Monday 29 July 2019

Lately I've Been Watching

More mini TV and film reviews; I watch mostly on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  For more, click the 'Lately I've Been Watching' tag at the bottom of the post.

Series: Perpetual Grace

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A darkly, darkly humorous series about a scam that goes terribly wrong, starring Ben Kingsley as a psychopathic pastor and Jimmi Simpson as the poor guy who gets roped into it.  Think Breaking Bad; it's that sort of vein, though some of the scenes, cinematography and characters reminded me of a Tarantino film.  Violent, but... also very funny.  It really is excellent; highly recommended.
10 episodes in Season 1, 8 have been on so far. 

Series: Fear The Walking Dead (Season 5)

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

For my thoughts on this, see HERE 

Series: The Boys

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fun series about a New York of the not too distant future, in which superheroes are the new celebrity, especially 'The Seven' - the best of them, who are owned and managed by the evil Vought corporation.  It's all deliciously corrupt, and some of the superheroes are more reluctant than others.  Stars Anthony Starr (the hot guy in Banshee) as the main hero, Homelander, and Dennis Quaid's son Jack, whose character gets involved into a gang trying to expose said corruption after one of them (A Train, the fastest man in the world), kills his girlfriend.  Highly entertaining, and well done.

Series: Castle Rock

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Based on a Stephen King book - a cursed town in Maine, a mysterious young man appears who is thought to be the devil.... flashbacks throughout reveal the sinister happenings of long ago.  Features Shawshank Prison, and stars Sissy Spacek, Terry O'Quinn and some others that I recognise but whose names I can't recall.  It's good because, hey, it's Stephen King, but I found it a bit slow; I liked it but didn't love it.

Comedy series: HUGE in France

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Gad, a famous French comedian, arrives in LA to see his estranged wife and son.  The son, Luca, is determined to become a New York model; the wife's new boyfriend is a handsome former model and (unsuccessful) actor, who has become Luca's new father.  Gad discovers that his celebrity means nothing in the US.

It's funny, but filled with pathos and great characters.  What I liked most is that it doesn't fall into the clichΓ© of making the new boyfriend a high-achieving dickhead; his confidence is but a thin veneer, and he turns out to be as hopeless and likeable as Gad—it is the wife and son who are the monsters.  Very good, I liked it alot.

Film: The Upside

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Based on a true story.  The wonderful Bryan Cranston stars as a quadriplegic billionaire who, on impulse, hires an ex-con (Kevin Hart) to be his full time 'life auxilliary', who will perform most of the duties that will enable him to live something approaching a normal life.  It's funny, sad, 'feel-good'—I usually run a mile from anything with the 'feel-good' tag, but I'll watch anything with Bryan Cranston in, and liked it much more than I feared I might not.  Definitely recommend.

Comedy Series: The Impastor

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Dodgy guy (who has even more dodgy guys coming after him) accidentally falls into another man's life, and escapes the mob by pretending to be the new pastor in a quiet town in upstate New York.  As the person who was watching it with me said, 'It would be good if it wasn't shit', and yes, it's pretty daft, but I quite liked it; it's entertaining.

Sunday 28 July 2019

The Park on the 28th: July - Mid Summer

On the 28th of each month, I take photos of my usual walk in my local park; many in roughly the same places each month, so you and I can observe the changes in season: the trees, the flowers, the light in the sky ... and the weather!  

As this week has zig-zagged between sizzling sunshine and muggy downpours (ghastly for those like me with hair that frizzes up with the first droplet of moisture), I checked the weather at 7 a.m. today, and discovered that I would need to go out immediately if I had any chance of sunshine and not getting soaked.  So this month's pics are a mix of sunny and not, which seems representative of the month as a whole, and it was a lot more soggy than it looks.  I'm so glad I went when I did; now, at 10.30, it's completely overcast.

