Friday, 2 December 2011

Am I a writer?

I've been writing a novel for about 6 or 7 years now (I've lost track). The idea has changed over those years and other ideas have come along which I have incorporated and some ideas have been put aside for later projects. Ha! I have started another novel involving the same character, and then gone back to my original idea. I am determined that they will both be written, as well as many other things I hope. I have completed a short story which I am really proud of. I am mainly proud of the fact that I completed it. I entered it in to a short story competition this year but it didn't win, not that I at all expected it would, but you know, we all have to dream.

So I believe I am a writer. I have written a short story. Draft zero (see my first post), first polishing, final draft, submission to a competition. That's writing. But so is writing a novel or a short story that is never published. If you've done this, guess what? You're a writer. If you've written a draft of something, you're a writer. If you've written a few thousand words of a burgeoning novel, you're a writer. If you've written a few pages, you're a writer. If you've written a few words, you're a writer. If you're writing anything, you're a writer.

Just keep at it.

I owe a debt of gratitude, again, to Jason Arnopp for this post. He wrote a blog post along similar lines which you can see below.Also to Johanna Nield for highlighting it. You can also link to Johanna's blog below, which is well worth a look.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Walking Dead Season 2

Oh man. I was excited and looking forward to the start of Season 2 of The Walking Dead. After seeing the extended trailer I simply can't wait. It looks amazing. And frightening. And gory. And stunning. And frightening. Did I mention it looks frightening. I mean, Jesus, the trailer is terrifying.

I loved Season 1. For me it was one of the best shows on TV last year. I was already a fan of the comic book that the show is based on. Written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Cliff Rathburn and Charlie Adlard, The Walking Dead is one of the most intelligent, entertaining and affecting comic series I've ever read. I caught up with most of it through the trade paperbacks. Volume 8 of the trades was one of the most affecting things I have ever read. In terms of 'comic books' it is superlative. I have never read a page of a comic book as slowly as I did reading the scene with Tyrone and The Governor. The realisation of what was inevitably going to happen was shocking. I couldn't believe it, didn't want to believe it. But no. They went and did it. And as for the rest of the book. It still haunts me.

As for the TV adaptation I had high hopes because of the involvement of Frank Darabont. I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. From Andrew Lincoln's tour-de-force performance (and very convincing American accent) to the brutal special effects, the breakneck speed that the story moves along, together with the quiet, reflective moments, the cast of supporting characters (some familiar from the books, some new faces introduced for the TV adaptation), the heartbreak, the suspense, the drama, the horror. And the zombies. Well I had to use the word at some point. In the TV show the zombies are very frightening. They look horrendous. Greg Nicotero has done a marvelous job here and I'm so pleased he's continued on season 2. The whole thing was just brilliant. It was so much more than a TV show about zombies. So much more.

I implore you to watch it. Catch up on season 1, then get very excited for season 2. Trailer below.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

George Pelecanos - The Cut

 George Pelecanos’s latest novel The Cut introduces a new character Spero Lucas. I really hope it is the first of a new series featuring this character because as usual with Pelecanos he has produced another fascinating creation.

Lucas is an investigator of sorts, working mainly for defence attorney Tom Petersen. However he also takes on occasional side work, often working in the shadowy boundaries of the law, which immediately increases the potential for trouble in Lucas’s life. This potential is realised when Lucas takes on a job for an incarcerated drug dealer, who happens to be one of Petersen’s clients. Hired ostensibly to find out who has stolen a drug package, the job inevitably goes bad, quickly. Two of the drug dealer’s soldiers are brutally murdered and Lucas is suddenly thrust into a violent world which threatens to drag in his family and other innocent people Lucas comes into contact with. Things get significantly worse when Lucas is assaulted and kills his attacker.

Lucas is now in a position which can only lead to two outcomes. Either he kills the other people involved in the operation or he will inevitably be killed himself, and harm could come to the people closest to him as well. There is an unexpected twist at the end of the book and justice is ultimately served in a round about way, giving a certain sense satisfaction for the reader.

As mentioned above, Spero Lucas is a really interesting character. He is flawed, as many of Pelecanos’s characters are, but not in a clich├ęd way. His flaws make him more real. Lucas is presented as a respectful, generous man with a strong moral code. However as the book progresses these traits are brought into question. For instance we are left to question whether it was necessary for Lucas to kill the man who attacks him, when he could easily have used his military training to disarm the man. This is something Lucas questions himself, but not agonisingly. I think he ultimately accepts it as a consequence of the life he has chosen for himself.

