What do you write?

The most-asked question for writers is usually “Where do your ideas come from?”

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The gif is the honest answer many writers give, though others have despaired of being asked so often. John Cleese once said:

“People often say, Where do you get your ideas from? And I say I get them from a Mr. Ken Levingshore who lives in Swinden, he sends them to me every Monday morning on a postcard. I once asked Ken where he gets his ideas from, and he gets them from a lady called Mildred Spong who lives on the Isle of Wight. He once asked Mildred where she gets her ideas from and she refused to say. So the point is, we don’t know. This is terribly important. We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is we do not get them from our laptops.”

I wish people would ask me where I get my ideas from, but the truth is, people rarely ask me about my writing at all. Which is fair, because I spend most of the day working in a library, so it would be awfully self-indulgent to talk about my plays or e-books.

When I am asked, it’s always the nebulous question “What do you write?”, and despite almost twenty years of writing experience, I still don’t have a short answer to it. The plays I write range from short comic sketches to philosophical debates and conflicts I would personally avoid. Most have humour in them, but not all.  And when it comes to the e-books, I’m no better at settling on a genre, or even fiction or non-fiction.

From a writing point of view, I have no issue with this. It’s fun, writing what occurs without trying to bend it into a different shape so it fits the pigeonhole I’m in. On the other hand, when it comes to marketing, it can make life very difficult. Well, sales, it makes sales very difficult.

This deep thought about the origin of inspiration was prompted by the publication of my latest play, a full-length that is nothing like any of my previous pieces. The two main characters are young women, it’s set in the 80’s in America, and it’s a police procedural. The ending is also atypical of the things I write. You can read the whole script online here.

If you do, please let me know what you think. And, perhaps, where you think I got the idea from….

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Waiting for Gadot

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Life can sometimes move a little slow here at Polly Cottage*. So it is that we’re only just back from our first screening of Wonder Woman, despite being keen to see it from the first trailer. Or was it a teaser for the trailer? Or a sneak still from the teaser for the trailer? Anyway, we all wanted to see it.

Generally, the weasels are interested in watching the comic book movies, but in common with a lot of people, we’re less keen on the grim direction that DC has taken in recent years, preferring the lighter comic touch of the Marvel universe. However, Middle Weasel’s militant defence of gender rights (along with every other type of rights) meant that this movie was on our lists, and hopes were high.

The film didn’t disappoint. Since it’s still on in theatres, I’m not going to risk any spoilers, but the colours were gorgeous (in contrast to the iron and steel of Batman and Superman of late) and the origin story made a gloriously insane kind of comic book sense (though I could hear Tiny Weasel huffing about the mangling of Greek Mythology a couple of seats over). The truth is, DC don’t mess with Greek mythology any more than Marvel have with Norse to get Thor onto the Avengers team, and since no one on either production has been struck by lightning, neither pantheon is too offended by their portrayal.

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The story has been well-thought out: Wonder Woman appears at the closing stages of World War One, and though there’s still a lot at stake, she’s not brought in to re-fight battles we know were won by the sacrifice of real soldiers. It’s not disrespectful in that way. In fact, the film highlights again and again how much the innocent suffer in war, and my weasels were struck by the youth of the German soldiers, when they remove their gasmasks at the end of the film. This is not a film that revels in war, even as the choreography of the fight scenes makes them a phenomenal ballet.

I think the question of whether or not it’s a Feminist movie is a stupid one. It’s a good film. It has a female lead that young girls can look up to – long overdue, and in short supply still. It’s got a female director, and though it often bugs me that the director gets all the kudos for a good film and the writers for a bad one, I have no doubt that women in Hollywood have a harder time than the men, so I applaud Patty Jenkins for a terrific film. I hope the door stays open for women in film now.

Straight, white, middle class males have had the run of the world for a long time. If we whine when someone else has a chance to see themselves on the big screen, as the main character in a book, or leading a country, then it’s the feedback of realising how other people have felt for centuries. Wonder Woman is a great film, and it’s good to see it done so well with the effects available now. But it’s a shame it’s taken 76 years to get her a movie of her own.

 

 

*Polly Cottage is not our official address, nor is it named for any relative called Polly. If you really want to know, it’s because we’re big fans of Mr Gum, but have a short mailbox.

Taking a day off, with Ferris

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I just found out it’s been 31 years to the day, since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released. We watched it on Saturday, part of a renaissance of 80’s movies we’re going through since Middle Weasel took part in the staging of “The Breakfast Club” at her High School.

