Archive for the General Musings Category

The Write Stuff…

Posted in General Musings, Writing and words with tags , , , , on December 12, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yesterday was the first time in goodness knows how long that I actually read a book for pleasure, that book being Tim Lebbon’s The Thief of Broken Toys (ChiZine Publications). Apart from the actual pleasure derived from just the simple act of reading and not having to review it, it also did what all good stories should do: resonated with me on some deep level. I am not a father (although I do have a twenty-year-old stepson) and yet the story spoke to me eloquently about the strength of a parent’s love, and the relationship between their child(ren) and them. It also described perfectly the depth of grief that the death of a child can bring, and how it can affect the equilibrium of even the most level-headed of people. But it also carried a warning: that sometimes that grief can become a destroyer, and that it can usurp reason if we allow it to. I won’t say anything beyond that about the book, as I have yet to write the second part of my Top Reads 2010 post, and this is definitely going in there – now I am just waiting on Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land to arrive so I can read that (as I have been recommended to by numerous people) to see whether that’ll make it into my list.

But Tim’s novella did more than just get me onto thinking about the stuff of primal human emotion and instincts – it also made me wonder about what actually makes a good story, or rather what elevates a story or writer above the ordinary. As many of you know, I have aspirations of becoming a writer myself, and when reading other people’s work, especially those that connect with me in some manner, I try to look a little beyond the surface to determine what it is about that particular story that works. Not all stories and authors possess the same ability, and consequently I am deeply fascinated by how and why some writers are better than others. Simply put, I am trying to figure out, through reading the stories of others, what I can do to create magical, timeless and enduring tales of my own.

It’s not just about the way an author writes, although that is necessarily a great part of it – Tim writes in a very lean unfussy style that manages to capture emotion, feeling, character and place precisely. It’s a very direct type of storytelling, one that drives straight into the heart and mind of the reader – it certainly doesn’t hang around, but it is simultaneously neither prosaic nor unpoetic. It’s also not just about the subject matter, either – for instance, tales dealing with the aftermath of the loss of a child, told through the perspective of a grieving parent, have been written before, and will be again. Of course, there’s strength to Tim’s narrative as he is himself a parent, and one can only imagine what must have been going through his own mind as he wrote this, even if it was only the briefest of passing thoughts.

No, there’s something ‘other’ going on here, something which is above and beyond attempting to tell a good story. There’s ‘truth’ here, a species of truth that speaks to everyone, regardless of whether they’re a parent or not. The emotions delineated here are the most primal that any human can experience, and in many ways form the bedrock of what it is to be human. Even beyond that, however, is the manner of storytelling. Yes, The Thief of Broken Toys has its fantastical elements, but they enhance the story, not detract from it, and they’re integrated so seamlessly into the narrative that its hardly noticeable. The fantastical elements don’t obscure the essential truth of the tale – even in the midst of wonders we accept them as real, never even bothering to question.

This is what makes great storytelling, in whatever guise it clothes itself. It speaks directly and without having to ask us to suspend disbelief – we just do the latter instinctively and without thinking. Sometimes yes, I do want to read something less cerebral and more in your face or superficial, but when I want something more I expect something that happens naturally and that I don’t have to work at in order to discern meaning or intent. The matter of the story seeps into the skin in a process of literary osmosis and does so in an unobtrusive manner – you don’t even realise it’s happened until you close the book and put it down. And then it hits you.

More than that, however, writing like this is inspirational. It would be easy to say to myself “I’m never going to be able to write anything like that” but can I actually be sure I won’t? It’s easy to forget that these writers have been at their craft for years and someone like me has only got into it relatively recently. So no, I can never be sure that one day I won’t sit down and write something that will not only astound others but me as well. Furthermore, I’ll never find out whether I have the ability or not if I don’t sit down and write. Even if I don’t achieve similar results, I can have fun trying to get there (an essential prerequisite.

And that, to me, is what makes a good story and a good writer.

2010: a look back…

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , on December 9, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

This is the time of year when people start reviewing the kind of year they’ve had, so, for once, I thought I’d do something similar to what everybody else does (and get it done early) and assess what’s been going on in my life for the past twelve months. It’s been a decidedly mixed year for both Liz and I, but nearing the tail end of 2010 as we are things have settled down considerably from how they were earlier on.

