What Have I Been Working On Over Christmas?

Starting with the monthly theme for the writers’ group, ‘Renewal’, I came up with a piece called ‘A New Look For Clover Street’.  First off I’ll let you into a secret, this was not my first attempt.  ‘Driving licence’ was already written pending editing before it got pulled to pieces.

Deciding I could not be bothered to fix the problems, I started afresh.  Within minutes I had a new idea and I was soon writing.  By the end of the day the new piece, provisionally called ‘Clover Street’, was ready for editing.  Having got to that stage, I took the time to reflect and came to the conclusion that I was much happier with the new story.  I left it for a week then edited the piece before submission.

Other than that, I have another story in what appears to be long term editing (in other words, there are issues but I can’t be bothered to sort them out yet!).  Sooner or later I’ll get around to it and release ‘The Pink Salamander’ onto my dear, unsuspecting readership.

Those who have followed my blog for a while will have noticed a significant increase in output over the last week.  A few days before Christmas (which feels such a long time ago now), I set myself the challenge of blogging every day for the Christmas period.  The first day I sat down to blog, I found I had plenty of ideas but nothing to write about.

It sounds odd, I know, but you have to experience it to understand it.  To make a long story short (this from a guy who can never tell short anecdotes!), I decided on a film review.  Like all things, I found it was a matter of discipline and of giving myself the time to do it.

Now that I’m at the end of the week, I can look back and say I’ve really enjoyed it.  So much so that I want to increase my regular output beyond the *ahem* once a week blog I normally do.  We shall see what the future holds.

Throwing Off My Mental Shackles

So there I am in my local bookshop browsing away when I happen to listen in on a conversation.  A man and a woman were discussing their Christmases. With my over-active imagination, it sounds like they are tired of living to excess.  Parties galore are a thing of recent past.  They move on and talk about presents and walks and friends and happiness.

That’s when the feeling of inadequacy hits me.  The questions arise; what did I do for Christmas? Where have I been, what have I done?  The answer, not a lot.  On the surface that is the case, anyway.

When I returned to the flat, I took the time to think about what I have done.  Some might consider it too much, others, not enough.  Whatever they think, by comparing myself I risk losing my sanity.

I am who I am, but there are times when I’m not always comfortable with that.  I strive to better myself but I am in danger of destroying myself in the process.  This year has seen a dramatic change in my life.  From a man who was little more than a hermit two years ago, I found myself going out countless times.  Next year, I have plans to change my life once more.  As I have learned though, plans are no good if you don’t set them in motion.

I’d like to end now with a phrase found in a fortune cookie

‘The greatest battles are that with our own minds.’

Take care everyone, wishing you all a happy new year, wherever you are.

Star Wars, Episode VII; The Force Awakens

From the beginning this film wants to be like it’s earliest ancestors.  I can say now that it does a very good job of it.  Many elements feel like they have been ripped from ‘A New Hope’ but there is just enough to make the movie different.

For me, the two stars of the film are Rey and BB-8.  Daisy Ridley (Rey) acts like she belongs in the world.  We discover her, scavenging for parts on the desert world of Jakku.  She is, by any measure, independent and very feisty.  Later on, with Finn by her side, it is her who leads the way.  When they part company at  Maz Kanata’s castle, it is interesting to see that she is looking down on Finn.  It is at this point that Finn reveals his secret, but I feel more is going on here.

BB-8 on the other hand is easily the most loveable of the new characters.  His little bleeps, chirps and the way he moves his head will win anybody over.  Other than following the humans about, however, I wish he had actively taken part.

Even if Finn had not bumped into Rey, I would quite happily have followed the feisty woman and her dutiful droid on their adventures.  This is good as the dialogue isn’t always up to par.  Then again, it is never so bad as to distract from the story.  Talking of which, there are some lighter moments sprinkled throughout.  Doing this made the characters feel human, even the stormtroopers.

Watching Adam Driver playing Kylo Ren, I got the impression that he is struggling with who he is and who he wants to be.  Is he, as Rey says, afraid he will not be as strong as his grandfather?  Quite possibly.  Living up to his image would be a tough act for anyone to follow.

Episode VII does a grand job of mixing together  the personal stories with the big.  Yet again I have heard people saying that it was overhyped, but in my opinion it is a damn good film.  Certainly I didn’t feel as let down as I did with the last three movies.

If you plan to go but have not seen it yet, you will not be wasting your money.  It gnaws at you, drawing you in and when it’s done, it makes you want more.

And Then There Were None, Part 3; The End

Well, what can I say except that my prediction was correct.  This was a truly absorbing drama.  Just when you think you have a character down a new piece of information is revealed which sheds a whole new light.  They are not the picture of innocence but are just as guilty as the rest of them.  I can see why people consider this to be Agatha’s best work. I can tell you now, if you’ve not read the book, you are unlikely to guess the killer.

Throughout the last episode the same mental torture chases after it’s victims.  This series, my friends, is not for the fainthearted.  It is gruesome, bloody and will make you think twice about going to an island with nine strangers.