I missed Ferris the first time around, not catching it until the release on VHS, and even then it didn’t really connect with me at the time. Ferris is cool, he’s popular, and he’s skipping school. More than that, it’s easy to believe he’s bullying his friend Cameron. Cameron wants to stay home and be sick, but Ferris needs a ride and has no car. He cajoles Cameron into driving over, then gets him to impersonate Ferris’ girlfriend’s father so that she can be sprung from school too. Finally, Ferris persuades Cameron to let them take his father’s prized Ferrari on their trip to town.

There’s a relentlessness about Ferris in the opening section of the movie. He doesn’t accept Cameron’s refusals or explanations, and he seems to be steamrollering his friend to get what he wants. But it’s worth noting that Ferris doesn’t ditch Cameron to spend the day with his girlfriend, Sloane. He says on more than one occasion that this trip down town is for Cameron’s benefit, and one of the speeches delivered to the camera outlines Ferris’ regret and fears that he has to move on – next year he and Cameron will be at different colleges, and Sloane will be in her final year at High School. This trip is his gift to Cameron, as well as a treat for himself. Though he puts all three of them in jeopardy numerous times, his brazen attitude is also sufficient to rescue them from trouble.

The only times that Ferris can’t talk his way out of the problems he’s created are when Cameron realises the Ferrari will show the mileage they’ve put on it (and then accidentally destroys the car), and when he’s caught outside the house by Principal Rooney. The destruction of the car is actually Cameron’s final step from abused and neglected son to an adult in his own right – he’s finally done something that can’t be fixed or ignored, something that will hit his father where it hurts: the car he loves more than his son. Ferris has given him a day to remember and he has finally found a reason to stand up to his parents.

Caught by Rooney, Ferris is literally speechless. All the glib or snarky words that have saved him over and over are useless here, because he is clearly caught. Yet his sister chooses to help him, despite the anger she has shown towards him throughout the rest of the movie. Is it the talk she has with Charlie Sheen’s character at the police station? He tells her she’s angry with herself, not Ferris, and then when he’s about to get the very comeuppance she has been hoping for, she steps in to save him, even giving him the heads up that he has to be back in bed before their parents go to check on him.

The central message of the film, voiced by Ferris himself twice in the movie and quoted above, is that you should take the moments in life to stop and look around you. Despite the answering machines, shoulder pads and big hair, this movie and the message haven’t aged much at all.

#Tweetstory

The other day, wondering if I would ever write again, I decided to write a short story on Twitter. It was not easy. Worst of all, to read it on Twitter, you have to find where the story starts and read it backwards, 140 characters or so at a time.

To save you the trouble, I’ve patched the whole thing together in the right order here.

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory The street was dark, the car headlights a brief flash reflecting from the rain on the road. I had a good view of them…

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …because I was face-down in the gutter. Getting up was high on my list of things to do, but right now it was below “bleeding”.

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory They say that when you’re dying, your whole life flashes before your eyes. I was hoping that was true, because I was….

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …having trouble reconstructing the last few minutes. Still, the voice in my head that usually said “You want another beer”..

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory ..was now saying “How about that? She shot you!” in tones of surprise and admiration. Even face down and bleeding, I thought..

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory ..I’d rather have the beer. Bloodloss was bad, but it didn’t seem to be killing me. I gathered enough strength to push…

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #tweetstory ..to my knees and looked muzzily around. I saw the light. It was a sign. The sign said “Pete’s bar.” I’m not someone who argues…

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …with Fate, so I dragged myself to the door and slumped through. You know those bars where the guy walks in and everyone…

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …stops talking and the piano player takes a hike? This was not a bar like that. Bleeding and wet and smelling like a gutter…

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …I shambled to the bar and there wasn’t a hesitation in the ambient noise, not a hiccup in the soundtrack. Might make a guy..

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory ..feel insignificant, if it weren’t for the burning pain in his shoulder and the powerful need for alcohol in his chest.

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory The bar had a fancy mirror with lights around it as the backing, and I squinted at the silhouette serving drinks. My brain was..

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …not yet at full charge. “Pete?” I hazarded. “Better gimme a double.” The bartender leaned forward, her blonde hair …

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory …falling in a sheet that was suddenly painfully familiar. Even more familiar was the snub nose of the .38 she was pointing.

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory “Dan” she purred, in a voice that lit up my loins and the panic centre of my brain, “I believe I already cut you off tonight.”

