Sunday, 31 January 2010

21 - Dreamscapes

Recurring dreams aren't unusual, not for me at least. Last night I had one of my classics. It's a pretty rubbish dream. All that happens is one of my teeth falls out. It's always the same one. It's wobbly, then I fiddle with it, then it falls out. Then when I wake up I'm massively relieved that it hasn't fallen out.

Last night was slightly different though. During the dream, just after the tooth fell out I said to myself, 'Well at least it's only a dream.' I then had a subsequent dream where I told all my friends how I'd had this dream in which I pointed out to myself it was only a dream.

So it got me thinking back to this piece of writing I mentioned in post 12. There's this series of dreams I have that I tried to explore in a piece of writing but never got very far with it. They're not recurring dreams as much as they are recurring places.

There are three places that I visit in my dreams every so often and have done for the past 5 years or so. They're not real places, but exaggerations of normal locations. Generally each time I go to each of them something different happens.

The Tower
I think it's 200 floors tall. It's made of blue glass and two lifts run from the ground floor to about 10 floors from the top. The remaining floors are accessed by one central bigger lift. The top floor has a glass floor. The lifts always feature prominently in the dreams but what I'm doing in there varies. I've robbed a jewellery store in there with my dad. I've been chased around there by a man with a gun. I've escaped falling lifts in there. I've played hide and seek with a friend.

The Theme Park
This place is huge but sparse. I don't think I've ever really got much past the entrance as just inside is a rollercoaster. There's a clown hanging over the entrance. The rollercoaster itself is sunk slightly into the ground and full of huge elongated loops. What always happens is we'll go on it, do the loop, fall out and then generally, but not always, land in the carriage again as it zooms underneath.

The Cinema
This is a huge multiplex cinema in a dome shape. It must be miles in diameter. In the middle is the massive circular reception desk. The carpet is faded red and littered with popcorn. The only screen I've been into is pretty small. It has white concrete steps running down to the screen and the seats are more like benches. It's quite cold and empty in there. I've seen various films from Avatar to Kill Bill there.


So yeah, I keep thinking I might explore these dreams in writing some more but I doubt I'll get any further than this. I can't help but shake the hope that they mean something. Like I'm Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters, continually molding Devil's Tower. More likely the dream part of my brain is pretty unimaginative and keeps recycling the same ideas.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

20 - Ideal job

I love writing almost as much as I hate writing.

The process of writing is brilliant. Getting the motivation to write is a pain.

Spending hours obsessing over every single word to make the best piece of writing possible is fantastic. Coming back to it later and realising it's crap is infuriating.

That's why I like blogging. I let my thoughts flow, read it back and tidy it up and I'm done. It's not great writing, and generally messy and convoluted but it's liberating.

Anyway, as much as I'd love to be a professional writer of some description, I can think of better jobs. Plotting stories and crafting ideas never gets old so I think my ideal job would be just that. Selling ideas. Maybe being hired by TV and movie studios to sort out the problems with their plots. Rip out the clich├ęs and the poor ideas. Not necessarily replace them with anything. Just point out what's wrong.

So yeah, that's not really a job is it? But nevermind.

Friday, 29 January 2010

19 - Children of Men & The Bourne Woods

So my post yesterday got me thinking about how much I love Children of Men. It's gritty, believable sci-fi shot in the most fluid of ways; definitely one of my favourite films of the last decade.

The film is crammed full of long single-shot sequences that are a feat of co-ordination and film-making expertise. The best, in my opinion, is the scene where Theo and the others are ambushed in their car.

They're driving down the road, talking and laughing, and then suddenly a flaming cars rolls in the way and everything changes. The upbeat tempo becomes one of sheer panic and frenetic energy. The continuous shot, which required a specially built car, makes the transition oh so more jerking and powerful.

It's choreographed beautifully. A mass of people pouring down from both sides of the road attack the car as Luke (played by the amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor) reverses away as quickly as possible. It's pure cinematic beauty.

What makes the scene that little bit more special is that is was filmed two minutes down the road from my house, in The Bourne Woods. The section of road used is closed off on both sides, making it perfect for the logistical nightmare that was shooting that scene.


The Bourne Woods has now become a huge film location and was used for the opening twenty minutes of Gladiator. It's since been used for Band of Brothers, Ultimate Force, Coldplay's The Scientist, Robin Hood (2010), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Wolf Man (2009). If you're ever near Farnham (and I'm not entirely sure why anyone ever would be) it's definitely worth checking out.

Beneath is a snap I took of the road as it usually looks. Below it is another of Ridley Scott's upcoming Robin Hood.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

18 - The future

Watching a film/reading a novel from the '50s set in the '90s or early '00s can be humorous if the description of the world is slightly off. Living on the moon, alien neighbours, laser guns etc. That's not to say that people back then absolutely believed that's how the world would be.

