What did you just say about English?

My blog post for this week isn’t ready yet, so instead I thought I’d share a cool little article on English I stumbled upon yesterday. I don’t know how many languages this author speaks fluently to be using them as points of contrast or reference but from my perspective of five (at various levels of fluency) I can guarantee that English spelling is child’s play compared to Greek or Russian; his argument about the popularity of spelling bees on this premise alone almost lost me, but I’m glad I kept reading ’cause he makes some interesting points about other aspects of the tongue. I also take umbrage at the whole “English is weird” tag because language shouldn’t be called weird-language is a living narrative of the perceptions and experiences of those that have come before us. Calling it weird is like taking all that at face value and nothing more.

Anyhoo, despite my little rant, this article is really quite fun. Enjoy!

English is not normal!

 

The Night Circus-Review

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two children are bound by magic in a game where they are destined to face each other in a distant future. Neither knows who their opponent is at first, nor what the game is all about. This only becomes clear to them as the years progress and their magical skills mature. Other than knowing who the two opponents are, we as the audience, are also unaware of the nature of the game.

I read this book purely out of sheer blurb curiosity. The description was so deliciously vague and the reviews so enthusiastic it was begging to be read. From what I could surmise it was about a circus with supernatural elements which I liked the idea of.

What I was not aware of, and about which I am pleased in hindsight, is the fact that it was part love story. I say I’m pleased because had I known there was a love story at the heart of this I would most likely not have read it. Having read it however, I am happy to say that it’s one of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read-mind you, I don’t really read love stories so don’t have a lot of experience to speak of-paradox?

“The Night Circus” is a truly unusual book; not because it tells the story of the aforementioned magical circus but because it is mostly narrated in the present tense, though it keeps jumping backwards and forwards a few years depending on the chapter, something I only realised a few chapters in. It’s not imperative that you keep a close eye on the timeline but it helps to be aware of it. It is linear for the most part and there isn’t much of a back story as much as a present story which continues uninterrupted for about thirty years.

“The Night Circus” is also somewhat of a formal book. Much like the Victorian aesthetic it adopts, the language keeps the reader a little at arm’s length with a sense of linguistic formality that is subtle enough to position you in the mind set of the period but also present enough to keep you squarely in the position of the audience; both the book’s conscious audience but also a member of the circus’ audience which watches enthralled as the magic takes place. This is where this book’s skill hides in my opinion. Each word in there feels carefully selected to convey the complex imagery and emotion required. This careful wording manages to create a beautifully decorated, rich and flamboyant world. I could literally sense the clutter in the rooms, the texture of the fabrics, the effect of the magic and the stakes involved. Rarely has a book been so successful at conveying a three dimensional experience with the ability of alerting all my senses.

The only place I feel it lacked a bit was in the cohesion. At times it felt like less important characters got more screen time than they deserved considering their overall contribution to the work. For example, the love story only really takes off a little over half way, and considering how pivotal it was to the conclusion of the book I was left feeling like it needed to be a little more centre stage.

View all my reviews

Brief update-Affliction book #3

It’s officially been a year since the release of Bathory’s Secret and never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d be sitting at my desk putting the finishing touches not on book #2 but book #3 by now! Say it with me: “Whoop whoop!”

I have almost completed the first edit and taken out as much of the roughness as I can at this point. After that I will let it sit for a week or so before going in again for more fine tuning and corrections. I hope to have it with my editor by December, preferably earlier December rather than later December but sadly that’s more up to him than me. Fingers crossed!

I’m pretty sure I’ve settled on the title too, but will reveal it when I’m 100% sure it’s right. The cover is also in the works.

In other news, the paperback versions of the other two books are getting finishing touches and I hope to have Bathory’s Secret, at least, available by January. Someone please send me a little additional time in the post… There’s so much to do!

Final bit of news is the inception of book #4 in the Affliction series and hopefully a little surprise story. We’ll see how I get on with time and will update accordingly.

Review of “The Loved Ones” for Doom Generation.

Those of you who are regulars on this blog will know that from time to time I get invited to do horror movie reviews for Doom Generation, which is my go to site for “reviews for the sublimely weird.” If there’s a movie they haven’t got on there, I am allowed to view and review freely and without censorship, which is quite the boon in my book! This week I had the pleasure of contributing to them once again and as always I really enjoyed the experience. It is something I will strive to do more of in future, time permitting.