Damian Trasler @Dtraslerwriting May 21 #Tweetstory I was already falling backwards when the gun went off. I don’t know if I hit the floor. The end.

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.

Three days at Disney

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Growing up in the UK in the 80’s, Disneyland was an impossibly distant dream. Certainly, people went, and a schoolfriend even brought me back a pair of Mickey Ears with my name embroidered on them.* But it wasn’t until 1997 that Mrs Dim and I went to Disneyland Paris (as it was then) and got an idea of what the apotheosis of theme parks was like.

For years we talked about a return visit, but work commitments or the children’s age meant it was impractical. And then we found ourselves in Canada, with experience of having driven down to San Diego. We could cram into a hotel room and survive. We could actually travel to the original Disneyland!

With Eldest Weasel able to drive, splitting the two-day trip down was easier than previous journeys too. People may curse the kids’ habit of screen-gazing, but car journeys with teens are a lot easier than when I was their age, I think. No one made themselves travel sick by trying to read, there were no arguments over the music or audio books (because everyone has their own) and they did even look out of the windows from time to time.

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Here’s a key thing with our visit: We didn’t have a packed agenda. We like rides, but we weren’t intent on doing every single one. Mrs Dim wanted to wear a tiara and drink coffee on Main Street while watching people go by. I wanted to see anything related to Star Wars. Eldest Weasel doesn’t do roller coasters, but loves artwork. Middle Weasel was there for the Alice stuff. Tiny Weasel loves it all, but hates rushing for anything.

So, we ambled. Lucky for us, we met up with some friends who had already been there a week, and they gave us more crucial hints and tips, as well as physically walking us to stuff we’d like to do. But it was a far cry from the military operations you see some families running through, dashing from ride to ride, hauling children and buggies in their wake, determined to cross off each ride on their tattered and tear-stained maps.

We aimed low, and so for us the bar was passed with ease. We saw so much we weren’t expecting, rode rides we hadn’t even heard of before (and loved them!) and we got a day at Universal Studios into the bargain (when threatened rain kept away a lot of the visitors and made lines almost non-existent.)

Looking back through the pictures, it still seems an impossible dream It’s not something we can do again in a hurry, but I’m glad we did it with all three of the weasels. Whatever your view of Disney, you’re never too old to have fun. I don’t know if it really is the happiest place on earth, but we were very happy to go there.

 

 

*There are very few opportunities outside Disneyland to wear Mickey Ears without ridicule.

The Wizard of Oz and the 8th Canaversary

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Last night we all went to see Burnaby Mountain Secondary School’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Primarily, we were there because Middle Weasel was in the booth, working as Sound Tech for the show. It’s been a little surprising but very rewarding to see how she has thrown herself into the production, and the long hours she has put in with the rest of the cast and crew – all of which paid off last night in a great show to a packed Michael J Fox Theatre.

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Photo by Jennifer Gauthier of the Burnaby Now

But we were also there to celebrate our eighth anniversary of arriving in Canada. Famously, Dorothy finds her way back to Kansas and Auntie Em by clicking her heels and reciting “There’s no place like home!”. When we told people we were moving to Canada, they were often worried that we would miss “home”, but years of RAF life had meant we were used to the idea of home being each other, not the building we lived in. When Dorothy has her revelation about home, she’s not misty-eyed about the farmhouse or the fields of corn, it’s her aunt, uncle and the farmhands that she thinks of. Her journey through Oz gives her experience of all kinds of things – danger, excitement, friendship, adulation and wonder, but all of this only serves to show her how much she had back at home.* Eight years in Canada have changed many things, but we still eat evening meals together more often than not, we still take time to hear about one another’s day, and even if we moan about it, we’ll gather for a family meeting to discuss major issues.

There was an element, that day at Heathrow, of “We’re off to see the Wizard!” We didn’t know, really, what we were going to find in Canada, only that we hoped it would be good for all of us. Like Dorothy, we’ve made plenty of new friends on the journey, and we’ve found out that there really is no place like home, whatever you believe your home to be.

*It doesn’t, of course, offer any solution to the problem she actually ran away from in the first place – Mrs Gulch using her corrupt influence over the Sheriff to get a legal order to euthanize Toto. Lucky for Dorothy, when she gets back she finds out Mrs Gulch has been struck by a falling telegraph pole and has broken her leg! Hooray! A senior citizen living by herself has suffered a terrible injury! What a relief!

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