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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Seasons' Greetings to all from yours truly.

Remember that the past is a foreign country (according to the first line of L.P Hartley's seminal novel The Go-Between) so there is no use in applying for a temporary visitor's pass.
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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Very Honest Motivation

Remember those motivational posters that were so popular in the 1990s? Didn't they get really sickening after a while, with scene after scene captioned by some trite axiom or phrase? Its not surprising that the backlash came with Very Demotivational Posters

I wish that a motivational poster came out with the following caption, "I'll Show You Motherf*cker!"- possibly the motivation (but not inspiration) behind many historical moments:

Various Macedonian Army Officers: "You can't conquer the world!"
Alexander the Great: "I'll show you mallacas!"


Ancient Chinese court officials: "You can't build a wall to keep the Mongol invaders out!"
Emperor Shuang Zhi : "I'll show you real great *wall*, motherf*ckers!"

Pope Julius II: "I bet you can't paint something on this ceiling."
Michelangelo: (to himself) "I'll show you, you motherf*cking eminence!"


Various members of Congress: "You can't abolish slavery!"
Abraham Lincoln: "I'll show all of you four score and seven maternal fornicators!"


Various US inventors and patent holders: "Stop trying to invent the lightbulb!"
Thomas Edison: "I'll show you where to shove it, motherf*ckers!"

Friend/writing tutor/ relative/ agent/: "You'll never make it as a writer!"
(Insert your name here) : "I'll show all of you motherf*ckers!"
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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Pastel Power


The late Paul Arden wrote in his bestselling book, 'Its not How Good You Are- Its How Good You Want to Be' that if you get stuck, draw with a different pen.

I stopped typing words on a screen and bought a set of oil pastels (36 shades). I wrote the entire short story in a sketch book and doodled some designs in the margins. Just for fun I considered sending it to a literary magazine....But please don't send agents and editors pastel sketches if you're serious about a literary career.

But no one has to read your first draft. Make it as messy and  as colourful as possible. Splatter away!
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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Don't Knock Nanowrimo


Sci-fi author John Scalzi has a fine riposte to all those Nanowrimo haters. You can read it here:
"Nanowrimo and Kvetching"

I used to think that Nanowrimo was a a waste of expended time and effort (and I failed to make the word count last year...) but the be-all and end-all goal of November is not to generate a 50 000 word draft of a novel. It is more of an extended exercise in willpower and perhaps better as a group activity. I do not see anything wrong if Nanowrimo anchors the backsides of writers in their chairs and helps to instill a firm writing discipline for 30 days (and more ) after November has passed. If you make some friends along the way then I salute you - writing is lonely.

The haters and knockers also mention the amount of shit manuscripts that get sent to agents and editors after Nanowrimo because apparently, all Nanowrimo seems to do is encourage people who delude themselves into thinking they are writers, to churn out shit.

I'm a freelance fiction editor and I can safely say that shit manuscripts are sent in all the time, regardless of Nanowrimo. Alas, extra encouragement is not required if the deluded are going to generate shit anyway.
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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Halloween in Humidity

The other day someone asked to me, "Isn't it weird to celebrate Halloween in the tropics"? Which I thought was a rather bizarre question and a tad prejudiced - since when did the temperate regions stake a majority claim to certain festivals?

I suppose going from door to door in your Halloween outfit and asking for chocolates and sweets may generate bemused reactions around here in Kuala Lumpur. But when it comes to supernatural tales customs and folklore, Asia is steeped in them. Err no, it definitely is not weird to celebrate Halloween here. The safety of your body and soul  depend on it

Just kidding!
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Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Difference Between Editing and Rewriting

The excellent book, "The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel" by Robert J. Ray (2008 Writers Digest Books) states that editing is, '....a morality play on the page. Cut the bad word and replace with a good word.' Edit means to replace and cut out.

Obviously rewriting goes much deeper and operates on a larger scale with plot, structure, characters etc...

What a relief to read that distinction - because 'edit' has negative connotations and it is not interchangable with 'rewrite'.
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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Travel-Writing

A piece of my travel-writing appears in Sina Sana (MPH Publishing) to be released in March 2011:

(The following text is taken from Eric Forbes' excellent blog: The Book Addict's Guide to Good Books by Eric Forbes)

SINI SANA
Travels in Malaysia
Edited by Tom Sykes & Tan May Lee

From ethereal beaches to misty mountaintops, Malaysia is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Every year, over twenty million visitors flock to Malaysia and are inspired by its immense diversity of cultures, traditions, species and terrains.

This anthology comprises stories of humour and adventure and danger, packed with sharp observations and poetic insights. Sini sana is Malay for ‘Here and there’. There are scary encounters with trees that seem to come alive, comic turns by a herd of elephants, and a child possessed by a Hindu god. Man battles nature, fending off octopi and mischievous monkeys. There is the possibility of romance on an island idyll and finding enlightenment on an ancient lake. Foreign visitors suffer culture shock as do Malaysian urbanites when they travel to the rougher, more boondocky parts of the country. These are stories of islands, jungles, shopping malls and exotic fruit. They speak of the rich textures and nuances of the past that have shaped the vibrancy of the present.

