Monthly Archives: February 2018

When the Writing Stops

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Every now and then my writing just stops.

Whenever I have talked about it before on this blog it has always been in the past tense. Normally, I’ve had a breakthrough and the ability to create a story has come back.

Right now I am smack bang in the middle of not being able to write a word of my novel.

It is the most frustrating feeling in the world; I’m sure there must be a word in some language out there to describe this sort of frustration.

I have the desire to write, but too much doubt to let me because I keep having false starts. I’m more stressed and tense than normal because writing relaxes me. And worst of all I have too much on my mind because my story is in here, but it isn’t coming out coherently.

Essentially imagine you are stuck at the the front of the queue at the grocery store and the people behind you are shouting at you to get on with it, but you can’t because the self-serve machine keeps telling you there is an unexpected item in the bagging area when everything in there is expected or there’s nothing there; the screen keeps freezing and you have to start again; and then you put the wrong PIN number in.

Wait I am describing a scene from Sherlock? Probably.

Well not being able to write feels like that; except the voices I can hear shouting are my characters wondering when I’m going to get on with it already. I want nothing more than to just shout and storm off, except writing is such a massive part of who I am it would be like trying to walk away from sleeping, eating and drinking.

ARGH!!!!

odi et amo scripturae meae

Hopefully I will get to have my breakthrough soon because I’m referencing Catullus now; clearly I’m having problems with originality at the minute.

Which probably explains why I’ve been contemplating writing a book called ‘The Importance of Erna’.

(Go ahead roll your eyes, I did when my frustrated brain came up with that title)

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Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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John Green is not an author I have ever been tempted to read before, and even though I like ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ I’m not tempted to read anything else by him. It is nothing personal but he just doesn’t write books that suit my tastes.

However, I’ve always been open to trying new authors, and John Green has always been on my radar to try if the right book came along. When I heard his latest book is about a teenager living with an anxiety disorder, I knew I had finally found a book by this popular author that I might enjoy.

And I wasn’t wrong.

The story doesn’t go quite in the direction you think it is going to go when Aza and her best friend Daisy start a man-hunt for a missing billionaire in order to claim the reward. However, Green has written a character going through anxiety that is bloody brilliant.

I have read non-fiction books about mental illness before, some of them a bit clinical and others by the likes of Matt Haig and Susan Calman which are more personable.

The character of Aza though spoke to me in a way nothing has managed to before; she thinks like I think, though a bit more extreme, and the toll her illness takes on her family and friends is relatable. If anyone wants to know what it is like having a mental illness then they need to read this book. It won’t give you insight into what depression and any number of other disorders and illnesses can be like, but it will let you know what experiencing uncontrollable anxiety can be like.

And if nothing else it will more certainly give you insight into how difficult it is for anyone to have a mental illness. As easy as it is for people to say, ‘just stop thinking about it then’ this book is a very accessible way of seeing doing that is one of the most difficult things in the world.

I highly recommend this book; I couldn’t stop put it down while I was reading, and I longed to be able to pick it up and carry on reading it at times when I couldn’t (for instance in order to work and sleep). It’s great, and while I will never be a fan of John Green, I am an admirer of what he has achieved with this book.

Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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When I went to the cinema to see this film I was left deeply uncertain as to whether I had liked the film or not. I tried a couple of times to write a review back then, but I just couldn’t put into words what had bothered me about the film. When I re-watched it the other week I figured out what it was I don’t like.

I don’t like the title.

It’s a strange thing to have bothered me, but the reason is very much because the title places emphasis on Valerian, when the film itself is centred around both Valerian and Laureline. And why does the film centre on two protagonists? Because the comic book ‘Valerian and Laureline’, which the film has been adapted from, does so.

My problem stems from the fact that Laureline is likeable, whereas Valerian, while he certainly has his heart in the right place, is a bit dubious in his attitude at times. I don’t think it helps that there is no chemistry at all between these two characters; the actors didn’t make me believe that these are two people in love. In lust, on Valerian’s part certainly, but not in love. Skewing the emphasis from one character when it was really about two bugs me, especially because it is skewed towards the man, when in truth I much prefer Laureline.

