Thursday, 1 October 2015

David at the movies: two psychics for the price of one


If this reminds you of Silence of the Lambs, it's almost certainly meant to. Anthony Hopkins, in creepy (hammy!) near-Hannibal mode, plays a clairvoyant investigator helping the FBI track down a serial killer who - by credibility-stretching coincidence - also happens to be blessed with amazing psychic powers and has a seriously weird motive for his grisly crimes.

Solace was originally pitched as a sequel to Se7en, we're told, and had major production difficulties. There are echoes of almost all the Hannibal Lecter movies. Abbie Cornish's FBI agent never escapes from the shadow of Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling. Colin Farrell is, as ever, a charismatic presence, although he is playing a character the script does not make remotely believable. We see too many of Hopkins's 'visions' of how things may (or may not) be about to turn out. Nowhere near as grim and atmospheric as Se7en, Solace is more than a little daft - but despite muddled direction it's still gripping and at least as watchable as a 'vintage' episode of CSI on TV.


Docudrama climbs new heights - in fact, to the summit of the world's highest mountain - in this adrenaline-intensive re-creation of the tragic climbing season of May 1996 when eight people died in a two-day blizzard on Everest. Although there are big-name stars here (Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley), no one is allowed to grandstand: what counts is the ascent. The script gives us glimpses of the climbers' everyday lives - the wives holding their breath at home - and the support team at the various Camps; and, never forget, the Sherpas. But the movie's biggest star is the mountain - and, it must be said, the cameramen who surely took serious risks to obtain the footage.

The CGI people have seamlessly joined scenes shot in the Italian Alps to the Everest shoot. You totally feel (especially if you see it in 3D and IMAX) that you are up there with these people crawling across bottomless crevasses and dizzying slopes. You also get a sense of what drives these mountaineers, a force somewhere between bravery and foolhardiness, to take on one of the greatest challenges our planet has to offer.


The key question: Is this version of the Kray brothers' story better than the 1990 version starring the Kemp brothers as the twins who ran one of London's mini-Mafias in the 1960s? The answer: Not really. It's very much a one-man tour-de-force from Tom Hardy playing both Reggie and Ronnie. Emily Browning gives a good account of herself as Frances, the East End girl who makes the mistake of falling in love with Reg. Tara Fitzgerald has a couple of good scenes as Frances's disapproving mother, but the role of the Kray boys' mum (Billie Whitelaw in overdrive in 1990 as a kind of British Ma Barker!) has almost vanished.

The script focuses on Reg and Frances, with Reg constantly promising to give up his gangster life and always reneging on these promises. Ronnie, the gay psycho, hovers in the background with the slightly pantomime air of Anthony Hopkins's take on Hannibal Lecter. There's a clear divide between Hardy's two performances, although towards the end, when Reg commits the crime which sends him to jail for 33 years, he also seems psychotic - not the way the courts saw it.

The 1990 film gave a better sense of their 'empire' developing. This screenplay seems to keep going over the same ground: the scenes between Reg and Frances, the tension between the brothers, brawls in pubs and nightclubs. My favourite scenes were those with John Sessions on fine form as Lord Boothby, the Tory peer with a weakness for rent boys supplied by Ronnie; I think Boothby was fictionalised in the 1990 version. It must be time there was a biopic of Bob Boothby - other senior politicians and celebrities were involved in his sex parties; plus, he was the lover of Lady Dorothy Macmillan. Conspiracy theorists will say that the making of such a movie would be thwarted by Those Who Really Govern Us.

Legend scores high points for evoking the atmosphere of the Sixties. In the annals of infamy the Kray brothers were minor villains, but this film, like the earlier one, reminds us that London's history has always included men like Reg and Ronnie who pander to the seedy vices of the not-so-great, the not-so-good.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Wot I'm reading: Life (and Death) in Venice


Middle-aged schoolmistress Julia Garnet, grieving after the death of her long-term friend and flatmate (but not, we infer, her lover), moves to Venice with a six-month rental on a small apartment off the Grand Canal. Miss Garnet is a spinster, a Communist and an atheist. She very quickly falls in love - not once but twice.

Her first love, an art historian, proves to be an unwise choice. Her second love, depicted in painting and sculpture in various churches and galleries, is the Archangel Raphael who famously accompanied the apocryphal prophet Tobias across the land of Assyria to meet the demonically possessed woman he was destined to love.

Salley Vickers alternates the story of Miss Garnet and the people she meets in Venice with a re-telling in vernacular English of Tobias's ancient odyssey. And as the city with its canals casts a spell over Julia's heart, this biblical romance frees her spirit - her soul - from a dormancy that has lasted her entire life.

