Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cast Lists

For the Historical Fiction class I'll be taking next semester, I've been reading "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel. It won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, but I'm not really enjoying it so far. I'm finding it pretty difficult to get through, especially since the main character is never referred to by name in the narrative. He's only ever called "he", which is a problem when he's having a conversation with another man. I haven't got a clue what's going on.

But that's not what this blog post is supposed to be about, though it is related. In a way. "Wolf Hall" starts with a contents page, which I personally think is pretty unnecessary. It annoyed me in the Twilight books, when it was completely unnecessary, and I have yet to see whether it serves a purpose here.

After the contents page, however, there is a list of characters. A cast list, if you like. And just seeing it filled me with dread. A cast list makes sense in a play, where you don't have a narrative that can fill you in on the details of the cast. "Wolf Hall" is a 650-page novel. It shouldn't need a cast list, because all of this information should be told/shown to me in the main body of the novel. Having a cast list says a lot. It warns me that the book is not going to be well-written enough to give me this information as it should, and that I will probably need to keep referring back to the list to find out who all these people are, which should also be shown in the text.

It got me thinking because a cast list isn't something you often see in a novel. In fact, I didn't think I'd ever seen one, and I assumed that this meant "Wolf Hall" would be a rubbish book because it needed something that no other book did. I'm not saying this is the case, because I can't really say that until I've finished it. But then I remembered another series of books with a cast list. A series of books that I actually love.

Every instalment in the "Pure Dead" series by Debi Gliori, beginning with "Pure Dead Magic" and ending with "Deep Fear", features a cast list at the very beginning. And a contents page. I actually liked this feature in the series, which is aimed at children/young teenagers, especially since the "Dramatis Personae" is actually quite funny. It works. It doesn't make the book seem poorly written, it adds something to it. With "Wolf Hall", I have to admit that I took it as a bad sign. I'll let you know how it works out. I'm only forty pages into the bloody thing.

Friday, 24 June 2011

I have my life back!

Hello, world!

This is just a quick update, because I can finally switch off my laptop and leave the house. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration (why on earth would I leave the house?), I just mean to say that I can finally stop refreshing Vue cinema's website every 20 minutes (or 60 after 8pm) because I HAVE TICKETS TO A MIDNIGHT SCREENING OF HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART TWO. Yes, I am a little bit excited.

Although not as excited as I should be. In fact, I'm pretty pissed off about the whole thing. I have to go to a midnight showing. Not just because I HAVE to, but because my schedule means that if I don't see it at midnight, I won't see it until the next week. Possibly the next weekend. Which is unacceptable. So, I have to see it at midnight. That isn't an option for me. Which is fine, I guess, because I wanted to go at midnight anyway.

Another option that I don't have is whether I see the film in 2D or 3D. I want to see it in the 2D. My cinema will only permit me to see it in 3D. Which is unacceptable. No, more than that, it is an absolute disgrace. I don't want to pay the extra money to see a 3D film, especially not when it means wearing a pair of 3D glasses over my regular glasses. Noses are not designed to accomodate more than one pair of glasses at a time. They're just not. I saw Tangled in 3D, and spent the entire film holding up the 3D pair of glasses because they kept sliding down my nose until the frame was blocking the screen.

Maybe it's me, maybe it's just my nose, but even if I didn't wear glasses, I would be furious about this. All films should be available in 2D from the day of release. 3D should be the bonus, not the other way around. I wanted to see Thor, really wanted to see it, but the cinemas near me were only showing it in 3D when it was released. Six weeks later, they did their first 2D screening. And I couldn't go.

I'm sick of this 3D thing. I didn't mind it so much when it started. If people want to waste their money and watched a film that's dimmer and a little fuzzier, just so that two or three times in a couple of hours something can jump out of the screen...well, that's their choice. But to interfere with the 2D screenings? No, this is unacceptable. Something has to be done. Unfortunately, I can't find anyone to complain to about this except individual cinemas. Who don't really give a shit, because they're making more money of 3D screenings.

Rant over.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

BRIDESMAIDS

Yes, that is a photo of me and my sister (I'm on the right) as bridesmaids at our auntie's wedding. Don't worry, she won't mind me using her photo. She doesn't even know this blog exists.
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So, on Tuesday, I saw a preview of "Bridesmaids" with Kirsten Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd and Jon Hamm. It's been described as "the female Hangover" but I'm not sure I'd agree with that description.

The story follows Annie (Wiig) who's life has basically fallen apart. We know this because she's single and broke. Her best friend Lillian (Rudolph) gets engaged and asks Annie to be her maid of honour, and, basically, chaos ensues. In a good way.

