Thursday, 31 December 2009

That was the decade that was

And so goodbye to the noughties… when this decade started I was 23 years-old, with a newly acquired illustration degree six months behind me. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, what was possible, what I wanted. I had moved back home (a common theme to be repeated throughout the decade) and my teenage ‘Saturday’ job had engulfed my week. Life seemed a little dull. Little did I know what was in store!

For a start I would live in five different places – all in north London. Two of these would be with friends – one known since we shared the same class in senior school, the other yet to be made in those early months of 2000. Both of which I was a proud bridesmaid for later in the decade. Three places would be with J – quirky flats that we made our own, one that came complete with pet ladybirds.

I would hold five jobs – two of which would not so sadly end in redundancy. One I would take to court for unfair dismissal and age discrimination, and win damages higher than £30,000, although the money was never forthcoming. Darn villains! The other was a daily newspaper hit by the credit crunch, and I was happy to leave. I would also work as a freelance writer, with long contracts up and down the country, and regular articles published in magazines and my local newspaper. I would interview people such as Bananarama, Ryan Reynolds, Josh Hartnett, Will Smith. I would wade through a lost river under London, work as an extra on a film, and attend the BAFTA awards as a guest. I would convince the priest of a church in Belgium that I needed his church for a commercial; I would fly to Sweden to attend a meeting. Twice I would turn my back on conventional employment to work for myself. The first time I would have a stall on a farmer’s market and sell handmade cards and paintings; I would also hold my first (and only!) art exhibition in a pub. The second time I would write a novel.

I would visit several countries for work (Belgium, France, Malta, Sweden, Switzerland) and several countries/cities for pleasure (New York, France, Canada, Croatia, Rhodes, Italy, Portugal, Cape Town, Poland). Some of them I would even visit three times (New York and Canada). I would also learn to appreciate the British Isles, and take long weekends in Cornwall, Swanage, the Lake District, Norfolk, Windsor, Glasgow, and visit Wales. I would go camping – twice at festivals, and twice with friends. In the early part of the decade I thought I would go on a snowboarding holiday every year – I was right until 2003. Instead my longest 'sport' became yoga – at some point every year I have attended a class, although I will rarely attend for more than three months in a row.

This is the decade in which I said a sad goodbye to my Nan, and to my first cat Timmy.

This is also the decade where I met S’s cats Abigail and Ginger, and they made their home with me.

Music festivals were an event on the calendar when I started the decade – Ozfest, Reading, Download, Hard Rock Calling, Lovebox, V Festival… dancing was important to me. Stand-alone gigs (not necessarily my choice!) would be Kylie, Robbie Williams, U2, Scissor Sisters, Disturbed, The Who, Aerosmith, The Answer, The Wonderstuff, Madness, and The Pet Shop Boys. I would also lean more towards classical music at the end of the decade – attending the Proms three years in a row, and various classical concerts around London.

My best, and most solid, friendships are still with the people who entered the decade with me, including J. I add to that list a few new names from this decade, but the noughties to me has been more of a time for fun acquaintances, a whirlwind of faces that come and go, and an appreciation of older friends. Three of my close friends now have children, four are married. Whereas once we all lived so close, some of my friends now live further afield - Acton, Borehamwood, Cheshunt, Harlow, Welwyn Garden City, Cambridge, to name but a few. One lives a whole plane ride away!

I started this decade with an illustrated cat book. I sent it away; it was too short. I packed it under the bed. I then went hell for leather on a book idea in 2002 and fifty pages in I decided it was terrible. I started another straightaway, and got eighty pages in before sending it off. I probably made every mistake possible, and yet still received kindly rejections. I then started another that was progressively more dark and gloomy, and changed tack yet again halfway through with another illustrated book idea for children. Another kind rejection (or three) later, I concentrated on earning money instead. Until in 2006 I had this book idea... and it hummed and poked at my subconscious for a year until I decided to give it a proper go. I have since gathered three more novel ideas that are sitting patiently in my brain. I now realise just how much work there is to getting an idea ready for others to see, which makes me feel even worse about the early submitted material!

And so I end the year with a non-published illustrated cat book, J, nice job, good friends, and a novel. I feel rather happy about that. Happy New Year's Eve to you all, however you spend it!


Sad edit, 5th January 2010: And so I end the year with a non-published illustrated cat book, nice job, good friends, and a novel.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A London Christmas

I am loving my little book ‘A London Christmas’ – so much fun to read how Londoners used to celebrate. Here are some of my observations from the book so far:

Forget turkey, give me beef!

