Monday, August 24, 2015

Disenchanted Wizard takes another step forward

My latest children's book, The Disenchanted Wizard, has now been revised again, and is about to go before my editor/structural advisor/picker-upper of errors and inconsistencies...

It was nearly ready the other day, I thought, and then just as I was about to send it off, I realised that I could improve the ending considerably. This took some rewriting of a couple of chapters and reshuffling of more. However, the result was worth doing, and I think the thing is better altogether for it.

This story has a brief reference to Grimhilda!, so it can justifiably be considered as part of the Grimhilderness series. I'm even thinking of a sequel to it (already) which will tie up its links to Grimhilderness still more. But that's not quite ready to get up and running yet.

The story concerns a 12-year-old girl, Della, whose cousin, Harold, has just received a new map - it's his hobby to study maps. This map is a bit unusual in that it has some badly drawn pictures around the sides. Which would be all right, except that one of the pictures moves...

It turns out that Della's father was involved in a very strange event about fifteen years before, and is now in danger. And of course, he's not the only one.

Anyway, that's just a taster of what's in it. I'm hoping to have it e-published before the end of the year. It's taken a lot longer to write than I'd expected, so I'm not promising that it will actually appear in 2015, but let's hope so!

Video splurge

Had a bit of a video splurge yesterday. Didn't start out that way, but circumstances just brought it about. I decided to see what Hitchcock films were available on You Tube, and found Notorious, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. It's one of Hitchcock's less action-packed films, relying on the subtle interplay of character, and has only one really big scene: a party hosted by Claude Rains, a Nazi-sympathizer living in Brazil after the war. The characters are vividly drawn, and the dialogue full of sub-text: the love story that underpins the suspense is the main focus of the movie in many ways. I've seen it a couple of times before, but had forgotten some of the story. It stands up well after fifty-plus years.

After tea my wife and I carried on watching the Australian legal series, Janet King, which is apparently a spin-off from some other earlier series about a legal firm. We're up to about episode five or six, and I think I haven't seen a series that's so full of improbable legal stuff in a long time. Because the Attorney General seems to be able to command that people do what they're told, for her own political reasons, the Department of Public Prosecutions (where most of the story is focused) jump and go through ridiculous hoops trying to prove cases that are unprovable. Added to that is the detective and his boss who seem to think that building a murder case on the most flimsy of circumstantial evidence is good police work, and you have a series that while it's full of solid characters requires them to do absurd things. The police seem not too fazed about producing witnesses who tell lies; the legal team seem careless about ethics, and so on. If it wasn't actually interesting, it would have been dumped by now. The main character is a lesbian, living with another woman and their twin children, who are toddlers. The lesbian angle seems to be just that: another hook to throw odd bits of storyline onto.

In spite of all this we actually watched two episodes last night, which goes to show how something that's well done can get away with plot-hole murder.

Finally, after having written in one of my other blogs about a production of Puccini's opera, Gianni Schicchi, that I was involved in when I was at the Opera Centre in London in 1969, I decided to see if that was on You Tube too. It is, in at least three versions, and thankfully I picked the best-directed one to watch. The other two were okay (I checked out a minute or two of each) but the 2004 Paris version directed by Laurent Pelly, containing a very mixed European cast, was the one that I stuck with.

The opera, which runs for just on an hour, is a total ensemble piece, with a cast of fifteen or sixteen, nine of whom are on stage the entire time. There's no chorus, just larger and smaller roles (one lasting about two minutes). It's a piece of nonsense about a man, Buoso, who's died and left a very unsatisfactory will - that is, he hasn't left anything of substance to his relatives. They plot to bring in the cunning neighbour, Schicchi, and he, being even more cunning than they've thought, winds up replacing the original will with his own version, in which the bulk of the proceeds go to him.

The cast played the thing in a style verging on the comic grotesque, and there were even some surreal moments (a kind of ballet involving the moving around of the bed which features prominently). It's a lot of fun, and requires the main singers to do a huge amount of work. Those who are on stage all the time have to keep up particular characters constantly: there's no let up. Very enjoyable, even if it was sung in the original Italian with French subtitles....some of which I understood and some of which I probably misunderstood.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Milner and Bacchus

Some time ago we watched a number of episodes from both Inspector George Gently and Foyle's War. We've been watching them again on Netflix recently, and catching up with ones we missed.

