Writing a children’s sci-fi adventure

I’ve enjoyed a spot of writing in recent weeks. Much of my time is spent in other creative forms so to sit and write is a pleasure.

I’d had this children’s adventure story in my mind for some time so figured I should set it down and start to mould it into some shape.

It’s about a young boy and his pet dog who enjoy a long walk in the woods. The dog races on ahead a discovers something buried deep in the undergrowth. A spaceship, no less!

As the two pull the bracken, brambles, sticks and shrubbery away they unveil a single seater starfighter that looks for all the world like it might just actually work.

I put together some sketches to try and visualise the opening chapter.

The story is still in its rough state and I’m hoping to add some detail in the coming weeks. I’d really love to have this as the seed for a series of adventures for the kid and his dog.

The Invitation Movie

So I sat down with a drink last night to watch a movie that I’d heard Bret Easton Ellis talk about in one of his podcasts. The feature in question was The Invitation.

In short, this is one hell of creepy build to the ultimate pay-off in the final scene.

What I enjoyed about this film is the intensity of the acting within a film that is clearly low in budget. It just didn’t require any effects and nor did it require any popcorn. It’s not that sort of a film.

The basic premise is that a young guy (Will) and his new girlfriend arrive at a party that is essentially a reunion of old friends with their new partners. Amongst the hosts are Will’s ex and what later transpires is that they both suffered an awfully traumatic experience when living together – in the house where the party is being held.

The entire movie is built around this dynamic and the plot centres on how this trauma is being and has been handled by Will and his ex.

Though the motivation and the wishes of the hosts become pretty obvious as the story unfolds, it’s the build up that affected me the most. It’s sinister, intense and ultimately a chilling view. But beautifully presented.

To explain any further detail would wander into the territory of giving too much away. You really must experience this film with fresh eyes and make your own judgement.

If you enjoy tense thrillers and would happily watch such things again then I’d recommend forking out the £5.99 (HD and SD) on iTunes. Rental is just £2.49. (As at June 2017)

I’m no movie reviewer but if I were to award points I’d happily give it 4/5. The final mark would have been given had some of the supporting roles been a little less amateurish. But on the whole a fine film.

All in all I recommend The Invitation as a fine suspense movie to be enjoyed with your other half and a good bottle of red.

Harry Potter in Space

I’m intrigued by high concepts. Especially in film. I don’t understand the film industry but in my mind there’s corridors of suited execs at Warner Bros, Fox etc babbling away in an extremely clipped vocabulary all of their own.

I also want to imagine that they are similar to the waxy haired execs in American Psycho. All chisel-featured and clad neck to toe in Armani. Referring to one another by their surname and proudly brandishing their latest business cards.

Tossers, in any other language.

Thoroughly uncreative, bean-counting tossers who can only process their corporate life by way of their adopted language rich with its buzzwords and bullshit.

A typical executive corridor at Warner Bros

“Hey, Jenson. Did you hear the latest?”
“Hey, Bradowski. Which latest is that?”
“They took a new concept in late last night.”
“I heard, what was it again? Had a late one at Brown’s last night. My head’s a little west right now.”
“Harry Potter…. in SPACE!”
“Jesus, that rocks. Who’ve they got earmarked for that one?”
“Well, funny you should mention it but they put my name forward…”

It’s as sickening to read as it is to write.

So after watching the short but highly satisfying Lights Out the other evening, I thought about high concepts that are purely in video form.

Lights Out was originally conceived as a short film. A concept piece. Just a few minutes long and pretty creepy. Everything you’d want to see in the full length film was portrayed right there.

And here it is.

http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/File:Lights_Out_2013

Easily the creepiest 3 minutes I’ve seen in a long time.

If you were to present this to a studio I’m pretty sure you’d be met by a couple of distinct reactions.

  1. That’s pretty awesome
  2. How in hell am I gonna stand in the corridor and talk to other suits about this?

I like the concept a lot. It inspires me to think differently about a story. It also encourages me to go back and look at stories that I’ve enjoyed to see if I can condense them into 3 minutes of film.