The writing of this beguiling novel is elegant but unfussy, the kind of writing, you feel, that Jane Austen might be producing if she were alive today. 'If you spend most of your life alone often you do not know that you are lonely.' Julia likes the fact that the Lord is 'Signore' to the Italians: 'how nice that God should be a humble mister!'

In contrast to Tobias's cinematically exotic adventures, events in contemporary Venice move at an unhurried pace, but Miss Garnet's 'awakening' makes her an endearing heroine, more likeable than lovable. Defying categorization, this is a spiritual quest that spans almost three millennia.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Wot I'm watching: Lady Chatterley revisited

Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger as the new Mellors and Constance


It's taken me ten days to catch up on BBCtv's new production of the naughtiest book of all time (makes Fifty Shades look very tame). Some friends complained that it was too slow and not naughty enough. They could not be more wrong. The pace was well-judged and if the novel's "John Thomas and Lady Jane" scenes were somewhat diluted, there was enough of that kind of "action" to explain why Lady C. threw caution and decorum out the window after she was captivated by the gamekeeper's rough manliness. 

Holliday Grainger and Richard Madden gave strong performances and both looked and felt in tune with the finely evoked post-World War One setting. James Norton brought pathos as well as rage to the role of Sir Clifford and was well-served by Jed Mercurio's screenplay which did not banish him to the sidelines once his wife started popping down to the woodshed. The script's one big flaw was to give the story a Mills & Boon ending which is not ruled out but not promised in the novel (I just checked my much-thumbed 1960 Penguin!).

The "intellectual" element of Lawrence's book was barely hinted at, which was fine by me since it always seemed a very tiresome attachment to the novel's lyrical if sometimes mechanical love-scenes. Mellors is altogether more credible as the fount of passion and tenderness (both destroyed in Clifford) than as the architect of a New Society.

The best-ever screen version of a D.H. Lawrence was Ken Russell's Women In Love (1969), which did manage to work in the intellectual element as well as the social and sexual. Christopher Miles's The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970) was nearly as good. And so is this: beautifully photographed, with a subtle script and excellent acting; a touching tale of a love affair that crosses the class divide. I hope this weekend's reworking of The Go-Between will be as good - and as subtle.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Wow - another personal appearance!

I will be signing books at the first Eastbourne Book Festival in Sussex next Saturday, September 19th, and reading from THE DROPOUT (set in Eastbourne) and THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS. 

The venue, under the Library, (opposite the train station) is The Under Ground Theatre, from 1 to 5.30 p.m. - my reading slot is 3.40. Hoping some of you Blog-watchers can drop in to boost the attendance.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Selling books. It's better for booksellers than for authors.

Paradise Press has received an order for a single copy of The Bexhill Missile Crisis from a leading London bookshop. The store demands a 35 percent discount on the retail price (£2.80 off £7.99). They expect us (me) to pay the postage (another £1.68 first class). The cost of the book from the printer works out at £3.61 per copy. Totting that up, you will see that I make a loss of 10 pence on this sale (that's 15 cents for US readers) - not including the cost of a jiffy bag and wear-and-tear on my shoes getting to the post office. If I mail it second class I can actually make a profit of 7 pence (11 cents) - about the price of the jiffy bag!. Bulk orders allow me a slightly better margin, as does a sale direct from the Paradise Press website.

I am paying people to read my book! Funny old world, isn't it? I could, of course, raise the book price, but £7.99 seems a fair (and competitive) price for a 215-page novel.

Do all authors have this problem?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Wot I'm reading: Cane and Abel get a Southern Gothic makeover

John Hart is a new name to me. This is his fourth thriller, and the critics have heaped praise on him. Well-deserved praise.

Michael and Julian are brothers, whose lives have taken different directions since they left the Iron House orphanage in North Carolina following the savage killing of a bully. Julian was adopted by a senator and has become the successful author of dark children's books. Michael ended up under the protection of a New York crime lord, for whom he has carried out many ruthless murders. The crime lord is now dead and Michael wants to start a new life with Elena, his new-found love. But the gangster's son wants to kill Michael and anyone close to him, including his schizophrenic brother.

They say that all the best themes can be found in the Bible.Iron House, like the famous Blood Brothers, is a variation on the story of Cane and Abel. A violent variation, but a highly original one. The senator's wife has terrible secrets of her own. There's a wild child in the woods who should belong in a fairy story but somehow suits this one. The plot goes off in unexpected directions with two distinct climaxes, separated by a hundred pages in which this crime-and-revenge thriller morphs into Southern Gothic melodrama.

