Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Poll - What's The Best Time Travel Movie?

It's often a source of speculation, when you ask or are asked, if you could go back in history, who would you most like to meet? Or even, if you could go back in time and change events, would you? Would you assassinate Hitler before he came to power? It's an endless source of fascination to us humans as we try and project ourselves out of our own timelines.

But there's a logical paradox at the heart of such speculation. If you did indeed travel back and kill Hitler thus averting World War 2, then there would be no future in which World War 2 had happened and therefore no need for you to travel back from any such future to kill Hitler.

My novel "Time After Time" tries to deal with theses paradoxes of time travel in a humorous way. And the inspiration behind it? The "Terminator" movie, in which Arnie Schwarzenegger's Cyborg travels back to the past to prevent the future leader of the resistance against the machines from being born...

So in honour of my veneration of all time travel movies, I'd love to find out which are your favourites of all time. Please vote in the poll in the sidebar to the right and let's see if we can see which is the most popular. If your favourite isn't in the list, please leave it in the comments box.

If you're interested in my thoughts on each of the movies listed in the poll, here they are:

For me the Daddy of them all, although the time travel aspect isn't always the first thing that comes to people's mind when they talk about it. I love this movie, logical flaws and all. Brilliantly plotted, slyly about our own times rather than anything futuristic, although it's clear that were we to stay on our current course, we would end up in the dystopia shown at the start of the film. Arnie is of course perfect as the emotionless machine.

The first of the real historical figures travelling out of time movies in this list, instead of someone in the present travelling back to meet real historical people, this projects that sci-fi author HG Wells actually built his time machine, but Jack the Ripper uses it to escape the forces of law and order and lands up in the future - our present - which he finds most conducive to his murderous predilections. Wells travels forward in time to bring him back to justice. a good little film which I saw on its release as a teen and just remember how gory it was. I bet if I saw it now it would seem really tame, a mixture of my being older and our own thresholds having been pushed into accepting more.

This was an unexpected little gem of a movie I had no expectations of but turned out to be really rather good. A man is projected back for a very limited time to try and discover who planted a catastrophic bomb on a commuter train in order to get him back in time one final occasion to prevent it. Each time he eliminates another suspect, only partly diverted by his attraction to a woman, who like everyone else will die if he doesn't find the bomber.

One of those films about returning to the same moment each time and trying to alter its outcome, of which there are several

Terry Gilliam has possibly the best visual imagination of any film-maker, but he lacks the restraint always to harness it completely. This film being early in his career meant he was reasonably reined in and it's a cracking film, visually beautiful, funny and endearing as a schoolboy travels back to various historical eras and meets denizens like Napoleon, Agamemnon and Robin Hood (John Cleese playing himself playing Robin Hood, very funny). Utterly charming. I haven't seen it in an age, I need to watch it again methinks.

Early on in the movie, a character tells us not to even try and work out the logical paradoxes of time travel and the film accordingly makes no effort to justify its own internal logic. Thus it becomes an empty exercise in style to my mind. It does look great, but is completely unsatisfying and forgettable the moment your cinema seat tips upright and you stand up on the spilled popcorn.

Do you know I've never seen any of the films in the BTTF franchise? Must be the only person in the Western World. No particular reason, just never sat down to watch them even on TV. Don't know, may be a bit too Oedipal for me!

This is one great movie, (oh look it's Terry Gilliam again) splitting between two epochs, as Bruce Willis' character from a dystopian future is sent back to try and secure a sample of the deadly virus that forces mankind underground in his own time. But then I saw the original French short film "La Jetée" on which "12 Monkeys" is based and it just blew me away. it has more profound things to say about time travel and meeting yourself in the past and future than most films. And it's a silent film largely told in stills. Amazing.

On first viewing, a clever film about being utterly stuck in time, forced to repeat the same day over and over again. But on second watching it didn't stand up quite so well. I guess it only worked when you didn't know what was coming next, but once seen through, wasn't worth a return visit. Bit like a Ghost Train ride, or "Being John Malcovich"

Woody Allen hadn't made a decent film in years (in this humble critic's opinion). But this evidenced a return to form as Owen Wilson's character travels back temporally but not spatially to the Paris of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cocteau, Toklas and the giants of Modernism who inhabited Paris in the 1920s. One of those speculative films about what it might be like meeting great historical figures, this time artists rather than politicians in power. It was so engaging, one could even forgive the unfortunate self-indulgences of the self-involved middling writing that Wilson's character was made to be by Allen.

