Monday, 21 April 2014

The Voodoo View - Women in the Media (continued...)

Original vehicle signage, with instructions for use scrawled on by Inspector Helen Bourne Tagart, Aide de Camp for Commandant Mary Sophia Allen

Last blog on here, I had a good rant about the current spate of whining by pro-feminists complaining that women's voices aren't 'out there' in the mainstream media.

Above is an example of the mountain of stuff kept by former suffragette and Commandant of the Women's Auxiliary Police Force/vigilante/Hicks-botherer, Commandant Mary Sophia Allen. This mountain of stuff, packed none-too-neatly in a travelling trunk stamped HBT, for her second-in-command and long-term love interest Helen Tagart, contains news cuttings, letters, admins, booklets, posters, diaries, photographs, reports, autographs of various dictators she visited (with her usual shiny-boot-wearing uniformed buffoonery, to the general embarrassment of the British government), receipts, invoices and various other hoarder's guff that you would expect someone with minor OCD and a bit of professional narcissism to collate in their own lifetime.

This overload of insight has been entrusted to me to scan by her great-great-grand-nephews/nieces who have kept it stored away for the last half a century or more, and to consider using it for an authorised feature film project on their behalf about the well-meaning women's rights activist and anti-slavery awareness promoter, Miss Allen.

So far I'm about 25-30 hours into scanning and typing up anything handwritten, I'm up to 467 images, and only about a third of the way through it all.

What's clear so far is the sheer volume of women's monopoly over stories, writing and reviews in the media during the First and Second World War. Miss Allen subscribed to all the regional and international news clipping agencies, meaning that wherever her name was mentioned in the world, she was sent the original clipping - whether it was from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy or Brazil. She would appear in the UK press on a daily basis. I've just spent three hours scanning cuttings from the middle of 1934 alone.

The woman damn near invented 'Googling yourself' before such a thing was conceivable.

But it's not just her own publications, letters and articles that meant women were represented in the press. Here's a review from a Leicester newspaper of her book 'Women at the Crossroads'.

Leicester Daily Mercury, 29 June 1934, review by Anna Bell of Commandant Mary Allen's book

Notice anything? Yes. The reviewer was also a woman - Anna Bell. With her name in a big old font too.

It's not an isolated incident...

John O'London's Weekly, 9 June 1934, review by Sylvia Lynd of 'Women at the Crossroads' by Mary Sophia Allen

Again, note the prominence of the reviewer's name and font size in the article above.

Aha, I hear you say. But I expect the men still had the upper hand, yes? I bet their reviews were published with their names above the book title and author's name, in an even bigger font!

Okay. Let's have a look at the reverse of the above cutting, in the John O'London's Weekly reviews:

John O'London's Weekly, 9 June 1934, review by Horace Thorogood of 'Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings' by George Bernard Shaw

Well, guess what? This piddling single column review on the right, of the esteemed George Bernard Shaw's collection of short stories, doesn't even have a full title, or Mr Shaw's full author name mentioned. The photograph is of neither the author or reviewer - it's of G.K. Chesterton, rumoured to have been caricatured by Shaw in one of his tales. And the name of the reviewer himself, Mr Horace Thorogood, bless him, only appears at the very bottom of the piece - in a font that you could easily read with an electron microscope at your disposal.

Note the partial article on the left, alongside Horace Thorogood's trivial offering. Bigger heading, bigger fonts, more columns - only a pity that Mary Allen's collecting of clippings didn't run to full pages. It's a review of 'Valleys of the Assassins' by Freya Stark, who as you can see from this tantalising snippet was apparently a bit of a Lady Lara Croft-type. She was inspired in her childhood by reading 'The Thousand and One Nights'. On her travels, she learned of other inspiring women, such as "...the story of Qadam Kheir, a lady of the Kulivand of Tarhan, who fought against the government... She was a beautiful woman, and married to her cousin.* They used to go out together to fight, and she could shoot from horseback like a man."

*(NB: Marrying one's cousin is not a prerequisite for pro-feminism)

According to Wiki, Freya Stark died in 1993, aged 100 years old. I expect she was pleased that she hadn't sat knitting and baking cupcakes for the first half of her life...

But I'm digressing. Anyway, what I'm illustrating, by the examples above, is that women got all the big splashy stories and reviews and attention-grabbing headlines in the 1930s. Men, like the unworthy George Bernard Shaw and Horace Thorogood, got shoved into small fonts and margins.

Makes you wonder what the gender of the editors and typesetters were at the time too.

