How I Live Now

MV5BMTU4NTg4NzgzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTU1NTMxMDE@._V1_SX214_Start them young, that’s what I always say. I think my taste in films and books (and, perhaps, my chosen career) was decided at an early age. I have vivid memories of watching Dr Who, Blake’s 7, and Space: 1999 and so on as a kid, then graduating to horror and developing an unhealthy addiction to post-apocalyptic books and films during my teenage years (thanks, in no small part, to growing up during the tail end of the Cold War). So I felt it was my duty as a father to sit down with my wife and two youngest daughters to watch a family friendly dystopian movie recently. And I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

I approached HOW I LIVE NOW (2013, based on the 2004 novel by Meg Rossoff) with some trepidation, fearing I was in for 101 minutes of Twilight-like pretty kids moping around, but I needn’t have worried. As usual, here’s a brief synopsis and a trailer. Click the link below for my thoughts on the movie.

Set in the near-future UK, Daisy, an American teenager, is sent to stay with relatives in the English countryside. Initially withdrawn and alienated, she begins to warm up to her charming surroundings and strikes up a romance with the handsome Edmund. But on the fringes of their idyllic summer days are tense news reports of an escalating conflict in Europe. As the UK falls into a violent, chaotic military state, Daisy finds herself hiding and fighting to survive.

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Hitting your head against a brick wall

In today’s What Works For Me post I wanted to clarify a point I made in the very first of these articles back in January. I was talking about planning, if you remember, and the process I follow to turn an initial spark of an idea into a finished piece of writing. I was talking specifically about the ground rules I set myself to get my first novel finished back in 1994, and the fourth of those rules was don’t force it: if you’re not in the right mood to write, walk away and come back later.

A few folks took exception to this, and I can see why. I don’t think I explained myself properly, and some clarification is in order.

Banging your head

Writing is hard. Bloody hard. There are days when the words flow, and there are days when they definitely don’t, when you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. You know what it’s like when you’re reading and you realise you’ve been looking at the same paragraph for the last fifteen minutes, maybe even the same sentence… I get that when I’m writing too. I occasionally reach a point in the day when I just can’t write another word, when I’ve stopped being productive. It can be a physical thing, not a mental thing.

THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS HITTING A PROBLEM WITH A STORY.

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HELL

61wUg-niDHLHELL (2011) came to me courtesy of a long-time supporter of my work from Germany (thanks again, Jochen!). It’s a low budget German movie which gained a lot of attention because the executive producer was Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.). But if Emmerich’s overblown, Whitehouse destroying blockbusters aren’t your scene, then you’ve come to the right place, because HELL is about as far removed from those kinds of movies as you can get.

I was immediately drawn to the film because of the basic premise. At first glance it sounds like a similar kind of set-up to STRAIGHT TO YOU:

“It was once the source of life, light and warmth. But now the sun has turned the entire world into baked and barren wasteland. Forests are scorched. Animal carcasses line the roads. Even the nights are dazzling bright. Marie, her little sister Leonie and Phillip are heading for the mountains in a car with covered windows. Rumor has it there is still water there. Along the way they run into Tom, a first-rate mechanic. But can they trust him? Tension grows in the small group. As if things weren´t bad enough, they are lured into an ambush. Their real battle for survival begins…”

Watch the trailer (ignoring the awful English dubbing), then click the link below for my thoughts.

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Recommendations

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have already noticed this, but I’ve added a new page to this site which lists all the films and books I’ve recommended over the years. Head on over to the snappily titled ‘Recommendations’ page now!

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve got another interesting film piece coming up for you tomorrow (hopefully), and I’ve also got another 40 or so movies queued up to watch and review. But I want more! If you’ve got a particular favourite post-apocalyptic movie that you’d like featured on the site, either contact me or leave the name in the comments here or on Facebook or Twitter.

STRANGERS – sneak peek

1457766_544617192295675_1960183773_nNot a lot of news for you this week, so I thought I’d give you a taste of something new. Here’s the opening chapter of my as yet unpublished novel STRANGERS. There are no definite release dates available yet, but tentative plans are starting to be made and I’m looking forward to sharing those plans when I can. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy it!

“A spate of brutal murders occur in and around a small town. The bodies of the dead – savagely mutilated, defiled – are piling up with terrifying rapidity. There’s no apparent motive, and no obvious connection between the killings, but they all started when Scott Griffiths and his family arrived in Thussock…”

 

 

 

STRANGERS

FORTY-EIGHT MILES NORTH OF THUSSOCK

 

‘You all right?’

He just looked at her, struggled to focus, took his time to reply. ‘Sorry. Tired.’

‘It’s getting awful late. What are you doing out here at this hour?’

‘Not sure. Lost, I think.’

‘I’ll say. Where you heading?’

‘Can’t remember,’ he said, embarrassed, and he laughed like a child.

They blocked each other’s way along the narrow pavement. The silence was awkward. Joan’s dog Angus tugged at his lead, keen to get home and out of the rain. She tugged back. He’d have to wait.