Christmas dinner once upon a time was beef – there is no mention of turkey in this collection of memories and extracts, not until an article published by George Orwell in 1947. Since this book spans centuries of memories (oldest relevant extract is from 1443), it seems beef was the special treat of the year. Also featured were sage and onion stuffing, mince pies, plum pudding with brandy, and the meat dish ‘plum porridge’, which sounds a bit ominous. I am really tempted to try and follow an old recipe to see if it is edible! There is a lot of boiling and straining to do when cooking these old dishes, by the sound of it. The only thing that puts me off is that these recipes sound so fatty! It would have been ideal back then, but not for now when we are surrounded by so many fatty choices, and do little physical exercise, as a nation at least. But to be honest I am not a huge fan of turkey, so perhaps beef would be a traditional alternative.

Nb: Goose was also a traditional choice for this time of year - and I much prefer goose to turkey, so might reinstate that one!

Legalised begging

Boxing Day up and down the land was the time for everyone in service to demand payment. The doorbell would ring day and night as butchers, paperboys, the turn-cock (water), road-sweepers, coach-men, musicians, general errand-boys, post-boys, the sweep, dust-men, and lamp-lighters all come knocking for money. In 1852 it was so bad that the advice given in Chamber’s Journal was ‘tie up the knocker – say you’re sick, or you’re dead’. Doesn’t this remind you of how Halloween has morphed into the begging custom trick or treat? Yet in some ways this Boxing Day tradition continues – my mum always mentions giving the dust-men something ‘for their Christmas box’, but it is never on Boxing Day – usually the week before.

Christmas Day post

You could post your Christmas cards on December 24th and receive them Christmas Day. In fact, it was considered normal to post your cards on Christmas Eve, although it later years (by 1901 at least) the general consensus was to ‘post early’ to save the post office from being swamped with cards and parcels at the last minute. In 1890 a shop-bought card price was 8d, which works out to be £3.15 in today’s money. It doesn’t sound much of a difference, except the annual salaries back then worked out approx £12 for a nursemaid, £30 for a groom, £50 for a butler. I don’t think many would have splashed out the equivalent of £3.15 for a single card! No wonder folk made their own cards, if giving any at all.

Christmas Day travel

Trains, trams, buses – all these would be running on Christmas Day, making it easy for people to visit relatives in the country. There may be a brief hiatus on local trains until ‘after the Divine church service’, but the transport service didn’t close down for the day, as it does now. However, this means that now everyone has the right to a day off to celebrate how they choose, an option that just wasn’t considered back in the day.

The Holly and the Ivy

Decorations in olden times brought the country inside. Sprigs of dark green holly with cheerful red berries, clumps of trailing ivy to dress the mantle, boughs of mistletoe for the rich to giggle under. I really like this way of decorating a home - it smells fresh, and candles glimmer in a unique way off the waxed appearance of holly leaves. I would also add decorations of dried orange, and a cinnamon stick here and there for that warm smell of spice.

Can't wait to bring some of these traditions back!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Huge Thinking

I know I am thinking big, and thinking ahead, and thinking of amazing possibilities that may never happen – but if my story ever made it and was turned into a film, and if then the second novel made it and was also turned into a film – then I surely cannot have a big scene around the landing at Dunkirk in the Second World War, can I? The reason for this is I don’t think the Dunkirk depiction from the Tom Hanks film Saving Private Ryan can be bettered, and I would hate a poor comparison.

Am I being wildly optimistic here? Do I see wry grins from behind computer screens?

This imagined scene does not even happen until the second book, so I would have to assume the first all went swimmingly before this ever happens. But I do mention it in passing during the book I am writing now, which means I have to be doubly sure of my facts.

So now my main problem is as follows. Arthur, Florence’s intended, is in the East Surrey Regiment along with Florence’s brother Edward. The first battalion of East Surrey’s went to France in 1940 and were evacuated via Dunkirk. They then went to Africa, Sicily, etc. The brave souls of the second battalion were pitched into battle in Malaya against the Japanese, and most didn’t make it back alive. So being with the first battalion fits what I want, and what I have already written. But if the second book concentrates on Edward, which is the story I am thinking of writing, then the events at Dunkirk would play a big part in it. And then it gets totally like the introductory scene of Saving Private Ryan, or that scene in the film Atonement. Has that been done too much now?

