2016: What just happened?

This year has been about the changing face of rhetoric. Once considered the art of persuasive speaking, it now is little more than soundbites, lacking in sincerity, content or even sense, and political debate is confrontation rather than persuasion.

A teacher at my old school once said, "Two students receive their test results. One got 50% and said, 'I passed.' The other got 49% and said, 'I failed.' "

The teacher was stating 50% is not a meaningful pass. On a colour spectrum, it is neither black nor white, but grey, of which there are fifty shades.

And as we saw in 2016, binary victories were declared on little more than a pass mark. Divisiveness over such narrow margins is not victory. If nothing more, it shows that the population is in conflict and it needs to be educated, or healed. There are always two sides to an argument, but if a result comes in at 50/50 or 45/55 then the case for neither side has been made properly. The message has been lost in its reduction to the soundbite.

But we have not helped with our own desire for information to become entertainment.

2016 showed us we are not as open-minded and compassionate as we thought we were. It showed the world wanted to live in a time that no longer exists--if it ever did--in the dreams of yesteryear, which seems to be the 1950s. We shrunk away from a complex and scary world that operated in ways we couldn’t understand or trust and hurt people through relentless corporatization and globalization.

And debate continued in confrontation rather than persuasion, because confrontation is about the anger of today, while persuasion is about the dreams of tomorrow. In the end, concern about today won. As the world readies for its great step back into golden memory, we sit at a unique point in time. Maybe an isolationist policy will work for the world and everyone focuses back on themselves, their neighbours, community – those things we complain that we’ve lost.

Or maybe nothing will change, and the new (old) world order will find new ways of hurting the less fortunate even more, and the disparity of wealth will continue to increase.

Who knows.

2016 was about confrontation. Let’s make 2017 about persuasion. Let’s listen more, understand more, think more before acting, not simply overreact to a soundbite. Consider both sides using the grey matter in between our ears, and know that the modern world is complex enough to have black, white and fifty shades of grey.

 

 

#PoweredByIndie - Imagination Unleashed

The indie world is the apprenticeship of the writing craft, the talent pool for the next great artist. It allows the audience to enjoy the journey of a writer, watching the development of an artist, a growth of skills and a realization of a vision. It’s a place where new ideas can be explored, new genres can be formed, rules can be broken, statements can be made.

To me and for many others, Amazon’s KDP program has allowed me to bring my abstract view of the world to life, and present my ideas and concepts that don’t necessarily belong within traditional boundaries and expectations. This is exemplified, and emotionally rewarded, when someone puts down a book and says I’ve never read anything like that; indie has spoken.

I am studied at university and read at schools because of the opportunities created by Createspace and KDP. I couldn't have done it without them. Welcome to the new world.

Powered by indie. Powered by imagination.

#PoweredByIndie - Amazon celebrates great indie writing

#PoweredByIndie

This month (October 2016) Amazon is running a Powered by Indie: Celebrating Great Writing festival. They have asked me (along with many others) to write about what we like about being an indie, so I will be doing a couple of posts over the month about the pluses and minuses of the road less travelled.

You can check out the great titles here: www.amazon.com/poweredbyindie

The page celebrates the best of the best in indie publishing. And, for some reason, me at some point during the month.

Review - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

CTHD was such a monumental movie it probably didn’t need a sequel. But we have one, so how did it fare?

In a nutshell, it is diminished but different. Different enough for you to think of it as a new film rather than a sequel. It has lost the cinematic and epic quality of the original with a far more made-for-TV feel. And as a made-for-TV movie it is very good. The action and spectacle is top notch, as a CGI China provides an exhilarating background against which the story unfolds. 

Michelle Yeoh is still in fantastic form, but Donnie Yen--of whom I’m a big fan--just doesn’t measure up to the calibre of Chow Yun-Fat, and provides little more than a redemption arc for Yeoh’s character.