Here you will find the very best travel writing about Malaysia from twelve emerging voices, from British backpackers and Irish, Indian and Canadian expats to Malaysian travellers on road trips and backwater excursions. All of them come together with the most gripping first-person accounts to evoke the experience of being in Malaysia.

CONTRIBUTORS Robert M. Bradley, Sarah Cheverton, Damyanti Biswas, Lee Eeleen, Lee Yu Kit, Jason Moriarty, Subashini Navaratnam, Jennifer Stephen, Polly Szantor, Marc White, F.D. Zainal, Zhang Su Li
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Sunday, 19 September 2010

On E-Books

I never wanted to jump into this debate, but after recently handling a Kindle and an Ipad I will say the following:

1) Paper books never run out of batteries and are (after a few hours of drying under a fan) to some extent water-resistant.

2) Note to developers: improve the interface! Every time I read an e-book I have to resist the urge to edit and proofread the text.

3) Are these devices really more eco-friendly? Being made out of non-biodegradable plastic?

4)"Woo-hoo! 2000 books to take on vacation/ business trip!" Errm, really? How *long* is your vacation/ trip? You'll spend most of it jetlagged and passed out. Want to read an e-book while lying on the beach? See 1)
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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Haiku BlogFest

A hot sauce or mild relish
Hard to know before
Lips touch edge of spoon

Here's the link to

http://hatshepsutnovel.blogspot.com/2010/08/announcing-haiku-blogfest.html
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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Training For A Debut Novel

Murakami likens novel-writing to long-distance running. But I've tried long-distance running and my mind and body rejected the activity. I experienced no physical injury or intense strain but I grew increasingly intolerant of the tedium.

 Perhaps in bouts this very tedium is reassuring but it is not really applicable to compare all instances of writing to long-distance running.
To me, short stories are like choreographed dance or gymnastics routines: 90% preparation and 10% execution. Poetry is akin to fire-eating- pulling the flames out in dazzling displays and playwriting is coaching a team of players into a cohesive whole.

I am three-quarters of a way through two novels now. It has been like fencing for a long series of  bouts- just me on the piste and up against opponents I cannot make out. In the beginning I had to sit on the sides a lot and just train until I could step back in again. Now I am a pro but I am still learning.
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Monday, 16 August 2010

Kwaidan

I blame my degree in Postmodernity for my delay in reading Kwaidan. Lafcadio Hearn's translation and retelling of Japanese ghost tales for a Western audience, was to me at the time, an example of 19th century Orientalism- another woodcut landscape of cherry blossoms, bamboo, monks and wandering lovely kimonoed ladies, seen through the spooky mist of a supernatural story.

But what have recent Japanese horror movies shown a global audience? A unique way of generating fear by taking on the mundane. I dare you to watch Dark Water (1999) and not get a chill every time the plughole is clogged. Or rent the DVD of The Ring and not jump if the house phone rings during the movie.

Hearn demonstrates in this engaging book that transforming everyday objects into unlikely conduits for supernatural activity appears to reach far back into Japanese literature and folklore. In Kwaidan, mirrors, bells, wells and even insects are supernaturally suspect; cherry blossoms can be inhabited by spirits of dead mid-wives, a monk encounters a corpse-eating demon that is later revealed to be the troubled spirit of another *monk* and those beautiful kimonoed ladies are really snow demons wandering around in human guise.
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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

What Are You Conscious Admiring Influences?

The title of this post is taken from this excellent interview with China Mieville - Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author of 'Perdidio Street Station', 'UnLundun'  and 'The City And the City'. "Kraken" is his latest novel and it is released this month.



Mieville mentions being influenced by numerous writers and works; elements that you may not be aware at the time of writing, of being influenced by things you hate. However he mentions a strong debt to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy as a Conscious Admiring Influence.

Who or what are some of your Conscious Admiring Influences? They include writers/poets/playwrights/ actors/directors/painters/ etc..., books, poems, passages or even phrases that set off inspirational fireworks in your nascent creative consciousness.
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Monday, 21 June 2010

How to Switch Genres With (More) Ease

Not long ago I had to write some stories in the crime and erotica genres. Genres that I never tried to write before. Sure I'd read a lot of both but it's like constantly going into a swanky boutique, always browsing and yet never trying on the merchandise. Was I nervous? Did I quiver? After several pithy attempts all I wrote was an analogy for my difficulty:

It is like visiting a distant relative and having to find your way around the relative's home during a power cut. You scream and stub your toe on some table legs that you thought were not there, stumble on the way into the storeroom to find some candles and a torchlight, but only to discover that the batteries are the wrong size and the matches are wet. All you can do is wait in the dark or feel your way around strange surroundings.

