Month: April 2012

The Fairest of them All

So far, there is nothing about this trailer I don’t like.

Nothing.

Please, please, please let it be good. Let it be good….

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Rookie

I just discovered the amazing thing that is Rookie Magazine. A website aimed at teenage girls, it makes me wish broadband had been around when I was somewhat younger.

Streets ahead of the progression through Smash Hits, Just 17 and NME (look, we all know I wasn’t really a girly-girl. OK?) which was so central to my own early adolescence, Rookie features articles for teens, by teens. Updated three times a day, its topics range from Live Through This to Eye Candy via a pretty impressive Books & Comics section.

Each month, articles are themed: next month’s is “power”.

Please send any photos, articles, illustrations, or anything else you might’ve made related to power (duh), strength, weakness, relationship dynamics, politics and activism, and, on the aesthetic side, ’80s goths, New Romantics, or a John Hughes prom…

And even though I’m far, far too old to be in their core demographic, I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

The Road to the Tower

I joined Twitter a good while ago now (I suspect it’s about 3 years, scarily enough), and almost 12,000 tweets  (oh, god) later, I finally discovered what it’s for.

It’s for reading The Dark Tower.

I’ve been vaguely aware of the Dark Tower series for a while, in a-on-the-periphery, oh-I’ll-read-that-someday sort of way. And so, on a whim the other week and passing my local bookshop, I picked up the first book: The Gunslinger.

I finished it this morning – having stayed up late to almost-finish it, woken up early to even-closer-to-almost-finish it, and finally got to the last page over breakfast.

I should also add that in between the “waking up” and the “over breakfast” bit, there was the “trudging through the rain and wind back to Waterstones, where I dripped my way up to the second floor and bought the next two books in the series” bit. And then sloshed my way back home.

I’ve not been this immersed in a book in ages – and apparently I’m not alone in that.

When I mentioned I was reading The Gunslinger on Twitter, I got a deluge of Dark Tower-related tweets back. I had no idea how much love there was for these books – and if I’d brought it up before I read one, I wouldn’t have got it, not even slightly. Some people liked the first book most of all (and I’ll be honest, I’m pretty besotted with it at this point); others told me that it gets better from the second book… and several people knew it well enough to quote bits at me.

On the latter point, I’m not surprised. The Gunslinger has proved itself to be eminently quotable. I sat in the hotel at AltFiction at one point reading a section aloud to anyone who would listen, and have gone so far as to turn down the corners of pages to mark bits I’ve particularly liked. That’s quite a big deal for an ex-librarian, I can tell you.

Something that struck me while I was reading was the depth of the world – and the sheer ballsiness of King’s refusal to explain it. He expects you to pick it up as you go, following the trail he’s left. And he knows the way – it’s clearly a world he’s been carrying around with him for a very long time. How closely you follow – or, indeed, whether you do – is up to you. But he’s going on ahead with or without you.

I have a feeling I’m along for the ride. And that – despite reading being by its very nature a solitary exercise – I’m not alone.

The Definition of Irony

… would be me, coming home from Hoxton Street Monster Supplies with this.

Because we all know how easily I tend to fluster, don’t we? Even so, I couldn’t resist it.

Want one? Then go here for your very own tinned fear in a variety of strengths, or for any other monster needs…

World Book Night

I’m one of the book givers for this year’s World Book Night: I’ll be giving out copies of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In, somewhere in Brighton.

I’ve got 24 copies, all neatly stacked up and ready to go. Each is labelled with a unique reference number, so if you get one (and this applies to any of the WBN books, anywhere in the UK) do go and register it on the website – it’s a bit like BookCrossing; the idea being to follow the books as they get passed on from one person to the next. I rather like the idea – and somehow, with vampire books, where themes are often contagion and transmission, it feels even more appropriate.

“Let The Right One In” is a vampire story, or it’s a coming-of-age story, or it’s a love story. Or it’s all three. It’s a story about abuse, and about friendship, and about fear and about freedom. It’s horrific and haunting and oddly sweet and beautiful. Whether you’ve seen one of the two recent adaptations of it, or whether you’ve never heard of it before… once you’ve read it, you’ll never forget it.

As an experiment, by the way, in one of the copies I’ve been given, I’ve hidden a quote from the classic Bela Lugosi version of “Dracula” on one of the pages. If you happen to find it, let me know what I’ve written (and which page it’s written on) either via the blog or Twitter. A quick tip: this is the book’s WBN insert page.

Look out for mini-Vlad in the corner, and you’ll know you’re in the right copy…

Happy feeding… sorry: *reading*!