Adopting an all English script has taken away the mystique and the whole production feels far more western. The action, although plentiful and modern with its direction, lacks the breathtaking intensity of the original, where they seemed to do more with less. Story-wise, the dual love stories are reproduced but have been watered down. In general, it feels like a rebranding for a younger audience.

If I hadn’t seen the original, I would walk out thinking it wasn’t too bad, but not understanding what all the hype was about. 

Things I learned at the Frankfurt Book Fair:

1.     If you don’t have a MacBook Air, you’re nobody. And probably dead to me.

2.     No matter how big you are, you’re still pretty small.

3.     If you’re small, then you’re really really really small.

4.     Kobo people are really friendly (but of course, they’re Canadian).

5.     The sun is generally MIA.

6.     No matter how big you think the potential in China is, it’s bigger.

7.     Germans speak English better than most English-speaking (!) teenagers I know.

Review - Last Cab to Darwin

So close to being great.  Hugely ambitious with its heart in exactly the right place, but there were moments were it did stumble. Michael Caton as the emotionally immature Rex and Ningali Lawford as Polly (his long suffering neighbour) are high points with great performances (as you would expect) but Jacqui Weaver (Dr Farmer) was just plain odd. Mark Coles Smith was for most of the film at his usual excellent level but there were moments where he would over react making him feel uneven. Maybe this was down to editing of the scenes, but characters would jump between normal and going off the deep end emotionally without any provocation.

But don’t let that detract from what is an important story. In fact there are several important themes going on within the film: euthanasia, race relations, ethics. My hat is off to Mr Simms in tackling such an ambitious project, and delivering a pretty good end product. It’s better to have tried something great and marginally fall short, rather than deliver another average film that will be instantly forgotten. You won’t forget Last Cab to Darwin.

Review - The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

It was a disappointment. The Maze Runner was fresh and inventive, a new take on Lord of the Flies, and my favourite of the Dystopian franchises. Now we have something that has come across as derivative and unfocused.

The first third, action-wise, was good with the introduction of the zombies (cranks) and a few jump scares, but after that, the plot never went anywhere with them. We didn’t learn anything about our main characters, and Thomas’ irrational paranoia made him annoying rather than smart, rebellious and cool. It is very clear that he is rebelling but against what? He doesn’t really know other than knowing you can’t trust authority. The revelation and justification in the final scenes and the reaction to it didn’t work for me.

Again, science is played as the bad guy and the smart people are the evil ones, which is getting old for me.

Now that the plot has matched the other big franchises we can compare them all, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) but as a film experience I think Divergent is winning.  The Scorch Trials certainly misses the charisma and star power of the Hunger Games. Maybe the third instalment will rectify the problems.

​Review - The Man from UNCLE

Guy Richie continues his comeback with a very stylish and fabulous reimagining of the 60s. And fabulous is the word. Everyone, good and bad, looks like they have stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Mainly set in Italy, it is the ultimate form of retro cool.

The plot is light and nothing overly remarkable considering Richie’s early work, but the charisma of the actors—with the occasional accent slip—and the settings redeem it.

There are a few ‘Guy Richie’ moments, where his old visual style shines, but mostly this is a 60s and spy-thriller homage. The dialogue is typical Richie, with sharp one-liners. The clothes were fabulous. The poses were fabulous. The scenery was fabulous. The sixties were probably never like this, but it is how we want to remember them.

It is fabulous. 

Review - How Big, How Blue How Beautiful - Florence + the Machine

Everything you need to know about the new Florence + the Machine album you can see in the track lengths. Somewhere in between Lungs’ 3.5 min average and Ceremonials’ 5.5 minute average you’ll find How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful weighing in at about 4.5 minute average. And as such, stylistically it sits between the earlier pop styling and later bombastic nature. A far more polished and cohesive album, it moves to a level where the earlier songs feel out of place among her cannon. Not that she ever played Girl with One Eye live. The consistency running through the album is around the strong vocal melodies which tie together the sea-sawing accompaniments, ranging from Mother’s gospel feel through to the irrepressible drive of Queen of Peace. Subtlety need not apply.