Pain! The dark! Being lost in a strange place! After I identified these three dominant elements I had a revelation, and narrowed down the cause of my writing difficulties to four main fears. (Fill in the blanks with the genre of your choice):

Fear #1- Suckage
I can't write ______   because I'll suck at it.


Does the disparity between your current writing and ______ genre appear like a chasm that you cannot bridge? Consider that literary fiction star EM Forster wrote a superb short story called 'The Machine Stops ' as an anti-science fiction riposte to H.G Wells and adult thriller writers John Grisham and James Patterson are now writing YA fiction. Hard work and a little daring should carry you across to the other side of that chasm.

Fear #2 - Unfamiliarity
I can't write_____  because I do not know the genre conventions and expectations.


Feeling your way around strange surroundings maybe awkward but you'll be gifted with a different view. That is precisely why you should write because you are not weighed down by common expectations and cliches. What if you were not aware that zombies are slow-moving reanimated corpses and made them run faster than a normal human being? What if vampirism is curable by homeopathy? Read as much as you can before you begin writing; learn the map of the genre and then chart your own way through the territory.

Fear #3 - Intimidation
I am put off by _______  's (insert name of genre writer) achievements/sheer volume of output in this field.


Do not be daunted by bookshelves and Amazon wishlists dominated by a few names. They hit their rhythm and never let up but they've had their hard beginnings. Stephen King wrote 'Carrie' in a trailer laundry closet, JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers and Agatha Christie went through 2 divorces and depression.

Fear #4 Restriction
I do not want to write genre fiction because its defined and confined by set tropes and boundaries.

Some writers like working within confines and coming up with variations on the tried and tested, whereas some would rather endure quadruple root-canal than to write according to a set of genre rules.  Perhaps this is more of a personal than a literary choice. Hence please determine whether making the genre switch is for you in the first place.

Never fear failure, but fear being not brave.
What are your ways to overcoming fear of change in your writing?
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Monday, 14 June 2010

Writing Prompt: Ponte City

Yes, it's a real building in Johannesburg, its Ponte City- a looming hollow column of once posh apartment blocks. You may have seen it from the outside in "District 9" and it is soon to be a cinematic focus again as Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is set to direct a movie that takes place in Ponte City. The haunting Neo-Brutalist architecture really fires the imagination.

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Character. Actor #2: Atonement



James McAvoy said that portraying the character of Robbie Turner in the film adaptation of 'Atonement' was very difficult, because Robbie is too much like a saint despite his situation.

McAvoy is right, although the character in the novel recalls Winston Churchill's quote when describing the Soviet Union; "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Robbie Turner's persona is romantic idealisation,  the embodiment of Briony Tallis'  childhood infatuation. It may be argued that pinpointing the moment when Robbie Turner becomes a tad too saintly could be the first indication to the reader that the  book is a meta-narrative artifice.

Manipulating your characters like the moving parts of a Chinese/Japanese puzzle box takes skill and planning. A prime candidate for main protagonist," ... should be the one(character) that hurts the most", according to science-fiction writer David Gerrold. The young lovers Robbie and Cecilia Tallis, suffer due to a painful separation brought on by Briony wrongfully accusing Robbie Turner of raping her cousin Lola, but Briony's later compounded guilt ensures that she suffers the most over the course of the novel.

'Who does your story hurt?' and 'Who does it hurt most of all?" are two questions to consider in the initial planning stages of a WIP.
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Friday, 28 May 2010

Alien-ation



I could buy aliens, but not aliens that
look  like  Fifties’ comic art.  They’re  semiotic  phantoms, bits  of  deep
cultural imagery that have split off and taken  on a life of their own
          from ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

Eeleen’s blog, stardate 29/05/10: My attempts to people (hah!) my science-fiction narratives with workable aliens have resulted in unusual abdominal pains. A xenomorph, or the green curry I had for dinner last night, could emerge from my stomach at any time.

You, sitting there and reading this blog, what comes to mind when you hear the word, ‘alien’ ?(and I don’t mean for immigration purposes..) Little green men waving ray-guns? Thin bug-eyed grey men wielding rectal probes? Colourful outlaw folk that frequent the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars? Those beings in Star Trek uniform with bizarre facial markings? (Oh sorry, those happen to be Star Trek fans …) Some of you may recall HR Giger’s Alien and the Predator with a shudder. How deeply these images have permeated our popular culture. Now, GET THEM OUT OF YOUR HEAD!!!

Finished? When you have banished the last pop culture alien from the orbit of your intellect, sit down with your preferred poison (An ice-blended sencha, Diet Coke and Nutrasweet in my case…) and ponder on alien possibilities.

