Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: Delius

Another in the Ken Russell oeuvre: another composer too. Unlike the Elgar film, this is a fully embodied story and not just a biographical overview. Written with the assistance of Eric Fenby, Frederick Delius' amanuensis in his final years, it gives us a personal insight into the composer at a specific point in his life. I'll admit, I first knew of Delius (and as it happens, Fenby) from Kate Bush's song about Delius that captures the pivotal moment in the film [Kate based a lot of her songs on films -- "It's in the trees! It's coming!"] where Fenby first takes Delius' dictation for what would become "Song of Summer" and the young man's initial confusion and panic when he can't understand Delius' "Ta ta ta ta!" Her video nods to the images of Russell's film as well -- the wicker wheelchair! When I am old and need a chair, I want a wicker one.

Russell's film makes as much of their native Yorkshire as of the "exotic" location in Grez, although Fenby's fish-out-of-water feeling offers the viewer an entré into Delius and Jelka's world. The arrival of fellow composer Percy Grainger to the quietly obsessive menage breaks open the narrative delightfully. While not as visually arresting as the Elgar documentary, this short film showcases a lot of the visual acuity that sometimes gets overwhelming in later films. Russell had a very fine eye. You can watch this on YouTube if you don't have access to BBC4.

As always, see the round up of overlooked gems over at Sweet Freedom.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Whoosh, Whomp & Whoogah

Photo by Eileen Smith
Okay, sue me -- I love alliteration. It's the Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse poetry what are to blame. Besides, these are words that are fun to say out loud. Go on, do it. I'll wait.

Okay? So the "whoosh" is because January is nearly done. Eeek! How has the first month of 2012 passed by so quickly? I suppose starting off the year with a fun visit from Miss Wendy and then beginning to teach a course has something to do with that. And I have been writing madly, too. Another whoosh must be the wings of the now-captured Clepington Owl, so alas, I will not get a chance to see her when I get back to Dundee shortly. I'm sure the cats are glad. Yes, more PR from the zeitgeist in advance of Owl Stretching. Hope to hear the release date soon!

I have a short story up at Short-Story.Me -- a little gruesome tale called "Yuletide Feast" that probably would have been a little more timely last month, but you know how it is. I actually wrote this years ago and recently discovered that it had not been published (how does that go, you may ask: well, scrolling through my Stories folder looking for something that I can't remember what title I gave >_< and seeing a title that I also don't remember... see why I need minions?!) and sent it off. Bingo. 

I have also received an award from the lovely Jeanne Andrew: The Versatile Blogger Award. The rules of this harmless bit of fun are: to thank those that nominated you; to copy-and-paste the award logo in your own blog; to tell your readers seven random facts about you; and to nominate further blogs that you follow, and let them know.

Right, here goes: Thank you, Funny Girl Jeanne. You are a delight of my Twitter timeline :-)

Seven random things about me:

1) My favourite thing on the new iPad: bongos! Seriously.
2) I watched Jaws for the umpteenth time last night and it never gets old.
3) I like to sing along with Dusty Springfield and make all her dramatic arm gestures.
4) I wish I could have met Peter Cook just once, to see those eyes and hear that laugh.
5) I want to write sparkling prose that will live forever; I get around the anxiety and paralysis this causes by telling myself, "Well, not today obviously."
6) There is an indestructible happiness inside me.
7) I don't know where the stories I write come from; I just try to be friends with my head, as the great Russell Hoban put it, and simply write down what it tells me. So far, that's been working out.

Right: so here are some blogs you ought to be checking out, i.e the award winners! Some of these will be to give a kick in the muse for the folks I point to, as they have been neglectful of their blogs [gives severe look]. I see Mr B has already received one recently, so I won't add him to the list, but you should always drop by his gaff for some laffs (yes, spelled that way).

Lochee has has not updated his blog since posting some fetching pictures of Karen Gillan. Tsk!

The fabulous QoE always has some wonderful new art up. Stop by and show her the love.

Miss Wendy will surely have some stories to share about her visit here soon.

The poet of Rome, Alessandra, always has lovely things to share. Her sweetie, John, always has some darkness to offer, too.

The lovely jubbly Chloë also has a blog! She will delight and amuse you.

Have you checked out the Apocalypse Girls? If not, why not! And while you're at it, be sure to drop by UnBound to catch up on all the latest. They will be covering Alt.Fiction, where I will be doing a one-on-one with Graham Joyce (gulp!) about the darkness of fairy tales, as well as another explaining why pretty much all Alan Moore adaptations suck -- and probably reading some flash fiction in the open mic.

The usual suspects: if you're reading my blog, chances are you already read Todd, Patti and Elena as well: if you don't I simply have to ask, Are you mad?! Hee. You have all been given the versatile blogger award: no speeches required, just take a moment to reflect on the work that you've done and pat yourself on the back.

Well, that should give the rest of you plenty to get started reading. Are you blogging? Do I know that? Should you be sending me a link? That's the thing: we're all busy people. I won't know you've written something unless you tell me (see how I trumpet every little thing here). Share your words -- that's why you write, isn't it? Whoogah!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: It's a Curse

A simple concept: writers offer six sentences to pique your interest. Here's mine:

"And you're a beast among men, Roman Dalton." Marinova spoke softly but the words hit like a blow anyway. I hunched my shoulders and walked on, the zubrowka churning my guts yet. When I reached the lifts I punched the button with a little more energy than it called for to summon one. The wolf arched in my spine. His time drew closer. I hit the button again. I needed to finish up this job.

