Thursday, 28 April 2016

Film reviews and writing news (& newsletters)

Firstly, you will notice there is now a "sign up for the newsletter" whatsit on the sidebar to the left of this.  This is specifically for news about my creative writing activities, not for general blog stuff.  Do sign-up though, I promise you won't be spammed!  Not everything I write is smut, either, so you might even discover something you enjoyed reading...
I'm working on a sequel to "The Charcoal Knots".  It's the first time I've ever set-out to do a follow-up to a completed story, and I'm finding it an interesting experience with some distinct challenges.
When I finished "The Charcoal Knots" my sappy romantic streak was sad for my characters, and part of me wanted them to have another chance to make their relationship work, but their story seemed to have come to a natural finishing point.  But as it turned out, soon after I began having lurking ideas of how that second chance could come about, and decided there might be a sequel in the offing.  Both characters have clearly got some emotional kinks to work through, and some self-acceptance issues to work on; and there's still room for them to explore the other kind of kinks a bit further while they're doing that. 
I started working on this story in response to a writing prompt in the form of a photograph (of a well-known actor holding a business card and looking a trifle puzzled).  I wrote it with the intention of it being simple, straightforward PWP - "porm without plot" - and nothing more.  The characters took control ( that is so weird when that happens but I've got to accept it when it does).  They decided it was going to be more than just aimless happy filth, and of course, being characters out of my head, they found through their exploration of a mutual kink that they were kindred spirits, and made a powerful emotional connection. 
So it turns out I'm not writing simple smut at all, I'm writing about sexuality and sexual kinks as a means of personal development and a path to increased intimacy.
One of the most classic pieces of writing advice ever is "write what you know".  Ahem, well, after years of being single and celibate, that's not entirely what I'm doing.  Certainly bondage and femdom have not been part of my life!  But I do know the experience of yearning for a closer connection with someone, and realising one has projected one's own needs onto them.
Well, I'll keep writing.  I have so many writing projects at the moment, it's ludicrous.  And I'm trying, piecemeal and in some confusion, to build a platform as a writer online as well, and trying to market myself; and wishing it all happened a bit faster >heaves small sigh< well, busy is better than bored, heaven knows.
I know impatience doesn't help, it just feeds the voices of self-doubt.  Begone, impatience!
I'm also trying to re-establish my former career as an artists' model.  It's well over ten years since I was last modelling but I've found it comes back to me as if I last did it a few months ago.  It is (though it's an odd metaphor to use in the circumstances!) like riding a bike.  The muscles don't forget, it seems.  Crossing my fingers for this to be a good move and to build up enough of a practice to be able to pay my bills. 
I'm not entirely sure I wasn't misleading myself badly as I tried for all those years to make a career at Kew.  Much though I dislike the Fluffy Californian White-Light-Bollix speak of phrases like "live a more authentic life", I do wonder if I hadn't got sidetracked into a completely inauthentic one.  So while I still have money to live off, I mean to commit myself properly to trying again to live my way, not the racing-rat way.
It means being broke, of course, but hey, what the heck?  I have enough experience of that, goodness knows.  I know a few coping tricks.
Secondly, I've had a bit of a movie-wallow lately.  This is because I'm trying to relax my brain in the evenings and entering into someone else's story helps me do that.
I had been looking forward to "The Huntsman - Winter's War" as I do love a good fantasy and a fairy tale reimagined for an adult audience.  Unfortunately I thought it was pretty to look at but dreadfully incoherent in script terms.  It has some good special effects, lots of Chris Hemsworth in leather, an outstandingly nonsensical plot and Nick Frost, Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon as sarcastic dwarves.  There are a couple of characters who appear to be going to be important, but who then play no further role (or even get wiped out), and enough plot holes to bring down a house.   Not much else one can say about it.  It passed the evening easily enough once I'd switched my brain off.  Harmlessly entertaining twaddle which at least concludes that even for those who've been trained all their lives never to love anyone, in the end love will find a way.  That's got to be something, right?
"Jane got a gun" on the other hand I thought was excellent.  