Lucas is a young man who has been forced to grow up fast by his time in the military. As he says towards the end of the book, “I missed out on the good part of my twenties. When everyone else was in college, going to parties and whatever, being young, I was in the desert.” This is the most he has spoken about his time in the war but it is clearly such a huge event in his life which colours everything he now does. He’s trying to find his place in the world and he makes mistakes along the way, but he is trying to do the right thing.

He spends time with his family – his aging mother Eleni and his adopted brother Leo. Spero is also adopted, which gives a nice dynamic to his relationship with his white brother and their Greek mother. The paradox of his life is that he is trying to protect the people dear to him but his work inevitably brings them close to danger and violence. 

The themes of family values, life choices and the importance of education, both scholarly and street based, are familiar ones Pelecanos often revisits. They are themes well worth revisiting because, as usual, they yield gold-dust prose and dialogue here.

The familiar tropes of music, film, books, food, sex, clothes and cars are also present in The Cut. It never fails to amaze me how easy Pelecanos makes it to imagine yourself in the story. The sights, smells and sounds of Spero Lucas’s world leap off the pages, freeing themselves from their confines of paper and ink and assaulting the readers’ senses. You are immediately there, living and breathing the world he has created.

I have read and enjoyed every book Pelecanos has written so far, and for my money he is one of the best writers around today, in any genre. The Cut is no exception. I loved this book and I loved the new characters it introduces. I hope to see more of them very soon. 

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The good things in life

Woahhh. September has been a busy old month, both personally and in terms of stuff coming out. Let me clarify that last sentence. I mean there's been loads of activity in the world of comics, great TV (being broadcast on UK stations), books, music, so much 'stuff'.

It gets a little overwhelming sometimes. I recall Dara O'Briain doing a routine about the amount of stuff in his life - new technology, music, films, books, the internet - and the fact that it's impossible to keep up with everything. Then it overwhelms you and you long for the days when you had to buy a newspaper to read the news, go to the cinema to watch the latest films, and browse in book and record shops to find the latest new thing. Imagine that!

Now, I love the fact that almost any information I require is available at the touch of a few buttons on a keyboard or the touch screen of my phone. And I can view, sample, listen to watch things before I buy them online - fab. But I also love to SLOWLY browse in real bookshops and charity shops, rifle through second hand CD racks, and leisurely pick my way through the treasure trove that are the back issue boxes in my local comic shop.And I think all the above activities can happily co-exist.

Anyway, as I was saying, September has been an exceptionally busy month for cool stuff. Not least because of the huge relaunch of DC Comics entire line of monthly comics. 52 in total. Now I haven't bought them all, my budget would not allow it. But I have checked out more of them than I first thought I would. And some of the best titles have been the ones that have completely taken me by surprise. Titles which I thought I would check out the first issue and then drop straight away. A case in point is Animal Man by Jeff Lemire, with art by Travel Foreman. I was not familiar with either of these guys work, but boy they have produced a truly great comic as far as I'm concerned and judging by reaction on the internet a lot of people agree. I really wasn't expecting this book to be as good as it is. Animal Man is not a character I've had much exposure to but he is really interesting, certainly not your typical superhero in a Superman or Avengers sense. We meet him as a family man, concerned with environmental issues and torn between his hero guise and his home life. He is really well developed as a character in this first issue by Lemire and the art is fantastic, again because it isn't the slick superhero type art that you expect from the main DC and Marvel titles. I'm really excited to see how these guys develop this book.

I'm still reading this weeks DC titles but so far my favourites of the relaunch are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Nightwing, Batman, Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Batwoman. Oh Batwoman. If you've never read a comic before I would heartily recommend Batwoman because it is absolutely gorgeous. A stunning achievment by JH Williams III which proves comics are an art-form.

I also read the new masterpiece by George Pelecanos this month. It's called The Cut and I'll be posting a review of it here soon.

Finally, for now, Hard Case Crime have this month released a brand-spanking new Lawrence Block book, writing as Jill Emerson. It is titled Getting Off and the cover alone is enough to make you want to buy the damn thing. You can’t deny it. Unfortunately it’s not released in the UK until January so I may have to utilise a popular online auction site to get my hands on a copy before then. You can read a sample chapter here and see the cover below. I told you.

Finally, again, I overheard somebody saying "Well the thing is, she likes the good things in life." My good lady pointed out what a strange saying this is. And she's right. I mean who doesn't like the good things in life? Are there people wandering around professing to like the bad things in life? It strikes me that it is something said from a position of jealousy and envy by frugal people about their more carefree friends. Well, I like the good things in life and I am not going to apologise for it. I will continue to indulge in the good things in life and tell you about them here.