Page One

One way or another, I knew I always wanted to work with words (with the minor – and notable – exception of that period when I was 6 when I decided my talents lay in designing fashion for guinea pigs… what?).

Because, obviously, Making Things Up was not a proper job as far as the younger version of me was concerned, I spent the greater part of my childhood believing I was going to be a journalist when I grew up. It was either that or go into advertising copy-writing (and here I refer you to my earlier point about “Making Things Up”).

I actually did my work experience at a newspaper: the Llanelli Star, if you must know. It’s one of those local tabloids that has had a slightly creaky little office which smells of photocopy toner and instant coffee, on a street somewhere near the station as long as anyone can remember. Most towns have them, usually called the Something Enquirer, or the Wherever Bugle. My hometown actually has one too – the Star was not it, but then I went to school in Llanelli, so that’s where I was sent.

Somewhere in those archives, there’s still a couple of stories with my by-line. You’d have to look incredibly hard to find them, but they’re there. One was, I think, something to do with Terry Griffiths (who I still remember to this day as the man who kept a stack of signed photographs in the boot of his car) and one was vaguely connected to a rest home of some description. I think. Maybe. As you can see, my knack for recalling detail and my razor-sharp insight would have made me a spectacular investigative journalist.

Anyway. I came out of university and ended up Not Becoming A Journalist at all, despite being offered an internship at a more-than-slightly disreputable periodical (and no, I’m not telling). The closest I came to it, in fact, was working in one of the larger buildings on Fleet Street. I hated the job, and I think it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the job hated me, and our office was a boxy little partitioned space, but I loved that building.

It was just across the road from St Brides – the journalists’ church – and close to the Reuters building, which wasn’t abandoned by them until 2005. It had a sweeping staircase which wound around the original lift: creaky security gate and brass push buttons and all. The office was only on the first floor, but sometimes I used to ride the lift up and down anyway. Built as the headquarters for Thomas Cook in the 19th Century, the building had since been home to the Guinness Book of Records and who knows what else – but, with the exception of working there and studying Pravda at school, that was the closest brush I ever had with grown-up journalism.

Not to say I ever lost interest in it – and that’s why I so wanted to see Page One, a documentary covering one year in the life of the New York Times, as the editorial team and their staff try to come to terms with the possible collapse of mainstream media, the digital revolution, paid-for content, bloggers, WikiLeaks, falling revenues, iPads, media corruption and the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq (and a war which, arguably, one of their reporters helped to create). I was particularly taken with the Media Desk Editor, Bruce Headlam, whose cries of “Did you send it?” and whose utter bemusement over the television coverage of Iraq (“How do you cover the end of a war that’s not ending?”) were only matched by his approach to wordcounts (“Yeah. That’s not happening.”) and his explanation for the giant “Citizen Kane” poster on his office wall.

More than anything, it’s a fascinating portrait of a newspaper which isn’t currently embroiled in the all-too-familiar scandals and political point-scoring of UK ones. Any political agenda it has is completely lost on me, not being American or as actively political as I could be. Instead, viewed as a complete outsider, it becomes an interesting look at not just how a newspaper functions in the perceived Age Of Free, but what drives the people who keep the wheels – and the presses – running.

The Unexpected Book

I discovered something absolutely fascinating this morning (well, it’s fascinating to me at least) – that Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” is apparently on the required reading list for West Point US Military Academy.

While I’d always assumed that military training did involve some pretty heavyweight study, for some reason it had never occurred to me that fiction would be on that list (albeit fiction with a somewhat military bent). I’d always pictured it as being biography and history, with a shed-load of strategy for good measure. And while I can understand precisely why it’s “Starship Troopers”, I think it might be the best thing I’ve learned all week – just for the sheer unexpectedness of it.

This got me poking around the internet, looking for other reading lists. Did you know, for instance, that “Catch-22” is on this year’s US Air Force Chief of Staff Reading list? Or that “Nineteen Eighty-Four” appears on the Private / Private First Class reading list for US Marines? Nope. Me neither.

You learn something new every day.

Paranoid Android…?

I held off watching the trailer for Prometheus until very recently – but once I did, I couldn’t keep myself away from the viral marketing videos. Mostly because they’re so incredibly well-done…

And if I wasn’t already desperate to see the film, I think that would probably decide it for me.

Slick, slightly unnerving and everything we’ve come to expect from the Weyland Industries wraparound mythology…

Alt.Fiction 2012

So, Alt.Fiction happened. 

And it was good. No, seriously good.

While some worried about the unfortunate sandwich effect created by Eastercon and the start of the LBF, it didn’t seem to have caused too many problems: there was a great atmosphere and a good attendance (a little too good, in some cases – but more of that later).

