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Apr 19 2014

Monkey business

Took a very pleasant trip to the Monkey Forest at Trentham today. I think next to house rabbits, monkeys are a pretty close favourite beast of the wild. ;)

What’s lovely to see at Monkey Forest is that the Macaques are kept in a natural reserve and allowed to roam freely, rather than being cooped up in cages and behind glass. I’m not expert, by any means, but from what I could observe the monkeys looked happy, settled and well cared for. It was also very gratifying to see how respectful visitors to the park were.

We managed to get up close and personal with a lot of the park’s inhabitants and they were a joy to see and photograph. Below, there’s a mini-gallery.

If you want to check out Monkey Forest for yourself then here’s a link:

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Apr 16 2014

Short, not sweet

Short stories have been on my mind of late, and my keyboard. I have a slew of them that I’ve been gradually writing, finishing and second drafting. Three down and counting.

I’ve learned a lot throughout the process. There’s nothing that focuses the mind quite so much on the actual story aspect of writing than a short story. There’s not a lot of time for character development or meaty subplots.

By their nature, short stories are… erm… short. You need to get on with it as soon as you keystrokes manifest on the blank page.

Lots of exposition is a big no-no. Don’t use it as a way to pack a lot of story in to what is a short form piece of fiction. That’s not to say you can’t suggest a bigger story is going on, just do it more organically. The show not the tell.

Tell is very boring. I skip the tell. Don’t write that if it’s avoidable or doesn’t serve some cleverer, loftier purpose.

Short stories are a great way to home your craft. Firing off one after the other really focuses the mind and creativity. Ideas are key, cool twists, scenarios. Fast, pithy, easy to get into, shocking, surprising. A good short story has all of this. Writing lots of them one after the other is a really good way to test your story creation ability.

Two novels with similar traits, you can mask behind subplot and characters – it doesn’t matter as much. Most genre fiction readers like more of the same anyway. Short stories, though… ah, that’s different. Every one should be a fresh take, a fresh scenario with something different to say.

It’s a great writing discipline to work on. It’ll hone your craft.

Make sure you know the difference between what is really just a vignette (not self-contained, a piece of a larger fiction not seen or expressed in the writing, or… *gulp* a bit of colour fluff) and an actual short story. A reader needs to be able to appreciate it without having to read anything else. Personally, I also like short stories than give something more to the completist reader, the person who reads everything about a given faction. Connectivity and cheeky Easter eggs are fun to write in. I like rewarding the diligent fans, the True Believers.

So, short stories. Give it a go. Learn something about the craft. Or, if you’re not a writer, I’ve got a stack of them coming up. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’m enjoying writing them.


Apr 13 2014

Talking about darkness

There’s a shadow over most writers, I think. A darkness. It’s a creature, an anima that stirs from time to time. It can’t be controlled or quantified, it just is.

Doubt, fatigue, dare I say.. depression. I sometimes feel a weight of sadness overcome me. I’m reminded of all I’ve lost in my life, the relationships that ended and the latent grief associated with them. I recall the memories of my dad, some sixteen years passed now, and my grandad, who left us more recently.

I embrace this darkness, because it’s a part of me, and I believe helps me to connect with the darker, more tragic elements sometimes required of the stories I write.

It’s an odd sort of melancholy, and tough to qualify. I guess some people would call it a funk, or burn out. It rises when I’ve been working over hard, trying to hit a tough deadline. Sometimes it shows up if I’ve seen a particular film or listened to a song that holds emotional connotations in kind with this feeling.

Whatever the cause, the only cure I’ve found is expression. I talk to my loved ones, my closest friends, I write (rambling junk like what’s before you now).

I am not much of an open book, I wear armour. I’ve had to forge it thick and strong over the years, otherwise I might not have emerged on the other side. I’m not one to share my woes on Facebook and make the social networks a forum for the expression of every minute issue and tribulation, so I’m trying not to lock this down to an incident or issue (there isn’t one I can peg it to, it’s not about that), rather I’m letting you into a glimpse of my cathartic process.