2010 started off well enough, with Liz and I’s futures looking quite rosy. I was writing almost non-stop, Bookgeeks had asked me if I would like to start reviewing for them and I was getting to know quite a few people in the writing world. Liz meanwhile had a secure job and good prospects for a permanent job and promotion. At least, that was until May, when Liz was told she had to have a major operation and, the day before it was due to be performed, she was told that her work contract was not going to be renewed. So, quite a jolt there, as you can imagine. Financially, that decision, in combination with Liz having to take time off work to recuperate, necessarily meant having to tighten our belts considerably.

But, I carried on writing and networking, attending both the alt.fiction event in Derby later on in May and the Terror Scribes day in Leicester in July. Met more than a few of my FB friends at both events – always nice to actually meet people in the flesh and not just as virtual acquaintances. The hotel in Derby after alt-fiction was a bit shite, though, as the morning staff looked at me as if I was something unthinkable stuck to the bottom of their shoe. Not going there again, plus it was miles outside the city itself.

Between then and the next time we were all to meet, I was asked to contribute to another review site, Beyond Fiction, and all the while my circle of friends was getting wider and wider. Liz, it has to be said, recovered spectacularly well from her operation and within weeks had found herself some new employment, so some of the strain was taken off.

The big event to look forward to was FantasyCon, held in Nottingham. Met up with a load of friends there, much drink was had and I came away with more books than I thought possible. One other side-effect of FCon was the sheer buzz I got from it, so much so that, after some careful thought, I decided that I was going to set up a small, independent press, to be called Spectral Press. Originally supposed to be launched at the next FCon in Brighton, the first volume is due to be published in January 2011 instead, after the excellent response I have had from people about it – which includes a promise of stories from some very fine authors, I have to say. I have many plans for the press, dependent (of course) on Spectral’s success – but I sincerely hope that it’s the start of some very good things for all concerned with it.

Additionally, I have been asked to provide the cover paintings to two books, Crabs: Apocalypse (by Dave Jeffery and Stuart Neild) and The Unspoken, the latter an anthology of stories in aid of cancer charities, edited by Willie Meikle and Stephen James Price. I was also asked to do a portrait of Gary McMahon as well (by the man himself), thus pitching me back joyfully into the painting side of things.

I also edited my first ever book, Let it Bleed by Stephanie Schmitz, which will published in hard-copy around the time of my birthday next year in February. That was a challenge which I was more than happy to rise to – looking forward to receiving a copy just after it’s published.

On December 3rd, I had my first story published in Dark Valentine online magazine. It isn’t a perfect story by any means – but I still think it’s something that I can build on. Next year I will be concentrating a lot more on the writing side of things, and attenpting to hone my skills and abilities in that regard.

As a consequence, I will be winding down somewhat on the book-reviewing, as I guess I won’t have time to do everything. I also want (need) to read more – I have sadly neglected reading for pleasure this year so I think it’s about time I pulled my finger out on that one. And, of course, I need to get out there and promote  Spectral Press to all and sundry, no doubt with a little help from my friends, as the saying goes.

Finally, Liz had some very good news recently – she will be in full-time work next year, meaning we have a decent amount to live on. Of course, I will be bringing in a little money myself, so things are gradually sorting themselves out. We WON’T be moving north to Scotland, as was originally planned – after due consideration, the opportunity was too good for Liz to pass up. The plan is STILL to move there at some point, just not sure when now.

Most importantly, though, Liz and I celebrated three years of marriage in June and, come January 1st, we’ll have been together for five years all told. As sentimental as it may sound, if it hadn’t have been for Liz, things would have been very different for me – I wouldn’t have met all the fine people I have and I certainly wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to set up my own publishing imprint. I still have a long way to go, certainly, but I am determined to get there. I may make a few mistakes and take a few wrong turns on the road, but I am only human. I am still wont to believe that 2011 will be a good year for both Liz and I, and for a lot of others too.

In that spirit, I shall finish by saying that I hope all your plans and schemes come to fruition in 2011!!

