Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Often Feel It's Important To Be Able To Express Opinions On Books I Haven't Read, Especially Those Which I Deliberately Haven't Read

Over at her always-fun blog, Marie Phillips has been talking about the imminent release of The Mistress by Martine McCutcheon, and what it may say about the publishing industry.

I think she makes some very valid points, and having read the first chapter which is available here, I was oddly put in mind of American Psycho's incessant name-checking. And faintly appalled to see the 'having them look in the mirror to justify describing the protagonist' trick making its appearance in the sixth paragraph, but that's probably just me being jaded and cynical; the book's aimed at a very specific market, and I'm not that market. So be it, there are enough books on my 'to be read' shelves already.

But before I shrug my shoulders and move on, two things which came to mind:

Point the first: in the first eight paragraphs of Chapter One, there are two references to Grazia magazine. This strikes me as odd, given that Martine McCutcheon is a columnist for Reveal magazine.

Point the second: the book details given at the foot of this page state that the book will measure 197mm x 130mm, and be comprised of 336 pages, and yet weigh 0 kg. The very definition of a "light read", I guess.

My immediate suspicion was that this book may well have been ghost-written (though I could be wrong), and the notion of a ghost-written book by a celebrity reminds me of the novel with Naomi Campbell's name on the cover, Swan (there seems to be a substantial body of evidence to suggest I shouldn't refer to the novel with as 'belonging to' Ms Campbell).

At the time of its publication, I seem to recall reading an amusing - and very probably apocryphal - tale about a journalist pressing her about the authorship of the book; after a while, Ms Campbell was tiring of being hassled in this way.

"Look," she allegedly said, "have you read my book?"
"No," the journalist reportedly answered. "Have you?"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You Never Got This Kind Of Thing With Delia Smith. Well, Apart From That Time She Endorsed 'Cranberries', But That's An Obscure Bit Of Slang At Best

As referred to in a post some time ago, the search-engine baiting Nigella Lawson Topless Milk Jugs have probably enticed in Google-using admirers who were hoping for something rather saucy.

However, I feel that fans of TV Chef James Martin are likely to be disappointed by the name of an item in his cookware range - specifically, this one.

Still, I think we all appreciate his candour.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reconstruction: Spotted In WHSmith Over The Weekend...

...and placed on adjacent shelves in such as fashion as to make the similarity of colour schemes all the more apparent.

Well, it made me smile.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Probably Best Not To Leave It Until Christmas Eve, Mind

Just a quick money-saving book-related tip I wanted to pass on to you good people: if you buy items totalling over £25 from Borders Online, you can save £5 off that total - and, even better, get 5% of your total spend donated to Oxfam - by typing the code loveoxfam into the 'promotional code' box. This offer runs until 24 December 2009.

I have to admit that I don't use their online service very often (though I frequently find myself losing hours in their shops), but a fiver off and money to Oxfam appeals to my miserly and philanthropic tendencies at the same time, so I thought I'd share.

Feel free to tell your friends (and enemies, and people who are emotionally neutral towards you).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Unlikely Legal Entities

I'd like to have been at Companies House the day the incorporation paperwork for these arrived.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Picture Spell

I post about writing often enough, it seems right that I occasionally say something about reading (well, more accurately spelling), wouldn't you say?

A very old friend of mine (by which I mean she's been a friend for a long time, not that she's particularly aged, though knowing me has probably put the appearance of years on her), Rachel, is an experienced teacher, and she and an artist friend have recently put together an item designed to help children learn to spell. It's called Picture Spell.

I'm not an expert on spelling and/or teaching, but the basic idea behind Picture Spell strikes me as a solid one; it uses pictures to teach children about the way the same sound can be formed by different combinations of letters.

Granted, as a reader of comics, I'm bound to be biased when it comes to items which combine words and pictures, but it seems a pretty sensible way to work on both hemispheres of the brain, and combining images and letters has a long and well-established history when it comes to helping people remember things; as well as the fact that the US Army has long used text and illustrations to teach soldiers how to carry out their duties, there was a little pics'n'words combo called the Bayeux Tapestry.

