Can’t Keep Up With La Carre? That’s Kinda The Point

The-Little-Drummer-Girl

The first few episodes of the BBC’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl, adapted for TV by the same team who did the astonishing The Night Manager a couple of years ago.

Many watchers who fancied seeing something similar have since switched off, but for those that really enjoy a good spy drama from Director Park Chan-wook. There are some truly awesome performances, particularly from Hollywood favourite Michael Shannon, whose slimy spymaster is equal parts hilarious and intense, with his regular yells of ‘Shimon’ and his disconcertingly fraught and changeable conversations.

Alright, so you do have to suspend disbelief at times, but still The Little Drummer Girl is an exquisite drama. However, many watchers on Twitter have complained about how complicated the show is. To this I say: If you want something easy, go watch Pingu. The Little Drummer Girl is a spy drama; spies, by their very nature, live complicated lives, and portraying these is bound to be a little confusing.

Also, you have the issue of creative licence. I’ve just bought the book of The Little Drummer Girl, as I’ve never read it before and the series has wet my appetite, but having been a fan of Le Carre for years I know that he often uses characters with multiple identities and pseudonyms, as well as narrative devices such as flashbacks and swift transitions between time and place. In televising the novel Chan-wook has utilised a number of filming techniques to keep his viewers entranced. This can confuse some, but it’s designed to keep you watching and make you really pay attention.

That’s the key problem, in my opinion: in a world of easy watching, where shows can be paused and re-joined quickly and easily, viewers are turned-off by the idea of having to really pay attention. You can’t go off and call your sister, make yourself a snack or check Facebook before returning to The Little Drummer Girl. By the time you get back they’ll be using different names, in a different country and they’ll be a completely different threat.

Previously there was also a film version, and I’ve not seen this, but I suspect that the issues remain largely the same; this is a grown up drama that you cannot tune in and out of easily.

Look at the end of the day, I reckon a big part of the problem is that there’s no Tom Hiddleston equivalent in this adaptation. Alexander Skarsgård is no substitute, and as such viewers can’t stare at his arse whilst not following the plot. Let’s face it, both dramas were equally confusing and deceptive, but the introduction of a Hollywood star made many keep watching The Night Manager long after they lost interest in the plot. The Little Drummer Girl does not have this benefit, but as a stylish, beautifully crafted adaptation there’s nothing currently on TV that can hold a candle to it.

 

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Stan Lee Obituary

stan lee

Having created some of the greater characters, series and franchises in the comic book world, Stan Lee, Marvel Comics legend, died today aged 95.

The Writer, Editor and Humanitarian was declared dead today at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to Kirk Schenck, an attorney for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee.

The news will have come as a shock to the comic book community, and indeed the wider creative world. The Creator and Publisher was renowned for revolutionising the superhero genre by giving his characters real emotions and dilemmas. He worked with some of the greatest artists of their times and supported film studios and TV producers in developing visual representations of his extraordinary creations.

These included the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spiderman. Many of the series wove into each other, and Lee was renowned for flawlessly integrating them and keeping the stories going, to the delight of his many readers around the world.

Having been born during the great depression in 1922, Lee gained a job at 17 in a publishing house owned by his relative Martin Goodman, and began writing scripts for superhero and mystery comics. Later, when Goodman fell out with his editor in 1941, Lee, then aged just 19, was made Editor-In-Chief.

Briefly during the Second World War Lee wrote content for the army, but he remained renowned for his work creating superheroes, crusaders and coppers.

Renowned for making short cameo appearances in films featuring his characters, as well as playing a sporting role as himself in a number of shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Lee was known for his wicked sense of humour.

Passionate about the arts, the Stan Lee Foundation was founded in 2010 to focus on literacy, education, and the arts. Its stated goals include supporting programs and ideas that improve access to literacy resources, as well as promoting diversity, national literacy, culture and the arts.

Married to Joan Boocock Lee, a voice actress whom he survived by a little over a year, Lee has two daughters who will, doubtless, miss him as much as his adoring fans, who will never forget the unique niche he carved out in the superhero genre.

Ultimately, Lee’s works and ideas have resonated across the creative community, and his unique ideas and ready wit will influence many generations to come.