However, Saving Private Ryan was in 1998, and Atonement was released in 2007 – and both got critical appraisal about how they filmed the Dunkirk sequence. Since I am daydreaming and thinking big, then the sort of timetable I am thinking is first book published (2012), second book (2013), film (2015), second film (2016). So if something to do with Dunkirk works every ten years, my book would be perfect.

Phew! I shall leave things exactly the way they are. And I must say I love thinking big! Oh the things that can happen… so much fun to dream.

I have also reached chapter twelve of the grand redraft!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Book haul

Here are the books I received for Christmas:

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan has been one of my favourite illustrator / story-tellers since I bought his book The Rabbits a few years ago. What can I say about his work? Well, he likes pipes. He draws an industrial world made of pipes, funnels and tunnels, populated by strange creatures trying to make sense of where they are and if they fit. A second glance however conveys a deeper meaning – his stories reflect political and historical change, dark glimpses into the human psyche, and reveal a reflection we can either improve or strive towards.

The Arrival is a story without words, and tells the story of immigration. A man leaves his family to sail far away to earn money to send back to them, and yet the world he arrives in is alien and strange.

The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan

Depression, oppression – this story uses fantastic imagery to reflect how hopeless and lost people can feel, and yet even then there can be hope. The only thing I would say about this book is that the pictures about depression are many, and the pictures about hope are few – I would have liked to see more of a balance.

A London Christmas, by Marina Cantacuzino

This is an anthology of seasonal memories compiled from various sources. A small extract below, taken from A London Family by M. Vivian Hughes, memories from 1870.

Christmas Eve was the day we liked best. The morning was a frenzied rush for last rehearsals for our family play, last posting of cards, last buying of presents. My father came home early, laden with parcels. The tea-table was resplendent with bon-bons (crackers), sweets, and surprise cakes with icing on the top and threepenny–bits inside. The usual ‘bread and butter first’ rule was set aside, and we all ate and talked and laughed to our heart’s content.

It is a really sweet compilation of memories – I can see myself referring to it when am grown up with my own little place, trying to make traditions of my own.

Dewey, by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

My mum thought I might like this story about a library cat in small-town America, as the cat on the cover looks like my Ginger Boy. I haven’t read it yet, and know nothing about the author, but it already has two things I like – cats and books - so it could be a winner. I’m always up for reading new authors – especially as one day I hope they will be up for reading mine!

John Lennon: The Life, by Phillip Norman

A lovely present from my brother, I am looking forward to settling down with this hefty book and seeing what it reveals. I have read a few books on John over the years, but this certainly looks like it will be the most in-depth – mainly as it is massive!

So I am pretty pleased with what I received (you can tell all is well when I chime in with a rhyme). Oh dear, sorry to go all Dr Seuss on you! I got some book vouchers as well, so these are the next books on my list.

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making

Did I tell you I collect Agatha Christie books? I like the old Fontana publications, but over the years I have got a sizable collection of each imprint. Hence why moving house for me is so tricky – I usually have at least four boxes filled to the top with Christie’s. But it’s not just about the old illustrated covers; it is of course the stories. I think they are wonderful. And so I have to get this book! I can tell I would be completely absorbed by it.

Decades of Beauty: The Changing Image of Women, 1890s to 1990s

I saw this book around my friend’s house and thought it looked fantastic. It documents the social events and history behind the fashions, and has great portraits of the stylish ladies from each decade, and how the idea of beauty has changed over the years.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King

I cannot resist a new book by Stephen King for too long. This was published in November 2009, which means it has been out there for over a whole month and I have not yet read it. The world stops when I read Stephen King, which is why I have avoided buying it as yet, but I doubt very much I will get to February without acquiring this one.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Lovely Christmas

Despite all my fears, Christmas was wonderful! Joy to the world! Here are my highlights from the last few days:

  • Seeing good friend A dash up the icy road (and keep her balance) on Christmas Eve so we could scurry into a church and sing carols. We sang very joyfully indeed, and being good, I did not sing the words ‘appeared a shining thong’ in 'While shepherd’s watched their flocks by night'.
  • Snuggling with J while watching Gremlins. Still pulling a face at the Gremlin exploding in the microwave.
  • Opening stocking presents with mum and a cup of tea, cats trying to get in on the action until I waved a satsuma in their direction.
  • More presents! Love presents.
  • Niece telling me The Beatles is now her favourite band while wearing Beatle t-shirt. Felt all proud.
  • Mum’s dinner, and her gorgeous sherry trifle.
  • Watching Doctor Who eye candy – David Tennant and John Simm.
  • Playing The Logo Board Game with family – brother picked a winner with the game to play this year (and brother won!).
  • Good friend I swooping down complete with cute reindeer hat and home-made flapjacks.
  • Going over to good friend C’s house, and a mad ten-minute present exchange.
  • Cracking open the bubbly. And the second bottle of bubbly.
  • Good friend C interpreting ‘we’re not that hungry’ to ‘bring us the sandwiches made of goose!’ – wonderful.
  • Boxing Day presents!
  • Sherry with lovely dinner. More sherry in trifle. Small glass of sherry just in case sherry top-up is needed.
  • Snoozing through the film taped from Christmas day, High Society.
  • House to myself, turkey sandwiches, new Christmas PJ’s and snuggy slippers, cats on lap, Morecambe and Wise Christmas special from 1973 on the telly. Bliss. Bring me sunshine…

*skips off doing the dance*

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Conversational Minefields

There is an invisible conversational minefield that is planted where I live every Christmas day when certain relatives come around. Negotiating it can be very tricky indeed, as you can see. Typical exchanges (and explosions) go as follows.

Me: How are you?
Miserable, actually. (BOOM!)

Me: Happy Christmas!
Is it? Considering all my troubles how dare you say that to me. (BANG!)

Me: Your hair looks nice!
Yours doesn’t, in fact you look really old. You are so ancient. Not sure why you are still wearing young things like jeans, anyone over thirty should be in a granny nighty. (BAM!)

Me: What presents did you get?
A small candle to light in my darkened room. (POW!)

Me: What are your plans for the New Year?
I don’t have any friends. You should include me in all your plans or I might kill myself and then that will be your fault. (BOOM!)

Me: What have you been up to?
Nothing . But don’t you worry about me; you have to live your own life. I’ll just sit here, casting a lonely shadow. (BANG!)

Me: How has work/school been?
Boring. (POW!)

Me: Here’s your present!
Oh. I don’t like that book/clothes/toy. I might cry and say I hate it and only wanted money. (BOOM!)

Me: But you have been given money.
Doh, only £70 so far. She/he got £75. It’s not fair. (BANG!)

Me: Christmas dinner is served!
I’ve decided I don’t eat turkey /it’s yucky and cold as we are so late anyway (SHAZAM!)

Me: Let’s play a game!
Only one I have practised so I can win. We will play by the rules and if you win I will say you have cheated. Just so you know. (KA-BAM!)

Me: Let’s watch TV!
Only what I want to watch, actually, as things you like are deadly dull like yourself. And I will have it at super-volume to ignore the rest of you in the same room. (BOOM!)

Nearly every time I open my mouth I hear a distant explosion. It gets to the point where I’d rather stay silent. One day I will like to enjoy Christmas, and each year I hope things will be different with certain folk, but it never gets any better, or easier. I do deep down love them and want them to be happy, but I am so weary. I fear that my patience has snapped and worn thin, and now I cannot help any further, but instead wish for the day to be over. Tricky stuff.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The second-hand book hunt

I am always on the look-out for a good second-hand bookshop. Sometimes this search takes me far and wide. Yesterday it almost took me to a basement.

I’d set off with a friend in search of a second-hand bookshop I'd heard about in south-west London. This isn’t an area I tend to visit, considering that it takes nearly two hours to get to it from where I live. I am always amazed that areas can have the same ending address, such as ‘London’, but be hours away from each-other. It’s a big place.

By the time we popped up in that quarter of the city the snow was falling – freezing cold blobs soaking into scarves, shiny wet pavements, and puddles reflecting the white-grey sky. It was a chilly day for book-hunting, but we found the bookshop I wanted to see, and it was small but worth the effort. The fun started when I was asked whether I would like to visit their warehouse to see more books.

I replied in the happy affirmative, and was given a map, and told the warehouse was actually a basement in an unmarked building, and I had to ring an unlabelled buzzer and ask for the bloke in the basement. Oh, and there would be no mobile reception ‘down below’. At this point, perhaps understandably, my enthusiasm started waning.