(Incidentally, going out immediately meant not having the strong, freshly-ground coffee and nutritionally sound breakfast that I have convinced myself I need in order to function.  I took a bottle of water and a Nakd bar with me, and I felt just fine.  See, coffee, I don't need you after all!)

Click month to see previous pictures:

Looking worryingly autumnal in places -
conkers on the ground (the round green things).


 I've been taking pictures of these branches since last autumn;
this month they're so leafy/soaked that they're touching the ground in places.

 Plenty of flowers out now...

These ones were still in bud last month.  Boer War memorial in background

These trees were bright red in October :)

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Thoughts on S5 #FearTheWalkingDead, #TWD S9 re-watch...and back at the prison.

I caught up with Fear The Walking Dead this week, as I like to save my favourites to watch in one splurge. I think it's the best season so far, though indeed the first two seasons felt like a different show; aside from the occasional mention of Madison and Nick, and the reappearance of Daniel, there is little to connect them to the more recents episodes of FTWD.

So great to see the appearance of Dwighty Boy, as he goes back to his pre-Negan self—another excellent actor and convincing character added to the cast.  The addition of Morgan was inspired, and I adore Garret Dillahunt as John, but, sad to say, I find that the rest of the cast just doesn't make me want to root for them in the same way that the TWD family does.  Maybe it's because the new look that came with S4 is still 'bedding in'; we haven't lived with these people for so long, whereas in TWD we've known Daryl, Carol, Maggie and Michonne for almost a decade now, and Tara, Rosita, Eugene, Aaron, Gabriel, Jesus and Enid for many years, too. 

...though I have to say that I was massively impressed by the episode with Al and Helicopter Girl.  So often in TV shows you feel that the writers are just remembering to tick the diversity box with a gay couple, but with these two you could really feel the chemistry between them, even before they acknowledged it themselves; even before you knew how they felt, for definite.  And you could feel their pain on parting, too.

I'm hoping Matt Frewer's character will develop in a sinister way - he'll make a great baddie.  Luciana is growing on me, but I think Charlie is still wooden and superfluous (compare that dreary two person episode with her and Alicia, with the brilliant TWD one about Morgan and Eastman, or Sasha and Rosita's last conversation....)

Great to see that the mysterious helicopter people are featuring in this, too; I'm crossing my fingers that this is how Michonne will make her exit from S10, too—surely they can't let her die!  Not our Michonne!

Talking of which, I went back to re-watch S9 of TWD after finishing the-FTWD-story-so-far, partly to see if it was just my imagination that it's a better show—and, for me, it is.  The dialogue, the storylines, just everything about it.  To sum up: for me, FTWD is good, I enjoy it, but TWD is still #1.

Watching S9 again, after not having watched it for several months, I was doubly convinced that's it's definitely one of the best seasons, to rival S6, 3 and 4.  I noticed so many little nuances that I hadn't seen before—e.g., at some point between Daryl looking for Rick's body with Michonne in Scars, and 6 years later, he lost one of the wings off the back of his waistcoat.  A lost wing for a lost brother....

Like Negan, I find the 'love quadrangle' amusing; I've always been a big Rosita fan and think she could do better than any of those three! (😒 still sad about Abraham...) And I found I wanted to lock Henry in a cell, permanently, even more than I did when I watched S9 5-16 first time round; aside from hating to see Carol so crushed, I couldn't feel sad at his demise.  Tara, Enid, totally hot DJ and all the others, gone because of his adolescent romantic ideals.  Yes, yes, I know Daryl and Connie went back for her too, but maybe they would have just lived with it, as Daryl had said, if not for Henry.  I felt sad about Tammy Rose, too; I loved her and Earl.  They were such authentic characters; I could see them on Hershel's farm.

After I'd seen all of S9 again, I began watching S3 again, starting with episode 07, When The Dead Come Knocking, when Michonne was first taken in at the prison (no, I didn't watch all this in one day, and yes, I did get almost painfully nostalgic!).  It was also the episode in which Daryl discovered Carol, when they all thought she was dead, and when she saw Judith for the first time, and learned that Lori was dead—😒😒😒.  

