Updating, and a recommendation

Slowly but surely, the words accumulate – and I remember how it feels to be a writer. Big smiles all around!

In other news, last night I finally caught up with one of my dearest friends in the world and got to show her one of my favourite ballet documentaries. Before a horrible injury she was a dancer, and still loves the art.

Born to be Wild is a fabulous doco featuring 4 principle male dancers from the American Ballet Theatre: Jose Manuel Carreno, Angela Corella, Vladimir Malakhov and Ethan Stiefel. 4 very different dancers, with intriguingly different backgrounds, but all equally and mind-blowingly talented.

If you love dance, if you love watching the guys do more than prop up the ballerinas in various poses, this is the ballet documentary for you. It’s available online from Amazon, but if you’re not in the US you’ll need a multi zone dvd player to watch it.

Because I keep showing this dvd to various friends, I’ve seen it multiple times — and I never get tired of it. These guys are super fabulous, super free of tedious ego shite, and a visceral pleasure to watch.

Enjoy!

A different kind of cop show

The other thing that happens when you fall over with a disgusting stomach/gut virus – apart from the obvious – is that you’re left stranded liked a beached whale, unable to do anything meaningful except watch some dvds. You can try reading, but for some reason that doesn’t always work out. Anyhow. A while ago, while ordering something else online, I saw another show highlighted. I’d never heard of it, but it sounded interesting so I ordered a copy. And while I was laid low with the disgusting stomach/gut virus, I watched it.

19-2 is a Canadian cop show. It was originally made in French, and then it got an English makeover. It’s set in Montreal, part of French-speaking Canada, which explains why. For those of us who watch shows filmed in Vancouver (mostly) there are some familiar faces in the cast, and as guest actors. Most notable of these is Adrian Holmes, who was Detective Lance’s partner for a while in Arrow.  The first season is out now on dvd, and the second season is about to be released. It’s been picked up for a third.

This is a fascinating series, because it has a very unAmerican cop show sensibility. Style-wise it’s approached like a documentary. There’s an edge, a rawness, to the camera work that’s really interesting, but it never gets in the way of the storytelling. (I really hated the stupid idea in Southland where the soundtrack bleeped out the cops swearing. Way to interrupt the narrative, guys. Way to be pretentious!) It’s a very personal, often in-your-face kind of narrative. It’s also pretty bleak. The story weaves its way in and out of the cops’ professional and personal lives, but it never feels like soap opera. In that sense, it’s pretty much the diametric opposite of another recent Canadian cop show, Rookie Blue.

I’m thinking that if you’re a fan of darker fare, stuff like The Wire, you might well enjoy 19-2. And even if bleak isn’t really your thing, I’d say give it a go anyway. The writing and acting are top notch – and it’s always an excellent adventure, exploring different takes on a familiar – and some might say – overdone genre. In fact, I think that writers should make a point of watching a bunch of different shows in the same genre, and noting how each narrative handles the demands of that genre. What works, what doesn’t, and how those lessons can be applied to our own work.

I bought 19-2 from Amazon UK. When you buy from overseas you need a multi zone dvd player, remember!

Here are some great books to read

I’m often asked which books and/or authors are my favourites, or have influenced my writing in some way. There is always a standout answer: the late Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – a 6 book historical series that is pretty much the benchmark of excellence for the genre. Nobody, but nobody, is in Dunnett’s league. If you love great fiction, especially historical fiction, and you haven’t read this series? You’re missing out an amazing experience. The first book in the series is The Game of Kings. I urge you to get a copy and be ensnared in brilliance.

But Dunnett also wrote a mystery series, known as the Dolly series. It was called that because the main character, Johnson, owns a yacht called Dolly, and he travels the world in it painting portraits – for which he’s famous. However, there is more to Johnson than a paintbrush, which is where the mystery element comes in.

