Monday, 29 October 2012

Awesome Film Adaptions of Classic Novels

Sigh. Just checked IMDB and it appears that the new film adaption of Great Expectations won't be released in Australia until early March. (What, you mean I have to wait how long ...) I have no idea yet how faithful it will be to the book, but the short previews I've seen so far look promising. And all that made me stop and think about some of the greatest film adaptions of my favourite books. So here they are:

Rebecca (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock's first Hollywood film retains all of the suspense and mystery of Daphne Du Maurier's novel. (But can we expect anything less of a Hitchcock film?) There is also a fantastic little twist at the very end, that I'm sure Ms Du Maurier would have approved of.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Peter Weir's film perfectly captures the mystery and eeriness of the book. Beautifully shot in Victoria and South Australia.

A Room With a View (1985)

Beautifully shot, visually pleasing and faithful to the book. This really is one without an equal.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Review: BSC Graphix #3 Mary Anne Saves the Day

Okay, I have a confession to make. I have a bit of a soft spot for Mary Anne Spier. Sure, she was a bit sappy, and poorly drawn in places (what was it with her taking a basket to school instead of a backpack,) but of all the characters in the series, she was probably the loneliest. Shy, quiet Mary Anne lived alone with her father, a lawyer who seemed to have little understanding about raising girls and does not communicate much with his daughter, though she is expected to cook dinner every night. (On a sidenote, what is it about male lawyers and their limited ability to be able to communicate with females? Okay, maybe I'm stereotyping here, but from what I've witnessed in real life ...) Anyway, Mary Anne is subject to a whole lot of ridiculous rules, which, oddly, seem to include her being forced to wear her hair in two long braids. I guess Richard Spier is concerned about the sexualization of children and you know, doesn't want his daughter wandering around in a boob tube or something, but really, why does he want Mary Anne to style her hair like Wednesday Adams? Perhaps I'm getting a little off-topic here.

Kristy's Great Idea saw Kristy grow and accept her mother's engagement to Watson Brewer. The Truth About Stacey saw Stacey learn to cope with her illness. Now it's time for Mary Anne to grow up and learn a lesson on her own. Which is, after the BSC have a massive fight, shy Mary Anne finds herself completely alone. She soon makes friends with a new girl at her school, becomes a hero after her sitting charge becomes seriously ill and has to be taken to hospital and then manages not only to reform the BSC but introduces a new member--her new friend Dawn. And then, because she's proven herself to be so mature, her father relaxes the rules about her braiding her hair. The end and a pizza toast. The story is quite lovely, but nothing groundbreaking here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

On Writing: Creating Introverted Characters

Since I released my novella, Best Forgotten, back in June I have received small, but very positive feedback regarding my portrayal of the lead character, Kellie-Sue Smith. To recap, Best Forgotten tells the story of a highly introverted young woman who wakes in hospital with partial amnesia. Basically, she cannot recall the events of the last eighteen months. To add to the trauma, one of the last things she can recall is seeing the bloodied body of her hated ex-boyfriend on the kitchen floor. Was she, or was she not, responsible for beating him? Is he, or isn't he dead? As the story progresses through the events that occurred over the past eighteen months up until the present day, the reader is taken on a journey through Kellie-Sue's internal hopes, fears and childhood memories, until the whole thing finally starts to make sense. 

Writing about introverted characters is something that I quite enjoy. I like the idea of being able to present the character as something quite different to what the people in his or her "world" see. There is also something fun about being able to present someone's internal fears and conflicts on paper, in a way that can be read and understood by others. Of course, I'm not the first author and I'm certainly, certainly not the finest to do this. Tim Winton's characters are often deep thinking and highly sensitive men (think Luther Fox from Dirt Music,) who are controlled by domineering woman. (Perhaps an even better example is Scully from The Riders who embarks on a journey across Europe, as he is unable to accept the fact that his wife has left him.) But Winton's work is remarkably more mature than mine, his characters older and his prose quite different. In other words, I'm not trying to compare my work to his.