Interlude

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Well, today I will be sending off the final bits and pieces of the first Spectral chapbook to Neil for the final layout and then, hopefully, I’ll be able to pass them on to the printers either at the end of this week or the beginning of next. This will be the bit where I become incredibly nervous, the part where I hope the product justifies the hype. I have put everything I have into this: I hope that the trust that all the authors have invested in me and the work put into putting it all together by Neil Williams is recompensed, not to mention those people who have kindly sent me subscriptions.

I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night when it really hit me that I am actually doing this, that what was just an abstract concept a few short months ago is becoming a reality within the next few weeks. That’s quite a scary, yet incredibly exhilarating, feeling – it’d be akin to seeing the film-script you wrote months back turned into a programme on the TV. Or the painting you’d created used as a book cover. It’s a completely indescribable emotion.

I’d like to think that Spectral Press will become a hallmark of excellence, the sort of imprint that authors would feel honoured to become a part of. I am very enthusiastic about its prospects, but I am also aware of just how much work is needed in order for it to get where I want it to go. I have plans for the future, but they’re entirely dependent on the success of this line of chapbooks. I am learning every day, but I certainly feel that I have brought together the right ingredients that’ll make the magic happen, but only time will tell, to use a cliché. I am quietly confident – once let Spectral fly, the it’ll in the lap of the gods, as they say.

(The picture above doesn’t really relate to anything I’ve written – it’s a frost-laden day here, with blue skies, bright sun, and bitterly cold…. and even the estate where I live can be vaguely described as picturesque because of it…)…

The calm before the storm…

Posted in General Musings, News with tags , , , , , , , on December 6, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Oh yes, it really is the lull, the quiet interregnum just prior to the mad, swirling chaos that will hit the palatial Marshall-Jones Mansions within the next four to six weeks. Spectral Press Volume I is nearly ready to be sent to the printers, just the final few details to sort out and then it’ll be in their hands, either at the end of this week or beginning of next at the latest. A brief moment of calm, then collect signature sheets, get them sent off to Gary, wait anxiously for their return, take them back to printers for everything to be collated and then another brief moment of calm.

And then the mad rush of stuffing and addressing labels begins, ensuring that subscribers get their copies, promotional activity to all and sundry, sending out PDFs to reviewers, answering enquiries…. and then onto getting Spectral Press Volume II ready… and doing everything again when that gets published… and you know what? Bring it on!!

A couple of nights ago, as I took a break from whatever it was I was doing, I had cause to ponder: Why am I doing this? I know damn well that this isn’t going to earn me a living, let alone make me a millionaire – so why do it? It’s simple: I love books, love the written word and, most especially, love a good, well-told story, written by authors who care about what they write. The very fact that I am creating something in a field that I have derived immense pleasure from is good reason enough for me. If I make a little money that I can put back into the projects I have in mind, should Spectral Press be a success, then even better. But, to coin a cliché, I feel like I am giving something back after taking so much from the scene over the years.

Having said that, I also want to avoid over-extending myself. This is the crucial difference between Spectral Press and FracturedSpacesRecords – I did way too much too soon with the latter, inevitably leaving me with a lot of stock that I am unable to sell (live and learn, eh?). Which is why Spectral will, at most, only publish once a quarter for the forseeable future (or only three in the first year). Admittedly, books are a damn sight easier to deal with, plus I appear to have gained a measure of goodwill from those in the scene, for which I am grateful. Above all, though, I am enjoying myself more than I have ever done with anything else I’ve ever been involved in.

I also like to be busy – I abhor boredom. There’s nothing worse than having nothing to occupy yourself with, apart from watching TV (most of which I detest) or drinking (and I REALLY don’t want to go there again – that was a bad place for me). So, running something like an independent publishers is ideal in many ways – and there’ll be many challenges ahead, but those will keep the stasis firmly away.

And now… as an added bonus, here’s Daniele Serra’s cover art for Cate Gardner’s Nowhere Hall chapbook (please note: the text will be different and everything will eventually conform to the Spectral Press ‘look’ – this is to give you some idea of what it’ll look like, however):

© 2010 Daniele Serra/Spectral Press

More news soon!!