I got to Leicester on Friday night, having met up with Will Hill, Tom Pollock and Lizzie Barrett on the way, and we collectively endured the most stressful train journey I think I’ve ever had… (a big “nul points” to the grumpy woman who caused a big fuss about her seat in our carriage) but it was fine. Honestly. Fine.

Friday evening saw a bit of socialising and an impromptu cinema trip, and then it was all about Alt.Fiction.

The 10am SFF non-fiction panel which I was on along with Tom, and Anne Perry of Pornokitsch, had a slight hiccup when our moderator was delayed – but Jared Shurin heroically stepped in with only a few minutes’ warning. It ended up being a very interesting discussion covering everything from the importance of research in fiction (and whether there’s such a thing as too much of it), to reviews and the responsibility of reviewers in how they handle issues like subtext, via steampunk, Jules Verne, hard SF, Werner Herzog and alternate histories.

As an aside, if anyone who was there wants to read the Michael Marshall Smith story I mentioned towards the end, it’s called “The Good Listener”, and you can find it here. There’s also a podcast of it here.

My next panel was “New Writers”, along with Tom Pollock (again. I like panels with him, because he uses big words and says terribly clever insightful things, so as long as he always speaks first I can just nod and sagely say, “Yeah. What Tom said….”) and Emma Newman and Vincent Holland-Keen. We were ably wrangled by Jon Weir, who was fantastic and made us all look like we knew what we were doing. No small feat, in my case.

The panels I went to were interesting: by far and away my favourite was the panel on comics which was as engaging as it was entertaining, and very good indeed. I was particularly impressed by Emma Vieceli – and even more so by her art! Her book is absolutely gorgeous, and although I’ve only just had time to flip through it I’m very much looking forward to reading it properly. You should all go out and buy it immediately.

The genre television panel was slightly frustrating in that it got very caught up in the technical aspects of programming, as opposed to discussion as viewers. I would have liked to see more debate about solid, long-running genre shows like Buffy or BSG or Supernatural or Dark Shadows (particularly the latter, given that Adam Christopher was on the panel) but was very taken with Alasdair Stuart’s ideas about “parachuting” cast members of existing shows into franchised versions in different countries.

Saturday evening involved an absolutely lovely dinner where I laughed so hard I actually cried and had a huge amount of fun, then drinks in the hotel bar, which were just the right level of noisy and silly. Sunday was a quieter day, with people drifting off to panels or towards home with the usual resolutions to do nothing but sleep for a week.

Everyone always says it’s the people who make conventions a good or bad experience, and this one doubly proved that. The whole atmosphere was so easy-going that everyone relaxed. The layout of the venue also meant that everyone was (largely) in the same space – although arguably some of the panels were in the wrong rooms: the smallest room always had more people trying to get in than could, while several of the panels in the larger rooms had relatively few attendees. Name tags would have been nice, too, as would some more volunteers to keep participants organised – but these are minor niggles and easily corrected next time around.

And yes: there will be a next time around. Alt.Fiction 2013 has already been announced; tentatively scheduled for the third weekend in May next year. It’s already in my diary…

Huge thanks, of course, go to everyone involved in organising the weekend: it was a big success, and rightly so.

And thanks to the people who made the weekend so memorable for me – in no particular order: Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Will Hill, Andrew Reid, Paul Cornell, Tom Hunter, Adam Christopher, Alasdair Stuart, Jon Weir, Nadine Holmes, Tom Fletcher, Anne Lyle, Marie O’Regan, Paul Kane and a lot more people I just know I’ve left out….

You Know What You Love…

I have a Shiny New Thing. I do. Once Upon A Time.

I watched the pilot last week, and completely fell for it. It’s both terribly, terribly sweet and really quite dark. However, the reason I’ve fallen quite so hard and quite so fast is this:

 

Rumpelstiltskin.

He’s always been one of my favourite fairy-tale characters (his story, The Juniper Tree & Baba Yaga being the three I love… most)  so I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I spotted Once Upon A Time. But it’s brilliant. And having checked the writer roster, I can see why I’m enjoying it: given my unashamed love of Lost, Tron: Legacy and – basically – anything Jane Espenson touches, this one was a pretty safe bet.

If you’ve not come across the show – and without giving anything away – it’s two interlinking stories, set in two different worlds: the world of fairy tales, and the real world: specifically the town of Storybrooke, Maine, with actors playing roles in both.

Rumpel, and his decidedly creepysexy real-world counterpart Mr Gold, are both played by Robert Carlyle, who looks like he’s having an indecent amount of fun.

 

If you’re already watching it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. And if you aren’t, you should really think about starting…

Please.