Anyway, this seems like a good idea, and so if you've got children who are about 5 or 6, you might want to think about this as a supplement to their school reading scheme. There are also packs for schools, of course, so if any of you are, or know, teachers, you might want to see if Picture Spell's suitable for your classroom.

Learning to spell is I think, a very important thing, and anything that makes it easier has to be supported - after all, if you hadn't learnt about the way words are spelled, the words you're looking at right now would probably be nothing but meaningless black squiggles on a white background. A scary prospect, I know (though I'm sure some of you might aver I shouldn't assume that my words have any real meaning, regardless of the reader's ability to interpret them).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It Seems That Those Who Do Not Learn About Musical History Are Condemned To Write About It

As you may have seen in the press- usually illustrated by pictures of the new line-up in tight-fitting pseudo-undergarment outfits - the last remaining original member of the popular beat trio the 'Sugababes' (whose name always looks to me like a pretty direct attempt to copy that of the Spice Girls), has *ahem* departed the group.

As a result, there have been a number of journalists and other folks commenting about whether or not this means the Sugababes as a band still exists; Trigger's broom and Theseus's Ship have been invoked, on the basis that since none of the original band remains, surely they cannot be called the Sugababes?

Oh, the philosophical conundrum, how it makes our heads spin (accompanied by pictures of three women in limited clothing)... but there is a precedent for this, and I can't help but wondering if people know about it, and are ignoring it in favour of filling column inches with photos of the new line-up filming their "raunchy* new video", or if they are unaware of it, despite it spanning over three decades?

Anyway, no, I'm not going to refer to the tangled history of Bucks Fizz, I'm talking about a much longer-lived band than that, whose members come and go with the frequency of Big Brother contestants.

Here on the blog, for one night only (with this line-up, if history is anything to go by), I give you... Menudo.

*A word which tends to be used in print more than it is said aloud ... unless perhaps someone's mum is referring to Tom Jones or Chico Slimani.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rabbit At Rest

A moment's reverent hush, if you will, for the news that venerable music duo Chas and Dave have split up .


Thank you. As you were.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Everything That Has An Ending Has A Beginning

I've been thinking about opening lines to books a bit recently, not least because The Body Orchard, the next book I want to write, has been stewing in my head for a while, and I'm ready to start writing it.

It's a truth universally accepted that most articles about Jane Austen will start with a paraphrase of the opening line of Emma, though I must admit I've always found the sentiments of the sentence (which I'm far from inclined to accept) tend to put me off a bit.

I recall being told at school that the start of The Catcher In The Rye was noted for its length and flippant tone, and I could kind of see why, but then a decade or so I found an 'uncut' version of the book, which included a whole new section at the end of that well-regarded sentence, which was a bit off-putting.

I've always been fond of the beginning of Kafka's The Trial, with its almost casual reference to the fact that the soon-to-be persecuted protagonist is innocent, and now I think about it the start of Metamorphosis is pretty classy too, and is certainly bolstered by the fact that (if memory serves) the story doesn't go on to explain exactly why Gregor has turned into an insect. The opening sentence draws you in with the 'what the hell..?' factor, and then it's too late, they're knocking at the door and you're in the story.

Isn't there a story by Poe or Defoe (or maybe it was Cotton Eye Joe?) which has a line on the first page to the effect that if you read a page of it, you'll soon forget the fact it's meant to be a tale which the narrator is telling you? "Read one page, and I will be forgot" or something like that. Classy if you can pull it off, but I'm not so sure I could be that confident, and besides I'm such a rampant egomaniac I want everyone reading my stuff to be remembering my name, fame, I'm gonna live for ever.