You can buy It's a Curse: Drunk on the Moon 7 and the other titles in Mr B's killer fun werewolf PI series along with a bunch of my fine colleagues at Trestle Press. You can also win a copy at Goodreads.

Drop by the Six Sentence Sunday blog to sample other writers. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Surprises and Melancholia (Bitch Buzz)

I meant to do a Friday Forgotten Book, but today took a few unexpected turns which involved a glorious day at the beach, a much overdue haircut and a shiny new iPad2 (thank you Fulbright Foundation) which is charging now. So I have added some lovely photos to the Ireland photo album, including a cute little Scottie dog (oddly enough, I'm working on a story that has one as a character). It's often difficult to get the corvids to sit still long enough -- or close enough -- to get a good picture, but rooks have been the best so far. Sitting in a tree on Claddagh Walk, one proved low enough to allow me to get a couple of shots that look all right. I keep trying to get the hooded crows and the magpies -- they're such fun to watch, but wisely wary of humans. Of course, in Galway there are always swans.

Low tide always has such interesting textures in the sand. I like the barnacles and seaweed exposed as the water recedes. Such a variety of textures. Makes for interesting pictures. And there's always my favourite spot. Sigh. It's so picturesque.

My column is up a bit later than usual: overdose on film coverage in the wake of the even more disappointing than usual choices. How the impact of a film like Melancholia could be overlooked seems a mystery. Oh wait, no it doesn't. It focuses on women and isn't a "chick flick" (horrid term).

Oscar Nomination Melancholia

As Bitch Magazine has already observed, the sky is blue, water is wet, and the Oscar nominations are a big feminist disappointment. This seems to be the year they officially become as irrelevant as the Grammys, an industry showcase that reflects no vision of reality outside the industrial boardrooms. In a year when awards can be offered for run-of-the-mill biopics that make horrid people "vulnerable" and "human" (one begins to suspect a subterranean right wing campaign funding both the films and the awards). At least the National Society of Film Critics and the jury at Cannes  picked up on it.

In the seemingly ever smaller number of films that pass the Bechdel Test, one major film got completely overlooked for the major awards: Lars von Trier's Melancholia. It's kind of stunning because it includes the sort of bravura acting that usually gets awards—had it been men in the roles, perhaps the statues would be lining up. Perhaps it was the uneasy accusations of misogyny leveled at von Trier particularly in the wake of Antichrist. But here's the thing: every female character does not have to be a squeaky clean role model or redeemed hooker. Male characters have the space to be good, bad or better yet, complicated. Women remain largely relegated to secondary roles in most films and to films dismissed as 'chick flicks' when they star in them.

Melancholia is no chick flick. It is harrowing in so many ways—not least for the unflinching portrayal of real depression...

Read the rest at BBHQ as always. I have more to say about Melancholia, I think. I've really only scratched the surface here: I want to talk about visualising the end of the world -- and the music, too. Anon -- always too much to do!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Michel R. Vaillancourt

I'm kicking off a new feature today: Writer Wednesday. So many of my colleagues have been kind enough to feature me on their blogs, I'm well overdue for returning the favour. First up is my fellow Trestle Press author, Michel R. Vaillancourt.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Michel.

In brief about me, I am forty-two years old, currently living in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.  My day job is CEO & Alpha-Geek for a video conference hosting company.  I’m married, I have a son and I have been reading and writing for most of my life.  I have been involved in Steampunk for two years and a fan of adventure stories since I was twelve.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood?

I'm a story teller, in terms of mindset.  So for me, the challenge is keeping myself "surrounded by the magic" that story telling brings me in front of a spoken-word audience.  Distractions that remind me that it's "just me here" are my bane.  So, I tend to write with most of the lights off, at my computer, using a full-screen won't-let-you-format-or-spell-check application called OmmWriter.

 The lights are out, because that "shrinks the world" the way that being on a stage or at a campfire does.  I can't see my audience, I just have to trust they are there.  I use a computer because my thoughts tumble out of my fingers, and I can't hand-write fast enough to keep up, and for some reason dictation never works for me.  OmmWriter gives me a visual and auditory ambiance that washes away the rest of the house noises, the sound of the five cats, four birds and a dog, etc, and allows me to emotionally drill into the scene I am trying to capture.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

Absolutely, I do.  My listening music tends to be based on my mood.  Sometimes, I just want quiet, or I pick one of the ambiance sequences that is part of OmmWriter.  I either listen to Steampunk music from groups like Abney Park, Vernian Process and Vagabond Opera, or I listen to trance/ electronica from Tiesto or Armin Van Burren.  Other times, I listen to atmospherics like Brian Eno's "Music For Airports" or "Music for Films".

 A few times, I've used music to help me craft a scene...  for that I dig out movie sound tracks and find the right "feel" I am looking for.  Most of the time, though, the music is there to work as creative grease, not to actually be a direct influence.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

I write when I have a story to tell.  I don't write because I "have" to because of an "external" influence, like a deadline or a screaming publisher.  I already have a job, so I have the luxury of writing my stories out because I feel like telling the next part of my story. How much I write at a session really depends on how much I have to say.  I write "until I'm done" and nothing more.  If that is 100 words, okay.  Some days it is 3200 words.  My wife knows that my story writing is a joy in my life, so when it is what I want to do, she encourages me and lets me go to it. That makes me very lucky on many fronts and I know that.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

These days, it would Cherie M. Priest.  I'd love to have them publish a review of my work.  She's pretty much the benchmark for Steampunk writing these days, given the success of "Boneshaker".