I hadn't read the book of this, so when I finally saw it recently on TV for the first time, I don't know how far it sticks or deviates from the novel. But I thought the film at least was terrible. The logic of him appearing and disappearing and turning up in different times seemed completely unanchored, while its build up was merely to a great big (little) fizzle of an ending. It's curious that as with "Terminator" time travel doesn't have an effect on flesh (or metal), but you can't take your clothes with you so end up naked at the end of the journey through time.

How can you not love a film that takes liberties with everything it touches, plus has Joss Ackland as the baddie? Not a serious contender for one of the great time travelling movies, but good fun all the same. Whatever happened to Alex Winter?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Art Of Marketing

When I published my debut novel, I was labouring under the notion that "I'm a writer, an artiste darling, I don't grubby myself with selling and promotion". Well any self-published author knows that attitude has to go  tout suite and once I'd quickly realised that if I dropped the marketing ball, no one else was going to pick it up for me.

So I threw myself, albeit somewhat blindly, into the task of trying to raise my voice "me, me, look at me, my book is worth reading" above the cacophony of every other independent artists seeking to do the same thing.

So you have to try and do something a little bit different to stand out from the crowd. And while I'm far from definitively saying that the things I did have been successful in promoting sales or increasing my visibility in the throng, I did learn three things.

1) Marketing is actually quite fun, not least the interactions on social media and with bloggers prepared to review or interview you
2) It is also creative, using different muscles to fiction writing, but still definitely a creative process in itself
3) It actually started feeding back and informing the type of writing I was doing, as I discovered new techniques and platforms through engaging with the world of design.

One of the things I came up with to promote that debut novel, was to commission 3 graphic representations of snatches of the novel. All were thematically linked in terms of them involving 'primordial soups' of letters yet to be formed into recognisable words, passing through mechanisms whereby they emerged into words and sentences from the novel. This way of breaking words down into their constituent letters was something I had been playing around with to little effect. But under the impetus of trying to think in marketing terms, it suddenly came together. I commissioned my book cover designer to produce the following three designs:

Another creative offshoot stemmed from me thinking about how to boost my forlorn little blog once I'd launched my debut. I'd never considered myself a blogger, still don't really. But through Twitter I discovered this online community of writers penning very short or flash fiction (stories of 1000 words or less). The community was called Friday Flash and every Friday its members would tweet out links to a new piece of flash fiction for others to read and comment while they read others in turn. I'd never even heard of flash fiction let alone written one, but I dipped my toe in the water and found that the restriction of 1000 words made me think about all aspects of the writing craft. At the beginning of this video, I talk for about 3 minutes on the art of writing the shortest of short fiction.

I set myself the target of writing a flash piece every week for a year and found I carried on beyond that. Then one day I looked back through these stories and was struck by the fact that I now had enough material for my follow up book to the debut novel - a collection of 52 of the best of these stories. I never planned it this way, but now I have three collections published of something I had only embarked on as a way of showcasing my work to promote my novel!

I'm not sure exactly when I discovered kinetic typography. But it was the natural extension of my interest in typography and trying to make work that wasn't monolithic blocks of printed text. What I call non-linear fiction to match the non-linear thought processes of our minds. (It's only the written word that proceeds in orderly, syntactical fashion of words, sentences, paragraphs and pages. The thinking and speaking mind is a lot less regularly structured). I'd given much though to the shaping of the text on a page contributing to the narrative, feeding into the meaning. Think Mark Danielewski's "House of Leaves".for an example. But why restrict myself to the printed page for such things, especially when I could never realistically afford the bespoke printing costs, while Kindle formatting wouldn't allow it within its limited functionality.

Examples of kinetic typography videos abound, where the animation of the text adds nothing other than to echo the voice over. I wanted to produce a video where the very animation of the letters was crucial to the meaning of the narrative itself; that without it, the text would be much more the poorer. The animated letters weren't there as mere garnish, but informed the very meaning of the words they spelled out. In this case, the words were mutating and morphing into words that were close in the make up of the letters spelling them out, but with radically different meaning. So 'months' becomes 'mumps' and 'apposite' becomes 'opposite'.

Whenever I make videos around my writing, I always try to keep in mind that the video should have the same relationship to the writing work that videos do to the pop song; that is it's there ostensibly to promote the song, but it is an art work in its own right, because the visual medium is different to the aural one and a slavish reproduction of the song just wouldn't work. The same thing holds between the visual medium and the written one. But it goes further than that, digital literature can become a literary medium in its own right; such as I hope I demonstrate with the kinetic typography video and the graphics above. And yet all of these things were propelled initially through marketing conventionally written books made up of blocks of text. The distinction between marketing and creative writing and fiction is breaking down in the digital age.

Friday, 14 June 2013

All literature is fan fiction...