I will suggest to any aspiring writers out there that just as you would handle an introvert with care in real life, handle your introverted characters with care. Remember, introverts have a rich inner-life, which they do not enjoy exposing to others. Assume that your reader is that one close friend that they are willing to divulge everything to. And finally, be realistic. Just because someone has a big imagination, does not mean that they lack intelligence, or critical reasoning. Respect them.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

BSC Graphix #2 The Truth About Stacey

In 1986 when Ann M. Martin and Scholastic released the third novel of their new Babysitters Club series, they set the benchmark for what the series would become--this was bigger than a series about a group of girls having wacky or unpredictable adventures. Kristy's Great Idea introduced the characters, while the now horribly-dated (to the point where it was never re-released as a graphic novel,) second volume Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls helped to build on those themes. The Truth About Stacey, however, proved that there was a lot more depth to this series, through both its main plot (about a young woman living with a serious illness that separated her from her peers,) and the two subplots--one where Stacey's sitting charge is bullied by her peers for being different, and where a group of girls set up a rival babysitting club and neglect their sitting charges. And consider the fact that this was all written in such a way that nine year olds could understand it. Quite a remarkable achievement, really. So how does the graphic novel version stand up against the original?

Brilliantly, as it turns out. 

Some of the story has been omitted or simplified which is unsurprising, given the format and the advances of the treatment for diabetes, but the guts of the plot is still there. I love the comic depictions of the nasty Liz Lewis and Michelle Patterson. Laine Cummings looks different to how I imagined her (less sophisticated perhaps,) seeming more ... vulnerable perhaps. (Funny, I never through of Laine, the leader of the cool New York pre-teens being vulnerable before.)

A wonderful nostalgia trip.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Review: Destined to Feel by Indigo Bloome

Sexy, suspenseful and, in places, completely ludicrous, the second novel in Indigo Bloome's Avalon trilogy makes interesting bedtime reading. Picking up from the cliffhanger ending of Destined to Play, Destined to Feel opens with Dr Alexandra Blake being abducted in London. Her captors? The owner of a pharmaceutical company who want to develop a drug that they believe will be the female equivalent to Viagra. Alex is the perfect woman to test their new drug, due to the comprehensive and well documented experiments that her lover, Dr Jeremy Quinn conducted during their weekend together, and the fact that she has a rare blood type. Taken to an underground testing facility, Alex is asked to take part in a series of increasingly odd sexual experiments. But the big question is, does Alex really want to escape? (You know, I'm really starting to wonder why Indigo Bloome is planning for the third book in the series. So far every area of this woman's fucked up sexuality seems to have been explored in minute detail. She's had sex with men, women and robots. She enjoys bondage, anal sex, watching other people have oral sex. What is left for her to do? Bestiality? Necrophilia?)

Destined to Feel is more suspenseful than its prequel. I enjoyed the chapters that featured Jeremy searching through Europe for his lover. (Thank goodness for that GPS bracelet. Oh, wait. It went out of range every time Jeremy started to get close.) The author tries hard in a limited amount of space to make Alex and Jeremy feel more well-rounded and sympathetic characters--for example in this volume Alex thinks of her children constantly (and Jeremy gives them a little thought as well). However, its hard to feel sympathy for characters whose lives seem to be driven by their sexuality--Alex appears to have no shame or inhibitions about the 'experiments' made on her body in the name of science. (It's no wonder she was so desperately sought for the research. This woman enjoys being stimulated by machines while a group of doctors watch, for heavens sake. Why is totally beyond me, but then again, I'm not the heroine of an erotic novel.)

