Sunday, 19 December 2021

Ghosts of #Christmas Past

I was talking to someone on Twitter today about family Christmases, and realised how long it is since I've had one!  When my parents were alive I used to love going to their house for the day, with my sister and brother (and whoever we were currently married to/living with).  As Mum and Dad got older and moved to a smaller house, and my brother and I often had other commitments, they would just spend it with Julia, but for your entertainment I've dug out a few old photos from happy family Christmas Days of 25-30 years ago.


1989


We always had a liking for playing silly games with fun photos - I remember that year we decided to do a photographic depiction of the seven deadly sins.  This is Eddie (my brother) demonstrating 'wrath' on Julia... 

...whereas Mum insisted that 'pride' could mean pride in one's country.  I have no idea how she managed to randomly produce those flags!



1993 or 4

When you get a new cosy for the toaster, it's got to go on your head.  Even better when you get two.




1995

Continuing the things-on-head theme:  while we were waiting for lunch to arrive, Eddie insisted that we make party hats, and the nearest paper available was the Sunday Telegraph.

I am sure you would agree that they're inspired!  I particularly like the old style Spanish policeman and the French Foreign Legion (which I made, I am proud to say!).  The man with the longish blonde hair is my then-boyfriend Marcus; next to him is Eddie's then-wife Debbie, and the little boy is their son Christopher, who is sadly no longer with us.  

How lovely it would be to be able to have a family Christmas like this again ~ wherever you are, I hope you enjoy yours! 




Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Lately I've Been Watching

The latest in my series of mini TV and film reviews, with trailers and 'where to watch'.  If you have trouble finding where any show/film is available in your country, this is a good site: Justwatch.  Just put the name of the show into the search, and choose your country further down, from the drop-down menu.  It shows where you can stream, buy or rent.  Or you can put 'where can I watch ***' into whichever search engine you use, or go to the programme's own site, if it has one.

If you would like to see more posts, please click here: Lately I've Been Watching.  If you get as far as the bottom, 'Older Posts' will take you to more.


3 part documentary: The Beatles: Get Back

5* plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Disney +)

Peter Jackson's documentary in 3 parts, each around 3 hours, from footage of January 1969 as The Beatles recorded their final album, Let It Be.  Ends, of course, in the famous rooftop performance.  It's marvellous for so many reasons - we're given insight into how lines of lyrics, chords and melodies would come together and develop into magic, and into the real 'them' (I found myself liking Paul much more than I thought I would, though George is still my favourite!), how their creativity just flowed out like other people breathe, but alongside that it's such a perfect snapshot of that short time when the swinging 60s melted into the 70s.  Watching this is like taking a step back into the fairly recent past, that in some ways seems far longer ago than 53 years; it's a world lost to us now.  I was 10, so only saw it through the eyes of a child, but I'm still convinced it was a better time. 

We subscribed to Disney+ for the sole purpose of watching this, and it was however much it cost well spent!  I've never been a particular fan of their music, btw, but this made me more so; it really is so worth watching.



Comedy Special

South Park: Post Covid 

Exclusive Event

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Paramount +)

Great stuff - into the future, when the death of an old friend sends Stan Marsh back to South Park - but who will he meet there?  How did the friend die?  How have they changed?  How has the world changed?  And who is the person in the asylum....?

You either love South Park or you don't; if you do, you'll love this too, and if you've never watched it, it's not too late.  But perhaps start at the beginning.  Or at least around Season 3 or 4.



Series: Wu-Tang Clan: An American Saga - Seasons 1/2

5* plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Hulu) 

I watched Season 1 a couple of years back, but watched it again before Season 2, and loved it just as much as I did last time.  A group of young men from Staten Island who (mostly) scratched a living selling drugs and trying to stay alive and out of jail eventually utilised their not inconsiderable talents and became what many say is the most influential rap/hip-hop band ever.  Season 1 deals with before (including founder Bobby Diggs' - The Rza - first short-lived foray into being signed by a label), while S2 is how they come together as one, putting old feuds to bed and learning how to put the music first.  As before, I was in awe of the art itself.  And Rza's single-minded dedication to the music and the spirit of the clan, throughout.