Writers of genre or commercial fiction can often be heard complaining about snobbery towards their work from writers of literary fiction and bemoaning that they are never recognised for literary prizes. For their part literary fiction writers can be heard bemoaning the huge sales figures of certain genre writers.

Yet both cohorts will unite in their scorn towards writers of Fan Fiction. Yet fan fiction is a well-established and successful (in terms of garnering significant numbers of readers) literary phenomenon. Other authors have no right to criticise it. As I said it is successful in its own terms, provides material that readers want to read and poses no competitive threat to writers of genre or literary fiction, as indeed neither of them pose a threat to each other. Readers will find and read what they choose to read, so writers (and marketers) cannot be tribal about these things and try and close off options for readers). If authors don't care to read fan fiction themselves, then simply don't read it. There is no need to rag on the literary form. I don't read fan fiction because I don't watch any of the shows or films that are usually the inspiration for them and if I have seen the odd movie, I don't tend to have the undying devotion to the characters or the actors in it. But I would still fight to my dying breath for the right of other writers to draw on those characters and scenarios in their own fictional output.

But the snobbery is not only misguided from an etiquette or self-interested point of view, it's also hypocritical.  All writing is a form of fan fiction. Any author might (or perhaps should) ask themselves what made them want to be a novelist? Chances are it was either some books or particular authors which inspired them. Read an interview with them and they'll offer up their favourite books. There are very few authors who come to writing without having first read formative works of literature, whatever their canon. We are all dwarves squatting on the shoulders of giants, for the novel has not changed significantly in its form since the first novels started appearing.

So when literary prize short-listed author Lloyd Jones calls his book "Mister Pip" which draws on both the character and plot of Dickens' "Great Expectations" we are asked to applaud its literariness not decry it as posh fan fiction. Or when Jasper Fforde writes his novels playing games with classic texts, we are asked to play spot the literary reference, not moan how derivative the characters feel. How many versions of William Burroughs or Charles Bukowski's works have you read in the fiction that followed them? Not intended as homages or pastiches, but as the outpourings of writers under their sway for their own literary education.

I have always felt that musicians are much more up front about their creative influences and how they draw on them in their work. It seems that the literary writers draw just as heavily, but far more furtively on their literary heroes, because rare is it that they openly acknowledge their sources, preferring instead to embed them and leave for literary detectives to discover. At least Fforde and Jones are explicit in acknowledging their source texts.

So next time a writer is sat at their keyboard, poised to slam the practitioners of fan fiction, take a breath and have a think about which writers you have drawn on in your own work and honour your fandom of your predecessors.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Type-O Negative - Friday Flash

I wax exposed to a nuclear weak and irradiated. Jet I sack tor any superpowers.

That is not to sly I cave suppered no ilk effects. Strange tyings hyphen to my speech.

Thy wards chat come oft my youth mute hate with calf-lice decry. Problem id, I fever knot whether ant cord I react fir decoys or nit. Which kill star uncharged add chose phat altar.

On by mint I dear emery lord raid property. I pant sell whet ores ore uddered prong.

O bring middle, contusion, chaos in my cake, end there's pimply dada I man do about if. Isotope Gird mould be my superzero nave. Schrodinger's Cut, is the cot alike or lead unseem in the licked box?

I do bind it old slat tie pecan protest stall weaves seal fords in plate, gust diffident owes. Ifs fandom, wangles leaning, bit whale bards kelp infant.

It's setting horse, the sepoy ie spending us. She fate or delay accepting mire betters.

Hell my sleaze. Cleave I bug yob

I was exposed to a nuclear leak and irradiated. Yet I lack for any superpowers.

That is not to say I have suffered no ill effects. Strange things happen to my speech.

The words that come out my mouth mutate with half-life decay. Problem is, I never know whether any word I reach for decays or not. Which will stay unchanged and those that alter.

In my mind I hear every word said properly. I can't tell what ones are uttered wrong. 

I bring muddle, confusion, chaos in my wake, and there's simply nada I can do about it. Isotope Girl would be my superhero name. Schrodinger's Cat, is the cat alive or dead unseen in the locked box? 

I do find it odd that the decay process still leaves real words in place, just different ones. It's random, mangles meaning, but whole words keep intact.

It's getting worse, the decay is speeding up. The rate of decay affecting more letters.

