Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Taking a Disney break at Universal

We have tickets for three days at Disney, but we know from the last time we were here, that it’s possible to sneak in a day at Universal Studios and see the other kind of Parklife (damn, got that song stuck in my head now…) The difficult bit is deciding when to leave, because no matter when you choose to go, it’ll take about two hours because of LA traffic. The park opens at 9, and that’s when we left.

Obviously, I didn’t take any pictures while driving over there, and the kids were zonked out in the back, with Mrs Dim doing my navigating for me. We DID spot the Hollywood sign, way off in the distance, so cross that one off the list.

For some reason I was a little grumpy when we arrived. Might have been the driving, or that peculiar aggressive grumpiness that suddenly seizes people when they realise they have to share something fun with other, ordinary people. The last time we came to Universal we had a wonderfully strange stroke of luck, with impending bad weather keeping most people away, but never appearing. This time it looked like we were going to have to share, and worse, QUEUE. Then I dropped my phone and shattered the screen. Bother. BUT….

It was still a really good day. We kicked it off by heading over to Hogsmead. The snow looked ludicrous in the heat, but we snagged some cold Butterbeer and started to relax.

We were trepidatious about the main ride in Hogsmead, but the wait time was only 20 mins. This sounds rough, but after weathering a 90 minute wait in Disney, it seemed reasonable to us. Plus, the queuing system for this ride takes you all through Hogwarts castle, and the decoration is fantastic. The portraits are animated and talk, and there’s something happening in every room you pass through – in the Defence against the Dark Arts Classroom, for example, Harry Ron and Hermione are wandering around under their invisibility cloak. Items move, doors open and close and their voices are clearly heard. Turns out, 20 mins isn’t long enough to see everything before you reach the ride.

The ride itself is an amazing combination of physical ride and simulation. You move through actual environments like the Forbidden Forest and the Observatory, and 180 degree screens project the illusion of flight around the outside of the castle and across the Quidditch pitch. Sounds, light and physical interactions like hot air and water help sell the experience. It was great!

You’re helped off the ride and gently ushered into the Gift Shop, of course. Like Galaxy’s Edge, there’s not a lot to ride in Hogsmead – the Hippogriff coaster and the Hogwarts ride are the only two, but there’s the “wand-choosing” experience, which provides you with a wand that can activate a number of shop window displays when you perform the spell action correctly. This is an amazing thing for the kids (and adults!) All those times you have wished you could perform real magic, and here’s a very convincing simulation.


At that point we had to leave before Eldest Weasel sold a kidney to buy yet another wand. We had to go all the way down to the lower lot to see the Jurassic World stuff. Dinosaurs, remember? (She did say the ideal thing would be to ride between the two lots on a velociraptor, on a broom, drinking Butterbeer and throwing amber left and right, with Porgs on both shoulders. Kids today, huh?)

The old Jurassic Park ride has been replaced with an updated Jurassic World ride. Although the essentials of the ride are the same (you ride in boats, get wet, and there are dinosaurs), the details are different enough that it felt like a new experience. And wet enough that we didn’t take photos. When it finished, Eldest Weasel shook herself and ran over to the Velociraptor Encounter (which was the only reason she came…)


She was told the book was probably in bad taste, but Blue the Raptor didn’t seem to mind too much.

After that, the only sane thing to do was go on the World Famous Studio Tour, currently celebrating its 55th anniversary. We had ridden the tour two years ago, and weren’t expecting major changes. Of course, you get a different commentary each time you have a different guide, and Marcellus was a master raconteur. He knew a lot about the shows being filmed, even if we rarely recognised any of the ones he mentioned. We were thrilled to go through the streets used for The Good Place though, a show that didn’t EXIST two years ago…

The best bits of the tour are still there: the Bates Motel and house, the Jaws attack, the earthquake in the Metro station, the flash flood, and the two newest additions, the King Kong 360 3d and the Fast and the Furious “What the heck is going on, who are these people, what was that, why did it explode, please let it be over, why does Vin Diesel play anyone but Groot?” experience.