I expect the male editors and typesetters were all away, peeling turnips in the trenches and stuff, or pushing up the daisies after last time.

However, in her review, Sylvia Lynd quotes Mary Allen's writing at the time in 1934, who feared that women were taking their 'new opportunities' too lightly and for granted:

'They have made little, she thinks, of their opportunities since they became voters. Are they able, "with their superior bodily health and mental training" she asks, to accomplish anything that their grandmothers could not do?'

Sylvia Lynd retaliates and points out that women had plenty at the time in 1934 to take pride in, including the Women's Institute and other societies that promoted health, welfare, comradeship, and prevented 'mental anarchy' in British culture.

Not to mention the ability to shove George Bernard Shaw and poor Mr Horace Thorogood into a smaller column of the newspaper.

But like Mary Allen was saying in 1934, today in 2014, eighty years on, those things like the ability to vote, knit a Women's Institute flag, bake a non-anarchist Victoria Sponge, and belittle the menfolk, aren't enough to satisfy the alpha-females among us.

Today, women want to be back in the big fonts and the wider columns. But surely, the daily schedule-obsessives cry, if you're dedicated to journalism and pursuing the media, you don't have time to be doing all the world-travelling and Prime-Minister-bothering and research and advocacy and awareness, that the likes of Mary Allen and Freya Stark were getting up to?

Well, Mary Allen pursued the media to the extent that she could appear in ten British broadsheet newspapers in ONE DAY. She also wrote numerous books on her life and career as a self-appointed Women's Police Commandant, replied to every article about herself in the 'Letters' section of every newspaper (trust me, I've got them right here), had inappropriate crushes on fascist dictators (who gave her autographed and dedicated photographs of themselves left, right and centre, like members of a dodgy international underground boy-band), and she trained women police around the globe.

Freya Stark had twenty-five books published in her lifetime. And lived to be a hundred.

Imagine if you lived that long and only sat blogging about how little recognition women get instead of becoming passionate about something, maybe doing a little research, politely bothering a few individuals, and possibly going out and doing something about it...

A little PM-bothering of my own...

Maybe Mary Allen managed all of that because she wasn't raising children, you pipe up? No. Instead she recruited and helped to train tens of thousands of women in the UK and beyond, most of them educated, well-heeled, fashionable ladies, some who drove their own cars and flew their own planes. I wonder how many sickies she had to cover...

Junior attempts to throw a sicky. Think this is extreme? She's only home-schooled...

I'm led to believe that there are a couple of TV researchers out there at the minute who would love to get their hands on Mary Allen's hoarded stuff handed down through her family, which quite literally hasn't seen the light of day since the 1950s. I'd share more of it otherwise, but you get the general gist.

And there'd be no point posting it where any savvy researcher could nab it for free, while her descendants are still surviving on only the reduced salad dressings from Marks&Spencer on their Lidl's gravadlax and caviar, and I can't afford to give Junior pocket money to save up towards the impending parkour/zombie apocalypse.

Nothing makes a dangerous outdoor sport safer than doing it one-handed with a camera...

All I can say is, if you can get through half of what I've had to get through so far about Mary Allen and women's rights, glorified by early 20th Century women journalists in articles such as the ones above in REALLY BIG FONTS while the men get teeny tiny crappy ones, without turning the TV onto 'Dave' and mainlining Jeremy Clarkson and Sean Kelly to restore your sanity, you're a better pro-feminist than I am :)

Speaking of which, must be nearly time for Top Gear. And those fancy dress outfits don't sew themselves...

Happy Easter. Screw the media. Remember to get out more :) xxx

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Voodoo View: Women's voices in the media and where to find them - or when...

I'm curious about the avalanche of discussion going on suggesting that there are not enough women's voices gaining artistic recognition in the mainstream.media

It seems to me that most of the highly successful writers in the last 15 years have been women, and they continue to proliferate - JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Charlaine Harris, EL James, Sylvia Day, Suzanne Collins, Belle de Jour (aka Dr Brooke Magnanti), and now Sally Green to name a few - consumers' money is doing all the talking that's needed. Whatever artistic integrity and skill is on show here, you can't deny their success. We don't know how many of these successful women writers have been offered interviews, columns, journalistic or presenting jobs. Just because the rest of the exposure that the academics judge isn't there, doesn't mean it hasn't been sought.

Not everyone wants to be a 'media whore' or has the time in between writing their bestsellers to take on yet another job promoting themselves, or consulting on academic-level subjects, even though many of them do. But because a few commentators have pounced on the fact that 'women's voices' have been overlooked in this literary award or that, or this review column or that, apparently somehow we're back in the Middle Ages of a patriarchal Arts world, where women are an invisible minority.