What’s remarkable about the Dolly series is that each book is told from a first person narrator perspective, and each time the narrator is a different woman whose life intersects with Johnson’s – with not always happy results. It means that we learn about Johnson second-hand, and each character reveals something new and different about him. Reading the series is like putting together a Johnson jigsaw puzzle, and it’s truly fascinating. It’s also a masterclass in writing. Reading Dunnett is like that – you learn so much about writing from reading her extraordinary novels. Each narrator is a distinctly different person, with a unique voice, which is reflected in every element of the narrative.

If you like the mystery genre, and enjoy strongly character-driven storytelling, I can’t recommend the Dolly books highly enough. You can find them online at reasonable 2nd hand prices. I’ve just replaced a few of my own that were falling apart and it hasn’t broken the bank.

Start with Dolly and the Bird of Paradise. That’s the first book, and it sets the series up really well.

Music for the soul: Witness

Witness is one of my favourite films. For me, it’s a perfect little gem. It also showcases just how great an actor Harrison Ford is. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as John Book. So deserved. After that he delivered an even more extraordinary performance in Mosquito Coast. And then, I don’t know what happened. Maybe he decided he’d rather star in the big bucks blockbusters than the performance perfect films that didn’t reach such a wide audience. But if you’ve not seen either of those films, I think you must. He really is terrific.

Probably the most iconic (or second most iconic!) scene in Witness is the barn building sequence. When you watch it (again) pay special attention to Ford. He is a professional carpenter as well as an actor, and you can tell from the way he handles the hammer and stuff. You can’t fake genuine expertise.

The music for Witness was composed by Maurice Jarre, and he used a synthesiser to create the sharply modern soundscape as a contrast to the out of time Amish community. The barn raising sequence music is pretty famous, and with good reason. Following the template of Pachelbel’s Canon, it builds and builds to its crescendo. Wonderful.

What I didn’t realise for a long time, until I stumbled across a movie soundtrack cd of Ford’s movies, is there is an orchestral arrangement of the barn building theme. It is one of my absolute favourite pieces of music, soundtrack or otherwise. So achingly beautiful. Only John William’s music touches me as profoundly.

Have a listen and tell me if you feel the same way.

Are you a fan of ER? This is a great article!

ER is one of my favourite dramas. I own it all on dvd and rewatch it every other year, or so. True confession — I skip a lot of the back end because by the last couple of seasons I think it was terribly tired and frankly, there were some characters I really couldn’t warm to. But I always watch the ones where Carter is back, because I love that character.

However. There is one episode I won’t rewatch, and that’s Love’s Labor Lost from the first season. Not because it’s terrible. No. Because it’s so good and so harrowing I can’t bear it. I think everyone should watch it once, because it’s some of the best storytelling on tv ever, but I can’t do it twice. Call me pathetic and I won’t argue!

So, for those of you who are ER fans and do remember this episode (and honestly, I can’t imagine anyone ever forgetting it, once seen) here is a fabulous look back on it with much interesting input from the team in front of and behind the camera.

I think this is what those of us who tell stories really hope: that out stories get remembered. Kudos to all the amazing folk who brought us ER.

Spotlight on … Phillip Reeve

I believe that some of the very best speculative fiction can be found on the shelves of the Young Adult section in bookshops and libraries. A case in point is the marvellous work of British author Phillip Reeve, in his Mortal Engines Quartet. If you were to ask me what speculative fiction books we should be shoving into eager readers’ hands, these books would come first. Rumour has it that Peter Jackson is interested in adapting the books for film, but after The Hobbit trilogy, who knows? Handled by the right people I’d certainly love to see this story on the big screen.

Here’s why …

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Spotlight on … Banshee

So, to celebrate the launch of Banshee‘s third season (in the US. With luck it will come to Foxtel. Otherwise I’ll have to wait for the dvd release. Sigh.) this blog post is about the show so far … just in case you’ve missed it, or passed on it. Hopefully after my burblings you’ll give it a go, because even though on the surface it might look like mindless high-violence tits-and-arse action, in fact the show is an interesting meditation on a whole lot of things.

