Reviews

This isn’t a review site. Usually. Today I’m making an exception.

I like watching TV and I like watching films. I rejoice at the freedom the internet has granted me to watch more or less whatever I want more or less whenever I want to.

There’s also the ability to use a ten minute rule without the inconvenience of wasting money or having no alternative. If I’m not captivated within that time, I simply find something else to watch.

I suspect this technique is fairly widespread and applied not only to the visual arts but also to books. We writers need to take lessons from films and television to learn the art of grabbing attention and holding it.

The first item I want to tell you about is a film called Rurouni Kenshin.

I do like kung fu movies, I’m a big fan of Bruce Lee and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one of my favourite films. Rurouni Kenshin achieves the almost impossible by bringing a general atmosphere of compassion and gentleness to a story that is essentially a series of fights, some of them quite bloody. The leading character plays a big part in this by being remarkably attractive. He brings to mind Tripitaka from the Monkey TV series. If you remember him you’ll know what I mean.

There are two more films in the series, I recommend all three. At least give them the ten minute test.

The second offering I have for you is In the Night Garden. This is something I have been watching in the company of my 2 year old grandson. It’s what lets him know it’s time for bed. As soon as Derek Jacobi says someone’s not in bed he looks guiltily at the screen and heads for the stairs.

I started off being mildly irritated by the whole thing but now it seems to have invaded my subconscious to the extent that it can surface at any time and I start singing the Iggle Piggle song. The facet that the Ninky Nonk can be small (as in the background of the picture) at one instant then big enough to accomodate the entire cast the next doesn’t bother me any more. We’re all in a dream and reality is only a single facet of that illusion.

These are two very different examples of how to captivate an audience. The brutal opening sequence to Rurouni Kenshin contrasts starkly with the character who emerges into the light. His struggle with inner demons makes for compulsive viewing. At any moment, his peaceful intent may crumble and then he’d be lost forever.

In the Night Garden celebrates the comfort of repetition and familiarity. Nothing much happens. Exactly what your mind needs to slow down and be ready for rest. The entire programme is formulaic to the extent that you can always tell how far you are from the end and, of course, bed time. It’s very weird, but good weird.

There’s a lot to be learned from films and TV that works. I ask myself what makes me feel connected with the characters and how the author has managed this process. I also need to know what keeps my interest until the end, has me on the edge of my seat.

Next week, I may review Timmy Time and Deadpool. On the other hand, I probably won’t.

photo credit: id-iom Why don’t you just switch off the television set? via photopin (license)

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Violence

 

There are many violent things happening in the world. The murderous actions of extremists are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis. In reaction, governments pledge to drop more bombs in the places that the terrorists might be. The term is fighting fire with fire. In the real world, it’s what the general public seem to require of our politicians.

In the fictional world of Jenny Parker, violence isn’t an option for her. Even if it were available to her, which mostly it’s not, she realises that the kind of people she has to deal with actually thrive on violence. It’s something they understand. Jenny has to find other means of saving herself knowing that threats of retaliation in kind aren’t going to change her antagonists’ mindset.

If someone’s trying to kill you shouldn’t you just kill them first? Isn’t that the only way?

I don’t believe it’s that simple. I find plots that rely on a hero being able to out-fight, out-shoot or out-muscle the villain somewhat unsatisfying. There is, of course, a degree of might-is-right inherent in the way we humans conduct ourselves and it’s a horrible fact to contemplate. But that doesn’t mean violence has to be the only way out of a difficult situation.

One of the reasons I write the Jenny Parker series is to get away from the convention that a hero has to be able to beat up the bad guys. My old karate teacher, Billy Higgins, used to say that a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un. He also taught me that, regardless of how proficient I might be, someone bigger and stronger would most likely kick my ass. The point of the training was to be able to defend myself long enough to be able to run away. Sprinting is a noble form of defence, in my opinion. Mind you, I only progressed to the level of yellow belt which some might find highly appropriate.

Jenny Parker doesn’t have super powers, nor does she wield a samurai sword to deadly effect. She has to think on her feet and talk her way out of danger. It doesn’t always work, mind you.

In the world of thrillers as in the real world, I firmly believe that violence will never bring a satisfactory resolution to a conflict. There are more subtle and effective means. And these are much more interesting to me and, I hope, to my readers.

photo credit: Explosion (Verleitung, Ablenkung beim SEK-Einsatz) via photopin (license)

Inspiration

As Stephen King will tell you, writers rarely ask each other where they get their inspiration from because we don’t know. The more we think about it, the weirder it becomes, so we tend to take it for granted that the ideas will flow.

Some of us find inspiration comes more easily than others. There’s this horrible thing called writers’ block that gets in the way some times.

I’m very fortunate to have worked with the brilliant and insightful Barbara Turner-Vessalago for many years now. She has taught me the process that I use whenever I write. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing, this really works for me.

Most of the time, I’m writing a novel. I used to think that a novel was an enormous almost never-ending task. I was often so daunted by the immensity of it I would feel like giving up. Then I learned that any piece of writing has to be written one word at a time. One word isn’t so difficult to do. The next one comes even easier than the first and I’m away.

My starting point is almost always a place into which I parachute my characters and allow them to have a good look around. Then I see what happens and write it down.

Barbara’s writing process is called Freefall and I heartily recommend it to you. I have found that most books on writing craft only become useful when I’ve more or less finished what I’m writing and am looking for technical assistance to make it work. Freefall is so wonderful because it gets me going. Starts me off. I lower my self into a time and place, sniff the air, listen to the rustling of the wind in the trees, narrow my eyes against the setting sun and…

I think you’ve got the picture.

Until recently, the only access to Barbara has been through her workshops in Canada, Australia and two per year in the UK. I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to attend at least one a year since 2007. Now, she has published two books on Freefall. Get them. You will find them useful and inspiring.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Without-Parachute-Art-Freefall/dp/1908363045/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Freefall-into-Fiction-Finding-Form/dp/178592172X/

At the moment, I have the fourth Jenny Parker novel away for copy edit. The two Tyrant fantasy novels are sitting in a proverbial drawer maturing and my SF novel, Voyager, has just reached the 30,000 word hump which means it’s now got a life of its own and all I have to do is watch what happens and write it down. So I’ve taken a couple of weeks out to write a radio play. This is really good fun and a complete change to my usual form. As a prelude, I attended an inspirational one-day course presented by a radio producer called Polly Thomas. If I like what I produce, I’m going to actually submit the script to the BBC, who sent me the only rejection letter of my career in 1972.

Wish me luck.

photo credit: SFB579 Namaste Candle-Light via photopin (license)