Tuesday, 20 September 2011

War Horse, but not the movie.

I’ve been involved in theatre in various ways over the years, writing, directing and acting in plays, watching performances by amateurs and professionals, and scratching my head at some of the things critics have raved about.

There was a time when we’d arrange to go to London for the weekend and cram in as many plays as we could. In those days it wasn’t cheap but at least you didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to get even the cheapest ticket. The problem was, though, that much of what we’d actually chosen to see – because it had been recommended, well reviewed, or featured a favourite actor or director – was crap. The house lights went down, the curtain went up and, within 10 minutes, we knew we’d condemned ourselves to an hour or so of purgatory until the first interval set us free.

Simon Russell Beale was brilliant in Richard III but we sat through all of his Hamlet getting more and more angry at the sight of the actors going through the motions. An American visitor in front of us fell asleep very early only to leap to her feet and applaud wildly when it was over. All the critics had said it was a brilliant production so I suppose, even though audiences were bored out of their skulls by the insults to their intelligence they were seeing, they were afraid to disagree with the arbiters of taste and excellence.

But that’s just one example, and I’m just saying this to admit that, much, maybe even most of the time, theatre is embarrassingly bad. And that’s a great shame because when it works, it’s unbeatable. Sam West’s Hamlet was a triumph – it made you leave the theatre thinking you were somehow complicit in the nasty politics that had gone on onstage.

Last Friday, though, with my son, I went to the New London theatre to see War Horse, and, for nearly three timeless hours, I forgot who I was and was grabbed by the experience and dragged through most of the emotions of which I’m capable. The movie may prove to be brilliant – it’s Spielberg after all – but the beautiful horses he’ll have gathered for his shots won’t have anything like the realism and character that the puppeteers managed to give those on the stage. In every single way, the performances, the effects, the sounds and music, the wholeness of the thing were astonishing. We watched a cavalry charge in World War I, horses fighting for supremacy in a paddock, the transformation of an awkward young colt into a big thoroughbred in an instant – and all of these creatures were being manipulated by people. But, within minutes, I stopped seeing the people and only saw horses.

I always make my blogs too long and, if I tried to convey even a part of the full experience, I’d need this to be even longer, so take a quick look at this trailer for the stage play, not the movie, and you’ll get a tiny fraction of a glimpse of a mind-blowing experience (my words are so inadequate for things such as this). It’s beyond analysis so, if you get the chance to see it on stage, sell everything you have to get a ticket. It's an astonishing, visceral, truly cathartic experience.

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Friday, 16 September 2011

OK, I miscounted, but this is definitely the last one (I think).

In previous posts, by 'penultimate', I meant 'ante-penultimate' and by 'the last' I meant 'not the last'. The answers below, however, are the only ones which remain from my Pfoxmoor author friends: Maria Kuroshchepova, R B Wood, Greta van der Rol, Heikki Hietala, Michael Pollack, Gev Sweeney and Sessha Batto.

What do you think of the word ‘nice’? In what contexts would you use it?

(MK) Can’t stand it. People use it when they have nothing good to say about this. “I’ve written a book” “Aww, isn’t that nice.” Or “So what do you think of this painting?” “Oh, you know... It’s... nice”. I sometimes use it as approval for a joke or a clever statement - but in those cases I write it out in all caps.

(RBW) It’s one of those fluffy words that is so overused it becomes meaningless.

(GvdR) It is the most obnoxious adjective I can think of, especially when diluted even further with the word ‘quite’. It’s the sort of word you use to describe something you think is nauseating but you don’t wish to be rude.

(HH) Nice is a non-word that should be reserved for those moments when you have absolutely nothing to say.

(MP) It’s a weak word. I use it when I can’t find anything nice to say.

(GS) .”Nice,” to me, implies “meh.” “Okay.” “Polite.” “Sunny within the confines of sociability.” “Unwild.” “Non-controversial.” “Something that has the potential for becoming worse, if not bad.” “Have a nice day.” Heh heh …

(SB) It’s a complete and total nonentity of a word. Nice means boring, inoffensive, bleh that you couldn’t care enough about to come up with a description for. Not bad necessarily, but most surely boring. I use it when I don’t want to offend but have nothing positive to say.

Would you like to be immortal? Why or why not? 

(MK) Yes. All the shit I could learn! But I want to retain youth and health too. Being an immortal wreck of a person does not appeal to me.

(RBW) No. The thought of outliving my children is far to sad to contemplate.

(GvdR) I’d only want to be immortal if I could be immortal in a much younger body and if I had some immortal mates. But I can’t help but feel that Isaac Asimov was right about over-long lifetimes, let alone immortality. It leads to stagnation of the species.