One thing that struck me was that, as this all took place at the beginning of the 90s, there were no smartphones, no internet.  Made me wonder if it would have all taken place in the way it did it if social media and sophisticated video games had been around. 

One of the highlights of S2 was the depiction of their first big gig at Fever, which was attended by several music industry big shots, all of whom wanted to sign them afterwards (below, under the trailer, followed by C.R.E.A.M).  Can't recommend this too highly, even if you're not into the music, particularly.  Maybe you will be, after watching it; I keep looking them up on Youtube.






Documentary: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Stream: UK: Sky, Now, Virgin.  US: Showtime, Fubo, DirecTV)

Four part documentary.  The original band members, now around 50 years old, talk about before, during and now - with the exception of ODB, who didn't last the course.  I've always thought Method Man a charismatic chap, and I loved hearing what he had to say (particularly about when Rza found the melody; it was like magic when he hit on it) I found that the other one I liked a lot was Raekwon, who seemed so honest and down to earth.  Interesting to see how the drama had differed from real life, and it was great to see them all together and know that past difficulties are mostly over, but I was saddened by where their fame took them, after the first few years.

I watch a lot of music documentaries and biopics, and there seems to be a pattern repeated over and over.  The happiest bit is just before they make it, and shortly after; there was a sweet scene a couple of years into their success when Raekwon was saying how good it was not to have to worry about paying bills anymore, but also being able to help out all their friends and family.  This is the 'riding high' phase - then, for so many, it turns sour.  Becomes all about egos and money.  The beauty of Rza creating his beats, Method Man coming out with the brilliant hook for C.R.E.A.M, the way they were always scribbling ideas and thoughts down in their rhyme books - that seemed to get lost.  But I loved seeing them all talking together again at the end.  



Documentary: JFK Revisited: 

Through the Looking Glass

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Stream - UK: Virgin. US: Showtime, Fubo, DirecTV)

More of stuff you've probably already seen and know about, but in this new-ish Oliver Stone documentary it's particularly well done.  Two hours long, most absorbing.  Beggars belief that they ever thought the official story would convince any but those of the lowest IQ.  I sometimes think this is where those-who-make-the-rules fall down: that they are so far removed from the 'little people' that they forget some of us are actually quite intelligent.



Series: 

Impeachment: American Crime Story - Season 3

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(US: Fubo, Sling.  UK: Sky.  Buy: Apple)

Ten episodes about the Lewinsky affair and the events that took Clinton to his impeachment.  Clive Owen is fairly convincing as Clinton himself, and Sarah Paulson is, as usual, at the top of her game as Linda Tripp, the Pentagon colleague and friend of Monica Lewinsky who taped all their conversations as evidence of the affair with the President.  I also liked the woman who played Paula Jones.

I was less sure about two other casting choices.  The first is Edie Falco as Hillary - yes, of course she did a wonderful job, as she's a fine actress, but to me she seemed too warm and likable to be Mrs Clinton.

The second is, to my surprise (or maybe not), not mentioned by any of the media reviews.  So I'm going to address the elephant in the room: why would they choose someone 5'1" tall and stones overweight to play a woman who was 5'6" and never any larger than not-fat-just-not-New-York-thin?


I'm not being sizeist; Beanie Feldstein can be whatever size she wants to be, as can anyone.  What I'm talking about is loopy casting.  Like the tall, beautiful, glamorous Annabelle Wallis playing Jane Seymour in the Tudors - she was recorded in history as being small, plain and insignificant.  The not-a-spare-ounce-of-flesh-on-him Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry VIII.  And don't get me started about actors not even being the right ethnicity.