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

Other way around for me.  On the days my IT business isn't going so well, I fantasize about doing well enough as an author to go full time pro with it.  I haven't had a "bad writing day" so far;  I'm fortunate that way.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

Right now, not much.  I'm pretty busy, and I'm trying to stay focused on my own story world and my own story writing.  I'm a dreamer, so I get caught up really easily in other people's worlds.  So, until I get my second novel sealed and delivered, I'm keeping my reading pretty narrow.  Mostly period research and associated Steampunk-themed blogs.

Q: Where did the idea for The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

The full explanation is on my blog site with a complaint, an argument and two pretty girls. The short version is that I wanted to answer the question "who are the sort of people that live in a world where airship pirates are possible?"  That's why the main character, Hans Sauder, starts off into the world of airship piracy with as little knowledge as the reader at the beginning of the book.  It is an exploratory work.

 I added to that the idea that I wanted to write a really -strong- female character.  One that would really be very counter-culture to the Victorian ideals of womanhood.  One of the things that the Victorian Era served as was a kind of watershed for the Sufferage Movement.  To me, to be true to "Steampunk" as I see it, you pretty much need a female lead or supporting character to be ahead of the curve;  already be out there, doing the sort of things that women of the time rallying in the streets could only dream about.

 As far as sparking inspiration, one of my favorite comments about the nature of human discovery is that "... more great moments in science have been heralded with the words 'that's funny...' than 'eureka!'."  So, when I want to tell a compelling story, I start with a compelling question and then figure out how to make the answer feel like "that's funny...";  a sense of discovery or disbelief that grows into wonder.

 The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name

The Sauder Diaries take place in an alternate-history Earth, in the year 1888.  The Crimean War ended as a stalemate and Europe is divided along the Allied and Russian Imperial borders by the Scorchlands. Large sections of “civilized Europe” cannot be traveled due to bandits, renegade armies, and rogue mad science experiments.

 Hans Sauder is the son of a German industrialist, on his way to University to study airship engineering. His passenger airship is attacked by the legendary pirate ship the Bloody Rose.  Hans is taken prisoner and given the choice of joining the crew, or taking his chances with parachuting into the wilds of Europe.

 Thus begins the “diaries”, detailing his travels — the reader is first treated to Hans' impressions of events and then gets to see what really happened.

 Hans and his new crewmates are hunted by the airship navies of Allied Europe, chased into hiding in Egypt, board merchant ships over Germany, and visit hidden black market trade centers.  Things really get rough when they are hired to undertake a dangerous mission in the skies of the Russian Empire.

 As the story unfolds, Hans' new life is further complicated by the romantic advances of the leader of the ship's gunner-marines, a ruthless and no-nonsense woman with a chip on her shoulder.  As well, Hans is perpetually dogged by a deep conflict between his sense of morals and duty to his family, and the challenges and adventure of this new life he has discovered.

     He had made remarkable friends, found an improbable love, fought, killed, saved lives, wept and laughed all over a half-a-mile in the sky for three remarkable months.  He knew what it was he had been missing his entire life.

     “But I cannot stay,” he said quietly to himself.  

Michel can be found at his website, on Twitter and Facebook as well as Amazon and Goodreads. Look for him on the Steampunk Writers Ning, too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Ken Russell's Elgar

The BBC has been pulling out a bunch of Russell films from the vault in a grudging sort of admiration for the filmmaker's passing, including a doco on his life, A Bit of a Devil. So my DVR seems to be filling up with an assortment of things (which means I'll finally see The Boyfriend). I actually watched this in real time and plan to re-watch it soon. We're all used to thinking of Russell as the bad boy of excess (who, having seen it, can get the giant penis of Listomania out of their eyeballs?). Certainly a number of his films live up to that surreal excess.

But there is a range to his work -- even within his most excessive films (what would qualify for that? The Devils?) there are quiet enigmas. Elgar, a short film made for Monitor shows a restrained Russell at work but one who (as the doco tells us) delighted in dancing naked to extraordinary music. People tend to remember Elgar most for the song they hear at graduations, but there's so much more. Another one of those weird confluences of the zeitgeist: the events in Penda's Fen hinge on Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and the composer makes an appearance as the story takes place in the same location, the hills of Malvern.

I was talking about this on Twitter with a friend about how sensitive and deft the film was, how it put the music at the center. It tread the line between documentary and re-enactment without falling into the silliness that usually means. As Susie said, this was in sharp contrast to the slickness of current documentaries "and no silly camera work, no 'acting' Loved shot of Elgar walking into room of draped chairs to his draped billiard table." The film is full of striking images that encapsulate significant moments of Elgar's life (some of which reappear in Russell's work, but they're integrated into Elgar's story well). The music is the real star and Russell allows the audience to embrace the music full on, giving us space to really listen with visuals that compliment but never intrude on that experience. You can watch it in pieces on YouTube: not ideal, but worthwhile nonetheless. Excellent work.

See the roundup of recommendations over at Sweet Freedom.

Teaching tomorrow: eek. So much to do! Fortunately it seems as if the zeitgeist has taken the initiative to come up with a PR campaign for my forthcoming novel Owl Stretching, so that will save me some time.