There’s more to the Lights Out movie than just flicking the light on and off. But not much more. It’s wrapped up in backstory of mental health and experimentation-gone-wrong. But essentially it’s all about keeping the lights on at all costs. I find that very attractive as a writer.

Lights Out Movie

So I relaxed with a glass of red and a movie last night. My intention was to switch off but instead I found myself making notes as the film unfolded. The film in question was last year’s Lights Out.

It’s a short film at just over 80 minutes. I don’t think it needed to be much longer than that. Everything that needed saying was said well enough in that time.

What’s more there’s really only a handful of characters to cling to. This I liked.

Maria Bello

Sophie (played by the always lovely Maria Bello, whom I recently saw and enjoyed in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) is the central character. Her troubled childhood and constant struggles with her mental health form the backstory and provide us with our antagonist, Diana.

Diana, only visible in the darkness

So it’s Diana that gives us all the scares and provides us with an intriguing hook. What I liked here was that the initial events in the film gave me something to immediately care about. Albeit in the form of ‘what the fuck is going on?’

Diana is a malevolent spirit that has latched onto Sophie. Sophie is very much alive, Diana isn’t.

The backstory explains how Diana came to be the dark spirit and involves experiments and rare skin disorders. Since this was 80 minutes of research I found myself noting down rather a lot of backstory. Perhaps the whole kid-with-a-skin-condition thing could have been implied somehow. I don’t know. It seemed to occupy a fair bit of screen time evaluating how Diana came to be.

Regardless, it was effective and we are left with a suitably shifty and sinister ‘bad guy’.

So Diana can only be seen and can only be active in the darkness. If confronted by said spirit, simply flick a light on.

All too easy, right? Wrong. Diana appears to have some sway over the power situation and can disable the lights. Even lighting a fire doesn’t appear to work for too long.

Whatever, the point of the scare dynamics is that dark = bad, light = good. It makes the film uncomplicated and easy to watch.

Because the cast was pretty light I found myself actually caring about them all. Rebecca, Sophie’s daughter, and her brother Martin seem to be always in the thick of it. Naturally looking out for one another whilst trying to ‘fix’ their mother.

Rebecca’s boyfriend Bret plays his role, also.

But Sophie has problems. She has serious mental health issues. Always has, by the looks of it. When she’s taking her meds Diana doesn’t trouble anyone. When she’s off the meds, Diana causes havoc.

A simple dynamic. Stay on yer meds, Mother!

But of course Sophie doesn’t want to be the nutcase. She wants to be clean and free of the meds so occasionally lapses. She’s weak. Ultimately that weakness tells as she sacrifices herself for the sake of her children. With Sophie gone, Diana is gone. Apparently.

So after 80 minutes I was left feeling reasonably satisfied by the story and suitably buoyed into adding a little more to my own creepy ghost story.

The dynamic of weird shit existing in the darkness only to vanish with the lights on isn’t terribly original. But it was quite satisfyingly executed.

It felt a lot like a college film. An independent kid’s project that had received some Hollywood funding. It also echoed the creepy turn of the century Japanese horror that gave us Ring and Dark Water. No bad thing.

I think the point (if there needs to be one) that I’m trying to arrive at here is that you don’t need buckets of dollars to make an effective movie. You just need a captivating story and the ability to communicate it while the camera’s rolling.

 

How To Relax And Stay Sane With Writing

I am utterly hopeless at relaxation.

There is always something right there in the back of my mind to chip and chip and dig away at me. I’ve tried everything, except class A drugs. Still, I’m haunted by this spectre of anxiety.

Part of the problem is that I both need and reject routine.
Routine works in that it helps to achieve the basic task of completing the day.
But I hate it. I hate predictable.

The turmoil that this presents to me is unimaginable.

Something that I used to enjoy was the early morning routine of waking, coffee and writing. That is one routine that I found rewarding and cathartic. I’d often wake with an idea for something; a seed. Something that I could run with for an hour. I could easily write a couple of pages of rough copy.

If I had a plan for a story I could write pretty clean copy. If I had the characters well defined in my mind I could sail through the hour and resent having to shower and leave the house.