When Carol held Judith for the first time, I thought about the two of them meeting up again at the fair, in the brilliant The Calm Before; I wanted to take a snapshot of it and show it to Judith now!

There was also a lovely shot when Michonne was looking at them through the bars; if she had known that one day, that baby would call her Mum....

Watching S3, which was about a year into 'the fall', and comparing it with S9, I was so aware of how brilliantly the producers have aged the whole TWD world.  They're all so much dirtier (not just Daryl!), and look hardier, more like apocalypse survivors.  The Walkers are far more skeletal, of course—and the traces of pre-zombie life are fading away, so that there is little trace of them; the old towns look ghost-like, a shadow of a world that once was, rather than simply abandoned, as before.  The attention to detail is so clever; the ageing-up has happened so slowly. 

I was thinking, too, about why the show's ratings have gone down over the seasons.  I know a lot of people said they didn't like how the Negan war went on for so long, or that it was too gun fight-orientated, or that Glenn and Carl, in particular, shouldn't have been lost along the way, but I can't help thinking that much of the slide is just natural wastage.  TWD is every bit as good as it ever was, but no long-running TV show, or series of multiple books, or whatever, is able to maintain the same level of interest for everyone who loved the first few seasons (or books).  

Maybe it's also because, with any post apocalyptic series, the most exciting part is always the start—the shock, as the breakdown of society takes place, the slow, appalled acceptance, as characters realise that they have been thrust overnight into a lawless, dangerous world—and their own development, as some flounder, some become stronger...and some discover their dark sides.

The trick is to keep finding ways to keep the story fresh, unpredictable, and finding new challenges for the survivors, which TWD does magnificently.  I will be watching it with the same avid interest until it finishes (though of course I hope it never does!)—and then I will start at the beginning and watch it all over again.  Again πŸ˜‰

Monday 22 July 2019

3 Misconceptions That Can Hinder New Writers

A while back I wrote an article entitled 7 Myths That Can Hold New Writers Back. Here are three more, with the subtitle 'and will prevent them publishing a really good book and finding lots of readers'.

1. If a book is good it will sell of its own accord, without the need for promotion.

Ages ago, a proofreader friend told me about one of her clients, who, though a terrific writer, hardly sold any books.  When she suggested various ways of promoting them, his reply was 'but if they're so good they should just sell, shouldn't they?'

The other day, a writer was talking to me about the fact that his books weren't selling. When I suggested methods that might change this, he replied that he didn't like 'blatant promotion', and preferred people to 'discover' his work online, by means of discussion on its subject matter.  A nice idea, but I had to stop myself saying, 'So how's that working for you?'  I looked them up; they had one review apiece, and I could see by the rankings that they hadn't sold more than a handful. 

Here's the thing.  Sure, we'd love our online activity to consist only of chatting, and to have others think, 'What a great guy!  What fascinating insight he has!  I see he's a writer; I'll go seek out his books, and buy them all!'  Yes, that will happen now and again, but, mostly, if you don't promote your books, they won't 'just sell', however fabulous they are.

Why not?  Because no one will know they exist.

Most self-pub or small indie published writers sell the majority of their books via ebook on Amazon, I find, and it's where almost all start off.  But the site contains millions of titles.  Millions.  Yours (and mine, and everyone else's) are the needle in the haystack; if you don't promote your books yourself, they will become invisible to Amazon users.  If they never get clicked on, bought, downloaded on Kindle Unlimited or reviewed, they won't appear on 'also boughts' or recommendations.  They will not show up in searches.  They may as well be shut in a virtual drawer.

No one is making you promote, if you feel it's a bit naff to do so, or not 'you', or if you just can't be bothered (see below) - that's fair enough.  Or, indeed, if you're not fussed, and are just happy to have written them; I know a few who feel this way, and you need read no further!  But if you want to sell more than the odd one here and there to people you know and online writer friends, you will need to learn how to do this stuff.