Don't forget: enter to win a free copy of It's a Curse: Drunk on the Moon 7 over at Goodreads.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Haunted, Spies & a little Melancholia

Angela Carter: she's been a kind of spiritual mother to me since I first read The Bloody Chamber and knew I'd found a kindred soul. This week I finally started writing the novel that's been brewing in my head for some time now inspired by Carter and to some extent also by Kingsley Amis. Hard to imagine two writers more diametrically opposed, but there it is. They fit together in this project. So my head snapped back a little to see this story in the Guardian about Carter's postcards to her friend and literary executor Susannah Clapp. All kinds of resonance from the details in that story from her love of sending postcards to other coincidences that make me wonder just how much of Carter's life will intertwine with my story. Maybe it will only be at the start. Owl Stretching began the day I realised there would be no more sad, funny novels from Kurt Vonnegut, but his ghost only hung around now and then to remind me. He didn't really poke his nose into the proceedings much. Carter died far too soon (and about the age I am now). I feel a responsibility to write the kind of stories she might have written -- or at the very least, as fearlessly as she always sought to write. It's a goal. There's a slide show of the cards. Check it out.

I've got an interview up over at Ben Sobieck's blog, where he suggests I might really be a spy. It's funny how that theme keeps recurring: the first novel I ever wrote -- way back in high school -- followed the adventures of a wannabe spy. The title I'm sorry to say was Ace Spies Incorporated and the plot followed a similar path to just about every film from North by Northwest to The Man Who Knew Too Little with the innocent main character getting caught up with the real thing and quickly getting in over her head. The novel also featured thinly veiled versions of my teenage crushes, the Beatles (ah, that 70s resurgence of second wave Beatlemania). I don't think I have a copy of this anymore, although my old friend Carla might.

I finally saw Melancholia, but I'm not ready to write it up. Harrowing, I can say that much. Amazing, incredible visuals and powerful drama, yes -- but harrowing. And I start teaching Wednesday. Eek!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: Mandrake and Magpies

A simple concept: writers offer six sentences to pique your interest. Here's mine:

The rain began: that horizontal rain that filled all your pockets and wormed its way down your neck. Riley argued that it wasn't a sign either. It wasn't Galway unless the rain was whipping down—even when the sun came out. As he crossed over the little rivulet that passed under the road, a single magpie laughed at him from its perch on a reed and he remembered it was one for sorrow, two for joy, and looked in vain for a second. "Shoo," he muttered, waving an ineffectual hand. The pie flicked its tail feathers, hopped to the other bank and continued to make remarks about the weather—or his fate. 

You can buy "Mandrake and Magpies" in the anthology Dark Pages: International Noir along with a bunch of my fine colleagues at Trestle Press. Drop by the 6 Sentence Sunday blog to sample other writers.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: If You Want to Write

As I get ready to teach another Creative Writing course, I think about books to recommend at the end and here's a perennial recommendation. I'd also recommend Lynda Barry's What It Is as well, especially if you yearn to write but haven't quite figured out how to get the inchoate thoughts in your head out onto paper( and yes, Barry wants you to use paper). Like Barry's book Ueland's classic will give you confidence in your words. I chose this image because that's the edition I first had: it's been through many since then.

Ueland gets to the heart of the matter with her concise assertion: "everybody is talented, original and has something important to say." Everybody: that's an important underpinning of all that she writes here. You don't have to go out and live adventures or make yourself 'interesting' (a most films about writers suggest) in order to write. She's about the process -- the work of writing -- as the way to discover what you have to say. "I learned...that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness."

One of her "ah ha!" moments comes from reading one of Van Gogh's letters in which he begins by talking about how beautiful the scene outside his window is, then decides to try to sketch it. "And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it," Ueland writes, and "the moment I read Van Gogh's letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it." That's the key: recognising something that matters to you and conveying it as accurately as possible.

Never ask yourself if your ideas are important. Don't worry about being profound: "I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another." Remember, "...writing is not a performance but a generosity."

Obviously she and I agree about Blake, but there's a key there, too. "Don't always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. 'I will not Reason and Compare,' said Blake; 'my business is to Create.' Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable."

I like to have her reminders. Ueland nourishes the soul and reinvigorates the heart

As always, check Patti's blog for a roundup of overlooked tomes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

BitchBuzz: Why the Blackout Mattered

An unusual day: me away from the net. Be honest -- you didn't really notice I was gone, did you? It's all right. I know occasionally I should take a break from yammering across all media. Besides, I took some more lovely photographs over in Salthill. Nothing jazzes up a photo like a happy, bouncing Lab.

I also managed to finish a story and send it off to my editor: it was meant to be 5K but ended up closer to 8K. Also not like me: if you get paid the same, why go over the target? Well, sometimes the story demands it. Characters can be so pushy. Thinking about tonight's Over the Edge reading, I also thought I should have something on hand to read in case I can get on the list, so I finally started writing the new novel. Yes, about time after thinking about it for so long. It reminded me that the best way to edit your writing is to read it out loud. I know that, but I seem to always forget it. You may ask, how's that academic essay coming along? [cough] Today for sure! Here: go read Peter Cook's Jekyll and Hyde script and stop hassling me.

