Character Portraits: The Hero

This is the first in a series where I take a look at different character types investigating where they come from and why we have them.  I thought I would start off with the most obvious; the hero.  I’d like to take a moment to say that I don’t differentiate between the masculine and feminine here, a hero and a heroine are just the same.  I will be using hero simply because I’m lazy, having less letters than the latter.

Why do we have one?

Well that can be boiled down to one word; injustice.  The hero needs something to fight for whether that be against crime, environmental concerns, defending the weak, etc.  There has to be a driving force for a hero to take that step into danger.  We see injustice every day and we think that it would be great if someone could right that wrong.  Secretly, we may even revel in the thought that the wrongdoer will get hurt in the process.

This character is easy to conjure up, so much so that we even have different categories; the superhero, the anti-hero and even the reluctant hero.

Where do they come from?

Going as far back as Ancient Greece there were stories of people, gods almost (sons of deities at least), like Heracles (now Hercules), Achilles, Hector et al.  Classical heroes were considered as warriors who live and die in the pursuit of honour.  Now though we like them a little more complex, more human.  Heroes are no longer perfect, they must have a flaw.

Anger management pops up frequently as does alcoholism, drug addiction and anything else that could potentially disrupt the course of events.  If our hero had an addiction to knitting we would hardly consider that a flaw.  Unless, during the final battle our protagonist proceeded to pull out a ball of yarn and start knitting, but that isn’t really going to happen.  It would certainly break by suspense of disbelief that’s for sure!

We need those flaws to show that these people are just like us, an altered version sure, but us nonetheless.  I believe the hero was created to help us fantasise about what we would do in a given situation.  We don’t want to be like them, we want to be them.  We see a part of ourselves in them.  We are however afraid of repercussions.  We are afraid of being weak at the wrong moment and being unable to vanquish the foe.  Instead, we let our heroes do that for us.

Is it wrong to have them, then?

No.  If anything they are needed to show us the way, to do what is right.  Injustice has to be stopped and if it means stepping up to be counted, then so be it.

The Young Montalbano: The Settlement (2/4)

This episode has a theme which is similar to ‘Death on the High Seas’.  Notably someone is killed, the mafia are involved and a settlement needs to be reached before war breaks out.

It opens with a bank robbery of a small branch yet has an unusually large number of safety deposit boxes.  Whoever got in did so by knowing the correct access codes.  It transpires that all bar one box have been accessed by just two men, both of whom work for the Sinagras.  Well I won’t reveal who did what and why but I will say this; further murders were necessary to prevent a war.

The main sub-plot involves a female clairvoyant and the death of a doctor.  The two are linked by the fact that the doctor killed her brother while he was in the Italian SS during world war II.  Bullets are found in her suitcase which match the one used to kill the doctor and yet it is not her.

The final sub-plot features Salvo Montalbano and a woman named Stella Parenti.  It has been a month since Livia and Salve took a break (see my blog on episode 2/3 ‘Death on the High Seas’) and Salvo is finding it hard.  To aid in his investigation of the robbery, Salvo turns to the bank across the road.  It just so happens that the woman in charge takes a shine to him.  Matters come to a head when, days later and after a meal together, she invites him in.

I like murder mysteries which do not reveal the culprit, or at least keep you guessing.  Andrea Camilleri reveals the story a little at a time but never enough to give the game away too soon.  For example, Salvo escorts an old woman home but you are left guessing how she fits into the story.

As a bit of a romantic, I want to see Salvo and Livia get back together but this is a television show so you have to have the ‘will they, won’t they?’ cliché.  Still, there is a reason why it is used so much, because it works.

The Art of Thinking

What is it about thinking I love so much?  Is it the random realms of fantasy I can disappear into? Is it the habit of leapfrogging from one to another in a blink of an eye?  Maybe its because it gives me a chance to review the past and attempt to figure out the future.  Far more likely is that it is all of these things.

It’s not easy having a butterfly mind.  It took a lot of training to do this, you know.  Well, that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway.  I guess its to stop me from thinking too much.  If I did that I’d never get anything done.  I have plans you know, for this precious time of mine.

Pieces of writing need to be worked on.  Books need to be read.  These things can’t happen without my input.  Can you imagine what it would be like if none of my poor books got read?  No Rincewind, no Tyrone Slothrop, not even the Illustrated Man.  Goodness me, life without those would be very boring.

So I must stop thinking and start doing.  Perhaps I should put some effort into what I’m doing this weekend.  You can never plan too much, right?  Don’t want to find myself on the wrong road, do I?