It’s a form of therapy, it feels therapeutic. And as I talk and type, I can feel the darkness recede like a shadow retreats from the sun, which is a little ironic as I’ve always preferred a roiling storm to a sunlit day. Still, the analogy doesn’t work otherwise.

Thanks for listening.


Apr 13 2014

Christmas with the Joker/The Last Laugh

For the second instalment in my Batman: The Animated Series retrospective I’ve actually combined two episodes for the first disc of season one as a lot of the themes are ideas are similar.

I’ll be honest, although he’s one of my favourite all-time villains, let alone Batman villains, I struggled a little with these early episodes.

There is a wonderfully, campy whimsical side to any Joker story, and these two are no exceptions. One is a really a subversive Christmas special (I won’t say which one…), whereas the other is a classic Smilex gassing the populace of Gotham, reminiscent in tone to the classic Joker poisoning Gotham’s water supply story in the comics.

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Both these episodes are at their best in the way they subvert and expectations and take sudden dark twists, often capriciously. Joker’s wit and joviality is disarming; his antics are playful and juvenile but they harder a much more sinister motive.

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Of all the Batman TAS episodes I’ve watched thus far (and I’m only five in), the two Joker episodes are the closest I think to the 60′s, if perhaps only in their tone and not, thankfully, their depiction of the Batman.

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What we seldom get to see is much in the way of depth and character development. Joker is meant to be an anarchic force of nature, an ‘agent of chaos’ as was quoted in one particularly good cinematic representation of the character; it’s appropriate that we don’t get to look into the window of his psyche. That’s what makes him so dangerous, he can’t be psychoanalysed and out thought, not in the way that Batman can with most of his other rogues. He isn’t rational and doesn’t want anything, save for to cause carnage all in the name of a good joke.

Joker gets some darker, better episodes as the series progresses, but both Christmas with the Joker and The Last Laugh operate as a solid primer for the relationship between Batman and the Clown Prince of Crime.


Apr 11 2014

On Leather Wings

Here we have it then, as promised, the first of my retrospective looks at the original Batman: The Animated Series.

Episode one, as appears on the DVD boxed set – ‘On Leather Wings’

What I love about this initial episode is that is has all the wonderful trappings of a classic monster movie.

Batman has face many foes during his time as the Caped Crusader, not all entirely early, not all entirely human, and not just crime bosses and lunatic clowns.

Kirk Langstrom, aka the Man-Bat is one of my favourite of the more fringe Rogues Gallery. He’s ultimately a pitiable figure, a victim of his own chiropteran serum that turns him from mild-mannered scientist to hulking, bat-like horror.

OnLeatherWings

There’s a wonderful parallel here between the superstition of the Gotham PD about whether the Batman is a snarling, winged horror and the actual real deal itself.

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A recurring theme within the Batman animated series is that of monsters; more specifically, what makes a monster? Gotham has many, and they don’t all need serums to come out and show their darker sides. What’s interesting, I think, about Langstrom is that here is a man that becomes a monster through weakness. His monstrous side is overt, it’s obvious and primal. Unlike many other of Gotham’s monstrous denizens, who appear as men (albeit garishly attired) but are even more hideous within, Langstrom is just a fool whose hubris gets the better of him.

I think one of the stand-out moments in this episode is where the night guard first encounters the Man-Bat. His look of horror, the physical reaction and the way the scene is directed and ‘shot’ is remarkable, terrifying and stunning all in the same few seconds of animation.

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Bear in mind that this is a Gotham City that is new to the Batman and so the Dark Knight has yet to cement his reputation with the GCPD, especially the likes of Harvey Bullock. Gordon, of course, knows better, but it’s not until he sees both bats (costumed and otherwise) fighting it out over Gotham City’s brooding skyline, replete with zeppelins and strafing search lamps, that Jim knows for sure that the creature terrorising his city is in fact a monster and not the mysterious ‘Batman’.

A great opening episode, I’d mark ‘On Leather Wings’ as one of my favourites from the first series.