Notice that I didn’t say, ‘possible aliens’. Then the usual stock questions would emerge, "What if they have six eyes, no mouth and communicate by telepathy? What if they look like giant praying mantids?". Cutting and pasting from a bizarre Identikit does not help your cause.

The most plausible alien possibility is that mankind will find an alien artefact. Only because humans have jettisoned so much rubbish into space, we do stand a chance of chancing upon some debris, even if it is the interstellar equivalent of a soft-drink can. We haven’t actually seen aliens upfront (despite accounts from hillbilly truck drivers) so your story become more credible when it rests on evidence of aliens.

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Monday, 17 May 2010

Cover Art(illery)

Bang! Pow! Zum Tum Tum! Striking sci-fi and horror book covers that make the maximum (positive) impact. Movie tie-in posters and reproduced photography/artwork do not count and names of photographers and illustrators included where possible.


1. R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek
Penguin Edition 2004 (cover photo credit- Bob Esdale)
Czech playwright Capek did not coin the word 'robot' in his best known play 'R.U.R'': that credit goes to his brother Joseph. A disturbing image; four AA batteries embedded in the back of the cranium, creepily reminiscent of cyberpunk 'jack-in' portals and implanted microchips.




2. Dune by Frank Herbert (SF Masterworks hardcover edition 2007) 
There's a gi-normous worm on the cover, poised to swallow everything that can't get out if its way- what more do you want? Other covers depict the Arrakeen desert, spacecraft and multiple sand worms ridden by the Fremen of Arrakis, but less worms are definitely more.
















3. The Spook House Ambrose Bierce. Cover illustration by Coralie Bickford-Smith (2008 Penguin reprint)
The jagged imagery reminds me of Saul Bass' opening movie credits, especially the one for 'Psycho'. You can almost hear the animated knives slashing through the cover.




4. I Am Legend Richard Matheson (SF Masterworks reissue 1999). Cover Illustration by Jim Thiesen
"Hello Hollywood? Take a look at this book cover. Yes I know this has been made thrice into a movie but this cover is scarier than all three films edited together. This is what a post apocalyptic nightmare of the undead is supposed to look like! Not a major star wondering around the ruins of New York looking for his dinner."






4. Eon Greg Bear (Victor Gollancz reissue 2009) Design by Sanda Zahirovic



Utterly striking book cover but provokes divisive reactions. I've veered from regarding it as "contemporary and minimalist" to "Who's been playing in the publishing office's recycled paper basket during lunchtime?" and back again. 


5. A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess (Penguin editions clockwise from top left: David Pelham (1972); top right: photography by Lionel F Williams (Eye) and SOA / Photonica (Cogs) (1996).Bottom left and right: photography by Véronique Rolland (2000 & 2008).




I know I'm cheating here but I love all four covers, even the Tate Modernesque photos of glasses of milk. I don't own any of them, in fact my copy is the 1986 Norton edition with flames and the lower screaming half of a man's face. It doesn't sound exciting but I've seen worse literal covers for this book with mechanical oranges and cogwheels.


6. Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination Edogawa Rampo. cover illustration by Bolger Edward (Tuttle 1956)


Bow down to the Grandfather of the Japanese mystery tale! Let this cover hijack your attention before you open this book of bizarre psychological horror tales. The chair on the cover refers to Rampo's most famous short story 'The Human Chair', which will scare you off buying comfy sofas and armchairs. For life.
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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Cover Argh!

Horror book covers used to be a ghoulish delight, now I find them rather abstract and minimalist. In the 1980s, I loved the WH Smiths in Finchley Road and Brent Cross, London UK because they stocked an extensive range of horror books. Back then, I was too young to read the titles but I loved looking at the book covers because they scared the sh*t out of me. Scary films do not give me nightmares but these covers in their glossy lurid glory (or gory) were highly effective at making me not read the contents of the books until well into adulthood.

1) 'The Spear' James Herbert (1981)
Those glaring red eyes! That disturbingly phallic spear held by a skeletal hand! All set against an impenetrable black background! I suppose the cover artist showed the publisher a rough rendition got the rest of the week off for this work as a bonus.





2) 'Slugs' Shaun Hutson (1982)
Hokey as this novel seems now and since made into a very cheesy B-movie in 1988, perhaps the only genuine shudders are provoked by this first-edition cover art. A slug slowly nibbling the corner of some unfortunate woman's eyeball - although now I believe perhaps a pinch of salt would kill the pesky thing?







3) 'Books of Blood Volume 4' aka 'The Inhuman Condition' Clive Barker (1985)
The man's brain is exposed while his body is dissolving into ribbons, and yet his eyes are full of manic glee - he really shouldn't be enjoying his ordeal. This cover seriously scared me when I was seven but when I later discovered that the cover art was also painted by the author, I *had* to read the book just to find out whether the contents measure up to the cover. They do. (This book contains the short story 'The Forbidden' which was adapted into the film 'Candyman' in 1992)



4) 'Communion' Whitley Strieber (1988)
There's a good reason why I do not believe that the little green men will be cute, cuddly and benevolent if they visit this planet. This book cover is that reason - do those eyes say 'We come in peace'?! No, they say ,'We come to send rectal probes to Uranus!'