An interesting, sexy journey that should not be taken too seriously. Especially not by reviewers like me.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Review: BSC Graphix #1 Kristy's Great Idea

Twenty years after the first BSC book, Kristy's Great Idea was released, Scholastic decided to go back and do it all again, this time in graphic novel format. And you know what? I love it. It's basically the same story of how the Babysitters Club formed. The backstory for each character is the same (Kristy is struggling to accept her mother's new boyfriend, Claudia is jealous of her smart older sister, Mary-Anne's father is overprotective and Stacey wants to keep her illness a secret.) And, of course, Stoneybrook still has that wholesome 1950s sensibility. As for the graphic format, it's interesting to see how artist Raina Telgemeier depicted each of the characters. Kristy and Stacey each look roughly how I imagined them, Mary-Anne comes across a little dorkier and, sorry, but Claudia looks like a forty-year-old hooker in places. In parts, the novel reminded me a little of Lynne Johnson's brilliant For Better or For Worse comic strip. Over all, a fun nostalgia trip for anyone who loves comics and has good memories of the Babysitters Club.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Video - Daniel Powter Bad Day

Today I thought I would do something a little different with the blog and share one of my favourite video clips. Released in 2005 Bad Day is Canadian singer/songwriter Daniel Powter's only hit to date, and is based around the simple notion that every one has bad days from time to time and singing about them can make a bad day just that little bit better. The clip itself is very clever, playing out over three days in the lives of a guy and a girl who are both unhappy. The pair bond over a picture in a city railway station--basically the girl scribbles on top of the advertisement expressing her unhappiness, while the guy sees the picture and starts adding to it in an effort to cheer her up. And then, of course, at the end, the inevitable happens ...

Anyway, it's a cute clip and a decent reminder that we all have bad days, that we can all feel alone and sometimes little things can help us feel better.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

2000s Nostalgia, Babysitters Club Graphix

The four BSC Graphix novels, released 2006
Background: Awesome rug Grandma Watson made me.

Awesome surprise waiting in my mailbox today - I managed to source the four Babysitters Club graphic novels that were released back in 2006. Being a big fan of comics, and more than a tiny bit interested in BSC nostalgia, I'm looking forward to reading these. If they're any good, expect reviews to follow.

Women's Stuff by Kaz Cooke

I would like to start this book review by expressing my gratitude for two things. The first is that the advice in this book is based on one, research and two, common bloody sense, the two things that are so often lacking in books such as this. The second thing I am grateful for is that the book is written by Kaz Cooke, who I have been a massive fan of since I was about sixteen and someone came to my high school and gave a talk on body image and recommended her book Real Gorgeous, which I subsequently read from cover to cover. 

The real value of Women's Stuff, a 700+ page encyclopedia, is the honesty and lack of preaching as the author talks about every aspect of womanhood. Within the pages you'll find advice on body image and confidence, personal grooming, periods, pregnancy, dating and a host of other things that most females will encounter at one time or another. I love the common sense and the humourous advice on how to keep things in perspective, for example in the body image section Cooke states: 
Your body shape isn't based on your star sign or any other ancient made-up system, or on the latest theory from someone trying to sell a new diet book. That's all piffle.
 Piffle. I love it. And I love the fact that her book isn't trying to sell me an idealised version of womanhood, that I should aspire to be a supermodel with 2.5 children, fake nails, a rich and handsome of a husband who can one, cook and two, make me climax within ten seconds whilst having some kind of weird tantric sex swinging from the lampshade and having some kind of high flying career being the CEO of a socially and ethically responsible company. And you know, winning the X-factor or something. Because frankly, I don't think I make the cut and I'm not sure that I want to.

Women's Stuff is about accepting yourself as you are, and making decisions based on common sense, rather than blindly listening to the media or stereotypes. (I smiled quite a bit with her statistics out of 4000 women surveyed, less than five percent removes her pubic hair--a very different story to what we females are constantly sold in the mass media. Granted, of course, that those 4000 women came from a very diverse range of ages.) There are numerous letters from women who talk about their real experiences, which shows that personal experience and opinion can differ quite radically. Or as the blurb puts it, there is no fibs, faff or fakery.

Recommended reading for all women. 

