Saturday, September 29, 2012

The majority of my friends who have seen this film, were not particularly impressed. In fact, a few of them looked a little bewildered when I said that I quite liked it.

The movie is set during The Great Depression, in the late 1930s. We're introduced quite quickly to the three main characters (one of which is played by the dashing George Clooney), who have just escaped a chain-gang and are on their way to find McGill's (Clooney) $1.2 million that he'd stolen and hidden. The rest of the movie is quite literally a feast for the eyes as they cross the South and in 'Forest-Gump Style' bump in to figures that lived during that time.

The best part of this movie other than the sheer aesthetics? It's based on Homer's Odyssey, yes, you've heard me right! Maybe this is where I trip over my own geekdom, but for real, they meet a kind-of-Cyclops (John Goodman) and even some kind-of-Sirens (played by three lovely ladies)... this was just awesome! 

Some may not enjoy this movie, as it is not as fast as most Hollywood movies we see today; but to be honest, this was written, directed and produced by the Coen brothers, and so it follows their same quirky and witty style that not everybody will 'get'. It most certainly was fast enough for me.

I spent much of the movie researching who the historical figures were. This may bug somebody to no end, but I enjoy thinking while I watch something, so, I felt that I learnt quite a lot about that era and the people they were bumping in to whilst I watched it (the pause button is my friend). 

O Brother, Where Art Thou? was praised for its soundtrack, and I'm not surprised by that. The Coen brothers seem to have done their best to bring some of their wit, appreciation of the aesthetic, quirkiness and love of music all together in to awesomeness. [Click on the YouTube video below and enjoy a small snippet!]

But even though I enjoyed it quite thoroughly, I finished the movie feeling a little dissatisfied. It was full of action, laughs, and awkwardness, but there was something missing. Because of that, I could only truly give it a 7/10. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I came across an article in The Guardian called 10 Rules for Writing Fiction. In the article they have interviewed a variety of authors, asking them to share their ten rules for writing.

I have really enjoyed reading these and so I thought that I would share my favourites with you!

Elmore Leonard
Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

Geoff Dyer
1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: "I'm writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job." Publisher: "That's exactly what makes me want to stay in my job." 

AL Kennedy

7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won't need to take notes. 
Margaret Atwood
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

So there you have it! A tiny, ickle collection of awesome things some awesome writers have said. If you'd like to read more, please fly off to The Guardian and enjoy the wisdom!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

'We're a blue planet in a corner of the galaxy, and for all the satellites and probes and Hubble pictures, we haven't seen evidence of anyone else. There's nothing like ours. We have to conclude we're on our own, and we have to deal with it. We're under the dome. All of us.' Stephen King

I am quite simply a Stephen King fan. I sing it loud and proud, so it was only a natural progression that I would reach for Under the Dome [2009]. 

The book has a simple premise. A small town in Maine is quite suddenly disconnected from the rest of America by a dome. Quite simple really. This obviously has horrifying consequences as the government begins to realise that the barrier is completely impenetrable to all of their attempts to destroy it. What ensues is an uncomfortable read of how the townspeople of Chester's Mill suddenly turn on each other, and what happens when people stop fearing the law (think of Lord of the Flies by William Golding).

King does an amazing job of commanding his MASSIVE cast of characters. And basically speeds through the plot. The characters can be scary, only because of just how real they are. They can be difficult to read, as deep down, we know that people can truly be as described. This, of course, is what makes King great - he has such an insight in to the human mind, our capabilities and our spirits that his novels (even his not so awesome ones) always have believable, uncomfortable characters. What is scary though, is how we read the townsfolk basically destroy themselves and others because they stop feeling accountable. 

The villain of the piece is 'Big Jim' Rennie - the Second Selectman and downright control-freak. He does anything to keep his power, and even uses some Hitler-esque techniques such as employing his own police-army, organising arson and vandalism too, oh, and stealing gas canisters from hospitals (the last one isn't so Hitlerish). I have yet to find a character in any novel I have read that I loathe as much as him.

