Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

A few weeks ago I came up with some tangible goals for those ten (how'd it get to ten?!) novels I've got in various states of...undress, for want of a better word. It requires motivation on my part, which I've currently got in spades, and sticking to a fairly rigorous schedule.

December's plan is to write the second draft of 'Max'. I'd been trundling along quite nicely with it, although I was still running behind schedule (but since I'm planning on working Christmas morning and possibly evening, I doubt it matters). However, the other night I realised that the chapter plan I'd sketched out back in September was failing me. The first half was fine but one character has evolved to the point where my initial plan doesn't work any more. This is a pretty good example of character development kicking a writer in the shins but I'm not complaining too much. The fact that I had to stop and think is evidence that the pieces of this novel are falling into place and that can only be a good thing.

Of course, I wasn't so congenial about it yesterday. Actually, I was really angry because I still wanted to stick to my December rewrite strategy. Fortunately, I had to do a Sheffield trip for a supervisor meeting and, in a bid to distract myself, I focused my mind on fixing the problem. A new end-point flashed upon me, making perfect sense, and I spent the rest of the day working back from there. The chapter plan is rough and needs some depth but the sequence and development works.

I'm wondering, though, if this issue is symptomatic of something else. You see, this novel wasn't going to have a happy ending. It was about pain and realising something wasn't meant to be (sort of fitting considering my mental state when I wrote the second draft plan). However, that just didn't work. Way back in 2010, I wrote a post called 'So Much For My Unhappy Ending' about one of my other projects (which has since been through a metamorphosis of its own). After planning a dismal ending, I couldn't follow through on it. Is it just that I don't want to make my characters miserable? I don't know. But if a happy ending is remotely possible, doesn't everyone, fictional or otherwise, deserve a crack at it?

The current state of my WIP is 33,704 words and my projection calculator has me completing the draft on the 7th January. Now that I have my new plan, maybe I can get back on track.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Classic Film Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

An adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof tells the story of a troubled Southern family, led by Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives). He is unaware that he's dying of cancer and has returned home on his 65th birthday determined to take the second chance he thinks life has offered him. But he's concerned by the fractured relationship between his alcoholic younger son, Brick (Paul Newman), and wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) while his elder son, Gooper (Jack Carson) is plotting with his shrew of a wife Mae (Madeline Sherwood) to take over the business properly and shut Brick out of the equation. Rounding out the main cast is Judith Anderson as Big Momma Pollitt.

This is a stunningly strong film. You need to concentrate while watching it because the dialogue is so complex that it merits full attention. That said, the plot isn't difficult, centring around Brick's alcoholism and the trickling out of the secret about Big Daddy's health. The action is static but the performances are so brilliant that everything else does simply become a stage for them to stand on. Firstly, Elizabeth Taylor shines as Maggie and the decision to film this in colour helps keep attention on her though, really, it's difficult in scenes between her and Newman to decide who to look at. They are both captivating. Judith Anderson, equally, deserves a mention for her role as Big Momma, particularly in the wonderful scene where Gooper and Mae are trying to intimidate her. While the relationship between the matriarch and patriarch is strained, the way this develops throughout the day, with the revelations about Big Daddy's health, is very subtle and Anderson handles a difficult character with aplomb. Similarly, while character of Mae is the most odious, irritating person I've encountered in film for a while (along with her brood of kids), Madeline Sherwood does a fine job with her.

However, this film unquestionably belongs to Burl Ives. From about a third of the way through it becomes apparent that you're watching one of the best performances committed to film probably ever. There's a brilliant extended scene between Big Daddy and Brick, later joined by Maggie, which is one of the most charged moments of the entire piece but the conversation between father and son in the basement is the highlight of the film. It's just exquisite and left me in awe.