More than anything else, though, I found myself thinking that one of the best opening lines I've ever read is the first line of the first chapter of the first book of Stephen King's Dark Tower series:

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

I think that's very effective writing - sets up who, where and what's going on, and of course raises a lot of questions in the reader's mind. A good way to rope you in (which is probably very wise indeed, as Mr K intends to keep your attention for seven books before the tale is told).

So, it's very probably with this line very much in mind that, last night, I wrote the following:

The dying man coughed, sending a spray of blood onto the living room carpet.

Sure, the content's not very pleasant, and I'm sure that it'll get changed more than once in the rewrite... but it's a start.

Monday, September 21, 2009

And The Winner Is... Oh, Can't Get The Envelope Open...

I see that the Writers' Guild Of America has announced the results of their recent elections.

And their new president is John Wells.

John ER, West Wing Wells?

Yeah, I can see how he might know a thing or two about the business of writing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Hottest Look This Season? Francis Dolarhyde Meets Patrick Bateman, Apparently

The eminent philsopher David St. Hubbins once noted that there's "a fine line between stupid and clever".

GQ Style, I would politely suggest, are so far into the zone marked stupid they'd need a pair of 20x50 binoculars in order to see the hint of a suggestion of the line, just vaguely on the edge of visibility.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Ladies, how can you be lonely when men like these chaps are there for the taking?

Assuming you have the means to travel back to the 1980s, that is.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Buy, Buy! Love You! Bye!

One of those strangely busy (and busily strange) days, but I just wanted to alert you to the fact that, as of today, m'chum Steve is the proud father of a bouncing (if you throw it) baby paperback:

I've written about how much I enjoyed the hardback edition, and now you can buy it in a new, lighter-to-pick-up form (though I still maintain that the title should be in joined-up writing by way of consistency of theme). And it's cheaper, too.

Go on, buy one. Make him happy. Or rich. Or both.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Apropos Of The Latter Link, If Anyone Could Recommend Me A Good E-Reader That Supports PDFs And Has A Black Case, I'd Be Grateful

I notice that the new Jeffrey Archer paperback features a re-telling of the life story of mountaineer George Mallory.

As you probably know, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine may have been the first people to summit Mount Everest; on June 8 1924, Mallory and Irvine were climbing Everest and were seen from afar, as black specks just below the summit ridge, by another member of their party.

And then they were never seen again, though Mallory's body was found about a decade ago. There's never been any completely conclusive evidence to eastblish whether or not Mallory and Irvine made it to the top and died on the way down, or died en route.

Anyway, though I've never read an Archer book, the fact that his last book was a re-telling of The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my favourite novels) and his latest one is about another subject close to my heart inevitably makes me conclude that Archer's deliberately trying to get my attention and make me read his books. And as a contrary type, I shan't be duped so easily into parting with my cash (especially not to the funds of a convicted perjurer).

Instead, if you want to read about this subject, I'd recommend you either read The Ghosts Of Everest by Hemmleb, Johnson and Simonson for a very solid recounting of the search for the bodies and belongings of Mallory and Irvine; or - as pictured above - for a more fictional angle on it, have a look at The Summit of the Gods by Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchi.

It's the first volume of a Japanese comic story based around a chap who thinks he may have found Mallory's camera (and the camera did exist and has never been recovered), with some lovely art. I'll freely admit that I'm only halfway through reading it myself at present, but it's a very good read, with several storylines running at once - including, of course, flashbacks to the 1924 expedition.

What's that you say? You want evidence of the loveliness of the art? Well, all right, you demanding tyke, have a look at this five-page preview here. And as it's a Japanese comic, don't forget you have to read from right to left.

.ti naem I ,ylsuoires, oN

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Alternatively, You Can Get A B(as)ic Biro For ... What, 30p?

Like many people who enjoy writing, over the years I've gradually realised that I prefer writing with certain pens and notebooks. They're often ones which work more smoothly and without reminding you of the physical act of writing, so like the ideal tools, they're at their best when they're unnoticed.