2. You're 'no good at' promotion.

A while back, someone asked me to help to tweet his cut-price offer on one of his books.  He asked me, he said, because he was 'no good at' promotion.  I was happy to help as I have a silly amount of followers and the book was good, but I couldn't resist questioning this 'no good at' claim.  Did he mean he felt embarrassed promoting his own work, or that he didn't know how to?  He admitted that he actually meant he couldn't be bothered.

Building up any sort of online platform does take time, and effort, when you'd rather be writing, or watching TV, or reading, or whatever.  It means finding out how to use the site(s) of your choice, reading advice articles, following people and interacting so that you gain more 'reach', sharing others' stuff and taking an interest in what they do, seeking out bloggers who will feature you, thinking up ways to present your work on Twitter/instagram/Facebook, without giving your followers a virtual bludgeoning about the head (commonly known as spamming 'buy my book' tweets).  If you're not sure how, have a look at what others do.  If you would like to read some articles on this subject, click this link and go to the 'Writers and Social Media/Promotion' section.

If you feel shy about it, remember that you don't have to say 'this is a fantastic book, you totally have to read it NOW!'.  Your tweets, for instance, can show the book off like an advert, rather than telling everyone it's a #mustread, which is off-putting, anyway.  People will investigate further if they like the cover, or think the subject matter sounds interesting.  Choose a good quote from a review—not 'I couldn't put it down' or that nice bit that your writer friend wrote about your characterisation and descriptive abilities; find something shorter and more punchy.  Or choose a quote from the book itself; a belter of a one-liner, rather than detail about the plot or something that means a lot to you but doesn't work out of context.  Then add a couple of hashtags to show the genre, and don't forget the cover - and the buy links!

3. Producing a novel is all about letting the creative juices flow.

You know how it is, when you hit on that great idea.  You mull that story around in your mind and get excited about it; you open a new document and get stuck in.  You think of new developments when you're away from it, and can't wait to get back to your desk to start making them come alive.  You think about your characters until they seem almost as real as people you know, and often more interesting.  You have moments when you can hardly type fast enough; your fingers fly over the keys, as your brain creates scenes, settings, new characters. 

Thing is, that's only the beginning.

Have you ever tried showing someone a first draft?  Did you get any of these type of reactions?

'It was great, but....
  • I didn't get that bit about Jake discovering his real father was a famous actor; it didn't go anywhere. Yes, it's a stunning revelation, and, mm-mm, I'm sure it was great fun to write, but it was like you put it in, then forgot about it.
  • ...I hate to say it, but did you know you've explained the bit about Lizzie and the king four times?  And how come all the characters use exactly the same adjectives and slang?
  • Why have you put in a chapter about the architecture of Prague in it for?  Ah, I see.  You really wanted to write about it, because Prague is so beautiful—yes, I can see you got really carried away!  But I was waiting to get on with the story....
  • I love this fight scene, but are you sure Jim could just get up and walk away, with those sort of injuries?  Oh, I see.  He needs to be in Texas that night for the next bit of the plot.  But he'd probably be dead.  Did you not research knife wounds to the femoral artery?'
Novels need planning.  Thinking through.  Researching.  Creativity is only one part of the whole process. The first draft, that wonderful burst of creativity, is just the raw material.  

I read for Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, and one of the problems I find all too often, with self- or small indie publisher books, is that they simply need more work, to iron out clunky sentences, to get rid of long-winded descriptions, to add clarity, suspense, foreshadowing ... these are the elements that get sorted out in multiple redrafts.  You need to go back and start at the beginning, each time.  Go through it over and over.  Four, five, six and more times, however many is necessary until the book is as 'tight' as you can make it.