That direct references to Brick's homosexuality were cleansed from the adaptation is unsurprising and, to be honest, I don't think it makes a difference but perhaps that's just because I watch everything with an eye to the subtext anyway. Ultimately, this film is a simple story told using outstanding dialogue and some compelling actors. I lost myself in it and was genuinely surprised when I realised I'd sat transfixed for so long. It's not a film you can easily stop in the middle of a scene, one of the highest forms of praise there is in this day and age.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Edmund Yates and Dickens's Postbox

Maybe this is something that only people researching obscure or at least lesser-known figures will understand but, while reading an article on the BBC website the other night, I got slightly giddy. It's not very often I see references to Edmund Yates on anything apart from the papers piling up on my desk. In fact, when I woke up the next morning I was pretty sure I'd dreamed it (come on, I'm not the only one who dreams about Victorian authors...right?) but, nope, in an article about Charles Dickens's postbox at Gad's Hill hints that Yates helped him obtain it.

I like that. One of the less-complimentary references to Yates I've found came in a biography of Dickens from the 1940s where the author called him 'sycophantic' in his attentions to his mentor. Now, while I think that's a little unfair, it does have a ring of truth to it and that's why I find the idea of Yates rushing to discuss postboxes with Dickens rather enticing. After all, it's not very often your day job at the post office means you can be useful to one of your living heroes.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Classic Film Review: The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

Based on the lives of two dance icons in pre-war American, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the title roles. It deals with their marriage and struggle for success, then the tragedy that hits just a few years after their marriage. The cast also includes Edna May Oliver as agent Maggie Sutton, Walter Brennan as Walter the servant and Lew Fields as himself.

This is an altogether more serious film than other Astaire/Rogers collaborations I've seen. As a biopic, closely superintended by Irene Castle herself, it means fewer fun and games which, in turn, means the film is probably more memorable than some of their fluffy pieces. Rogers, of course, excels in dramatic roles, though the modern era has pigeon-holed her somewhat as Astaire's dancing partner. Two of the earliest films I reviewed on this blog were Kitty Foyle (1940, reviewed here) and Primrose Path (1940, reviewed here) which served to cement Rogers as one of my favourite actresses and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle definitely feeds into that.

There are, though, plenty of humorous moments early in the film. I adored Vernon and Irene's first meeting as they both dash to rescue a drowning dog then Vernon's horror at Irene's attempts to show off her dancing skills on a makeshift stage at her parents' house. Once the action shifts to Paris and Edna May Oliver is introduced as their agent, there are many hilarious moments. She never fails to lighten up a film but there are moments of wonderful seriousness from her as well. There's a gorgeous moment on the train as Irene is travelling to see Vernon where a simple movement betrays the strength of relationship that has sprung up between them all and it's a nice touch. Walter Brennan, too, is excellent, particularly in the final moments of the film.

Ultimately, this isn't about the dance numbers, it's about preserving a legacy and it does that very well. As the last Astaire/Rogers film at RKO and the only one based on a true story, it occupies a special place in their history - as it should.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Some Solid Writing Goals

Now I've completed my 2014 NaNoWriMo draft, my thoughts have returned to setting up a clear schedule of writing goals for the next few months. These are, of course, subject to the vagaries of my PhD completion timetable and sanity. I have found, though, that I've got a renewed sense of determination and passion. And plus, y'know, focusing on my writing lets me ignore the shambles of everything else so...we'll roll with it.
  • December - I'll spend December working on 'Max', the second draft of a novel I wrote back in mid-2012. I replotted this in my week of despair in early September but, despite that, I think the plan works. I've added a viewpoint and some other characters along with lengthening the time frame and making it a bit more serious. The first draft was an exercise in cleansing my mind; now I know more of the characters and I'm ready to create something a little better. 
  • January/February - The first couple of weeks of January will hopefully be spent polishing 'Lily' to perfection. That's the novel I spent September and October with and, right now, the plan is to read it aloud and see how it sounds. After that, I want to work on the tweaks I need to do to 'Danni'. When I did the last of these planning posts back in May, I said that's the novel I'm happiest with. I still maintain that but I want to give it a thorough sweep which may or may not take six weeks. 
  • March - I know what I should do in March. I should get back into 'Liz' because it's a very good story and the first draft was brilliant. I've got a scene-by-scene breakdown for the rest of the rewrite but I can never seem to get back into it. This possibly stems from the fact that I worked on this redraft in Scrivener and I've decided it's not for me. However, the novel is still plugged in there. Why not just export it, you say? Well, I'm a pest and the two benefits of Scrivener as far as I can see are the split-screen functionality and corkboard. Those are the two things I'm actually using. We'll see. There may be another reason why I can't finish this novel but we'll see in March, won't we?
  • April - I have a tentative plan with a friend in April to work on first drafts together. In which case, mine would probably be altering the first 10,000 of 'Kathy' into first person then finishing that novel draft. 
  • May - Here we reach a conflict where I'll probably either work on the second draft of 'Vic', my 2012 NaNo novel, or 'Izzy', the first draft I wrote after it. Both need planning work done before I can crack on but 'Izzy' needs more so that may be the tipping point. Better see what planning for these I can insert into earlier months. 
That all looks a bit gruelling, doesn't it? Lucky I'm determined. The novels that leaves outstanding are 'Lauren', 'Carys' and my latest NaNo success, 'Mel'. Let's see where we are in May. Right, Gene?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Classic Film Review: From Here to Eternity (1953)