The film is hilarious. I dragged my mother along grudgingly, because I was desperate to see it, but she had zero interest. Maybe less than zero. And she laughed more than I did. It is really funny; it toes the line between witty banter and all-out gross. And there's a story there, too. I can't abide a film without a good story (which is why I tend to avoid horror movies) and this one was really strong.

I thought it was well-written and well-acted, and I would like to particularly commend Melissa McCarthy, who was brilliant as Megan. I still want to know what happened to the puppies, though. In fact, the only downfall as far as the characters are concerned is the fact that we barely saw the other two bridesmaids once they'd been introduced. Newlywed Becca and mother of three boys Rita. It says a lot that I had to look up what the former was called. They had some great lines, especially Rita, but they weren't developed very well and sort of fell off the radar.

Of course, being an American film, it did have a bit of a Hollywood-Happy-Ending, but it wasn't so bad in this case, because they made it fit the film, and it wasn't a big, showy, Happily Ever After for Everyone Involved Affair.

I almost forgot to talk about it being the female-Hangover thing. It's not "the Hangover" with women instead of men, there's no going off and getting so wasted you can't remember what happened when you wake up the next morning. It's more like the lead-up to the wedding done by women instead of men, and it's just as funny as "the Hangover". It just has a bit more story in there, too.

So I would definitely recommend this film, probably to everyone. If you didn't like "the Hangover", don't assume you won't like this. When I went to see it, there was an even mix of men and women, and a huge range of ages, and as we were leaving, there didn't seem to be anyone who didn't enjoy it. Not one person left the room and didn't come back, which is good.

And if you think you've seen all the funny bits because you've seen all the trailers, you'd be mistaken. In fact, some parts of the trailer aren't even in the film. So go see it. A good comedy with a story, and written by women. It's about time, I think.

TELL-ALL

"Tell-All" by Chuck Palahniuk tells story of an aging movie star and the woman who, essentially, looks after her. It was actually published last year, I believe, but has only just come out in paperback, and therefore only just appeared on the shelves of Waterstone's (not one hundred per cent sure why this is).
A couple of weeks ago, when I bought this book, I was in Southampton with my friends Sara and Nick. Nick said that the best Palahniuk book is "Fight Club". I told him he was wrong, because "Invisible Monsters" is clearly the best, but I had high hopes for "Tell-All". I'll admit, I was a little bit disappointed.

The story is good, it's engaging and well-paced, with short chapters so reading it doesn't feel like a chore. I like to read before I go to sleep, so I'd rather read a few short chapters than slug through a single long one. I liked the way the chapters were described more like scenes from a film, although I found the decision to do this a little confusing at the end (though to explain why would be a huge spoiler, so I won't). I didn't like the character of Miss Kathie (who a couple of times was referred to as Miss Katie - not sure if this was deliberate) and I didn't really like the character of Hazie either, though I felt a bit sorry for the former. Actually, no, I felt a bit sorry for both of them, but for different reasons.

My issue with the book was the constant name-dropping. I understand why it was done, and it was definitely unusual, which I normally like in books. My problem with it was that I hadn't heard of most of the people being mentioned, which meant I didn't understand the references and therefore didn't really get it. I found myself skipping a paragraph or two full of references (and they stood out because they were bold-ed) and then had to go back when I realised I didn't understand what was happening in the next paragraph. I just didn't get along with the constant name-dropping, I found it a bit distracting.

I also think he gave away the end game a bit early on, but I can't say any more than that. In fact, I probably shouldn't have even said that, but anyone who reads Chuck's books knows his style, so I'll just say that the ending of "Tell-All" bears a resemblence to the endings of "Fight Club," "Invisible Monsters," "Choke," "Snuff," and, to a certain extent, "Rant."

I did like the book, I enjoyed reading most of it. I even laughed out loud a couple of times, although I've been told I have a weird sense of humour. Really, the only bad point about it was the incessant name-dropping, which I just couldn't get along with. Someone who knows who these people are might find it adds a whole new dimension to the book, but I was just pleased on the rare occasion that I'd heard of someone.

Friday, 17 June 2011

THE TOWN

Yesterday, I finally watched "The Town" - a 2010 film starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm and Blake Lively. I've been desperate to see it since I saw the first advert for it at least a year ago (nuns with scary masks made me think of "The Dark Knight" for reasons that I can't explain because I don't really understand them myself) but only just got around to watching it. I have to say, I'm glad I waited for the DVD to be reduced to a fiver.