5) 'It' Stephen King (1988)
"Where's the clown?" you may ask. The clown owes much to Tim Curry's terrifying portrayal in the miniseries adaptation and subsequent editions later put the clown on the cover. However, this simple and very understated cover art hints at a monstrous menace hiding just under the ordinary streets where children play. 










6) Spooky Stories 1 edited by Barbara Ireson (1982)
The first volume in a great anthology series (for children!) with a cover so unnerving that my mother hated it. Grubby fingernails, decayed teeth and wild staring eyes- urghhh!














7) 'Koko' Peter Straub (1988)
Not really disturbing for me when I was 10 but more grungy, grainy and very enigmatic; What or who is 'Koko'? I remember reading the back cover; its about Vietnam War veterans trying to catch a serial killer (hence the camouflage paint on the face) Thankfully reprinted in 2009, so I can finally read it to find out.

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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Character. Actor #1 : Michael Biehn and Naming

The first in a series of posts that connect acting and characters in a literary and creative writing sense. (Note: 'Actor' is used to include actresses too, its just that 'Character. Actor' sounds catchier...and I stress that I'm not a professional actor, I'm just writing from a literary POV)

"What's in a name?" asked Shakespeare, who was an obvious master of naming his characters.  As a writer you have the potential to give your characters power through your choice of name; just take care that there's no potential for confusion. The question should not be,"What the $%@# is that name?".

Here's a personal example; when I was young, I used to have the following discussion with other girls about the actor Michael Biehn (right):

Variation #1
"Did you see 'The Terminator' on TV last night?"
"Yes."
"How do you pronounce that actor's last name?"
"Err, 'Sch-war-zen-neg-gar'?"
"No, not him! I'm talking about the cute guy protecting Sarah Connor."
"Ahh, 'Michael Bi-' 'Bine'? 'Behn?' 'Bin'?"


Variation #2
"Did you see 'Aliens' last night?"
"Yes."
"How do you pronounce the name of-?"
"'Si-Gour- nee-Weaver"
"No, not her! I'm talking about the cute guy playing 'Hicks'. The little girl bit him on the hand?"
"Oh, him again....'Michael B-i-e-h-n?"
"Eeleen, I know how to spell his last name but how do you say it?"

I was genuinely stumped. Movie encyclopedias entries listed him but did not say how his surname is pronounced (this was before the Internet, Google, Wikipedia and Imdb) I waited patiently for interviews and news snippets on programs such as Entertainment This Week (broadcast in Singapore one month late) just to hear his name pronounced by a presenter.
Nothing. Nada. I dubbed him 'Hicks' after his character in "Aliens" just for easy reference. But I felt like I wasn't doing him justice because he was in other major films before and after "Aliens".

One afternoon Karuna Ti and I took matters into our own hands; we sat down and dissected his surname. I decided that the name 'Biehn' could be Germanic , as in 'Bein' whereas she proposed that the 'h' was silent,  towards the Gallic sounding, 'Bien'. To pronounce the 'h' resulted in 'Michael Be-hine', which did not sound respectful at all. We agreed to disagree and use our individual pronunciations. Hence once we settled this issue, we talked about his other films such as 'The Seventh Seal', 'Navy Seals', and how I missed a brief screening of 'K2' at the cineplex.

As writers we all know that the naming of characters is important. "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names." goes an ancient Chinese saying. Name your characters well for the sake of first impressions. When in doubt, try the names on your beta readers and friends.
A good name does not have to be simplistic, for example an unwieldy monicker did not harm the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sigourney Weaver. My name has six 'e's in it and people always remember it. But beware the nebulous name which can be problematic. It's not that your readers are lazy or stupid, it's just that they want to be certain. Imagine your readers are meeting a new best friend; they want to get the name absolutely right and not offend the person.

Now I know Michael Biehn's surname is actually pronounced 'Been' (both of us were wrong although common sense told us the 'h' is silent) and I was right about the German origin. But it would've been nice to have been (no pun intended) sure in the first place. Just because he's a brilliant, versatile yet underused actor, ranging from the heroic :"Aliens" ,"Navy Seals"to the psychotic ;"The Fan" (1981) and 'The Abyss'.  Here's a website if you can't get enough of Mr. Biehn. And he meets all the eye-candy criteria for this blog.


