astounding Tales Vanishes into the Twilight Zone!

Well, here I am again with what is turning out to be another monthly entry, and what a month it's been since I last posted.
I've sold one new story (to From the Asylum), had another story reprinted (at Whispers of Wickedness) and, sadly, saw the demise of one of the very first zines to publish my work - Astounding Tales. I won't try and explain why the zine folded (because I don't really know) other than to say it seems to be over an unfortunate disagreement between the editor and publisher. It's always sad when a zine folds, and Astounding Tales had a particularly nice ethos behind it - a real shame that it ended so suddenly and so soon.

On a more pleasant note, I discovered that my story "Voices", which was published in Flash Me Magazine last year, has been nominated for the Speculative Literature Foundation's Fountain Award. Zoiks! (Winner announced mid-May.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Star Wars: The Prequels - An Abridged Version

Episode 1: The Phantom Thingie
"Master Qui Gonn, I have a bad feeling about this."
"About what, Obi Wan?"
"Well, we've been running around for about half an hour now with no discernible purpose, and now we're being drawn towards some horrible dust-bowl of a planet to pick up some irritating little kid."
"That's the force, my young padawan."
"Hmm. If you say so. By the way, Master, do you know who this floppy-eared gimp is following us about everywhere?"
"No, but if we ignore him he might go away... Obi Wan! A Sith lord!"
"Hurray! Something to do!"

Episode 2: Attack of the Whatsits
"Master Obi Wan, do you think I look good in black?"
"No, Anakin, I think you look like a wannabe Sith lord."
"What-ev-er!... Phwoar! Look at Padme! She's turned into some proper posh totty!"
"Yes, and oddly she's only aged three years whilst you've aged ten."
"Eh?"
[Off-screen Muppet voice:] "Begun this Clone war has."
"Quick! Everyone outside! The special effects are starting!"

Episode 3: Revenge of the Doo-das
"Senator Palpatine, I've been having these dreams about Padme..."
"Please, Anakin, I'm an old man, and-"
"No, not those sorts of dreams. Nightmares they be. I think she's going to die in childbirth. Can I stop it happening?"
"Oh, I see. This pamphlet might be of interest."
"Everything you wanted to know about the dark side of the force but were too afraid to ask. Wow! Just what I was after. Is it really this easy, Master?"
"Of course. Just don't go near any planets made of lava."
"Planets made of lava? That's preposterous!"
"Yeeeeeess."

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Kong's Too Long!

Saw Peter Jackson's King Kong last week - a fantastic piece of cinema. Many of the negative criticisms have been over the extended running time. I remember reading that the studio bods were horrified when they heard the director's cut was three hours long, but after viewing it they decided it was fine as it was, and left it alone. Having said that, I think it was too long for what was essentially a simple (and well-known) story; but don't get me wrong - it wasn't too long in the Oh-God-when's-this-gonna-end? sense (I didn't glance at my watch once throughout the screening); I just think there was a lot of unnecessary character development with the secondary bods (i.e. Jamie Bell's character and the captain, etc.) It didn't make sense to build these characters up when they vanish completely from the storyline in the final third of the film. Still,it's an editorial quibble. Like I've already said, fantastic cinema! The realisation of Kong will go down as a milestone in VFX history. Oscars for VFX, surely. The Skull Island segment was just amazing. The fight with the dinos was easily the stand-out set-piece. (The brontasaurus stampede, however, was a bit chaotic, and not entirely successful). The scene with the bugs - if you've seen it, you'll know the bit I mean - has to be the most unsettling scene in the history of cinema. No discernible music, just endless shots of the lead characters being attacked by wave after wave of bigger and more outlandish-looking creatures. It was the relentlessness which was so unnerving. I thought at one point, "this is going to go on until the end of the movie!" And poor Andy Serkis! What a way to go!
Overall, a movie head and shoulders above most Hollywoood blockbuster fare. Peter Jackson is fast eclipsing the Spielbergs and the Camerons of mainstream cinema. I hear he's taking a break and then directing 'The Lovely Bones' - which will definitely be a change of pace for him! I've read the book and it's as far removed from his fantasy epics as you can get. Whatever he does in the future, I'll be there, sitting front and centre in the multiplex.