We are also introduced to Dale Barbara i.e. 'Barbie', who plays the typical 'goodie' an ex-serviceman who spent time in Iraq. He is in constant opposition to 'Big Jim' Rennie which creates such a jarring atmosphere that I found I could only applaud King. I wish I could write characters with as much believability.  

There is a recurring theme of hypocrisy throughout the novel, and quite rightly so. We see corrupt mothers, corrupt pastors, corrupt town officials and corrupt policemen, and as readers we become so drowned by this corruption it can create a sense of bleakness and a despair at the human condition.... well, that's how I felt anyway!

King also makes it a point to discuss the ecological effects of living inside the dome. With cars, explosions, pollution, fires and what-not, we read as the dome becomes darker and darker with pollution - and also, how it starts to become warmer, being magnified by the sun's rays. 

Throughout the read I was bragging to my friends 'King is back... King is back!' and I believed it. Until the end.

[Spoiler alert] 
Yes. Until the end. Until the only explanation King could muster for the dome was a silly ol'cop-out in the form of extra-terrestrial children, deciding to perform a little experiment by placing a dome over the town and watching how it self destructs. King reiterates this idea by likening it to children burning ants with a magnifying glass. This, I just could not reconcile with the rest of the book. I was quite honestly disappointed, and what should have been the climax of the book was a complete let down. It just could not stand up to the build-up. 

The sci-fi aspects of the novel really ruined it for me, but that is only because I pretty much stay away from straight sci-fi books. Although it is barely touched upon it made enough of an appearance that it overshadowed the rest of the narrative. 

My advice (to those of you like me) is this.... read it, please do, it is awesome... just don't read it to the end! If you love sci-fi of course, you'll (hopefully) love the ending and close the humongous book with satisfaction!

I love you King. I do. But I just don't do aliens... (unless it is Dreamcatcher... it seems I can only do aliens if it is Dreamcatcher).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Genre
I absolutely love both films and books that have a post-apocalyptic setting.
In fact, even when I write, I find it a lot easier writing characters in to a 'post-apoc' setting than most others - there is just a world of versatility. We live in a disposable culture, and a culture that is blasted with scenes of destruction, pollution, disease and poverty 24 hours a day - it is no surprise that the post-apoc genre is becoming not only relevant to our lives, but can also give what seems to be prophetic insight in to our imminent doom.

Most post-apoc (not all!) novels, I have found, fall somewhere in 'The Empire of Geekdom', but occasionally a few novels rear their awesome heads and become instant classics... I am Legend, The Time Machine, The Stand, War of the Worlds to name but a few.

And then came The Hunger Games a 2008 novel that made the post-apoc genre relevant to teenagers, well, relevant to teenagers without extra high waisted trousers who spend their Friday nights playing Dungeons and Dragons and arguing about whether or not they like Ewoks ( I know... what a horrible stereotype!). Of course, the rest of the trilogy followed suite and arguments ensued as to which one was best.

The Audiobook
So, I purchased the audiobooks and got through them slowly. All three novels were narrated by Carolyn McCormick. Now, the problem with audiobooks - their major flaw, in my opinion, is that you rely very heavily upon the narrator's ability to emote the words upon the page. If they are unable to do that, or if they unable to give a voice to the character that either 1) suits the character 2) distinguishes that character from the rest, there is a pretty big risk that you could end up becoming indifferent to them.

Carolyn McCormick's narration was quite simply awful. At least to my taste. I found her uninspiring, I found the character voices to be amateurish, both her tone and speed of which she read was bland - which in turn made the book a little bit monotone to me.

The Story
The narrator though, does not let Suzanne Collins off of the hook. She could have had something wonderful, amazing, brilliant but it just seemed a little rushed - and repetitive. We meet the main character Katniss Everdeen (an awesome name) who seems strong, stubborn, hard-working and passionate. And although many people loved the main character, I didn't really. In fact, I found Collins' way of emoting Katniss kind of made her seem a little unbalanced and unbelievable; and as an author, it is a major sin if your audience does not believe your characters.