John Bowie Interview: “As far back as I can remember I’ve written”

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This week John Bowie, from the beautiful city of Bristol talks me through his gritty crime fiction and how he came to write it.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime noir fiction?

I started out writing dirty realism, which evolved a crime side to it. The noir has always been there: the atmosphere tying it together. A shout line ‘Classic Crime Noir Full of Dirty Realism’ was used for my first book. I think it still works. There are many layers for book lovers, writers and music fans to discover beyond its pigeonhole though.

I wasn’t sure of crime fiction originally. I always loved dirty realism, the Beat Generation and noir and they flowed to and from my semi-autobiographical pieces I was working on.

Then I read a Robert Lewis book on a beach in Malaysia. Realising it was set in the same city and timeframe as my work, and with a really similar tone, my wife and I almost wondered if I had some Fight Club style alter ego. I referenced this in my themes of identity in Untethered. Paul Auster, who I’m a big fan of too, and Robert Lewis both get honorary mentions in Untethered as well as quite a few other writers, bands and artists who I’ve been inextricably interwoven together with by creativity over time.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing?

As far back as I can remember I’ve written. I had a short story published, Milburn’s Last Class, with Storgy this year. This was a dark fiction piece reimagining a story I’d actually written and read out in school. It was my revenge through storytelling after being repeatedly berated by my teacher.

My writing took a more purposeful vocation as I started writing what I thought was my version of Bukowski’s Post Office in 1998. I worked for a corporate hellhole of a bank at the time and it was good therapy to drink, write, paint and anything else besides what I was meant to be doing. It built up into four outlined books over time and sat on a virtual shelf in my head and in lots of sketch and notebooks. They were semi-autobiographical noir pieces but lacking a momentum somehow. Later I discovered hardboiled P.I. and crime fiction. The mechanisms I discovered in these were such an important springboard to move my works off my shelf and onto other peoples’. It gave my writing a vehicle beyond the cathartic poetic rants I was used to.

Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers enjoy them?

I feel the semi-autobiographical elements give a depth that can only come from reading something that has already or is maybe going to happen. With the lyrical atmosphere, it’s a believable hard fiction with a killer soundtrack. I use metaphysical tools to place the reader in my past and present.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I try to master the art of saying complex things in a simple way. There are so many good writers to discover and old favourites — true masters at it. I’ve been lucky and discovered some great new ones through my writing.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

Ghosts and future memories of the cities, music, people and life I’ve encountered all wrestle round in my head, waiting to be written out.

I always have a notebook for short story ideas and another for my novels to make notes with me. These notebooks are written into each story. They’re as real as the characters and places in them.

I listen to music and revisit it and the towns and cities my stories are set in, to add to the atmosphere too. This gives the words a lyrical feeling; like notes. The music and words weave together, pushing me on. It feeds the flow of it all as I go. Factory records, the Hacienda and the music of my time in Manchester (mid to late 90s) are at the heart of Untethereds’ follow-up, Transference. All four books in the series (so far) have intentional Joy Division feeling one-word titles with multiple interpretations.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me and 24hr Party People films made me think he’s passionate about the same music and themes that surround my stories; maybe I’ll send him a copy of something…

Ian Curtis, Sally Potter, Mary Harron, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Mark E. Smith, Charles Bukowski and David Cronenberg are all just wistful thinking; to bring them together for a drink fuelled brain drop of ideas.

What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I dabbled playing with horror tropes recently. I applied my semi-autobiographical elements, music and questions on identity. It’s just come out with Dead Man’s Tome in the U.S. I’d like to try the same with other genres as short story exercises. I saw some great old Western covers in an old bookshop at lunchtime and thought a dark and dirty Brit-Western-Noir would work for me: ‘A Weston-Super-Nightmare’.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Anything by Paul D. Brazill, Paul Heatley, Julian Barnes, Paul Auster and all the others I keep finding: there’s not enough time to quench the thirst they create. 

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for the interview- I’m chuffed to be asked!

It’s been great to hear your thoughts and learn more about your work, so thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

 

Bare Minimum Parenting Review: James Breakwell Strikes Again!