From Here to Eternity stars Montgomery Clift as Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a soldier who has taken a demotion to move to a new unit in Hawaii. His new colleagues, headed by Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober), want him to resume his boxing career to help them to glory but Prewitt steadfastly refuses and is subjected to vicious treatment because of it. He finds an ally in Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), a hot-headed soldier who has also made himself an enemy in the form of Sergeant Judson (Ernest Borgnine). Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) has his own problems as he embarks on an affair with Captain Holmes' wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr). And, though none of them know it, the attack on Pearl Harbour is inching ever closer...

This is one of those classics that I really ought to have seen already but, while it lived up to its reputation, I don't think it's going down on my list of favourites - that may just be because of the after taste of the ending, I'm not sure. Certainly, Montgomery Clift gives an excellent performance as Prewitt, reaffirming my belief that he was one of the best actors of his generation. Similarly, Frank Sinatra's lobbying for the role of Maggio paid off, easily his best acting performance as far as I'm concerned. Where I struggled, I suppose, was with Burt Lancaster who, really, doesn't inspire much in me. Deborah Kerr, whilst effective in the second half of the film, was a struggle for me too. It wasn't because she was playing against type, perhaps just than I was far more interested in the Prewitt/Maggio aspects of the story and oould've dispensed with the Warden/Karen strand, famous kiss in the surf or not.

There are a few scenes that linger with me from this one. Prewitt's confession scene to Alma (Donna Reed), when he explains why he won't box any more, is particularly riveting, as are his scenes following the drama with Maggio and Judson. The stand-out, though, has to be his morning wake-up call to the troops that brought tears to my eyes. Sinatra almost steals every scene he's in but the drunken wandering stands out as one of his best moments, adding a little humour to a dire situation. The aerial battle scenes are also excellent and a fitting end to the film where Lancaster finally looks comfortable.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: Draft Complete

Due to a sudden burst of determination, I completed my NaNoWriMo draft within November, with it coming in at 59,325 words, 3,541 of those written last night. Most of those, to be fair, were written during a rushed hour where my determination overtook my sense and I just had to finish it by the arbitrary deadline.

Overall, this goes down as another successful NaNo, though it still doesn't feel that way. However, it's another first draft in the can and I already have ideas about the alterations which need to be made. One of my secondary characters flip-flops throughout the novel and I need to work out how accurate that is or whether she was just dancing to my tune. As well as that, some of the care home residents emerged as much stronger characters than I'd anticipated and I should really cling onto them in the second draft. More about my future writing plans later in the week though.

November was tricky, as I knew it would be. I haven't been feeling very bright and most days I've either burst into tears or sat staring despondent at the wall for an hour. Add to that the fact that I've been battling with the final edits of my thesis for the last two weeks and you've got a pretty draining month. I spent most of last week in a cafe with a 190 page thesis and marker pen in front of me because doing that work at home with my father still off sick from work is nigh on impossible. This blog has suffered this month, I've got some freelancing work ongoing and there's some proofreading I need to do for something else which I'll tell you all about shortly. When I see it written down like that, I'm not surprised I've woken up to the first day of December with a stonking headache. Nevertheless, I won... Here's my celebratory banner and one of my favourite songs of the moment, guaranteed to make me sing and smile - for a few minutes at least.