Bill Clinton came across as a weak, selfish man, ruled by his belief in his own importance and appeal to the world.  Linda Tripp: lonely, unappealing and rather pathetic.  Monica: obsessive, a slave to her out of control emotions, attention-seeking and manipulative, childish.  Hillary, however, was portrayed as the ultimate Strong Woman, virtuous, intelligent, wise, a role model for all, etc etc.  Which was, no doubt, the intention.

The unfolding of events is as compelling as people found the real story at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through, except that I was just not convinced by the version of Monica; this spoiled it for me.


Series: The Walking Dead World Beyond - Season 2

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(AMC+)

I've been a bit underwhelmed by this offshoot of the main series, but have watched it all because it's part of the complete story, and will lead into other aspects (like what happened to Rick!).  I liked Hope, Huck and Dennis, and the chap Iris was in love with, and Huck's mother played by Julia Ormond was good, but the rest of the characters I didn't find that interesting.  I was a bit bored in the earlier part, but then Jadis appeared, it kicked up a notch or two, and the final three episodes were extremely good.

Jadis is full-on baddie now, some years after rescuing Rick in a CRM helicopter, and she has a new haircut that brought to mind that old joke from school days: 'Tell me who cut your hair and I'll get 'em for you.'  Was nice in the finale to hear her talking about Rick, if not by name - a shred of decency stopped her giving him up to be experimented on, anyway!  The very, very end was highly intriguing, especially as it featured a blast from the long, long distant TWD past ... I won't name them, in case you haven't seen it!

To sum up, it's extra parts of the jigsaw that makes up TWD World, so it's worth watching for this reason!



Series: Absentia - Seasons 1, 2 & 3

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Amazon Prime)

FBI agent Emily Byrne has been missing for six years - what happened to her during that time is so horrendous that, when she is found, it colours her life and those of everyone around her.  Including her husband's new wife ... Emily was declared dead, in absentia.  Once she's back, it's all about finding who is responsible, but the plot goes far, far deeper than anyone can imagine, slowly unravelling over the three seasons, which brings it to a conclusion.

This is good, pretty compelling, and gets better as it goes along; sometimes it dragged a bit in the first season, but the third is great, all the way through, and it's one of those dramas that make you keep changing your mind about who is a baddie and who isn't.  I loved the character of Emily, which always helps.



Series: See - Season 2

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Apple TV+)

Season two of our world 500 years on, when the human race has lost the power of sight.  A very few people can see; they're considered witches, hunted down.  Season 1 ended with fierce tribe leader Baba Voss (Jason Momoa) taking his sighted step-children to meet their biological father, who can also see.  In Season 2, trouble is afoot in the Payan kingdom, with its crazy queen Sibeth (excellently played by Sylvia Hoeks), and threats from the rival kingdom of Trivantia, where Baba Voss's brother rules.

If you love stuff like Game of Thrones, you'll love this, too.  The fact that hardly anyone can see becomes a bit frustrating at times (and now and again, particularly when fierce warriors are feeling their way forward with sticks, it seems a little Pythonesque), but it's extremely well done, and I was aware, all the way through, how hard it must be to act as if one cannot see.  I especially liked the glimpses of the old world: ancient, rusting helicopters, cars, electricity pylons, wind farms.  

The last episode is worthy of 5 stars plus - a stunning battle that lasts for half the episode.  Set up nicely for Season 3, at the end.  Jason Momoa is as lush as ever, and another wolf whistle for the Witchfinder General who turns over a new leaf: Christian Camargo as Tamacti Jun. 



Series: Alias - Seasons 1-5

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Stream - US: Amazon, Hulu, Roki.  UK: Disney+)

Deep cover secret agent action thriller-type series made from 2001-2006, based in LA but with hundreds of other locations all over the world.  Stars Jennifer Garner as the kick-boxing, super intelligent Sydney Bristow in various wigs and outfits as she assumes different personas and leaps off buildings.  Much of it is completely ridiculous and far-fetched, but I enjoyed it all the way through, because the characters themselves were believable and compelling - mostly Sydney and the man she loves, agent Michael Vaughn, played by Michael Vartan, and also Marcus Dixon (Carl Lumbly), Will Tippin (Bradley Cooper) and Sydney's father Jack (Victor Garber).  Some fabulous super-baddies (Lena Olin, Ron Rifkin, David Anders). 