Bare Mimimum Parenting

Despite not having (nor ever wanting) kids, I thoroughly enjoyed James Breakwell’s previous book Only Dead On The Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, I was excited to find out what new nuggets of parenting expertise this dad of four, known online as Exploding Unicorn, had to offer in his latest book.

With its publication scheduled for tomorrow I thought I’d share my perspective on this latest offering from the American father of four girls, whose exploits I excitedly follow online. As a reviewer of his previous book I was pleased to receive the second and eager to find out the latest insight and knowledge that this Star Wars loving nerd turned dad had to impart.

Granted, I’m not really the audience he’s probably going for, being a woman with no desire or actual children who isn’t a mad fan of non-fiction books. Despite this, I found myself laughing out loud at points while reading Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child. 

Proudly declaring right from the start that his book contains no factual evidence, studies or anything remotely scientific, Breakwell has created a resource based on personal experience, which is both endearing and endlessly funny.

Going through the potential issues of different types of parenting, predominantly overachievers, Breakwell showcases how they are inherently wrong. Less anecdotal than I would have thought and liked it to be, the book nonetheless draws on the author’s experiences raising four young children to offer a completely new approach to parenting.

Defining and describing his pioneering strategy in detail, Breakwell makes an utterly hilarious case for simply letting children become who they are going to be, only shaping them when they steer too far towards the bad side of crazy. As Breakwell aptly states on page 28: ‘If you’re looking for a life goal, a good one is, “Don’t raise a serial killer.”’

Ultimately, Breakwell’s approach can be summed up by a popular saying: Don’t sweat the small stuff. He repeatedly reminds his readers that young kids forget pretty much everything, and as such they aren’t going to care if you weren’t there enough or gave them too many rules (within reason). This combined with his witty remarks and humorous asides about his own children make Bare Minimum Parenting a great read for anyone who has, wants or interacts with kids and is frightened that whatever they do will somehow influence them and change their lives for the worst. Spoiler alert: James Breakwell doesn’t think it will.

 

Martin Ungless Interview: “Crime is such a great vehicle for driving forward a story”

Martin Ungless

Crime writer Martin Ungless explains his work and how he has created a unique novel in his book Duck Egg Blues.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction? 

I like a nice plot, me. Crime is such a great vehicle for driving forward a story and putting characters in tricky situations, it’s got the potential to be page turning and fantastically entertaining, and in my case, so I’m told, laugh-out-loud.

I’ve always written, but had a brief interlude, a decade or so, as an architect. That’s a great education for a writer; disciplined creativity and learning to critique ones own work. It was also in my case an exercise in narrative and on producing something that pleased the public, and these days of course that’s the reader.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing?

Perhaps I’ve already half-answered that, but I do think when I designed buildings that the stories they told were important. At that same time, I was continuing to hone my practical writing skills with articles in the architectural press. I do feel that writing is another outlet for the pleasure of creation, just with a different brief, and requiring a whole other set of skills. I have written a fair few short stories, and as well as refining technique these can also be usefully entered in competitions, even a long-listing can keep a writer going through the long dark self-doubt times, and sometimes you even get to win!

Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers and critics enjoy them?

I think readers enjoy genre fiction because we all like more of the same but different. Sometimes for me that difference comes in blending the genres themselves. I write fiction that surprises, always, regardless of whether I am genre-blending or not, and I can pretty well guarantee that you will not have read anything like one of my stories before; though (more of the same but different) my books are full of crime and detection and peril and complications and characters who suffer and win through. It’s not that my stories are so far out there, I just have a vivid imagination. Not a bad trait for a writer, I guess.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I’ve got pretty eclectic tastes. Right now I’m working my way through a whole history of C20th classic Crime, reading and rereading, trying to understand what works so well for them. I don’t know if your readers have come across They Shoot Horse Don’t They? I read that quite recently and it’s a cracker, that and the astonishing The Postman Always Rings Twice. Both feel like they were at least half a century before their time. I utterly love the energy of something like Fight Club, and the exceptional dialogue of Elmore Leonard. Outside of Crime, I’m a huge fan of Murakami.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

I’ve got wide interests hence the multiple-genres, but in particular I’m a fan of technology, and this passion gave rise to PArdew, my robot-butler-detective from Duck Egg Blues, and is also the reason why I’m currently working on a high-tech hacker thriller.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I think I mentioned him already, but I do think Elmore Leonard had an utterly extraordinary ear for dialogue. I think it was based on his deep understanding of character, and if they could rub off on me, boy would those be some nice skills to learn. Sadly he has passed away.