The reading blues…

Posted in Books, General Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

A couple of times recently, I’ve noticed people (principally reviewers, I should note) saying that they’re suffering from the reading blues. Well, I’ve been going through exactly the same thing for the last month or two – apart from the books I’ve been asked to review I haven’t, until very recently, actually picked up a book just to read solely for pleasure. I’m still ploughing through a book of short stories by one of my favourite authors, HP Lovecraft – and I started reading it in mid-summer. This is very unlike me – I used to go through books at a frightening rate, reading a couple a week.

I’ve been wondering why I felt a slight ennui when it comes to reading for pleasure recently. Perhaps it’s simply because, on some days at least, I have trouble keeping my eyes open after working a 12-hour day and I just can’t bear the prospect of doing anyting other than going to sleep. Or it crossed my mind that, being a reviewer, you sometimes suffer from ‘book-fatigue’, that having read something all day and making notes about it, the idea that you want to read even more just to wind down is somehow just too unappealing. A third possibility was that it was just me.

So, to read that others have the same problem is heartening, in a way. My dad bequeathed to me a love of books and the written-word that I have carried with me ever since I was able to read (over forty years now and counting), and the thought that I have somehow become tired of them is quite appalling in my book. There are far too few people who read books these days, or so we are led to believe – and I certainly don’t want to join their ranks.

I guess, to an extent, it’s something about the fact that when I review a book I am not only looking at it from the point of view of whether it’s a good story or not, but also from a ‘meta’ aspect as well, ie. analysing the deeper constituents of what the author’s trying to do. Use of language and words, rhythms, the believability of characters and plot, and how it all flows together come into play here. It’s only one step removed from what I did in school when I studied English Literature A-level all those years ago; the only difference, I feel, is that at least I (mostly) get to choose the books I review and they’re all in genres I enjoy reading. I find that sometimes, even when reading ro relax, I default to my literary critic persona almost automatically.

A similar thing happened after my university course – it included a film-studies module. In it, we were taught how to ‘deconstruct’ films, looking at context, subtext, use of imagery, how the camera (angles, movement) was used to help tell the story, use of lighting to accentuate things, etc., etc. I enjoyed it immensely as it allowed me to look at favourite films with new eyes. After a while, however, I found that, whenever I saw a film, either on TV or in the cinema, I just instantly switched into ‘celluloid deconstructionist’ mode – and often it would spoil my enjoyment of the film. There were times indeed when I simply wished that I could either completely forget what I’d learnt or at the very least be able to switch it all off.

I do the same with a book, any book, although I am consciously aware that I am doing it and then I actively try to remember that I am now reading for the hell of it, not reviewing. I just want to read it, not decode the damn thing. So, in some measure, I’ve been avoiding reading books  that I don’t need to review for that reason, even if subconsciously. I have it deeply ingrained into my psyche that books are for enjoyment, and if anything that is likely to spoil that quality looms I make sure that I swerve away from it. Hence the recent bout of ‘reading blues’….

Just the other night, however, I picked up a book, just to read for pleasure, for the first time in months – Tim Lebbon’s The Thief of Broken Toys. I’m still fighting against that urge to read it as if I were doing a review, an urge which is incredibly annoying. I am NOT going to review the book (and that isn’t meant as a slight to Tim, btw) – I just want to enjoy it for what it is, a beautifully-told story. You have my permission to slap me if you ever see an in-depth review of it by me posted anywhere. Hopefully, I’ll start to come out of feeling those blues very soon as a consequence – no reader likes to feel this way. =D

Musings on Mary Danby…

Posted in General Musings, Nostalgia with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yesterday, I pontificated on the processes involved in the editing I’ve been doing over the last fortnight – today, I’ll ruminate on the other job I’ve been involved with over the same time period. Regular visitors to this blog will know that I have been scanning in the short stories of Mary Danby, in preparation for the release of a retrospective collection of her work to be published by Noose and Gibbet Publishing early next year. I have to admit that, before this year, I’d only vaguely heard of this prolific author, as I’d never read any of the books that she was involved in editing or writing for. Strange though it may appear, when I was a child I very rarely read children’s books, preferring to read my Dad’s small collection of sci-fi books by many of the greats, as well as authors like Michael Moorcock and Tolkien (the only concession to children’s literature I remember was reading the Alfred Hitchcock presents The Three Investigators series of books and a select few others).

