Monday, January 31, 2005

drifting through monday

It was my day off today (I have every Monday off) and I decided that as Rebecca was heading off to work at 1pm I'd leave at the same time and go into the City centre. There was no reason to do this I just felt like getting out. I spent a voucher I'd been sent for Christmas and bought the American Slendor DVD which I'd been promising myself for a while (and after watching, and enjoying, Sideways last night it seemed about time to carry through on my promise) A quick trip to a comic shop and I bought By the Numbers, a French graphic novel translated by DC. I don't know much about it other than it's set during 1948 and is illustrated by Stanislas. As Stanislas is the artist responsible for a rather wonderful comic biography of Herge I'm not fussed what it's about, it's look lovely so I'm prepared to take a gamble on the story.
There's something pleasant, even if it's a bit lame in a Gen X/Friends sort of way about sitting in a coffee shop reading a book, so that's what I did. The book was The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konisburg who wrote on of my favourite childrens' books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. So far the book is very lovely indeed and for some strange reason is reminding me of Tales From The City. My attention was occassionally distracted from the book by the couple opposite me who were holding a conversation only really interesting to themselves but who happily broke off several times during it to answer their mobile phones. having only recently bought a mobile phone I'm still amazed at the (lack of) manners attached to the damn things. There was no pause in answerign the phones, one simply stopped talking to the other and answered the phone, no apologies, no recriminations.
On the way back home I passed a woman on a bicycle with her young son on the back, he had his head tilted as far back as it would go and was grining as the wind ruffled his blonde moppet hair. I had to smile.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Perfect Weekend

It seems like it's been months since my wife and I had a couple of days off to ourselves, but then it probably has been months. Sometimes out two rotas just don't fit neatly together and we end up maybe having a day off together once every couple of weeks. Those odd days off for the last few months have been used up for mundane jobs such as food shopping or being spent on a train to see family for a couple of hours before getting back on train then going back to work. But not so for the weekend just gone. Two days off together with no errands and no visiting.
On Saturday we had a nice lie in, slobbed around for a while reading watching the tv and drinking coffee before heading into town for a look round the shops and then going to see Million Dollar Baby (which was excellent) stopping briefly inbetween to eat cookies and drink more coffee. After the film we had a quick drink and then went to a nice veggie restuarant called Squeek, a place where we are always promising ourselves we'll go to more often but still only manage it about twice a year. Instead of getting a bus or taxi home we walked back, it took nearly an hour and was pretty cold but after such a nice day spent doing nothing more than enjoying each others company neither of us wanted to cut it short with a quick trip home.
Sunday was quiet, mostly we sat on the couch doing nothing much, but we did go out for a walk in the park. it was cold but the sky was clear and it just seemed a perfect opportunity to wrap up and go walking. The pond in the park was packed with ducks geese and swans, people were walking their dogs, kid's had kites and we sat in the cafe and shared a twix and had a hot chocolate.
It's likely that when I go to work tomorrow someone will ask if I did much over the weekend, I'll probably say nothing much and it'll be true, but it's been the nicest nothing I've done for a long time.

Update! Wuxtry! Read allaboutit!

It's been a while since I've updated on Simain Smith, now is as good a time as any. Just incase you recently stumbled onto this site (the previous post about my fears for the Hellblazer adaptation seems to prove that it's possible - although I'm beginning to suspect that I just got a comment from someone trawling the net looking for people who don't like Keanu reeves and putting them in their place) Simian Smith is the main character in a book I've been writing aimed at kids around about the 8 years old mark. It's been a rough ride for me and I've learned a lot, but the main thing that I've learned is that I've got a lot to learn. Since I decided that writing might be something I'd like to do I've managed to spend time with other people who'd like to be published. At times it's been inspiring but mainly depressing as they've all been very good and I've just sort of hung around looking up at them with wet puppy dog eyes basking in their glow. Oddly it's only since I was cut off from these people (although happily still in touch with them) that I actually wrote an amount worth a damn. Gone are the ideas for a book never started or never finished to be replaced by Simian Smith Primate Detective. If there's a lesson to be learned from this experience it's to just do it and stop waiting for others to provide the vital spark.
So anyway, a couple of weeks before Christmas I finished the 1st draft. As I said it was a struggle and the sense of pride I got from having completed the book was huge, far bigger than I'd anticipated, so much so that I couldn't wait to get started on the 2nd draft. Real life and common sense slowed me down a little, but as I write this I'm approaching the end of the 2nd draft, it should be finished by the end of the week. One more draft and then it's finished. I intend to do some artwork to go with the book which I'm looking forward to doing, but I'm already wondering what to do next. I've got a few unfinished projects that I'd like to do and after the buzz I got from finishing Simian that first time round I'd really like to do right by them and finish them all up.
Reading through Simian as I've been redoing it I'm not sure what to make of it all, I'm sure it's the same for writers everywhere, but I imagine no one's as unsure as the writer who's hardly written anything. It's not how I imagined it to be but that's as much to do with my original ideas being fairly vague as it is to do with my writing ability. I find myself thinking the next story will be better but instead of making me think the present one isn't worth bothering with it's making me feel that the present one's been invaluable.
And that's where I'm up to, Simian's flawed and imperfect but I'm happy positive and proud, can't say fairer than that.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Late top 10 entries