Both Agatha Christie and indeed the writer who adapted it for the screen, Sarah Phelps, should be commended.  It isn’t just excellent, it is downright fabulous.

So, to finally put you out of your misery, I will reveal who the true killer is.  The one person who has been methodically slaughtering the others, sometimes in a bloodless way, other times not so much.  Our friend, the killer is

“Hey, how did you get in here?  You can’t possibly exist, you’re not real.  What do you think you’re doing?”

I back away from the computer slowly.

“Look, it’s not what you think, I wasn’t really going to tell them, it’s just a big joke.  End on a cliffhanger, that sort of thing.”

I laugh nervously.  The look in their eye is menacing.  They’ve done it before, they would have no trouble bumping me off too.  I look around hoping to catch sight of a weapon, even something to defend myself.  The first thing that comes in sight is a pillow.

‘A pillow?  What am I going to do with that, batter him to death?’ I think.

Then it hits me, the pen.  That which I had used to create my own stories has been used to end mine.  Turning, I look down and see the silvery glint as the shaft catches the light.  I can feel the other end stuck in my throat.  Air tries to push it’s way past, but it isn’t happening.

The last thing I see is the killer writing on the page I had been working on.  One word, designed to obfuscate, to confuse unless you knew what it meant.



And Then There Were None, Part 2; The horror continues

It seems to me that this mini series is erring on the side of mental torture and horror (quite the obvious statement if you’ve seen it, I know).  Each character despite their surface appearances (and isn’t this a classic portrayal of the stiff upper lip from that period?) are haunted by their past deeds.  We are treated, if that is the correct word, to the Doctor’s particular horror in the first episode where we see a hospital trolley, a body covered with a sheet & liberally splashed with blood.  Clearly such a scene will haunt even the hardiest of souls.  Which is exactly what we have seen in this episode.

Interestingly, two of the characters have come to accept their fate.  Perhaps they are tired of living out their pasts and want to let it go.  They know that their time is up and will not resist.  For those who are left, fear grips time and again bringing finger pointing to a new level.

A weapon has gone missing and the remaining characters resort to searching all the rooms together.  Trust has been shattered as each person strives for survival.  Only Charles Dance’s character seems unperturbed by what is happening.  Perhaps because he has already lived his life.

Of the remaining cast, three could be classed as respectable members of society; a judge, a doctor and a policeman.  Dare we dismiss them from our list of potential candidates for killer?  I think not.

Who do I think is the killer?  I think I’ll keep my guess close to my chest for now.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned from Agatha Christie, it’s never who you think it is.

And Then There Were None: A Review of the BBC Drama Mini Series

Last night saw the premiere of the first episode of the mini series based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name.  I need to point out right now that I have not read the book so this review will not be a comparison between the two.

The story is this-Ten strangers are invited to an island under false pretenses on the eve of world war two, what for? Nobody knows.  They all have one thing in common, each has a secret that has been discovered by their mysterious host, Ulfric Norman Owen.  Within the space of an evening they find they have a killer in their midst.  They must find the killer before it is too late.

First and foremost I’d like to say this, if the other two episodes are as good as the first, then the BBC is onto a winner.  Last night’s episode wasn’t just engaging, it was absorbing.  While they started from a strong position by picking this story, it could easily have been let down by bad acting.  With the likes of Sam Neill, Charles Dance and Miranda Richardson though, you know you are going to be watching something wonderful.  For me though, it was Anna Maxwell Martin’s performance of Mrs. Rogers that stole every scene she was in.

Her relationship with Mr. Rogers, the butler, had driven her close to edge, even before they arrive on the island.  As such she displayed heartbreaking obsequiousness that was tough to watch.  I didn’t just feel sorry for her, I wanted to remove her from the band of vultures to a place where she could get better.  As for the others, Agatha Christie has imbued almost all of them with such loathsome characteristics, that I for one would feel afraid to be in a room with them.

Only Miss Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard are worthy of anything other than contempt.  For one thing, we focus on Miss Claythorne (ably played by Maeve Dermody) before we get to the island.  Therefore we get to empathise with her.  A scene set on the coast gives us a hint that an incident had occurred, affecting her deeply.  Her interactions with Philip Lombard showed that she could look after herself, however.

By the end of the hour, the guests’ secrets had been revealed and two had been murdered.  All that matters now, is to watch and wait.


Colour is Subjective

What do I mean by this statement?  Well, for a start, colour as such, doesn’t really exist.  I know, this is going to be hard to get your head around, after all we see in colour, right?  Actually, what we ‘see’ as colour comes from the signals sent from the eye to the brain.

Colour vision is the ability of an organism or machine to distinguish objects based on the wavelengths of the light they reflect, emit or transmit.  In other words, the idea of colour comes from what we interpret and not from the object itself.