The very first episode, the pilot, is a bit too daft and I thought I wasn't going to like it, but by the end of episode 2 I was hooked.  The only downsides: whoever thought it would be amusing and cute to have tech wizard Marshall (Kevin Weisman) have a tendency to go (sometimes embarrassingly) off-topic every single time he spoke about anything should never be allowed to write a script again.  It grew tedious somewhere around the start of Season 1 episode 3.  Also, the big mystery running through all 5 seasons, about ancient prophecies and secrets from 500 years ago, was never really resolved.  But I loved Sydney and Vaughn's ending. They've become my third favourite TV couple, after Rick and Michonne, and Carrie and Brody.  I assume I don't need to name the shows ;)



Series: Nine Perfect Strangers - Season 1

4*⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Stream - UK: Amazon.  US: Hulu)

Nine people with messed-up lives (either by their own bad choices or circumstances, or a mixture of both) come together for 10 days in a spa retreat that hostess Nicole Kidman promises will change their lives.

I leapt on this when I saw that Michael Shannon and Bobby Cannavale were in it; Shannon was terrific as the father-in-denial about his son who killed himself.  My favourite characters were the writer who feared she'd come to the end of the road (and didn't mince her words) played by Melissa McCarthy, and the depressed former athlete (Cannavale).  I also liked a chavvy couple who'd won the lottery.

I thought this had great promise and loved the first half, but the second became less interesting and the plot disappointing, to the extent that I've already forgotten what happened.  As for the retreat itself, I think the writers should have used a bit more imagination re the exercises/classes, as it was meant to be an expensive, potentially life-changing ten days, an innovative place unlike any others of its type - but everything we saw them do was bog-standard to the point of hackneyed, and I can't imagine them having any benefit to any but the simplest of minds.  Hitting with a stick and shouting at a stuffed mannequin, pretending it's the person you're angry with, as therapy?  A sack race to break ice and bring forth the inner child.  Seriously???



Series: You - Season 3

3.5* ⭐⭐⭐

(Netflix)

The series about the sweet and charming Joe Goldberg, who becomes obsessed with women, stalks them and kills people.  Now he's married to Love Quinn, who's a sweet and charming psychopath, and they have a child.

There were some most entertaining aspects to this, such as the vacuous, latest-fad-lapping-up, image-obsessed inhabitants of the Californian suburb (neighbours Sherry and Cary were great - should have featured more), Joe is as endearing as ever and Scott Speedman (Baz in Animal Kingdom) as the mysterious neighbour was fairly heartbreaking, but generally I feel this series has jumped the shark, and perhaps should have ended after the excellent Season 1.  Actually, this whole genre of dark comedy including grisly murders in idyllic, brightly coloured settings is getting a bit old now ... there are better examples than this (e.g. Why Women Kill).

I quite liked this, but wasn't sorry when it ended and doubt I'll bother to watch the next season.  Also, not keen on the 'nudging' about anti-vaxxers.





Comedy series: Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 11 episode 1

2* ⭐⭐

(Sky, Now, Virgin TV Go, Amazon etc)

Watched the first one of this series and didn't smile once, I don't think.  It just seemed like same old same old, like it was relying on the stuff that seemed so funny several seasons ago to still be as funny as it was, without any sort of development or new ideas.  Leon used to be hilarious, but the lines didn't work so well any more.  It happens.  Or perhaps it's just me.  Could be.  



Friday, 10 December 2021

December #TreeClub

 

~ More Trees and Leaves and Stuff ~














~ stunning hedge I saw on the way home ~






Tuesday, 7 December 2021

The Best #Book Trailers I've Found! #WritingCommunity #Writers

 


What a find!  

