Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do you want to see something really scary?

In the last post but one I referenced The Twilight Zone, surely one of the best American TV series ever made. 

The series was/is popular enough to warrant a movie version, where four different directors tried their hands at remaking four of the iconic episodes. It was a disappointment, with some good bits, most notably a new prologue where a hitchhiker is picked up by a driver who tries to scare him by driving recklessly and turning out the headlights from time to time. The hitchhiker begs the driver to be more careful, he is getting scared. Talk turns to the original Twilight Zone TV series. Both driver and hitchhiker try to scare each other with memories of the spookier episodes. At the end of the trip the hitchhiker takes  one parting shot. He asks the driver if he wants to see something really scary. The driver naturally says yes, and in an instant the hitchhiker turns into a hideous blue monster that lunges at the driver. I’m not sure if we saw blood or not. But I remember the reaction in the cinema at the time.

Something really scary

There was a momentary gasp then a delighted roar of laughter. Frankly, the movie doesn’t have much going for it, although the fourth story, directed by George Miller is a beauty. It’s based on an episode Nightmare at 20,000 feet where a nervous passenger on an international  flight can see a sort of imp creature, tearing up the aluminum wings and feeding them into one of the engines. The passenger (played by William Shatner) tries to alert the cabin crew, who of course see nothing when they look at the ‘imp’ sabotaging the plane. I think the story worked so well because a lot of people on flights have wondered what it would be like if they saw something appear on the wing. (You can see a still from it at the top of this post)  It’s truly a nightmare scenario, though it’s played for laughs. In the original Twilight Zone episode, the imp looks like a cross between a gorilla and one of the Zygons  from Doctor Who

One of the aforementioned Zygons, and my apologies if this constitutes a spoiler

It’s a  risible imp and somewhat detracts from any element of horror. In the film remake, the imp is a beauty. He’s spindly and blue., complete with a leering face and clawed hands. The nervous passenger (played in the movie by John Lithgow) is thoroughly believable. Here again, when the imp appeared, there were  gasps then laughter from the audience. My good friend Kimpton knew I had seen the movie. She wanted to know if it was too scary for her daughter Tiffany (14) and friend (same age). I had no hesitation in recommending it, not thinking for a moment that the monsters might give nightmares to a young teen. And Kimpton took ages to forgive me. The girls had nightmares for weeks. I really didn’t think there was anything in the movie to give nightmares. After all, hadn’t we all laughed?
Anyway, Kimpton never asks me for movie recommendations these days. Which is a shame because it means she will never see Iron Sky. And I’m genuinely sorry the girls were as upset as they turned out to be. I honestly thought the movie was funny, even if the dull stories (especially Kick the Can) seemed to go on forever.
We all find different things funny. And if the scares are ingenious and completely over the top, I tend to laugh. I’m not a ghoul and absolutely hate the current crop of torture porn movies. I would no more recommend one of them to a teen than I would recommend a movie about a deranged scientist who sews human bodies together in such a way that they resemble an underendowed centipede (and I thank my editor, Dmetri Kakmi, for drawing my attention to this movie).
But I’ll be more careful when I recommend movies to kids in future. Because some of them don’t see movies in the way I do. And I should keep reminding myself that these things used to terrify me.

Monday, April 8, 2013

So, we meet again, Mr MacLeod

The gun-wielding Penguin is back with the extraordinary news that my book, The Shiny Guys has been shortlisted in the older readers category of the CBCA awards.
Here's the shortlist for the older readers category:
And here is the complete shortlist.
The armed Penguin congratulates you all.

No Foreknowledge Necessary

In order to overcome what I hope is only a temporary case of writer’s block, I went to the St Kilda library to get out some kick-ass Young Adult fiction, that might present me with the inspiration I so obviously need. The first book I chose was Billy Mack’s War.

I selected it because I’ve met James Roy and enjoyed speaking with him. I’ve also heard him talk to teens and he seems to have a good idea of what goes on inside the head of a teenage male. I would have borrowed anything by Scot Gardner too, for similar reasons, but there was nothing there. I didn’t consult the catalogue. I’m sure that the St Kilda Library has no shortage of Scot Gardner titles but that I arrived on a bad day. I probably wouldn’t have borrowed a Nick Earls, because I’ve read 48 Shades of Brown. In the back of the book there is a quote from Cleo magazine that if you read a Nick Earls book you will ‘never be unhappy again’. Perhaps they should stop using that quote, surely penned by a well-meaning friend of Nick’s? It’s certainly enticing but incredibly hard to live up to, and didn’t apply to me, though I certainly would never recommend crucifying a book then setting it aflame, which some angry YouTuber did, complete with visual directions. I wish they’d remove it. I see books burning and I hear jackboots.