As someone who is colour blind (red-green, if you ask, it also affects blues and browns but with red and green in them), I don’t ‘see’ the world the same way as everyone else.  Why? Because I don’t have the right cone cells in my eyes.  It was only when I was a child when I realised there was something different about the way I saw the world.  If I recall, I was trying to colour grass with a brown pencil rather than a green one.

There are people out there who don’t see blues or yellows or even any colour at all (technically black and white are colours, but you get my meaning).  The point I’m saying here is, my red is always going to be different to yours.

What fascinates me about this is that other animals ‘see’ a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS).  For example, snakes probably see in the infrared part of the spectrum while artic caribou can see in ultraviolet.  Famously, bats see in sound (yet another part of the EMS).  I wonder what that would be like to experience the world through their senses.

So the next time someone asks you what colour an object is, keep in mind that we all see this world differently.


Owning a Creative Mind

What’s it like having a creative mind?  Maddening and wonderful at the same time.  I love seeing the world in a different light to most people.  New ways of imagining objects, a different twist to language ( why, for example, does stench have to be a word describing a bad smell, to me it indicates a strong odour.  Aroma is nice but delicate.  Even with the addition of ‘heady’, it doesn’t sound as strong as stench), are fun to me.

In the last few minutes I have thought about what to write for this blog, the subject list is as follows; weather, food, family, cats, Christmas (or at least a time of coming together as a family regardless of your denomination), the past, update on the Syria story.  While it is fun to be able to jump from one subject to another, sometimes it can be difficult to concentrate.  Still, it does mean I’m a whiz at word association!

The maddening side of it though, I have to keep my brain active.  Various inputs are necessary; music, film, modelling (not the catwalk variety, I mean plastic kits), photography, video games (esp. Dreamfall: Chapters, now that’s a beautiful story right there), reading, writing, cooking, philosophical arguments, space exploration (and not just because of Tim Peake), science and I’d better stop there.

Conclusion: I really need to learn yoga or some other form of meditation to calm this mental hurricane down.


When I bought this film, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into.  Sure, I’d seen the trailer, but that barely skimmed the surface.  What we have here, is a skillfully crafted story of a man’s relationship with an artificially intelligent operating system called Samantha.

Before we go any further, I’d like to point out that there are no spoilers.  Now that sticky wicket is out of the way, let’s get down to it.

This film is a powerful and moving story of a man called Theodore who has given up on love.  Considering his job, this can’t have been easy for him.  He is reminded on a daily basis of just how wonderful this emotion is.  But it is like he is existing in a world that is familiar, but no longer belongs to him.

Like all love films, a new interest arrives in his life.  A gentle spark of happiness and kookiness (can an AI even be kooky?) that triggers something in him.  The journey is of course fraught with the ups and downs of reality.  So much so that I wondered if it would turn out okay in the end.

While watching the film, I found his friend’s and colleague’s acceptance of his love for a machine, somewhat unsettling.  That is what this film is about, though.  It is meant to challenge our way of thinking.  Is it morally wrong to fall in love with an AI?  The second point it raises, is to show just how easy it is.

In a strange way, I can see it happening already.  People meet online to talk, to play, to socialise.  We’ve heard stories of men playing as women and vice versa, so its not that big a leap to use a machine.

At the moment our current AI incarcerations come across as petulant pre-teens.  Given time though, it is quite possible a full-blown adult (by that I mean, fully developed and mature) AI will be the norm.  I’m sure some people will be outraged and claim this will be the death knell for humanity, but that doesn’t give this race the credit it deserves.  There is a need for vigilance, however.

Casting Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore was an excellent decision.  He didn’t just make Theodore likeable, he was positively human.  His performance was difficult to watch at times, why, because I could see elements of myself in him.

So, could I love an AI just as he did.  Yes, I probably could.  Does that disturb me? Just a little.


Now that I have given my opinion of this film, I’d like to hear what you think.

The Ultimate Observer

More than once I have wondered what it would feel like to be unable to communicate via speech.  Speaking and by extension, listening, is an inherent part of me.  Yet it is said that ninety five per cent of communication is non-verbal.  So why does speaking mean so much to us?

It is one of the foremost ways of giving information to others.  We use speech to bond, to inform, to educate, to entertain.  Without speech, would life be bleak?

My answer is no and here’s why.  Recently I have experienced and seen what it is like to be unable to talk.  On a visit to my sister recently, we decided to take a tour of the town.  While doing so, we passed two women communicating through sign language.  In that brief moment, I knew they were having fun through taking photos and playing about.

The other example happened a few weeks earlier when I had been skyping with a friend.  Due to an error, I could not hear what she said.  Therefore we resorted to the traditional back-up, the written word.  During the conversation, it seemed to me that we were conversing on a deeper level.  Having to rely on body language meant I became more adept at reading her thoughts and emotions.

This lead me to wonder, could deaf people be the ultimate observers?

Why does this have to do with writing? Easy.  By putting myself in their position, I can see what life would be like.  This is the same process you need to perform for your characters.  Give them life by understanding that everyone views life their way.