So, with my imagination hovering between the sort of warehouse last seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark but packed to the rafters with books, and being the main item on News at Ten, we decided to leave it for another day. Curse you active imagination! I didn't fancy being in the film 'Jayne Ferst and the Basement of Doom'. I’m sure all would have been more than well, but perhaps next time I will take J along with me!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Divine Award!

I have been given this rather enigmatic looking award from Rose, owner of the inspirational blog A Rose Beyond The Thames. Thank you!

I would like to pass this award onto the following folk – Kit Courteney Writes (when her laptop works), Just Twaddle, Wannabe A Writer, A Letter from Abroad (when her laptop works!) and In the Playground of Imagination.

Now, to each of the award winners: Pick up your award (save the picture above) and pass it along to 5 blogs of your choosing- but you can skip that bit if you like. Then answer the following questions with one word & post on your blog:

1. Where is your phone? Desk
2. Your hair? Flat
3. Your Mother? Tricky
4. Your Father? Photograph
5. Your favourite food? Chocolate
6. Your dream last night? Weird
7. Your favourite drink? Disaronno
8. Your dream/goal? Author
9. What room are you in? Office
10. Your hobby? Writing
11. Your fear? Mediocrity
12. Where do you want to be in six years? Happy
13. Where were you last night? Counselling
14. Something that you’re not? Assertive
15. Muffins? Martha
16. Wishlist item? Books
17. Where did you grow up? London
18. Last thing you did? Email
19. What are you wearing? Trousers
20. Your TV? Storage
21. Your pets? Cats
22. Friends? Lovely
23. Your life? Complicated
24. Your mood? Complex
25. Missing someone? Always
26. Vehicle? Tube
27. Something you’re not wearing? Socks
28. Your favourite store? Secondhand
29. Your Favourite colour? Green
30. When was the last time you laughed? Days
31. The last time you cried? Days
32. Your best friend? Happy
33. One place that I go to over and over? Work
34. Facebook? No
35. Favourite place to eat? Picnic

It is surprisingly tricky with one word! More words would reveal number 15 to be Martha and the Muffins, of course, who sang the marvellous Echo Beach. Although I was tempted to leave it with no explanation... but then you might think that I know a girl called Martha who only eats muffins, or I like to insult a girl called Martha by equating her to a muffin, or... well, perhaps I will stop there!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Go go gadget redraft!

I pinned myself to the computer for as much of the weekend as I could spare, and the result was I made it to chapter 11. Halfway! Although my mum kept interrupting me so much that I feared turning into the scary old-lady librarian from Ghostbusters. It was touch and go at one point, but I must have looked slightly wild around the eyes the last time she came into my room as I was then left alone for the rest of the evening. Gosh I am a grumpy bugger at times.

Chapter ten ended up half its original size. There was a lot of useless dialogue and explanations going on there, and deleting almost a chapter worth of words didn’t detract from the story one bit. Editing really is a rather amazing process; in fact I could hug it when it all seems to be going well. I can’t wait to get stuck in to the later chapters – especially as now I am fired up to finish. The aim now is to send away three chapters / treatment in January, and then the story to be finished by March. Thank you so much for all the encouragement with this – last week was a bit of a wake-up call to be honest. I think it can be so easy in life to imagine what can be, rather than trying for anything and perhaps failing. I think this has been my major problem, but I cannot live in dreams, so it is high-time to turn this into reality and see what happens. It is actually really exciting, as I cannot wait to say it is finished, and move on to the next story idea.

I have worked out that I can usually squeeze nine hours from the evenings after work, and at least fourteen from the weekend, which is surely enough time to redraft each chapter. So if I keep that up and finish a chapter every week, then I am on schedule to finish on Monday 8th March. And I actually think I might be able to go faster than that, to be honest. We'll see!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Quick! Panic! Write!

I just read today’s blog post by Help! I Need a Publisher! and it has been enough to scare me rigid. Apparently, while books on vampires are the current trend, books on angels will be the next big thing. This means anyone writing books with vampires in it now, as a debut, might just miss their boat, whereas anyone writing books with angels, as a debut, might find their way if they get them out there pronto.

Hence me sitting here with a bellyful of fright and fear in my eyes!

My book is about an angel that makes a mistake. That is all I am saying at the moment, as I am too scared to say anymore in case my idea drips like a leaky kettle into a talented and fast writer’s lap. I know… paranoia! But when you’ve worked and lived with an idea for four years, it does get to that stage, especially when it is not quite finished.

And there - I have said what is scaring me so badly.