That little quibble aside though, it is actually a really good film. The story slows down in places and goes off tangent from the main plot, but it does keep going, and it does get to a satisfying conclusion in the end. Generally as a writer I judge a film on the plot and the characters, and while they could have been better in this film, the film makes up for it because of another important factor that is crucial for science fiction to work properly. The storyworld.

The settings in this film from a lost paradise, to the market in another dimension to the City of a Thousand Planets which itself gave a multitude of different environments kept my attention on the screen. It is an imaginative extravaganza and I love this film for doing that.

Admittedly, saying that makes me a hypocrite. Generally I bash films for using their special effects to wow me. However, because they did have a decent and fairly original story to entice me in as well (makers of Avatar take note), it sits better with me that they used green screen to create a very different world from many I have seen on screen before. In many cases the setting was relevant to the plot as well, so it wasn’t like the filmmakers were boosting ‘look what we can do’ without reason.

The plot might slow down in places and the title is a bit deceiving in who the main character is, but this is a fun action packed science fiction film set in a very futuristic world, and in terms of utilising imagination, it definitely wins points for that. The overall message from the plot is certainly to be commended. (Slight spoiler – it is about forgiveness.)

Film Review: Groundhog Day

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I know, I know I should have maybe aimed to publish this on Feb 2nd, but there are two very good reasons why I didn’t; the main one being I forgot. The second is because I normally post on Wednesdays, and this one happens to also be Valentine’s Day. While I’m not a massive fan of the commercialisation of my relationship, I am a massive softie and a romantic, and Groundhog Day has always been one of my favourite romantic comedies. And for me this film is the epitome of why I don’t hold a high opinion of V-Day.

It has been years since I last saw this film, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the film, so I want to celebrate why it is so important to me. You can tell the technology is a bit dated but other than that the film and the story haven’t dated at all. It is classic film; it is about a time loop; about discovering who you are as a person and discovering what really matters in life. A bit of science fiction and a meaningful message is celebration enough to justify why it is a favourite, but I shall elaborate.

A lot of the first half of film is about coming to terms with being stuck in a time loop.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

This quote has become my favourite from the film. Admittedly it hasn’t always been my favourite. Before I grew up and understood a bit better this one had always been the best one, quite possibly because of the brilliance of the delivery:

Phil: It’s the same thing your whole life: “Clean up your room. Stand up straight. Pick up your feet. Take it like a man. Be nice to your sister. Don’t mix beer and wine, ever.” Oh yeah: “Don’t drive on the railroad track.”

Gus: Well, Phil, that’s one I happen to agree with.

You can probably guess what my favourite scene in the film is; getting drunk on beer in a bowling alley rather than a bar. Definitely small town America, but Gus and Ralph have always been two of the best characters, quite possibly because they are drunk, but most likely because they were always the ones that seemed to accept Phil’s situation without question and they went along with having some fun. I understand better now why they did because of the quote that has now become my favourite.

And because I understand the above quote better, and I understand how awful it would be to see everything tangible that you achieve in a day disappear into nothing, the film has just got better in time. I understand the frustration Phil feels as he tries again and again to woo Rita in an ever increasing series of getting slapped across the face. I understand the depression, because I have felt months roll into one in my head when I have been ill myself.

Acceptance and the desire to better one’s self comes in the latter half of the film. Listening to some beautiful music and reading a pile of books is something my husband and I joked that I would be doing within a week or two of being trapped in a time loop, but that is because learning new skills etc. is something I have learned is what makes each day different from the last.

At the end, having gone though what is probably centuries and centuries of the same day, Phil becomes the man Rita dreams of finding. And that is how people fall in love with each other; it is not some forced meet-cute and some pretend chemistry aided by the fact the actors themselves personify society’s idea of beauty, but because in real life people have interests, skills, the desire to be content in those skills and in doing the best they can to help other people who might not be having the best day.

This is why Groundhog Day is a classic film, because yes in the end it is about love, but in the majority the film is about life and it is about finding what makes life meaningful, of which love is just one part of living. And why is this film the epitome of why I don’t hold a high opinion of V-Day? Because love is not just for one day of the year.