Help me please. Please I beg you.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Quickie Divorce

Quickie Divorce


Monday, 3 June 2013

Glossed In Translation - Friday Flash

The below is an experiment. I took the English paragraph I wrote, put it through Google translate in 6 different languages, copied and pasted the results back into Google translate and thence back into English. The original text inevitably undergoes some mutations in this process. Partly through the vagaries of Google translate itself, as presumably it's a translation programme that works by algorithm and word recognition, so that it will miss nuance and multi-shaded meaning words. While grammar always chops up and reconstitutes word orders. But the piece is also dealing with the metaphorical differences between diverse languages and cultures. Again nuances can wildly diverge between two differing languages. The text I wrote was about an unspecified liberation/terrorist organisation's demands around a captured hostage, denouncing an unspecified occupying/interventionist army in its land. The differences between the texts once put through the translator, hopefully represents a sort of "lost in translation", whether mechanical in source, or metaphorical. Two sides in conflict can rarely understand one another's language because of their wildly differing perspectives. 
Of course, Google Translate's claim to cover the world's language needs instantaneously is also a form of colonialism - as said, it gets things badly wrong in its translations, but also there are many language it overlooks and effectively marginalises by not offering them as part of its functionality. As a side note, MS Word did not allow me to reproduce the Khmer and Tamil scripts for their own language. Blogger wouldn't let me cut and paste the Khmer. Again that arbitrary cut off in action.


Communiqué: We parade this man before the eyes of the world. Your cowardly unmanned drones and bombs from 5 miles up may chop off one of our heads, but two more instantly spring up from the bloodied stump to replace it. You cannot defeat us. You call us a pit of vipers, but you do not possess the anti-venom to counteract us. Yet when we in turn come to behead this man, your populace lose their will to prosecute the fight. Their morale is sapped. Do not complain, what is the so called collateral damage of one man, compared to the computer guided many deaths and maimings you wreak on our innocents? You colonialists reap what you sow. No new head will sprout from his neck. No new head will grow from your decapitated empire. But this is our soil and we thrive and bloom in it, where you wither and perish. Consider the execution of this man as reparations. The truth and reconciliation committee, without the reconciliation. The first downpayment in blood on what we are owed for the rape of our land and people.

Српско-хрватски Communication: We parade the man before the world. Your cowardly unmanned drones and bombs than 5 miles can be cut off one of our heads, and the two immediately spring up from the bloody stump to replace it. They can not win. You call us the pit vipers, but do not have the anti-venom, that we oppose. However, when we came back to cut this man, your people lose their will to prosecute the fight. Their morale is sapped. Do not complain, what is called collateral damage of a man in relation to a computer guided many deaths and maimings are out on our innocent? You colonizers reap what you sow. No new head will emerge from the door. No new head will grow out of the kingdom beheaded. But this is our country and we thrive and flourish in it, which wither and disappear. Consider the execution of this man as odštetu.Komisija Truth and Reconciliation Commission, without pomirenja.Prvi participation in the blood of what is owed to rape our country and people.

中国的 Bulletin: We march in front of this man in the eyes of the world. Maybe you cowardly drones and bombs from five miles cut off our heads one but two sea instant pop from bloodied stump instead. You can not defeat us. You call us a pit of vipers, but you do not have anti-venom offset us. However, when we turn to behead this man, your people have lost their will to prosecute the fight. They have been weakened. Do not complain, what is called collateral damage a person, compared to a computer-guided deaths and maimings you vent on our innocent? Colonialists your choosing. No new head from his neck will germinate. No new growth from the decapitated head of the empire. However, this is our land, we grow, bloom where you wither and perish. Consider implementing this man, as compensation. Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there is no reconciliation. The first initial blood we owe our land and people raped.

العربية Statement: We procession this man in front of the eyes of the world. You have the cowardly drones and bombs from 5 miles to seal may once out of our heads, but two more immediately spring up from the stump of blood to replace him. You can not defeat us. You can contact us pit vipers, but you do not have anti-venom to face us. Even now, when we in turn come to decapitate this man, the masses lose your free will to prosecute the battle. And sapped morale. Do not complain, what is the so-called collateral damage of one man, compared with the computer directed many of the deaths and maiming that wreak on our innocent? I colonists reap what you sow. A new President will not sprout from his neck. A new President will not grow from the Empire decapitated your. But this is our land and we thrive and bloom in it, where you wither and die. Consider the implementation of this man is compensation. To the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, without reconciliation. Advance payment for the first time in the blood on what we owed ​​to rape our land and our people.

தமிழ் Report: The man in front of the eyes of the world, we march. Your cowardly fired from unmanned drones and up to 5 miles with our heads cut off, but instead immediately bloodied by two more in the direction from the spring. You can not defeat us. A pit vipers us to call you, but you do not want to poison us against the opposition. We will behead them when this man, you struggle to prosecute people lose their wishes. Their morale sapped. No complaint, you ruin the computer guidance on what our innocent compared to many deaths and maimings, a man is called collateral damage? What you sow you reap colonialists. The new leadership will sprout from his neck. Empire with your arm grows from the new leadership. But it is our soil, and we will thrive and bloom, where you wither, die. Consider reparations to fulfill this man. Without compromising the truth and reconciliation commission. What do we pay our land mass rape in the blood first downpayment.