Am I procrastinating when it comes to thinking?  Not when its productive, it isn’t.  The next question is, but how often is it productive?  Well I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it, I’ve been too busy….

The Young Montalbano: Death on the High Seas (2/3)

Like earlier episodes, last night’s consisted of a main plot and two sub-plots.  The main plot revolved around the death of a fishing boat mechanic while out at sea.  By all accounts, he was shot by accident.  On investigation, it is revealed that the fleet the boat belongs to, has been drug trafficking for the Mafia.

The first sub-plot concerns Fazio and a woman he has known for many years.  The woman in question had been dating a man who, it transpires, is a hitman for the Sinagara family (Mafia).  When he goes on the run the police, through Fazio, offer her and her father, protection.  The hitman, offended by this move, sets a firework factory belonging to one of her father’s friends alight.

The second sub-plot is about Montalbano’s wedding.  While attending a fancy dress party with Livia, Motalbano spots the hitman.  Leaving her when the hitman walks out, Montalbano tracks him down and a gun battle ensues.  Having watched Montalbano leave, Livia follows.  Livia now realises what sort of person Montalbano is like and the wedding is put on hold.

While the second sub-plot is probably the most familiar cliché when it comes to detective dramas, it is revealed in a different way.  The earlier series (Inspector Montalbano) showed that they are still friends.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other detective who remains in contact with a former fiancé.

The main plot is a nice touch as it is usually the case that the death is suspicious.  Using it to reveal the drug trafficking is an extra twist to what could have been a bland tale.

This story was a lot easier to follow than ‘The Man Who Followed Funerals’, which is great as I do like watching this series.  Saying that, I get the feeling that the producers have gone for more drama this series.

Sensationalist Journalism

A few days ago I read an article about a woman who had been raped and left for dead in South Africa.  It was reported by a friend through a series of messages on Twitter.  However, it was a fake.  The woman in question does not seem to exist.

Interestingly though, rather than instigating a backlash against the poster, a debate was raised about the plight of young women in South Africa.  All I can say is, if that was their aim, I commend them wholeheartedly. Stories come in many shapes and sizes, from thousand page novels which can pass for bricks through to nano fiction barely a few words long.

Episodic storytelling is nothing new, after all, that was the original format for Sherlock Holmes, but it does fit Twitter and other short forms perfectly.  In fact, Twitter’s small size demands you chop out the rubbish.  What was also fascinating to see was that the journalists were hoodwinked too.

News such as this cannot be taken at face value, you could end up accusing the wrong person for example, but how often does it happen?  Being a journalist is nothing more than a different form of writing.  You find a story and make it into something people want to read.  Headlines must grab attention, even if they are not strictly true.

Sensationalism is abhorrent to me, but it clearly has a followed.  In this case though, it raised the story to a new level.  It worked not just because it was convincing as a story itself.  It was also convincing because of the real world setting.  South Africa has an issue with rape and social media has brought the topic to the fore.  Used like this to highlight a cause, I applaud sensationalism.


The Young Montalbano: Room Number Two (2/2)

This week’s episode started with Montalbano and his fiancé out on a stroll when a fire breaks out in a nearby hotel.  On rushing over we discover, to our horror, that a man is trapped inside.  Dashing inside our hero tries to rescue him but it is on use, the fire is too intense.  As it transpires, arson was the cause of the fire.  The team launches an investigation but are thwarted at every turn.

Suspects are inquired into but to no avail.  Even the Mafia comes under suspicion (The Cuffaros and Sinagras are the two rival factions in this part of Sicily) when another man dies a couple of days later.  There is of course, a link but it’s more complicated than that.

On top of this, Montalbano and Livia (his fiancé) are getting married.  The ceremony in all its intricacies needs to be planned and everyone, from bumbling Catarella (seen doing some embroidery at one point) upwards, wants to help.  ‘Mimi’ Augello’s diaphanous attempts to be Montalbano’s witness leads to disaster when he picks a former colleague instead.

After what happened next, I was rather disappointed that Montalbano did not get his own back, but I guess he could not upset such a delicate project so quickly.

While I did struggle with this one (mainly through reading subtitles although the plot does have many twists), there was just enough light hearted moments mixed with drama to keep me hooked until the end.

This is what I love about these series, the addition of humour adds something missing from our ‘pure’ dramas.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the odd drama, but it can feel a bit stressful after a while.


So here we are at the end of the first week of January (look, Sunday is always the end of the week, not Monday.  Don’t get me started, okay) and I have a couple of updates.  First, I have uploaded a new story called ‘A New Look For Clover Street’.

Second, I have finished writing my novel, woohoo!  Now onto the mammoth task of editing this beast until it makes some sense.  At the moment it looks like  a random collection of words that are behaving suspiciously like sheep without a shepherd and dog.