I don’t have a problem with people celebrating love and I commend the idea. It is the commercialisation and expectation around it that I can’t stand; the idea that love is something that can be measured in tangible purchases. Love is something I nurture everyday as part of a greater whole, just like nurturing meaning in life is something Phil learns to nurture in himself as he lives the same day over and over again.

Film Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

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I admitted in my review of Thor Ragnarok I refused to go and see this film in the cinema. It was a decision that rested fairly well with me, though it took a couple of weeks for people who know I’m an MCU fan to realise I was being deadly serious. There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t want to go.

Firstly, and this might be a controversial opinion, but I don’t like Spider-Man as a character. I don’t know what it was about the comics or the cartoons when I was a kid, but something turned me against Spider-man and I have never liked the character since. It wasn’t like I didn’t try again when I got older.

I watched the Toby Maguire films, and I liked the first one quite a lot. Looking back though I understand now it is because of William Defoe’s turn as the Green Goblin. After the first film I never found a better villain in that trilogy, so I didn’t really see them more than once or twice at most.

I have never even seen Andrew Garfield’s films, because I felt the re-boot was just a money making scheme. Sorry everyone who was by employed by this franchise and those who loved this films. Don’t take it personally, because it isn’t personal. I am a cynical person; it is an opinion formed against a corporate decision not against the creativity involved.

But I mention this lack of enthusiasm for Spider-Man for a reason. While a lot of people were very excited by Spider-man being brought into the MCU, and even my first reaction was, ‘oh wow cool’, my second reaction was, ‘oh Marvel have enough money now to buy back everything they sold years ago, so they can now make more money.’ (I did say cynic!). So my couple of reasons so far are very much I don’t like the character, and I don’t like the cynical way he is used to make money.

However it really didn’t help that he was introduced to the MCU via Captain America: Civil War, the film that just destroyed my obsession with the MCU. I’ve got massive problems with that film being used as a launch pad for both Spider-Man and Black Panther.

One of them I could have forgiven, and if it had only been Black Panther I would have forgiven them (because quite frankly we need more diversity in the MCU and quickly). But because it was both, I was left feeling that Captain America’s story got hi-jacked, so I obtained even more biased against Spider-Man.

So I didn’t go to the cinema to see it, but at some point I don’t really remember I did concede to watch it at home.

And I did watch it to the end of the film, even though I was given permission to skip out if I wasn’t enjoying it. But I didn’t for a very simple reason.

Tom Holland is brilliant as Spider-man.

I thought he was a bit annoying in Civil War, but in his own film (and irritating Happy which is just hilarious) I will hold up my hands and admit that as cynical as I am about Spider-man and why he has been added to the MCU, it does work really well.

And it does because someone who is believable as a teenager boy has finally been cast in the role. The fact Marvel decided to skip the origins story in the belief we might actually know it was an added bonus. They just allude to it briefly via Ned, who reacts exactly like a teenager boy would react to finding out his best friend is a superhero. As if it is the coolest thing in the world, and how can I help?

The other thing that makes the film work is the villain, who for once wasn’t disposed of at the end, and wasn’t some mega-maniac motivated by wanting to rule the world (Loki I am looking at you).

Michael Keaton’s character is just an ordinary family man who changed because the world changed after the events of the Avengers Assemble. He did so in order to provide for his family and became the Vulture as a result. While for the majority of the film he isn’t a very nice man, by the end he admits like I do that Tom Holland’s Spider-man is a decent young boy with his heart in the right place.

So yes, I am cynical, and I have explained why I am, but as much as I had reservations about Spider-Man Homecoming, it is a good film, and is better than the most recent films for better established characters like Captain America and Thor.

I even enjoyed watching it. I mean I didn’t have the mind-blowing experience I can remember feeling as a more enthusiastic fan of the MCU, but it is great. I might even be more open to going and seeing the next one at the cinema. (Dear beloved husband of mine: please note use of the word ‘might’!)