There is, and I've certainly seen it in myself, a tendency to get a bit carried away when it comes to writing implements; "if I only had a nicer pen [or notebook or computer or whatever], then I'd find the writing more easy, and thus I'd write better stuff"... or so the theory goes.

I don't know if it's necessarily the case at all - for me, a lot of it is just procrastination combined with my inbred Western craving to be a good consumer - because I've done some of my better writing when using just a biro and sheets of A4 paper. But it's horses for courses and all that, I suppose.

Anyway, that was a typically lengthy and digression-riddled lead in to the following, which is a link to what is claimed are the Top 10 Most Expensive Pens In The World.

Quite a few of them are obviously the results of great craftsmanship, but given some of the price tags, you probably wouldn't be likely to use them - indeed, some of them look as if they wouldn't be very comfy to use. And what was it I was saying a few paragraphs ago about tools being at their best when they don't impinge or make themselves the focus of the task at hand..?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Writing Competition That Some Of You Might Possibly Be Able To Think About Drafting A Story To Consider Submitting

I'm not sure how many of you will be eligible to enter this - in all honesty, I'm not even sure if I can enter - but even if only one of you is able to have a go at this competition, this post will be justified, my work here will be done, and I can log off knowing I've done something useful (and how often can one say that?).

So. Recently announced is the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, a short story competition with a sizey prizey of £25,000. That's the logo to the side there.

They're looking for stories of up to 7000 words, and no theme is specified, and there's a pretty impressive list of judges (even I have heard of them all). The possible hurdle to entry, though, is that the rules state "the authors must have been previously published in the UK or Ireland". I don't know if this means you have to have had a short story published, a novel or other book, or whether (and this is where people like me might sneak under the wire) comic stories and magazines count. And what about radio plays and TV sketches, or whole screenplays? I just don't know.

Anyway, the prize is pretty alluring, isn't it ? And there are five runner-up prizes of £500, which means it's not quite a one-horse race. Entry is by hard copy (you have to send seven copies of your story), and the closing date is 30 November 2009, so you've got a while yet to work something up for it, if you're going to enter... assuming you're eligible to enter, I mean.

I'll let you know if there are any updates about eligibility, but in the meantime, if you're clearly and unequivocally in the 'previously published' category, then you might want to start putting some words together...

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Butch Rapidity And The Dad-Dance I Did

Being the aforethreatened post about the seventh-day activities of one John Soanes; a post whose position in this world is hampered by the contrivance of its title, if not its contents

So, I promised yesterday to tell you about my Sunday of contrasts; the butch morning and the camp evening. And so I shall.

The rugged and manly activity in the morning, lest you should think I've taken up yomping or arm-wrestling polar bears or something new and exciting, was my perennial favourite of running. Specifically, the Great Capital Run in Regent's Park in London. Yes, when much of the capital was groggily waking and wondering why there was a kebab on the pillow next to its face, I was tying on my running shoes and heading off to run.

Not that I was going too far, you understand - it was 5km (which I think equates to 3.3 miles), but I haven't done a formalised bit of running in a while (possibly not even this calendar year). So I was both looking forward to it, as a test of my running ability, and dreading it in case I ran out of breath, fell to the ground, and soiled myself a couple of metres past the start line.

Still, I made my way to Regent's Park (assisted, as ever, by London Underground, who had cleverly scheduled engineering works and station closures on eight of London's eleven tube lines - they'd clearly decided that I'd run better if I'd faced a challenge in getting from A to B before getting to the run, and increased my adrenaline levels).

The race itself began at 10am, but at 9.35am there was a 'mass warm-up'. This was a good idea as you should warm up anyway, but especially as it was moderately cold yesterday, and there's nothing to be gained from running with unstretched or cold muscles. And it was a good warm-up session, with stretches of all available muscles, though at one stage I looked at the thousands of us, all putting our arms up in the air at the bidding of one man on a podium, moving in unison, and I couldn't help but think it looked like a rather scary political rally. Only with tighter-fitting shorts.