Okay, this has turned out to be a bit of an albatross. Obviously there's been loads of great things about 2004 but not all of them worth posting. It's not helped by me bunching a load of my favourites together in the first couple of entries, what was I thinking? Danny chose a couple I'd have done and there's no point in repeating them, especially as Danny did a fine job in saying what I would have liked to say if I had the ability to. So, here's the last lot with very little explination cos I just want done with it now.
Number 4 Finishing the first draft od Simian Smith. It was a great feeling, so good I'm not sure I care what becomes of it. Next time I'm struggling with something I'll remember the feeling completion provides and soldier on.
Number 3 Holiday in Amsterdam. Me, my wife, 4 days of being together with no interuptions in a lovely city. Perfect.
Number 2 Green Wing. After the unbelievably brilliant Garth Marenghi's Dark Place the equally brilliant Green Wing took over, everything about this show worked, even though at first I had my doubts. Mark Heap is a comedy god and the only thing wrong with the whole thing was that Channel 4 are getting behind one and not the other. Stop messing around 4 get Dark place out on DVD!
Number 1 Living in our bungalow. Ok, it's not 'ours' we rent it. After putting up with crap houses with neighbours who think we want to hear everything they can hear it's been heaven to come home to peace and quiet. It's not a perfect place, but it doesn't have the paper thin walls that typify the average Nottingham house that has the gall not to be a 10 bedroom giant.

.....and that's it, phew!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

hard to sum up

Hopefully you'll understand and apreciate that this post might be a bit difficult and awkward. A bookseller at Waterstones was recently sacked because of his blog. If you're based in the Uk then you've probably heard about it. I work at a bookshop and I have a blog. As far as I'm aware I've never mentioned the name of the shop I work for but I can't imagine it's too hard to figure it out if you wanted to. I have on occassion wrote about crap days at work. The bookseller was sacked because he wrote about crap days at work. I've never read the blog in question and am only going from what I've seen in the Guardian (which also contains samples from the blog) but it does seem that the guy never actually slandered Waterstones, made libelous comments or revealed any practices sales figures or anything of a confidential nature. What he was was critical about the people and things that made his day crappy, occassionally resorting to namecalling. I sound like I'm defending the guy, but one of the reasons I don't mention my employer by name is because it's a whole can of worms I really don't want to risk opening. Being able to speak your mind is important, it's a fundamental right really, but the... let's call it 'freedom of speech' seems to me to require a degree of personal responsibility. Also Waterstones has a freedom to respond.
What I'm saying is that for me there's a grey area of is the guy in the right or in the wrong. There's also my own personal grey area of having a blog and working in a bookshop and not always being happy at work.
What isn't a grey area is the degree of response. Sacking with out warning for something that doesn't seem to be cut and dried seems dodgy to say the least. It's harsh and it opens it's own can of worms. I don't think this is over.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Hideously long and not part of the top 10

