Category Archives: Writing

Blog posts that have to do with my playwriting, Community Theatre or freelance writing interests.

Analysis of “Skull Island” as a subtextual discussion of the inherent violence in Man and his struggle to escape the animal heritage of homo sapiens.

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Emerging from the venerable heritage of the Creature Feature, it’s easy to dismiss “Kong Skull Island” at first glance as nothing more than the latest in a parade of monster movies where viewers wager which of the shrinking band of principals will survive the carnage. Yet, I would say there’s a remarkable vivacity to the subtext of this film that bears further examination and even deserves greater credit than it has thus far received.

Leaving aside the lyrical, poetic cinematography that doesn’t so much recall “Apocalypse now” as reshoot it, I’d like to focus on the plot.

Scientists discover a mysterious island, thanks to the new technology of Satellite photography. But these are not ordinary scientists – these scientists have been tasked with finding previously unknown monsters, and this is (for unspecified reasons) their last chance to do so. Surely this previously unknown island that has been mentioned in historical documents as a place to avoid (wait, how unknown is it?) contains monsters by the BUCKETLOAD? The plan is approved and a survey is cobbled together with other, genuine scientists who are looking for something else. Probably oil. This is the 70’s, everyone wants oil. A squadron of helicopters, almost on their way home from Vietnam, are reassigned to this expedition, to the great relief of their commanding officer who clearly knew the likelihood of his men to fall prey to depression, drug abuse and homelessness following their return home to a hostile country. How farsighted of him.

As the helicopters sweep in over the island, they drop seismic charges, theoretically to map the substrata of the island. In truth, these are bombs to draw out the monsters. Kong makes his appearance and destroys all the helicopters, leaving only a handful of scattered survivors. He and the commanding officer lock gazes through the flames, establishing their emnity for the hard-of-thinking. Then Kong wanders off.

Later in the film, two characters get into a discussion over the AK-47 one of them is carrying.

“I took it off a Vietnamese farmer”, the character says. “Man told me he’d never held a gun before we came to his country. Sometimes you don’t have an enemy until you go looking for one.”

This is another pointer for the hard-of-thinking or American audiences. Because at this point the survivors are split into two groups – the soldiers, who are looking for the biggest heap of weapons to avenge themselves on Kong, and the others, the pretty ones, who meet the locals and a handy WW2 survivor who can explain everything to everyone.

Kong is a protector, the last of his kind. And he was defending his charges from the attack by the helicopters. This is proven by his lack of interest in attacking the film’s leading lady when she wanders across his path. He’s a nice guy, just two hundred feet tall. Worse still, Kong is needed by the islanders because there are worse monsters and he’s their only defender.

This, I feel, is the brilliance of the film. Mankind goes to the island, looking for a monster. Because of the way we go looking, we find one, and we give it reason to act monstrously. The film shows the two possible responses to meeting a monster: Arm, and fight back, or learn, and react with that knowledge in mind. The soldiers, and their commander in particular, arm because it’s what they’ve been trained to do, and to do in Vietnam where the enemy was almost impossible to see. Here’s the exact opposite, and enemy that’s all too visible. It’s easy to see the appeal in the notion of all-out attack.

But the pretty people have knowledge. They know what else hangs in the balance of Kong’s life, and they are willing to put their own lives on the line to protect the villagers, just as Kong is. They step between the soldiers and their enemy and try to make them see reason. All but the commander are persuaded, but for most it takes the arrival of the worse monster to prevent the killing of Kong. The commander himself is killed by the new monster, a victim of the hateful actions he has taken against the enemy he made.

I came away from this movie filled with a profound sense of having learned something about human nature and storytelling and the rediscovery of old tales.

Mrs Dim said she liked the bit where Tom Hiddlestone ran through the water in his t-shirt and jeans.

LAUNCH DAY! More Cosplay Disasters

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Yes! It’s finally launch day for my new e-book, “More Cosplay Disasters”!

In this follow-up volume to “My Cosplay Disasters”, I lay out the method I failed to develop properly to build another four helmets. This time I ruined:

A Captain Rex Clone Trooper Mod

A First Order Stormtrooper Helmet from “The Force Awakens”

Handles the Cyberman Head from Doctor Who

A Deathtrooper helmet from “Rogue One”

Each disaster is neatly laid out (which is more than can be said for my workshop) with accompanying photographs and a detailed account of where I went wrong (often, simply starting the project.)

There are many authors and makers out there who are keen to tell you how to do things right, but I’m pretty much the only person showing you how I do things wrong, thus proving that YOU could do a better job than me if you put your mind to it. Also, that I should have a different hobby.

The e-book is available exclusively on Amazon:

In the US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XCF665N

In the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XCF665N

In Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B06XCF665N

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And anyone else, check your local Amazon variant!

