Welcome to my blog!

Why Jacaranda you ask? In case you are reading this the other side of the world and are not sure, Jacaranda is the name of a beautiful tree, which blooms around Oct/Nov, mostly in the Eastern states of Australia. Its flowers are the most exquisite shade of blue-purple, the nearest comparison probably being hyacinth blue, so who could not be inspired to write by such a spiritual colour? When the jacarandas start to blossom, you know it's exam time, but you also know that Christmas is just around the corner. It is said that if a jacaranda flower falls on your head as you walk underneath a tree, good fortune is sure to follow, so guess who did a lot of walking under jacaranda trees! Watch this space for changing images of this lovely tree!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Violence begets violence

Warning: This posting contains a plot spoiler.

Yesterday, I saw the British film Harry Brown,
directed by Daniel Barber and starring Michael Caine. Gary Young wrote the screenplay.

Although critics have claimed this is one of Caine's finest roles, I found the film chilling and terrifying and have several issues with it.

That said, there is no doubt that it is brilliantly shot in the dingiest of colours and settings, which only adds weight to the sombre story. I loved the close-ups of:

- Michael's feet shot from behind under the bed as he laces up his highly-polished shoes, suggesting he is a respectable man who takes pride in his appearance (my mother always told me to check a man's shoes!)

- his breakfast toast, which he lavishly spreads with blackcurrant jam, implying a man who leads a normal, quiet if banal life.

The music which accompanies some of the more suspenseful scenes is spine-chilling. The dialogue throughout is brilliant.

However, the film is so terribly violent - yes, I know it's supposed to be - I had to look away several times or bury my head in my scarf, and it seems to glorify war, killing, and taking the law into one's own hands. Perhaps this was the writer's and director's intention - to question the validity of doing the latter.

The message seems to be that the police force is an incompetent, impotent organisation, which will falsely take the credit for cleaning up a violent neighbourhood, so it's okay to play vigilante. True: many good, innocent people, including dedicated police officers, die at the hands of drug-dealing/taking and gun-wielding youths who control the London housing estate where they live, which, in the end, becomes a peaceful, habitable neighbourhood.

However, I don't think that Caine's character - Harry Brown - should, or indeed, could have survived the whole ordeal. It was too happy clappy Hollywood for me. There is no doubt that he does not advocate violence for violence sake, he has served his country well in the Marine Commandoes, and acts out of the best intentions, the catalyst being when his long-time friend is killed by the local gang. The audience is also shown what a humanitarian he is when he rescues a young girl addicted to heroin, who is kept in a drug-induced state by her boyfriend pimp and dealer/addict for his sadistic and other's pleasure. One of Caine's lines which stood out for me was: 'In Ireland people were fighting for a cause. [Not sure which side he is referring to here - or maybe both.] To these people killing is just entertainment.'

I also have concerns that disenfranchised youth who might view the film think the youths in the film are role models.

Throughout the film I was reminded of Kristallnacht. On hearing of his family's expulsion by the Nazis from Poland (and I understood the rape of his mother), a youth living in Paris, goes to the German Embassy and in retaliation shoots a diplomat. This set off the incident of Kristallnacht , where the Nazi regime gave German youth licence to destroy, burn and loot Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. While the young Pole's anguish and actions are understandable, his one violent act set off a series of much more violent and serious acts against his people.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

To pitch or not to pitch

I have just rushed home from the 2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival, where I attended a free event, entitled 'So you think you can write'. This was an opportunity for ten people, picked at random from a crowd of 250, to give a 3-minute pitch of their book to two very prominent personalities in the publishing world: Lyn Tranter, proprietor of Australian Literary Management and Shona Martyn, Publishing Director of Harper Collins Australia.
Sadly, I was not one of the ten selected to pitch, but the process and event was an eye-opener. Some people were extremely well prepared and inspiring, but others not so. Some were downright boring.
However, here are some tips and comments which jumped out at me which might be of interest to other aspiring writers.
After the MC, a young female journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, opened the event, Lyn followed by saying that this was not the usual way in which people pitched a novel. Agents and publishers usually liked to READ an outline and synopsis first. She always judged people's work on the writing. Later, the author might be required to deliver a pitch to about ten people in-house. In that regard authors did need to have good oral communication skills and she suggested that 'Oratory' be a subject on University writing courses.
Lyn also remarked that she would not look at any work which was not complete.
Shona said to make sure that whatever you submitted to an agent or publisher was your best final work - you only get one chance, so don't try to submit your manuscript too soon. However, because one publisher rejected your book, that did not mean that another publisher might not like it. She also said to make sure you did your research well, although if there was not a niche market for your work that did not mean it would not sell, especially if it was well written and had something to offer the reading public that was different.
To a participant who had written a fantasy novel, both judges said 150,000 words was the norm for this type of work, and that fantasy novels usually came in three's, so it was best to have at least the first and second books written, as fans did not want to wait two years for the next book; six months was the maximum. However, as these types of books were very popular at the moment, the competition was intense.
As far as Australia was concerned, crime novels were very well accepted - most readers were female. This was in response to a pitch by a journalist who had written a crime novel and had liaised with the Police Media Unit. This was accepted as a good marketing ploy as it gave her credibility.
Australia had a good range of literary fiction but the middle of the road fiction, such as romantic comedy, especially if people could relate to the themes and identify with the characters, should not be discounted. However, unlike the UK, Australian readers were not interested in the intensely sad and poverty-stricken stories of peoples' lives, of which there had been a plethora in that country.
As I am writing a spy novel I was dying to ask about that genre and also to ask if video pitches were accepted, but there was no opportunity to do so.
Legal issues came up quite a few times, such as someone who claimed they had been damaged for life by the corporate medical world, and someone who wanted to write a true account of events which named well-known people.
All in all, the experience was not as threatening and daunting as I had envisaged. Both Lyn and Shona seemed very approachable and charming people and went to great pains to clarify what they perceived as any jargon. As this Festival attracts people from all works of life, not just writers, they gauged their audience well.
Lyn concluded that she did not think pitching at such an event would work, but she was obviously interested in two or three pitches in particular - the crime one, the romantic comedy, and another which was a true account of someone's life in a mental institution after being operated on, which he alleged had caused him to be able to see into the future, only to be thought delusional and paranoid.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The secret is out.

My idol, John Le Carré's latest novel Our Kind of Traitor will be published later this year. Contrary to what I thought - that it might be about China, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan - apparently it is about two young lovers who, while holidaying on the Caribbean island of Antigua, encounter a rich, charming, middle-aged Russian millionaire, who wants a game of tennis. What else he wants is what drives John le Carré’s new novel of greed and corruption. I can't wait for it to come out. There are already pre-orders for it.