(HH) Funny you should ask that as I am working on a scifi shortie on that very theme. I’d never want to be immortal. In fact, I believe you have seen all you need to see by the age of 75. Reincarnation rules.

(MP) No. Life is a constant beat-down. An 80-year stretch trying to find the sparkle in an otherwise strife-filled life seems long enough to me. I’ll embrace death when it comes… just not quite yet… I’m not done with my work.

(GS) Yes. To pass on the message that despite changes in fashion and technology, people are inherently the same now as they were centuries ago and will continue to remain the same centuries from now.

(SB) Never! I think it would be terribly depressing to see everyone you know wither and pass away. I’d much rather ride the wheel again and come back in my next life and start all over. If I could remember the lessons I’d learned in this life, so much the better.

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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Bloke who knew Questionnaire slightly when they were students together

The last revelations from my author friends at Pfoxmoor: Maria KuroshchepovaR B WoodGreta van der RolHeikki HietalaMichael PollackGev Sweeney and Sessha Batto.

Your fairy godmother grants you a wish. You can curl up in front of the fire with your favourite object. What is it? (NOTE. You can define `object’ in any way you like.)

(MK) Just one object? Can I make the object a collection? I mean - a corporation is like a person in some respects, so can an assembly of objects count as an object? Because that would include: two gigantic pillows, my favorite wrap, all my animals, including husband, and a stack of books. Oh, and there would be some chocolate and alcohol involved in there somewhere too.

(RBW) A legal document granting me full custody of my children.

(GvdR) I would like an object that would have me looking the way I did at age 30, thanks ever so.

(HH) I’d want a teleporter to be able to go see the M41 up close, pop out to anywhere in the world, and finally, back in time to see who killed Kennedy.

(MP) A metallic blue Kirsten Dunst comes to mind, but I’ll go with: my MacBook Pro.

(GS) I’d be curling up in front of that fire in the favourite overstuffed chair from the house where I grew up.

(SB) Only one?! It would have to be one of my swords . . . but I’d have to cut with them all first to make up my mind, decisions, decisions . . .

A beggar sitting on a blanket on the pavement (OK, sidewalk, if you insist), says as you pass, `Fortune has favoured you but looks less kindly on deprived and desperate beings such as myself. It would be a kindness if you were to redistribute some of your wealth to redress the balance between you and I’. What do you reply? (NOTE for grammar nerds like me – I deliberately chose ‘I’ instead of the correct ‘me’ to set up my own answer.)

(MK) I grab him and take him somewhere for a cup of soup, during which I figure out why he is a beggar and what we can do short- and long-term to get him out of this predicament. I know it sounds uber-corny, but seriously, that’s what I would do. Blame it on Chris Gardner (for those who don’t know - the author of “Pursuit of Happyness”).

(RBW) I would say: “I have no cash, but would like to take you for a hot meal and a long conversation” (paid for via credit card.)

(GvdR) I’m an author. I’m probably more deprived than you are.

(HH) I’m a fatalist in matters of the wallet.

(MP) Stop begging. Pick yourself up and find work. God helps those who help themselves, and that seems like a damned fine policy. If there truly is no way that you can find a job in America legally plying some skill or another, then I will help you as I can and ask others to do the same.

(GS) I have my own place on the pavement.

(SB) I’m terribly afraid you have me confused with someone else – after a career in the arts, believe me, I have not a penny to my name.

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Second cousin of Questionnaire by marriage

The penultimate peek into the minds of some of the Pfoxmoor people: Maria KuroshchepovaR B WoodGreta van der RolHeikki HietalaMichael PollackGev Sweeney andSessha Batto.

If you had to change nationality, which would you choose and why?

(MK) That’s a tough one - I honestly have no idea. I mean, I am already Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Jewish. Married to a guy who is Irish-German-Navajo-Cherokee. If I had to incorporate yet another nationality in there somewhere, things could get REALLY confusing.

(RBW) Irish. I loved Ireland when I lived there for five years.

(GvdR) Fight, kicking and screaming. I’m proud to be Australian. I love our country, our lifestyle and our attitudes. (For the most part, anyway) If it HAD to happen, I’d be a New Zealander because they’re our first cousins, anyway.

(HH) I would like to be Irish. I spent a year there working for Microsoft (so sue me) and got to know and love the laid-back ways of the people. I also love the countryside there, and the way they wouldn’t let me pay my parking fine.

(MP) Italian. The food is great, and it might make me a shoe-in for a career in organized crime.

(GS) French. The only way to dismiss fools and stupidities really is to shrug them off, à la française.