So why is it that 8 out of 10 blogs I visit are written by women? Does the internet not count? So far as I can tell, the virtual world is seething with women's voices, quicker and keener to post their thoughts, responses and opinions than men. Women sharing, telling true-life experiences, penning stories, relating anecdotes, rallying charitable and political support for good causes, and even just trying to relate to the world. But because the few folk that still read a Sunday paper aren't looking in the right place, apparently there's a soapbox out there with my name on, which I should be standing on complaining that I haven't had my 1.5 column inches of fame/validation yet.

What, in tomorrow's chip wrapper or kitty litter tray liner? What's the big deal with that anyway?

Like I said, women writers are already bankable (see the list above). Nobody doubts that. Are these petitioners for equality in media storefront airtime just a tiny bit jealous? Do they want their turn? If they've written something that worthy, shouldn't they try selling it and let the public judge for itself?

Why do the complainers ignore the internet as a valid form of media exposure, and the freedom that women have to speak there? Why are they even wasting time and money on a Sunday paper that doesn't review their taste in writing, or by following and commenting on awards that don't either?

Withdraw the attention (and money) from those who irritate or who don't fulfil your needs, and they'll either be forced to change, or disappear. All the time you're throwing attention their way with your demands, you're keeping their profile high and in the public eye. Which, if you're right about their misogyny, isn't what they deserve.

Unsubscribe from any media that refuses to satisfy your wants, and look up blogs, vlogs and websites that do. If you can't find what you're looking for, nothing is stopping you from writing, filming and publishing your own online. And there you have instant, searchable, public exposure for the subjects and interests that you want covered.

In the first and second world wars, newspapers were full of women journalists and women writers, reviewing books by women on the work being done by women. The reason for this was that the men previously in those jobs were away fighting. Women had a monopoly over the media during those years. Agatha Christie and her contemporaries had little competition to hold them back or suppress their success.

But the women who succeed as authors and in media jobs today don't have that excuse. They've had the right combination of skills and good luck to achieve what they've done, in spite of the fact that men are in the same position and have the same opportunities.

If something isn't out there that you want to read, maybe it's the world telling you to write it. And if you aren't satisfied with the great success that women currently have in the arts and media, how would you improve on it? What areas specifically need attention? What do you want to see women gaining recognition for? Have you approached any of these women, or offered to interview them, and submitted any articles about them and their work to the mainstream Press?

One example - Google the name 'Sophie Neville' and you'll mostly find matches for the actress who played 'Titty' in the movie of Arthur Ransome's 'Swallows & Amazons' in 1974, her artwork, and her career to date.

Three years ago, none of those matches for that particular 'Sophie Neville' were there. She wanted an internet profile and online presence to support her current writing career, and had to make her presence known to the virtual world and the contemporary audience from scratch, which meant blogs, videos, online photo albums and social media - everything. In the last year, she's also appeared in the Telegraph, the Sunday Times, and the Daily Mail - more than once.

A second example: Recently I was invited to appear on two separate writing and arts blogs - one guest post about my sporting hobby, and one interview about my experience of releasing a book under a pen-name for the first time. Both invitations came from men. So I don't believe it's men that are keeping the door 'closed' on women's voices, as current perceptions would have us believe. Maybe it's just the case that women haven't been taking full advantage of the opportunities that are there.

The Writer's and Artists Yearbook lists all newspapers and magazines, literary agents and publishers. If you want your own voice out there in the old-school market, just get submitting. If you know artists and writers who you think should get that sort of recognition, instead of leaving a sour comment on the newspaper's online arts page, send them a glowing article about the object of your passion. If you have a new insight on Jane Austen's motivation, or have cooked up a dinner party menu worthy of one of Agatha Christie's famous murder scenes, find an academic journal or cookery magazine that might showcase your skills as a wordsmith.

Don't let bitterness about success (or lack of it) fester and undermine real opportunities that you could be working with, or encouraging others to work with. And don't blindly join in with the voices of negativity - look at the actual success stories in the real world, and listen to people who have real ideas in their heads - not ancient attention-deprived echoes.