Nuremberg aerobics completed, there were some proper - oh, sorry, I mean elite - athletes running as well, and they set off before the rest of us, at a pace that genuinely caused eyes to widen amongst the common herd. And just like the Generation Game, once the display of world-level ability was over, it was time for the less capable to have a go. They gradually moved us forward to the line, and then we were off.

Regent's Park is a pretty good place to run - it's generally flat, and the concreted paths we were running on only occasionally turned gravelly, and I have to say that it was well-marshalled; there was never any doubt about where you should be going next, even if - as was the case just before the 4km marker - it was slightly uphill.

I kept up what I felt was a pretty steady pace, and despite the handicap of having to run as part of a cluster of people (something you can't really incorporate into running practice unless you're really good at arranging flashmobs), I felt I should be able to make it in under 40 minutes, which was my fairly conservative estimate based on how practice runs had gone. It turned out that I was being overly harsh on myself, though, as I came in at just under 31mins (30m 53s, according to the official timing), which I was pretty pleased about.

The combination of the warm-up and the exercise left me feeling physically fairly enlivened, and awash with testosterone, which of course was important since I was just about to go off to an event which, I sincerely expected, was going to be more camp than Alan Carr performing a tribute to Larry Grayson.

Because, constant reader, I had agreed to attend the BBC Radio 2 event in Hyde Park called Thank You For The Music - a tribute to the music of Abba.

Now, there's nothing inherently camp about Abba - granted, the intervening years have given their clothes a certain kitsch appeal, but at the time they were pretty much the fashion - and the music's perfectly fine, though I would make an argument that only a dozen of their songs are ones which, as the cliche now has it, we all know the words to, and not all of them, as some people seem keen to maintain. But I'm not knocking the work, and when Mrs Wife asked if I wanted to come along, I agreed pretty rapidly.

Once the tickets had been bought, though, I suddenly realised that the event had a pretty strong chance of turning into a bit of a camp bash: Lulu was on the bill, then Kylie Minogue was announced as performing, I started to hear stories about 'lots of people going dressed up', and I had the sudden feeling that as a heterosexual male, I was going to feel slightly out of place. I foresaw a sea of peacock feathers and spandex, neither of which I can pull off, not with my colouring. Yes, yes, you're right: I'm just jealous.

Anyway, when we got to Hyde Park, along with some 30,000 other people, I was reassured to see that it wasn't the case. There were a few people in late 1970s style gear, but not many feathers. In fact, the nearest that I got to a feather boa all night was the white one draped around the neck of the very drunk man who danced - well, all right, swayed - around us for most of the evening, looking (to paraphrase Fight Club) like the corpse of David Tennant, if you gave it too much drink and made it shamble around the party being annoying to everybody.

But he was in the minority. It was a friendly crowd, and the music was pretty decent - The Feeling were clearly having fun, and some of the people I hadn't heard of were very solid too, though I struggled to hear the vocals by Lulu and, later, Chaka Khan; was there a sound problem, or was someone on the sounddesk dialling them down for other reasons, I wonder? Hmm.

Benny and Bjorn took to the stage at the end, and thanked the crowd, and seemed genuinely rather surprised that their music was eliciting such a strong reaction so many years after it'd been written, which I thought was rather sweet; fireworks went off overhead, and we slowly made our way out of the park, once more to negotiate the hardly-running tube system and go home.

Not bad for the so-called day of rest, then; like New York, London is a city that never sleeps, but of course that means that it can be rather short-tempered, and doesn't always look its best. Still, beats being bored, I think you'd agree.

That's enough about my weekend, though; what have you been up to ?

EDITED TO ADD: If you want to see me gasping my way round the Great Capital 5K, click here and enter the race number 727.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Day Of Contrasts

Just to forewarn you, today is likely to be a day of contrasts in my life: this morning, I'm taking part in a frankly manly and rugged activity, but later on today... well, I'm involved in something which looks very much as if it'll be the campest thing ever.