On a whim, we wandered into the Special Effects Show, which was short but punchy, and paid tribute to some of the less sexy areas of special effects, like the Foley artists, who deserve more credit and adulation. After that, it was time to cruise the gift shops once more and head out… Except that on our way we passed the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and opted to have an early dinner, rather than rush off to sit in traffic.

The decor was great, combining movie memorabilia with info and pictures from behind the scenes. Our server, Chris, was attentive and knowledgeable, and pointed out the sign on the table. It said “Run Forrest Run”, but if you flipped it over it said “Stop, Forrest, Stop”. If you needed assistance, you flipped the sign, and ANY server would stop to see what they could do for you. We ate great food, and Mrs Dim FINALLY got her cocktail.


After a good meal and such a busy day, the ride back through LA wasn’t too bad at all, despite the reappearance of the Christmas songs in our random playlist. Still, if you’re driving through LA on a hot October evening after playing with Dinosaurs, why not do it with The Muppets singing the Twelve Days of Christmas?

For the love of Story

Or Why I think “Wreck it Ralph” is a great movie

Really, what’s not to like?

Saturday night has become Family Movie night. Some might imagine a wonderful affair of  shared enjoyment, laughter and love abounding amidst snack foods and good entertainment.

Well, no. We’re a family of five, and the Weasels are each three years apart, so getting a consensus on a film to watch is nigh-on impossible. Lots of deals get made, trading a vote on this week’s movie for a veto on the next one etc etc. It was by this system that we settled on Wreck it Ralph for this last Saturday. Mrs Dim heaved a dramatic sigh and recited her mantra about computer animation being ubiquitous and having run its course. The younger Weasels squealed that they had been waiting AGES to see this movie, and Eldest shrugged in resignation and said “As long as it isn’t Twilight, then, whatever.”

Me? I like animated movies. There are some clunkers out there, but Pixar raised the bar pretty high and everyone seems to be trying to beat them at their own game. I was interested in seeing Wreck it Ralph because I’d begun a screenplay many years ago called “Twist Stiffly goes to Gamesworld” about a bunch of computer game characters abandoning a pc that had been infected with a virus and escaping to an online gameshub that was always on. I never got beyond the preliminary planning, but was pleased to see someone had taken up a variant of the idea and run with it.*

Not everyone will love this movie. Some people won’t like the characters, or the environment, or the silliness of the story. Some people won’t like the stars chosen to voice the characters, and some people will object because their favourite video game character has not ben given a guest spot. These are all valid reasons for not liking the movie.

But I contend that it’s a beautifully CRAFTED story.

There’s an old saying that if there’s a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act, it has to go off in the third act. Ralph does this with style. Tiny snippets of information come back again and again to be screamingly relevant. For example, when Ralph first expresses his dissatisfaction with his lot in life, other characters say “You’re not going Turbo, are you?” We have to wait a few scenes for this reference to be explained, but it turns out Turbo was a character who jumped into another arcade game, causing such problems that both his game and the new one were scrapped – the ultimate horror for characters. This seemed sufficient for the plot, because we now knew there could be serious consequences for all the characters in Ralph’s game if he didn’t return to the right machine in time. We also knew that one rogue character could wreck another game. But in a startling coup-de-grace, that little story of Turbo comes in very important to the plot in the final act.

In another example, we’re told in the game “Hero’s Duty” that the Psybugs become what they eat. This is used as a gag when a bug eats Ralph’s gun and becomes a gunbug, blazing away with two gun arms while chasing Ralph. Later we’re reminded of this fact when the escaped Psybug eats some candy in “Sugar Rush” and becomes a candybug. Once more, we think the idea is done, when it becomes a terrifying twist in the final act.

Not my joke, but I like it...