Lxxx

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Change.org - #endFGM

Join schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed's campaign for schools to teach the risks of cultural female mutilation practises - click here

To summarise what is being done to young British girls aged from a few weeks to young womanhood, picture it in the form of a criminal investigation:
  • The families of underage British girls enable a stranger to commit GBH/ABH/assault on their daughter.
  • The stranger is 'armed and dangerous'.
  • The stranger is either located in an unfamiliar country to which the girls are taken by family members to be assaulted - the 'accessories' to the crime - or the stranger has travelled to the U.K. with the specific intent of committing ABH/GBH/assault and the permanent mutilation of underage girls.
  • The lasting trauma impacted on these girls could be compared to having suffered an act of terrorism, where the intention by the assailant is to ingrain and impose a cultural form of repression on women.
With all the existing assault laws, anti-terrorism laws, abduction and human trafficking laws, laws governing surgical procedures, cosmetic procedures and body modification in the UK, and domestic violence awareness in the current political agenda, the outline protocols are already in place for reasonable and clear prosecution of such perpetrators.

What is needed is to reframe the perception of such incidents so that potential victims can identify them as crimes, and are empowered and enabled in turn to know that there are grounds to report what they see and hear for their own safety, in the same way we teach personal safety in schools already - whether part of the curriculum, or by charity organisations such as the NSPCC Childline Schools Service.

You can sign the petition on Change.org and spread the word further by sharing on social media using the hashtag: #endFGM

L xxxxx

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Voodoo Hoodoo - Who Do You View?

I didn't watch the Grammys - I haven't watched stuff like that for years.

I worked in nightclub security from 2004-2010, so I pretty much went off all mainstream music when hearing the same cheesy requests and chart dance or R'n'B night after night turned my brain to mush. I liked what the local DJs were doing in their own time much better, and the mashing-up of existing tunes to create new sounds, sometimes on the spur of the moment, never to be repeated. I go on Soundcloud nowadays and look for artists like Dominatrix Rmx and Reaps (Reaps/reaps007 on Youtube) mashing up my favourite old tunes by Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Daft Punk are one of the few current bands I like, and that's mainly because of their remixes and alternative versions (they also started out before the internet was a big wahoony too).

But when there was nothing on TV yesterday morning and I was trying to do my physio exercises, I switched over to the music channel and caught a few news clips of the Grammy awards ceremony. And I was really startled by how alienating it was.

This didn't appear to be the music industry as I recalled it. It was the money industry. Patting itself on the back and applauding its own adopted politics and talent. I've seen kids on Youtube with two sticks and a bucket who have more talent.

If you're passing him in an Australian mall and don't stop to listen, I would so swap places with you...

I found myself looking at all the 'industry' professionals in the Grammy awards audience, and wondering what place the fans have in all of it (you know, fans, those lowly lumpenproletariat currently waging war against gig ticket hidden charges). That show wasn't about the fans and what the youth masses are thinking about from day to day. It was about money and politics and the bling that Madonna wants to pimp out her kid's teeth with.

Maybe they brought the first-world politics into it because they're so far removed from the real world that they need some lifeline to claw a way back into the empathy of the viewers. But it didn't disguise the bizarre members-only club that the upper echelons of the music industry has so transparently become. Not helped along by all of these 'talent shows' where the money industry now openly stamps its brand on some hopeful in order to make a fast buck.

I have a teenager a bit younger than Madge's eldest, and she's never engaged with what's on the TV unless it's stand-up comedy or Top Gear. She gets all of her music from Youtube inspiration, watching manga fan videos made by children her age all around the world, and the music that they share which isn't shoved down their throats by today's chart-topping marketing moguls.

Over 34.5 million views and comments still being uploaded - that's a real-world fan-base...

Last week I retweeted a friend's Twitter post about his band getting mentioned in Kerrang! magazine, and suddenly my Twitter follows turned into a MySpace stampede. Instead of chirpy indie authors adding me with the tag line "Here's my author page on Amazon, please leave me a review" suddenly it was bands and artists deluging me with "Our new single is on Youtube!" and "Latest album out now on iTunes!" Don't get me wrong, I bloody love it (and their music!) but it makes me realise what a tiny little miniscule petty self-satisfied corner of the 'music business' the Grammys are, and they're only on TV because they've got most of our kids' pocket money.

The latest video for "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (LOVE it, in spite of my ranting!!) is a demonstration of money spent on something to fit in with what everyone in the real world is watching anyway. Fatboy Slim did the same as I recall, back in the day - who can remind me of that song? Moby is probably another one...

Pharrell's feelgood tune from 'Despicable Me' promo emulates Youtube home videos and fan videos

Meanwhile, the rest of the money industry seems to think achievement is all about strutting around dressing and behaving like an actual pimp, male or female. Which doesn't seem to fit very well with the first-world news and politics right now.