It's had a pretty chequered career en-route to our cinemas, and some of the reviews I've seen were more interested in rehashing this history and licking their lips over it than in the film itself.  Particularly galling was the one that referred to the film as "Natalie Portman's vanity project"; grrr!  So the male co-author also plays one of the leads (extremely well, I might add, but still...) but it's a personal vanity project for the female lead?  Shame on you, reviewer-who-shall-be-nameless. 
"Jane got a gun" boasts very good performances by all the leads, great New Mexico locations, great photography, a strong script and a powerful climactic gun-battle in a beseiged farmhouse.  It doesn't fudge the brutality of post-bellum frontier life, but allows its characters to hold on to their humanity and make credible choices when they do the right thing.  I'm a big fan of Natalie Portman and I thought she was really excellent as the eponymous heroine, a capable frontierswoman who is formidably strong, morally decent, and refreshingly rounded and vulnerable, while the ever-watchable Joel Edgerton is terrific as the former fiance she turns to for help.  Noah Emmerich is also very good as Jane's dying husband, a hard man who has found a modicum of redemption and is allowed the grace of living by it to the end.  An almost-unrecognisable Ewan MacGregor has a whale of a time being utterly vile as the main antagonist.  
Love finds a way here, too, but grittily and painfully, and with regrets and compromises and losses on the way.  So my advice on this one would be to ignore those sniffy reviews; this is an intelligent slow-burn western with a marvelous heroine, and it's well worth seeing.
That's the two films I saw in the cinema; now on to the ones I saw at home last night.
"Love comes to the executioner"; good grief, what a weird movie.
It's almost rather good; but it has a hopelessly rambling shaggy-dog story of a plot, and it never settles on a consistent tone.  The leading man seemed a bit non-plussed by things a lot of the time, too.  It was if he was channeling Jim Carrey but without having Carrey's unnerving fusion of mania and repressed pain; leaving the poor lad just gurning furiously through too many scenes.  The story and the script kept slipping between genres, moving between sick jet-black comedy and light screwball comedy, with occasional forays into "angst-ridden small-town poverty".  That interplay of different tones of comedy is ferociously difficult to pull off - even Billy Wilder didn't always manage it - and sadly this doesn't quite get it right. 
I was only watching it for one reason, of course.  I'm a Renner fan.  And Jeremy Renner is very, very good in this.  To be honest, he completely unbalances the film; his performance is so real and assertive and raw it's as though he's fallen in through the floor from another, darker, better, more bitter prison movie happening on an upper storey.  The "dead man walking" scene made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
So, my verdict on this would be, see it for Renner, but don't expect much of the film itself.
And finally, because I couldn't get to sleep after that; the 2004 "King Arthur", which popped up as a late-night offering on (I think) Channel 5.  Corblimey, what a farrago.
I liked the idea of a movie based on a possible historical basis for the King Arthur story.  I love trying to winkle out threads of real history deep in the weave of legend, so this could have been just my cup of tea (sorry, terrible mixed metaphors there!).  But oh dear; such fabulous locations, so much money spent on fake snow, and such a good cast.  And what a mess of burnt porridge at the end of it. 
There were so many things that just didn't work, and so many that looked thrown in for the hell of it.  Roman soldiers did not fight with mediaeval broadswords.  The Saxons did not invade via Scotland.  The withdrawal of the legions was over half a century before the date this story was supposedly set in.  I don't think anyone, even the Chinese, had trebuchets in the 5th century.  The classic Arthurian names - Lancelot, Gawain and so forth - just don't work taken out of their Romance period and dumped wholesale into the very early Dark Ages.  And where the hell did all that tar come from?  And where the hell did all the corpses go?  And why did they all go to the seaside for the final wedding scene?
And Keira Knightley's bust seemed to keep changing size, which was a tad bizarre. 
And so on, and so on.
The very good cast tackled underwritten and cliched roles manfully and womanfully, and they all looked great wearing their improbable mixed-period armour and wielding their anachronistic weapons.  They were paying their mortgages and keeping their kids in shoe leather, and they were all doing a sterling & professional job of it.  Thanks to them, it wasn't so bad as to make me give up; but it was not good.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Wildest dreams

Re my post yesterday; my inner doubting voices could not have been more wrong.

It takes a while to get by public transport from where I live in Chiswick all the way out to Brunel University.  It was raining when I got on my first bus, and I sat looking out at Ealing, Southal, Hayes and so on and feeling a kind of resigned calm with just a tinge of excitement.  But by the time I got off the second bus and walked up the road, the sun had come out.  I bumped into Alan, our club armourer (very nice older gent), who showed me where to go, and in no time I was registering with the judges and heading into the women's changing room to get my kit on.

I took longer than I should have done to get changed because I got right the way to putting on the last item, the metalised over-vest called a lame, before I realised I'd forgotten to change my bra.  Fond though I am of my favourite Wedgwood-blue embroidered net push-up bra, I do know it's not suitable for sporting activities (at least, not the kind carried out in a sports hall).  So I had to set-to and strip off again, to exchange it for the comfortable solidity of a Shock Absorber.