Better yet, go read the column, featuring a rudely hilarious animated GIF from The Oatmeal:

Why the Blackout Mattered

K. A. Laity

After some speculation about whether they would take part, it was telling that Google applied the now familiar black censorship bar over their corporate logo (in the U.S. anyway—Google.ie continued in normal mode). More obvious homes of net freedom like Boing-Boing, Reddit, Wikipedia and Wordpress likewise blacked out for the day, but the participation of Google confirmed the broadening opinion that even for a mega-global outfit like Google SOPA and PIPA continue to be very bad ideas.

The so-called "Stop Online Piracy Act" and the "Protect IP Act" would radically affect everyone who uses the net, by making a criminal of anyone who links to anything deemed to be copyrighted material as explained by the always insightful Stephen Colbert. Why catch criminals when you can make everyone a criminal? Anyone who thinks that of course the laws won't be abused this way by corporations should follow the horrifying saga of how the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have already invoked draconian measures against anyone they can catch—apparently because they're frustrated with not being able to catch real criminals.

People who do not understand the internet should not be legislating for its control; the sad fact is they allow corporations like the RIAA and MPAA to do it for them. While many people will support measures to stop internet piracy, those who do not comprehend how these poorly written measures will forever change the net need to know that Facebook, Twitter and all the rest will be as dead as Napster should SOPA or PIPA pass...

Read the rest at BBHQ. And hey, call your representatives and remind them they represent you and not multimillionaire corporations: fight the real enemy.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Devil and Miss Jones

A few things to mention before I get to this lovely little film: the BOGO sale at Trestle continues! I have a new short horror story coming out, "Yuletide Feast," which will be up soon: it's actually a rather old story that I stumbled across, realised had never been published, so shined up and sent off. Waste not, want not. I put the 1k story "A Charming Situation" I wrote for the Sherlocking site back in 2010 up on Scribd: just to help you with those withdrawal symptoms while waiting for series three. I somehow missed that Drink Tank's issue 300 has appeared already, featuring my piece "Viking Wrestling" on page 58 (it's a jam-packed gigantor issue with 300 entries and almost as many pages). I particularly like the illo by Mell Hoppe that accompanies it.

All, now for Miss Jones -- not to be confused with the similarly titled The Devil in Miss Jones which is very different to be sure. The Devil and Miss Jones stars the always luminous Jean Arthur (I seem to love that word luminous) who's also very funny. I want to see You Can't Take it With You right now! She's just glorious in that. It also stars the very funny Charles Coburn (you might know him best from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes where he was diamond mine owner Sir Charles Beekman AKA Piggy). Spring Byington charms as Arthur's friend Elizabeth and Robert Cummings plays the passionate labour organiser Joe.

It's almost impossible to imagine this film getting the green light. In a world where Hollywood has made a hero of millionaire industrialists like Tony Stark (the theme seems to be 'he's an asshole, but he's our asshole') and sold the idea that your personal fortune is just around the corner, it's amazing to see this picture that's completely on the side of the working people. In the current American climate, where "patriotism" has been writ as straight-laced morality and obedience to corporate overlords, it's astounding to see a film in praise of what is now the Occupy Wall Street folk. How has it become a radical notion to suggest that working people have rights and should be treated with dignity? It only takes Coburn's millionaire Merrick a few days with the plucky poor to realise how horrible his policies (and his empty life) have been. Cumming's impassioned delivery of the Declaration of Independence in the police station shows the vast gap between the patriotism of the former ideals of freedom and dignity that have been replaced by 'personhood' for corporations and draconian civil engineering masquerading as 'morality'.

The only thing that's kept his film from being acknowledged as a classic is the stumble at the end. It feels as if the filmmakers decided it was going on too long and just wrapped things up a little too quickly. Nevertheless, it's a fun film with plenty of great comedy moments (Jean Arthur's expressions are priceless when she's trying to work up the nerve to knock Coburn out) and an inspiring message.

As always, see the roundup of recommendations over at Sweet Freedom.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Trestle Press BOGO & Brit Grit Too






Amazon Kindle Best-Selling and trailblazing author Paul D. Brazill has decided to drop the price of his legendary Brit Grit Too to $.99 for one day, Monday, January 16, 2012. If you purchase Brit Grit Too Trestle Press will match that with any title up to the full purchase price of $4.99 as part of the BOGO sale (which includes It's a Curse and Dark Pages: International Noir of course!)
Just email Paul D. Brazill or find him at his legendary blog -- or email Trestle Press directly with your proof of purchase (e.g. your confirmation email from Amazon).
Here's the lowdown on Brit Grit Too:
Edited by Paul D Brazill, Brit Grit Too collects 32 of Britain's best up and coming crime fiction writers to aid the charity Children 1st. The BRIT GRIT mob is coming to kick down your door with hobnailed boots. Kitchen-sink noir; petty-thief-louts; lives of quiet desperation; sharp, blood-stained slices of life; booze-sodden brawls from the bottom of the barrel and comedy that’s as black as it’s bitter—this is BRIT GRIT.