As an indie writer it made me think about the book publishing industry in the same way. Major publishers can't deliver books at the same rate and quality that the indies and self-publishers are uploading them (rapidly approaching 50,000 new titles per week at present onto Kindle, Smashwords and other platforms). What appears on the foremost shelves of Waterstones and other stores has been paid for, its prime positioning guaranteed by one of the Big Six publishing houses - the readers don't get a say in what they see first as they walk into the store, and neither do the store management.

But what writers have to face is that readers move on quickly from one book to the next. Yes, they may get 100 readers keen on their story and few knock-on recommendations, but once a book is put down, the reader wants another adventure. The writer can't (and shouldn't) expect that handful of readers to do their promotional work when the reader has his or her own life and interests to get on with once they've put the book away (although I know one or two individuals who can't move on from one book or another *snorts inappropriately*).

Good music is different. Those four minutes of heaven can trigger off an unlimited number of adventures in the listener's mind, so favourite songs are revisited and shared far more often than a book ever will be. And that's because the listener's imagination is in complete charge. They can plug in a set of headphones and get on with enjoying their life at the same time.

Also - the singer and songwriter isn't looking over their shoulder saying 'This is what I want you to be thinking about when you listen to my tune. Here are some discussion topics and questions to raise when you hear my song out in a nightclub with your friends, or with your 'listening group'. And I would appreciate it if you would leave me a review on Amazon...'

The best music doesn't have the musician's agenda attached. It just has a little bit of their soul. The rest is for the listener to interpret, and to go away and play with in their own imagination and inspire their own creativity.

But when I see first-world money-industry artists acting like entitled tits (Adele's early rant over her £4m tax bill comes to mind, thanks for all the NHS treatment by the way) they seem to have lost the joy of just sharing something now it's become their new branded lifestyle, and they're finally in that tiny little industry country club at the top of the TV mountain. I forget about their nice music because all I see and hear is their spoilt whining.

I wonder when any of them are going to experience being noticed for any skill, kind word, good deed, receive a spontaneous compliment, without a sense of political obligation or the media pointing at them first? And is that what any of them wanted when they started out? To be a puppet for the industry's marketing agendas?

And what's with the culture of wanting to be "known for something" whether it's a skill, an art or a job - what's wrong with just being known as yourself, as a person who does a few things? And why are we putting the ones who send out the most extreme mixed messages on pedestals, combining 'Dress Like Pimps & Hoes Day' with sexual equality politics? I'm sure this year's Grammys was the first time Madonna has put the bottom half of her suit on in about thirty years. No wonder she needed a stick, the unfamiliar chafing must have been insurmountable... *wanders off topic*

I remember Ye Olden Days when you could draw a picture or play a little guitar for yourself and feel like you'd achieved something. Now you can go online and see any number of youngsters with more talent than you can conceive of.

62.2m views...

And the fact it's even there tells us that having talent of any kind is not that unusual. Not every talented child's parent is putting videos of them on Youtube. One of my brothers could find and change a spare wheel on a car aged six. That's a skill.

What is unusual is that a bunch of marketing experts and fashion sponsors exists with ways of convincing us it's so rare to have any talent whatsoever, the money and attention they suck up for it is justified. And they do this by only showing us the extremes next to one another on these talent shows.

Encourage your creative peers and your kids in their own right. Don't teach them that being the next double-standard, branded piece of merchandising is the future. Let them share what they want to share and find enthusiasm for it in ways they can appreciate as real people. Being creative is rewarding, but then so is doing a regular job that people respect you for. And that's without being asked to represent an entire sexual and political movement while being trolled by fake fan user accounts on social media.

Even big celebrities now want to get closer to these guys who are able to share their talents online with the world, or other passers-by discover them for us - the ones who just do something for fun, without a big management team taking 80-90% of their income. People doing what they love creatively, and others love them just for doing that...

The Darth Vader Unipiper is corralled onto TV, so they can check if he's really real...

I guess in summing up I just want to say, enjoy what you do creatively and artistically. Don't compare it to what the money industry, members-only club is doing. If you want to share, share. If you want to go out and perform in public, go for it. But do it for yourself first. Don't let the fun drain out of it in pursuit of what you imagine that other thing might turn out to be.

L xxxxx

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What does Voodoo do?

Zombie Girl Racer for the inaugural Hastings 1066 Walk of the Dead, November 2012

There's something very pleasing about a wardrobe full of fancy dress costumes. Costume party gear, not red carpet dress. Although that can be pleasing too, I imagine.