By the time I got down into the hall we were ready to begin; and I promptly won my first bout.

Altogether I fenced nine bouts in the first round, which is handled in groups called poules; we fought, then swapped round the groups, so that every fencer fights every other contestent in their poule.  Then a ranking is created from that.  I won two and lost seven, but I scored hits in all but two of the bouts I lost, and twice I only lost by one point.  I was immensely satisfied with this; it was far more than I had hoped to achieve.  That brought us to lunchtime.

Then after lunch the rankings were posted, and to my astonishment I had been ranked sixth out of the women.  I was through to the quarter finals.  Me.  This was beyond my wildest dreams; to quote a favourite movie line, inconceivable...

Yes, it was just an inter-club friendly match.  But it was a competition, and for everyone taking part it felt pretty serious.  Including me, astonished beyond belief as I was.

Quarter finals onwards are played as direct elimination, and I lost to the ladies' third seed; but I managed to land a few hits even on her, so my honour is more than satisfied.

Heck, my honour is in a delighted state of shock. 

I am now home.  I'm completely shattered.  I'm aching all over.  I have interesting new bruises.

And I am ludicrously happy.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

I must be mad, the voices say...

I can't remember if I've mentioned this here before - since I've been having a bad fit of laxity and not blogging much lately, probably not.  Back in January, I took up fencing.

I'm not very good, I've only won three bouts so far and every week I come home from the club with a new set of bruises.  But I'm loving it.  So a few weeks ago, in a fit of I-know-not-what kind of insanity, I put my name down for a Novices' Foil competition.  It's just a friendly, between London Saxons, the club I've joined, and Brunel University.  It's tomorrow.

I'm now neck-deep in nerves.  I have literally never done any kind of sporting contest in my life before.  Back in my schooldays I was always one of the last people to be picked for anything - team captains would choose almost anyone else before me.  I was overweight and short-sighted and clumsy, I couldn't run and I couldn't throw, hit or catch a ball.  I let the side down in PE every single week.  When I was finally able to stop doing Games at the age of fifteen, I cut up my PE shirt ceremonially for cleaning rags.

I realised back in the autumn that I needed to find some way of getting more exercise, and began looking for something I would actually enjoy enough to be motivated to keep it up.  Since all the problems with running, throwing etc still persist, and I still cringe at the memory of my competitive streak being crushed by Miss Goldsmith yelling "You're not trying!" at me week after week while I tried my bloody damnedest, I looked for something where I wouldn't be part of a team, and would be able to measure against myself.  And where I wouldn't need to hit, throw, run, etc.

Managed most of it.  I do have to hit; but a person, not a ball.

The other club members are friendly, and by taking my shyness firmly in hand each week I have managed to start getting to know some of them a bit.  Most of them are much sportier types than me, but they are all very pleasant people, and although I'm not the rugby-going or rugby-playing sort I feel welcomed by those who are, which is a first.  And the fencing itself, I love.

It's hard to explain.  It's a whole-body, whole-mind sport.  I have to be completely focussed on the moment; I have to be working on technique, posture, balance, speed, strength and agility, and also thinking tactically, and trying to second-guess my opponent's tactics, and respond to what is happening when I have just a split second to see and analyse their moves.  Mostly I get it wrong.  But every failure teaches me something, and I come away each week totally exhilerated.  Exhausted, yes; running in sweat and aching all over.  But so happy I'm walking on air.

So, this contest.  All my inner voices are telling me I must have lost my marbles, whatever was I thinking of, etc.  I never compete.  I never sign-up for anything like this.  What on earth possessed me?

I know they are the voices of nervousness, because I'm doing something new.  I know that letting that kind of formless, past-experience-exaggerating anxiety get the better of me is self-defeating and dangerous.  I know it isn't madness to have done this.  But I'm still terribly tense about it.

My last bout on Thursday was with a fencer with over a year's more experience than me, and I came within a couple of hits of beating her.  She congratulated me at the end of the bout on how much I've improved.  It was the best possible encouragement before this contest, and I came away feeling full of light and ready for anything.  That is the feeling I need to remember tomorrow.

I am just a beginner still;  I will be knocked out in the first round.  But if I can score a few hits and learn something from the experience of competing than I will have achieved more than I've ever done in any sport; I will have taken part in an actual honest-to-god competition.  Me, taking part.  And that is a victory in itself.

Wish me luck!