Not my joke, but I like it…

This resonance of themes and props throughout a story is something JK Rowling did particularly well in Harry Potter. Remember “The Chamber of Secrets”? Harry goes astray when using Floo powder for the first time and ends up in Bourgin and Burke’s shop. He hides in a cabinet. Four books later, that same cabinet is used by another character to deadly effect. In the fifth book, the main characters are sorting out items that are left in Sirius’ house and amongst them is a locket no one can open. That turns out to be the Horcrux Harry and Dumbledore go looking for in the next book. The fact that the Sword of Gryffindor can be pulled from the Sorting Hat (first shown in book 2) is used again in book 7 when Neville draws out the sword to kill Nagini.

This all underlines the importance of two factors: First, plan your story. Write it out, then look for areas than can be linked, for parts of the story that resonate together.

Second, KNOW your story. The main character is a carpenter? Why? If the answer is a shrug, then LOOK AT THE STORY AGAIN! In “Inkheart”, the main character is a bookbinder, and the story is all about books and words. Would the story have worked if the character were a sheet metal worker who just liked to read stories to his daughter at night? Maybe, but something would have been lost. Think of “Liar Liar”: Jim Carrey’s character has to tell the truth BUT HE’S A LAWYER! If he was just a man who didn’t keep his promises, that would be significant, and perhaps his son would have made the same wish, but would it have complicated things so much? A lawyer is a trade associated (rightly or wrongly) with lies.

When they’re done well, these moments make us gasp. We say “Oh, OF COURSE! THAT’S why that was there! Why didn’t I see it?”

Writers live for those moments.


What revelatory moments have stayed with you from books and movies?



*Note: I’m not going to sue “them” for “stealing my idea”. You can’t copyright ideas, nor should you be able to. Had I written the entire thing and submitted it to the producers of Ralph, and they had turned it down and THEN written Ralph…Well, even then I’d be hard pressed to prove it was MY idea that lead to the movie. There are millions of writers in the world, and many of them will be struck by similar ideas at the same time. Stealing ideas almost never happens. It doesn’t need to. Most writers don’t have time to write down all their own ideas, let alone start writing down other people’s stories….

How I didn’t make it big….And you could too!

I once thought juggling would take me to the Big Time….

We all know the odds of hitting the lottery jackpot are small, but we don’t care about the size of the odds, just the size of the cash prize. It’s the same for authors, for the most part. We all start to write because we have the story there, the characters marching around inside our heads, making us laugh, or cry or forget to put the dinner on. But what we’re all hoping for, our guilty secret, is that this is the story that will be THE BIG ONE.

You know what that means, right? That this story will be our Harry Potter, or Catcher in the Rye. Well, maybe not Catcher in the Rye, poor guy never published another thing, did he? Hmm, wait a moment…J.K.Rowling. J.D.Salinger. J.D.Robb…. Maybe all I need for success is TWO initials before my surname! And one of them has to be a J!

Oh. Yes, I still need a cracking story. Damn, thought I was on to something there.

Anyway, they key thing here is that as authors we dream of getting that letter (or email/carrier pigeon/ text/ singing telegram) telling us our book is number one and we can send out for gold-plated egg rolls and book a compartment on the Gravy Train. No, we don’t write for the MONEY, we write because we HAVE to, but the money would be really, really, nice. Mainly because it would mean we never had to do anything but write ever again. If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t go back into work to greet people (Sorry boss…) but I would keep writing. Even though I wouldn’t ever need to sell another play to feed my tiny weasels, I would still write. If people asked me what I did, I wouldn’t say “I’m a millionaire, I don’t do anything!”, I’d tell them I was a playwright. I might also hint that I was vastly wealthy, but that’s just ego.

Today’s secret is that the big hit is not only unlikely, it’s not necessary. Yes, things would be great if you made the bestseller list on your first go, but there are other ways to achieve success.