Volunteering to scan in so many of her stories has been a delight, and an undiscovered gem that I’m sorry I missed when I was younger. Of course, I am reading them now through the eyes of an adult, and a slightly cynical and jaded one at that. When you develop and hone your critical faculties as you become older, it’s far too easy to dismiss such stories as bland efforts to scare children and younger teenagers. However, those same critical faculties allow you to discern that, while presumably having to write to a certain formula for the market that many of the books Danby edited and wrote for were aimed at, there’s also a firm sense that she knew how to speak to youngsters without talking down to them AND also talking to them in terms they could relate to. It’s readily apparent that she remembered what it was like to be a teenager, with all its attendant troubles, like school and trying to negotiate the complexities of friendships, first loves and the intimidating (and often very confusing) world of the adult.

In addtion, Danby never once underestimates the intelligence or sophistication of the young reader – by the time that he or she has reached the age-group that Danby was writing for, they’d probably have already discovered that life is nowhere near as rosy, cosy or simple as stories from their childhood years had painted, and that in fact life could be very unfair. Heroes don’t always win, and the people you least expect bad things to happen to often find themselves going through horrendous circumstances. A good case in point is Arbor Day, the first story I scanned. The automatic assumption, in a perfect world, is that the spoilt rich-kid Stephanie, with her lofty and slightly condescencing character, would be the one who would be brought down a peg or two – instead, it’s the other girl, Lisa, who finds herself on the receiving end of cosmic justice (for want of a better description). Or The Natterjack, where the genteel occupant of a country cottage comes up against a malign force of nature and the results are definitely not what one would normally expect (or want, for that matter).

Reading the stories through, it’s also immediately evident that they would instantly appeal on so many different levels to teens, with a broad stock of stories containing tales of revenge, sprinkled with elements of surprise, odd, macabre twists and just general nastiness. Many of them I would have loved as a child, appreciating the twists and turns and, in one or two cases, the squirm-inducing nature of the plots (Slugs being a prime example of that). I can honestly imagine reading some of these at bedtime, under the blankets with the lights out and nothing but a torch to read by. These stories are the sort of precarious thrill that every child of the type that I was would have have delighted in.

Her stories for older people, young adults maybe, I felt were less successful, although Keeping in Touch put me in mind of Robert W. Chambers (author of the deeply shiver-inducing The King in Yellow) in terms of atmospherics. Stories of haunted individuals, ghosts themselves despite being clothed in living flesh and blood, are, in many respects, scarier and more moving than tales of actual ghosts. In this tale in particular, it isn’t even the supernatural elements that frighten – it’s the narrator himself, despite his outwardly calm demeanour, that causes the most shivers. I would go on to say that, out of all the stories I’ve scanned so far, this has been by far and away the best.

I still have a couple of tales to scan as of this writing, plus I am expecting a second batch to arrive any day now. No doubt I’ll pass comment on those after I’ve finished with those as well. In the meantime, I can say that I am glad to have had an oversight corrected – albeit bearing with it a smidgin of regret that I didn’t read the Armada and Fontana books when I was younger, a time when I would have felt their impact even more. Having said that, it’s marvellous that I’ve been given the opportunity to discover and get to know Mary Danby’s body of work over the preceding weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product – and I can hazard a guess at this stage that it’ll be worth your while investing in a copy yourselves.

Authors: Adulation or Appreciation?

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , , on November 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

(What follows is nothing more than personal opinion, about a subject that I find fascinating, incomprehensible and uncomfortably disturbing in roughly equal measure – ultimately, there is no right or wrong here, just differences of opinion and expression. This is just me ranting on a Saturday afternoon….)

—()—

We all have public figures or celebrities that we admire to one degree or another, people who have attained some kind of status for what they do or whose work touches us in some way. For the most part, it amounts to just a grand appreciation for their art, or their charitable work, or whatever it is they do, an appreciation that they have brought pleasure into our lives in some way or that they’re doing something to change the lives of others in a positive way. We’d like to meet  or contact them, yes, just to let them know how much their work means to us, perhaps, or to show them how they’ve inspired us, or just thank them for doing what they do. Sometimes we take a piece of them away with us in the form of a photograph posing with them, or getting their autographs. Sometimes, however, some people appear to take that appreciation to beyond a norm, bordering on the sycophantic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I actually find it vaguely disturbing when people start effusing in public about how ‘awesome’ and ‘brilliant’ their hero/heroine is (when it goes beyond the norm, that is), how everything their favourite personality says or does is of paramount importance and value, and that said personality can do no wrong. I’d expect it of teens or young people, that’s a natural part of growing up and exploring their (and their values’) relationship to the world around them. But when it comes from adults, it just seems to be wrong.