I saw a book trailer complete with music on a pinned tweet, commented on how much I liked it ... and discovered it was made by writer Kathleen Harryman.

I got in touch with Kathleen, told her what I was looking for - and was somewhat blown away by the results.  She was a delight to work with, keen to understand the mood of the books and what I wanted to convey, with masses of her own ideas. She is so creative, super-talented at what she does, so if you're looking for this sort of thing, do get in touch with her to discuss your requirements/pricing, etc.  She also does book covers and other digital artwork.

Here are the videos for my dystopian Operation Galton series - if you would like to look at the books themselves, just click the title.  Do put the sound on, because the music adds so much!  At the end are the videos that first caught my eye; a totally different genre that shows how versatile Kathleen is.  

HOPE

(short version)



WASTELAND


(short version)



MEGACITY


WHOLE SERIES



And here are two videos that Kathleen made for...

 THE WAITING HOUSE A Novel in Stories 

by Lisette Brodey, that made me think, I want some of those!  

Again, click the title to see full details about the book.

I think the music for these is so haunting...beautiful









Monday, 15 November 2021

New Writers: Is this what you're doing on Twitter? #MondayBlogs #WritingCommunity



I've been doing this self-publishing/Twitter stuff for ten years now.  I assume many new writers do as I did back in November 2011: sign up because they've just published their first book and someone told them, 'If you're a writer you need to be on Twitter'.  Then they plunge in without having a clue what they're doing.  Yes, me too.  Hence this post.

Every social media site has its own culture, and you don't understand it until you're in it.  It takes a while to learn - which is why I still see, every day, activity I've been reading about not doing since 2012.  You may be using Twitter purely to chat, discover and be entertained - the original use of social media! - but if you want to find readers for your book(s) and you're doing any of the following, you might need a re-think... 

🤔🤔🤔

1. Only following and interacting with other writers

It's lovely to meet other writers, especially if you don't know any in real life.  Your new virtual friends understand the highs, lows and angst of what you do, and are there to give advice and opinions, etc.  Several writers and bloggers I've met on Twitter have now become real life friends.  This is social media at its best: finding people who share your interests and who you would otherwise never have come to know.  People who do what you do.

But they're not the target market for your book.


Over time, some of them might love what you do and become your regular readers.  I can think of six writers I've met via Twitter whom I number amongst my favourite authors.  But that's over a period of a decade, and although you're so grateful for those publication day sales and early reviews that give each book a nice kick start, you won't reach the reading public (i.e., people you don't know) unless you broaden your horizons.

If you were a clothes designer, your first sales port of call would not be other designers, even though they wear clothes, too.  If you were a painter, you would not target other artists to buy your work.  Yet every day thousands of writers talk only to their fellow scribes on social media, spend time adding their links to #writerslifts and those #writer #indieauthor #shamelessselfpromo tweets, or those that say 'hey, add your links and I'll buy 3 books'.  And round and round it all goes as they promote their work to each other.

Step outside the #WritingCommunity.  Talk to people who share your other interests - and views.  Follow book bloggers, avid readers, the followers of well-known authors who write in your genre.  Who live in places in which your books are set.  In order to find your readers, you need to get out there.


2. Making your bio all about your books

Never mind book sales - which of these bios would make you want to investigate further?  Maybe take a look down their tweets and click the link provided to find out more about them and their work?

Anne Author @AuthorAnne

Author of The Book, The Other Book, The Third Book and The Short Story Collection.  Available on Amazon. #KindleUnlimited.' ⛔ DMs, Politics

Will Writer @WillWriter

Writer: 3 novels and blog.  Keen hiker. Trying to write 4th novel but, you know, Netflix and Assassin's Creed.  Cat lover.

Anne tells you nothing about herself except that she wants you to buy her books.  Which suggests she is only on Twitter to make this happen.  Will, on the other hand, has told you of five interests you might share, and indicated that he might be fun to know.  

A bio should be about you.  A link to your site or Amazon author page so that anyone who wishes to can look up your work, is all you need.  