When I'm not being a ranting Voodoo, or writing - and I've recently rediscovered the joy of drawing - autumn is my favourite time of year, as it features Halloween. Even if I'm not involved in anything, it always feels a bit special. My best friend from school and I used to rent 'The Lost Boys' every Halloween. And it was Halloween when we got in one night and her mum told us that River Phoenix had died. That felt like the end of our childhood to me.

My first novel, written over 23 years ago now, revolved around Halloween, in a reality about five degrees askew from our own. So that's what I'm currently looking forward to.

But what else does Voodoo do, nobody is asking? Amid the multitude of internet rant-bots blogging away into the void, what does this one do, when not cultivating her own brand of attitude problem with the rest of the media world and its endearing, fear-mongering, attention-seeking foibles?

Well, I'm self-employed. I work for a number of clients who shall remain anonymous, all with high-profile professional careers. Some have been household names, and you'd certainly recognise their work. However, they're only just starting to grasp the idea of social media and having to do their own promotion, now that they're expected to. So that's what I do, for five minutes and two pennies to rub together. I set up the platforms and do the tutorials. Sometimes a bit of formatting and editing, and general I.T. support. A bit of film clip and showreel editing here and there, to enhance their profile content. It's an evolving business, so there's always more to add.

I've been asked interesting and thought-provoking things in my job. Such as 'How do I make all these other people on Google with the same name as me disappear?' and 'Why is this horror movie appearing in my Youtube (this list of Youtube search matches for my name) and can we report it to them?' and 'why aren't any of these people clicking on my Amazon widget?'

All I can say is, if you'd tried to make sense of any of this 30 years ago, people not clicking on your Amazon widget would be the least of your worries. But for people who didn't grow up with computers, and are only just discovering the blunders of technology, there are techno monkeys like me who just assume everyone can do it. Until I find myself consulted to troubleshoot everything from failed Paypal orders to failed ebook conversions.

Occasionally work gets more interesting, and I get to proofread and edit something different, like a feature screenplay about to go out on spec. Film is something else I've studied, and it's an entirely different kind of writing to books. So recently I was handed a screenplay that needed a bit of a rewrite and edit, based on a true story. It had been through group planning meetings several times in the past before being consigned to a cupboard for a while. I'd read it about three years ago when the writer was showing it to me as an example of earlier writing that she planned to rewrite as a book, but when this year some outlets for the screenplay emerged, it was dusted off for another round. So I read it more thoroughly.

Now, there are writers out there who obviously just sequester themselves away and write. They don't watch Family Guy or The Simpsons, they don't read Viz and they've never sat through a night of QI and Mock the Week, or The Big Bang Theory and CSI. They've never seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Star Wars, and definitely not The Hangover. Whether this is for artistic reasons, or religious reasons, or generational reasons, they voluntarily miss out on those things.

However, their potential audience won't have missed out so much. So when you're writing your blockbuster historical epic, and the last big movie you saw was Titanic, it's probably safest to get a more general consumer of popular culture to give it a quick once-over.

First of all, the Looming Great Mountain.

  • You set your movie in the vicinity of a famous mountain. One or two scenes are placed in proximity to the mountain. This is enough reference to the mountain that a true story needs. Any further mention of the mountain 'looming' or characters who pause to stare at it in mid-scene every five pages or so, suggests that by the end of the movie, aliens are expected to fly out of it. All good if your movie features aliens, or is to be directed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Avoid attaching misleading significance to the scenery, unless it is going to monumentally explode at some point.


Secondly, the female romantic lead whose lines of dialogue begin repeatedly with 'Oh *insert male romantic lead name here*'

  • Try not to make your heroine unimaginatively irritating. Give her something original to say. But make sure, when you do give her a line, it's not something that Quagmire on Family Guy or Chef on South Park would say. Forbidden fruit, mmmm. Giggety giggety.


Thirdly, ethnic minorities who, once their familial relationships are established, continually address each other as 'My father', 'my brother', 'my son' etc...

  • Also, try to avoid conversations between ethnic minorities in which they remind each other constantly about 'our ways' and 'our culture'. There is a little thing called 'show, don't tell'. It applies even more so to screenwriting than novel writing. Do not treat your ethnic minorities in the same way that Vulcans are treated in Star Trek. If the line 'Greetings, Earthling!' would fit in with the others you've written, you are in Star Trek dialogue territory. Equally, if they also speak to one another in flashback, out-of-vision, Obi-Wan Kenobi style. I scribbled Use the Force *insert name here*! at least once on my copy.