PS, Check out Kaz's AFI winning animated film here.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Vale Max Fatchen

A truly wonderful Adelaide writer, Max Fatchen passed away early this morning aged 92 at his home in Gawler. Mr Fatchen was not someone who I knew personally, but someone who I felt that I knew through reading his column in The Advertiser every Saturday for many years. Through his weekly column, we knew that he drove an old Holden Torana that he had owned since new (sadly, the Torana was stolen, torched and stripped a few years ago,) enjoyed his weekly trips to the supermarket (back when I worked for Coles I always used to secretly wish that he would visit my supermarket,) and his obsession with foods that he was no longer allowed to eat. 

Throughout his long career, Max Fatchen gathered many enviable achievements as a writer. He worked  as a journalist for The News from 1948 to 1955 and then for The Advertiser until he retired in 1984. He began writing children's books in the 1960s, one of which was The River Kings. And my own favourite Max Fatchen moment? It was the column he wrote about fellow South Australian writer Colin Thiele in September 2006. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

1990s Nostalgia: Snoopy Stars As ...

Another awesome find down at my local vintage store was a set of four digest-sized Peanuts comics. Released in the late 1980s/early 1990s, these awesome comic books formed part of the Snoopy Stars As series. Each book was basically the same, featuring those comics where Snoopy imagined himself to be the Flying Ace, Joe Cool, etc. More interesting were some of the other guises this lovable beagle has pulled over the years, including the Tree Vulture, the World Famous Surgeon and where he takes on the role of guard dog at Peppermint Patty's house. (Later incorporated into an episode of the Charlie Brown and Snoopy show.) Lots of fun for a boring Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Kaz Cooke's Review of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

Was flicking through Kaz Cooke's awesome book, Women's Stuff (one of the most practical and dare I say, liberating books for women,) when I came across this short but totally awesome review she has written on Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, which, owing to its brilliance, I must share:

Mr Gray says: Men and women are different. Bonus fact: Mr Gray's PhD is from an early 1980s correspondence course from a disreputable 'university' now closed by court order.
Now that is a short but wonderfully informative book review.  

Friday, 12 October 2012

Feature and Follow Friday

I am participating in Feature and Follow Friday once again, a weekly meme designed to help like-minded bloggers connect. Hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read, this meme always has an interesting question or two that needs to be answered. This week's all-important question is:

Q: What book do you think would make a great Halloween movie? Please explain in graphic detail of goriness...

Ooh, Halloween is coming already. Okay, I have a little difficulty trying to think which great horror novels haven't been made into films at one point or another, so maybe I should start thinking about trashy ones with a whole lot of gore ...

Damn, I was going to nominate PIN by Andrew Neiderman for the scene where the hero hacks his sister's lover to death, but it turns out that has already been made into a (long forgotten) scary movie. Hmm, so what else can I nominate? Okay ... I know its really a kids book and there isn't much gore, (the fear being largely psychological,) but I think The Babysitter by RL Stine would make an interesting movie. They might have to up the gore, sex and swearing to make it appeal to anyone over the age of fourteen though.

What book would you/did you nominate?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

You know your weekends are a little, umm, different to everyone else's when a friend asks what your plans are for the rest of the weekend and you reply excitedly, "I'm going to buy the new J.K. Rowling book and read it." Which is precisely what happened to me a week ago. I am a nerd and I know it. 

Anyway, seeing as I have already weighed in on the whole, The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter debate (read more here,) I'll cut straight to reviewing the book. The Casual Vacancy is the story of a small English town and the eccentrics and hypocrites that live within its boundaries. It opens with the premature death of Barry Fairbrother, a well respected or much hated member of the local council, depending on which townsperson that you talk to. Barry was basically a good man, who believed in helping those who he considered less fortunate than himself. Not everyone agrees with Barry's vision of helping others. Now the council has a casual vacancy waiting to be filled and the divide begins between those who want to keep Barry's vision alive and those who think they finally have a chance to rid the town of Barry's visions. The adults are eccentric, insecure, bitter and have various secrets. Colin  the school for example has OCD and fears that he may have touched a student inappropriately, even though he cannot remember doing so, Samantha is lusting after the singer from her favourite boy band. And then there are the local teenagers, each one more damaged and repulsive than the last, particularly Fats who takes some kind of pride from hurting others. Quite possibly the most likeable character in the book is Krystal Weedon, the trashy and somewhat outspoken daughter of a heroin addict. And naturally, it is Krystal who suffers the most throughout the pages of the book. 