Anywho - there were some major flaws, and some major annoyances in the novels that I just could not get past [SPOILER ALERT]. Here is a list:

  • Why, oh why did Collins write this book as a first person narrative? I mean, really? It was ruined as soon as Katniss spoke for two reasons 1) Katniss is not likeable 2) the suspense was shot, I did not believe that Katniss was ever in any danger (as she was the narrator, and the only way that she could be in imminent danger is if she was telling the story from the grave)... therefore, I was unable to feel suspense or worry for her well being, I knew she would survive the Hunger Games just by the very fact that she is the one narrating it... and that there were two other novels afterwards.
  • The lack of likeable characters! Okay... there are three likeable characters in all three novels. 1) Gale, 2) Cinna, 3) Finnick . That's it! Even Haymitch (who was awesome played by Woody Harrelson) sucks in the novels. Even Prim... that boring little girl who should have just been thrown in to the Hunger Games to save us reading the other two, sucked. Quite simply, because Collins gave me no reason to root for Katniss, it meant that all characters introduced through Katniss became as boring as her narration. 
  • Why wasn't Snow killed? Yes, I understand the need to show that Katniss was protecting the future of all of Panem etc etc. But, she's an awesome shot throughout all three novels, even when injured, or fighting against guns, she is supposedly awesome with a bow and arrow... so why, why couldn't she kill both Snow and that President Coin if she'd wanted to. I understand that Coin was responsible for Prim's death, but Snow was responsible for putting her in to the games twice, killing off most of her friends, completely totalling district 12, oh, and of course - hijacking the 'love of her life' Peeta.
  • The supposed 'love-triangle'! This is where I found Collins had been shockingly lazy, this is why both romances just could not withstand the pressure of Katniss's narrative. Katniss is a manipulative, cheating young lady who just leads on whoever to get where she needs to be. In fact, both Peeta and Gale admit that in Mockingjay and yet Collins still wants us to be on Katniss' side? This is why, for me, I could not believe either romance. Katniss is just far too self-absorbed.
  • The Ending! For real, I could have sent Collins an abusive letter by the end of that atrocious last novel. The ending was such a let down I honestly felt that I had wasted my time. It was a cop-out. Katniss is abandoned in the end... by her best friend, her mother, and pretty much everybody else. Oh, except from Peeta and Haymitch. I think, in all honestly, it would have been a better ending if Katniss had eventually (once she got a little older) ended up with Haymitch.
So there you have it. My honest opinion, and thoughts on The Hunger Games. I think the reason I feel so strongly about it, is because Collins truly had something special, she was sat on a pot of gold, but due to what I read as laziness, and her inability to describe emotion, I felt disconnected and found myself hoping that a lot of the characters just died. Maybe I just didn't 'get it' as I'm not a young-adult, but there is some brilliant young-adult fiction out there that just does not succumb to bad plotting or laziness. Young-adults are people too, haha!

[P.S. I have also committed the CARDINAL SIN of being bookworm in that.... I preferred the movie over the book. I know, it is unforgivable... but more on that in another post methinks!]

Friday, September 14, 2012

I am the 'Harry Potter' generation. When I was in school the books suddenly flooded the book bags of my peers; and I... a little stubborn at times, refused to read it - guffawing at the idea of a little boy-wizard with a lightening shaped scar on his forehead running around a massive school of magic.

Whilst my friends were reading Harry Potter, I turned to the likes of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy (which had come out a few years earlier). I then, through the rest of school ignored the subsequent Harry Potter novels BUT always watched the movies.