Modern sci-fi has wised up with plots being set so many hundred years in the future that by the time humanity reaches that point, the film/novel will probably have been lost so no humorous comparisons can be made.

Thing is, I don't think we'll ever get to the state where we have hover cars, robot servants, laser guns or complex societies living off-world. I doubt our robot servants will ever rebel and wage war upon us. I doubt we'll ever invent time travel or teleportation devices. Certainly not in my lifetime, and doubtfully in any lifetime. I don't know how this gels with the fact that I would happily write about such a futuristic society.

I'm sure there are currently many scientific advances that massively undermine what I just said. I know nothing about science. I'm just a cynical bore. I'd love all those things to occur, I just doubt they will.

Children of Men is a film I think has a very realistic view of the future. Ignore all the fascism/infertility plot and focus on the technology. Set in 2027, basically all that's different is cars are slightly changed and there are TV adverts everywhere.

Then look at Minority Report. I doubt in 2054 we'll have huge automated highways and cars that take us up to our flats. As cool as jetpacks and sick sticks are, I can't see them ever existing in a widespread way.

I'd loved to be proved wrong of course. Also, for the record, in a war against the machines, I think I'd side with the machines early on.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

17 - Where ideas come from

In my first blog of One A Day, I was talking about how ideas often evolved to a point where I had no idea how I'd gotten to where I was. Now I want to talk about where original ideas come from.

Every story and novel I've ever written/planned can be pinned back to a single 'starting inspiration' and from there various influences shape it and beef it up. I often wonder when and where the next base idea will come from.

The last novel idea I came up with was when I went to Edinburgh Festival last year. It was me and two mates, a boy and a girl. Like me the boy just wanted to drink, watch comedy and play PS3. The girl, being an actress, wanted to see musicals and plays. Bowing to a mixture of guilt and solidarity I decided to accompany her to a modern dance production. My other friend was wise and put his foot down.

There's no denying that the guys dancing were talented, I was just overcome with tiredness and boredom. Then an idea came to me. A pretty good one I thought. I spent the remainder of the show planning it out. Maybe the show was inspirational or simply I was so bored that my mind provided me with something to think about; either way I'm glad I went to that dance performance or that idea never would have come to me.

But that begs the question - how many other ideas have I not had as a result of not doing stuff? Infinite I suppose. There's nothing really to say. Inspiration strikes. I've tried contriving ideas. Sitting in a chair trying desperately to fathom starting points for stories but all I do is drink copious amounts of tea, get a numb arse and formulate nothing worthwhile.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

16 - Top ten spaceships pt.2

Hold on to your space britches, here's the shocking conclusion to this top ten spaceships list.

5 Colonial One - Battlestar Galactica
Colonial One is a luxury liner converted into the presidential office when the Cylons(bad) declare war on the humans(good). If I were President of the Twelve Colonies, I'd be more than happy doing business from this bad boy.

4 Serenity - Firefly/Serenity
More than any other ship, this one looks like it's alive. Somewhere between an insect and a bird, it's a part-graceful, part-cumbersome craft and it has cool engines.

3 Discovery One - 2001: A Space Odyssey
It looks like a head on a stick. It also doesn't look like it should be capable of propulsion and yet it very gracefully, and therefore ominously, travels through space. There's a foreboding quality about it that perfectly twins Hal 9000.

2 Lambda-class T-4a shuttle - Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
I can't put it to words what it is about this ship that has me so mesmerised. Something about how simple it looks, about its dorsal fins, about the way its wing unfolds, about how it perfectly sums up my childhood.

1 Dropship - Aliens
It looks like war. It's battered and used and strong. It makes a superb sound as it flies and it has unfolding wings (win). Again I can't really sum up what it is that makes it special, only that I see it and feel awesome.

Notable mentions: Mondoshawan ship (The Fifth Element), Klingon Bird of Prey (Star Trek), Starbug (Red Dwarf), Rodger Young (Starship Troopers), Icarus II (Sunshine), Alien fighter (Independence Day), Mother ship (District 9).

Monday, 25 January 2010

15 - Top ten spaceships pt.1

So this is part one of my ten favourite spaceships from film and TV. It's not the most well thought out list, and I'll probably think of another five I should have added immediately after posting. Also I've only included one from each show/film as I could easily do my top ten from just Battlestar Galactica, Futurama or Star Wars.

10 USG Ishimura - Dead Space
This is such a beast of a ship. It literally rips planets apart for raw materials. It's foreboding as you approach it before spending an entire game running through its elaborate labyrinth of corridors and rooms. Truly spectacular in scope.

9 - Valley Forge - Silent Running
Valley Forge is one of several ships that have been loaded with what remains of the forests of Earth, with the aim of orbiting aimlessly until the time comes that Earth is ready for reforestation. It's basically the Eden Project bolted onto a freight ship. Genius.