Book Review: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

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Spoilers

When I spotted the book and read that this was an inspiration for the likes of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley I knew that I was going to have to give it a go. I love dystopian fiction and much of that stems from ‘Brave New World’.

The story follows a space engineer in OneState, where everyone is part of ‘We’ under the great Benefactor, and life is strictly followed according to the Table. He comes across another number (no-one has a name) who severely disrupts his life, his feelings and in his opinion his sanity. He gets diagnosed as having a soul, and reading his writings which are meant for being included on his space rocket as OneState travels out into the universe in order to bring happiness to all is very painful indeed. His world gets completely disrupted.

And I will admit while the piece is short, it is one of the most difficult books I have ever tried to read. I don’t think any of that comes from the fact it was translated from Russian, from the fact it is early Science Fiction written in the 1920s, or even that the prose is clunky in places.

I think my main problem was that by the end I had no sympathy for the rebels, and much of the dystopian literature I am familiar with you are supposed to be sympathetic with them. The book is told from the viewpoint of only one person who gets integrated into rebellion, has his feelings manipulated but only because as the builder of the space rocket which the rebels want to take over he can get them access to it. But the rebels don’t really care about him; they put him through all of this torment supposedly because they want to be free of OneState but in truth OneState is more sympathetic to him in the end.

Fine yes at the end they perform an operation on his brain to rid him of his imagination, but at the end he is happy, and the rebels never cared about the protagonist’s happiness. He is cared for by OneState in the manner that he understands and given back his life as he always knew it. And by being happy for him at the end, shows why ‘We’ is considered to be one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. (At least according to the late and great Ursula K. le Guin and I am inclined to agree with her.)

The storyworld building and the main character’s integration into this storyworld is so perfect, that you do end up happy for him at the end because he gets to go back to life as he always knew it, even though every hour of every day is regulated for him; his sexual partners are assigned to him; he lives in a room made entirely of glass and is devoid of privacy apart from when they are allowed to put the blinds down for sexual activity. His world is horrific, but the explanation of how it makes the character feel is so normal that by the end you are happy that the abnormality of what the rebels did to him is over.

That is a mark of brilliant writing. As much as you know it is awful, because you are reading it from the perspective of the protagonist, and his voice speaks to you so well, you end up forgetting that.

Utterly brilliant book even if it is hard to read and follow in places.

Film Review: The Final Year

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The Final Year, the HBO Documentary about Obama’s Foreign Policy team during the final year he was in office, has been on my radar to go and see ever since I had first heard the film had been made. I’m not someone whose entire life revolves around politics and what is happening, but I do keep my ear to the ground and I am interested in the processes of how political actions are carried out.

Last year I watched a BBC documentary about the House of Commons (UK Government) and found how out domestic politics operates and it was fascinating. I am someone more inclined to domestic policy than foreign policy, but I knew that I was going to find the inner workings of Obama’s Foreign Policy team just as intriguing.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

It was certainly interesting to hear from Ben Rhodes and John Kerry, and as always it was great to hear Obama’s opinion on anything, because it is always well thought through. At one point, he is talking to young leaders, and he gives them some great advice. To be a great leader you need to understand what motivates people. He says at first that you might assume that is money or power, but he’d learnt over time that you need to listen to their stories, and it is their experience that motivates them.

Let’s just say as an introvert who believes listening is one of the world’s most important (and feels as if it is the most ignored) skills, it was fantastic hearing someone like Barack Obama say that, and it was a great nugget of advice to take away from this film.

However, the focus of the film was on Samantha Power who acted as the UN Ambassador. I don’t know very much about her, but seeing a composed, professional woman carrying about her business was brilliant, and very inspiring as a young woman. It has certainly made me more interested in Foreign Policy and how organisations like the UN operate. Seeing where she travels to, and the issues she is still dealing with that the media stopped focusing on years ago is eye-opening.

The content of the film is certainly interesting, but what makes it an important film is that it shows that politics isn’t some flash in the pan action that resolves problems quickly. It is a long term dedication, and this film inspired me, and what I hope it does is inspire the next generation of leaders and diplomats to get involved.