There was a man called Mark Robson. He was a pilot, and spent a lot of his downtime writing the novel that he thought about as he flew. After numerous rejections (well, actually, not many, but we know how disheartening a rejection can be, don’t we?) he gave up on being published. Until his Mum presented him with a printed, bound copy of his novel for his birthday. Seeing how cool his book looked all, you know, real, and everything, Mark shelled out for self-publishing. This was before the days of Amazon and e-books, so he filled his house with 1500 copies of his book and went to work. While still, as it were, going to work. Despite his heavy piloting schedule, he sold all those books, getting onto the bestseller list in his local bookshop. That made the national chain interested and they took on his book. Then people asked about the sequel because he had put “First in the trilogy” on the cover. (You should really think these things through, folks…) But he produced a sequel and worked just as hard on the sales. The last I heard of him, he’d finished the third book, a major publisher had taken him on and he was earning as much from writing as from flying.

Once upon a time, I had written only three short plays. I had won awards and had the plays produced, but I was not rich. How could this be? I found a better way to get the plays to the audiences, joining forces with friends (TLC Creative) and finding a new, forward looking publisher: Lazy Bee Scripts .  It’s been years since those first three plays, but now I earn more from writing than I do from my part time day job. I’m a long way from the gold-plated egg-rolls, but each day gets me closer. Tell yourself you’re in this for the long haul, that writing these books/plays/greetings cards is keeping you sane, not bankrolling your old age, and you can relax a little about it. Concentrate on building your author profile by using your blog, Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll find that when you do present your product, there will be a ready market.

Don’t tell me about it….

Firstly, an apology. This entry will sound arrogant and dismissive. Sorry.

Nearly two years ago I started writing this blog because I wanted to have a record of the emigration I was making with my family. Don’t tell me I should’ve kept a diary, because I know I wouldn’t have. Tried that, didn’t work. Blogging involves the computer (score!) and the chance to regularly appeal for other people’s attention (score!) as well as the opportunity to check statistics and combine endless hope with depressing reality (score!).

Along the way, it’s naturally evolved to take into account my writing efforts. I’ve talked about the production of my e-book, my occasional frustration with projects that haven’t worked out well, and of course, having to give up full-time writing to go and get a proper job. I like to think that these are as much part of the emigration process as buying a house and learning about the school system – a change of life we’ve made as a result of coming to Canada. But, because I blog about writing, I’ve been reading OTHER blogs about writing. Many, like the previously mentioned Mr James Moran, or Jane Espenson, or Lucy V Hay, are fantastically good. Not just because they are ‘proper’ writers, but because they write their blogs well. They are interesting. The ones that make me groan are the ones that say “I am writing my first novel, and am going to use this blog to chronicle my progress.”

Now, by all means, write your first novel. Please. Writing is wonderful, and your first novel may turn out to be THE book of the decade. By all means, write a blog. It’s useful to have a place to vent your feelings, and an idea is never fully realised until it is expressed. But before you combine the two, please think carefully. What is it, exactly, that you will be chronicling? If you are not careful, you’ll end up sounding like Ernie Macmillan from “Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix”, boring everyone with his recitation of how many hours of revision he has done each day. When you’re writing a novel, word count per day is important to you, obviously. You want to feel you’re making progress, that the number of pages to go are getting fewer. But would you want to read a blog that goes “Wrote another fifteen thousand words today! Started just after breakfast, had a break around ten thirty when I walked the dog, but then got straight back into it and reached a real cliffhanger moment just as I broke off for lunch!” Who, honestly, will care?

What your readers would like to know is what’s going on in the story. Yes, if you’re writing your novel, it would be more interesting to tell us about the developments in the plot as you go along, but you know what? No one ever will because then by the time the blog is complete, who needs to read the novel? We’ve been spoon-fed the whole thing! And what about re-writes? Assuming you get someone reading your blog, aren’t they going to use the comments section to tell you exactly where you’re going wrong?

I think these are the reasons that the blogs I’ve read seem to peter out shortly after they begin. Writing doesn’t seem to be something you can blog about. A writer’s life may be, but only if you have something to say about that: Being a single mum who’s working on a novel – if you have time to blog about that and still be writing the novel then I not only take off my hat to you, but I’ll comb my hair and bow too.