And I've been in the audience of the stage versions of La Cage Aux Folles and Dirty Dancing, so you know I mean it.

I will, of course, report back in full and tedious detail tomorrow.

Is This Acceptable Language For A Brand Name Or A Supermarket Shelf ? I Think Not.

If I want abuse, I can get that from Mrs Soanes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ah, Ignore Me - I'm Just Crabby Because My iPod's No Longer Top Of The Range

This week's big technology news : the Apple iPod Nano now has video filming facilities and can play the radio as well as music files.

So then, just like most mid-range mobile phones. But without the facility to make phone calls.

Today's post was bought to you by Fish In A Barrel PLC. Making cheap digs, for you and your family, since 1971.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"I'm At Your Home Right Now... Nicking Stuff From Your Design Portfolio"

Todays's advice to would-be swipers: don't nick both the imagery and the words from someone else's work, or overgrown adolescents on the internet will poke fun at you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Giving You A Lead, Talking Up Another Writer... Is There No End To My Magnificent Munificence?

Despite the fact I could do without the competition, I'd be remiss if I didn't draw your attention to this writing opportunity: the BBC Radio 4 comedy programme Recorded For Training Purposes is inviting writers to send in sketches.

This is the fourth series of 'RFTP', as all the cool kids call it, and they genuinely have used sketches from people who've sent them in - why, none other than Lord Jason of Arnopp sent stuff in to them last year, and now he's been commissioned to write stuff for the forthcoming series. That's right, he went from being a speculative sender to one of the people on the inside. IT CAN BE DONE.

Anyway, I'll definitely be giving this a go - full details can be found via the link above, including the general themes that they're looking for (in addition to asking that all submissions huddle comfortably under the umbrella theme of 'communication').

The closing date is midnight on October 2 (though one has to hope that they won't be there that late - long hours could mean they get tired and overlook the genius of my material), but I think I'll be starting to work on this sooner rather than later...

Oh, and did I mention that they're asking for no more than two sketches from each person? Ah yes, looks like I just did in that previous sentence. Good. Would have looked like an idiot if I'd neglected to mention that, and as regular readers (or even those with chronic constipation) will know, looking stupid is the last thing I'd want to happen.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

If Over 80% Of The Matter In The Universe Is Missing, How Come My Desk Is So Awash With Stuff?

It's been online for a month or so now, but I wanted to draw your attention to this article on the Wired site about dark matter - and the search to establish (a) if it exists on anything other than a theoretical level and (b) where the hell all the matter actually is.

Unsurprisingly, the article doesn't end with a conclusion, as this is ongoing work, but I nonetheless recommend it to you, if only for the brain-bending ideas behind it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

King Of All I Survey, King Of All Surveys

I don't know about you, but I really dislike it when I'm on a website and a pop-up asks me if I'd be willing to take a survey.

If it's a site I like and visit often, then the pop-up is just an annoying obstacle, stopping me from getting to the bit I want to see, and if it's a site I've never looked at before, then it often puts me off to the extent that I may just stop looking at the site. And maybe it's me being mercenary here, but I prefer it when a survey tries to lure me in with the promise of being entered in a draw for a voucher or iPod or something - don't people get paid for working in market research? Pass the rewards on to your helpers, I say.

So, despite being very quick to criticise, I'm not much of a survey-completer. And when I do fill one out, I don't always remember it.

Which is why, when I received a book through the post yesterday from The Screenwriter's Store, I thought there'd been some kind of mistake. I hadn't ordered a book from them (well, not recently, anyway).

But on cracking the box open, I found a copy of Archetypes For Writers by Jennifer Van Bergen, accompanied by a letter from MovieScope magazine thanking me for taking part in their recent survey. Reading this letter, I remembered completing the survey, and was slightly surprised that I'd received a thank-me, as many of my comments had been pretty harsh. Then again, they probably need to know what people don't like as much as the things they're keen on, I guess.

