Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Fav things of 2014, Part 3. SHERLOCK.

I do love the SHERLOCK series. Not in a fanboy sort of way. There are some bits I find down right irritating but this blog isn't about those bits.

It's about one episode in particular. THE SIGN OF THE THREE.

It's the one where Watson and Sherlock go on a bender and have to solve a crime drunk and is the perfect blend of pathos, slapstick, sharp dialogue and wit this side of the tv screen.

You hear, from Sherlock's own mouth, what Watson really means to him, and it is his unshakeable humanity, something Sherlock, if left alone, would eventually lose.

Has there ever been so perfect a partnership as this couple? Watson and Holmes are the ultimate dynamic duo. The SHERLOCK series has solved the riddle of how to make Watson something other than the 'exposition excuse'.

Its' when the author needs the reader to understand something so has one character explain it to another, not really for the character's benefit, but the reader's. Watson was a cool device, after all he was Holmes's biographer so needed to be told but it's a shame its taken so long for him to be something more than that.

The Sherlcok Holmes movies staring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law manage it too, firstly by casting Jude Law (one of the world's most handsome men) and by making him an action hero. He is, after all, a veteran of the Afghan War. And we know Afghanistan is no easy ride for anyone. Watson is a soldier. Tough, loyal and resourceful. Respect must be due.

I think a lot about this pair when I write.

Firstly great characters need not be sympathetic. As Sherlock says himself he's a 'high functioning sociopath'. Just sometimes that's what you need.

Then there's the team. Both characters are greater, combined. Unless he's Batman. Just sayin'. We, as reader's get to take part in their relationship and glimpse the dedication and love these two very different men have for each other. It need not be said but you know they are halves of a whole, which makes the wedding episode so poignant. Holmes wants Watson happy, but has the intelligence to know what it will cost him. The whole episode plays on Holmes's feelings of bereavement. For al Holmes's brains, coolness under fire and sheer joy of battle, he's a little, lonely boy who more than anything wants his best friend.

Ultimately, what is that episode but one about love? In Watson as a groom. In their unique partnership. In the mystery they try and solve (lonely women loving a ghost. Isn't that what Sherlock is afraid of when Watson leaves?).

Brilliant episode in a brilliant series.

Monday, 24 November 2014

One of my fav books of 2014, The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff

I love historical fiction. I'm mad on the works of Bernard Cornwell (have read every Sharpe novel there is), then there's the Viking sagas by Giles Kristian and the detective series featuring Shardlake, a hunchback detective during the reign of Henry VIII.

While historical fiction is alive and kicking in the adult market it's not quite as popular in the children's?YA field. Sure, this year there are plenty of books on WW1 but that's to be expected. Books centred around the school curriculum are also relatively easy to find but I've rarely read any that make me BELIEVE I am in that world.

The past is a world you cannot travel to, but yet feels familiar. Even more so when it's set in your home town, in this case, London.

Setting is one thing, but character is what makes a story live.

Jane Hardstaff (can't believe it's her debut!) nails both, perfectly.

It's set during the Tudor period and Moss is the daughter of the executioner of the Tower of London. Life's not straightforward when your dad chops people's heads off for a living and your job is to collect them.

What blew me away is the authenticity of Moss's voice. She is REAL.You utterly believe she is more than words on a page, more than black ink. She lives and breathes and has wishes and desires like all of us. There's no artifice in her, nor in Jane's writing. You don't stop to ponder this is merely a story, or written by a person in today's world who's just made Moss up in her head. Some historical fiction prides itself on being clever. It wants us to marvel at the depth of research, the dedication of the author. It wants us to ponder at all the hard work the writer's put in. Hold on. But to me, the only measure of a story is how deeply you fall into its world.

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. The sequel is due out soon and I'm pestering everyone I know to get me a copy asap.

So, take a break from the wizards, vampires and dragons and immerse yourself into the life of The Executioner's Daughter.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Fav thing this Year, Part One. ARROW.

Love it. The cast. The story. The plotting. The good guys and the bad guys and the guys inbetween. They even know how to make flashbacks exciting and relevant!

Firstly, let me point out I've come to this fairly late. I haven't quite finished Season One, so NO SPOILERS!

Okay, where to begin?

Firstly, I am a life-long DC fan. Going way, waaay back. I remember when Kurt Swan used to draw Superman. When the only Batman was Adam West. When Wonder Woman was Linda Carter in THAT outfit.

Yeah, before many of you were born.

So, Green Arrow, alias Oliver Queen. Now in the early days Ollie was a Batman-rip-off, a playboy billionaire with a lot of cool gadgets. Yes, the look was all Robin Hood but that was kinda that. Things changed with the legendary Denny O'Neil/Neil Adams phase which joined the Greenies (Arrow and Lantern) and made them beautiful, social and relevant. Probably one of the high points of the comic world. If you haven't ever seen them, dig them up. They will blow your mind.

Oh, and Ollie lost his fortune which gave him a new slant.

So, ARROW. How did it get it so right?

1. The Crew. Stephen Amell rocks in all sorts of ways. Charismatic and thoughtful and built like a superhero (yes, those training scenes and the insane amount of shirt-off moments. That should become a drinking game but then you'd be unconscious after every episode). Then the rest of the cast works seemlessly alongside. Not a Jar Jar amongst them. I also love the modern mix of characters. Caucasian, Hispanic, Afro-American. It's a natural blend of what a modern city contains. It's the little touches, like Colin Salmon playing the step-dad, that make Arrow 'feel' right. Top marks on that and avoiding tokenism. Again we shall discuss this more later.

2. Homage to the source material. The producers and writers have struck the right balance between the comics and striking a new path. This Arrow is hardcore and not a straight hero. He kills. His time on the island has damaged him. His singlemindness is tempered only by his family, both sister and mother (and we have a lot to say about Mom!) as well as his extended family of Felicity and Diggle, both who serve as his concious when he starts to lose it. It's a great story of a man's loss of his humanity.

The family needs a special mention. We're so used to lone heroes, the orphans and the like, that it's great (EPIC, even) to have siblings and parents and step-parents in the fold. It adds a whole new dimension to Ollie's story. In many ways this is the best 'twist' out of the lot.

3. The flashbacks. As a writer this is stuff you're warned about. Treat flashbacks with extreme caution. But in Arrow they expand the story beautifully and we always love to see Manu on the screen. He's Slade Wilson? ALL SORTS OF EPIC!

4. The look. High, HIGH production values. The Queen home. The city shots. The Arrow lair. Even the nightclub (must be very exclusive give how few people turn up!) work. Hooray for the guys and gals who've made Arrow so beautiful (and we're not just talking about Stephen's abs, but we could be). It;s the stuff you don't really notice except when it's missing.

5. The slow reveals. Just enough of a taste per episode to know there's more at work behind the scenes. Not enough to give the mystery away, but enough to keep you intrigued. Ollie's time on the island. The mother and Merlyn.

6. Great balance between 'hit of the week' and the bigger picture. Arrow's list is a great, simple plot device. It serves to provide the weekly goal (get rid of another name on the list) as well as creating a door to a bigger mystery (who's behind the list. What links them all). I love the elegance of it.

So, ARROW. I will come back to this again. Really rather EPIC.