I'm done for now.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Welcome to the future - the new DC universe

So the comic book world was turned on it’s head this week as DC, the second biggest comics publisher in the world released the first title in the huge re-boot of their entire main line of monthly books. Or was it? Maybe not quite as dramatically as expected.

Releasing only 2 titles this week was a definite statement of intent, and I think it was successful in generating more and more interest in the flood of new titles which follow in September – 52 new titles in total, 52 new number 1’s. To a comic book geek that is very exciting. Or infuriating, depending on your perspective. I do think it is somewhat sad that a title like Action Comics, which had been one of the longest running comic books in history, is stopped on issue 904 and has to start again as part of this renumbering exercise. But, I also think it is a bold, brave move on DC’s part to have the conviction to include all their titles in the renumbering and not be scared to make changes to sacred texts. Anyway I’m not too precious about the whole thing and I’m damn excited. Bring on the new titles.
So what about the 2 books DC released this week?

First up was Flashpoint #5 written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert. Johns, DC’s star writer has been tasked with concluding the old continuity in one comic book. Now that’s gonna be tough. But if anyone can do it, Johns can. And he does, if not entirely successfully or satisfactorily. But he gives it a damn good try, and he has produced an entertaining comic book in the process. We basically ended up with a time-travel gone wrong scenario. There was a little too much going on in this last issue of Flashpoint and I think it suffered for that. However it was great fun to see a whole host of DC characters, both major and minor, brilliantly drawn by Kubert. The inks of Sandra Hope and Jesse Delperdano, and the rich colours of Alex Sinclair makes the pages really jump out and hit you between the eyes. The best bit of the issue for me was contained in the last few pages, after all the action has died down, and things have returned to “normal”. The Flash gives Batman a letter from his father which he gave to The Flash in the alternate timeline. The four panels that show Bruce, having removed his cowl, reading the letter, while The Flash stands beside him in respectful silence are masterful. The tension and emotion in the scene is palpable on the page, even before we see Bruce’s tears. This final coda to the book is a suitably emotional end and farewell to the current DC universe and it is clear that Johns is very aware of the significance of this book.

And so to the start of the new DC universe (DCNU). Our first introduction to this brave new world is Justice League #1. The biggest comic book release of the year? I ain’t gonna argue. Also written by Geoff Johns (busy man), and illustrated by Jim Lee, with colours by Scott Williams, this first look at the biggest shake-up in comics history is not as bombastic and earth-shattering as one might have expected. It focuses mainly on Batman and Green Lantern, with a four-page sequence introducing Vic Stone A.K.A Cyborg, and a great entrance from Superman. But no Wonder Woman, no Aquaman, no Flash!

Some people have argued that this first issue was too slow, not enough action, not enough characters introduced. Whilst I was expecting more characters to appear each time I turned the page, on reflection I think this slow-burn approach works well. In this age of immediacy it is a brave move to leave out three members of the Justice League entirely, only briefly introduce two others and focus most of the book on Batman and Green Lantern. What this enables Johns to do is concentrate on introducing and developing the characters over a longer period, thereby creating a greater connection with the reader. I particularly like the interplay between Batman (typically dry, refreshingly sardonic) and Green Lantern (brash, cocky and sarcastic). As a long-time fan of Batman I am very excited to see how his character will develop in this title as well as all the other ones he is going to be appearing in.

As far as the art in this book (of course acknowledging that Johns’ writing is an art) goes – Wow. Jim Lee is on fire. I’ve been a big fan of Lee since I first saw his work on Wildcats in the early 90’s. And this is surely some of the finest work he’s ever done.

Overall I really enjoyed Justice League #1. As an introduction to the new DCNU it worked very well. It was never going to be possible to encapsulate an entire new world in one book. That’s what the other 51 titles are for. And I can’t wait.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Chicago Code

To hear the TV announcer say "the last EVER episode" when introducing episode 13 of the first series of The Chicago Code was stunning. Not in a good way. By the time the episode aired in the U.K the news had already been announced that the show would be cancelled, and much discussion had taken place on the internet about that decision, much of it between fans and the show's creator Shawn Ryan on Twitter. But it was still shocking to hear those words. While disappointing for fans of the show, and I'm sure for Shawn Ryan as well, it seems it was sadly inevitable and a decision that appears to be purely financial.

We can at least be thankful that the first season was made, because in those 13 episodes Shawn Ryan has created one of the best cop shows on T.V ever. One that will go down as a classic of the genre. No doubt.