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Favourite Authors

In no particular order, not an exhaustive list and not excluded to the following;
  1. Ian McEwan
  2. Joseph Conrad
  3. Aldous Huxley
  4. J.G Ballard
  5. Graham Swift
  6. M.R James
  7. Daphne du Maurier
  8. Clive Barker
  9. Evelyn Waugh
  10. Saki
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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Obscure Horrors

I thought I might save this post for Halloween, but then again, Halloween is a season for carnivalesque safe scares; you pays your money, enter the ghost-train ride and emerge on the other side unscathed. The ride is easily forgotten and the memory is disposable, whereas a great horror story errrrmm...haunts you.

Alison Flood's article article in The Guardian set me thinking about horror/supernatural fiction. Readers cite the usual horror suspects (King, Poe, Shirley Jackson...) but I remember as a reader that my literary scares came from reading short stories in old anthologies borrowed from libraries or unearthed in clearance book sales. I discovered new names and old names; wonderful tales by one-hit wonders and stories by writers that you'd normally would not associate with horror/ supernatural fiction.

It wouldn't be useful to name some of these old anthologies because some are long out of print, but links to more available editions  are included where possible.


1)  "Not Exactly Ghosts"  Andrew Caldecott (Wordsworth Editions 2007)
Sir Andrew Caldecott is better known as a diplomat and ex-governor of Hong Kong and Singapore. His administrative legacy endures (Mediacorp, the home of Singapore Broadcasting, resides on Caldecott Hill) but his literary legacy is criminally underrated. Buy this if you want subtle early 20th-Century ghost stories, where mundane objects like a pump, a pair of trousers and a church organ are haunted .

2)"The Party" "The Partnership" William F. Nolan
What? Horror from one of the writers of "Logan's Run"? I had to struggle to put the 1976 movie out of my head, Nolan writes superb dark psychological tales and "The Party" was as chosen by Newsweek as one of the top ten most effective horror stories. "The Partnership" is an unsettling sample of American Gothic that was adapted for the anthology TV series "Darkroom" in 1980. Now I want a copy of "Logan's Run" because the book is much grittier and deserves better, before Hollywood got its mitts on it for the movie.

3)"Video Nasty" Phillip Pullman (1996). Published in "The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories" edited by Peter Haining (Mammoth Books 2007)

Yes, dear reader you read the name correctly as him of "Northern Lights" fame . Just like its title, "Video Nasty" is an unmercifully visceral short ghost story that raises more troubling questions than answers. Parallels between 'The Ring' are merely coincidental (it was written 3 years before the Japanese film version hit mainstream Western audiences)

4) The Machine Stops E.M Forster
A dystopian science-fiction story by one of the foremost critics of science-fiction. This is not a horror story but I urge you not to shudder at Forster's vision of future humans reduced to fungoid growths by their slavish dependence on technology.

5) The Lamp Agatha Christie(1933). Published in"The Hound of Death and other stories"  (Harper Collins Ltd)
The Queen of Crime also reigns supreme as a ghost story writer . Poignant and eerie, "The Lamp" has a unique atmosphere that does not disperse, even when you have switched on all the lights.

6) All But Empty Graham Greene
A murder is connected to an afternoon matinee attended by only two people. Invariably, there is a twist ending but *what* a twist it is.

7) Close Behind Him John Wyndham
In his famous novels such as 'The Day of the Triffids' and 'The Midwich Cuckoos', Wyndham created his own genre of 'logical fantasy' and he applies the same precise structuring and prose to this story of murder avenged.

8) The Ball Room China Mieville "Looking For Jake and Other Stories" (Pan, 2006)
Can China Mieville's prose hack it in a real-world setting? It does and you almost wish he wrote more contemporary fiction. You will never dare go near a children's play area after reading this.

9) The Dancing Partner Jerome K. Jerome
The author of the classic comic novel "Three Men In a Boat" displays a rarely-seen warped sense of humour in this tale of a toy dancing-partner that *never* wants to stop dancing.

10) The Signalman Charles Dickens
Incisive social commentary of Victorian England? Check. Effortless lucid prose from a master writer? Check. Eccentric ghosts a la "A Christmas Carol"? Absent. A disturbing ending that ensures sleeping with all the lights on? Present.

Other suggestions/ additions to this list? Comment below thank you


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Monday, 5 April 2010

Filler Killer

Here's a problem that I don't really talk about as a writer, because I've never encountered it before.

What do you do when you can't make the minimal wordcount? When even 2000 words feels like you have to pull material out of every gawdforsaken body orifice? Do I resort to tautology and obfuscation to meet the requirement but shortchange myself and my readers? Should I incorporate Henry Jamesian passages of long description and bore myself into a stupor?

