Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dressing Gowns Off! We’re Storming the ‘Castle’ (look out, Mr Fillion)

This week Castle the smash hit US TV series, airing in the UK on Sky, has been nominated for a People’s Choice award. For those of you not in the know Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, a phenomenally successful murder mystery/thriller writer who ‘shadows’ the impossibly lovely yet terrifyingly capable Det Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) at the Noo Yoik police department. Hilarious japes and mild peril ensues.

Look ! http://exm.nr/UJFa26 (www.examiner.com)

Before I continue I should point out that I’m very fond of the show, and more than fond of the lovely Mr Fillion, but it has occurred to me that Castle is not a good role model for insecure and aspiring (read skint) writers.

Castle is far too handsome and ridiculously charming. He’s smart, sells gazillions of books, lives in a millionaire’s Manhattan ‘loft’ and solves loads of tricky crimes while flirting winsomely with Det Beckett.

 Is this a realistic role model is this for young writers?

Quite frankly, I think it’s damaging to our fragile and impressionable little minds. In the same way that the fashion industry is berated for its use of super skinny and size zero models, making young women (and men) feel inferior and fostering eating disorders, what about writers?  Castle is probably single-handedly responsible for thousands of cases of ‘writing disorders’ and pyjama-clad bouts of moping and self-doubt among wordsmiths who live in London bedsits (or Cardiff semi-detached houses with damp ceilings and write in a spare bedroom full of suitcases) No one campaigns about realism in role models for writers!

 

Be they fictional or actual there really aren’t many great role models for writers to emulate through the ages.

In the ‘Romantic’ era of the 18th century to be a ‘writer’ you had to be rich or ‘of independent means’, off your face most of the time, have lots of spare cash to enable much lying around in opium dens, renting villas on lake Geneva or swimming across the Bosphorus for a laugh – see Byron, Shelley/Mary Shelley/Keats/Coleridge et al. Consumption/gout and syphilis were an occupational hazard – Uuurgh! Nasty!

In 1920s and 30s London you could call round each others’ nice houses in Bloomsbury, drink tea, discuss aesthetical and liberal ideals, wax lyrical about ‘a room of one’s own’ and then walk into a river with your pockets full of stones – downer! (See, obviously, Virginia Woolf)

 

Late 20th and early 21st century fictional role models are little better.

Mega bestseller Stephen King has done a lot to reinforce the ‘writer as eccentric’ trope in his books. See The Shining – 200 pages of writer’s block and the phrase all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy would send anyone axe-happy if they were in a caravan in Brighton let alone a scary hotel in the Rockies with phantom bar tenders.

Also in Misery – Paul Sheldon is an eccentric egotist who apparently never makes copies of his manuscripts (eh?) and drives out in snowstorms in a wholly unsuitable car. He suffers at the hands of his number one fan Annie after he ungratefully decides to kill off the popular romantic heroine who’s made him squillions of quids, ending up one foot short of a set of sneakers for his presumption.

I think you’ll agree there’re not many laughs there.

 

For me – a child of the 80s – lady writers were synonymous with two women.

1. Every nan’s favourite sleuth Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote (Angela Lansbury as a sort of modern day Miss Marple on Red Bull)

2. And dowdy Joan Wilder, the ‘romantic’ novelist from Michael Douglas fun-fest Romancing the Stone. In this holiday classic Kathleen Turner (hair in a ponytail, no make-up, awful sweater) is dowdy ‘hopeful romantic’ Joan (lives with cat, talks to cat, wears heeled court shoes on a trip to rescue her sister from kidnappers in Columbia). Once jungle-side she meets up with Jack Colton (Douglas) and becomes all adventurous and sassy – like, you know, the stuff she writes about in her books comes true, like, art imitating life, imitating art etc. By the end Colton’s hero brings out the ‘woman’ in her (Kathleen – now wearing lip gloss, a revealing skirt and with BIG 80s hair – yeah, in the jungle, like they’d have Braun hot tongs there. Anywaaay…)

 

But still not much to aspire to. You can’t sit round waiting for Michael Douglas all day. I think they have big spiders in Columbia which rules out any jungle larks, and Turner was obviously always a total fox pretending to be a plain Jane by wearing a saggy brown suit.

 

So maybe it’s time we started campaigning for real role models for real writers.

That’s pretty much a slogan already! There must be some European funding available or we could organise a telethon, featuring sad mini profiles of ‘real’ writers in their slippers going on a Baileys run to the corner shop. Donate your pounds now – save these poor souls from excessive tracksuit wearing and bad haircuts, that sort of thing. We could get Morgan Freeman to do the voice-over!

Or maybe pressure could be put on producers for more realism in our TV ‘writers’. For the next series of Castle perhaps Mr Fillion could try and at least ‘look a bit rough’ of a morning, don a scruffy dressing gown, not bother to shave – or there could be a scene were he constantly checks his sales on Amazon or his blog  stats. Maybe he could even have a bit of a verbal dust-up with a bloke called Adrian or Javier on Goodreads over a dodgy review. It’s not perfect but it’s a step towards ‘Real Role Models for Real Writers’.

 

Yes, I think it’s a winner. I’m actually glad now that I haven’t left the house for five days or blow-dried my hair for a week – more time for great creative ideas to flow…

In fact, I might actually tweet Mr Castle right now…Dear Mr Fillion…

 

*If American, vote here for Castle in The People’s Choice Awards (if not, look at a nice picture of lovely Mr Fillion anyway.)

http://bit.ly/arSy9z (peopleschoice.com)

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On The Road? Pass the cranberry juice…

A few years ago I was sitting in Vesuvio – the bar next to the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach – the place where Jack Kerouac and his Beat poet mates were said to have hung out.