Let Daddy help!
Let Daddy help!

The film I chose was a 2009 Aussie production, though from what I gathered it was only released in the States in 2012, hence the discrepancy in dates.

Before watching I did some cursory research starting with IMDB, though I always seek their advice with a measure of reservation. In this case my concerns were justified because IMDB left me stumped. The same site that gave After.Life a 5.9 rating gave The Loved Ones a 6.7, which for a decimal system is close-ish but competely subjective. If you asked me, I would equate the difference between these two movies as the distance between the earth and the moon; not much if you’re looking at it from where we’re standing but a whole other kettle of fish if you’re trying to walk it.

The Loved Ones is an Australian movie which was released in 2012 and from what I understand it’s a bit of a hidden gem in the world of teen horror films. The star, Brent (Xavier Samuel), is a typical 17 year old having his first taste of adulthood via the mediums of sex, drugs and punk rock but like all good protagonists he is a little tormented by his past. Though I do say protagonist, it’s fair to point out that as far as acting goes Brent is more like the supporting male to Lola’s (Robin McLeavy’s) Hamlet, ‘cause she’s the movie’s chassis, frame and engine, everything else is the fluffy dice hanging from the mirror.

Read the rest here.

Mozart is delicious!

A couple of posts ago I got to talking about Jake Gyllenhaal and relatabilty in a fictional character, which then led me to thinking about heroes and inspirational personalities. Ok, it was both that and the bottle of Mozart liqueur I found in my fridge today from visiting Vienna a couple of years ago. That train of thought led me to realizing how important Mozart was and still is to Vienna, besides  the financial benefits he brings.

I then ruminated on other important personalities and their adopted or native towns. For example Florence has the Medici and a host of renaissance artists, Lisbon has Pessoa, London has Shakespeare, Dickens and multiple monarchs, Rome has the Romans, Da Vinci and the Pope (whatevs, not casting any aspersions this time, each to their own.) My point is that we all like having someone to aspire to. One glimpse at a comic con and it is made obvious how people’s ultimate aspirations and fantasies are literally worn on the sleeves of the different guises they choose to adopt, except in the case of Vampirella of course, who has no sleeves.

Vampirella

For many, the ultimate ideals come in the form of historical figures, for others it’s fictional figures-heck I bet even Hitler had a hero, and by his strategic boo-boos something tells me Napoleon was a poor choice. For the unimaginative or emotional amongst us it’s our parents but whatever the case, the fact remains that we all aim towards something greater, something bigger than us, an archetype that gives us a greater purpose, a nobility, a worth.

I don’t know to what extent the touristy propaganda works on residents of the towns of the greats but I imagine there is some awe inspired in the Viennese by the fact that Mozart lived and worked in their city, in the same way that the scores of tourists get when they visit the sanitized remains of the house he once occupied. As if walking the halls will make you absorb the lingering molecules of his genius that are suspended in the ether (hoping that the guy in front of you didn’t get the last one) or that looking at copies of the scores he wrote will somehow make you understand what made the man great.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, it feels as if I’m flogging a moot horse. We know what heroes are all about, it’s an old trope: Homer, Virgil, Dante (definitely do not go to see his house in Florence incidentally), Shakespeare and a few others besides have made us ponder the issue of what makes a hero and from old poet to new a few gold standards remain: bravery, integrity, intelligence, sacrifice, love, fearlessness etc; what interests me however is the motive behind all that. Not the motive behind the writer or the hero, but the motive behind the reader, the thoughts that the hero invokes in them, the memories it triggers, the emotions it sparks.