They're two similar series in many respects: both set in the past (the first in the early sixties, and the second during and after the Second World War); both featuring an older and wiser senior detective with a sidekick. The older detective is always on the button, even when things flummox him, and in both cases he has a liberal point of view: not racist, not fazed by people's foibles, and - more in Foyle's case even than Gently's - he is inherently just, which sometimes means letting certain people off the hook. However episodes in both series often end with a hanging.

The biggest difference is between the two sidekicks. Foyle's man, Paul Milner, who was injured in the war and retired from duty, is an earnest, quietly-spoken, almost invisible character who, like a straight man in a comedy duo, asks all the pertinent questions, so that Foyle can pontificate. He's as dull as ditchwater (no fault of the actor, who's given an almost colourless character to deal with). There's another offsider, a young girl who starts off as Foyle's driver, and in the later series is the wife of an aspiring MP. She's a bit more interesting, though she often gets Foyle into difficulties by being too willing to take risks. Milner was eventually retired from the series: he moved to a different station, but even then Foyle came along inopportunely, and solved his cases for him (!)

Gently's sidekick is a Detective Sergeant called John Bacchus. He's presumptuous, arrogant, cocky, racist, chauvinistic and frequently wrong-headed. Even though he seldom solves much on his own, unlike Milner, he has personality in spades (it perhaps helps that he's played by Lee Ingleby, one of TV's top notch actors) and however much he trips up you can't help liking him.

Martin Shaw plays Gently, very quietly, only occasionally raising his voice, and even less often getting angry with someone who's blatantly trying to con the police. Shaw was 62 when he began the series in 2007; he's now 70, and doesn't move any faster than necessary.

The superb Michael Kitchen (who's three years younger) is Foyle. He can take a basic line and give it such emphasis, or surround it with pauses, that you think he's delivering Shakespeare. One of the delights of Foyle's War is Kitchen's acting. And his wry humour. I don't enjoy Shaw so much, though he has the measure of his character, and provides plenty of subtlety within a relatively quiet frame. Sometimes he seems to be given just a bit too much of the older, wiser stuff (though Bacchus can be such a dolt it's not hard), but he seldom overplays it.

The stories vary in intensity and interest. In general the supporting casts in the Gently series seem better than those in Foyle. But it's probably a moot point. There are plenty of good actors in both series, including some now famous faces in the earlier episodes, including David Tennant (Dr Who) and Emily Blunt.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Popular post

I have a bit of a thing about stats. I'm not trained as a statistician, but I've done quite a bit of reading in the subject, and also worked in a job late in my working life that involved some stats. But apart from the work angle I've always enjoyed finding out what the stats are about all manner of subjects - and checking the original stats have been correctly interpreted.

That's the wider view: just now I was having a look at the stats on this blog, and in particular which post has had the most visits since it first appeared. It turns out to be one that was written on 13th February, 2011, called Commonplace Post. It's fairly random, taking as its topic insurance and riffing on about the topic by using a few paragraphs I'd found in my Evernote file.

The interesting thing is that this post has had more than three times as many visits as the next most popular post. At this point that's 9923 to 3295. Nearly ten thousand visits to that post alone. That seems extraordinary for something as random as this. Check it out, you'll see what I mean.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Fictional people

Being at the point of having completed the first full draft of my latest piece of fiction*, and of having a sense that most of the characters seem to have had a life of their own even before they discovered themselves in the pages of my book, I was pleased to re-read this paragraph by Marilynne Robinson, from her essay, Imagination and Community (from the book of essays, When I was a child I read books). 

"I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly. This thesis may be influenced by the fact that I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of—who knows it better than I?—people who do not exist. And, just as writers are engrossed in the making of them, readers are profoundly moved and also influenced by the nonexistent, that great clan whose numbers increase prodigiously with every publishing season. I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification."

I found this paragraph in an article on Robinson, by Mark O'Connell, which is well worth reading for its other insights too. 

* The Disenchanted Wizard, the third book of fantasy for children, all under the general umbrella of Grimhilderness.