8 - Mother ship - Close Encounters of the Third Kind
It's the light more than anything that make this ship a sight. It completely dominates the sky as it hovers above Devil's Tower. It's simply astonishing.

7 - Planet Express Ship - Futurama
A thing of sleek beauty, it's a classic rocket design, caricatured enough to perfectly straddle the line between sci-fi and comedy as only Futurama does best.

6 - Aerial HK - The Terminator
It looks like a predator. Like a shark or a piranha. Technically it's not a spaceship, but it's badass and one of the scariest ships from my childhood/film history.

Tune in tomorrow for 5-1...

Sunday, 24 January 2010

14 - My favourite book

This is my copy of Vurt. It's not my favourite novel. It comes close. Definitely in my top ten, but like most things I find it hard to pick a specific favourite. Every time I reread Vurt, The Beach, I Am Legend, Ubik or any of a handful of others, I change my mind.

What I can say is that this particular copy of Vurt is my favourite book. It is my most-loved collection of printed pages glued together along one side and bound between rigid or flexible covers.

It's cover is still shiny and stiff but flexible enough that I can bend it to my heart's extent. The spine is broken and creased and the edges all round have gone soft and dirty. The pages are curled and worn and the bottoms of the last hundred pages are stained yellow from a time I lent it to a friend.

But best of all, more than any other book in my collection, it has its own smell. A lot of my books have a rich, musty odour from having spent four decades travelling the world before ending up in a second-hand bookshop for a quick stop prior to entering my possession. But my Vurt smells specific. It's a smell I can't describe other than it reminds me of Vurt. It reminds me of the characters and the plot and of Manchester, despite never having been there. Most of all the smell reminds me of the kitchen in my first flat where I read Vurt for the first time in near-enough one sitting.

I can remember each time I've read it since and breathing in that smell, flicking through those pages, wondering what that stain is, having crumbs fall out of the pages, running my thumb up that creased spine.

I lent it to someone a few months ago whom I shortly after briefly lost contact with and I panicked. I could easily buy another copy of Vurt but that wasn't the point. I almost lost my copy, and I'm glad to have it back.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

13 - The Fifth Element

I watched The Fifth Element again last night and decided that should I have to live in any film, as tempting and cool as The Fifth's Element's looks, I probably wouldn't.

What I love about the film is that it's undeniably camp and it's funny and it's dark and it keeps crossing the line between cool and tacky in that unmistakable Luc Besson fashion. What results is that everything in the film looks cool and appealing and yet, if you really think about it, the world of The Fifth Element is a pretty dire place.

Korben's apartment, though cool and compact, is tiny and miles above the ground implying severe overcrowding. The buildings rise up into the sky with cars roaring past all around and down below, the world's covered in a thick fog and looks as seedy as hell.

Random shots of Zorg's business empire show a depressing, industrial scene-scape and pretty much everyone in the film seems to be suffering from a severe overdose of energy and personality.

Still, I'd definitely go for a ride in Korben's taxicab, seeing as it's one of the coolest cars in film history. Also I'd love to have takeaway turn up to my apartment in a flying boat. In fact, yeah I'd definitely live in The Fifth Element.

Friday, 22 January 2010

12 - Hands up, authors

So among the One A Day clan, and anyone else who might happen upon this blog:

Who's ever started a novel?
Who's ever finished a novel?
Who's ever planned to start writing a novel and never gotten round to it?
Who's finished a final draft of a novel?
Who's tried to get a novel published?
Who's had a novel published?
Who's self-published a novel?

I've just thought about the amount of novels I've started. It's six, over the past six years.
  1. A hackneyed criminal thriller I wrote at the age of 18, full of deus ex machina and dialogue influenced by watching too much Quentin Tarantino. I lost it when my computer died. A good thing.
  2. A self-indulgent part-biographical tale of a loser, interspersed with a series of bizarre recurring dreams. All of them unfortunately true.
  3. A children's fantasy that I'm not entirely sure why I started.
  4. An incredibly depressing, bleak and heavy-handed story about suicide and death.
  5. A philopshical/fantasy/sci-fi/apocalyptic mish-mash that I still think is a fairly solid idea.
  6. The one that I'm currently writing. A social sci-fi that owes a lot to Philip K. Dick.
Apart from #6, I've never gotten past the 15,000 word mark on any of these. On top of that, there's a good four or five others that I planned out, wrote no more than a page of and gave up on it.

Maybe there's a good premise or two among the first five, but generally they were all dreadful. I hope #6 is better than dreadful - maybe even just less than good.

I finished the first draft of #6 back in September. Admittedly it's not a very good first draft, full of plot holes, mistakes and 2D characters as I kept in mind, 'I'll fix it in the redraft.'