Still, it's always nice to get a surprise in the post, and as anyone who writes knows, there's no better way to justify avoiding actually getting on with some writing than to have a new book about writing to read.

After all, this book might be the one containing the key insight which makes it all so much easier...

Monday, September 07, 2009

At Least One Of You Will Be Grateful I Eat So Much Chocolate

There's a promotion running on a variety of confectionery products at the moment, whereby you can obtain a free mp3 download of a music track from the Universal Music label if you enter a code (from the inside of the wrapper).

The thing is, it's limited to a total of 5 downloads per person, and as a glutton I've already exceeded my allowance (both of calories and free downloads), so I have the following code which any one of you good people can have (first come first served).

The code is HT6C 43MJ 4XCP, and you can redeem it here.

If you use the code for something rubbish, though, I'll be like a parent: not angry, just disappointed.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Work In Progress : Update

I realise I haven't written much about my progress in writing my novel The Body Orchard recently, but that's for one simple reason - I'm still working on the details of some of the storylines.

The main item I'm currently wrestling with is re-orienting a couple of the plot threads to avoid what the late Blake Snyder referred to as Double Mumbo Jumbo - that is, having too many coincidences or instances of magic or the like; an example, to my mind, would be Spider-Man 3, where the Venom plotline seems to exist solely on the basis of coincidences.

Whilst I don't have many coincidences in the story, I was suddenly aware that there were - as fans of the film Sneakers will understand - too many secrets. Not in the mystery element of it, but secret enclaves of people doing secret things to a secret agenda, and that basically put so many veils between the reader and the reality of the situation as to make it impossible for them to have a guess as to who the baddie might be. And I feel quite strongly that you should play fair when it comes to the reader having a go at solving the mystery.

So I'm re-working the nature of the crime - or, at least, aspects of the criminal - and then when that's all smoothed out, I'll be able to wade into it properly; I wish I could just start and then sort it out as I go along, but (to draw an analogy I recently heard) as with a rocket it's much easier to make adjustments to the trajectory before launch.

That said, I now feel very happy with such a vast amount of the story it'll be less a case of sitting and staring blankly into space and trying to guess what comes next, and more a case of running the events through my mind and reporting on them.

Minutes from meetings that never happened, as it were... but doesn't that definition cover a large amount of fictional writing

Friday, September 04, 2009

Genre-Bending... Until The Terminology Shatters?

I delighted, way back in 2007, at the suggestion that the perceived distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction might be on the wane.

I think things are still on the move in this regard - more swiftly in TV than books, perhaps, but maybe that's because the blow has been softened by the wildly successful Doctor Who revival often being referred to as a 'genre show' as opposed to 'a science fiction show'. Anyway, whilst the progress in the realm of books may be slower, it seems that there is still progress, as argued in a very interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal by Lev Grossman which you can read here.

And yes, I'm well aware that in the above, I'm equating (or conflating) 'the erosion of the barriers between literary and genre fiction' and 'progress', and seeing them as one and the same. This is because I think the divide is an artificial one, rather arbitrarily telling you which subjects are intellectually nourishing and which ones are bad for your brain, and hence I see the removal of this perceived distinction as a step forward.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Speaking - As I Was Yesterday - Of Book Covers...

... I saw this one today:

I have no idea what the book's about, but I think that is one hell of a cover.

Really well designed and drawn, and just the sort of thing to make me pick up a book completely speculatively.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I Swear On The Cover Of The 1980s Reissue Of The Bible, I'm Not Making This First Bit Up

Back in the olden days, when I worked for Sherratt & Hughes (a bookshop chain long since gobbled up by Waterstones), we received a delivery of the latest edition of The Bible.