So, for me, sanity and relaxation comes in the form of being constructive with my creativity. Art and drawing work but they aren’t nearly as rewarding to me as writing.

There are things that I can ‘say’ with such condensed writing that I’d struggle to get down with a drawing.

So, with my head geared toward making some subtle life changes, I intend to write more. I am a huge fan of journaling; the merits of which are well documented. Writing both deeply personal and more expressive copy are to be a welcome (re)addition to my daily schedule.

The fact that I then shower, dress and leave to work as a web developer for 6 hours is a minor annoyance. But having had that moment to write and reflect my thoughts before the sun rises is valuable to me. No distractions, just words.

I’ve kept a journal for a couple of years. I write everything in there. It’s private and contains things that are a spewing of my emotions. There’s anger, love, frustration and creativity in there. There’s a ton of stuff in there. I just write it out.

Every once in a while I re-read certain elements of it. But I never delete it.

Some days there’s little to discern the personal journal from the prose I’m attempting to write.

So my morning routine, such that it is, will now be wake, coffee, write, bathroom, work.

The ‘write’ part is key to establishing my mood for the day.

I will ask myself the question ‘how do I feel?’

The answer to this will most likely be another question – ‘what do I want to achieve today?’, ‘what did I achieve yesterday?’, ‘how can I be amazing today?’

What I don’t want to focus on is the misery, the anger, the frustration.

 

The Anti-Trump Crowd And Protesting Via Social Media

Social media is rife with anti-Trump headlines. It’s also rife with pro-Trump banners and memes.

It’s interesting to me to see that the ‘anti’ crowd seem to write their disdain in lengthy posts whereas the ‘pro’ crowd prefer to reflect their support in anti-anti graphics. At least, they do on my own social timelines.

Right now I’m bored of the whole thing. Any discussion with friends on the topic of democracy, misogyny, sexism, the Nazis, anti-Muslim(ism) seems to wind up in a mess of foul language and table thumping.

My own view here is that Donald Trump won the vote and is now the president of the US. It’s up to him to prove to those of us who didn’t vote (or wouldn’t have voted) for him, wrong.

That said I do believe in the freedom to protest. Great things have come from protests in recent history. When people unite to stand against an aggressor there’s every chance that it will have some effect if the methods are legal and the campaign sustained. Displacing a head of state or government official is harder, of course it it. But where there is enough pressure there has to be hope. Rebellions are built upon hope after all. (Thanks, Star Wars!)

There are some similarities to the Trump campaign for presidency and the imagery and rhetoric used by Hitler. But to compare Donald Trump to Hitler is absurd.

Just thinking of Star Wars again, the imagery used by the First Order in The Force Awakens is stark and startling. Clearly designed to draw visual comparison to Hitler’s visions of a new Germany – a New Order.

It’s powerful, emotive and indelible. It also requires an orator of some distinction to deliver the message.

General Hux in the Star Wars world is such a man. Praise the script writers!
Adolf Hitler in the real world was such a man. And lethal as a consequence.
Donald Trump? Not really. Impassioned, yes. Articulate? No.

I see a lot of Trump vs Hitler comparison banded about the internet and media. It sickens me, really. Undesirable he may be but he has a long, long way to go to rank alongside the most vile man the world has ever known.

Just my own ‘back of the napkin’ thoughts.

Serendipity?

So yesterday was a cool day.

I’d woken early and full of gusto for the day ahead. As it goes I had no plans for the day. A very rare ‘clear’ day where I could focus on my own projects.

As I showered and sipped those wonderful first sips of early morning coffee, I thought to myself, ‘hm, I wonder if I could make any money today..’

I fired up the Mac and started to organise my morning in terms of my own writing projects. Moments later an email dropped into my inbox requesting some bespoke cartoon clip art.

A couple of emails later and I’m enjoying crafting some fun cartoons. We agreed the price for each and by the end of a day’s work I was several £££ better off.

One of the clip art pieces created yesterday (without the colour)

Happenstance? Happy accident? Fate? Cosmic alignment?

I don’t know. But I was certainly happy to shelve my own projects for paid work for the day.

Dreaming of Rachel

I’m sure my dreams are becoming more surreal.