My muse scratches his/her nose and opines that there wasn't much of a story or narrative drive to whatever I was working on in the first place. I'm reminded of Abe Ferrara's infamous film, 'The Driller Killer' - in between brief scenes of the film's anti-hero taking a power tool to the skulls of winos in 1970's New York, Ferrara's film is mostly filler (oil-painting, lesbian shower scenes acted by actresses who look fed up and shots of the noisy punk band rehearsing next door..). Perhaps a gory poster would work....?
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Monday, 29 March 2010

American Independent Film Reviews

Click on the link below to read two of my film reviews in the Directory of World Cinema: American Independent. This handsome tome is available from Intellect UK. Free download for a limited period.

http://worldcinemadirectory.co.uk/
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Monday, 22 March 2010

Random Music Trivia







"Take Me Home " - Sophie Ellis-Bextor (original lyrics sung by Cher)
"She" - Charles Azanour (covered by Elvis Costello)
"(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais" - The Clash
"Mack the Knife" - Bobby Darin
"Work It Out" - Beyonce
"All I Want Is You" - U2
"It's A Mug's Game" - Soft Cell
"Fake Plastic Trees" - Radiohead

Question: What do these songs have in common?
Answer: All of them do not have choruses.

(You're welcome....)
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Thursday, 18 March 2010

SoShy


Face like Angelina Jolie, voice like Amy Winehouse, tattoos like LA Ink.
Which begs the question - why isn't SoShy more famous outside France? Apart from 'Morning After Dark' with Timbaland and Nelly Furtado and two World Cup themed songs, 'Dorothy' and 'The Way I am'.
I am blogging my enthusiasm and await her debut album with utmost impatience.
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Friday, 12 March 2010

Celluloid Rehab

Famed, lie low
that's the best choice for us
Seeking escape at the movies.
For a little more
take a hike, or a cruise
Until you get stuck in the popcorn pit of deja-vu.
A well worn shoe
that has stepped on many a bollock.

Entertainment prices become
Fines; penalties paid for your observance of the law.
You want more
Than your wallets can grant.

Before you become an old man,
Gone is the first bloom of youth
When you are stuck in the same gear and pushing your pen.
Railing against stone deadlines.
You want to forget about
Bringing home the bacon.


Cast off your leg-irons!
Become a free man!
Stop living in your Ikea-furnished cage and
Bail out! Out of your depth
Life doesn't stop when it becomes stiller.

Drive your Ford to the woods
(Using diesel, of course)
The jolly robins are skipping in the green and black.
A crow and a fox perches on your sun roof.
Isn't a real panaroma better than widescreen?


(There are 31 actors' and actresses' surnames in this poem, including one full name anagram in the first verse. Can you spot them?)
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Saturday, 6 March 2010

This Is Really Not A Love Song.

Bruce Springsteen sang in 'No Retreat No Surrender'  that you can learn more from a three minute record than you can ever learn in school. Track down that old form teacher who confiscated your walkman/ discman/ mp3 player and show him/her the following list! Who said popular songs are all vacuous fluff and confection?

1. 'Being Boiled' (1981) The Human League
Phil Oakey and company stand up for animal rights and protests against the mass exploitation of silkworms.
Vocabulary enriching lyric: "sericulture" (The cultivation of silkworms for silk)


2. 'Free Your Mind' (1992) En Vogue
Don't judge by appearances! Down with damaging stereotypes! These four ladies rap and roar their polemic, although their leather and lace costumes in the video does dent their credibility.
Vocabulary enriching lyric: "synecdoche"  (Using a small part, such as an individual, to judge a whole group, i.e race or culture in the case of this song)


3. "Remembrance Day" (1987) Bryan Adams
Everything he does is not just MOR rock and aweshucks love balladry. Here's a restrained tribute to the role of Canadian soldiers in World War I.
Interesting Fact written into song lyrics: "By October 1918, Cambrai had fallen"  Surely the only reference to the 1918 Hundred Days Offensive by the Allied Powers, in rock music?


4. "Wuthering Heights" (1979) Kate Bush
It doesn't get more literary than this tune. The haunting refrain of 'Heathcliff! Its me, Cathy! I've come home, let me into your window!" evokes and distills the essence of Emily Bronte's classic novel more effectively than a dozen Yorknotes study guides.


5. "One Week" (1998) Barenaked Ladies
There has to be one pop-culture referencing song on this list. Jason Mraz has based his entire career around this song and with good reason, the references fly in, in a relentless stream:, Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa, Harrison Ford and Aquaman are namechecked.


6. "Enola Gay" (1984) Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark
More history, now its World War 2, or to be more specific, the end of WW2. OMD sing about the plane that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
Interesting fact worked into song title: The name of the plane! Genius!


7. "Invisible Sun" (1981) The Police
A dark song about the political tensions in Northern Ireland, but not difficult to listen to. Banned by the BBC upon release - how rock and roll is that?
Vocabulary enriching lyric: 'armalite'. aka the AR-18 assault rifle.


8. "Cemetry Gates" (1987) The Smiths
Smart lyrics from Morissey, the Ocasr Wilde-o-phile. Apparantly about poetry battles and questions of attribution that take place in the titular graveyard.
Educational advice written into lyrics : A warning against plagiarism: "Always someone somewhere, with a big nose  who knows!"


