Friday 27 June 2014

Food for the mind as well as the body

From the Writers' Guild of Great Britain newsletter...

Free books given away at food banks

According to The Bookseller, Booktrust has given away 2,500 children’s books to food banks as part of this month’s National Book Start Week. Between 9 and 15 June, the charity gave away copies of Jez Alborough’s Super Duck (HarperCollins) to 60 food banks in England in partnership with Trussell Trust Foodbank network. Elizabeth Maytom, project leader at the West Norwood and Brixton food bank in London, said giving free books to families who are struggling financially is a “positive initiative”.

She said: “Books and toys are low down on priorities for families. Money will be spent on rent, energy, travel, food and sometimes school uniforms. We often try to give Christmas presents and Easter books for children but it hasn’t been easy. So a little book to take away and read at night is really positive.”

The Trussell Trust network helped 913,138 people in crisis from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014. Of that total, 330,205 were children. Booktrust is now looking to supply food banks with free books during next year’s National Bookstart Week. Interested groups can contact the Book Trust at

Thursday 26 June 2014

Rupert Murdoch and the mis-use of power

LONDON'S HACKING TRIAL: Here are the opening sentences of a revealing and hugely disturbing article by Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter whose revelations opened the nasty can of worms about phone hacking and other misdeeds by Murdoch editors and reporters in Britain:
This was no ordinary trial.
It was unusual in its sheer scale: more than three years of police work; 42,000 pages of crown evidence; seven months of hearings; up to 18 barristers in court at any one time; 12 defendants facing allegations of crime spreading back over a decade.
But what made it most unusual was what it represented. First, this was a long-delayed showdown between the criminal justice system and parts of Fleet Street, in which the reputations of both was at stake. Beyond that, however, this was a trial by proxy, in which Rebekah Brooks stood in the dock on behalf of a media mogul and Andy Coulson acted as avatar for the prime minister, with the reputations of Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron equally in jeopardy. Officially, the trial was all about crime; in reality, it was all about power.
For copyright reasons I cannot run any more, but here is the full article. It is well worth reading.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

An American film recommendation and "prizes" that aren't prizes

My wife and I rarely get excited by an American movie. They are very often spoiled by lowest-common-denominator dialogue and neat, happy endings. An exception was Nebraska. This film was alternately sad and very funny. Sad because it was about an elderly man in the early stages of dementia and funny because the dialogue was sprinkled with some glorious declarations. In particular, the elderly man's grumpy wife was a joy. We also enjoyed seeing Bob Odenkirk, who played the dodgy lawyer Saul in Breaking Bad, playing a rather different, less frenetic role.

Without giving anything away, the film is about how the main character becomes convinced that he has won a million dollars in a marketing campaign. This reminded me that some years ago my elderly mother in Australia received one of those wretched Readers' Digest "prizes". She, too, was convinced that she had won a million dollars. When I told her she hadn't won anything, she replied: "But I have, Ian, because it's got my name printed on it!" I did eventually get her to accept that having her name printed on the "prize" meant nothing and it should be binned. I fear, though, that she went to her grave some years later still wondering whether she should have ignored me and laid claim to her million dollars.

Monday 23 June 2014

The joy of living in the world's most comprehensive library

From time to time I wonder how long it would take me do my writing if I didn't have access to the Internet. There is no coming up with a precise answer, but I feel sorry for the diminishing number of writers who have to rely on visits to reference libraries for much of their information.

Out of curiosity, I made a note one day of the number of times I used Internet search engines to help me with my work. Here are just some examples:

1) How is an American ambassador addressed formally?

2) Is the fictional name I am giving the ambassador likely to cause problems because it is similar or identical to the name of a living person who is, or was, an ambassador?

3) Learn the age of a prominent politician.

4) Check the spellings of several place names.

5) Check the history of Jim Beam whiskey.

6) Seek the Arabic translation of a few simple English-language greetings?

7) Check the precise name of a film and when it was released.

8) Study photographs of Middle Eastern streets damaged by shelling.

9) Check the official title of a government minister.

10) Confirm that a former prominent celebrity is still alive.

So, these are just 10 examples, but there were many more. How much time would have been taken up out of my day if I had needed to check my limited selection of reference books, or to go down to the local library? Probably all day, is the answer -- which means that I would not have made any progress with my writing.

The Internet is a truly wonderful addition to modern life, but it must make for tough times with many libraries. That is a downside of the Internet.

Sub-titles: a simple solution - SECOND UPDATE

My wife and I watched a film on DVD a couple of evenings ago and it took an infuriating four tries to get the sub-titles to work.

Why do film-makers conjure up unnecessarily complicated "set ups" on their DVDs. There is, after all, a simple way to do this without irritation. One DVD we watched a while ago had the simplest of solutions -- an opening menu with just two options:

1) Play

2) Play with sub-titles.

Now, why can't all film-makers do this with their DVDs?! So much better than all the complicated and confusing instructions we usually see.


We watched Grand Budapest Hotel the other night on a Blu-Ray DVD. The sub-titling instructions were infuriatingly confusing and after three unsuccessful attempts to get the sub-titles to work, we had to give up.

Sub-titling on live British TV programmes is also a continuing issue. You'll find the latest complaints here:

Wednesday 18 June 2014

NINA -- No, It's Not Awesome!

AWESOME – the most over-used and over-stated word in the social media.

The Oxford Dictionary definition: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe.

The social media definition: mostly used as a lazy substitute for considered comment on just about anything.

On behalf of my recently-established organisation, NINA (No, It’s Not Awesome), I helpfully offer a random selection of alternative words and phrases:

Very nice
Most attractive
Most interesting
Bloody hell!
Intellectually challenging
You've done well
You’ve done well, considering
Heart warming
Are your art classes worth it? 
That wig looks almost real
Very creative
Much improved
Was it deliberately out of focus?
A good try
Better luck next time
Most impressive
Well, don’t give  up
An improvement on last time
Try another hairdresser!
Was it fancy dress?
You did your best anyway
Was it a good idea to wear tight shorts?
Mmm. A longer skirt would be better

Thursday 12 June 2014

Films: Should they always be show, not tell?

It is a received wisdom that the best films are the ones with very little dialogue. In other words, let the action tell the story.

As a general rule, I agree with this, as there are few films more tedious than those that talk, talk, talk, rather than show, show, show. But it is not always the case. My wife and I recently saw an excellent Romanian film Child's Pose. It is a simple story about a domineering mother trying to regain control over her adult son.

In the opening minutes, our hearts sank when faced with a stream of dialogue, but it quickly became clear that we needed all that detailed dialogue to understand why the mother had such a dreadful relationship with her son. Although there was very little traditional action in the film, the words were the action and we quickly found ourselves engrossed by the story. We gave the film 8/10, which is a very high rating for us.

So, the message to screen writers is this: just because most films are written a certain way, there are always exceptions to a rule. Child's Pose is one of them.