Not only that, they need a damn good clean.  Have you seen how muddy sheep get when they’ve come off the hills?  Maybe, just maybe, they will get a shearing as well, who knows.


The Young Montalbano, The Man Who Followed Funerals (2/1)

For those of you who are unaware of this series, it is an Italian crime drama set in Sicily. As someone who followed the original Inspector Montalbano series, it was natural for me to gravitate to the prequel, The Young Montalbano.  While it features the same characters, they are played by a different cast in order to play younger versions of said characters.

Now in its second series we are treated to a story of the murder of a man who followed funerals.  Like all earlier episodes, it takes its sweet time to unravel and wrap it’s delicious tendrils around our minds.  This episode features two cases, the aforementioned murder and a kidnapping. As usual, it is up to Montalbano and his team to solve both puzzles.  Since watching the earlier series, I have come to see the main characters grow and bond together.

‘Mimi’ Augello (deputy) is the near stereotypical philandering male who gets himself into all sorts of scrapes.  Then there is fastidious Fazio (virtually Montalbano’s right-hand man despite ‘Mimi’s’ presence) who seems to do all the legwork which proves useful in helping to solve the case.  Finally there is Catarella, the bumbling fool who mans the telephone.  If there is a message to be passed, he will inevitably get it wrong. So why don’t they get rid of him? Because he is a whiz on the computer.  It helps that he is more of a clumsy buffoon rather than a complete moron.

And so we see the band trying to solve the riddle of who killed the man who followed funerals.  At first it seems that he is loved by all.  An innocent man who felt discarded by society.  As it transpires, one of his neighbours, who is terminally ill, does not want him to attend his funeral.  He confronts the victim but he does not listen and so, murders him.

When confronted, the man confesses but instead of facing a mortal court prefers to chose a higher judgement, shooting himself with the same weapon.  The kidnapping has a grizzly end too but at least this time they are arrested.

All in all, I enjoyed this episode, barring one niggle.  It seemed to me that whoever was nearest the camera stood out a little too much, especially in the outdoor scenes.  I got the impression that the lighting was a little too bright.  Otherwise, it was very good.  I can’t wait to see the next episode, not least to find out how Montalbano and Livia Burlando get on.

Theirs is the everlasting friendship that really should have been a marriage by now but I guess Montalbano likes to be a bit of a playboy.

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Okay let’s get this out of the way right now shall we?  I love Jeremy Brett’s version of the famous detective and have steered clear of Benedict’s rendition for a few reasons which I shall name later.

When I saw the trailer for this one-off special, I was delighted to see it was to be set in the Victorian era (despite the Suffragette movement being founded in 1903), oh joy.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I found it wasn’t.  But was it?  No, it wasn’t.  But maybe…Okay guys, I think you over did the flash-back/mind palace plot device here, I got it quite quickly as I’m sure most of us did.  It’s a shame as I was getting into the story and the idea of linking it with the Suffragettes was an interesting one.  The concept of using Mary to basically drag our intrepid duo onto the right track felt poorly thought out though.

It left me thinking that Sherlock was a blusterer prone to jumping at the wrong conclusion just to show how good he is.  And now I come to the reason why I don’t watch most versions of Sherlock Holmes.  Those who adapt Conan Doyle’s stories centre on Holme’s abruptness.

When you read the stories however, you come to understand that he is a more rounded character than his acidic side seems to suggest.  He is quite capable of compassion, calming overwrought witnesses and winning over people to get the next piece of data.

To me, Holmes is prone to moments of theatre, incredibly vain (which certainly goes against his purely logical, non-emotional brain we are led to believe), sometimes vulnerable, observant like no other man before or since, harsh of himself and others and briefly joyous.

Jeremy Brett’s version shows Holmes’ patient side, his brotherly love with Watson as well as his confidence that goes beyond arrogance.  This is more to do with the writers than the actors.

Getting back to the show, Benedict’s performance is exceedingly good and I can see why people watch him.  He is ably assisted by Martin Freeman but I’m not going to watch a show entirely based on the actor’s performances.  The writing on the other hand, while full of brilliant touches, left me feeling confused.

Overall then, I liked the Victorian setting and the suffragette movement plot twist.  The ‘mind palace’ and the addition of Moriarty were unnecessary.  Looking back at this review, it feels like it is vitriolic in nature.  It’s not like I hated the special, I just think they could have done a better job.

Additional:  Avid followers of the series, please can you answer this question for me; is Holmes solely based on his sharp manner or is there more to him than what appeared last night?

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.