I've been a bit slow redrafting, only having managed the first five of twenty chapters, and these are the chapters that have been rewritten the most. The ones that needed least polish. For a long time I never made it past chapter five, I just rewrote those first five over and over. Why? Err...

Anyway, I'm one step closer to being a failed novelist. I almost have the novel, I just need to fail with it.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

11 - Space Oddity

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response of one person to my 'Sharing work' post, I've decided to put some work up.

This is the first 500 words of a short story titled Dust. It's not the best thing I've ever written, but it's one of my favourites. I wrote the first draft of it about 3 years ago, and every half year or so since, I pick it up and rewrite it.

The idea came when I was in a bar and David Bowie's Space Oddity started playing. My friend remarked that it was a very sad song about a man getting lost in space. Never being one of those people who actually listen to lyrics, I hadn't realised this. I didn't even know it was a metaphor about a drugs trip until I looked up.

Either way, it got me thinking and eventually the plot for Dust came about. Being based on Space Oddity I crowbarred in several indulgent references to it. After this 500 words, the story goes off in its own direction.

Feel free to comment on it if you want. No pressure. Positive, negative, whatever grabs you. I might post the final 2000 words or so, if there's a similarly overwhelmingly positive response.

* * * * * * *

Dust

She shuffled open the door into the comms suite. I watched her eyes and lips shuddering in equal measure as she breathed in this stale room; the flaking beige paint, the loudly humming computers that had been outdated for over a decade, the two scruffy guys perched awkwardly on plastic chairs.

She met my eyes with a look I’d seen before. This wasn’t what the words ‘space centre’ conjured up. It wasn’t a place that appeared capable of contacting her husband, let alone bringing him home.

I stood. ‘Hello Mrs. Thompson. I’m Paul, this is Damien.’ A pause. ‘There’s not much we can do for Tom.’ I broke eye contact as I said that.

‘You said on the phone. He’s never coming back, is he?’

‘No. He’s not coming back. We don’t know what went wrong.’

‘So he’ll just be floating up there until...?’

I nodded. ‘Sorry.’

‘What about food? Air?’ She removed a tissue from her sleeve and wiped her nose.

‘He has enough of both for well over a year. Early reports showed life support systems weren’t damaged, just navigation.’

Her eyes thinned and she marched towards a microphone lying on the desk. ‘Can I talk to him?’

‘You can...’

‘But?’

‘But,’ cut in Damien, finally getting to his feet, ‘he’s floating so far off course that it’ll be faint at best. He’ll be out of comms range in five minutes, tops. Then we’ll probably never speak to him again.’

‘Probably?’

‘Almost certainly.’

She stared at him.

‘Definitely.’

She sniffed aggressively and snatched up the microphone. ‘Hello, Tom?’

‘Margery?’ whispered the reply, ‘it’s good to hear you.’ I twisted a dial on a console behind me and managed to marginally increase the volume.

‘How are you?’

‘You know...’ Tom laughed off her redundant question.

‘How is it?’

‘It’s...’ A pause. ‘The stars look very different.’ A pause. ‘I love you very much.’

‘I know.’

A long pause.

‘I’m sorry, Margery,’ said Tom, eventually breaking the silence, but only barely, he was now so quiet, ‘I’m really, really, really sorry. Forever and alw...’ His words dipped beneath the static. I panic-fiddled with all the dials available, but nothing helped.

‘Tom? Tom? Are you there? Tom? Can you hear me, Tom?’

‘His circuit’s dead,’ said Damien, ‘we’ve lost comms.’

‘You said five minutes.’

I picked up another mic and joined in, ‘Can you hear me, major?’

‘An approximation,’ replied Damien.

Mrs. Thompson laughed a dirty, hysterical laugh which became a babble which became tears. Through the sniffing I caught single words. ‘Five. Enough. Chance. Tom.’ She collapsed into a chair and dropped her head onto the desk with a thud, gripping at her hair with both hands. I looked at Damien who returned my gormless expression.

‘Actually,’ I whispered, ‘I have an idea.’


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

10 - Post-apocalyptic fiction

Post-apocalyptic fiction is one of my favourite sub genres of sci-fi. With all these novels starting from the same basic concept - civilisation has ended and it's a battle for survival - it's fascinating to see how each of them creates its own personality.

The Day of the Triffids is one of the most famous and one of my favourites. It's just one of those novels that sticks with you forever. I love how it cleverly shifts between survival from each other and survival from the triffids. 28 Days Later... was in part based on it, making that one of my favourite films.

I Am Legend
is another cracker. Shorter and more intense than TDOTT, the focus on the protagonist going mad is brilliant and the ending is one of my favourite endings of any novel. If you've only seen the Will Smith film, which butchered the ending, read the novel, if just for that ending.

