Growing up Carpenter

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Like many people growing up in the 1980s, a trip to the corner shop for a video on a Saturday night was an integral part of my weekend. Of course it wasn’t me usually doing the renting, which meant a fair old smattering of sci-fi and horror – such was the preference of my Dad. Naturally, I’ve inherited his love for the weird and wonderful, which was why I recently found myself at a concert by the horror master himself, John Carpenter.

For those not in the know, as well as directing his films, Carpenter composed and performed the score for the vast majority of them himself. As far as critical acclaim goes, his crowning achievement is of course Halloween, and, it was this timeless chiller that brought him fame. But as the 80s turned into the 90s, the fickle beast that is Hollywood turned its bristly back on Carpenter, which is why I’m especially glad to see him making such a success with his music.

This isn’t merely a solo show though. Backed by a band of skilled musicians, including his son Cody creating a double synth attack, Carpenter takes to the stage to the strains of Escape from New York. It’s another of his most celebrated creations, and it’s great to hear its soundtrack skillfully fleshed out by a live band, and to see Snake Pliskin’s antics re-writ large on the video screens above Carpenter and co.

Pliskin was so memorably played by Kurt Russell – a regular go-to lead man for Carpenter, who also features in my personal favourite, The Thing. This especially foreboding theme fits the movie perfectly and it’s great to hear the Septuagenarian synth-lover play it, even though it was the work of the great Ennio Morricone – something Carpenter explains to the audience beforehand. Throughout the evening we’re treated to pretty much every Carpenter theme, along with a number of old JC’s stand-alone compositions taken from his lost themes albums. “Be careful driving home, because Christine’s out there”, quips Carpenter, before the soundtrack to every second-hand car buyer’s worst nightmare brings the night to a close.

It’s gratifying to see that Carpenter’s carved out his own creepy niche performing his music in later years and even more so that his recently-released Halloween sequel has received largely positive reviews.

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A Summer of Verne

Jules Verne

I may have been familiar with some of his most popular work thanks to the old film adaptions I watched my childhood, but until this summer, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read anything by Jules Verne.

There, I said it. Feels better to get it out in the open. I ‘m still only two books better off, but what an amazing pair of books they are. It’s admittedly a massively overused phrase but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and its Sequel The Mysterious Island really have stood the test of time as pieces of literature. A good story is a good story and will always trump a work which falls over itself to shoe-horn as many fancy words in as it can. That’s not to say Verne didn’t show literary flair but his emphasis was always on keeping the reader gripped and taking them on a fantastical journey.

All the while I was reading, I was reminding myself that they were translations too, and what skill Verne must’ve had to ensure the many works he wrote in his native French could be enjoyed by everyone. They’re a fascinating time capsule as well, from a time when it wasn’t easy to visit other countries, experience other cultures, or an everyday occurrence to meet someone with a different colour of skin.

In 20,000 Leagues…, Verne not only introduced one of popular culture’s most enduring figures in the enigmatic Captain Nemo, but one of its greatest feats of engineering, his mighty vessel the Nautilus. We take the idea of the submarine for granted now, but in this book, Verne pretty much invented it. The ideas and concepts he introduced in the book surrounding the Nautilus must’ve been nothing short of revolutionary at the time and it’s quite an experience to read about it now, knowing that at the time of publication, no-one had ever heard of such a thing before.

The Mysterious Island has also received the film adaption treatment – twice – but it was of course the original which caught my attention as a child. In it, Verne carefully weaves a stand-alone tale into the continuation of Nemo’s story seamlessly and extremely satisfyingly. In some ways it’s an even more gripping read, and it’s fascinating to behold the ingenuity of its protagonists as they adapt to life on their new-found accidental home.

If you’re a literary stranger to Jules Verne, I’d highly recommend these two great helpings of escapism.

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October 8, 2018 · 8:41 am

What Harper meant to me

harper-lee-tease-today-160219Like many people all over the world, I was saddened to hear the news of Harper Lee’s death recently.

Every time I hear her name I’m transported back to the classroom, which was the place where I was introduced to this remarkable story of courage, prejudice and human nature. Of course, the race message will always be the novel’s strongest voice but we should not forget that it speaks with many. The sense of mystery when I first heard the children talk of Boo Radley was one that I identified with only too well. I think many of us will have memories of ‘that wierd bloke who skulked around the town’ when we were kids, or the neighbourhood recluse next door but three.

I already knew that prejudice was bad when I read the book, but it brought home to me the hypocrisy of people who, on the surface, appear honest and upstanding yet project their paranoia and insecurities so they manifest themselves in disrupting and harmful ways. To Kill a Mockingbird was of course a lesson within an English lesson. One of human nature and the inexorable presence that it is. Above all though, it was and will always be a damned good story, which in the end is the most important thing.

So, thanks Harper Lee for opening all our eyes. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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Why do we need editors?

brown book page

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You know that last book you read? Did you really enjoy it?

Did something you couldn’t quite put your finger on make it just that little bit more… readable? Sure, you’ve read books with more characters and loads of detailed description and they were OK, but there was something about this which really worked.

Okay, maybe it was down to that most reliable of things which makes a book – a good story. Chances are though, it was edited too.

“What!?” I hear you cry incredulously. “You mean some things aren’t edited?”

Yes, really. There’s no taking raw talent away from a writer but no matter how original the idea, how good the narrative or how strong the characters, a good editor can be the difference between your e-book getting up there in the Amazon star ratings and getting your initially enthusiastic readers a little lost along the way.

After all, we live in busy times. Many readers want to dedicate their hard-earned book time to something which they think is worth their while.

This may all seem obvious, but the truth is, many authors who’ve put blood, sweat and tears (not to mention time) into their novels have done so without the help of an editor. The story’s still there but it’s missing something and it’s that missing ‘something’ that could be the difference between your reader abandoning ship for another of the many books out there on the great Amazonian sea.

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Ah yes, the blog

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I don’t just edit, I write things too.

Don’t we all though? Blogs are the everyman’s mouthpiece, the great leveller, a licence to waffle on about anything that takes our fancy. Here I’ll be doing just that; sharing my opinions on books I’ve read or am reading, (no spoilers), offering tips and generally prattling on.

Wind me up and watch me trundle about for a bit.

 

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Literary musings

Musicians+Electric+Picnic+z_SnXWsJhr3xSo what am I reading at the moment? Well apart from work, not as much as I’d like!

For sheer escapism and more than a little political history, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (American date format you understand) takes some beating. Say what you want about Stevie, he tells a cracking yarn and this ambitious what-if about a man’s mission to foil the Kennedy assassination plot is every bit the spectacle you’d hope it to be.  I had my doubts on how King would tackle such a historical legend but crazy as it sounds, this story isn’t really about Handsome Jack, more so the book’s protagonist, his issues with time travel and very significantly, the people he meets on his travels.

Everyone’s favourite punk rock nihilist, sometime Hollywood actor and successful spoken word performer to boot, Henry Rollins is someone I’ve been wanting to read for a while. Broken Summers is a fascinating and very accurate look at life on the road, consisting of Hank’s tour diaries from various times in his life, while Black Coffee Blues is a stream of consciousness collection of short (in some cases, positively minute) stories, dream recollections and tour diaries to boot. I found Summers far more satisfying, possible because of what I was doing while reading it, and Black Coffee a little too fragmented, but certainly extremely thought provoking. Hell, I love a narrative and Black Coffee isn’t really about that – more of a ‘dip-in’ job. Gearing up for Black Coffee Blues 2.

Just started the much-touted Ready Player One from Ernest Cline. As a child of the 80s and a Science Fiction geek to boot, know I’m going to love this!

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