There is so much going on in each episode; stand-alone stories each week, overlapping with the main storyline of Superintendent Teresa Colvin, superbly portrayed by Jennifer Beals, and Detective Jarek Wysocki, a fully-rounded character from the first minute he is on screen, wholly inhabited by the excellent Jason Clarke, and their campaign to rid Chicago of corruption, their main target being the wickedly crooked Alderman Ronin Gibbons, another superb acting master class from Delroy Lindo. Each episode packs in thrilling car chases, excellent pitch-perfect dialogue, brilliant characterisation, moral dilemmas, family drama, and of course the eternal battle between copper and criminal.

I won't go into the plot too much here but I will say that the road to the final scenes of the show is littered with death, sex, violence, love, heartbreak, sadness, joy, laughter and tears (both the characters and this viewer’s).

As mentioned above the acting on the show is astounding. Jason Clarke as Jarek Wysocki is a tortured whirlwind of a cop, carrying the murder of his brother around with him like a second badge. This is beautifully crystallised in the final episode when Jarek watches a video-tape of his brother confessing to taking kick-backs from criminal gangs while working as an undercover cop. The look on Jarek's face makes me feel his frustration, confusion and anger. He looks like he wants to dive into the TV and save his brother from the deadly situation he couldn’t find a way out of.

Jennifer Beals as Superintendent Colvin has an amazing chemistry with Jason Clarke, the two characters linked by a history as partners on the streets of Chicago, before Colvin began her fast rise to the top of the police department. They both have an unwavering respect for each other's motivations, if not always agreeing with their methods. Colvin is a strong woman in a traditionally male world, and the barriers she faces are tackled head on by a combination of intelligence, skilful political manoeuvring and a potentially destructive conviction to doing what she feels is the right thing, no matter what collateral damage is caused on the way. The pain caused by some of the decisions she makes is etched in Beal’s face, a magnificent portrayal of one of Shawn Ryan’s most memorable characters.

Delroy Lindo as Alderman Gibbons appears to be on a different plane entirely. A self-deluded, malevolent force of a man, corrupted by power, with his sights ruthlessly set on the Mayors office. He hands out orders to kill as easily as handing out bottled water to his power cut constituents in a super-hot Chicago summer. The beauty of the portrayal is that even though we know Gibbons is a bad motherfucker, Lindo makes us like the character, drawn in by his deadly charm, just as the many people who vote for him are done.

This series moved so damn fast it felt like Shawn Ryan knew only had one chance to tell his story, just as the cops in the show had only one shot to bring down their main target Gibbons. The tension this created made the show a pure pleasure to watch (after my heart had stopped beating a thousand times a minute that is).

I can't recommend this show enough. Watch it. It will make your life better.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Why I Love Bristol

I always knew Bristol was a cool city. Even before I first went there. I mean, just listen to the music. I grew up listening to Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Roni Size, DJ Krust and many others. Pioneering musicians and artists all of them.

Of course, Bristol was also renowned for it's street art.

For a small-town Northern boy Bristol was vibrant and exciting - a place I was desperate to go to, to sample what it had to offer. I've been in the South west for over three years now, working in Bristol for over two years. The city really did live up to my expectations. It is vibrant. It is exciting. There is just so much going on all the time.

See No Evil encapsulates everything that is great about Bristol. A massively ambitous urban art project featuring graffiti/street art from some of the best artists in the world. It is supported by the City Council and other organisations and it is simply stunning to behold. I walked around the area on my lunch break today and was overwhelmed by the art that has been created by these amazingly talented people. The scale of the art is amazing - as can be seen by the photos below.

It was a unique experience to see crowds of people wandering around, stopping to stare up at high-rise buildings, and smiling at the sight of the art which has transformed these buildings into some of the most vibrant artworks I have ever seen.

Congratulations to everyone involved - the organisers, the sponsors, but most of all the artists. Inspiring.

You can see all the photos I took today on my Flickr page -

Here is a sample -

Friday, 19 August 2011

1st Post

So I thought I'd start a blog. Yet another activity to distract me from writing a novel. Way I figure it, this is writing so I'm essentially practicing. Any writing is good writing. Right? Well, good as in the act of writing is good, not necessarily the end product is good.

This blog will hopefully become a place for me to discuss writing as well as sharing my thoughts on what's good in books, comics, movies, TV and music, and anything else I'm feeling passionate about at any given moment. 

I'm sure my entries will be sporadic. But I hope entertaining. If anybody reads them that is. Oh well, life is full of risks. I think I can handle the risk of people not reading my blog. Christ, it's not exactly life threatening! 

I promise my next blog will be more entertainig than this one. 

In the meantime check this astoundingly useful blog entry from Jason Arnopp. I loved it and have adopted his philosophy wholeheartedly.