Additionally in my bookcase alone I've got:
The gritty, ultra-realistic yet beautiful The Road.
The painfully boring The Pesthouse.
The entrancing The Chrysalids.
The stunningly-written, if heavy-going, Riddley Walker.
The paranoia-drenched The Penultimate Truth.
The uniquely satisfying A Canticle for Leibowitz.

But if there was one post-apocalyptic novel that really grabbed me by the collar and kicked me in the groin, it was The Death of Grass by Samuel Youd, writing under the pen name of John Christopher.

A simple concept; a virus that attacks rice crops and all forms of grass, spreads across the world bringing famine and eventually causing the world to descend into chaos. The story follows the narrator and family trying to make their way from London to his brother's farm in Westmorland.

It's an incredibly bleak and disturbing novel. The characters descend into moments of barbarism comparable with The Lord of the Flies and it's all too convincing. I only wish I could have been around to read it on publication in 1956, before I'd become desensitised to the violence of films and novels.

I can't help myself but talk about one of these barbaric moments in the novel, so stop reading if you like post-apocalyptic fiction, because I'd really recommend The Death of Grass.

***SPOILERS***

One such example of the brutality of this novel, is when the narrator and his family approach a house about a third of the way through. They knock on the door and the owner and his wife warn them away with shotguns. The narrator and friends then murder this innocent family simply to grab some supplies under the belief that, "it was them or us." This violence is emphasised by the fact that the main characters are all likeable, 'nice' people. This shock value continues right up until a truly unforgettable and disturbing conclusion, which I won't spoil here. Just read it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

9 - Futurama

Futurama is the dog's bollocks and this dog knows his bollocks are good. All his doggy chums look at his bollocks and go, 'Wow, they truly are a fantastic set of canine testicles.'

It appeals to my humour detector like nothing else. Everything's so sharp and on the spot. Plus my sci-fi gland gets a good old pumping too. I can't get enough of it.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of my favourite lines; those that never fail to get me giggling like a little girl before breaking into hysterics like a mad cat lady. These are merely the lines that are always going through my head. In a show of this caliber, every joke's a winner.

Ranger Park: Hi, I'm Ranger Park, the park ranger.
Fry: I get it!

Glurmo: Okay, no more questions!
Fry: Why?

Professor Farnsworth: Now I've often said, "good news," when sending you on a mission of extreme danger. So when I say this anomaly is dangerous, you can imagine how dangerous I really think it is.
Hermes: Not dangerous at all?
Professor Farnsworth: Actually quite dangerous indeed.
Hermes: That is quite dangerous.
Professor Farnsworth: Indeed.

Monster Zoidberg: What am I, chopped liver?
Leegola: Shut up! (she slashes at him with her sword)
Monster Zoidberg: Ow! Stop chopping my liver!


Zap Brannigan: She's built like a steak-house, but she handles like a bistro. (alert sounds) She's out of control! You win again, gravity.

Dwight: I heard alcohol makes you stupid.
Fry: No I'm...doesn't.

Monday, 18 January 2010

8 - Sharing work

I should probably show my work to more people - my fiction writing that is. I don't have an awful lot to show. At least I don't have an awful lot of writing I consider to be of a high enough quality to be scrutinised over - a few short stories, a couple of chapters, some flash fiction.

Sharing work can always be a struggle. The hardest part is finding people you trust to give you helpful feedback. 'It's shit,' isn't particularly useful and, 'it's amazing,' is just as bad. It's the greatest feeling to know someone admires your work but them simply saying they love it is no use when you're desperate to find out whether this line here works or is too obtuse.

Then there's the whole 'letting people into your soul' element. That doesn't bother me. Telling people I write sci-fi is harder. The amount of people that laugh or suddenly lose interest is unreal. Getting over that obstacle makes anything after a piece of piss. Knowing I write sci-fi can be embarrassing. Them thinking my story implies that I'm a paranoid, psychotic misogynist with an irrational fear of authority, I can handle.

Finally there's that fear constantly circling your mind. I think Marty McFly summed it up best.


What if they say I'm no good? What if they say, "Get out of here kid. You've got no future"? I mean, I just don't think I can take that kind of rejection.

That's started worrying me less and less. Maybe knowing I'm no good is a good sign because I can let my idle dreams and ambitions float away. Sure I'll still write, but I'll write just for me.

Basically what I mean is that maybe it's time to put a story out there. Post it here on this blog and get some feedback - positive, negative, whatever.

If I did, would anyone read it? Would anyone give feedback? That's the only thing stopping me.


As a final thought, does anyone else out there write fiction? If so, fancy sharing some too, exchanging, biting the bullet together?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

7 - ULLAdubULLA

One of my dad's favourite albums is Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. When I was about 7, he'd play his LP of it just before I went to bed. I'd sit in the dining room in my pyjamas listening to the mesmerising music, while he recounted the story to me. It scared the shit out of me. I'd have proper nightmares and yet I couldn't get enough of it.