(SB) Japan because I love the language and the culture – of course, the Japanese do as well, so I imagine they’d quickly scuttle any plans I had of emigrating, the last thing they need is an Irishwoman coming and mucking it all up.

Nominate 3 types of people for a long custodial sentence in a prison that uses painful experimental therapies to `cure’ its inmates. (NOTE. Obvious categories, such as bigots, tyrants, traffic wardens, estate agents, bankers, politicians and family and friends of Rupert Murdoch do not count.)

(MK) Well, damn, you listed all my top candidates already! Ok, how about this... People who are persistently ignorant. You know, the kind that are offered all the information in the world, but they decline it just so they can keep their opinion and spew venom at others. People who demand that I make myself appear dumber in order to “fit in” better. The other winners of that lottery from question 5 unless they are my friends. ;-)

(RBW) Massachusetts drivers, recruiters who say ‘they’ll get back to you’ and never do, Weathermen (and women).

(GvdR) Old farts who can’t drive who get in front of my car. Accountants. Microsoft.

(HH) People who promise a review of your book but do not deliver. People who believe Big Brother is ‘entertainment’ and watch it voraciously. People who say Steely Dan is elevator music.

(MP) Radical Islam extremists who are contorting an otherwise peaceful faith into something horrible and violent. (2) Wealthy people who’ve achieved success on the backs of others but who do not give back in any meaningful way. (3) High school gym teachers.

(SB) People who insist on proselytizing their religious beliefs while disregarding or belittling my own, people who think that gay marriage is somehow hurting them or somehow diminishing their own marriage and, finally, the extremely rude, ‘I’m a very important person’ types who feel it’s acceptable to leave their cars anywhere it’s convenient to them (including across my driveway on a daily basis!)

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Friday, 9 September 2011

Daughter of Questionnaire

All is revealed by Maria Kuroshchepova, R B Wood, Greta van der Rol, Heikki Hietala, Michael Pollack, Gev Sweeney and Sessha Batto.

You have the chance to spend an evening with a film star of your choice. Whom would you choose and what do you hope the evening would bring? (Be honest.)

(MK) Colin Firth. He can bring his real-life wife and his “Pride and Prejudice” co-star - the lovely and voluptuous Jennifer Ehle.

(RBW) The late Marlon Brando. I firmly believe he was one of the best actors of the modern age. I would hope to hear about his thoughts on life, love and the world in general.

(GvdR) A film star? Film stars just don’t do it for me. They’re people being paid absurd amounts of money to pretend to be something they’re not. OK, I’ll go for Akshay Kumar and I hope he’d agree to play Admiral Saahren in the movie.

(HH) There was a time I’d have said Minnie Driver, at another I’d have said Audrey Tautou for her splendid performance in Amélie, but now I’d say Sean Connery. I just have to admire his singular charisma. I’d take him to an island on a lake in Finland and see how he likes the smoke sauna.

(MP) Gotta go with Kirsten Dunst again, plus an air compressor, a commercial paint sprayer, and that blue paint. You’ve stuck that image in my head, and it won’t go away. What do I hope it would bring? More than casual conversation about world events.

(GS) Gerard Depardieu. I want to see how bad and intelligent and French he really is.

(SB) James Earl Jones because I could listen to him talk all night and I’m sure he has some amusing stories to tell. To be honest, celebrities don’t impress me, all the famous people I’ve met have been just like anyone else, and some were a whole lot less interesting.

Complete the following sentence – `If I won the lottery and discovered that the prize had to be shared with 3 million other winners, I would …’

(MK)...have no problem sharing. And if I like any of the other winners, I’d suggest we have a party together. Naturally, I very much hope that all my writer friends are among the winners.

(RBW) …find a way to vilify them all in my writing.

(GvdR) … shrug and get on with life.

(HH) … definitely hope it was a very large lottery prize.

(MP) … open an essay contest and ask for 3 million entrants to prove how they would double their investment and cut me back in for the capital gain. It’s a win/win situation.

(GS) … start a charity to feed the hungry.

(SB) … be just as happy – free money is free money, when you’re a non-gainfully self-employed wastrel any income is a wonderful thing!

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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Son of Questionnaire

More soul baring from some of my Pfoxmoor colleagues: Maria Kuroshchepova, R B Wood, Greta van der Rol, Heikki Hietala, Michael Pollack, Gev Sweeney andSessha Batto.

If such a choice were possible and meaningful, would you prefer to live in a real or a virtual world? Why?

(MK) Real world never ceases to amaze me, but Andre Norton’s Witchworld and John Booth’s spellbinder universe both sound like places I’d love to live at, despite the dangers.