The Casual Vacancy could have been told in far less words and far fewer pages and still been an interesting, well written novel. A bit long and a bit boring in places, it remains though an interesting account of hypocrisy and life in a small English town.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Everyone seems to be talking about this book and not for the right reasons. Normally, I would wait until I had finished a book (I'm about halfway through at the moment,) until I weighed in on the debate, but there is one thing that right now, absolutely needs to be said.

The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter.

I repeat. The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter.

Stop expecting it to be. And nor should anyone expect any author to stick to the same style or themes with every novel. Yes, many, many readers from around the globe loved the Harry Potter series and I can easily understand why. The Casual Vacancy is a very different book and not one that is going to inspire the same feelings of hope, fantasy or delight. This is not a children's tale of good versus evil. This is a book about a group self-centered eccentrics who live in the same small English town. Is it depressing? Absolutely. Is it boring. Yeah, okay, a little. Is it poorly written? No.

It seems perfectly understandable to me why after spending so many years of her life writing Harry Potter, Rowling would want to try something new and different. Perhaps the real problem lies not in the book itself, but the way that it has been marketed to the public.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Literary Quotes

No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.

~ Charles Dickens, 'Our Mutual Friend'.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Review: Special Christmas, Sweet Valley High Super Edition 2

It was a beautiful day in Sweet Valley. You know, because every Sweet Valley High novel opens with it being a beautiful day. Or something. Anyway, I found this little gem, a slightly battered old Sweet Valley High super edition on sale for ninety-nine cents and decided to read it for nostalgic purposes.

Special Christmas was one of the earlier books in the series and was the first Christmas that Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield spent as juniors at Sweet Valley High (several more were to follow.) At this point in the series both twins are single, Todd having moved away to Vermont and Jessica is busy crushing on Hans, a foreign exchange student whose stay in Sweet Valley is so brief it is unlikely he is ever mentioned in any other book in the series. You know, unless one or both of the twins happened to holiday in Germany later on in the series. Things are going well for the twins. Todd is planning to visit Sweet Valley over Christmas and Jessica is excited about some kind of weird secret Santa thing that is being organised at the school. Basically, all the girls have to randomly pick a boys name out of a hat, while all the boys pick a girls name and then they have to go around secretly doing nice things for one another. It is a lovely idea for a children's book, I suppose, but I doubt that kind of thing would work out in real life. In fact, if such a thing had occurred at my high school, the whole thing would have ended in bloodshed directly after the names were drawn, with comments of, "Oh, spew, I got [insert name of otherwise perfectly nice boy or girl here]!" Anyway, Jessica is convinced that Hans will draw her name for the Secret Santa (how, I don't know, but self-deception seems to be quite common in Sweet Valley). But their mood is soon spoiled by some shocking, yes, shocking news. The Wakefield's Christmas is about to be ruined for good:

Jessica has been kidnapped by some lunatic who wants to steal her identity and has been left inside the boiler room at Sweet Valley High. Meanwhile, the lunatic who kidnapped Jessica has just been stabbed to death by her own loony twin sister, who mistook her for Jessica!

Oh. Wait. That doesn't happen for a few more years. This is the shocking news:

Jessica's fiance Jeremy wants to kill her in a plot to cash in on his former fiancee's inheritance!

Oh, wait. This won't happen for a few more years yet either. This is the shocking news:

Margo is planning to murder Elizabeth at Lila Fowler's New Years Eve Party!