Table of Contents.
1. Two Fingers Of Noir by Alan Griffiths
2. Looking For Jamie by Iain Rowan
3. Stones In Me Pocket by Nigel Bird
4. The Catch And The Fall by Luke Block
5. A Long Time Coming by Paul Grzegorzek
6. Loose Ends by Gary Dobb
7. Graduation Day by Malcolm Holt
8. Cry Baby by Victoria Watson
9. The Savage World Of Men by Richard Godwin
10. Hard Boiled Poem (a mystery) by Alan Savage
11. A Dirty Job by Sue Harding
12. Squaring The Circle by Nick Quantrill
13. The Best Days Of My Life by Steven Porter
14. Hanging Stan by Jason Michel
15. The Wrong Place To Die by Nick Triplow
16. Coffin Boy by Nick Mott
17. Meat Is Murder by Colin Graham
18. Adult Education by Graham Smith
19. A Public Service by Col Bury
20. Hero by Pete Sortwell
21. Snapshots by Paul D Brazill
22. Smoked by Luca Veste
23. Geraldine by Andy Rivers
24. A Minimum Of Reason by Nick Boldock
25. Dope On A Rope by Darren Sant
26. A Speck Of Dust by David Barber
27. Hard Times by Ian Ayris
28. Never Ending by Fiona Johnson
29. Faces by Frank Duffy
30. The Plebitarian by Danny Hogan
31. King Edward by Gerard Brennan
32. Brit Grit by Charlie Wade

Spinetingler Award nominee Paul D Brazill has had stories in loads of classy print and electronic magazines and anthologies, such as A Twist Of Noir, Beat To A Pulp, Crime Factory, Dark Valentine, Deadly Treats, Dirty Noir, Needle, Powder Burn Flash, Thrillers, Killers n Chillers, Noir Nation, Pulp Ink, Pulp Pusher, Radgepacket Volumes Four and Five, Shotgun Honey& The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 8. He writes for Pulp Metal Magazine and Mean Streets as well as his blog, You Would Say That, Wouldn't You? He is the creator of the  horror/noir series, Drunk on the Moon, published by Trestle Press.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Friday the 13th Hearts & Werewolves

UPDATE: My short sharp interview over at Mr B's is up, too! Drop by for more lies and exaggerations.

Happy Friday the 13th! If you're not superstitious, then you won't mind that I put a spell on you. Don't worry -- it's just to get you to join in the Valentine's Day giveaway that my publisher Trestle Press has cooked up. I'll be giving away FIVE copies of It's a Curse: Drunk on the Moon 7 at Goodreads. Just RSVP to the event to be in the running for the freebies. Be sure to find me on Goodreads if you haven't done so already. Some people give hearts and chocolates: I give you a free book. What could be better than that?

But the fun doesn't stop there: lots of the Trestle Press folks are doing the same thing, so you have lots of opportunities to win. I know the books aren't really that expensive, but I also know how much more fun it is to get away with paying nothing at all. Oh, I know you people, yes I do.

Here's a wee excerpt of It's a Curse, where Roman first meets his client. Hazard a guess at who Jameson might be based on (g'wan g'wan g'wan):

"Coffee? Or are you ready to start oiling your neck again?" Duffy flipped the battered National Geographic over on the counter so that the unnaturally green frog smiled upside down from the cover as I sat on a stool.

"Coffee." I wished I had thrown a few more aspirins down my gullet but another cup ought to sort that out. Duffy's java had about five times the strength of a normal brew. He claimed the beans had come from his cousin the alchemist. On days like this, I almost believed him.

He slid a mug across the counter and grinned a little too widely in its wake. "So, we gonna hear some wedding bells soon?"

A growl rumbled in my throat. The full moon was still days off, but the wolf already ran under my skin. He never really left anymore.

"Come on, Roman. You were awfully friendly with her last night."

This time I did snarl. "I don't remember a thing."

Duffy grinned. "You missed a good show. Those metal jockeys never had a chance."

I let the hot black blast fill my throat and ignored him. The wasps in my head were beginning to drown at last and a little silence would have aided their demise. Unfortunately Duffy blathered on, a pointless tale of drunken boasts, a damsel in distress and damage to the furniture that he blamed on me.

"Mr. Dalton, I presume?"

I swiveled my neck to the right, a mistake as the wasps took flight once more. "Who wants to know?"

He was tall and trim, clad in a Saville Row suit worn with such utter carelessness that he had to have been born to it. Sandy brown hair topped a face with the bluest eyes I'd ever seen and an amused look that its wearer probably never lost. He took a drag on a Gauloise and favoured me with a broad smile that managed not to suggest any sort of friendliness. "Edward Jameson."

"You're a long way from home, Mr. Jameson. Why didn't you send your butler instead?"

One eyebrow raised just enough to deepen the picture of amusement. "It's a rather delicate matter. My butler and I have a little understanding; he pretends not to know all my intimate secrets and I pretend to believe him. May I sit down?"


Hope that whets your appetite. Don't forget I'm over at the Writer's Block Party and all the folks from The Girl's Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse are over at Pornokitsch talking about why we do what we do.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What the Dickens?!

Hey, join me at the party! The Writer's Party, that is, where I do my Auntie Mame impression. I talk about inspiration and writing and whatnot. Not quite as crazily as I did at Mr B's but it's not possible to maintain that high level of madness all the time.

A decent showing in the Preditors & Editors Poll. I think I made it to #15 last year with "High Plains Lazarus"; this year It's a Curse made it to #16 and four other Drunk on the Moon titles ended up in the top 20 (imagine if our votes were combined!). Dark Pages: International Noir with my story "Mandrake and Magpies" made it to #13. With some real stiff competition, the fabulous Queen of Everything's cover art rose to #12. All in all, an excellent showing!

And just under the wire: the Pornokitsch interview with all of us at The Girl's Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse is up: check it out!