I'm not a perfect writer; no one is.  But you owe it to yourself to make the book as good as it can be.  I find that as I write the first draft, I realise that other sections earlier on might need some tweaking.  Or I see that more emphasis is needed on certain aspects.  To this end, I have post-it notes all over a board in front of my desk, which I put into order when I'm about to start the next draft.  They say things like 'make more clear that Byron doesn't like Hemsley', 'establish that Evie is a fabulous pastry cook', 'Need more detail about the trouble in the city before Ryder turns up'.  By the time I'm at the end of the third draft, I've got the story about right.  Then it's time to look at every sentence and see if it could be written more succinctly.  

Redraft until you're sick of the sight of it.  And then do another one.

Hope this helps!

Monday 15 July 2019

Lately I've Been Watching....

An irregular series of mini TV and film reviews; I watch mostly on Amazon Prime and Netflix.  

For more, please click the 'Lately I've Been Watching' tag at the end.

2 part documentary: What's my name | Muhammad Ali

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have no interest in boxing and know very little about it, though of course Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali were names I grew up hearing, and I do love biographical documentaries.  This one is stunningly good.  There is no narrative, and there are no people relating their memories of him; his story is told in old film clips only, with a little background music of the time, though this is not overdone. 

Now I've seen it, I understand what all the fuss was about.  What a charismatic and decent chap he was, underneath the bluster.  Seriously worth watching.

Series: Stranger Things: Season 3

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Never disappoints, this show... S3 is just as good as the others.  The kids are teenagers now, and I was slightly amused at how the girls, of course, look like young women, whereas Mike and co are still gangly boys.  Millie Bobby Brown is as terrific as ever, and I loved the developing of Max's full-of-himself older brother.  I'm usually massively irritated by most teenagers in TV shows, but these are all great, which is a huge plus for me.  Great escapism, and I really like the whole 1980s feel, which makes me go 'aahhh' about a time when life seemed simpler, somehow... give or take the odd slimy monster.  If you haven't seen this series, I recommend you start now, at Season 1 πŸ˜€.

Film: Peterloo

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mike Leigh film about a working class uprising, demanding lower food prices and a vote in parliament, and its quashing by those who thought themselves more worthy of a place on this planet.  I knew about it from school history lessons, but this film really brought it home.  Some wonderful acting (Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake and many more), and the attention to detail in the setting is amazing; those people in filthy rags and shawls coming out of their factories seemed every bit as real as any characters in a contemporary drama.  So well-written, and hard-hitting, though I was slightly disappointed by the end; I wanted to know more about the aftermath.

Series: The Last Czars

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a documentary interspersed with a drama about the period from when Czar Nicholas II came to power, to the slaughter of him and his family, in 1917.  I wasn't too sure about it at first, because there were too many unnecessary sex scenes (like, all of them) - we know Nicky and Alix were trying to have a son and heir, we didn't need to see his white bum going up and down in the attempt. However, these faded out as it went on, and I began to see how well put together it was; I was engrossed.  

I'd only known vague details about how the Russian Revolution began, and, of course, the family's murder in the House of Special Purpose, but this is so detailed, showing how Nicholas made terrible mistakes from the first day of his reign, how his family lived in a gilded cage and hadn't got a clue what was going on in their own country, or indeed any understanding when they were informed.  Neither had I realised, until watching this, how huge a part Rasputin played in the destruction of the old Russia; his part is so well-played, showing his story right from the earlier years, when he was a peasant in Siberia.  If you have any interest in this period of Russian history, you should definitely watch it—and if you haven't, watch it anyway.

Film: Sicario 2: Soldado

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Gripping action film - suicide bombings, Mexican drug cartels, black ops, human trafficking, teenagers getting mixed up with criminals - a good couple of hours' TV fun, starring Josh Brolin and Benicio del Torro.