Lately, I have seen a few people make gushing remarks about JK Rowling on various networking sites. Certainly, whatever you think of her writing, whether good or bad, she has done a great many meritorious things: created a bestselling book franchise, all of which have been turned into equally successful films, raised the profile of women writers, earned stratospheric amounts of money while doing so and then simultaneously putting that money where her mouth is by using some of those earnings (£10m) to fund the establishment of a centre to help in the search for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, for instance. Plus, by all accounts, she has stuck to the ideals and convictions she had before she became famous and fabulously wealthy. Worthy things all. But, does it mean that we should practically worship the ground she walks on?

The bottom line is that she’s human, just like the rest of us; she’s one of the very lucky few who are not only doing something they love, but have also risen spectacularly to the top in doing so. I’ve never read any of her work (and, quite frankly, I’m not really that interested in doing so), nevertheless I have quite a bit of admiration for her for grabbing every opportunity that came her way and also for having the persistence and strength of conviction to pursue her dream. It takes a certain type of person to do that and, quite plainly, her hard work and belief in herself has reaped massive rewards. It’s merely what all of us as writers/artists would like to happen to us as a result of the hard work we put in, but some are luckier than others.

However, when it comes to adults gushing profusely on a public forum, it becomes embarrassing and slightly disturbing, in my view. Don’t mistake me, I’d love to meet Clive Barker, the writer solely responsible for getting me interested in the horror and contemporary fantasy genres back in the 80s and inspiring me to have a go at writing myself (somewhat unsuccessfully back then, it has to be said). I’d like to sit down with him over a beer and just talk to him about his work, like I did with Brian Lumley many years ago.  Just a chance to natter about writing and the creative process with the man – ultimately, he’s just a guy who’s been lucky enough to earn a living from his work and become well-known in the process. Not everything he’s written has appealed to me. He’s human, so am I – none of us are perfect. Some ideas work, others don’t.

(Of course, I say the above from the safety of my living room – if Mr. Barker was to  knock on my front door now, I’d probably blush and faint in his presence and all that rubbishy malarky)

To look at your favourite writer’s work, and judge it uncritically, is, in some ways, doing them a disfavour. All authors want their work to be judged on its own merits and not just because it’s been written by them. They want what they do to be appreciated. I like HR Giger’s work immensely, but some paintings of his speak to me louder than others, while some I positively dislike. It might be that being a reviewer helps, inasmuch as I have to be objective as far as is humanly possible to do my job properly. If I think a favourite author’s work is not up to standard, then I’ll say so. Honesty is always more helpful than dishonesty.

When I was younger, a friend of mine and I used to have a minor disagreement over who was ‘the best band in the world’ (a silly concept in itself): he said Oasis, I championed The Young Gods. But ultimately it’s a pointless exercise – taste is a subjective thing. I didn’t like Oasis, and he thought they were better than The Young Gods. And that’s all it was. The same applies to any other field of human creative endeavour – it’s merely the application of subjective criteria that lead us to favour one author/artist/band over another. When you strip everything away, however, those celebrities we ‘idolise’ are exactly the same as us – flesh, bone, blood, sinew and mucous. It’s just that they’re the lucky ones.

I think that’s why I get chills when I hear sycophantic remarks or compliments about certain people, posted where everyone can see them. There’s a slightly distasteful tang of insecurity about people saying them, especially adults. Praise where it’s due is certainly appreciated – but if your hero disappoints then don’t be afraid of expressing that disappointment. It’s a recognition that they are, after all, the same as us. And whilst I am glad that some may have found something of worth in their lives, something that they feel the need to tell everyone about, not all of us feel the same way. Generally speaking, I can easily ignore the over-the-top statements about personalities, because I also believe that it is peoples’ right to express themselves thusly, but just occasionally I feel a little shiver go through me when I read an overly-gushy comment. Like I say, I feel there’s something slightly distasteful and disturbing about it….