The story is done, the redrafting isn’t. I am giving this story a thorough redraft – it goes out as perfect as I can get it, or it goes out not at all. So far it has taken me a year – a whole year – to redraft ten chapters. I have twelve left to go. I know it has been tough for me this year – financially and emotionally - but still… I’m definitely not being Madam Speedy with this. Yet I can’t miss the boat again! I did it with an earlier book idea (an agent told me if I had submitted my idea sooner then he would have definitely been interested – I didn’t know whether to be gutted, exhilarated, encouraged or flattened!).

I have just worked out that if I redraft a chapter every two weeks, mindful of busy full-time work and commuting, then I will be finished by June 2010. June! I absolutely cannot leave it until June! The boat will have gone, all onboard having a party, and I’ll be left waving my manuscript on the cold dock. Oh please God, not June. It’s March, or I give up.

There’s nothing else for it. I am going to have to get amazingly organised with my life and no longer give in to feeling crap and tired of an evening. I have no idea how I am going to do this – I often feel crap and tired! I sadly suspect I am actually a crap and tired sort of person. But maybe this is what separates the real writers from the wannabe’s – those that get amazingly organised and treat it seriously, and those that don’t. Most people do not have the luxury of sitting at home solely writing – they have to start somewhere, and are usually working elsewhere while they do. And some have children to factor in as well. Children! I bow down to these people and bring them virtual gifts of chocolate. How do they cope?

But despite the panic… there is a part of me that is hugely excited and spurred on with this news. For once I just might be bang on-trend. I know it is all based on one lady’s opinion but she has had tons of books published and gives excellent editorial advice. I think I can trust her words. I need to step up a gear, put ‘I’m A Believer’ on the ipod, and shift my butt!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bob-bob-bobbing along

I’ve made it to chapter ten of the redraft, which feels a major achievement. Chapter ten! The air feels different at chapter ten. Getting to chapter ten sounds more serious than wafting around on chapter nine – I’ve made it to double figures. The teens are in sight.

This was my monster chapter, and I have managed to shave 4000 words off it already. I love this sort of editing – putting sentences through a vigorous exercise routine so they reveal themselves as lean toned things of beauty, rather than forcing the poor things to drink Pad-Em-Up steroid drinks. The overall word count now stands at 110,000, but my goal is to get this to 100,000 (or less) to give this novel a better chance of being taken on by an astute and charming agent (just in case any are secretly reading). So more chopping yet to come, but there will be plenty of opportunity – there are still twelve chapters left to redraft.

I do wonder with a sinking heart whether it will take me another year to finish this novel. It can’t, can it? Real life work gets slowly but steadily busier with each week that passes, and it seems to take longer and more effort for me to disappear into my story the way I need to when redrafting. Maybe that will all shake itself out though.

And thinking of editing, I keep glancing sideways at chapter nine. It struck me at the weekend that I am saying something very similar with chapter nine and chapter ten, and perhaps I use both chapters to make the same point. There are differences… but still, I can’t help giving chapter nine a hard stare when I think it’s not looking. I am not sure whether it will come to deleting the entire chapter… but… it’s a thought. Not a pleasant thought granted! But if I do delete the current chapter nine then it means I’d have to delete a later chapter as well… which brings my word count down where it should be, and my chapter count down to twenty. But there’s a lot of good stuff in both, so that will be a rather painful decision. At the moment I will leave it where it is, keep calm and carry on. But I'll keep poking at the idea, like a child with a loose tooth, until something resolves itself. Eek!

Edit: I have just realised I wrote chapter ten over two years ago, in 2007. Two years? What on earth have I been doing? You can read all about it here. Weird to think I have now reached the 'later date' written about on that post... bet I didn't think then how much later!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

DVD or Ditch: Weird Science

Today we are going back to the exciting series DVD or Ditch, in which I return to old films taped on VHS and wonder whether to upgrade them to DVD. So let’s see how the film Weird Science holds up.

Weird Science starred Anthony Michael Hall from Breakfast Club fame; Ilan Mitchell-Smith as his mate, and model Kelly LeBrock as every schoolboy’s fantasy. It also had Robert Downey Jr sporting some really shocking hair, although singling just him out is truly unfair. 1985 will never be a year that screams style.