I now have my own copy of the album and play it to death. Recently, however, I came across ULLAdubULLA, an album of remixes, many coming from the 1998 video game.

I'm not generally a fan of remixes. I don't really get them. ULLAdubULLA I do get. It's great music to write to, very chilled out in places and some of the remixes are simply phenomenal. N-Trance's 'Forever Autumn' is stunningly good, arguably better than Justin Hayward's version. Max Mondo's 'The Spirit of Man' is a real cracker and Apollo 440's 'Dead London' is so haunting it's unnerving.

ULLAdubULLA is easier to dip into than the original too. Every time I begin listening to Richard Burton's hypnotic narration, I feel I have to listen to the entire album, following it through to the end. ULLAdubULLA dips in and out the story, concentrating mainly on the music.

I know nothing about H.G. Wells but I have no doubt that he would have loved a bit of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds. Like me he'd be stunned by ULLAdubULLA. We'd converse at length that although it doesn't completely top the original, it comes pretty close. And most certainly he would have chilled out to ULLAdubULLA after a hard day's writing. Legend.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

6 - The community

No, not the name of some low-budget '70s horror in which an evil community kill any and everyone who strays upon their sleepy village with the use of pitchforks and bus tickets. I just wanted to talk about the One A Day Clan*.

We're still at the beginning of a long haul and logic and pessimism lead me to fear that the vast majority of us will have given up within a couple of months, and yet I have an inane amount of excitement for this, whatever it is.

I'm making it a habit of checking as many of the One A Day blogs as I can, trying to leave comments, involve myself somehow. I have this hope that something awesome could come of this. I'm not sure what. Some kind of collaboration. Some kind of new internet craze. Some new online amigos. I don't really know.

I just hope the community evolves, if not expands, and doesn't fizzle out. That's all really.

*No, not the name of a violent '80s horror in which a mad cult of outcasts each kill one person a day in horrific and sadistic ways.

Friday, 15 January 2010

5 - The most overpriced DVD I ever bought*

I have a lot of free time and very few decent shops in my town. As a result I spend many days going into WH Smith, smirking at the ridiculous prices of their poor selection of DVDs then heading home.

Over the period of about a fortnight last year I must have gone into Smith's pretty much every day and every day I was tempted by Timecop on DVD for only £1! I remembered it being pretty bad and as I saw it, films from your teenage years are rarely as good as you remember them.

Eventually I relented due to the pressure from my friend who was working in Smith's at the time mixed with the view that I was probably being too hard on the film. My film taste has after all changed drastically as I have matured. I now have a near-perverted adoration for the big dumb action films that I didn't appreciate when I was a gormless teen.
In this case I was wrong to give it a second chance.

Timecop is still bad.

Like really, really bad.

You know those films that are so bad they're good? Then there are films that are so bad, that they're just bad. Timecop is somewhere below them.

It's even worse than I remember. So much so I actually started regretting my purchase. I was feeling guilt as if I'd just splurged out £500 on a new TV to find out that it was a piece of shit. For a quid I could have bought a really good pastie.

It's just so bad.

You haven't seen it? Don't, it's bad.

You have seen it? Then you know it's bad.

You don't think it's bad? You're wrong. It's really, really, really bad.

I suppose I should qualify my staunch view of Timecop's badness. It's ludicrous for a start. Not the good kind, but the crappy, ridiculous, riddled with plot-holes, poorly made kind of ludicrous. The action is mediocre at best, which is unforgivable coming from the star of Blood Sports, Hard Target, Desert Heat, The Quest and Universal Soldier.


The whole film rushes from start to the finish without achieving anything more than a bewildered feeling of 'This film shouldn't be this bad, but somehow it is.' Even the one-liner at the end is bad. As a general rule one-liners are brilliant. Timecop's barely makes sense.

'Same matter can't occupy same space.' Sure I know nothing about physics etc. but what?

JCVD immediately follows that up with 'I'm still kicking - I must be on Broadway.' What the hell? Sure he roundhouse kicks the bad guy from the past/present into the version of himself from the future/present and creates some kind of being that vomits in on itself - but still, what?

Timecop's two taglines are both bad too
.

'They killed his wife ten years ago. There's still time to save her.' - That's bad.

'Murder is forever...until now.'
- That's really bad.

It's so bad.

I've tried convincing myself that Timecop was worth a quid to repeatedly watch the scene in which JCVD does the splits onto a kitchen worktop to avoid getting electrocuted by a Taser pinging into his wet kitchen floor (quite,) but it just isn't.