Sorry. That's not for a while yet either. This is the shocking news:

Suzanne Devlin is coming to stay with the Wakefields over Christmas!

That's it folks. This is now officially the worst Christmas that the Wakefield twins have ever experienced. Even worse than the time when Jessica was twelve and she dreamed that she saw the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future who taught her that she was selfish and if she kept up her selfish ways no one would love her. (Surprisingly, however, Jessica would remain selfish well into adulthood and everyone would indeed love her, while it was Elizabeth who constantly got shafted.) Anyway, neither Elizabeth, Jessica or their brother Steven are too keen on having Suzanne stay with them and plot to make Suzanne's time in Sweet Valley a living hell.

Jessica's annoyance at Suzanne's arrival is soon forgotten however, when she is asked to dress as an elf at the local mall and assist Santa with the handing out of presents. Apparently all the Pi Beta alpha girls take a turn at doing this (you know, because volunteering seems to fit right in with their usual vapid activities,) and today was Cara's turn, but she's sick so Jessica has to take over. Anyway, Jessica ends up stuck at the mall all day and misses out on participating in some beauty contest. Without any of those pesky Wakefield twins to compete against, Jessica's best frenemy Lila Fowler easily wins the contest and is declared Miss Christmastime and is allowed the great honour of riding on the Christmastime float in the local pageant. In this book the ongoing battle of Jessica and Lila now stands at Lila: One, Jessica: Zero.

Meanwhile, Suzanne has arrived in Sweet Valley with only Alice Wakefield and some nasty notes from her secret santa to greet her. There's a vague reference to Suzanne being sick but this is soon swept under the carpet when Todd arrives at the house and everyone but for Elizabeth becomes aware of some unresolved sexual tension between Todd and Suzanne. Jessica gets annoyed on Elizabeth's behalf, ups the ante on her plot to make Suzanne feel unwelcome. Jessica and Aaron Dallas (whose affections Suzanne exploited during her previous visit to Sweet Valley,) plot to have Aaron ask Suzanne as his date to some party that Bruce Patman is hosting. Then Aaron will phone, state that his car has broken down and that he'll meet her at a friends house. And then he will give her a fake address, sending Suzanne to some old house in the middle of nowhere. 

Oh, and the secret santas? Jessica's secret santa, the one who has been offering her romantic gifts all week is class clown Winston Egbert. Hans, meanwhile, turns out to be Lila's secret santa. Lila: Two, Jessica: Zero.

Finally, Suzanne receives some new medication in the mail from her doctor, which she happily takes, despite not knowing what it is or what effect it may have on her body, or whether it should be mixed with other medications. Or more importantly, if she should continue to drink alcohol. Happily, Suzanne swallows a glass of champaign while helping the Wakefield family to decorate their Christmas tree. Suzanne almost passes out, but instead of using her common sense and going to bed, she decides to drive on to the party. Anyway to cut a longish story short, its starts raining (a possible first in Sweet Valley) and Suzanne passes out at the wheel. Meanwhile, Ned Wakefield has just received a telephone call from Suzanne's doctor, stating that she should not take alcohol with her new medication. Then Suzanne ends up in hospital with a concussion, Jessica and Aaron admit that they had set her up and it is revealed that Suzanne has MS and that she and Todd Wilkins genuinely love one another. Elizabeth gives the couple her blessing and then, the doctors have a bigger surprise in store. Suzanne does not have MS after all, but a rare form of Glandular fever that was causing her symptoms. It's all smiles in Sweet Valley.

Meanwhile, Jessica has come up with another plot to get revenge on Lila for ruining her chances as Miss Christmastime, by stealing Lila's gown and leaving her elf costume in its place. Naturally, Lila is dumb enough to fall for this and the people of Sweet Valley all cheer for Jessica, while Lila is left to look ridiculous. The score ends, Lila: Two, Jessica: One, plus a thousand bonus points. Because you know, the Wakefield twins always win.