Last night I dreamed I was dating Rachel Khoo. There’s nothing at all wrong or unusual in that, she’s gorgeous. But it’s how we dated that has struck me as odd in the cold light of day.

I was wearing a black suit and tried very hard to carry myself much like Al Pacino did in The Godfather. That is to say, with an air of arrogance. Quietly spoken and painfully aloof.

Rachel was dressed in her signature vibrant style of 1950’s style dresses.

We rode around in my Lamborghini concept car but rather than sitting inside it we sat on the roof. I somehow steered the thing by using a wooden stick!

For our date we pitched up at Rick Stein’s restaurant somewhere well off the beaten track. Not his Seafood Restaurant in Cornwall but some odd, medieval themed joint with beaten up old oak tables and a fire pit in the centre of the room.

We parked the Lamborghini right alongside the table and asked the waitress for raw capers. The waitress pitched up with the capers and some pencils and paper. Great! We both like to draw so sat there drawing while our lobster was being prepared.

This is actually something of a dream scenario for me. To be sat in the company of a beautiful lady in a posh restaurant both enjoying a passion of ours. We talked about France a heck of a lot and argued. But arguing with Rachel is a lot of fun, it seems, as she likes to kiss and make up.

We ended up getting booted out of the restaurant but not without having to cover the £200 bill for the lobster and wine.

So I woke this morning with this fresh in my mind and took a visit to her website to discover more about this enchanting lady that I’d pretend dated in the most bizarre and fantastical circumstances.

Dreams must mean something, surely. But what on earth does that mean? And why Rachel? Heaven knows but I am secretly hoping for another date tonight.

 

Just Writing

I’ve been looking through some past writing projects over the weekend. It’s great to re-read shelved material with fresh eyes several months or even years down the line.

A couple of projects stood out. They weren’t finished but were certainly in a great place to be picked up and fleshed out.

Writing is an entirely different discipline to illustrating. At least, it is for me. When I’m writing there’s no music and no distractions. Library conditions all the way.

With illustration I can happily have the music at volume 10, the TV on in the background and the kids running around the house.

So the best time in the day for me to write is first thing in the morning, which is usually 6:30am. Minutes after waking up I have a coffee prepared and the Mac fired up. I tend not to be a note taker. I’d much rather try and keep an idea alive in my mind. If it sticks then I’ll write it. If it doesn’t stick I generally assume it wasn’t such a great idea.

This morning I started writing. I took the first dozen or so pages of a previous project and started from there. Pretty much continuing the story with no regard for what was already written. An extremely valuable exercise.

After an hour I stopped writing. I didn’t read through my work and won’t until tomorrow. Then I picked up another unfinished project and did the same. I wrote for an hour (or thereabouts) and stopped. The stories are quite different but because my mind was in author’s mode, it was really quite straight forward.

I guess the thing I struggle with the most, even with silence and a clear head, is finding my voice. There’s little worse than having some great ideas and not being able to articulate them in a readable or professional style.

It’s not writer’s block. That’s just a severe drought of ideas. I have plenty of ideas but don’t, perhaps, have my brain switched on to be able to write them ‘cleanly’.

Once upon a time this would have meant ‘down tools’ and come back when I’m able to write in the correct way.

But now I just write it. As I’m writing I may be aware that what I’m writing is badly presented, but the content, the actual story is exactly what I want to say.
This is a huge thing and having that luxury of being able to revisit work a little further down the line means that I can then adapt the writing to better fit my ‘voice’ or ‘style’.

There’s a lot to be said for ‘just writing’ and worrying about the style of the writing at a later date.

 

Satirical Cartoons

I’ve long held a fascination with satire. We British folk are fairly adept at highlighting and ridiculing the ridiculousness of authority.

I had a look around at what other cartoonists were doing in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s inauguration and found some interesting results. It’s not so much the content of the cartoons that I’m interested in as the style in which they are drawn.

Some are full of detail and some are simply ‘dashed off’ style doodles. In every case though the point is made with stark brutality. The man is right there for taking pot shots at. It’s often the case that the arts are the greatest form of opposition to government.

I created a few of my own under my pseudonym, Wilf.