When a film is only £1 and is still criminally overpriced, you know it's bad.
*not really

Thursday, 14 January 2010

4 - Philip K. Dick: Page to Screen

I'm a massive Philip K. Dick fan and there have been plenty of adaptations of his work. Here's my thoughts on those I've seen, in case you wondered.

A Scanner Darkly based on A Scanner Darkly
Controversially, this is my favourite Philip K. Dick adaptation. Arguably pointless in that it brings little new to the story, it pays the most respect out of all the films based on his work. The bleakness, the paranoia and the characters of the novel have been transferred near-perfectly and large sections of dialogue have been lifted word for word. The rotascoping is a stroke of genius bringing the scramble suit to life and creating a surreal, hypnotic experience that gets the 'feeling' of the novel spot on.

Blade Runner based on Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Although Ridley Scott made an absolute classic with Blade Runner, bringing enough to the story to make it is own while keeping its core, I'm too staunch a PKD loyalist to admit this is the best of the adaptations. Too much of the novel was changed for my liking and Harrison Ford isn't the right casting for a true PKD hero, but it's undeniably cinema gold.

Total Recall based on We Can Remember It For You Wholesale
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the antithesis of the PKD character - a paranoid, insecure everyman. Strictly speaking, it's a fairly dire adaptation, but it's a fantastic film in its own right. Verhoeven's trademark violence plays out beautifully and Arnold delivers those one-liners with his usual charisma. 'See you at the party, Richter!'

Minority Report based on The Minority Report
One of the better Spielberg films of the past 10 years, this film is a little too sexy for its own good. Tom Cruise is a bit cool and everything is slick, neatly tied-up and ultimately happy. Good fun with some neat ideas and it's solid in its own right, but it's just too 'Hollywood' for a PKD story.

Screamers
based on Second Variety
Critically panned and regarded as being nothing more than a wannabe Blade Runner mixed with The Thing, I have a deep love for Screamers. It's a paranoid, bleak '90s sci-fi with the legendary Peter Weller playing the lead. The ending of the story was changed and it suffers as a result. Not a great film, but for nostalgic purposes, I adore this film.

Paycheck based on Paycheck
The biggest crime with this film is not that it doesn't do PKD's story justice, but that John Woo's career had completely hit rock bottom. Vaguely entertaining but generally stupid.

Next based on The Golden Man
Horrible. Simply horrible.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

3 - Thoughts from Phil

I have a love for sci-fi and a general aversion to fantasy. It's quite irrational. It's something I can't pin down, only that I have read many examples of great sci-fi novels and few examples of great fantasy novels. Of course I have read far less fantasy novels and always approach them with a less open mind than I do with a sci-fi novel, so that's probably not a fair answer.

I think it has something do with the realistic element. Sci-fi is within the realms of possibility, if not probability. Fantasy hasn't enough rules for my liking.

I recently came across the distinction between sci-fi and fantasy worded perfectly by my hero and sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick. His definition comes from a letter he wrote in 1981, now serving as the preface to Beyond Lies The Wub:


Fantasy involves that which general opinion regards as impossible; science fiction involves that which general opinion regards as possible under the right circumstances. This is in essence a judgment-call, since what is possible and what is not possible is not objectively known but is, rather, a subjective belief on the part of the author and of the reader.
Philip K. Dick (May 14, 1981)

Reading this made me reevaluate what it is I'm writing and I guess I'm writing part-sci-fi part-fantasy. There are elements I regard as possible and those I regard as impossible in my story. Arse.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

2 - Frak you

I'm currently watching season 3 of the exceptionally good Battlestar Galactica. Like many US shows, the characters don't say 'fuck' -generally they'll make do with 'damn' or 'shit' or simply nothing. In Battlestar Galactica, however, the writers have come up with an alternative. Instead of saying 'fuck' the characters use the word 'frak' and all variations thereof.

frak off - motherfrker - let's frack - fraked up

Characters use it from the start and we pick up on it quickly. We take it to be an example of semantic shift and although it seems odd at first, it works.

Thing is though, as much as it works, it just doesn't compare with the impact of the real 'fuck.' It's a step closer than shows like 24 or The Shield that have no strong swearing. Shows don't depend on swearing, but a great deal of credibility and believability is lost when all a guy who's just been double-crossed and left for dead can say is 'damn.'

Take The Wire. The characters swear in The Wire, a lot. One particular scene, one of the great scenes of TV history, has our two heroes Bunk and McNulty investigating an old crime scene. This scene is the best part of ten minutes long and literally all Bulk and McNulty say throughout is 'fuck' or variations thereof. It shouldn't really work, but it does. It's a powerful, indulgent scene that says so much more than a lot of crime procedural waffle.