On the other hand, it could be that I am getting to be a cantankerous, curmedgeonly and cynical old sod as I get older (which is inherently more likely)…. =D

Another small celebration

Posted in General Musings on November 24, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Just a very short blog to let everyone know that today Ramblings of a Tattooed Head is six months old. Yes, SIX months old. I’m frankly amazed that I am still here, that people still appear to be interested enough to want to come and read what I have to say AND, more importantly, I am still as enthusiastic and excited about maintaining it as I was when I set it up on May 24th this year.

Looking back on everything, the reasons why I keep writing this blog have shifted considerably. First it was all to do with my writing and was primarily aimed at those, like me, who were trying to find their way in the literary world. Then it swerved away from that and dealt more with the reviewing side of things – and now it’s swerved yet again, this time more towards my publishing/editorial ambitions, with Spectral Press just about to launch for real within the next two months. What with me having some painting projects lined up for next year, I can see the emphasis shifting again. Exciting times indeed.

However, the writing hasn’t been forsaken, I hasten to add. I have had some ideas for a YA novel, of all things, which I’ve had in my head for some years now, so when I finally get time (maybe over Christmas), I’ll start plotting it out and having a crack at it. The reviewing will also be resumed after the present bout of work, but that will eventually be curtailed to a much more manageable level as I’ve realised the futility of trying to do everything. Then there’s the resumption of the painting, which I am very much looking forward to.

So, 2011 is already looking busy – a state I could never have imagined six months ago. It just goes to show what hard work and persistence can achieve, I guess. I’m intrigued as to what projects I’ll be involved in when I write the celebratory note for Rambling’s first anniversary in another six months’ time. Who knows, eh? Just keep watching this space, as someone once said….

A welcome break

Posted in General Musings on November 15, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

I have to say, the couple of bits of work that have come my way recently are something of a welcome break. In just the last month I have been asked to edit a book and to scan some stories into the computer for a collection due to be published early next year. I will admit here that reading was beginning to pall slightly, which is rather awkward considering that I’m a book reviewer. I’ve noticed, however, that such things go in cycles and on a fairly regular basis too.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love reading (and always will) but, like everything else, I don’t like too much of a good thing. Having too much of anything, even if it’s something you’re particularly fond of doing, inevitably leads to ennui and boredom (even resentment) setting in (in my case, anyway. That’s the last thing I want happening. I could already feel  that resentment starting to nibble away at the edges of my mind.

Thankfully, then, two projects landed in my inbox in just the nick of time, promising to keep the gremlins of “I-don’t-want-to-do-this” at bay. But, that’s also an indicator that I do have a mind that needs to be constantly occupied otherwise I just start metaphorically dribbling and losing brain-cells (which is starting to happen now anyway, given my age LOL). In the wake of the stroke I had nearly 14 years ago, you can’t imagine how grateful I am that my mind is still very active (and I want to keep it that way), despite the unwillingness of the flesh that houses it to move with the alacrity it once possessed. Depending on the day and how I’m feeling, I can either be a slightly crippled hare or a tortoise.

This also prompts me to wonder how the world turns – six or seven years ago I was a distinctly different creature – living in a smelly, damp flat, drinking ally day and every day and with about as much enthusiasm (in those rare moments that I was sober) as a very dead brick. Plus I was probably deep in the depths of depression without even realising it. Now, all those years later, in the middle of a different set of circumstances (wife, house, family, a fridge full of cheese), things are much more hopeful, not to say positively productive.

Plus I am getting back into the old painting malarky, too. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it, but when I’m in the mood for it, nothing can stop me and I enjoy the frisson it brings immensely. I find it much easier if they’re commissioned paintings, rather than ones that have been dragged kicking and screaming from the depths of my rancid subconscious – it’s much better and more satisfying. Again, this means that next year, I’ll be able to take a break from the reviewing and get on with something to occupy my grey matter with.

In the more immediate future however, tomorrow night (Tuesday 16th November) I will be attending the launch of the End of the Line anthology from Solaris Books, at Foyle’s in Charing Cross Road, London. My copy of the book will be scrawled upon, shoulders will be rubbed against and drink will be consumed. Promises to be a great night… which will be duly reported on in Wednesday’s blog.

