Sunday, 20 May 2012

SUMMER COVER

Just got a first look at the cover of the third DM book 'The Demi-Monde: Summer'. It's a rough draft but I think it looks pretty good. As a lot of the action takes place in the Coven the Sino-Japanese sector of the DM I asked Nigel to come up with an appropriately yin/yangish emblem (or as the belief system of the Coven is based on the ancient philosophy of Confusionism I suppose that should be yin/yang/ying). The inter-twined dragons (dragons are a passion of Empress Wu who runs the Coven) were his idea and like all things Nigel-sian are terrific. Well done, Nig!



The Demi-Monde: Summer (draft cover)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

GOGOL-ESQUE

One of my characters in the book I’m currently working on (‘Tesla vs The Martians’) uses the expression ‘Gogol-esque’ to describe the feeling of unease he experiences when the Carnivores (don’t ask) are being described to him. The exact phrase is: ‘Images of the Gogol-esque monsters flickered through Denisov’s mind, the devilish creatures that had haunted his childhood dreams’.

Now I submitted the chapter this phrase was in to be critiqued by the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group and was a little taken aback when one of the group took me to task by saying that as Gogol had only written one horror story – ‘Viy’ – he was better seen as a writer of romances. QED my use of the term was inaccurate.
At the time I was so non-plussed that I didn’t really know what to say so I’ve gone and checked with my Russian friends what their take on Gogol is. It seems to correspond with mine. The words they used to describe his writing were ‘surreal’, ‘grotesque’ and ‘unsettling’ and, of course, Gogol wrote stories other than ‘Viy’ which, whilst not horror per se were at the very least horrific (and here I’d cite ‘A Terrible Vengeance’, ‘A Bewitched Place’, ‘St John’s Eve’, ‘The Nose’ and ‘The Overcoat’).

So having considered the matter more fully I think I’ll leave ‘Gogol-esque’ in!

THE COUNTRY WIFE

The second play I saw this week was the very antithesis of ‘Cowboy Mouth': I switched from punk grunge to Restoration bawdiness when I took in The Univ Players’ take on ‘The Country Wife’. Written in 1675 it was banned until 1924, the lewdness and innuendo being considered too much for a respectable audience to swallow.

There are two interlocking threads to the tale: the adventures of Horner, a young blood, who  feigns impotence in order more easily to seduce women, and Mrs Margery Pinchwife – the eponymous ‘Country Wife’ who has come to London and is determined to sample all the delights the big, bad city has to offer.
I thought it a terrific production tho’ marred by being performed al fresco – it’s hard to concentrate on complex dialogue when you’re worried about incipient frostbite – which didn’t do the acoustic any favours either. Andrew Laithwaite was brilliant as Horner, with just the right amount of devilishness about him. Lazlo Barclay deserves a mention too: his Mr Sparkish was convincingly na├»ve. Kathryn Smith made a good fist of the tricky role of Mrs Margery Pinchwife tho’ I think she should have emphasised the yoke-lish aspect of the woman more: an actor can’t go too far over-the-top playing this character. Perhaps my favourite performance tho’ was Claire Rammelkamp’s Lady Fidget: she really nailed the ditziness of the woman and communicated better than any of the players an understanding of what it was like to be caught up in the sexual hysteria pervading Restoration London.

Criticisms? This was a play that was banned for almost 250 years … it’s bawdy and salacious but I had a feeling the actors (the girls especially, tho’ I exclude Ms Rammelkamp from this criticism) were much too PC in their approach, much too tentative. Their acting didn’t reflect the dialogue.
Still a commendable 8/10 (even if it was bloody cold!).

COWBOY MOUTH


It has been a week of some cultural involvement. My daughter Kit has been involved as the producer of two plays at her college in Oxford. The first of these was ‘Cowboy Mouth’ the punk play written by Patti Smith and Sam Shephard back in the 70’s.
For those of you unfamiliar with the play it’s a two-hander, with Cavale (a highly-strung and highly disturbed girl who has ambitions of being a rock Diaghilev) and Slim (the rock singer who’s the object of her ambitions). The action takes place in a dismal room of a slummy New York hotel.

I have to admit that I approached the play with a deal of trepidation – I find most of the output of the New York punk scene to be pretty thin and feeble fare and I’ve never been a fan of Patti Smith and, like the Curate’s egg, I found it good in parts. The play is de-constructed and almost impossible to assess regarding plot etc. being rather a device to deliver a collection of monologues and poses, but it has to be said that some of these are quite powerful.
The contrary thing is that these sort of fly-on-the-wall, cinema verite-type pieces of theatre are more demanding of the director and actors than conventional productions … they have to really go for it and if they don’t the thing generally falls flat.

The good thing is that this Ba-Laylah production performed at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford almost made it … almost. There was certainly a deal of verve on show and there was no faulting the enthusiasm of the actors. But …
I couldn’t help thinking that the director bottled it a little and couldn’t find a way of communicating the whole psychotic madness the lunacy of the situation Cavale and Slim found themselves in. Sitting watching the play unfold I wondered how much better (and ludicrous) it would have been to have portrayed Slim as a Sid Vicious-esque punk! But all-in-all I thought it well directed.

The three actors were good. Tara Isabella Burton as Cavale did tend to gabble her lines (I’d been hoping for some good, old-fashioned, drug-fuelled slurring) and was, I think, a little too chary of her character’s sexual abandon to really convince. Dylan Holmes as Slim was fine, though a trifle cleaner-cut than I think any grunged-up wanna-be rock god has any right to be. Jonathan Sanders was a terrific Lobster Man.
In sum, a respectable 7/10 … worth seeing, but …

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

WHY THIS WRITER CAN'T BE A READER

I have always been amazed by the number of works of fiction my fellow writers seem to consume. They are always recommending this book and saying how much they enjoyed that book, while I stand in awed - and unread - amazement.

It isn't just a function of time - though that is a factor - but I've always had a suspicion that reading the works of your contemporaries can have a corrupting effect: try as hard as you might there is still a danger that you might begin to ape a style, pinch an idea, or steal a phrase. So it's for these reasons that I've religiously refused to read any novels for ... well, years. Reference works, okay ... that's necessary research but a hot SF bestseller, no way will I open its cover.

Until Monday.

We've recently moved and as some of you might know a move requires a cull of unwanted books. In my case it was a particularly vicious culling and only very few novels made the cut and most of them survived purely on sentimental reasons. I enjoyed them when I was younger and can't bear to be parted from the memories they evoke. Included in the survivors was 'The Lost Regiment' series by William R. Forstchen. These I collected when I was hopping across to the US on a regular basis (this was before Amazon and they were never printed in the UK) and every time I did I'd buy the next in the series to read on the 'plane. I loved 'em: inventive, well researched, good characterisation and exemplary world-building.

So, clearing out a box on Monday I came across #1 'Rally Cry' and couldn't resist: I started reading. BIG MISTAKE. Immediately I started I had my editor's hat on ... he's switched POV ... he should have cut this paragraph ... show don't tell ... on and on and on. I had to stop.

That's it for me and novels, but the question remains - if I reread The Demi-Monde in twenty-odd years time will I be similarly critical?