What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

My high-tech international crime thriller is called Orange612. The opening section was listed for a Debut Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association this year, so I’m pretty buzzed to be working on that.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I haven’t read Melmoth yet, that looks a cracker and The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, well, you just know that’s something else!

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for inviting me to talk about my work, I think it might be almost as fun as writing it.

Thanks you for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been great to hear your thoughts.

 

Happy Halloween! Hope You Get To Spend It Reading!

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Happy Halloween! I hope you’re having a spooky day and getting more treats than tricks! Thanks for checking out my blog and mad love to all my followers- I appreciate your support! I hope you’re having a great day filled with dressing up, sweets,  silly decorations, pumpkin carving and, of course, reading!

If you need some inspiration on what to pick up today then take a look at The Top Five Best Short Reads to Spook You Out On Halloween as well as The Top Five Edgar Allan Poe Stories to Give You The Shivers and of course The Ten Best Horror Stories! Happy Reading!

Hugh Fraser Interview: “I’ve always enjoyed the gritty American crime writers like Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy”

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This week I’ve got an awesome treat for fans of the Rina Walker novels, as I talk to Hugh Fraser, Actor and Writer extraordinaire, who offers me an insight into his books and how his experiences influenced them.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards thrillers?

I’m not aware of having a particular writing style but I’ve always enjoyed the gritty American crime writers like Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy and I imagine I must have been influenced by them in terms of style and also as to my choice of genre.

How do you draw on your time acting and how does it inspire your writing?

When I was a student at drama school in the early 1960s I lived in Notting Hill when it was a much poorer and rougher area than it is today and so I was able to observe the deprived conditions that Rina Walker grew up in and the criminality and racial prejudice that existed then. When I had no acting work in the early days I also worked as a musician in the kind of Soho hostess clubs that Rina frequents with her girlfriend Lizzie.

Tell me all about the Rina Walker series. What was your inspiration?

I have always collected the black and white photographs of Roger Mayne and Bert Hardy who captured so many evocative images of the poverty and dilapidation of the post-war inner cities. Roger Mayne’s series depicting the street life of Notting Hill and North Kensington in the 1950s I found particularly evocative, with Teddy Boys in their drainpipe trousers and drape jackets, and Teddy Girls in pencil skirts and tailored jackets with velvet collars, strutting their stuff, while raggedy little kids in threadbare clothes play football and hopscotch, or gather on the steps of the tenements.

It was in this neighborhood and this kind of poverty that I imagined my heroine Rina Walker growing up, the daughter of a recently murdered gangster and alcoholic mother, forced into a life of crime at an early age in order to care for and support her two younger siblings and all too soon acquiring the skills and expertise of a contract killer.

What books do you like to read yourself and how do they impact on your own writing?

I have just finished the wonderful Love Hurts by William Boyd and I’m about to start Milkman by Anna Burns, which has just won the Booker Prize. I’m afraid these kind of beautifully written novels, which make us consider our lives and how we live them, have little or no impact on my own writing. My books are no more than entertainment of a very basic kind.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

What an interesting question. I think it would have to be Marcel Proust – but only if he’d let me share his Madeleines.

What’s next for the Rina Walker series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I have no plans to start another outing for Rina at the moment but I won’t be surprised if she gives me a nudge sometime soon.

Is there any other work you’ve got coming up that you would like to tell me about?

I’m going to Iceland in a couple of weeks to appear in the Icelandic Noir Festival, which I’m really excited about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to moving forward?

I heard Edith Eger on Woman’s Hour this morning talking about The Choice, her harrowing account of surviving Auschwitz and slave labour in Germany. I was deeply moved by her heroism and optimism after enduring such unbelievable hardship and I can’t wait to read it.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for asking me to join you.

It’s been awesome hearing from you, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read more about Hugh and his work HERE.