An allegory (not about the election)

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Once upon a time, in a small village, there was a shop that sold pots. There were pots of all kinds, in different sizes and shapes. Some were squat and earthy, some were tall and elegant, some were useful, some were purely art pieces.

Each had only one handle.

One day, a new potter came into the shop. She was holding a pot with two handles. The proprietor looked over his glasses at her.

“Two handles?” he said, not quite sneering. “How…Unusual.”

The woman swallowed, but stood tall.

“This is how I make pots. With two handles.”

The man smiled in a patronly fashion.

“And that’s very admirable, but as you can see, all the pots in this shop have ONE handle. I simply can’t sell a two handled pot. No one would buy it.”

The woman frowned.

“Excuse me, but how do you know that?”

The man waved once more at the stock in his window.

“Because I’ve been selling pots for over thirty years, young woman, and I have never yet sold a two-handled pot. It can’t be done.”

The woman arched an eyebrow at him.

“Have you ever HAD a two-handled pot to sell?”

The man had no answer to this, and in his moment of confusion, the woman carefully placed her pot in his hands. Both hands instinctively closed around the handles, holding the pot firm. It felt right in his grip, comfortable, safe and secure. There was no arguing that it wasn’t different from every pot he’d held before. He liked the pot, but his pride prevented him from saying aloud how he felt. He cleared his throat.

“Well, look, I can see you’ve worked hard on this. I think we should be charitable and give a chance to new…odd, things. I’ll put it in the window, for now. We’ll give you a week, how about that?”

But less than a week had passed before the woman heard from the shop owner. Her pot had sold, and word had got round, and could she bring him more pots, more two-handled pots please. As many as ten? By tomorrow?

Along with the modest flow of people buying the new pots (new to the shop, but perhaps an old design, to be sure) came an angry potter. He was, he explained, there to represent the views of several potters who had concerns.

“These new pots of yours, ” he said, “They’re not right. Not proper.”

The shopkeeper frowned at that.

“I don’t see how that’s the case. They are pots. Whether artistic or practical, they do what needs to be done.”

The potter shuffled his feet, as if physically adjusting his mental stance.

“Look,” he said (and the strain of keeping a level tone was nonetheless evident in his voice) “I can see there’s a bit of a fad for this new style. Well, fine. If you want two handles on pots, I can supply pots with two handles.”

“Why?” asked a softer voice.

Both men turned to see the woman who had made the two handled pots. She had clearly heard the exchange.

“I beg your pardon?” grated the potter.

“Why would you suddenly start making two handled pots? I make them that way because that’s how I was taught to make them. It’s the way my family have always made pots.”

“I’ve never seen them before.” asserted the potter, as if that were a closing statement.

“Little wonder about that, since they’ve never had space in the shop before.” replied the woman.

“Well, now they are taking up space. Space that other potters have earned. Potters that have more experience, that have sold pots for longer than you…”

“Not hard to do, since I haven’t sold any pots before this week.” admitted the woman.

“Exactly!”

“But then again, that doesn’t make them better. It certainly doesn’t make them better at making two handled pots.”

The potter stared at her, then glanced at the shopkeeper who shrugged, unwilling to intervene. The woman continued in a level and understanding tone.

“You see, I know you are a good potter. I see your pots right there in the window and they are beautifully made. Some are useful, and some are too lovely to use. You are clearly a master potter.”

He stammered a vague thank you, trying to see why she should compliment him.

“And yet… All your pots have one handle. They only need one handle. That’s how they were made, how you have always made your pots. You COULD make pots with two handles, and they would be good pots, but you know what? You’d be making them because people are buying two handled pots. Not because you want to MAKE two handled pots. And before you could sell them, you would have to go away and learn about the design, probably from someone like me, who has spent her life making pots like these.”

The potter opened his mouth and the woman held up one finger. Not imperiously, not commandingly, just to indicate a moment’s pause was needed.

“You should make the pots you have always made. They will still be beautiful or useful. People will still buy them and love them. And yes, you may sell fewer pots because the shop shares the space with different pots. But you’ll be making the pots that you make best. The pots you understand. The pots you dream of. And so will I.”

So, this is the internet, where you have to point out when you’re writing a satire. This is not a satire, it’s an allegory, and it’s not about the American election, even though it seems like EVERYTHING is about the American election right now. This is about a discussion in the publishing industry that rose and fell recently. It’s how I feel about that argument.

May the Fours be with you…

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Still putting one foot in front of the other, with three Weasels in tow…

It’s my forty-fourth birthday. Despite dire warnings regarding fruit and vegetables and the necessity thereof, I’m still here. Which is nice.