But to be fair there is also sex and violence. Interest piqued? Then do read on …

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Spotlight on … Dominion

So by now you shouldn’t be surprised to hear I’ll give any fantasy/supernatural film or drama a go. Of late, the only time I showed reticence was with Guardians of the Galaxy. Didn’t see it at the movies, but have just watched it on a borrowed blu-ray. My instinct after the trailer was pretty spot-on with that one: not entirely my thing. Very well done, but I’m not really the target demographic. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it – I think the work on Groot is astonishing, and on the racoon. (I really really want a pet racoon!) But it’s just a bit too rompish for me. I much prefer the darker, grittier style of Marvel storytelling as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians is just a bit too popcorn for my angst-loving heart. But like I say – entirely entertaining.

Which preamble leads me to nattering today about a SyFy channel offering: Dominion.

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Secrets of the Castle

Some of you might recall that I visited the amazing Guedelon project while on my research trip to France last year. I posted photos, which you can see if you scroll back through the entries in this blog.

Well, now you can visit it too, vicariously – via a new dvd release called Secrets of the Castle. The series was recently shown on the BBC in the UK, which is why dvds are so wonderful. I’d never have seen it without the release.

It’s rather odd watching this series, for me, because I was there so recently and the memories are amazingly vivid. I mean, those two geese in the opening sequence of episode one? The little buggers chased me! I know it’s them because this program was made last year. The status of the build that you see is pretty much identical to where it was when I was there.

I tell you, French geese are not to be trifled with!

Anyhow, if you have any interest in things medieval or castle-ish, this is a great dvd to get hold of. If you’re not in the UK you’ll need a multi-zone dvd player (Pioneer and Laser come to mind, plus older LG models).

I bought mine from Amazon UK.

Let’s hear it for Glenda Larke!

One of the most creative and innovative writers in the fantasy genre today is Australian author Glenda Larke. For those of you who want to see a story not based on medieval Europe, Glenda is the writer for you. And even if you do love the medieval backdrop (as I do, obviously!) she is still the writer for you. Glenda has led probably the most astonishing and unique life I ever heard of, and all of that amazing experience finds its way into her books.

The Daggers’s Path, the second book in her Forsaken Lands trilogy, is out on sale now. Below is the lovely cover. Here is a link to her blogsite where she talks some more about the story. Stay tuned for a guest blog post, as soon as she’s got a moment to herself!

Daggers Path

 

I count myself privileged to be Glenda’s friend, but that’s not why I’m celebrating the release of her new book. It’s a great story – and great stories should always be celebrated!

 

Spotlight on … Grey’s Anatomy

It’s hard to believe now that Shonda Rhimes, recent recipient of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter’s  Women in Entertainment Breakfast*, started off in showbiz as humbly and nerve-wrackingly as anyone else. Her debut drama and breakout smash hit, Grey’s Anatomy, was only given a mid-season introductory episode order of 9. Yup. ABC had so little faith in the project that it only ordered 9 episodes.

Grey’s Anatomy is currently airing its 11th season. And since its debut Rhimes has gone on to create the hits Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, which started this year. However, my heart belongs to Grey’s.

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Spotlight on … Terry Pratchett

Of all my favourite fantasy series, I’m pretty sure I’ve re-read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series the most times. In fact, I’ve re-read my favourite Discworld novels so many times that some of the books are starting to fall apart. The bugger of that is not all of them are available to repurchase as hardcovers – but I keep my eyes peeled and I grab a backup copy whenever I can. Because one of these days one of his books will fall apart – and I’ll be heartbroken.

Want to know why I hold Terry Pratchett and his work in such high esteem? Then read on …

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A brilliant essay if you’re a Trek fan!

I love Star Trek. Always have, always will. Even when it’s not very good (which is sometimes) I still love it. Trek was my first grown-up experience of science fiction drama and I regularly rewatch my dvd sets. I also love the Abrams reboot, flawed as it is. (I will go to my grave unforgiving of Alice Eve in underwear. Shame, Abrams, shame.)

So I came across this fabulous essay about the future of Trek, and I want to share it with you.

Go read!