‘I’m cold,’ the man said, wrapping his arms around himself.

‘I’m hardly surprised. Just look at you. You’re not really dressed for it, are you?’ Joan continued to stare at him. What was he . . . mid-thirties, perhaps? He looked about half her age. His nipples showed through his wet T-shirt and she couldn’t help but stare. He was shivering, but that was only to be expected. She was cold herself, and she’d a vest, a blouse and a cardigan under her anorak. In the dull glow from the streetlamp between them, she thought he looked beautiful. ‘You’re not from round here, are you?’

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The Battery

THE-BATTERY-Movie-PosterRegular visitors here will recall how, a couple of weeks back, I was banging on about concept versus story and my argument boiled down to this: it’s all well and good having a great idea, but without a story which matters to people, your book or film will most likely go unread/unwatched/unloved.

Today’s Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club selection is a fantastic example of how that holds true – a movie with a deceptively slight concept which is carried by an excellent story and performances.

THE BATTERY is a lo-fi zombie movie. In fact, it’s one of the lowest lo-fi movies I think I’ve ever seen. It has a very small cast, a distinct lack of action, and yet I was captivated through the entire one hundred and one minutes. Here’s the synopsis and trailer. Click the link below for my thoughts.

Two former baseball players, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), cut an aimless path across a desolate New England.  They stick to the back roads and forests to steer clear of the shambling corpses that patrol the once bustling cities and towns.  In order to survive, they must overcome the stark differences in each other’s personalities—Ben embraces an increasingly feral, lawless, and nomadic lifestyle—while Mickey is unable to accept the harsh realities of the new world.  Mickey refuses to engage in Ben’s violent games and longs for the creature comforts he once took for granted.  A bed, a girl, and a safe place to live. 

When the men intercept a radio transmission from a seemingly thriving, protected community, Mickey will stop at nothing to find it, even though it is made perfectly clear that he is not welcome.

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Location Inspiration

Straight to You coverI guess I could file this post under the ‘What Works For Me’ heading, but it should also be of interest to those of you who are here more for reading than writing, in particular those who’ve already read STRAIGHT TO YOU.

WARNING – MILD STRAIGHT TO YOU SPOILERS AHEAD!

I wanted to talk about locations today: how rather than finding the right scenery to fit your story, sometimes the story can be shaped by a location or, in this case, a journey. If you’ve not read STRAIGHT TO YOU yet, why not grab a low price ebook or signed paperback then come back and see how some of the scenes in the new version of the story came about.

I’ve already spoken at length about how I wanted the rewritten version of STRAIGHT TO YOU to feel more honest and emotional in comparison to the hopelessly naïve original, and I decided early on in the planning process that in order for that to happen I’d need to give the book a foothold in reality.

Here’s me pictured in the idyllic Welsh village of Criccieth last Sunday, and in the background you can see the castle which features prominently in the book. Click the link below to find out more, but please be warned – there are potentially some spoilers ahead.

Moody and castle

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What Works for Me – Concept Versus Story

Here’s another in my irregular series of posts about writing and publishing. As always, feel free to completely ignore everything that follows because as the title implies, this is just what works for me. Today I wanted to talk about something which I didn’t think about enough when I started out, but which makes an immeasurable difference to any creative project.

Ever put down a book or walked out of a cinema and felt disappointed because what you just read or watched didn’t live up to your expectations? Maybe it sounded like a good idea, but the author/film-maker’s execution of that idea left you wanting? When I started writing, dumb as this might sound now, I don’t think I fully appreciated the difference between a story and a concept.

You’ll hopefully have noticed a couple of recent film recommendations here (well, one recommendation and the other a less than enthusiastic write-up). On Saturday I wrote about ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and on Monday just gone, THE PURGE. It struck me when I sat down and watched these two movies in quick succession that there’s a commonality between them I hadn’t appreciated before: they both deal with variations of the same basic concept, but take them in wildly different directions and with varying degrees of success.

Both films start with a similar premise – crime rates in the USA have exploded, and the authorities have been forced to take radical steps to try and bring things under control. In ESCAPE, Manhattan Island has become a maximum security prison, walled off from the rest of the country, once you’re in you don’t get back out. In THE PURGE, all crime is legalised for a single twelve hour period each year. So far, so good… both approaches sound like decent starting points for dystopian movies (provided you don’t think about the practicalities of either ‘solution’ for too long). So why is ESCAPE hailed (by me) as a classic and THE PURGE hailed (again by me) as a misfire? Well, I could write for hours about the relative merits of both films, but I think much of it boils down to concept versus story. ESCAPE starts with a cool concept which it explores through the use of interesting characters and an engrossing story. THE PURGE doesn’t.

I know I’m being unfair and overly simplistic here and there’s more to THE PURGE than I’m letting on, but I think it’s an important distinction to make: a good concept alone does not an interesting book or film make.

As I said at the beginning, when I started writing, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of this differentiation, and until I did understand, I didn’t get anything decent written.

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