This is a serious album heavy with the usual melodrama of a gifted artist. You’ve got to have plenty of self-belief and ability to pull this kind of stuff off. And of course, she can. 

Review - Mad Max: Fury Road

It's awesome. I mean it is really awesome. That should actually be enough of a review.

MMFR (or Tesla for adults as I like to call it) is brilliant on so many levels. On a technical level, the editing (Margaret Sixel) is astounding. The film slows down and speeds up so you can catch all the action. It is sharp and precise, and has the slickness of a polished gem. The cinematography (John Seale) of the bleak Nairobi deserts is breathtaking. I saw it at the VMax sitting fairly close and it was like being in a two hour car crash. It was exhausting, inspiring, exciting and just totally wonderful. I left the cinema with the same level of excitement that I got when I first saw the Bourne Supremacy. There is a sense that the rules have just been rewritten. Films like this do not come along too often. It really will change everything.

The plot of the film is so simple, yet it hints at and gives glimpses into a deep backstory that will probably be revealed as the remaining films are presented to the world. The MMFRs look to be set around the new character Furiosa and her narrative arc, which is great. We need a new 'Ripley' and she fits the requirements perfectly. There's not a whole lot of dialog, but film is a visual medium, and in this particular case the impressive display does the talking. See it at the biggest screen available and sit as close as you feel comfortable. Then select the next row in front.

It also has someone called Max in it, but he only has a small part.

Visual Poetry. Six out of five stars.

Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Boom – pow – whack. Ah those old Batman shows.  When Batman went all post-modern with Tim Burton, it left a big hole. Fans loved that old campy-ness, but it was of an era and times move on. Batman needed relevance and was reborn. But the love of spandex remained. With the Marvel attack on cinema we have the perfect replacement, with the Avengers being the cherry on the cake.

So is it any good. Well, there are enough boom-pow-whacks to provide a visual feast that will have people reaching for the Mylanta. But the stories which hold the most promise are sadly short. We want to know about the Hulk and the Black Widow. There are the emotional red herrings which end nowhere, which are labeled as ‘twists’ but end up being unsatisfactory. When the real hero death comes, there has been little engagement with said character and the demise seems overblown for their roll in the movie. But toward the end there is a big sigh of relief as Paul Bettany turns up and adds some depth. It’s a great roll and he turns in a good performance. Alas for Black Widow, along with Hulk we need more. They are deep characters, yet the story is so slowly evolving, we’re going to need ten of these before we really get to know them.

The concept of the Avengers is about teamwork so the obvious storyline is about how the team doesn’t work together. To beat the evil boss they must learn to work together (again). This is a trope that has been hammered to death recently. But there are two movies which I think do it better: Big Hero Six and Monsters vs Aliens. However, with both these films there is deeper subtext, about growing up, about who are the real villains.

And then there is the cheese and the sentimentality both turned up to 11, which unfortunately pushes it into cliché. Ultimately, it is great fun but about spectacle rather than imagination.

Review - Paloma Faith Concert – QPAC Concert Hall (8 May)

You have to give her points for effort. Surrounded by technical problems, a fading voice struggling with local atmosphere and a crowd that appeared to be more interested in a night out rather than appreciating her performance, she soldiered on, giving it 100%. 

Paloma is from a dance background. She incorporates her skills tightly through her whole show as she choreographs with her backing singing. She emerged from the side of stage, striding on in a pink dress and red boots that would not be out of place on a London dominatrix, and informed the audience she was going to take her anger over the UK elections results out in her music. Angry in Pink. 

Overall her hit songs stand out, full of depth and texture, with great melodies, but  these really only number half a dozen. The rest of the songs blended together, as slightly indulgent soul grooves.