And when I say "latest edition", I don't mean it had a new foreword by the author and previously unseen material, but rather it was a trendy modern repackaging, with silvery lettering and skyscrapers on it like the opening of Dynasty (actually, that's appropriate when you think about all the begetting in the first book). Strangely enough, I can't seem to find a picture of it online, but you'll take my word for it, won't you? Thanks.

The reason I was thinking about this is because Wuthering Heights has recently been reissued in a form that's deliberately meant to lure in fans of the Twilight books and films, as you can see:

Obviously, I'm not the intended audience for this re-issue, but I don't really have any great objection to this packaging (mind you, I do think it's a bit blatant to use the tagline from Coppola's film version of Dracula, but I suppose it's only old farts like me who are expected to remember this, not fans of Robert Pattinson). I'm not entirely convinced that readers of Twilight will necessarily enjoy Bronte's book that much, but it might work for some people, and I suspect the hope is that they'll have bought it by then and that's another sale.

But in a way, lasting works or characters are often re-packaged and re-purposed in line with the prevailing mood of the times; take a look at the way that, say, books by Ian Fleming or Charles Dickens have changed over the years (often in line with some related TV or film adaptation). Even Shakespeare's plays get a frequent re-packaging, and as alluded to above, some vastly older volumes have had some profoundly groovy and hip covers. And - as is the case with Wuthering Heights - there are usually other, less zeitgeisty, editions available.

I'd guess that a lot of the fans of Twilight are fans of stuff like Harry Potter who have grown up (as opposed, of course, to grown-up fans of Harry Potter) and are now looking for something in a similar vein (...) though perhaps with a bit more repressed passion. That's my suspicion for the popularity of the Twilight stuff, anyway - I'm not lured in even out of is-it-good-or-bad curiosity, as I'm not particularly interested in vampires per se (for example, as much as I enjoyed Buffy, the presence of the v-word in the title was actually rather misleading, given all the other Monsters Of The Week).

And in fact, given the current mood of a large amount of the audience, I'm not in the least surprised to see that Oscar Wilde's only novel, in its latest screen incarnation, is being advertised thus:

Crafty. And given his own tendency for not-always-entirely-accurate self-promotion, I rather suspect Mr Wilde would have approved.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Day Late And $4,000,000,000 Short

Possibly because I was busy enjoying the day off work and staying away from online matters, I didn't find out until this morning that Marvel Comics has been bought by Disney for $4bn, which is pretty surprising.

As Marvel has had the lion's share of success with comics-to-film adaptations in recent years, I can see why Disney might want a bit of that, and also why they'd want to have some of Marvel's most recognisable characters - Spider-Man, Hulk and Iron Man, for example - in their portfolio.

There are quite of lot of concerns and questions online about the deal, though I'm most inclined to wonder if Disney's brand and commercial clout might mean a return to comics being readily available on news-stands and in supermarkets in the US; I think the fact that this generally isn't the case has been one of the factors in the sales decline comics have seen in the past couple of decades - I discovered comics in my local newsagent (both UK comics and imported US titles), but I have no idea where the next generation of comic readers is meant to come from. So I'd be interested to see if there's a return to comics being stocked in Wal-Marts and the like.

Oh, and given Disney's family-friendly orientation, I'd be interested to see what effect their purchase of Marvel might have on the possibility of reprinting the more adult sequences in Marvelman stories from the past. But it may not come to pass...

Speaking of comics, DC Comics have recently offered freebie rings (as pictured) to people when they buy copies of certain comics, and they've been very popular. And by 'very' I mean weirdly popular, with a lot of online posting of an unhealthily excitable nature. Granted, they're an amusing little item - and they tie in nicely to the Blackest Night storyline in which the rings appear - but surely they're not worth that much giddiness. Anyone out there remember Pogs? Chromium covers? Fleeting fads in comic promotion, I think, and a mean-spirited part of me wonders if some people are getting a bit giddy about these rings because they're the only rings they're ever likely to give or receive in their lifetime... but that part of me is often silenced by the recollection of how geeky I've been about comics and many other things.

Many, many other things.