Thursday, December 25, 2008

Baha'i Christmas

Every year at this time, I receive greetings from friends who are clearly unsure what to say to me at Christmas.

"Happy, uhhh, what should I say? Season's greetings? I'm not sure if you - Baha'is that is - if you ummm... I mean, do you celebrate Christmas?"

The first thing to note from this is the extraordinary care and sensitivity of people, not wanting to 'put their foot in it' in any way. I don't remember this phenomena from years ago, so perhaps people are becoming more aware of the diversity of religions. Thank you all.

The truth is, I am always delighted to be wished a happy Christmas - both as a day to remember the birth of Jesus, and as a traditional festival. I would imagine people of most religions would be similarly happy.

Baha'is do have their own present-giving festival, so in our family we don't make quite such a huge event out of Christmas as our neighbours. But it is still a time of celebration.

So... Happy Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Looking forward to Wallace and Gromit

Well, it is that time of year again. The credit crunch seems to have done little to still the feeding frenzy at the supermarket. Television is winding up towards the end of the year. Just Wallace and Gromit and the Dr Who Christmas special to look forward to. W & G particularly should be a treat. When each couple of seconds of film takes a day to produce, you really work on the story before you start shooting. Which is presumably why all the Aardman output is so very well crafted story-wise, and such a joy. Perhaps that is a lesson for all the rest of us storysmiths.

Only the weather seems unseasonal - feeling more like a mellow and misty autumn than mid-winter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Plot differences between Movies and TV

In writing about this subject, I'm sticking my neck out - because I don't understand it. Not that I can't recognise a movie plot when I see one or a plot for a television program. But to define the difference is another matter entirely.

The first full-length movie screenplay that I wrote turned out, according to people who understand these things far better than I, to have a TV-type plot. Perhaps it was because the journeys of the central characters were not great enough.

Certainly, the central characters of a television series will tend to be confronted with challenges, which they hopefully overcome, and move on afterwards incrementally changed. Over a series of episodes those incremental changes might add up to something significant. But compared to the character arc of a movie, the change is small.

Perhaps this is why detective stories translate so often into television rather than film. Because the detective solves a crime external to her/him. Two exceptions to this are the movies Gorky Park and Insomnia. In each of these, solving the crime is a small part of the story. The big picture is a detective at a moment of life change. The very core of their belief and identity is being challenged. They will not be the same person at the end - if they do survive at all. And if they don't survive, their destruction will have been caused by their own character implosion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Camera

Many thanks to the E-bayer who sold me the camera, and to his sister who carried it back from Spain to the UK. I'm learning how to use it. But there is a lot to learn.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nature's Magician

A quick catch-up blog entry. Just to say I have been under the weather with a virus and have 2 children off school with the same. Little time for writing or reading over the last couple of days.

However, I have just re-watched the excellent Twelve Monkeys. There was some discussion between my wife and I as to what actually happened in the end. And that has led me to think about story endings, closed and open.

I'm reading Anthony Cropper's excellent short story sequence Nature's Magician at the moment - which also asks questions about the endings of stories. I'll write more on that book when I have finished reading it. A story that has an ending that is left open can sometimes feel 'unfinished'. However, a story of that sort leaves you thinking for days after you have finished reading it. The mind can't quite let go, because the circle hasn't been finished.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Imperium by Robert Harris

Having read and enjoyed Fatherland, Enigma and Archangel, I picked up Imperium with eager anticipation. The other novels were tense thrillers based around historical events and embellished with significant speculative twists.

But from the outset it was clear that this novel would be different. “My name is Tiro,” the narrative begins. “For thirty-six years I was the confidential secretary of the Roman Statesman Cicero.” The pages turn and we sense that this book is not going to have the usual structure of a novel. It follows the recorded events of the time, only filling in where the details can not be known. And thus the book has an episodic feeling, as if it is a concatenation of two or three shorter works.