John Hart writes the kind of lean, vivid prose that is only seen in the very best thriller writers. The combination of Gothic and Greek tragedy brought to mind Thomas Harris's Hannibal, the most 'literary' book of the Lecter series. Here are two fine sentences from Iron House"The tenement house that almost killed the man was a river's breadth away, and a lifetime apart." "Jimmy took a deep breath, and smelled all the places he could bury a man." A calibre of writing you are unlikely to read in the self-published books that increasingly dominate the thriller market today. John Hart is a writer I plan to follow. This is far and away the best novel I've read this year.


Micky has strong reactions to the books he reads

September, London

We had our September GAW in Donald's flat in South Kensington: 19 of us present. Micky took the minutes. Here's his report on the readings:

Michael read part of a short story of Elsa’s about an elderly man, hospitalized in a rehabilitation centre after breaking his hip in a fall, having a telephone conversation with his partner Hamish.

Zekria read two poems  about the contemporary gay scene and the opening of his ebook about gay life in the 1990s at the time of Section 28. The first poem was about the predatory nature of the scene and the second ‘No Asians’ was about discrimination within the scene. The e-novel, published on Chipmunka, 'It is Unholy’, concerns a gay guy listening to a savagely homophobic Cotswolds MP John Blenkinsopp-Soames on the radio and hatching a plot to assassinate him… 

Alice read a section of her YA novel, working title "Vive La Liberte" or "Crazy Gay", set in 1986. In a trans bar in Paddington, Alex, recovering from an abusive lesbian relationship befriends tranny Kay and her mate Brigitte, delighting in the fact that she herself is the only real woman in the bar. Back at Kay’s place in Surbiton, Alex stays and they bond.

Tim read another chapter from his 1950-set novel 'Snapdragon;. Gavin is at his mother’s in Ipswich on Christmas day, where ‘Cynthia-from-Church’ is a guest sampling the slightly burnt Christmas cake and Mum does a Bible reading. Gavin thinks of Ray back in London and in a bad state…

Colin read two extracts from the book based on his blog about gay life in the 1980s. The first, about his experience as an AIDS unit worker in Sydney, centred on the poignant story of John, whose partner Carl is distraught and begs him to hang on; Colin tells him to let go gently. Soon after their talk, Colin sees John’s name on the list of recently deceased. The second piece was about the way queer people were portrayed in William Friedkin’s ‘Cruising’ starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop. The movie provoked protests worldwide from gay organizations; one group rented apartments next to the shoot and played such loud music that the film’s sound had to be re-created in a studio!

David B read the Prologue and part of the first chapter of his contemporary novel, 'The Crazy Beautiful Life'. The narrator is sitting in Starbucks on Wardour Street, watching an anti-student fee protest pass by. At one stage he recognizes one of the protestors about to hurl a bin through the window… We then learn he lives in an old house in Islington.

Micky read a poem of interlocking haikus — or lo-kus — called 'Fun and Fundamentalism'. 

Nacho read another chapter of Veronica ‘Delilah’s Temple’ in which transvestite Veronica goes to get a feminine haircut, with recollections of Nacho as a boy enjoying being in his mother’s hairdressing salon. 

Joe read Chapter 22 of his novel 'The Boy in a Turban'. Susie the maid is in London and pregnant, but facing a dilemma: she does not want the baby to be born into slavery, but neither does she want to deny it life. She runs away, taking some money and food from the kitchen of her master’s. Taking refuge in a church, she meets Ann, a wily vagrant who exploits Susie’s charity…

David G read the final chapter of his Hollywood novel 'Howl and the Pussy-Kat', in which studio head Isaac Hunt and screenwriter Ben Burns travel to New York to seek discuss funding a remake of Citizen Kane with wannabe producer Kyle Kazman, son of a porno king. They have picked a bad day to be in New York ...

Steve read two intense sonnets about art in the Fitzwilliam Gallery, Cambridge: 'The Mortuary House' and 'Domenico Veneziano'. 

Jeremy read a humorous 'sestina' (intricately structured poem) about the travails of fitting a duvet cover, which  David G suggested could be in the next IKEA catalogue!

Finally, Donald read a piece ‘Am I a Psychopath?’ which examined the definition of psychopathy in relation to criminology and the law, and how it is now recognized as a disease from a young age; not all psychopaths are killers. Especially well appreciated was the end, where the uncertain definition of psychopathy was likened to that of sexual orientation, but Donald concluded that he was not a psychopath but he was gay!

All the readings attracted comments, which were always constructive and mostly positive. Not for the first time we discussed the difficulties of getting attention and feedback from literary agents and publishers. Donald and Lorenzo laid on a splendid buffet. Wine was seen to flow!

If anyone reading this feels like joining GAW - we meet once a month in each other's homes, mostly in the London area - message David Gee or Paradise Press via our websites or Facebook pages.