The highlights were ‘Picking Up the Pieces’, ‘Ready for the Good Life’ and a cover of the INXS MOR track ‘Never Tear Us’ which she imbued with a fresh soul groove.

A disappointment was the omission of ‘Stone Cold Sober’, but by the end of the night with her voice struggling, the song may have been too big an ask. The strength of Paloma resides in the expression and personality of her and her songs. A smaller, more intimate venue would have been better.

Angry in Pink

Angry in Pink

Quick Update

March has been a busy month with the release of two books, Sucker and The Second-Story Girl,  and the associated marketing. So much so that I will be having a quick break for a few weeks, which means no Sucker podcast updates until the end of April. Sorry. 

But having said that, there will be lots of exciting news coming in May. I will be revamping everything as I have a change of philosophy how the various parts of the MMW web and associated social media all interact.

There will be giveaways, promotions and more! It should be interesting.

Fusion powers along. It's currently sitting at 60k words. I'm hoping I'm over halfway, otherwise it's going to be a monster of a book. May is about Fusion, finishing and getting it out to the editor. I will then looking for people on the subscription list who would be interested in getting free paperback copies of the book two months early, as long as they post a review on Amazon on launch day, around mid-August.

So if you're not on the subscription list, join up and enjoy. 

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A Quick Thought on Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is the perfect modern writer. There, it has been said. He’s not your stuffy, closeted author, but a new breed who pillages from the past and interbreeds it with a modern aesthetic.  Like a Viking, but with words. Some people are going to hate this new style, because it is new and they don’t understand the brilliance behind it. It isn't easy to re-imagine old stories and bring something fresh to them. I should say it’s not easy to do it well. The cinemas have a few examples where this has been achieved:

  • The Snow Queen -> Frozen
  • Batman -> Batman
  • Shakespeare -> Twilight.
  • Twilight -> 50SoG ;-)

But most fail.

How do we make it relevant to today? We are so saturated in media it is ridiculous to ignore it, yet most authors try to do so. Neil isn’t one of these. He embraces the present and infuses it into the mythology of the past. To do it well is not a gimmick or cheating, it’s just good writing.

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My Interview with Terry Pratchett

Many years ago, while being a book reviewer for a national paper, I was given the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors. Sir Pratchett. And I found it recently, so for anyone who is interested ...

Prolific English writer Terry Pratchett had his 27th book in 10 years released last month. Increasingly, Austaliana figures in his best-selling science-fantasy series Discworld which is also the setting for a computer game. MARK LINGANE talked to him in London.

TERRY PRATCHETT is seemingly unstoppable. His previous 16 books about the Discworld sold eight million copies and established him as one of the most popular authors in Western countries around the world apart from America.

Number 17, Interesting Times (Jacaranda Wiley, $29.95), was published last month. It sees the original character, Rincewind the Wizard (failed), caught in yet another war. The oldest and inscrutable empire is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise What I did on My Holidays. Workers are uniting, with nothing to lose but their buffaloes. Warlords are struggling for power and war is spreading through the ancient cities and it's up to Rincewind to save the day.

It is expected to increase his audience and introduce them to colourful characters such as Death, the Librarian and CMOT (Cut My Own Throat) Dibbler - some of whom have also now been captured on a computer game. But even with his increasing popularity there are rumours that he might be stopping the series.

Pratchett is vague about what makes his books so popular.

"You can read them when you and 10 years old, then come back when you are 14 and there is a different story," he says. "That may be the secret of success."

But like many successful people, he doesn't care to analyse his success.

"Never ask the man on the tightrope how he keeps his balance. I just do it," he says.

"When people ask how long it takes to write a book, I say you only have to be alive for 45 years then it takes about four months to write."

His books parody many aspects of our own lives and history covering topics from religion to gender equality, death, folklore, rock and roll, death and Shakespeare (which has plenty of death).

