Archive for February, 2013

Richard III: The Solution

Posted: February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
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With the recent discovery of the remains of King Richard III an argument has broken out over where his final resting place should be; a debate so intense that it might ignite a new War of the Roses. In order to prevent civil war, I’ve come up with an effective compromise that should please everyone.

Did you know, not a single English monarch is buried on the Moon? Surely it is time to arrest this shameful state of affairs. Last Plantagenet King of England, and first English monarch buried under lunar regolith, isn’t that a fitting memorial for one of the most misunderstood kings in English history?

Plus, by all accounts Richard was often seen looking up at the moon, and contemporary accounts have been discovered quoting the King as having said “Forsooth, verily have I often looked up at our lunar neighbour and wished I could visit its serene surface. Perhaps one day my bones may rest beneath its surface. Yes, that would be good that would…now then, has anyone seen my horse?”

This plan has many positives;
• The low cost of lunar real estate minimises expense.
• Leicester, where the King’s bones reside, has its own Space Centre (serendipity or what!)
• Lunar tourism is at an all-time low; in fact apparently no tourist has visited the moon since 1972! The interring of Richard III can only boost the Moon’s woeful tourist industry, providing a new attraction to stand beside such classics as; “That flag” “Those golf balls” and “Some footprints.”

Richard III. The Moon. You know it makes sense.

Maybe I should start a petition?

Temp Agency

Posted: February 26, 2013 in Free fiction
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Here’s another little story of mine from a couple of years ago, which is still available (along with many other fine tales) on the 365Tomorrows website.
* * *

The ad said; “I’m rich, you can be too! Call to find out how!”

Frankly it was the sort of ad you see in the papers every week, and you always laugh at the idiots who reply. At least I used to, but the recession was pinching, and my redundancy pay was running out. I was desperate.

The interview was laughable. Just a bland guy called Tony asking me inane questions in a hotel room, followed by him waving what looked like a calculator in my face.

‘Congratulations,’ he said afterwards. ‘You’re hired.’

‘Yeah but hired for what?’ I asked, suspicious that I was about to be asked to strip.

‘Why to time travel of course.’

Desperate or not, this was the point when I stood up, flipped him the finger, and headed for the exit. Before I could reach for the doorknob however, it vanished…along with the door. Suddenly I was facing a counter, an old cash register welded to it by rust; empty shelves lined the back wall, cobwebs everywhere.
Turning I discovered I was in an abandoned shop. The windows had been badly boarded up- and sunlight streamed in through myriad gaps.

I wasn’t alone. ‘Welcome to 1978,’ said Tony.

I was in shock, stumbling to the nearest gap in the boards, weaving my way like a drunkard (Chronosickness Tony calls it). Peering out I saw a busy high street. Only the people were dressed in out of date fashions, and the cars looked ancient yet brand new at the same time. Sweet Jesus this was the past…
A moment later and I was back in the hotel room, back in the now. ‘So,’ said Tony. ‘Want to be rich?’

I nodded like an idiot and he explained how it worked…

Firstly Tony is from the far future. He won’t tell me exactly when but whenever it is, it’s dull, and he seems a lot more at home in 2009 (apparently THE year to be seen in). To live here however, he needs money. Now I know what you’re thinking; time machine/lottery numbers/horseracing etc …doesn’t work. Time is a bitch, a cantankerous bitch at that. She won’t let you profit from future knowledge. Winning lottery numbers fail if you bring them back, horses fall…

After trial and error though, Tony discovered that time has nothing against hard labour, and nothing against putting your earnings in a high interest account then drawing the proceeds out in the future. However it only works with money earned in the past (trust a woman to be that fickle).

So Tony hops back, gets a job as a labourer for a week or two, banks his wages and skips forward to live off the interest.

He got rich, but he also got greedy, and he quickly figured out that he could only earn a finite amount alone. If he had help however…

So now I have a new job. I’ve been a street sweeper in 1970, a navvy laying railway lines in 1925, heck I even helped build the Titanic. I never have to work more than a week, then I return to the instant after I left to discover I’m a wealthy man.

Of course Tony takes half, but so what… I’ve worked just a month in the last year, and earned well over a hundred thousand.

Gotta go anyway, Tony has a new job for me in 1815. Only pays a shilling, but with that much interest I’ll be wealthy enough to take a year off. I’m meeting him at Waterloo. I’m assuming he means the railway station…

Warm Bodies

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring  Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer.

Its 2013 and here comes yet another zombie film…but wait, it’s not quite what you might think…this time it’s a romantic comedy, and not in a Shaun of the Dead kind of way, I mean in Shaun of the Dead the romantic protagonists were both still alive…

Hoult is R. He doesn’t remember his actual name, he’s just pretty sure it began with an R. R is a listless young man, shuffling around all day, not really accomplishing anything…which isn’t that surprisingly because he’s dead, he’s just a zombie, a reanimated corpse, albeit one with an internal monologue.