This summer has been long and very, very pleasant. We’ve had a visit from my parents and been out to see new places, as well as revisiting some old favourites. The Weasels have had independent adventure time, and plenty of family time too. Mrs Dim and I managed to take simultaneous vacations and discovered that we still like each other very much.

In past years I’ve put my books on sale and encouraged new readers to try them, but I think there’s enough misery in the world right now thanks to Brexit and the US elections, so instead I’m encouraging everyone to embrace the spirit of the Fours and review four books. ANY four books. Doesn’t matter if it’s a book you read last week, or your childhood favourite. Doesn’t matter if you post the review on Amazon, or on Facebook, or on a sheet of A4 pinned to the nearest telephone pole.

Reviews matter. They matter to the poor author who has torn their hair out arranging these 100,000 words into that specific order for your pleasure. They matter to other readers, who want to know if this is a book they should devote time to. And if Oprah and Richard and Judy and their ilk can influence entire countries to buy a book (“50 Shades” and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” respectively) then you can encourage people too. Even if it’s just the author, relieved that someone has READ their book, thank you.

You don’t have to be a literary critic. You don’t have to analyse the beats of the plot, or the structure, or the effectiveness of the b-story. Did you like the book? Did it grip you from the beginning? Could you see it happening in your head as you read it? Did you want to read it right to the end? Were you sad when it was finished? These are the things people want to know about the books, not whether the symbolism was richly influenced by the pre-modernistic fiction of Northern France.

Summer’s pretty much done, and as Sean Bean is always here to remind us….

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Dammit, Sean, YOU HAD ONE JOB! Try again….

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Right. Thank you.

Yes, Winter is coming, so no more lying in a hammock reading books. Now comes the time for curling up in an armchair near the fire with books. It’s completely different.

So, may the fours be with you. Go FOURth and review books.

Adventures in Tech

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Writing is always going to be difficult, one way or another. If it was easy to write brilliantly, we’d all do it and no author would ever have a crisis of confidence, or hangups about plot or character.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are plenty of books that will tell you they have a surefire method to make the process of writing easier, and just like them there’s a lot of software geared towards helping the struggling author sort their ideas out and get them written down.

This week my struggles have been of a different nature. My dear old netbook, veteran of a dozen plays and several e-books, has reached the point of no return. After rejecting Windows 10 over fifteen times, it finally caved and installed the new OS, resulting in a twenty minute start-up time, followed by enough time to brew fresh coffee in between opening programs, or switching from one thing to another. This could not stand, but since this is a Dell Netbook, there’s no chance of upgrading the hardware (not at my level of expertise, anyway…)

There were two options:

  1. Buy a new Netbook. $399 or more.
  2. Experiment with reviving the netbook as a Chromebook for free.

Option 1 was my favourite, so I looked at my finances. Option 2, then.

Now, I’m not very technically gifted. But I had the distinct advantage here of starting with a machine that could get no more broken. Even if I totally borked this installation, things would be no worse than they already were. Yay.

I did some careful research…well, ok, I Googled a couple of things and then took my folks out for the day.

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(My parents are visiting from the UK.)

I asked about on Google Plus and people seemed moderately ok about the idea of working on a Chromebook. Not overwhelmingly enthusiastic, but it seemed that I would at least be able to do SOMETHING on the new machine which is, as stated, a step up.

I visited the Neverware site to use their “Cloudready” software. The step by step guide I was using really wanted me to understand that I would be losing everything from the hard drive of the machine I was Chroming, but that was ok with me. If I hadn’t backed it up by now, I didn’t need it. Probably.

Things weren’t quite as easy as the guide suggested, but I was able to manage. My main issue was that, once I had created the boot disc on the USB stick (wait, shouldn’t that be “boot stick”? What kind of world are we living in where people need a boot stick?), the machine didn’t recognise the file. I had to restart the computer (as we know, a twenty minute process) and then catch that brief moment when you’re offered boot options if you hit F12.

Once I did that, Cloudready took over and the process began. In about an hour it was done, though I wasn’t entirely sure when I was supposed to remove the USB. As a result I wasn’t actually working on the real installation for the first twenty minutes, but the one running from the stick, however that works.

A whole day later, and I have the machine a little better organised. I have some music and movies stored on the local hard drive (more or less), since I’ll often be working on the machine while it’s offline. I’ve ensured that the Google Docs software is configured to allow me to work on files while offline too, and the whole thing runs a lot faster than it used to. It’s still not as fast as a new machine, but I can switch it on and be working in five minutes instead of twenty. And actually working, not poking at the keyboard and swearing while I wait for it to catch up.