3. Forgetting the link on promotional book tweets

I see this so often.  A short description of the book, the information that it's currently discounted at 99p or free, and the cover.  And that's all.  No link.  Yesterday I suggested to someone that she put the link on a tweet, and she said she didn't have the room.  Well, shorten the description!  Play around with those 280 characters!  Other times when I've made the suggestion, I've been told that the link is in their bio, or (worse) that it can be found on Amazon.

It's possible that some people, if particularly interested in the book description, will go to your bio, but significantly fewer will bother to bring up Amazon and put the name of the book into the search.  Attention spans are short, these days.  Twitter is a fast-moving, constantly changing site.  The majority want a link they can click, right there, or they'll simply move on to the next tweet.



4. Asking and answering those daft questions

The person who tweets 'If I was buying your MC a drink, what would it be?' does not give two hoots what your protagonist's favourite drink may be, or indeed what colour biro you use.  Most people who ask these questions do so to increase interaction on their profile, so that Twitter's algorithms will make them more visible (i.e., appear in more people's feed).  That's all.  If you like, you can ask some questions yourself.  268 people may reveal to you the flavour of their antagonist's favourite jam.  But bear in mind that as many will mute you as will answer the question - and being muted isn't like being blocked; you will never know.

Incidentally, I believe the same goes for the 'add your links and I'll buy three books' tweets.  Or 'I need new books to read - please answer with your recommendations'.  I reckon most of them are algorithm manipulators.  Not all, but most.  I daresay now and again these do result in sales, but not very often.


5. Spamming

This is a piece of advice that should be repeated in every single writer/social media advice post until everyone understands (unlikely, I know).  Here it is: do NOT send unsolicited DMs or tweets to new followers asking them to read/buy/review your book.  EVER.  Even those who are polite to you and show an interest would still rather you didn't.  A LOT of people immediately unfollow anyone who does this; others block, or report.

Similarly, if you see someone tweeting about their book, do not reply with a link to yours.  That's right, even if it's in the same genre.  Don't 'hashtag hijack' to promote your work - in other words, adding a vaguely relevant hashtag to your book tweet.  For instance, I'm in a group that started the hashtag #PostApocFriday.  Every week one of us decides on a theme relevant to a post-apocalyptic world (for instance 'silence' or 'education' or 'weapons'), and anyone who wants to can post an image, interpreting the theme as they wish.  Inevitably, the hashtag sometimes gets added to people's promotional tweets about their books.  That's hashtag hijacking.



6. Attempting stealth review swaps

This has happened to me a few times.  I've received a new review on one of my books and, because I recognise the name on the review, I've sent a DM to the person concerned to thank them.  We've had a couple of friendly exchanges about writing/books, and then the other person hits me with it: would I be interested in reviewing one of her books, too?

My reply is that I don't do review swaps, because this is what this is, albeit not directly.  Inevitably, once I say no, the writer in question will never read/review me again, despite having raved about the first one to an extent that made me blush. 

If someone has talked to you on Twitter they are probably already aware of what you write.  If they want to read your book, they will

(Also, if another writer follows you back, please don't introduce yourself by asking if they would like to do a review swap, as happened to me this morning - many of us are actively against them!)



7.  Forgetting the quotation marks

If you quote a review ('I was up all night reading this book' etc) on your book promotion tweet, and don't put quotation marks around it, you look as though you're saying 'A masterpiece of a story with wonderful characters' about your own book.  I thought this had been stamped out, but I've seen a resurgence of late!


8.  Calling yourself a best-selling or award-winning author...

....when you're not, or when you won an award that nobody has heard of apart from the 30 people who paid to enter it.  Or got an orange Amazon label because your book reached #1 for one week, in such an obscure genre that it didn't mean you sold a great deal anyway.

It's not a good look.  Just don't do it.  Actual award-winners and best sellers are usually quite low key on their bios.


Hope this has been helpful, and good luck!