Fourthly, do not play fast and loose with various ethnicities' perceived grasp of English (copied from 'Allo 'Allo and Dad's Army).

  • The screenplay very nearly had a full cup of tea spilled on it when I read the line 'Are you with us for long time Colonel?' spoken by a Japanese officer, followed by much repetition of 'Yes yes, very good, yes'. My annotation in black pen was Ooohh Me Love You Long Time Colonel! Yes Yes! :)


Fifth, over-use of 'Come' as an entire line of dialogue from the romantic male lead.

  • Does he own a dog? In which case, 'come' may be acceptable once or twice, if the dog is also in a leading role (pun intended). However, if his romantic counterpart is female and human, over 17 years old, the audience is over 17 years old, and he is not a Bohemian vampire or a monosyllabic heroin addict, 'come' is the least romantic word I can think of, due to its over-use in the last thirty years or so of teenage vampire movies and soft porn. My annotation here, following a page of notes saying Enough 'yes yes!' and Enough looming great mountain! and Enough 'Ohhh *insert name here*' was Enough 'come'! 


Sixth point - make sure your characters stay in character. And your timeline stays characteristically true to time.

  • For example, a police officer who calmly states what constitutes illegal activity in an opening scene should not suddenly become a superstitious mess in the middle without due cause, just to get a certain piece of info-dump across. And do not have small children impersonating aircraft at the turn of the 19th Century, unless their surname is Wright.


And seventh, the info dump.

  • Make sure that if your characters in the early 20th Century feel the need to engage in lively historical exposition about events going on in the world at the time, it isn't verbatim information taken from Wikipedia. Unless they are still alive, and revered contributors to the Wiki community...


Anyway, it was all taken in good humour by the writer, and the edits were done and it's already being rejected by grumpy agents, from what I hear. They don't know what they're missing out on. I spent a whole six and a half hours on it! In my own bedtime! :)

I've heard funny things about higher profile first drafts recently (postmen driving mail vans and mobile phones in houseboats set in 1929), so I'm starting to wonder if the affliction of screenwriting is more common than we know.

Maybe that's why second anticipated movies are never as good as first hit movies. The writer/director has been told they're a brilliant writer, so they stop asking for second opinions or for proofreading from their friends and family. You never know...

...So that's what Voodoo does, when not hanging out on here, or slinging words around elsewhere in a cavalier fashion, making books out of them. Just in case you ever wondered what a rant-bot does in real life :)

L xxxxx

Friday, 26 July 2013

'Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition' 5-day freebie on Kindle + 'The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum' free in Smashwords July sale

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition
Now available free through the next 5 days (promotion ends midnight 30 July Pacific Standard Time). Click below for regional product links:
Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator…
…And Connor Reeves, also not his real name, as it turns out – how he came by his, is less clear…
Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.
When she’s not under surveillance by Head Office, Lara spends her time juggling a night job in bar security, an only child with a zombie fixation, and what passes for a social life in the small hours in between. And the minor matter of ongoing internal scrutiny, by her own highly-self-monitoring personality disorder.
HOW THIS EBOOK WORKS: This version of Death & The City has been adapted for you to literally ‘cut to the chase’ and skip past Lara’s longer internal thought-processes. You’ll see the hyperlinked word SKIP in the right margin, which will take you into the next action segment. If you want to return to the top of the segment you skipped, the word BACK will take you there. So depending on your reader preference – for the times when you just want to stay in the action, and for when you want to know what’s going on in that mind of Lara’s – you can either jump ahead, or read the whole thing continuously – it’s up to you.
Death & The City (c) Lisa Scullard 2008
+Bonus - 'The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum' full-length parody is free for all devices on Smashwords until the end of July, with promo code SW100 http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/262618


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Voodoo Guru - Look who's talking?

Hello, and welcome to my latest rant.

The most recent theological journalism trend (in the footsteps of that last creationism fad set up to get tongues wagging) is the ancient chestnut 'religion stops people raping and murdering and doing all that bad stuff'. Well, it clearly doesn't. Ask any number of former Catholic choirboys. To quote a popular FB meme, I'd be worried if I met someone who told me that it was only their church that stopped them doing such things. I'd rather go to a hell full of happy agnostics afterwards, than a heaven full of repressed former criminal psychopaths that Jesus forgave after they dunked their heads in the holy birdbath.