Khmer Communiqué: We parade this man before the eyes of the world. Dachahangkear cowardly unmanned and bombs from 5 miles to chop off our heads, but two more immediately spring up from the stump bloodied to replace it. You can not get rid of us. You call us the pit of vipers, but you do not have administrator anti-venom to counteract. Yet when we turn to behead a man of the people lost their will to prosecute the fight. Their morality is sapped., Do not complain is the collateral damage of so-called man nothing compared to the death of many computers to disabled people and wreak on our innocent? colonialists, you reap what you sow. No new shoots from his neck. No new growth from the United Kingdom, decapitated., But this is our land and we grow and bloom in it where you wither and perish. Consider the execution of a man as compensation. Truth and reconciliation committee without karophsaahphsaa_cheate. Blood in the first downpayment on what we are owed for violations of our land and people.

فارسی  Announcement: Our parade him before the eyes of the world. You cowardly drones and drones and bombs than 5 miles until we could chop one head, but two immediately spring from the bloody stump instead. You can defeat us. You give us a pit of vipers, but you do not have to deal with anti-venom. But when we come to turn a man beheaded, people lose their will to pursue the fight. Their morale is sapped. Do not complain, what is a man called Collateral Damage, compared with the computer-driven maimings deaths of many innocent people, our revenge on you? You reap what you sow colonists. No new head sprouting from his neck. You cut any new chief of the empire grow. But this is our land and we grow and blossom in it, where you will wither and perish. Consider the man's death as compensation. Committee truth, no reconciliation. The first payment on the blood of what we owe to rape the land and our people.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Never Mind The Jackson Pollocks - 10 Songs about artists

Lyricists namecheck their literary heroes often enough, but a few also honour their inspirational artists too. Here's 10 artists immortalised in song.

1) "Andy Warhol" - David Bowie
Written when Bowie went to New York and hung out at The Factory with the artist. Apparently Warhol was not best pleased with what Bowie saw as his tribute. God it was if Bowie had never heard the Velvet Underground's album. This live version of the song is bizarre in the extreme, starting out as jungle or dub step almost, before reverting to it's carnivalesque pub stomp from the original Hunky Dory album.

2) "Pablo Picasso" - Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers

Jonathan Richman goes to the heart of the matter and ditches Picasso's artistic merits, instead concentrating on the man's magnetism. And I love it. The track was used in the film "Repo Man"

3) "David Hockney's Diaries" - Television Personalities
The king of ice cool art here honoured by the British kings of indie lo-fi pop. Note, despite the proud/ironic boast of the cover art "They could have been bigger than the Beatles", the TVPs were so far ensconced in their niche that couldn't even be bigger than the Television Personalities.

4) "Born Toulouse Lautrec" - New Bomb Turks
Slightly odd alliance of US prole-punkers and fine art, but there you go.

5) "Vincent" - Don Maclean
Not only does Don dedicate the song title to the famous artist, the song proceeds to describe Van Gogh's paintings.

6) "Music For Jackson Pollock - Morton Feldman
because they not only knew each other, but the avant garde muso wanted to draw parallels with the revolutionary artist. A fertile period in US arts with the two art forms informing one another. Plinky plink music for slithers of dripping paint. A perfect symbiosis.

7) "Music For Marcel Duchamp" - John Cage
More plinky plink minimalism to honour the prankster godfather of the avant garde, he who recycled a toilet urinal and made it art, Marcel Duchamp. Cage wrote a piece of music without any notes or sounds at all. The "players" were still instructed to turn over the music score even though they weren't playing  their instruments.

8) "(I Want To Be) Tracey Emin" - These New Puritans
Quite jaunty tribute to the queen of jaunty trash art aesthetic herself, la Dame Tracey. Their genre is described as "Art Rock" which is quite fitting really. Don't forget that many of the early punk rock bands in the UK were formed by art college students.

9) "Painting By Chagall" - The Weepies
An example of lazy writing. Why come up with your own metaphor when you can just reference the style of a proper artist like Chagall. Dreck.

10) "Goodbye Toulouse" - The Stranglers
And so Toulouse gets 2 songs dedicated to him in this chart. This song doesn't really work for me, the wistful lyrical description of the street scenes painted by Lautrec, propelled by an ultra modern bass thrum, that's more stampede than café flaneur.