Even if the thoughts are not conscious, the desire is still there. For someone it might be H.G Wells for the politics or D.H. Lawrence for his grit, it might be Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, the inventor of the locomotive or the dude who sang Gangnam style. Whatever it might be, we all appreciate people who are good at something, who are better than us, who have something to teach us whether they intended it or not. People who might reach into us and compel us to do something new and brave or something we might never have done in different circumstances like take up arms and fight in a war just because our ideals have been galvanized…

What does that say about the human condition? What does it teach us about greatness and aspiration, inspiration and respect and what does it say about divinity? If we all aspire to some form of greatness, what is the bigger message other than the fact that I need to clean my fridge out of old liqueurs more often?

salzburgs-mozart-distillerie-refines-mozart-chocolate-cream-for-60th-anniversary

So what if there’s no title yet? Elementary my dear Watson…

I wrote them today, I wrote those two awesome little words that every author covets with every fibre of their being and I did it! I did it! I did it! After a 3500 word marathon yesterday and 4500 word marathon today, I managed to get to that lovely place where I could joyfully say “THE END” and mean it, Truly, Madly Deeply! Yes, yes, yes, the deed is done, book three is officially over!

Ok, maybe it’s full of typos, anachronisms and inaccuracies but let’s not stray away from the point here folks; it’s time to stick a fork in it cos it’s done, done, doned! (yes I said doned, that’s how much I want to stress that this f&cker is in the past!

Don’t get me wrong now, I loved every minute of it, and I will go in (at a date that is not today) and clean up that shit like it’s grime under the rim of the toilet bowl, but I will stop here to emphasize just how very done it is! Beginning, middle and end, done! In the famous words of the venerable Ali G, booyakasha! Kati can chill for a few days before I find new ways to ruin her life!

Anyhoo, I shall now proceed to curb my enthusiasm by doing something else and get back to work in the morrow for my eyes have bled copiously today. I even wondered whether I should’ve taken more screen time to write this post, but it had to be done! Now I’m going to grope around in the dark for the shower and not look at a screen for maybe… twenty minutes!

Ciao folks!

“Southpaw” vs “Hitman: Agent 47” and the power of relatability

Spoilers at no extra charge!

In the last few weeks I’ve been very focused on why stories are so important to us. It’s not news, granted, but the fact remains that humans really like stories, be that real stories, fake stories, real mixed with fake, regular, political, fantastical, you name it and there’ll be an audience for it.

This was very much on my mind when I went to the movies to watch Southpaw. As a story lover, sports themes are beyond last on my spectrum of interest. I have no time for the struggle, the strife or the pain that goes into becoming a first class athlete. We all know that reaching the top at a physical profession is hard, there’s no story there as far as I’m concerned. All the same I sat down to watch it, knowing very little about it besides the fact that it was a movie about a boxer. Ok, I’m not going to lie, Jake Gyllenhaal was the clincher in that I, ahem… “admire” his acting abilities, *cough cough.* Ok, so the dude’s hot!

To the point though: Southpaw starts at the top of the main character’s athletic career. Billy Hope has got it all; he’s beautiful, talented, rich, famous, rose from nothing to the pinnacle of his profession and all without losing a single fight. The viewer is thrown into this perfect life and finds himself rooting for this guy, because he’s tough but gentle and loving too and who through hard work and talent has managed to build himself a great career, a beautiful home and a family. His wife is his childhood sweetheart and together they have a little girl who adores them and who is adored in return. Pretty idyllic right?

Identifiability is at the core of any story. It’s seeing that character, or part of them, in yourself, or the opposite, putting yourself in their shoes and wondering what would I do in that situation? Southpaw gives sight at a lifestyle that most of us would sell our right kidney to achieve, so we know the stakes involved. However, just as all good stories should, it takes a turn; by way of selfish miscalculation and obedience to his ego, rather than the reasonable voice of his wife, he is embroiled in an altercation and the wife is killed, leaving him with two sets of immeasurable grief, his own and his kid’s. The snow globe has ruptured and it is losing pressure fast.

It is at this point that Southpaw’s life unravels and he slips into self-destruct mode from where he loses his money, his house and is on the verge of losing his daughter both by her being taken into the welfare system and, worse of all, by the force of her blame over the loss of her mother. Now Southpaw is forced to find the strength to start from scratch, retrain, gain focus, control his spiralling emotions and put the pieces of his life back together, senza wife and kid.

Though I don’t wish to spoil it entirely for those of you that have yet to see it, the end is pretty predictable; of course he gets his shit together and wins both his family and his career back by way of some rigorous body and mind training and all’s well and all that jazz.