The majority of folk that I've met in my life, as I'm not living in a secular country, don't feel the least bit inclined to engage in such dastardly behaviour. And it's not the threat of any punishment, or consequence that's 'stopping them'. Nothing is 'stopping them'. They simply aren't inclined to START that sort of behaviour. It doesn't appeal to them. They don't need to be told, threatened, coerced or cajoled otherwise.

I'm sure there are a few crooks out there who did turn over a new leaf after hearing additional voices in their head (rather than seeking mental health advice), or found themselves suddenly attracted to cake and coffee mornings and helpful people as an alternative to paying off those bad criminal debts in unsavoury ways. The promoters of such conversions only think that they're in the majority because those are the only stories they listen to, in between absorbing too much tabloid journalism about the rest of the world, and looking up damaged people to appeal to their imaginary friends to help. Delegating anything helpful they could otherwise be doing themselves to a speculative supernatural force.

These well-meaning, cake-bearing folks tend to try and get to the young people among us early on (disregarding any individual private motives) suggesting that certain theological teachings in schools and communities will prevent violence. In my experience, any form of cultural brainwashing of young people incites violence, once the young people in question have been ingrained with the misinformation that they have no control or responsibility over their own life, nobody is 'without sin' and that their destiny is just to be the puppet of some higher power.

"Ask for *the great one* to give you the answers!" these preachers of sorts tell them.

You don't want to know what the hormonally-imbalanced voices in the mind of an adolescent tell them. If they share those voices with you, you're better off giving them sugary carbohydrates and lots of rest and maybe a visit to the doctor. Don't tell them it's any of your imaginary friends or even more imaginary enemies trying to chat them up, unless you like human-shaped flying squirrel impersonations landing outside your ground floor windows.

I have a little insight of my own to share.

Many millennia ago, before spoken or written communication, when humans were dragging each other around by the hair, discovering the joy of arson and finding out what didn't make them throw up too often, barely anyone alive back then got to live to be as old as you. It was young people, with all their hormones and crazy ideas and energy, who made it possible for you to be getting as old and bored and opinionated and obsessed with imaginary friends as you are now. They quite clearly didn't die out as a result of unduly eating each other or throwing too many rocks at heads. Because look in the mirror - there you are.

And if most parents died at the ripe old age of 25 or so, a lot of community support kept their dependents alive in order to make the next generation, and the next, and the next - until, eventually, you came along. Life was short, fast, and hungry - right up until the 'civilised' ages - such as the Bronze Age, when some people probably made it to be as old as 35 and the word 'grandparent' had to be invented. You are made of their DNA, handed down through the lifespan of the human species.

If you have an imaginary life and imaginary friends who get you through the day, great. But what works for you isn't necessarily applicable to the rest of us. For example...

If you were told that you had to start having insulin shots just because it keeps some people alive, and you didn't need it, you'd say no, wouldn't you? It would conflict with your entire working body chemistry. The same goes for other people's mental health, happiness and wellbeing. Lots of people in the world are FINE. They aren't carrying any guilt, or concealing any crimes. They aren't being horrible to anyone. They have a happy, healthy family and friendship network. They're not looking for answers to things when the questions aren't relevant to them. They're getting on with life. Some of them are doing good and philanthropic things with their spare time and money as well. They don't care whether or not there's anything afterwards. They're dealing with what's real and what's in front of them. THEY LIKE IT HERE.

When you look at your kids playing games and sorting out their differences, try to leave YOUR imaginary friends out of it.

Don't delegate your parental responsibilities to your imaginary friends, or your church's imaginary friends. Just the same as you don't allow your kids' imaginary friends to take the blame and punishment for all of the cookies vanishing and the dog escaping. Supposing your child's imaginary pal turned out to be real, and yours isn't? You can't have it your way and not theirs by the same thread of logic, just because some folks constructed a fancy building to go and chat to yours in, and wrote stories about them. (Kids do that too. Usually with bedsheet tents, Lego, and crayons).

There's always the Naughty Step. It works a lot more effectively and instantaneously than some threat of hypothetical supernatural judgement in seventy or more years' time.

Because considering how long we'll get to live by the time you think you've convinced them, and how old and senile we'll all be, nobody will remember anything said to us or that we said to anyone, ever. Maybe with the exception of 'I love you' - so don't waste too much of that on your imaginary friends. Spare some reminders for your flesh-and-blood ones.

Remember - young people started the human race. Right up until the age of medical science, and people regularly started to live past 40. Only a couple of centuries ago.

Now - go and sit in the Naughty Corner, and have a good long think about it. And if your imaginary friends keep interrupting, maybe you need a cup of Horlicks and to go eat some of that cake yourself.

L xxxxxxxxxx