He spends his days wandering around a deserted airport, eating any unwary living people who wander his way and steering clear of the Bonies, zombies who’ve stripped away all their flesh, who’ve relinquished every shred of their humanity. R isn’t quite like the other zombies, he collects the discarded ephemera of the pre apocalyptic world, and he even has a curious kind of friendship with a fellow zombie.

Julie, on the other hand, is very much alive, and living with the tattered remnants of humanity behind a giant wall built by her father (John ‘haven’t seen him in anything for ages’ Malkovitch). She isn’t really happy with her lot either, especially when she and her friends, including her boyfriend Perry, venture outside the wall in search of supplies and run into a horde of zombies…one of whom is R.

Things get a lot worse. Perry is killed and R eats his brain, Julie meanwhile is unarmed and at the mercy of the undead…and then a strange thing happens. R catches sight of Julie, and deep inside his husk of a ribcage, his dead heart suddenly isn’t quite so dead anymore. Before you can say “George A Romero”  R has saved Julie from the clutches of the other zombies and whisked her away to his home, an abandoned airliner, but can there be any hope for a boy and a girl to find love in this messed up world, especially when the boy’s dead and his last victim was the girl’s boyfriend…

Ok, even having seen the film the above synopsis sounds cheesy, trite and, frankly, not very good, and it’s true, as zombie films go this is no Dawn of the Dead, it’s no Shaun of the Dead either. It isn’t like The Walking Dead or Zombieland or in fact any zombie film/tv show you may have seen before.

You might read the synopsis, take a look at its handsome young cast (yes even R who might be the best looking zombie ever) its story of love between the living and the dead, its cheesy effects work when zombie hearts start to beat, and it’s ‘can love conquer all’ storyline, and imagine that what we have here is Twilight with zombies…

Except to do that would be to do the film a disservice. Don’t get me wrong, as a zombie film this is, at best, entry level, the sort of film you might show someone before leading them on to, ahem, meatier fare. As a comedy however, it’s very funny.

That’s not to say its devoid of the horrific, despite its 12A certificate there’s gore—just not very much of it—and a couple of the zombie attacks, brief though they are, are quite effective, and the lead does eat someone’s brains. And as for the Bonies, seen close up they’re quite creepy, in a Ray Harryhausen kind of way. Only when we see swarms of them running later in the film is the effect lessened, and they look like A.N. Other cgi monsters.

Still, if you go see this film it’s best to think of it as a comedy with zombies in it, rather than a zombie comedy.

Much of the film’s charm, and the film’s humour rests on the shoulders of Hoult (bet you never thought he’d be a love struck zombie when you saw him in a silly hat pestering Hugh Grant in About a Boy did ya!) who is the, ahem again, beating heart of the film. From his shambling walk and doe eyed almost aspergic gaze, to his hilarious internal monologues he is quite simply the reason the film works. Hearing him think “Don’t be creepy” when he’s trying to convince Julie he’s no threat being just one of many classic lines.

Palmer isn’t quite as strong, and at times is perhaps a little too bland, though she has some good moments, and there is believable chemistry between her and R, and her zombie impression is quite amusing. Plus it must be hard to play the living in a film where the dead get all the best lines.

Malkovitch doesn’t get enough screen time to get his teeth into the role, but imbues Julie’s dad with sufficient gravitas, and similarly the rest of the cast manage to shine despite not having much screen time, from Rob Corddry as R’s friend, M, to Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s friend Nora (who almost steals the film with one of the funniest piss takes of a certain famous film’s very famous scene you’re likely to see) and even Dave (James’ brother) Franco giving Perry personality, even if it’s mostly in flashback.

Warm Bodies is lightweight, it’s fluffy and perhaps not as memorable as it could have been, but by the same token it’s not nearly as cheesy or as downright terrible as it might have been in other hands. It’s never going to end up in anyone’s zombie top ten, but it’s funny, charming and it does at least offer something a little different within the zombie genre, and you have to give it points for trying. Plus how can you not love a film with the moral; the way to a girl’s heart is through her boyfriend’s brains?

 

Vainglorious

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Regarding writing
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Vanity publishing is something that used to occur many years back, where if you’d written a book but no publisher would touch it with a bargepole, you could still find yourself in print by using a company who would print your book for you. In a way, for many people, this was their only way of getting their name in print, but it had many downsides. Firstly there were (probably still are) a lot of cowboys out there who would charge extortionate fees to publish people’s work, and I suspect more than a few people over the years were tricked into believing their opuses had been optioned by ‘real’ publishers, only to discover they had to pay for the privilege.