Those of you in the States may not be getting the same inundation that we are on this side of the pond, but even if you aren't deluged by Dickens, I stand by these recommendations:

Sick of Dickens? Here are Some Alternatives...
By K.A. Laity
It's the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. If somehow the news has escaped you, surely you could tell from the deluge of BBC productions assaulting us from every side (even if they don't always seem to be enjoying it).

It's only the second week in January and already we've had a new version of Great Expectations and fleshed out finish to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Arena has offered a neat recap of this most-filmed author whose works have filled cinemas since its first stuttering steps.

Meanwhile on the radio you can find adaptations of The Old Curiosity Shop, Hard Times, Little Dorrit and David Copperfield running at present. There are over 200 hits when you search programmes for Dickens (you get almost double that when you search sports, but that's seldom due to Charles).

Suppose you want costume drama but you're sick of Dickens? Where to turn? Let's assume for the sake of argument you've likewise had your fill lately of both Austen and Downton Abbey—after all you can't swing a dead urchin without hitting one or the other. Here are some suggestions that may be less well known to those of you who hunger for  yet more bonnets and waistcoats (I'd say hit the books, but we know that's not going to happen, is it?)...

Read the rest, as always, over at BBHQ. Despite my grumbling, I think Gwyneth Hughes did an admirable job of wrapping up Dickens' unsolved enigma and the second half cracked along. If some of the outcomes were predictable, others definitely were not! Nicely done. Spoilers in this recap.

Budapest and Switzerland in May: a distinct possiblity...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How I Did It

I am guest blogging over at Mr B's on how I wrote It's a Curse: Drunk on the Moon, Vol 7. A careful dissertation of the creative process or a wild pack of lies? You be the judge. I had fun writing this story, I had fun writing about writing about this story -- should I add a third level of self-reflection and admit to having a good time writing about writing about writing? Perhaps not.

Hard to believe I'll be teaching again soon (in so many ways). I have enjoyed my semester of freedom, perhaps a little too much. The liberty has gone to my head. I must remember how to do this, too.

At least I have been practising what I will be preaching -- commercial fiction, that is. Now to get better at it. Teaching remains the best way of learning. Be sure to check out the whole pack. Mr B says there will be a print collection later this year in February with his new prequel included (I've already had a sneak peak at it -- much fun!). Much fun -- and that's what it's really all about. Life is grand.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: Penda's Fen

Big birthday wishes to my li'l brother, Bertie. He wouldn't want me posting a picture that was not pre-approved or artfully touched up, so I will refrain from posting that pouty school photo from when he was about seven...

Much as I might be tempted.

Today's overlooked A/V owes a big thanks to Mr B, who pointed me to where Iain Rowan blogged about this film (and more owls -- awesome! [wait, not supposed to say that anymore; what did we come up with? Prodigious! I don't think it's going to work out though...]). Ahem.

Let's go back to a magical time: 1974. Okay, no so much magical as really really weird, especially when you consider British television. And not just scary PSAs, just really weird programs -- often aimed at kids! I give you Penda's Fen, which you can watch in its entirety online [so sorry the video freeze frames on an instance of animal cruelty! not intentional but I guess that will warn some of you away -- apologies!].

This is a film that would have trouble airing now in the States. Never mind that it deals with Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and Manichaeism (o_O) and homoeroticism, it also deals with the relationship between paganism and Christianity; not simply as atavistic past threatening its 'evolutionary' successor, but with a faith in the power of that pagan past and with a view of Christianity as a corrupt reflection of mechanised modernity.


Among the things that would doubtless give many fundies apoplexy, there's the suggestion that Joan of Arc might have been a follower of the Old Religion. The titular pagan Anglo-Saxon king offers a positive model, too. One of the real knock-outs of the film are the dream sequences which are truly unsettling in a very simple way. Two words: uncanny angel! Really creepy! I suspect this film alone may have warped a generation. Wonderful!

As always, catch up on all the recommendations over at Sweet Freedom.

And yes, it's the last day to vote in the Preditors & Editors Poll...

Monday, January 09, 2012

Year of the Owl

Don't I live in a gorgeous city?
First, a little importuning: I know, it's a bit much coming from someone who's had more than her fair share of luck lately. But I'd really like you to vote for me for best horror short story for It's a Curse. Pretty please? And as long as you're voting, you could also vote for the anthology I'm in, Dark Pages: International Noir, and for the Queen of Everything for best cover for Four Play and our pal C. Margery Kempe for best romance short, Dragger Ella. Thank you ever so. Only a couple more days to go. These contests can help boost sales and get a little attention. It's a constant battle against obscurity.

Full moon tonight. Where wolf? There, wolf!

Tip of the hat to my pal Mr B for pointing me to a post by Iain Rowan on "folk horror" inspirations from the past. Alan Garner's Owl Service has come up before. Probably Mr B mentioned (along with things like The Tomorrow People and Children of the Stones) the series made from the novel which looks amazing. Must track down the book: the library here doesn't have it, but I'm sure I can locate a copy. I don't know how I missed Garner's books as they clearly fit my own obsessions. More on this tomorrow.

I know in Chinese astrology the coming year will be the Year of the Dragon, but for me all signs point to it being the Year of the Owl. Yes, in part because of the forthcoming release of Owl Stretching (at last, at last), but there's something more. Everywhere I turn, it's owls. I know, birds a-plenty all around me: my magpies always, the swans of Galway, more rooks than you can shake a stick at. But owls keep popping up at significant moments. We shall see what that means.