I had limited time at the St Kilda Library. The next two books I grabbed were Quintana of Charyn by Merlina Marchetta, because everyone keeps telling me how wonderful she is, and The Sending by Isobelle Carmody, for the same reason. 

I started on Quintana of Charyn. Somehow, when I gazed at the cover, I had missed the subtitle: Book Three of the Lumatere Chronicles. However it became very clear on closer inspection that I was reading a portion of a much larger work, and was ill-equipped to do so. The volume is over five hundred pages long. Presumably this means I have to read around one thousand words to finish the first two volumes and get a decent idea of what is going on. I figured that rather than read ten thousand words so I could pick up the thread, that time that would perhaps be better spent on learning to use my Dragon voice recognition software, so that I can speak my books as I compose them, and not have to rely upon my stroke-addled fingers. The idea of writing a novel by way of voice recognition software seems cumbersome, though I understand that Rod Serling wrote most of his Twilight Zone episodes that way (although his Dragon was a stenographer) and there were some really wonderful Twilight Zone tales. An Easter treat was watching DVD’s of the old fifties shows, and marvelling at how well they still hold up. Does anyone know of novelists who dictate their novels? Is that how Dan Brown did it? Anyway, I put down Book Three of the Lumatere Chronicles and picked up The Sending. Reader, I had made the same mistake. While it doesn’t leap off the cover, there is a line of copy alerting us to the fact that this is Book Six in The Obernewtyn Chronicles. So, once again I had a little reading to do before I was ready for this book. Now, Book Three is overwhelming enough – but Book Six! The Sending is 750 pages long. Why do these fantasy writers feel the need to go for such massive Russian literature-style word counts? Assuming that the first five volumes of this Obernewtyn Chronicle are of similar length, I would be committing myself to reading a total of 3750 words before I could fully appreciate The Sending, knowing of all the elegant twists and turns the narrative had taken before Dragon, a creature of quite astonishing beauty, appears on a broken stone column on the night of a full moon (my precis of the first paragraph of The Sending). I put it aside.

Picking up James Roy’s novel was a more promising exercise. Unlike the two, no doubt splendid fantasy novels that I had put aside, this book didn’t have shadowy goth girls on the cover. It had a title that included no invented place names. And it certainly wasn’t Book Three of the Billy Mack Chronicles. It was a stand-alone. A decent looking book without a bloody map before the story starts.  I could read this one secure in the knowledge that I already knew everything there was to know about Billy Mack (that is, nothing) before entering the world of young adult fiction. It read well, but I had this niggling feeling that I wasn’t getting the full picture. The writer seemed to presume some amount of foreknowledge on my part. But this wasn’t a whacking great doorstep of a novel, involving dragons on stone columns on moonlit nights. It was a down-to-earth slice-of-life fiction, like Jasper Jones, which I had read recently and enjoyed.

This is when fate played a particularly cruel trick. I learned from examining the back cover blurb that what I was reading was a prequel to a well-regarded book called Captain Mack. I’m sure Captain Mack is a fine work, and that most people have heard of it. But I hadn’t. Perhaps more importantly, I hadn’t read it. And yet I felt I really had to for Billy Mack’s War to be fully enjoyed. So, the books I had borrowed to coax me to invent new stories for teens were a Part Three, a Part Six and a Prequel. And we authors point accusing fingers at Hollywood when they dare to bring out a sequel to Shrek. (‘Typical of Hollywood to exploit a successful movie.’ ‘They’ll be doing a sequel to Blade Runner next.’)

Please understand that this is not a blog post that drips poison. It is more despair than poison, though perhaps I was a bit poisonous to Nick Earls (who’s actually good) to mention that horrible YouTube movie about his book 48 Shades of Brown though I certainly don’t advocate that books should be crucified and burned - despite what I might have recently muttered about Stephanie Meyer when I was on a panel at The Wheeler Centre, and it was filmed.

I’m the fool. First of all, I knew I was being filmed. And secondly, anyone who doesn’t take the time to read book covers carefully or realise that paperback cinderblocks about fictional places with names like Lumatere or Obernewtyn are unlikely to appeal deserves what he gets. It’s just, I was hoping to get some reading done today. In the end I blogged. Even last night’s Doctor Who: ‘The Rings of Akaten’ (silly place names again) was boring and forgot to tell a decent story, just because all the aliens looked so cool. What a rotten long weekend.

And this is not just a selfish whine because I couldn’t think of a sequel to my only book to cause any kind of modest commotion, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher. At least, I couldn’t write one. 

Oh, no. But one day I might speak one.

And for those who might still be interested, plenitude is, of course, alive. John's father is John Lamb, the real character from history, and Thomas's resurrectionist name is (perhaps ironically) Modesty.