The big test will come in a couple of weeks, when an aspect of my library work will give me three hours of peace and uninterrupted quiet to work on the final third of the latest play. I’m going to be using the Chromebook. As long as I have figured out exactly who DID dun it for my whodunnit, I’ll be relying on my revitalised machine to get the words down.

After another visit to the pub…

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Favourite books of the week

Since I raved about LJ Cohen’s space masterpiece last week (or thereabouts) it seems only fair that I mention two books that have been delighting me since then.

Available from Amazon

A colleague at the library asked me if I’d read this book, and I had to admit I’d picked it up a couple of times but not committed to reading it. Finally convinced by the presence of Toffos on the cover, I took it home and read half of it that night, only putting it down because 1am is too late to be reading when you have a 6am start.

The book is a collection of letters written by Nina to her sister Victoria. Nina is working as a nanny to a couple of boys in London in the 1980s, and the letters really concern themselves mostly with everyday life, which sounds dull, but the family live over the street from Alan Bennett (who drops in regularly for tea), a few doors along from Jonathan Miller (who lends them a saw to trim their Christmas tree) and round the corner from a famous novelist.

The everyday life that Nina describes is crazy and strange, and yet completely believable. You only catch a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher once or twice, and there’s no mention of The Falklands War, or Northern Ireland, or unemployment (which are my abiding memories of the 80’s). It’s just the real (and sometimes surreal) life of a single Mum and her two boys, along with the young woman who helps them out with the little things, like cooking and playing, but not cleaning.

And it’s a lot more funny and interesting than I made it sound. Sorry.

Available from Amazon

Continuing the theme of real lives from a time I remember, I picked up Simon Pegg’s autobiography expecting the kind of detail-lite life story that I’ve often read in other celeb’s books. But this is not the case here. While the non-linear structure can make it tricky to parse the actual timeline of Simon’s life (he leaps about through time talking about his developing love of acting and comedy, the girls he’s loved and the major influences on his life and his work), this is a book worth reading. He uses his academic chops to dissect the appeal of Star Wars to the generation upon which it burst, and while I’ve read similar explanations in drier books, Pegg’s love of the movie and his unapologetic dislike of the prequels is backed up with solid reasoning. He’s famous for a quote about being a geek… Hang on, I’ll go find it….

This attitude comes through strongly in the book – Simon has discovered things he loves, and he doesn’t see why they should be treated with any less reverence than sports fanaticism, or classical theatre.

Another thing worth mentioning is his theory of microcosmic accretion (although that’s my term for it). He’s looking at the reason he became part of a group that went on to such success – Edgar Wright, David Walliams, Jessica Hynes and many others. His theory is that similar interests and life views filter people towards one another, which I guess only works if you embrace those loves and are willing to stand up for them. He’s discovered that both he and Edgar Wright were in the same movie theatre for the premiere of “Akira” in the UK when they were in their teens, though they didn’t meet and begin collaborating until years later. He and the woman who ultimately became his wife had many friends in common and had even been in the same locations a couple of times before actually meeting.

We (outsiders) often look at groups that change their chosen field and remark how strange it is that so many people of a similar mind should emerge at the same time – Monty Python, or George Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola. Pegg’s theory is that this is not Fate, but the inevitable consequence of admitting the things you love, and giving full rein to your enthusiasms.

I’m in awe of the fact that he’s met so many of his childhood idols – Leonard Nimoy, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Gillian Anderson, JJ Abrams. It seems the only one he missed out on was Lee Majors. There may be an argument that fortune plays a part in his success, but if so, it’s a very minor one. Simon identified his loves early on, and worked hard to achieve his success. Stand up is no easy route to take, and along the way he’s made sure he kept his friends around him and makes no secret of his admiration for the talents of others.

 

 

The Great Canadian Adventure is FREE!

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Yes! To celebrate the fact that it’s been EXACTLY 7 years, 2 months and 14 days since we arrived in Canada, I’m giving away my account of our first year here for FREE!

It’s filled with fun pictures and interesting facts! It’s an e-book, so people won’t see it on your shelf and ask why you bought it! It’s free, so you won’t regret spending money on it! And it’s an Amazon product so you can leave reviews warning others away from making a similar error!

(I may not be good at this marketing thing.)

You can get your copy from Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk . If you live somewhere else, check out your local Amazon site and see if it’s free there too!

And ok, yes, it may not be because of the timing, but because i haven’t given away any of my e-books in a long time. There’ll probably be other giveaways coming up soon. I’m busy working on a new play, co-writing the next pantomime, and there’s a side-project running over on Wattpad that I’m not convinced will be worth publishing, but is making me smile. Also, I haven’t made any kind of replica film prop for more than a week.*

 

 

 

*There may be a complete set of plans for a Cyberman head in the bottom drawer of my desk. I refuse to comment.