Even if the company was on the level, this process was usually costly. Not so long ago for a printing company to produce a book would have been a time and resource consuming business, and in order for it to be cost effective for even the most charitable of printers meant that you had to order a substantial number of books, often several hundred at least. This meant that the aspiring author usually lost money (aside from a rare few who managed to sell all their books on).

In recent years things have changed. First with the rise of so called print on demand publishers such as lulu.com, and more recently with the rise of e-books and the ability to self-publish, most notably via Amazon for their kindle. Add into this the ability for even the most technically illiterate to create an online presence, be it a website or a blog, and the capability to publish vainly has never been easier.

As you may know, I published a novella and some short stories (The Devils of Amber Street) via Amazon a few weeks ago, and a couple of years ago I published my first novel (City of Caves) via lulu.com. What I want to discuss here is my reasons for doing so, in fact the reasons anyone would choose to self-publish.

So first off, is it vanity? Well, I think to an extent it is. Even the most self-conscious of writers usually want their work to be read, we want validation, we want people to read and enjoy what we’ve written. The American thriller writer Lawrence Block summed it up nicely in his excellent ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ when he points out that, even as a hobby, if you can’t publish your work it tends to just sit in a drawer. As he says, if you paint you can always hang your artwork above your mantelpiece and people will hmm and ah at it, it’s hard to impress people with a manuscript.

Which brings me to the next point, vanity yes, but understandable vanity. An incredible amount of work goes into the writing of short stories or novels. City of Caves took me just over six months to write, my second novel took almost a year, and my third (The hopefully eventually to be self-published Safe House) took almost eighteen months. After all this effort, the thought of my work just sitting there on my hard drive never being read by anyone but me was anathema. I suppose I could have just published online via a website or blog but (and here’s where that damn vanity comes in again) there’s just something that makes it feel more special to see your work published in a more professional looking way. Holding a finished copy of City of Caves was a wonderful feeling.

I suppose the next thing to address is the notion that if you have to self-publish it means your work just isn’t good enough for the mainstream publishers. Well I might be biased here (and let’s be honest I probably am) but I don’t think this is always the case, and certainly there have been plenty of success stories over the years where books started out self-published yet ended up huge money spinners for the traditional publishing houses. The most famous recent example would be EL James’ 50 Shade of Grey and its sequels, and whatever your views may be of those books, it can’t be denied that they made the jump from self-published e-books to the New York Times best seller list, in fact given they started life as fan fiction (the lowest of the low in some eyes, though not mine given how much of it I wrote over the years) you could argue they’ve journeyed further than most.

The fact is that, whilst technology has provided more opportunities for writers, it’s also enabled an awful lot more people to become writers. When I first toyed with the notion of being a writer, I had two options; write in long hand or use a typewriter, and whilst I did both, it would be fair to say I never got very far. I quite enjoy writing long hand now, but in reality this was never an option for any work of great length, and whilst I did own a typewriter, I don’t think it was a particularly good one and given the number of mistakes I made again it was never a viable long term option, so it’s no major surprise to me that my ability to write large amounts coincided with a newfound access to word processing software! (Although in fairness a newfound dedication had its part to play as well.)

So, more opportunities but so many more writers as well, and even the most prolific of publishers can only publish a finite number of stories, and however good your work is, you’re relying on the publisher not finding ten or twelve authors they think are better—when you consider that they receive hundreds of submissions… well you can do the maths yourself.

I’ve had stories published however, and it would be a misnomer to think that the tales that make up The Devils of Amber Street are all ones that have been rejected by dozens of publishers. In fact only one of them, the Bonaventure Jane, has really done the rounds, but it’s a story I like a lot, and I wanted to see it get an airing. Megg was rejected by a couple of publishers, but I never really put it out there as much as I should have done, and as for The Wolf, given this is the opening chapter of my novel, Safe House it’s not a story that’s had any opportunity to find a home as a standalone piece.

This leaves the titular Devils itself, and believe it or not I’ve never submitted the novella anywhere. In part this is down to its length, novellas are hard to find a home for, but also I think I always knew it was something I wanted to build a book around, plus it’s a great title isn’t it?!

So there you have it, it is to do with vanity, it is to do with ego, but hopefully this is mitigated somewhat by more rational concerns; the need to see something you’ve poured a lot of time into reach a wider audience, and the need—in a crowded market place—to occasionally jump above the parapet and shout LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! Because it’s hard to get noticed sometimes, however good you are, you only have to consider how many publishers turned down the likes of JK Rowling or James Patterson to understand that.

As the saying goes, the lord helps those who help themselves…