(RBW) I prefer the real world. So many experiences and challenges come up during the normal course of life—provides an author with a veritable cornucopia of writing material!

(GvdR) Real. Because virtual worlds smack of ‘The Matrix’. You can’t have a virtual world that is not controlled by some computer program. That’s scary and creepy. Mind you, a virtual world would be nice in some ways. Safe sex, for instance, with a male of one’s choice. (stop it) And flying on dragons and such.

(HH) Real, but augmented with a dash of virtuality in it. For example, the game Second Life would be very much fun if it had an immersive gaming experience, so that one could really feel the touch of someone else, or knock his head on the table after one beer too many.

(MP) Real world. When I was a kid I put two quarters in a soda vending machine just as some drunken jackass stumbled behind it and tripped over its power cord, unplugging it. No apology. No refund. No soda. The real world may be full of careless people, but at least it can’t be unplugged by one.

(GS) Real. I prefer the unpredictability, variety and adventure of the unknown.

(SB) I’m a pragmatist, the real world with all its ups and downs is just fine by me. I get nervous if everything goes my way too often.

You have permission to paint a celebrity in a colour of your choosing. That doesn’t mean you make a portrait, you actually get to cover them in paint. Tell us which celebrity, what colour, and why?

(MK) Angelina Jolie - paint the full Lara Croft costume onto her: black t-shirt, shorts and boots, because she absolutely nailed that role. I realize that she has since grown above and beyond the action flick chick, but I still love that image of her.

(RBW) Angelina Jolie. A very pale white or flesh tone. Because in the grand scheme of things, that’s really the color of her importance in life.

(GvdR) I’d paint our current prime minister bright green.  Does she count as a celebrity? A legend in her own tea break? (Greta lives in Australia – ed.)

(HH) I would be very happy to issue a nice, even, and utterly non-transparent cover of dull grey paint over Lady Gaga as she stood against a hangar at Boeing Aircraft Co. Just so that she wouldn’t stand out for a moment.

(MP) Kirsten Dunst in Medium Blue Quasar metallic (the color of my first car). That would be just perfect. (Kirsten Dunst features in 3 of Michael’s 11 answers. Just saying.- ed.)

(GS) .Queen Liz. Yellow. I think she enjoys a good laugh and would love to break loose, just once, in public.

(SB) Mmmmm, Jet Li because he has an extremely shapely behind. Colour doesn’t matter because, as you might have guessed, I just want to look at his naked ass!

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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Return of the Questionnaire

For a change, the next few blogs will be coming thick and fast. That’s because they’re not written by me but by more respondents to…
(Psycho shower scene sound FX)
… The Questionnaire
(Extended scream).

When I started this blog, it was because people who knew told me that writers had to have this sort of online presence (well, maybe not THIS sort, but some sort). And it’s true that it’s got me some readers (as well as friends) I wouldn’t otherwise have had. (And, by the way, I do think some online friendships are real. There are, of course, those which mainly pay lip service to the idea of friendship, but others are the genuine article.)

It also brought me into contact with Diane Nelson, who is definitely a friend but now also, thanks to her energy, enthusiasm and willingness to respond to a challenge and take risks, my publisher. This year, with surprising speed, she’s set up Pfoxmoor Publishing  and gathered a highly talented team of writers who are producing books and stories across several genres.

I don’t want to name names or turn this into a promotional handout so, if you want to know who these writers are and what they’ve produced, just check via the link. Very quickly, we’ve blended into a group of mutually supportive friends as Diane and others have slaved away reading, editing, formatting and submitting manuscripts to various electronic outlets and printers. But you see how, even when all I’m doing is relating the facts of this enterprise, I’m beginning to sound like every other spin doctor and the language starts to seem artificial.

So, instead of presenting you with soft-focus shots of dreamy-looking artists gazing into the distance as their muses drift around them, I invited some of them to answer the questionnaire I set recently. The reason was that, despite the fact that it was designed as a bit of fun, an absurd parody of an interview, it turned out to be quite revealing and slyly drew people out of their comfort zone – or at least into areas other than ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’.

So, the next five blogs will lay bare the secrets of seven of the Pfoxmoor stable. They are: Maria Kuroshchepova, R B WoodGreta van der Rol, Heikki Hietala, Michael Pollack, Gev Sweeney and Sessha Batto.

