I Love Film 400ISO

Photography’s one of those things that I’m not sure I like, but have an abiding interest in. Mostly this manifests in obsessively searching reviews, but sometimes I will actually take pictures. I’m still unsure where I stand on the film vs digital divide, but when I feel like the former I’ve been using an Olympus Trip 35.

Until now I’ve mainly shot black and white using Ilford HP5, which hasn’t quite had the contrast I would like. I’m going to try XP2 next, but in the meantime bunged a roll of colour film I bought from the great shop at The Photographer’s Gallery in Soho.

Unfortunately, I’ve thrown away the box and I could have sworn it was branded as I Love Film, but searches for the brand have come up with nothing. Next time I’m in the west end, I’ll have a look. It accentuates reds and yellows, although not as much as I was expecting. I shot the entire roll on what I was assured would be the last sunny day of the year.

Vimeo

Without wanting to sound overly pretentious, I’d like to think that I’m more of a Vimeo viewer than a Youtube one. I’d prefer to watch short films and experimental music videos than vlogs and ten minutes of unboxing consumer electronics. The problem, though, is that Vimeo just doesn’t work for me. That’s not a comment on metrics, demographics or UI it’s just the fact that every single Vimeo video I try to watch buffers and stops playback. I’ve tried a little bit of research to see if there’s anything I can do to assist, but disabling ad blockers and privacy shields does nothing. Being on my relatively stable connection is no better than the flaky coffee shop wifi and I’m left with a bunch of bookmarked videos that I’m never, ever going to see, simply because I don’t want the same experience of twenty seconds of viewing followed by the spinning circle of frustration.

This is a particular shame, as I’d really like to get Youtube out of my life entirely. The only thing it has going for it is ubiquity, which is also its downfall. One thing follows another follows another and it’s all so incredibly boring. I’d really like to get off the treadmill and, being how I am, I need at least another running track to go on to.

Spoilers and Screamers

There’s a trend on Amazon at the moment for including review quotes and synopses in the title, which my wife (a former publishing executive) dubbed ‘screamers’. You know the sort of thing: The House Down the Street - ‘Unputdownable’ says the Sunday Times, Purgatory - The #1 Mystery for fans of ’The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, Sarah’s One Regret - A twisty thriller with a shocking twist!.

That last one is the one that bothers me the most. Is it really a twist if you’ve been told from the first moment you see the book that it’s coming? It drives me bananas and if I was in the thriller business I like to think I would try to insist that my publisher wouldn’t mention this in the blurb, or - at least - the title. I’d fail, though, because there’s good data that suggest screamers increase sales. That’s why they do it. Obviously.

So, I hate any mention of twists.

Really, I do.

But I have to say that Robert Harris’ “Conclave” has one hell of a twist. I mean, it really fucking does. The book’s about the election of a new pope and there’s some political machinations and backroom dealings, but then there’s a revelation that’s so far out of left field that it’s positively antipodean. I’m not sure I can actually recommend the book on that basis, but as twists go it may be the best one ever. Seriously. Imagine the end of “The Sixth Sense” wasn’t that he was dead, but that he was a robot. That’s the level of “whhhaaaaaattt?!” that we’re dealing with. Although great, it’s not my favourite ending to a book ever. That remains Allan Folson’s “The Day After Tomorrow”, which ends with something like: “And there, laying in the snow, was the frozen head of Adolf Hitler.”

Oh, spoilers obvs.

Sometimes You Need Other People

I’ve been feeling a bit lost in the rewrite of a long project at the moment, consumed with the usual questions (Is this the right project? Am I writing too much? Am I writing too little? Do I have any writing ability in the first place? Should I be doing something else? What would be better/easier/more commercial? etc). Luckily, I know some people and when it gets too much, I can meet up for a coffee with them and we swap notes. What I find in these situations isn’t that I get useful information from them or they show me the way out of the hole, just that everyone has their own manias and while I may be struggling with structure, someone else is struggling with piles of research. Everyone writes in a different way, which means the problems are both specific and universal. No-one is sure that they’re doing the right thing, we’re all guided by instinct, scrabbling around in the dark.