The skill in this story wasn’t in the plot-we’ve seen all that before. The power was in the telling. The narration of the story showed his humanity, his vulnerability and his weakness in the face of this disaster, for which he was essentially to blame, which made you identify with Southpaw and his struggle. I’ll take a guess at saying that most of the viewers will not be boxers but we all know the stakes involved in one form or another. There’s the rigorous training, the pain, the focus, even the hint at the deep psychological warpage that makes someone choose a profession where they agree to get the shit kicked out of them for money. If that’s not Freudian I don’t know what is.

The beauty about this movie was how well it was orchestrated. It was a story wonderfully told from every angle, be that acting, scriptwriting or direction, each aspect was carefully worked, so much so that I was left wondering if it was based on a true story. From what I can tell it was not, but it had enough realistic elements to make you think so. And by realistic I don’t mean “real world,” I mean that it stayed true to its narrative much like GOT can be realistic provided it stays true to its narrative. In this case the anguish was convincing, and the connection with the character was there because you could feel the conflict between his immense pain vs the urgent need to put it aside and pull his pants up.

The beauty hid in the fact that this strong talented boxer was physically fierce but lacked the emotional means to keep his life together in the absence of his wife. Modern and poetic. By the end not only did he get his life and his kid back but also the emotional maturity to see where he had gone wrong the first time. Whoop Whoop Billy Hope says I!

The trope of making dreams come true and vanquishing adversity resonates with most people and was the key to the relatability of this film despite the out there nature of his profession. It was certainly more powerful to have the juxtaposition of the big strong boxer with the emotional strength of a child grow into his own than it would have been a corporate world worker who for many might be a more familiar sight but maybe not as strong a message.

Southpaw should totally be up for an Oscar this year.

In contrast to this Hitman: Agent 47 was, on paper at least, more of the kind of movie I would purposely go to watch. Spy/Sci-fi in nature and with some cool genetic tweaking thrown into the mix, it had the potential for good movie watching and yet it fell flatter than an A4.

Perhaps it marks the difference of a script written purely with the goal of commercial success as opposed to one that has all the signs of a decent creative venture.

The main character, a highly sensitive, genetically mutated girl who is on the run from something called the Syndicate is being hunted down for her skills which will be used to locate her father, the only man who knows how to make more of her. At first she appears scared, vulnerable, down to earth and bohemian; she is also a technophobe and a map using (yes real paper), archive digging polymath who, in theory, I should have been much more able to identify with. Yet I was left completely cold. The script was poor, full of holes and lacked conviction. One minute she can sense people coming for her in her sleep and the next she is fully awake and alert and doesn’t sense jack shit. What the fuck is that all about? Poor script that’s what.

At no point did I relate to her plight, which is closer to my field of interest than a male boxing champion ever would be; neither did I connect with her emerging bad assery, which felt rushed and out of character. She was as delicate, damaged and vulnerable as they come yet at no point did I feel concerned that she might die. Neither did I wonder how or whether she was going to get out of all of it alive, despite attempts to make her appear charitable, humble and chosen. Her own attachment to the male characters was cold and weak (nothing like Southpaw’s connection to his wife) even though one of the male leads turns out to be her brother who wakes her long suppressed childhood memories of abandonment. Blah!

Katia starts off as a frightened, feeble semblance of a human being but through the help of 47 she is given the space to grow and mature as the movie progresses so that she can come into her own, an improved version of the genetically enhanced human being that we know her to be by way of the film’s messages. In her universe her struggle is also very real; she fights to prove that both she and the automaton that she is travelling with are responsible for their choices and that they are not simply action figures made up by the sum of their parts, or that their mutated powers and lack of emotion, as in the case of 47, are affecting their humanity. Great in theory but it all fails to transfer out of the glossy look on the screen. Her pain simply does not contaminate the viewer.

I don’t know if you need to see both these films to recognize the similarities other than read about them here, but I thought there were enough common points in the search for personal growth at high stakes to make me wonder about weak and strong story telling. One failed miserably whereas the other was a major success. The power is always in the telling of the story.

Everyone struggles, everyone knows fear and loss and sometimes even bravery but it’s worth nothing at all if by the end of it the character leaves you cold. Blockbuster shootemups might be great for the adrenaline rush you get from watching them but I know that its Southpaw’s maturation and growth that will stay with me for the longer term.

So I ask, what is it that makes a viewer/reader empathize with the character?