See, that was the hypocrisy in it. I didn't and hadn't read the books. In fact, as a general rule I try to avoid film adaptations of novels until I get around to reading the book. With Harry Potter I broke my rule and devoured the films - in fact, I would watch each film in the cinema - eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Once the last movie came out I truly found myself feeling a little lost. The anticipation that I would feel at the end of each film was gone, and I felt deflated and underwhelmed.

I evaded and buried my head in the sand when it came to J.K Rowling's novels... but no more. I recently received the whole set of Harry Potter as audiobooks narrated by the BRILLIANT Jim Dale. I have already started the first one and I am enjoying it - in fact, I'm even laughing out loud at times. Jim Dale's narration is just absolutely spot on, he differentiates between the voices so much that you know who is speaking before Rowling tells us. 

And so, now I feel sorry for myself. I know, ridiculous, but I do! I wish that my stubbornness hadn't prevented me from enjoying these books during my childhood. I just had this absolute need to not follow the crowd or feel coerced in to something that I just dug my heels in. But as a result, from what I've read so far, it may have been a very, very large bookish mistake.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Audiobooks are quite like Marmite.... you either LOVE them, or you HATE them.

Although I have always (until a few years ago) been a paperback bookworm, I do have some early childhood memories of listening to audiobooks. Of course, I remember that the audiobooks were actually on cassettes that needed turning in the middle of the night, and sometimes the story would actually be read over multiple tapes.

We had a couple of Roald Dahl tapes, Danny Champion of the World and The BFG are the ones I specifically remember, and also a few cassettes of the series The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. My sister and I would listen to these religiously, every night before I would get in to bed it was my job to rewind the cassettes to the beginning and press play. Jumping in to bed swiftly (as it was dark and there quite possibly could have been a monster under the bed) I would snuggle down in to the covers, my sister on the top bunk would wriggle and we would settle down for the first chapter of the book (which we rarely finished because sleep would take us).

After those short lived years CD and DVD players became 'all the rage' and I cannot remember ever going back to audiobooks. Not until I reached my early 20s.

All through my early years, even while I listened to our audiobooks over and over again I still had a massive appetite for reading books (y'know, old school style - with paper and everything!). This followed me all through my childhood, and teenagehood.... until university happened.

Before I went to university I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to read English Literature. There was nothing else I wanted to do, and nothing I felt that would hold my interest like Literature would.

Now, let me be honest with you. You would think, surrounded by literature, and fellow literature enthusiasts that I would have thrived in this environment and that my bookishness would have also thrived... well the hopes I had had all turned out to be a filthy lie!!! Hopes and dreams of an unsuspecting, naive English student. The degree quite literally kicked the love of reading out of me. Not the love of books, or the love of words, or literature... but the actual act of sitting down with a book was robbed from me.

I'm not sure if it was the idea of reading to a deadline, or having to read ridiculous amounts of criticism that surrounded a certain book but I just suddenly stopped reading, and it left a massive hole in my life.

Cue Audible. A very awesome website that sells audiobooks that you can just download on to your phone (if you have the app) and for a fee every month be given a credit to spend on anything in the bookshop... and yes, I mean anything! In my opinion, Audible made audiobooks affordable (as they can be bleeding expensive!), easy, and dare I say it... not so old ladyish?

This suddenly changed so many things in my life. Suddenly, I did not have to feel like a traitor to the written word. I no longer felt intimidated by the books on my shelf that longed for just one more read (quite like the poor old toys in Toy Story 3), now I download a book that sometimes takes me two months to get through (bloody Mockingjay) with no pressure and I  listen to 10 minutes every night before I go to sleep. It works for me. I get my book fix without the flashbacks of poring over a crappy book at university for six hours trying to read it before my next seminar!

So anywho - I love audiobooks, and I still love 'real' books, but at the moment audiobooks just work for me. They fit in to my lifestyle and lull me in to bookish dreams each night.
You never know - you may just love them as much as I do.... so give them a try some time.

[By the way, just so you know. I do not work for, and am not endorsed by Audible in any way shape or form. In fact.... I pay them - haha!]
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