Why should I blog about the failures of other blogs? Well, because this week has seen me wrestling with my rock musical screenplay again, and I’m conscious that the writing projects I talk about tend to be the ones that work, or the ones that fall flat. I don’t, as Felicia Day says so sweetly in “Commentary”, discuss my process. The reason I don’t is that it would be at best dull, at worst, incomprehensible. I talked about the mechanics of writing in the entry on collaboration, and even I struggled to stay awake during that one. So, today’s moral is this: Forge ahead with your writing, but forge a more interesting subject for your blog.

Rewriting and other things I hate…

Fake notes, but a real project...Shelved, for now.

Writing is the main part of the job, obviously. Without doing the writing bit, you don’t get any of the other parts of the glamourous life of being a writer. But reading the inspirational blog of Mr James Moran again the other day, I was reminded that rewriting is key to being a good writer. Mr Moran got his big break when his script “Severance” was made into a movie. (Actually, there were a number of things that he acheived before then, but I’m abbreviating. Read his blog FAQ’s for the full and fascinating story) But before it got accepted and filmed he wrote twenty drafts. Twenty. And bear in mind that, even if you’re economical with your words, a screenplay for a full length movie tops a hundred pages. Two thousand pages to produce one workable movie script? The longest Harry Potter novel was less than eight hundred pages.

Rewriting was not something I used to do. I began my playwriting with short plays and one acts, and they usually came out the way I wanted them. There were some where things didn’t sound right, or there were ideas I hadn’t managed to include, but going back over the text, I couldn’t see where to cut or insert anything. I think I was afraid that if I pulled at what I’d got, it would all unravel. Then I wrote a short play called “The Red Balloon” which is still one of my favourites. It started with the voices in my head, like a lot of them do, and very quickly became part of a nice idea – what if the stupid, pointless modern art piece at the beginning gave way to a piece of melodrama, then that gets refined, over and over until someone takes the process too far and we ended up with the stupid piece the play starts with? Sorry if I just wrecked it for you. Read it anyway, there are some laughs in it.

From the April 2008 performance by the Mexico Area Community Theatre

This was ambitious – I had never begun a play before with a specific end in mind, and I wasn’t sure how I would manipulate the characters to get the ending I wanted. I showed Mrs Dim the completed play and she hummed and hawed over it. It was, she said, OK. But wouldn’t it be better if this happened, and that, and then you could do this…? She was right, and since I liked the original idea so much, I was loathe to send the play off to the publisher when I knew it could be better. I took a deep breath and went back into the text. It was amazing, making small changes without the whole fabric changing too. Some small additions early on allowed the finale to be more logical, less of a leap, and still part of the overall gag. This is the only play of mine that I have seen performed without being involved in the production.

Last week I finished the first draft of my first ever full length play, currently going by the title of “Blank stage Blues”. It’s come out pretty well, everyone in it said the things I wanted them to, and the key transitional moment that first got me interested in the idea worked out fine. For the first time I have sent out the play to some friends and associates to get some feedback before I make final changes. I like the play, I think it’s fun and a good concept, but duh! I wrote it. Maybe it’s clever and witty but not worth performing. I’ve already had some responses that show I have to go back in and make some changes. But right now, the file is staying closed, and here’s why:

One of the most frequently offered pieces of advice about rewriting is to leave it. Don’t get to the end of your book, screenplay or play and then turn back to page one with your red pen. Put it in a drawer, back it up to the hard drive, nail it to the shed, whatever, and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I don’t mean repointing the chimney (though mine needs doing, if you’re keen…) I mean start a different writing project. Jump into that one with both feet and resist the urge to check on your previous baby until you’re done. Then you come back to your old story with fresh eyes. It’ll feel weird to read it, but it’ll be easier to spot the parts that need work, and easier to make those changes because you’re not as invested in the writing now.

So, I’ve dug out “Tribute”, a screenplay Steve is desperately trying to adapt for the stage and added some more pages to that. I’m aiming to have the whole thing done by the end of December and then I’m sending it off to Lucy Hay for her usual insightful analysis. When it’s winging it’s way through cyberspace, I’ll go back to Blank Stage Blues and the very first thing I’ll do is think of a decent title….