The premise of the film is two nerdy fifteen year-old boys hook up a Barbie doll to their 45k Amstrad/Spectrum/Atari/lump of plastic, and amazingly bring their fantasy woman to life. She then sees that all they really want to do is snog girls, drink beer and have a party – and so makes it all come true. It is no surprise to find out that it didn’t take long for director John Hughes to come up with some of his classic films…

Weird Science didn’t really make much of an impact on me as a teenager. I think I found it funny… more than likely it didn’t appeal as I didn’t fancy the two lead actors enough (shallow, moi? Splash.)

Returning to the film as an adult, and yes, it is still funny in places. However I cannot help but think that the idea of a 23 year-old woman having sex with a 15 year-old boy is the sort of thing that carries a prison term these days. I know the film is a teenage boy fantasy thing, but still… icky…

Anthony Michael Hall does the same high-pitched ‘stoner’ type voice he did in The Breakfast Club. I haven’t seen his other John Hughes film, Sixteen Candles, but I just bet there is a scene where his character will get drunk/stoned and out will come the voice… because everyone who is drunk and stoned does a stupid voice! It’s how we spot who is high of course, derr. Like how weed (The Breakfast Club) gives the user an amazing amount of energy and causes people to run and do cartwheels. But it is this sort of innocence in the films that I find really sweet…

I think films like this made me imagine that every American teenager was hugely rich, lived in a mansion, and drove their own car. I was so utterly impressed by American teenagers when I was thirteen, especially when everyone I knew looked like they had just crawled out of Grange Hill. Yet despite the obvious differences, there are some parts of the dialogue that are bang on for a teenager, for any teenager. I think John Hughes was brilliant at holding up a mirror to how introspective that time can be for everyone, and so he created films that ended up being quite universal, although 'ended up' sounds like it may have took him by surprise. I think he knew what he was doing.

But the funniest thing with re-watching this film is I remember when I originally first saw it I thought Kelly LeBrock’s character Lisa was such a grownup. I could never imagine, as a dorky thirteen year-old, that I would ever look as grownup as Lisa. And I was right – here I am at thirty-four, and I still do not look anything like as adult as Lisa. I doubt I will ever be that grownup, even when I am fifty.

So… upgrade this to DVD? It feels very dated. There were only six months between Weird Science and The Breakfast Club, but the latter still feels relevant to this day, whereas Weird Science creates a woman from a machine with less power than my mobile. So unless this film comes as part of a John Hughes DVD pack special, I won’t be upgrading this film anytime soon.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Friday Thoughts

When I left you I was splashing around in November. Now I am back with the dark chill of December evenings. Winter weather always seems to arrive slap-bang on December 1st, and this year was no exception. I smelt it as soon as I left my front door in the early hours, that special crisp coldness that crystallises your thoughts and makes you glad to be alive. As long as I have many knitted layers I am invincible.

The Cup-a-Soup compulsion has reached new heights at work. I have decided that Ainsley’s Sweet and Sour and Waitrose’s Chicken Noodle in a Cup are the best, the rest are pale imitators. I have also failed to resist the temptation of the giant chocolate buttons in WH Smiths. Two packets have disappeared in two weeks. But I don’t think Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells would be too taxed. The culprit is obviously the girl busting out of her jeans.

I spend most of my time at work ducking underneath my desk to turn on or turn off my little heater. Am freezing – on! Am boiling – off! And so it goes on all day, duck up, duck down. I must look as though I have ants in my pants.

I made it to chapter ten of the redrafting. I was ever so pleased. But then I started picking at the ends of chapter nine, and the last few pages unravelled faster than you can say ‘plot’. It is set in 1954, and the song I wove into it was not released in the UK until 1956. That was a little annoying (and how did I miss that the first time around, huh?). So I unpicked the song, and then unpicked some more, and now I have to knit the darn thing (hee!) back together again, sans song. Sometimes I think I am writing this too much as if it were a movie, already thinking of my soundtrack. I like to think big.

Little Christmas trees have started appearing in odd places. The grumpy man at the train station has one in his kiosk. I wonder if very early in the morning he had a moment of happiness setting it up, and then quickly rearranged his features to scowl at the first commuter. Or maybe a higher-ranking colleague plonked it in front of him and now he has to frown over tinsel all day.

Some girls have set up little trees at work by their desk. One asked me if I was going to get one, and instead I replied that I wasn’t into Christmas this year. It was like Ebenezer Scrooge had materialised in front of her wearing a pinafore dress. I felt like the poop in the party. I usually like Christmas I wanted to say, ask me next year! Next year I am bound to feel festive. This year I just want to eat humbugs.