And their starter for ten was: What music would you play through loudspeakers at night outside the house of someone you disliked intensely?
(MK) Anything by Gustav Mahler, whose music I dislike just a little bit less than the only person in my life I’ve ever hated.
(RBW) A compilation of 70’s and 80’s commercial jingles. 
(GvdR) Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man”. I wrote that without even a  moment’s hesitation.
(HH) Ah- you’d not know this, but it’s a song by a Finnish artist, Ismo Alanko, and the name of the song is (very loosely translated) “Fuck how fucked I feel”. The net result would be well worth watching.
Something I hate, like 80’s glamor hair metal bands. That garbage.
(GS)  The soundtrack I composed for an indie film.  Haha, ask Diane. She’s heard it … :P
(SB) Bagpipes. I love them, but they can wake the dead, no matter how much you crank up other music it doesn’t drown them out ;) Of course, I have to say now that a steel drum band school moved in next door to my house, ANY music played continuously and repetitively will drive you certifiably insane in a very short time.

And, in the best Hollywood tradition, coming very soon:
Son of Questionnaire
Daughter of Questionnaire
Second cousin of Questionnaire by marriage
Bloke who knew Questionnaire slightly when they were students together.

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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Dib Gringe

Let me tell you about Dib Gringe.

It’s not a small, eerie village, with cowed residents slinking about, fearful of what new horrors may be inflicted on them by their evil landlord from his dank castle on the hill overlooking the swamp on which the village was built.

It’s not the swamp itself, some modern equivalent of Conan Doyle’s wonderful Grimpen Mire, into which strangers have wandered to disappear with a gurgled scream, only to reappear at Halloween with dripping rags of flesh still clinging to their skeletal forms, moaning their souls’ agony into the echoing night.

Nor is it a wasting disease with a much more impressive Latin name but with symptoms too nauseous to describe, brought back from the southern ocean in the late 1700s by the crew of Captain Cook’s barque Endeavour and transmitted to the inhabitants of the brothels of British ports and from them on to the towns’ residents.

No, Dib Gringe is not an ‘it’, he’s a ‘him’.

He was born just before breakfast in a bedroom only a few minutes walk from Scotland’s national stadium, Hampden Park. In fact, Dib, as he lets me call him, came into being some five minutes after his mother. There were no midwives, nurses or obstetricians present – just me and my six year old grandson. And the bed was mine – at least for the duration of my stay with him and his 11 year old brother.

Mrs Gringe came about as part of a story we were telling together. She has no husband; Gringe is the name of her own family and her given name is Mrs. I know little more about her because, as I said, Dib arrived a few minutes later and immediately, like all children, became the centre of attention. He was, however, not like other children. When he was born, he was already six years old, six feet two inches tall and an accomplished basketball player. He wore soft leather trousers, no underpants, and a top made of seaweed. (The soft leather was a somewhat disturbing revelation but one which, fortunately, we didn’t explore further.)
We were called to breakfast and Dib was left to his own devices but, periodically, during the day, my grandson reminded me of him and asked questions about his habits, many of which were grotesque distortions of his own interests and activities. I think he began to identify with him and suspect that I was compiling his own biography.

In the evening, the whole family – Mum, Dad, two sons and me – went to a local restaurant. And Dib was there. Not in person, of course, but once we started talking about the sort of food he preferred (don’t ask), the questions started coming again and my grandson began to insist that Dib didn’t exist, that he was simply a figment of my (and his own) imagination. I protested, of course. (All my creations are real to me.) I took a call from Dib on my mobile but he rang off before I had a chance to pass the phone to my grandson. I must confess to being a little surprised when I did, in reality, get a text message from him just a minute or so later. It read:

‘Hi Dr Kirton. Dib here. Hope you’re having a nice meal. Wish I was there. Give my love to everybody.’

I showed it to my grandson, who remained relatively unimpressed. (Rightly so, of course, because it had been sent by my daughter from the other side of the table.)

Then, as I was telling him about Dib’s FaceBook page and debating with myself whether I should set up an email account in Dib’s name, I started wondering whether I’d gone too far. My grandson’s scepticism was refreshing, his hold on reality secure, and yet he wanted to believe – no, not believe, pretend to believe – that there was such a being as Dib Gringe. Kids are so open and receptive, not yet indoctrinated with the idea that everything is explicable. Their ‘normality’ is much wider than ours. (A granddaughter once asked my wife whether she’d seen Stanley, the fairy who lives under the dripping tap in our bedroom.) Kids are also quite trustful and if we’re insistent that fictions are real, they want to accept them as such. That’s fine for a while, with Santa, fairies, and the disappearing coins which then materialise behind their ears, but if they start trying to convince less imaginative friends in the playground that the 3 inch tall fairy who lives in Aberdeen and the six feet two six year old basketball player in soft leather are real, they may find themselves in trouble.

So Dib Gringe has now retired. But I bet he reappears when I’m next in Glasgow.

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