It's not a bad film. It's pretty watchable, and there wasn't a point during it that I thought, "Well, I'd cut that bit for a start," which is something I've been thinking with a lot of films recently. I blame studying film theory for a semester, it's ruined my ability to enjoy films. I seem to only be able to watch with my writer-head on.

The film starts well, a good action sequence to get things moving, but then it slows down a lot. I didn't mind that, I think it got the balance between bank-robbing and falling-in-love-with-the-bank-manager just right, but I did have a couple of fairly major problems with the film.

1 - I was at least half an hour into the film when I realised I didn't know what anybody's names were. Not a one. Okay, that's a lie. I knew Rebecca Hall's character was called Claire, but it was the shock of hearing her name so suddenly that I noticed I hadn't heard anyone else's.

2 - And this is a biggie. I couldn't understand a word that any of them were saying. The mumbling was ridiculous. So then I put the subtitles on, and I still didn't really get what was going on, because I'm not familiar with Boston street slang. So I was very grateful when Jon Hamm's character took a minute to explain literally everything that was going on, because otherwise I would have been lost. I hate when films think they need to explain to their audience what's going on, but "The Town" really needed it.

And then...well, I don't want to give away the ending (in case my review hasn't put you off watching it), but it wasn't what I expected. Which I always appreciate in a film. And it was nice to see Blake Lively playing someone other than Serena Van Der Woodson, she might have given the most impressive performance. The only other competitor would be Jeremy Renner, but I've never seen him in anything else, making it hard to judge this performance.

So, yeah, not a bad film, but I would advise putting the subtitles on from the start, just in case.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

HIT LIST

I have an interesting relationship with Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Well, I think it's interesting. You may well disagree.

I discovered the books two summers ago, I think, around the time Skin Trade came out in hardback. The cover caught my eye, and I almost bought it, but then I discovered that it was number sixteen in the series. So I spent the summer reading the series from the very beginning, Guilty Pleasures. I got really into them, and would order the next two as soon as I was halfway through one. I actually regret this now, since I paid for all of the books myself and am currently in rather dire financial circumstances. Had I been prepared to wait a little between each book, I'm sure my parents could have been persuaded to buy them for me. After all, what parent doesn't want to encourage their child to read more? (I should probably point out that I'm now 20, but I still think it's important for my parents to encourage me to read and, you know, keep buying me books)

I had a point. Oh, yes, Hit List. Before I talk about Hit List specifically, I want to say something about the series as a whole. I do like them, Jean-Claude is my favourite character and I was a little disappointed that he didn't get so much as a phone call in this book, but that's a personal matter. I've been worried for a few books now that there are too many sex scenes, and that the stories are being lost in a sea of endless sex. I'd gotten to the point where I actually said that if I didn't like Hit List, I wouldn't read another Anita Blake book. (Yes, I did actually say this, but I really don't think I meant it). Not that it matters, because the balance is much better this time.

My main issue before (I cannot stress the before part enough) I read Hit List, is that it was an Edward book. People who've read the books will know that they tend to fall into certain categories - vampire books, wereanimal books, and Edward books. Of course, most of them cross over, but there's always a strong theme. I don't like the Edward books. I don't know why, I quite like Edward as a character, and Olaf is fascinating (as psychopaths in literature always are), but I was disappointed that Hit List was going to be an Edward book. Almost as disappointed as I was when I received my copy of Flirt and discovered that it was more of a short story than a novel.

I really enjoyed Hit List. It is the first Edward book that I've enjoyed, and now that the balance between sex and everything else has been established, the series seems to be getting back on track. It's fast paced, exciting, and the ending wasn't what I expected. I actually read it twice, because I thought I'd missed something key. Anita is becoming a much more rounded character, as her good qualities grow in number and she accepts her flaws as a part of herself. There's nothing worse than a perfect heroine. Anita is a lot more likeable than Sookie Stackhouse, who lets the men in her life trample all over her half of the time, and in a way she could be seen as a good role model, (for adults, not kids!)

I honestly really enjoyed Hit List, I found it hard to put down (because the chapters are so short that you have to read at least ten in one go to feel close to satisfied) and it's great to see the series getting back on track. I think it benefitted from reducing the number of men hanging around Anita all the time, but I'd really like to see Jean-Claude in the next one. I'm pretty sure he's the only other character that's survived all twenty books (although please don't quote me on that), and he's certainly not one to just fade into the background. Bring on number 21!




(Oh, and the photo above is by me, Lesley Whyte)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Resolutions

Last night, I made a resolution.

This is not uncommon for me. I have this tendency to make resolutions on a Sunday night. And have forgotten all about them by Monday morning. And then when I remember them at around 3pm, I dismiss them, saying that they were stupid resolutions anyway.