Some favourite musicals on film

Continuing the theme of sharing stuff that I love, in the hope that you’ll give it a go (if you haven’t already)  and end up loving it too … welcome to a post about some of my favourite musicals. As usual, this is the edited highlights list, or we’d be here all day!

Interested in some viewing suggestions, or just want to compare notes? Read on!

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Some favourite fitness inspirations

I have to tell you (like you didn’t already know!) that this whole getting fit, losing weight thang is sometimes tedious and even overwhelming. Sometimes it feels like all we’re ever doing is denying ourselves, saying no, focusing on what we can’t have (often) even though we really want it. (Yes, Lindt chocolate balls, I’m looking at you … sob …)

Here’s what I do when I’m desperate need of inspiration …

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Joss Whedon Avengers interview. No spoilers!

I’ve watched one trailer for the upcoming Avengers sequel film, and I won’t be watching any more. Trailers these days are crap. They always give away too much. I mean, I basically had the plot of Star Trek: Into Darkness figured after 2 trailers!

Having said that, here is an interview with Joss Whedon as he approaches the finishing line of his next Avengers film. I loved the first one and I’m really looking forward to the next one. The interview is full of interesting, insightful stuff. It’s what I’d call pretty much spoiler free and a great read.

Enjoy!

Six favourite Shakespeare films

William Shakespeare was a phenomenon. A truly once-in-human-history kind of writer, I think. He transformed the English language – we quote him nearly every day without realising it. No writer before or since has captured the human condition so acutely, or impacted the society and culture around him so profoundly.

The big problem with Shakespeare’s work, though, is that too often we’re exposed only to the dry words on the pages of an annotated script which is inflicted upon us in the desert of a classroom. This is insane. Shakespeare’s work is meant to be experienced, lived, not studied at a dry distance. A great live production of a classic Shakespeare play is a joy. I’ll treasure for ever the memories of seeing David Tennant’s Hamlet and Richard Freeman’s Richard III. And I’ll forever regret not seeing other live performances, like James McAvoy’s Macbeth or Scott Wentworth’s Antony in Antony and Cleopatra.

Luckily, some really wonderful performances of Shakespeare’s plays have been created and captured on film … and I’d like to share some of my favourites with you.

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Favourite SF TV shows: part 1

TV has a long, rich history of supporting speculative fiction. Ever since Star Trek (the original series) and Lost In Space debuted way back in the 1960’s, there has been science fiction and fantasy on television. Ranging from the sublime (everything I’m about to mention, which is subjective, I know!) to the ridiculous (let’s hear it for It’s About Time, for starters!) tv producers and writers have thrown their hearts into the fabulous worlds of sword, sorcery and space ships.

Read on to find out which shows (in no particular order of merit) have left an indelible print on this fangirl’s heart … then chime in with comments about your favourite SF tv!

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Ten favourite SF films

I could be wrong, but I think the first proper SF film I ever saw – certainly the first one I remember seeing, on tv – was the original version of The Fly. I don’t remember much of it now, because it was a long time ago, but the one scene that has stuck with me through the years was the very end, SPOILER ALERT HERE, AVERT YOUR EYES IF YOU NEED TO! with the teeny tiny part man, part fly, stuck in the spider web screaming Help me! Help me! in his teeny tiny voice as the giant hairy spider creeps closer and closer …

After that, my most vivid SF movie memory is turning on the tv and catching the end of the original (because in my world Tim Burton’s remake never happened) Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston  SPOILER ALERT HERE, AVERT YOUR EYES IF YOU NEED TO! stumbling across the half-buried Statue of Liberty.

My love affair with speculative fiction began when I was in fourth class primary school and the librarian handed me The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Once I fell through the wardrobe in Narnia I never looked back.

So in this post I’m going to share with you ten SF films that I love a lot, that I rewatch at least once a year, that cheer me up and help me recapture that feeling of being gloriously entertained … which is enormously helpful when the words are flowing like cold molasses.

Ready? Then go below the cut to be amused, annoyed, surprised or forced to abandon any respect you ever had for me …

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