Me and lil’ sis were drinking something called The Jack Kerouac – can’t remember what was in it exactly, except it contained Jack Daniels’ and er, cranberry juice.  I remember thinking at the time I can’t believe Jack Kerouac ever drank something with cranberry juice in it. But it was very nice and obviously a good seller.

So this week, with the screen adaptation of On The Road finally making it into cinemas I’ve been thinking about that cranberry juice – and  wondering if the film will bear any resemblance to the manic, slightly desperate whirl of the book or will it be something sweeter and more palatable, like that cocktail.

On the Road is not the obvious choice to make into a movie – it has no real story arc or narrative to speak of (that being the point) but movies tend to like structure and actual ‘stuff happening’. I mean, books are adapted because producers think they can fill theatres and make money, right? So take On the Road, add in the cranberry juice of startlingly cool Brit actor Sam Riley (from Control ) and every tweenager’s favourite fang-banger Kristin Stewart out of Twilight and you immediately up the audience crossover appeal.

What would Jack Kerouac think of the cranberryisation of his classic? Does it matter if it introduces a new audience or era to classic and maybe even, who knows, encourages them to go and read the original book?

I’ll have to see it before I make up my mind but  here are some of my ‘do’s and don’ts’ for the perfect book to screen translation – let’s see how many (if any) On The Road ticks…..

 

1. Ignore The Author (a bit).

Look at Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in the 90s – while sticking pretty closely to the original story she injected a massive amount of froth, wit and humour into what is essentially Jane Austen most didactic and moralising novel (whisper it –it’s really quite boring.) Yes, most of the actors are much older than in the book but who cares?

*Casting cranberry juice genius? Actually making Alan Rickman adorable as Colonel Brandon!

Children of Men – 2009 dystopian thriller from the book by PD James. (That’s Baroness James to you.) Yes, her wot writes the crime stuff with Inspector Dalgleish in. Whereas the original was a bleak thriller about a time when women have become infertile the movie ups the ante throwing in a ‘fortress Britain’ scenario and some astonishing tracking shots to create a haunting vision of Broken Britain that’s uncomfortably familiar

*Casting cranberry juice genius?  – Michael Caine as long-haired hippy mentor to Clive Owen’s damaged everyman Theo.

 

2. Don’t Ignore The Author (at all).

We Need to Talk About Kevin  – a compulsively gripping novel by Lionel Shriver about the nature of a mother’s love. Like the book the film treads a superb line as to whether Eva Khatchadourian’s inability to bond with her son leads to tragedy or whether it’s because she knows from the start he’s just plain bad. Will divide readers/viewers like Marmite.

*Casting cranberry juice genius?  Note to the Oscar people: Tilda Swinton was robbed!

 

3. Have Leonardo di Caprio In It

Decades before Donald Draper made compulsive capitalism and casual misogyny cool Richard Yates wrote Revolutionary Road, a compulsive tale of a ‘perfect couple’ fallen out of love with the stifling reality of the American Dream. In the movie, with dialogue and scenes pretty much word for word from the book, Leonardo and Kate Winslet perfectly capture the couple whose relationship is a cauldron of barely contained violence, resentment and disappointment. The most realistic love-hate couple rows ever committed to paper.

See also Leo in Alex Garland’s The Beach – despite several departures from the book, and All Saints’s warbling the theme track, this is an enjoyable debunking of the student gap year dream.

And Leo in Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane). There’s a psychiatric hospital on a storm tossed island…I can’t tell you anything, it’ll spoil it. You’ll find out when Leo does (but by then it’ll be too late).

*Casting cranberry juice genius?  – Duh! Weren’t you paying attention?

 

4. Adapt An Early(ish) Stephen King Novel

The Shining – Kubrick captures the genuinely disturbing vibe of isolation, madness and the fact some building are just born bad! Don’t watch late at night, though – the music is very unnerving (and the ’70s carpeting is hard on tired eyes).

*Casting cranberry juice genius? – Yes Jack Nicholson’s at his best but Shelley Duvall is superbly highly-strung as his wife.

 

5. Adapt Stephen King short stories (set in prisons)

Before ‘More Than’ Freeman sold insurance on TV, Morgan Freeman’s honeyed tones narrated this prison story of Andy Dufresne and his ‘redemption’ at Shawshank. From Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

The Green Mile – more depression era prison drama featuring a death row inmate with a special gift. If you aint crying by the time Fred Astaire sings ‘Heaven, I’m in Heaven’ you aint got no heart, boss!

 *Casting Cranberry juice genius? – Sam Rockwell as ‘Wild Bill’ and the late Michael Clarke Duncan as simple minded John Coffey (‘like the drink, but not spelt the same’.)

 

6. Don’t worry about upsetting people

Before Christian Bale ‘went medieval on the ass’ of some hapless runner on the set of Terminator Salvation he was the biggest psycho of all – Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Okay there’s stuff in the book that could never, EVER make it to the screen but this is a surprisingly enjoyable adaptation of the controversial Brett Easton Ellis novel. Disturbing and funny – yes, funny, honest! It includes a several page riff on why Huey Lewis and the news are modern cultural gods.

*Casting cranberry juice genius? – Letting the kid out of Oscar winning epic Empire of The Sun play New York’s most fashion-conscious killer!

 

Now I’m just waiting for On the Road – and I quite fancy a cranberry juice…

Best /worst book to screen adaptations? Come on, tell me your faves….I’m ready for a movie scrap… 

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