Series: The Spanish Princess: Season 1

2* ⭐⭐

I've given this 2 stars because it was quite entertaining, and because I enjoyed watching it in sort of amused fascination, but as a depiction of historical events?  Forget it.  Think Catherine of Aragon and her lady-in-waiting nipping into a pub of an afternoon, artistocratic women being appalled/amazed that they would not be able to marry a man of their choice, Margaret Beaufort portrayed as the wicked stepmother in Snow White, servants answering back to royalty, Prince Harry looking 5 years older than Prince Arthur, even though he would have been about 10 years old when Catherine first arrived in England; it is well known that she was a good few years older than him.

Then there's Queen Isabella taking part in a battle, in full armour, with a crown on her head ... and that's before we even get started on Elizabeth of York kissing Catherine on the mouth, and the ridiculously inaccurate timeline.  Oh and the Strong Women.  Almost every female character is nauseatingly 'feisty', and Speaks Their Mind Against Personal Injustices.  You know, like women do today, except that in the 16th century they tended not to...

... which is what I found patronising in the extreme.  It seems the writers and producers assume that viewers will not be able to understand the restrictions of the time, based around religion/court protocol/gender, and can only accept history when dumbed down into this schmaltzy, politically correct, romantic pap.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Lately I've Been Watching....

My irregular rundown and reviews of films and series I've seen on the box lately. 😎  I mostly watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

If you would like to see more, please click on the 'Lately I've Been Watching' tag at the bottom of this post.

5 part series: Chernobyl

5 stars plus plus  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

For full review, please click HERE

Film: The Road

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Yes, yes, of course I've seen it before, more than once, but we watched it again the other night and I was once more struck by its brilliance, so I had to include it.  Actually like it more than the book.  If you haven't seen it, do!  Watched on Amazon Prime.

Series: Yellowstone (Season 1)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Best described as a 21st century Dallas, set in Montana rather than Texas!  Kevin Costner plays the ranch owner, with the four kids, all so different... 
  • Kelly Reilly as Beth, the caustic, business-savvy daughter with a drink problem (JR and Sue Ellen rolled into one)
  • Wes Bentley as Jamie the family lawyer; the 'nice' one, always at odds with Beth-JR-Swellen (he's Bobby!)
  • Luke Grimes as Kayce, the wild one who got away, and married a Native American; they live on a reservation (Gary)
  • Dave Annable as Lee, who only wants to stay close to the ranch (Ray Krebbs).  
There are two main sources of conflict: the snake-like property developer (Danny Huston), determined to change the face of Montana with his luxury developments, and the Native American main man (Gil Birmingham) who wants his people's land back.  Loved it, and trying to save Season 2 to watch all at once, instead of watching week by week!

Series: Salvation

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Watched the two available seasons of this - highly entertaining, never a dull moment series about an asteroid heading for earth, with scientists trying to stop it and underground groups trying to stop them doing so.... some of it is totally ludicrous and it features some irritating millennials (Jillian should have been gagged at birth), and people kept being in love with the people I didn't want them to be in love with, but it still had me looking forward to telly time each night.  It's fun, I enjoyed it.  I recommend; alas, there will not be a S3.  A pity TV networks still base viewing stats on the people who watch it on the night; an outdated idea, as a huge proportion of people have stuff on the watch lists to see at any time.   

For TWD addicts: features Tovah Feldshuh as the Deanna-like POTUS.

Comedy series: Loudermilk 

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Watched most of S1; it's about a former alcoholic and the support group he runs, and the stuff that happens to him.  An easy-watch for late at night, quite entertaining and amusing in parts, but not as good as it could have been.  The acting is good, but the content is only average.  Having said that, it got slightly better in the last few episodes, I think because the mood changed from sitcom to light drama; it was more about the story than people saying 'c***' for cheap laughs.  At least there were no self-conscious 'vaginas'.

6 part series: The Hot Zone

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

For full review, please click HERE


Film: The Dark Tower (2017)

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

As my husband said, 'there had to be a first time' - i.e., Matthew McConnaughey and Idris Elba starring in something that just wasn't that good.  Watchable, only; Harry Potter meets daft monsters and the fight between good and evil.  Also stars Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha in Vikings)