In fact, the better your general knowledge - and in some cases specialised knowledge - the more you get out of his books. Pratchett has been to Australia (represented in the books by a country called XXXX) many times and has briefly incorporated it in his previous books.

"In my new book I actually manage to get Rincewind the Wizard on the continent of Four Ex ready for a possible future Discworld adventure set on that big red hot continent.

"I've come down to Australia quite a lot, four times in the past five years, and I really love the place. In fact we are coming over for a holiday again this winter and it really is my second favourite place to be."

So will we see kangaroos, barbecues and other popularised aspects of Australia in the forthcoming books?

"I think I'm just about sophisticated enough not to have wizards with corks around their hats...but don't hold your breath."

He quotes Wind in the Willows, history (because it was the same as fantasy) and violence (received from teachers) as the influences in creating the wacky story writing style. While he gives credit to past authors, new ones in other fields are now celebrating his work.

As a tribute to his great compendium and the magical appeal of Discworld, a computer game, due out later this month, has been created by Sony Psygnosis, one of the UK's leading software houses.

The game creators included a big Australian content, to an extent where Pratchett says he had to edit kangaroos out of the game's plot.

"I have to say, maybe because of the large Australian input (laughs), there is a level of subtlety in there. It's about the same level of subtlety as the tactical nuclear weapons.

"There are some subtle gags but there aren't that many from the books. It is rather more like the very early Discworld books, the ones withRincewind in. There is a large amount of conversation and there are a fair amount of puns and gags and irony and things."

Pratchett doesn't worry about the game version losing anything or being different from his prized Discworld books.

"It's not a book. In a book an author can do all kinds of verbal tricks that you can't do on a screen no matter how well you do it. It's a different game and has to obey different rules from the book. This is why I have been careful not to get too closely involved.

"I think I've got involved to the level of my expertise and not beyond that because the last thing any competent games designer wants is a book author wandering around, peering over his shoulder and saying 'Don't do it like that.'

"I take the game seriously, as one should do if you are going to put a decent project on the market. I hope it will enhance the books generally. But I think my job is to write the books and that is what I will continue to do. I don't think it (the game) is going to spoil the books.

"My experience here, where we have just done Mort (the fourth in the series) as a graphic novel, is that while people may have their own ideas quite firmly fixed about what characters look like they are very interested to see what someone else thinks they look like."

On forthcoming material he is fairly secretive. He hints at another novel with operatic overtones and then a children's book. Or he might simply come and see what is happening on the continent of XXXX where he knows he will always get a warm welcome.

"Some of the queues at the signings are longer that the ones in the UK. I met someone who had traveled 950km to be there.

"I know that it's not that far there - you (in Australia) travel 950km to go to the lavatory - but I was dead impressed."

But as prolific as he is, there will be a time when the Discworld will have no more to offer. Some say that it might be sooner than later but Pratchett is quick to set the record straight.

"I'm slowing down on Discworld, I'm not stopping and have been doing two a year for quite a long time."

But in the event that he does stop will he ever hand over the reins to another author under a licence agreement as he has with the computer game?

"Not in a million years. Absolutely not in any way, shape or form. Not even if they offered me money.

"It is unusual for me to say anything as definite as that."

He lived with the Discworld for over 10 years and it is very much a part of his very own life and style.

"No matter how good other writers were, it wouldn't be mine. I'm not interested in franchising Discworld."

What the Heck Is Comic Noir?

I’ve written a comic noir book. What the heck is comic noir? Well, noir has been with us for a long time, and when we have a long standing trope it becomes acceptable to make fun of it. Some imagery is so deeply ingrained into society we can instantly associate with it. The lone detective, broken and bitter, against a sea of evil deeds. Tough talking women with a liberal sense of lipstick. It boomed in the 1940s, based on the classics from the 1920s, and now we can make fun of it.