Tiro leads us through the stages of Cicero’s rise from idealistic obscurity to compromised power and fame. We are never fearful that he will not make it. That much is history. The fascination of this journey is to learn how the events might have come to pass. And as such it is a hugely successful book. Though the number of characters was at times baffling, I was always impelled to read on.

Harris is able to identify the key moments, the critical choices, when the great statesman did the opposite of what we and those around him might have expected. In doing so Cicero took control of his destiny, and the destiny of Rome. With insights such as these and many others, Harris has created a compelling and thought provoking novel. I have no hesitation in recommending it.

But is he teaching us about ancient Roman politics, or is he shining a light on the politics of our own time? How many of our recent political giants, love them or hate them, had this same instinct when confronted with difficulty – to choose what seemed the hardest, the least popular, the most dangerous path, and in doing so create the momentum that got them out of trouble?

Perhaps the principles of politics never change.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Soundtrack to the Novel

Many of the people I know who write novels say that they listen to specific music during the writing process. Specific to that novel. When the novel is finished and they move on to a new story, the music changes.

I also listen to music. But I also collect small objects associated with the story. I keep them on my desk and when I am looking for inspiration, I pick them up and turn them in my hand, feeling the weight and texture. Right now I am thinking about a story that concerns a locksmith. So I have a couple of padlocks on the desk, and a couple of bits of metal that I can use as lockpicks.

One of the questions that I am often asked is about how I do the research for my novels. I used to feel embarrassed about that question - because I was not aware of doing any research. But having thought about it, I have realised that I am constantly researching. My research might be described as persistent curiosity, or nosiness.

I go through my life asking questions of the people I meet, listening to what they have to say, and all the accumulated information is somehow regurgitated as a novel.

This morning offers a good example. We are having a couple of windows replaced and the man who is doing the work turns out to be a locksmith. Facts are comparatively easy to find on the Internet. I have mentioned in an earlier post that YouTube has a comprehensive range of instruction videos on lock picking. But attitudes are illusive things. Listening to a real locksmith talking about how he felt about the job - this is precious indeed.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ouch! Click.

This is going to be another brief blog entry. Not because of pressure of work this time.

I woke up in the night with a sharp pain in my shoulder. A muscle in spasm, I believe. We'll see what the doctor tells me later this morning. But the long and the short of it is that I'm not sure I'll be able to sit at the keyboard for many minutes today.

On the bright side, I do have my camera now, thanks to an e-bay trade. The manual is about an inch thick, so it is going to take some time to understand. But hopefully I'll be able to post some better pictures on here soon.

Many thanks to Keith, who sold it to me, and to his sister who carried it back to the UK from Spain.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


The only stills camera I have had for a few months is the one built in to my mobile phone. The good thing about that camera is that I always have it with me when I am out and about, so get to snap little scenes that appeal to me. The bad thing is the resolution - which is fairly crummy.

For which reason, I am in the process of buying a new (used) camera with a respectable lens and resolution.

But still, it does make me think that low resolution might have a virtue - in that it makes you think about composition. And perhaps the art of image composition has an overlap with descriptive writing. It is all about seeing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Margaret Penfold Media Trophy

On Thursday evening, I attended the annual LWC Awards Dinner and was delighted to receive the newly established "Margaret Penfold Media Trophy" award. This was in recognition of my work with short films and my recent documentary "Yarn".

Then on Sunday, I travelled up to Chesterfield Library to take part in their reading extravaganza. Very enjoyable. I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Maitland, who was there to talk about her novel "Company of Liars". Also Anthony Cropper, who was talking about his book of short stories "Nature's Magician".

I was hugely impressed with Route Publishers, who had a book stall in the library for the day. Dedicated lovers of narrative. It is inspiring to meet people working in the publishing industry who have such a passion for story.

Sorry if this blog entry is a bit of a diary. But sometimes life is like that!

And more diary type events coming up in the week. On Wednesday I get to visit members of Leicester University's English Society. Then on Thursday I will be at BBC Radio Leicester as part of Writing School Leicester's day-long Writathon.

Somewhere along the line, I must do some writing!