There's another 'film of the comic' coming out soon, this one is called Constantine and like many films based on a comic it looks pretty poor. Snotty write ups in film magazines talk about 'geeks' getting their knickers in a twist over the damage being done to 'their' comics and laugh at the silliness of it all. Seeing as the film industry seems intent on sucking dry it's back catalogue with pointless remakes and sequels and stripping classic (and not so classic) books of all their meat and flavour I can't help but wonder if some of these magazine writers should just shut up. Granted there's a certain breed of comic reader who wants to complain about every little alteration of 'their' comic and within and without the comic reading community there's no end of people ready and willing to criticise a film before they've actually seen it (ouch, that comment's hitting a little too close to home!) but what's really galling about some of the changes foisted on many adaptations (particularly, but not exclusively, on comic adaptations) is how arbitatry the changes are and how little they improve upon the originals, lets face they usually turn out to be pretty poor. Having finally seen the Lemony Snicket film I have to say that I was pretty underwhelmed, oh everyone did a great job in (mostly) sticking to the spirit of the books (which is something to be grateful for) but the damage to to the stories themselves was quite severe, packing 3 of the books into one short film and then zipping through the story lines at breakneck speed seemed to strip the books of some of their strengths, detail, incident, characterisation. Not to mention the fact that the voiceover suggested that black macabre humour was not the intention of the books but rather a morose sadness with a slightly uplifting hopefulness clumsily tacked on the end.
Constantine, as the adaptation of 'Hellblazer' is to be called seems to have fallen into the trap of messing too much with what made the originals so good. Gone is the grimy UK setting, gone is the insouciant brit who looks a bit like Sting circa '81, all spiky blonde hair and arrogance. What we now have is Keanu Reeves in New York. I'm not anti-Keanu, he's not a great actor by any stretch of the imagination, but he does well in fun films that require someone to look convincing whilst spouting gibberish against a greenscreen. The real problem with having Keanu is that it pretty much broadcasts the fact that we’re going to have a film that will feature empty gibberish for dialogue and a load of special effects, the iconic look of John Constantine is gone and so will his character, and that was what made Hellblazer worth adapting in the first place.....
Ah, except that's not really true is it. Obviously I'm talking about Hellblazer of about 15 years ago. Back in the mid-80's Alan Moore (who I may have mentioned before) revitalised Swamp Thing into a very fine comic indeed and during his run co-created with Steve Bissette and John Totleben the character John Constantine. As he describes himself early on Constantine is 'a nasty piece of work guv, just ask anyone', and what he did was shake Swamp Thing up as much as Moore did. But Moore never really used him that much, oh he's pretty integral to the plot of the stories he does appear in and the changes he forces the Swamp Thing through are pretty important, but he doesn't actually turn up in many of the comics that and when he does it's not really about him. I love Swamp Thing and I love Constantine in them but where he really comes into play is when DC gave him his one title and asked Jamie Delano to write it. And for about 40 issues that's we he did, and they were (and are, I'm rereading them now) brilliant. Delano is not actually a great writer, his output has been inconsistent but when he gets it right he's well worth following, with Hellblazer he got it right. Delano gave Constantine a past, he portrayed him as been the cocky arrogant upstart that Moore introduced but he added and extra layer of guilt and self doubt to the mix that really made the character shine. Delano's plots of demon yuppies bartering for souls, gaybashing football hooligans sent of to do the devils work, child murders on working class council estates killing through their tedious lives, men who work so hard to create a epic version of themselves they become fiction, dead policemen coming coming back to life as vicious dogs, and so much more were the perfect mix of black humour, weird arcana and honest social commentary of a very real Britain. With artwork by John Ridgway that was rough, detailed, down to earth and realistic the stories were given the best showcase (an excellent artist will do more than just sum up the scripts in pictures, he’ll add to and improve the story with his art, that’s what happened here) and when he left early on he was replaced with other creators who had something to live up to and worked very hard doing just that. Once Delano left the comic floundered, Garth Ennis, who went on to become very popular, crafted some fun but forgettable and less than average tales, Paul Jenkins tried hard but didn’t always manage to pulled it off, Warren Ellis came up with some shallow stories that revelled in nastiness and so it went moving further and further away from the original. Now Constantine seems no older than he did over 15 years ago and just gives mean and meaningful stares, says a few vague enigmatic things and calls people 'mate', 'cos he's streetwise and cool instead of actually have a ‘character’. Some of the stories are fun and entertaining but that’s about it, which is why I rarely dip into them nowadays. Maybe it’s a comic past it’s sell by date, maybe it made more sense back then, maybe everything that was worth saying with it’s been said. Maybe a film staring Keanu Reeves is all it desrves now. I’d still like something more though.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A long delayed entry for number 5

... and it's Oz, probably the finest TV show ever made, certainly the best drama. It make's it into the best of 2004 mainly because I bought it on R1 DVD in Febuary. Oh Channel 4 sneaked it onto TV a couple of weeks ago, but that doesn't count. After recieving excellent reviews, and pretty decent rating IIRC, Channal 4 in it's ultimate wisdom started showing later series at later times and didn't even bother advertising that the 2nd series was even coming on. This terrible treatment denegerated to the point the series 5 was shown at 3 in the morning in December and Channel 4 even forgot to advertise that 3 episodes were running back to back to back, so viewers who set their VCR's for 2 episodes (like us) actually missed a middle episode of the series. After looking at the TV guide Rebecca and I realised that an episode was missing but could find no sign of it on Teletext. On Channel 4's forum they apparently offer a very half hearted apology. Still, instead of attacking Channel 4 for appalling scheduling, failing to promote a great show and squeezing an entire series into a week at some Godforsaken time of the morning, I shall tell you a little about the show. Oz is short for Oswald Maximum Penitentiary and follows the day to day lives of the inmates. This is not a worthy show, this is a hard hitting, blackly funny, shockingly violent unflinching soap opera of a ride. Any show that features one of the characters getting head from another guy and then breaking the neck when he comes is worth a look as far as I'm concerned. But it's not all naked men, rape, grisly death and violence, Oz is so compelling because it never lets you forget that these men are not very nice (everyone is OZ is guilty, even the one's who really don't deserve to be there) and yet still makes you care for them. You may hate a character but when he meets his end (and there's a seriously high mortality rate in OZ) it'll be so horrible that you'll wonder if he really deserved what he got. One of the other great things about OZ is that it changes, and that's why it reminds me of a soap. Most dramas feature characters that slowly develop with occassional serious changes if something drastic happens to them. In Oz, by it's very nature, people go through radical changes because something drastic is happening to them every 5 minutes. So like a soap characters can go through some absurd changes but because it makes sense in OZ you get all the fun of seeing a character go through all sorts of amazing changes without it seeming inconsistant or effecting the logic of the story. Oz is finished now after winning lots of awards and viewres in America, shame Channel 4 were too gutless to give it the respect it deserved over here in the UK.