So from Professor Elemental on Twitter this morning, a gift for you:

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Setting Sail for Inishmore

Miss Wendy and I tried to do the overnight B&B trip to Inishmore. We got up early Tuesday to go get our tickets for the ferry and make arrangements. The woman at the ticket office said the crew were making a decision at 9. They decided not to go that day.

More timid folk would have decided then and there not to make a crossing in January.

Miss Wendy and I, however, were determined, so we went back yesterday and sure enough, the ferry would be sailing so we got our bus & ferry tickets, but decided not to do the whole B&B thing, which ended up being just as well. Remote islands in the Atlantic in January, it turns out, do not offer experiences conducive to relaxed enjoyment. Imagine our surprise.

We found ourselves back in Connemara on the bus, which took a bit longer than we had anticipated to get to the ferry terminal. Miss Wendy, as you know, used to work at the Coast Guard Academy and has been on whaling trips and whatnot. My family used to have its own boat and I've been on ocean ferries before.

I have never been in water that wild! Miss Wendy said she understood now why Poseidon was the patron of horses as well as the sea as we plunged up and down in the waves. Arm rests have other uses than just resting arms, I discovered. I was trying not to think of things like The Poseidon Adventure and just roll with the waves. Even as I write this, I feel that strange sensation again. I didn't feel ill at all, just nervous.

Very very nervous.

It didn't help that all the islanders we met that day said, "Rough crossing?" and then proceeded to regale us with their own decisions not to take the ferry that week. The woman in the stone shop showed off her arm brace and said how she was supposed to go to her doctor on the mainland, "But I'll leave it until next week."

Our tour around the island brought us to seals (which I don't think either of us could make out) and lots of sea birds, which Miss Wendy found in her guide book. The ruins of the 8th century monastery and its cemetery were quite lovely and picturesque, living history.

The beauties of Dun Aengus were considerable but there was a bit of a problem; as the woman in the heritage office told us, "Be careful by the cliffs." What she might have said was, "The opening to the ring fort creates a kind of wind tunnel that combined with gale force wind will knock you off your feet." We discovered that for ourselves. Some dramatic footage of the cliffs.

The cafe where we warmed up before the hike up to the fort gave a lovely warm glow from the turf fire and the delicious food. The pub at the end of the tour proved a welcome sight as we tried to steel our resolve for the journey back. By the time we walked to the pier, the wind howled and the rain assaulted us. We got on board, but they warned us they were changing us to another boat. After about a quarter of an hour, we all decamped for the smaller, less swank ferry.

A few people had told us the journey back would be better, but coincidences added to our nerves. In the pub the telly showed a Raging Nature program on people dying in blizzards detailing how it feels to freeze to death and the woman sitting across the aisle from Wendy read a novel Dead Tomorrow! or something like that. I think we both blanched when one of the sailors, after staring out the fore window for a time intently, reached up to the row of life jackets hanging on a shelf above our heads. However, he was just retrieving his newspaper which he'd put up there. So we plunged on through the sea in the dark this time, rolling and pitching, rising to meet the waves and it was a bit better but still nerve-wracking, so we were glad to reach shore.

You can see all the Inishmore pictures at the end of the Ireland album. I think we're going to treat ourselves to a spa day today. I expect I may be back to visit the Aran Islands.

Critters Poll: still time to vote for me for best horror short, or as part of the Dark Pages: International Noir anthology; you can also vote for the lovely QoE's artwork as cover artist.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: Brett's Holmes

We had thought to head out to the islands today but the winds put the kibosh on that idea. So we may head out to the movies, which reminds me it's time for Tuesday's overlooked films or in this case, television. With all the attention being given to the new Sherlock and the Guy Ritchie Holmes, it's well worth reminding folks of my fave version of the detective's adventures starring Jeremy Brett. Absolutely wonderful. If you're unfamiliar, do find yourself the DVDs or the stream and treat yourself.

And if you like things a little lighter, there's always Brett's fine turn as Freddy in My Fair Lady.

Be sure to check out the full range of suggestions for your audio/visual pleasure over at Todd's.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Happy new year, everyone. It's been a cold and damp one so far in Ireland (shock!) but Miss Wendy and I managed to get out in the bit of sun yesterday for a little while to do some wandering and bird watching. New birds sighted included  chirpy little robin and moorhen up by Salmon Weir. It turns out that all the "crows" I have been seeing around the city are really rooks. Here's a dramatic shot of one out on Nimmo's pier who let me get quite close.

New Years Day gave us some good (if overlapping) television including Eddie Izzard's Treasure Island, a new episode of Sherlock and another AbFab. We only watched the first hour of the pirate yarn and then switched over to see Holmes and Watson -- and of course, Irene Adler. I wish I could say that Moffat & Co did her proud; for the greater part they did, but then by the end... sigh. Why do so many people have such a hard time seeing women as people, not just "not men"? If you haven't seen the "magic womb" Xmas episode of Doctor Who you might not find it as irksome. Then again you might. AbFab was amusing and gave Jane Horrocks a chance to show off her uncanny singing abilities. Edina's outfits were eye-searingly painful.

Bank holiday today: not sure what might be open. Sun's out at the moment. We're thinking of going to the islands tomorrow. More adventures!