Okay, just off to talk to some printers… =)

INFLUENCES: David Lynch’s Dune

Posted in Film, General Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Attempting to bring Frank Herbert’s mighty mystico-socio-political series of Dune novels to the big screen has had a somewhat fraught history, to say the least. Back in the seventies, for instance, when I was a teen obsessed with sci-fi literature and art, I was highly intrigued by artist Chris Foss’ conceptual drawings (seen in his Dragon’s Dream book 21st Century Foss) created for Chilean film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s proposed adaptation of the first book in the series, Dune. Bizarrely, he cast Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV and also asked Orson Welles to play Baron Harkonnen. As well as Foss, he also brought on board the comics illustrator Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud and HR Giger (one can only wonder what the film would have ended up being like with people like that involved). Needless to say, the whole thing collapsed due to extravagance.

Other attempts have also been made by producer Arthur P Jacobs, who asked David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India) to take on directorial duties; and also the late Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights and hired Ridley Scott (Alien) to direct a version as well, but after just seven months he walked out due to personal reasons and also a realisation that the film would be a massive and lengthy undertaking, something he felt he couldn’t commit to.

In the present, efforts are once more being made to bring it to a cinema screen near you. However, just as in Jodorowsky and Scott’s day, the production appears to be plagued with problems. This time it’s Paramount Pictures who are trying their best to get it made, but already it appears that directors have come and gone even before a single frame has been shot (Pierre Morel and Peter Berg, both named as directors, have both left the production). Pre-production has already begun, with a release date slated for sometime in 2012 (according to IMDb), but it’s now increasingly looking likely that it’ll never see the light of day – with more pressure being piled on Paramount because the option they have will expire relatively soon.

Despite all the difficulties, one director did manage to film Frank Herbert’s novel – David Lynch. However even this version carried on the tradition of having less than a smooth journey from script to screen. Lynch himself has stated that pressure from financiers and producers curtailed his artistic freedom and vision, meaning that when it was eventually released in 1985 he distanced himself from the project. The compromises he would presumably have had to make in order to satisfy the various camps necessarily resulted in a diluted film, a fact that was reflected in the lukewarm critical reception it received.

Since then, like so many other films that were panned on their initial cinema showings, Dune has built up a cult following, of which I proudly consider myself a member. I saw the film before I read the novels and, even though the film was in some respects confusing, I absolutely loved it. I locked into the arabic-influenced mysticism immediately – and the scene where Paul Atreides (played by Lynch mainstay Kyle MacLachlan) is standing in the desert, waiting for the sandworms to appear, and played out against Brian Eno’s haunting Prophecy Theme, positively sent shudders through me.

Even on a superficial level, however, it had everything that would instantly draw me into both Lynch’s vision and the world of Arrakis, politically and socially, that it portrayed. You have internecine intrigue, political and familial struggle between the warring houses of Harkonnen and Atreides, the promise of an all-powerful saviour (the Kwisatz Haderach) who would set things right, linked to the efforts of a religious order of nuns to prevent the birth and maturation of that saviour. Plus it took place within star-spanning societies and hierarchies, worlds very much different from our own. On top of that it starred many well-known names of the time: Kyle McLachlan, Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Freddie Jones, Everett McGill, Jürgen Prochnow, Patrick Stewart and Dean Stockwell amongst many others. Each of the actors instilled their performances with an authenticity that brought great depth and complexity to the film.

I have often felt that Lynch’s version has been much-maligned, both then and now. Having subsequently read the novels, I can see how difficult it must have been for the scriptwriter to condense all that convoluted plotting and subtext into a comprehensible screenplay. Even just that first instalment in the six novel series is pretty daunting reading – inter-relationships, personal and political, are extremely complex and weave a tangled web, indeed. Added to that are deeply abstruse philosophical and socio-political themes that are integral to the narrative – is it any wonder, then, that it’s had such a chequered cinematic history.

Forget what the critics at the time said about it – I suggest you hire it out or buy it, watch it, and just let the atmospheres and intrigues seep into the pores of your skin, and enjoy a celluloid spectacle that was both forward-looking for its time and yet redolent of the era when it was made. It’s definitely nowhere near as bad as it’s made out to be.