I'd like to analyse this scene but I'm sure there are already many essays out there on it written by people with greater insight and verbal dexterity than me. So I just want to remind everyone who's watched The Wire of that scene. I just want you to remember watching it for the first time. I want you to smile as you reminisce. I want a shiver to run through you as I'm sure it ran through you nearly every time you watched an episode of The Wire. For anyone who hasn't watched it - you must, if just for that scene.

Monday, 11 January 2010

1 - Evolution, of a sort

I’m failing to get any further with redrafting my novel at the moment and yet I’m somehow alive with a huge compulsion to write. I think it’s simply that I want to be writing new things. That’s why I’ve joined One A Day. I won’t go into the details, suffice it to say the aim is to write one blog a day for a year. It seems fitting to kick start the process by writing about writing itself.

What I love about writing most is that it’s an organic process, constantly evolving and transforming until it becomes something so very different from what you started out with that you forget how you got there. I can generally remember where a single idea for a story originated from, but most of the finer points are lost in the annals of my mind.

I know that when I was writing a piece I made conscious decisions. I know when I was writing a piece I was influenced by what I was reading, watching and listening to at the time. I know that when I was writing a piece I did some things by accident and they just stuck.

Sometimes I wish I could tear apart every little detail of a story and see why this is this, even if it’s for the most banal reasons – such as the time I made a character obsequious simply because I came across the word and liked it.

I started writing a piece yesterday. It’s a truncated form of a novella idea I’ve been toying with for some months and for some reason that I have already forgotten, I have started writing it in a garbled, semi-phonetic version of English.

I’ve clearly taken direction from A Clockwork Orange, Riddley Walker and 1984’s Newspeak but I’m sure I wasn’t consciously paying homage to/ripping off these pieces when I started. Now I’ve got to such an involved level with this language that I can’t stop.

I know I’m alienating any audience by making the piece tougher to read. I know it adds little if anything to the story. Worst of all, I’m finding it hard letting go. The language is evolving every time I return to the piece. I’m deciding on specific spellings and new rules, but I guess that’s the basis for an entire other blog. I just wish I could remember why I thought it was a good idea.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Day of the Triffids & back-story

This is a sort of sequel to my last post, 'The Lost Room & depth.' When watching the BBC's 2009 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids last week, it occurred to me that seeing as this was a mostly-loyal adaptation, you could view it as a rewrite of the original text.

Some parts were changed to contemporise it, such as the Cold War subtext and the 'cosy catastrophe' feel. Some parts were altered to breathe a little new life into the well-know story - the character of Torrence was expanded without really fleshing out his character and the ending included some nonsensical and unbelievable escape plan that involved funnelling Triffid poison into the eyes using a tribal mask. Quite.

There was one change that made sense, however; most of the back-story was thinned out. In the novel we get an entire chapter of exposition that gives us far more than we need to get through the text. This scene was kept in the 1981 TV adaptation, but removed entirely in the 2009 series. The back-story we do get in the latter is revealed in small amount gradually through the show.

Though I do have some fondness for the novel's approach, there's no denying that that exposition chapter slows the pace terribly. The 2009 TV show, much more at the mercy of pacing, skips over it. Okay, a lot of the depth has been removed, and I'm a sucker for depth, but the show zips on at a far better pace.

It has made me yet again consider when and how to leak out exposition. I love John Wyndham's writing but I admit that info-dumping can be a pretty clumsy and pace-slowing, if informative and elucidating, way of giving the back-story. Of course novels can get away with slower sections easier than TV and film, and we even expect them. Then again, and I refer once more to Cube, if done right, you can get by with absolutely minimal to no back-story and create something altogether more powerful.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Lost Room & depth

I’ve just finished re-watching the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries The Lost Room. I discovered it by chance a year ago and it’s a phenomenal TV show, compelling to the brink of addiction. In themes and levels of mysteriousness, it draws comparisons with Lost but unlike Lost it hasn’t been drawn out to a ridiculous length and subsequently become diluted and confused.

At only six episodes in length The Lost Room is an intense, incredibly deep story. It’s this depth that I admire most. It’s breathtaking just how much back-story and potential for future events there is. Rather than coming across as a show too crammed-full of ideas for its own good, it’s a rich experience that reveals its depth with subtlety and intelligence. I’ve drawn a huge amount of inspiration from this show.

When I think of my writing I don’t want to simply create an intricate, deep world that’s either clumsily exposed or kept from sight. I want to create one that expands beyond the plot and reaches both off into the past and into the future just like The Lost Room. I believe a story should sit perfectly in a moment of time. We should feel like we have come partway through it and that the plot, and the lives of the characters, continues off into the future. I believe that under the surface should be a whole other level that we only get minor glimpses of.

No other TV show that I have come across does this so succinctly and so successfully as The Lost Room and I would benefit greatly from emulating this in my own writing. If I can write something as fantastically hanging in time as The Lost Room I’d be a happy writer.