What’s so good about noir? Everyone and everything is broken. It’s the worst of everything, and nothing is going to get better. But in the midst of all the moral squalor and self-serving agendas there is someone, one person, who carries a seed of hope, the self-destructive antihero who rises above all and succeeds in the face of overwhelming odds. And when your story is sinking in the mire, you can really dig your hands in deep and squelch the depravity in between your fingers. These days most noir is linked with hardboiled where the antihero is a detective, usually set in the prohibition era in the United States where the government or police are no less corrupt than the criminals.

That doesn’t sound very funny. Why is it funny?

The dialog is rich in innuendo and tough talk. The narrative is colourful and often in stark contrast to the imagery which is bleak and monochromatic. Carl Reiner’s 1982 comedy-mystery film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, starring Steve Martin and Rachel Ward, is both a parody of, and an homage to, film noir and the pulp detective movies of the 1940s. It is a perfect example of where you can go with comic noir, and this is what I tried to capture with Sucker. It is a wonderful place for a writer to inhabit.

Great Review of Sucker by SPR

Author Mark Lingane is back with a brilliant humorous mashup fantasy-sci-fi-Noir, “Sucker.”

Private eye Van H. Avram is your typical Mickey Spillane throwback, just about getting away with doing his job in some kind of chaotic way. But all that changes when a mysterious “skinny blond” corpse is dumped on his doorstep, opening a door into the seedy underbelly of a world of human sacrifices and ancient lores that might just end civilization as we know it. Suddenly, Avram will have to step up as the hero, and save not just the day, but the entire world. But this might be a huge leap for the PI, who is struggling with his concept of reality as vampiric dames, demons and crazy ladies seem to chase him around a steampunk kind of town with a post-apocalyptic feel. With Avram be able to overcome his own problems to tackle probably the most important case he’ll ever face? This race against time tale will tell.

Sucker is something of a Bladerunner-style novel, but it has a distinct Bugsy Malone humor to it, with vampires to boot. As usual, Lingane has managed to throw a bunch of genres at the wall and they have melded beautifully into this universe where he is the creator of some pretty amazing sequences. There is a smattering of Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Chronicles here, where dry humor and wit serve as bedmates to gory supernatural happenings and the twisting of reality. It’s hard to say exactly who would enjoy this book in particular, and actually who wouldn’t, because there’s a whole new ambience going on here that has the sense of a new audience being formed, a new genre being formed somehow. Yes, Lingane is that good. It shows that he is a well-traveled, far-flung discoverer in real life, because descriptions seem full and well-wrought. Although we’ve been fans of this author all along, there’s something even more quirky and interesting when you juxtapose real historical elements, at that, such strong iconic ones, to form a story like this one.

There’s a Sin City narration to the prose that comic book fans will love, and some real corkers of one-liners (Just open the first page on Amazon to get a load of them, and a sense of what’s to come),

Her bedroom eyes were framed by curls, half of which were tied up with a hairpin the shape of a broken heart.

“You dress for cocktails.” I said.

“You dress like a hobo. You like cocktails?”

I shrugged. “I like free.”

Lingane should do a series of these; Avram is a great character and it would be a shame to lose him after this one: he’s like Bogart on some kind of spacey drug in a distant-planet bar, with a hint of Sherlock Holmes and a dash of Bob Arctor. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who enjoys a detective novel with a twist, or for that matter, anyone with a penchant for escapism.

Tesla Sold Out!

I can't believe it, after a completely fantastic #SupanovaExpo on the weekend, Tesla is officially sold out. So if you have an original first edition print, it might be valuable one day. But probably not. 

I've seen some more drawings from Nathan for the graphic novel. I must say it is inspirational seeing his work. I look at the images and wonder how he creates them. The detail and colouring is sensational. I can't describe what it is like seeing some amorphous blobs in your imagination changing to look like heroes. 

If Tesla ever gets REALLY big, it is going to be *very* strange to see people cosplay as the characters. My mind can't deal with that at the moment.

So, I sign off with the immortal words of Nikola Tesla: Everything is doooooomed. Or something like that.

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