Last night was a bit different. I decided that I need to be more productive (I'm aware that I made the same resolution last Sunday, but this one had a focus). I'm unemployed. Nobody seems to be hiring students for part-time permanent, or full-time temporary work. I can't afford to pay my rent, but there doesn't seem to be a lot that I can do. And so I made a decision. Weeks ago, I had a Careers Guidance meeting, and it was recommended that I try to get some work experience over the summer. And I decided to apply for at least one thing today.

And I did.

Well, I tried to. For starters, I don't really know where to start, but I found that Macmillan Publishing have a work experience scheme, or so it appears. They listed an email address to contact, and I did. I actually did. Except my emails aren't going through. I keep getting those infuriating "Delivery Notification: Failure" emails. And I don't know what the problem is. And I can't find anywhere on the website where I can report a problem.

So, I don't know what to do. For once, I actually tried to act on one of my ridiculous resolutions, and my attempts failed. Which sucks. I'm hoping it's a problem with their website, one that'll be fixed so I'll try it again tomorrow, or the day after or something. It's just a bit depressing, is all.

After a weekend with nothing to do, when it was chucking it down and I was stuck inside with my family for two days, I needed a bit of productivity. But don't worry, I'm hoping this need to do something will inspire me to actually do some writing!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

What is a Spoiler?

So, today I wrote another 2100 words of Outsiders, bringing the running total up to 6900 words. I don't really like what I have so far, but I always find the first 10,000 words the hardest to write. I struggle to get them down, and then, once I've reached the end, I usually rewrite them completely. So I'm not too worried about the quality at this point. Having something to work with is better for me than obsessing over getting every single word perfect before I set it on paper.

What I really wanted to talk about today, however, was Doctor Who. I know, I know, I've probably just labelled myself as a nerd, but I love it. I really do. Although I've been disappointed this series (long story) and am basically furious that they've split the series into two parts. But, those things aside, love it. And yesterday, it was announced that Matt Smith has signed on to do another fourteen episodes of it. Don't get me wrong, I like Matt Smith, I actually prefer him as the Doctor to David Tenant, (although neither one trumps Christopher Ecclestone), but I'm really annoyed that this announcement has been made now. Telling the viewers that Matt Smith will definitely be back ruins the tension for the rest of this series - we know he's not going to die, we know he's not going to regenerate. Tension, gone. Sure, whether Amy and Rory survive, and all the other things going on will create tension, but the show isn't called Doctor Who and His Companions. So it bothered me that this had been announced so far in advance. And it wasn't even hidden, or labelled as a spoiler. It was posted on the BBC Entertainment homepage for all to see. So, it got me thinking, IS it a spoiler? Are casting/production decisions spoilers? What do you think?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Outsiders

I started writing Outsiders today. I didn't get much done, due to a weird combination of splitting headache, dizziness and wandering numbness (don't ask), but a start is a start. I wrote about 1600 words, and now both of the main characters have been introduced. And they've met each other, which is always good.

Monday, 6 June 2011

I'm back!

So, this blog was an assignment for my Author Study class, but I've made the executive decision to carry on with it. Just now. It's been a while since I wrote anything that wasn't for a class (almost six months, in fact), and if nobody's reading this blog then that's fine, but I feel like I should be writing something.

So, (and no, I don't start every paragraph with "so", just most of them) starting from today, I'm going to be more productive, even if it just posting a blog entry more frequently. I mean, why not? It can't hurt.

And so, since I'll probably be mentioning it a lot, I should say a little something about the project I'm starting work on. A while ago, I got an idea for a novel called "Outsiders", a young adult sci-fi novel. After World War Three, it is decided that humankind can no longer be trusted with its own survival, and the remaining population is kept in walled cities and secretly drugged in order to keep them docile. The story follows Will, a 16-year-old boy with natural immunity to the drug, who is kicked out of the city after causing too much trouble. He is found by the Outsiders, a group made up of assorted ages, genders and backgrounds, who have found ways to survive outside the city. There he meets Rose, a girl of 15, who he starts to fall for. And that's when everything starts falling apart. In a good way. It's deliberate.

I used the opening 2000 words as my creative piece for my Fiction for Children class, but I had the idea a long time ago and think it's about time I got started on it. If one more person laughs at me for writing sixteen vampire novels, I'll be able to throw this one back in their faces. In a kind and respectful manner, obviously.

So, that's it for now. I'll update again soon. Unless I forget my resolution to be more productive, which is a very real concern.
Lesley