9. "Once In a Lifetime" (1980) Talking Heads
You may have first heard this song used in the trailer for 'The Truman Show' It combines existentialism and fears of looming mid-life crisis with a beautiful chorus that, once heard, may never leave your brain.
Educational note on music video: Incorporates footage of tribal dancing and sign language (and I'm not referring to David Byrne's dancing and hand gestures..)


10. "MLK" (1984) U2
"Pride In the Name of Love" maybe the more obvious song about Martin Luther King, but 'MLK" is the shorter and more subtle piece.


Do you have any examples of smart pop(ular) songs? Post them in Comments please.




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Sunday, 28 February 2010

A User's Guide to Mythological Objects.

In honour of the upcoming remake of 'Clash of the Titans', let's get technical.  These items should have come with proper instructions, mortals are ill-equipped to handle or construct these objects. Its like giving a lightning bolt to a three-year old (unless the three-year old is Hercules...)

Gorgon's Head
Why isn't my target turning into stone?
Check that your target is standing no more than 3m away from you and making direct eye contact with the Gorgon's face. Using a mirror, check that both eyes of the Gorgon are completely open.

Warning: In the event of accidental petrification, consult a sorcerer or deity of your choice.
We are not liable for mishaps arising from the intentional/ unintentional misuse of your  Gorgon's head. In irreversible cases, we recommend that the statues be assigned new functions as garden ornaments and subjects of dinner-party conversation.

Golden Fleece
Although of divine origins, always wash your golden fleece in lukewarm water with mild detergent after use and drip-dry.

Pandora's Box
Read the warning stated on the outside. Includes Hope.

Trojan Horse
Functions only as a decoy, not as an armoured vehicle.
Do not exceed stated capacity.
Does not include toilet or other amenities.
Recommended for overnight use only.

Labrinyth
(Minotaur sold separately) If lost, please find your way out by following the thread.





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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Zen Pen

Zen wisdom come in sayings or  the koan- a lightning bolt of impenetrable, illogical profundity. Answers are not required as the enigmatic sayings and axioms are intended to induce enlightenment by moving the mind to a different position. This is called a mental 'precipice'.

Whether you leap off the precipice or sit and admire the view, the Zen approach benefits the writing process. If your writing sessions sound more like "Arghhhhh!" instead of "Ahh!" read on.

1. "Water that is too pure has no fish" (Hong Zicheng)
You may have created a great protagonist/ antagonist. But no one is 101% goody-two shoes or evil. Not only are these characters stock, two-dimensional and boring, they are also implausible.  Characters are conflicted and flawed, they are rattling bags of contradictions and they transform over the course of a story. Or even a sentence.


2.  "Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done - it's just doing it" (Alan Watts)
Story plans : structures or strait-jackets? Try not to think of extremes in the early stages. Instead, put your story in an open space and explore it. You don't have to know all the answers yet.


3. "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?" (unknown)
A koan-like philosophy question but not a Zen koan.  Can something exist without it being perceived?
You may have manuscripts tucked away somewhere, stories you don't show to anyone. Without exposure they are as good as non-existent. Go on, dig them out, have another look. Since you wrote them, you owe them their existence.


4. "In serving, serve.
       In fighting, kill."   (Jinzu)
Let me append another line, "In writing, write."
I see this as a warning against multitasking, which detracts from your intention. We all do it, but perhaps it is better to turn off the technological distractions and just concentrate on your work. 


5. "The reverse side also has a reverse side" (proverb)
As a writer you are encouraged to be investigative and look beyond the obvious. There is never just one aspect or story to anyone or anything.


















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Monday, 15 February 2010

TLCs (Terrible Love Couplets)

Romantic poetry a la Eeleen. Hallmark cards please don't cancel my contract....

#1
Candy heart gifts and chocolate are far from pathetic,
But darling, you forgot that I'm *diabetic*!                                          

#2
'Love Kamikaze' is one of your nicknames:
'When you go down, you go down in flames'

#3
I care not for your flaws, warts, stretch marks and cellulite,
Because when Cupid took aim, he used an Armalite!

#4 Bella saw the fortune-teller about her fella
  Who tell'd her, 'Stop hiding your love- dig him up from the cellar!'

Bella frowned- the answer didn't please her:
She preferred that other geezer she'd stashed in the freezer.

In such matters, it pays to be pragmatic:
Don't remain static and keep the corpses in the attic.

#5
Love life affected by the global credit crunch?
Pray, desist from buying her a $5.99 McValue Lunch!

#6
'Love is blind', there's no separation,
An accelerated process of macular degeneration.

#7
He finally popped the question, so why so bitter?
Is is because he proposed via Twitter?

#8
Once I tried speed-dating on speed,
It was over too soon, so I went back to weed.

#9
On love's battlefield Cupid lurks like a viper,
Archery's outdated- now he's a sniper.
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