There’s that old saying about if everyone were to come together and put their worries in a pile, everyone would take their own ones home with them (I’m paraphrasing here, from a half-remembered episode of “The Office”). I may sometimes want to tear what little hair I have out of my head due to what I’m working on, but I’d rather that than stacks of research on Iranian architecture that I don’t know what to do with.

My Secret Book

This post was first published on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers website to promote the release of My Secret Dog.

It wasn't supposed to be published. Honest it wasn't. I was just trying to get my sister a birthday present… 

My sister Lois has always wanted a dog, but she lives in central London and keeping a pet is not only impractical, it's specifically forbidden by the terms of her tenancy. (To avoid confusion, I should mention here that Lois is my older sister.) From this, I had an idea to write a story about a little girl in a similar position who goes the extra step and tries to keep a dog hidden from her mum and her teachers. I wrote it in one sitting and even though I failed all my art classes in school, I knew it needed some illustrations to break up the text. After a few terrible, terrible attempts at drawing a dog, I came up with this:

It wouldn't win any portraiture awards, but there was no denying it was a dog. More specifically, it felt like the dog. Once I had that, the rest of the illustrations followed. Before too long, I had a collection of pages with text and pictures that I printed out, stapled together and gave to my sister on her birthday. She liked it, so I breathed a sigh of relief, put My Secret Dog in a drawer and left it there. As far as I was concerned, the folded, photocopied sheets were as much of a book as it was ever going to be. 

Every now and then, I would take it out and have a look at it. I liked the story very much, and even liked the pictures (most days), but I didn't think there was any chance of ever getting it published. Although it was a children's book - it revolved around school and parents - I wasn't sure if it was really a children's book. While there was a lot of fun in the story, there were certain parts of it that felt... sad.

There's a persistent image of children's books being fluffy and cuddly things, full of Flopsy-Wopsy-Doo-Doos who sing songs about daydreams and toffee apples. Those stories don't interest me now and, honestly, nor did they when I was a kid. The books I liked then showed that life wasn't always simple. This was in line with my own life experience. Even at a young age, I knew that parents divorced, mums got ill and living on benefits was hard. (Which wasn't to say that it was all bad. I also knew that my family loved me, Knight Rider was skill and the world was full of fantastic things that didn't require a lot of money - library books being the number one example.)

It turns out that while the Flopsy-Wopsy-Doo-Doos of the world have their place, the children's market is more expansive and inclusive than I ever really realised. There are all sorts of places where other kinds of stories find a home - stories that are more complex,  nuanced, or deal with the sort of difficult issues that children face in real life. One of those places is Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 

I came to work here as a design assistant in 2015, shepherding books through the various stages of production after an author has handed over the manuscript - namely, typesetting, revision and publication. This meant I got to see everything from dense reference works on traditional chinese medicine, to social work texts about domestic violence. The titles that always grabbed my attention, though, were the children's books - thoughtful, engaging titles like Fiona MacDonald's A New Day or Richy K. Chandler's You Make Your Parents SUPER HAPPY! They dealt with difficult subjects like bereavement and divorce and still retained their distinctive authorial voices. It made me think that maybe there was a place for My Secret Dog after all. While it's perhaps less directly issue-led than these other books, it does feel at home in their company and I'm very proud to be amongst the authors on the JKP children's list. 

I hope people like My Secret Dog. Even after all this time, I'm still very fond of that sneaky girl and her guileless mutt. It may not have all the answers for the issues it raises (secrets, responsibility, kindness to animals), but it does start a conversation. That, I think, is what good kids books are meant to do. 

Godzilla – Live on Stage

Just watched Shin Godzilla and I have thoughts. This 2016 monster movie is a slightly weird mix of radioactive urban destruction and… meetings. I’d say the split is about 30/70 (which makes sense when you think about budgets) and, honestly, both elements were equally compelling to me. It’s the first Godzilla film I’ve seen (although I did have plans to see the new one in the cinema) and it’s made me think that I’d really like to do something like this as a stage play. I’ve been doing some tests with shadow puppets at the moment and that could work for the big monster bits. The idea of a bunker, where people try to work out what to do about this incredible catastrophe, with reports coming in of impossible things… well, I’d watch that.

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