Saturday, 26 November 2011

Interesting Times

As the old Chinese curse, as made famous by a certain Mr Pratchett, says, “May you live in interesting times!”  Suffice to say, it’s been an interesting month.  First, I found myself agreeing with Dr Rowan Williams, both his backing of the Occupy London campaign and his subsequent criticism of the government’s proposed welfare reforms.  While I acknowledge individual faith to be a powerful and, more often than not, positive force, I have an inherent dislike and distrust of organised religion.  The centuries of social control, and the oppression and demonization of women by the patriarchal monotheistic faiths has always struck me as nothing short of hypocritical.  Much of their ideology comes across as hopelessly outdated in the twenty-first century, while the underlying principles of love, compassion and peace are too often forgotten by those who profess to practice them.
The cynic in me, in these times of falling congregations and waning influence, wonders if this is no more than an attempt to garner credibility by siding with the public against a common foe.  The resignation of St Paul’s canon chancellor, Giles Fraser, followed by the Dean, Graeme Knowles, over the proposed eviction of the Occupy protestors led to a swift reversal in policy.  One that the Archbishop of Canterbury has followed through to its logical conclusion.  The pragmatist in me, meanwhile, shrugs his shoulders and says, so what?  Surely the end result is more important than the motive?  Is it really such a stretch that Dr Williams and his fellow bishops might in fact be demonstrating genuine Christian values?  Of course not.
The long, dark tea-time of my soul aside, we live in a time when many of those responsible for the global banking crash of 2008 continue to reward themselves with obscene bonus and pay increases far above inflation.  Little wonder those on low and middle incomes, whose disposable income continues to shrink, find themselves confused, enraged and disgusted.
People tend to have a knee-jerk reaction when you employ the phrase “redistribution of wealth”, but with one percent of the world’s population owning forty percent of the wealth it should be obvious to the majority that something needs to change and change drastically.  Will occupying banking institutions and public spaces achieve this?  I rather doubt it, but as the uprisings of the Arab Spring proved, if you push the common people far enough they will take matters into their own hands.  Not that I’m suggesting we get our pitchforks and burning torches and form an angry mob outside Westminster, much as I’d like to see David Cameron and George Osborne’s heads on pikes (there we go again with another inherent prejudice).  Figureheads are just that, and removing them is not unlike cutting off the heads from a hydra.  Instead, we need to look inside ourselves and decide what we truly believe is acceptable in our name, the name of the people.  Governments, after all, are meant to serve us, not the other way round.
Of course the truth is that the revolution won’t be so much televised as franchised!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

All We Make Is Entertainment

The title, taken from a song by the Manic Street Preachers, laments the death of the British manufacturing industry and growth of vacuous reality TV shows.  Although the Tony Blairs and David Camerons of this world have difficulty in grasping the fact that the sun set on the British Empire some considerable time ago in the wake of two global conflicts, the rest of us have a firmer grasp on our position in the New World Order.  In case it needs saying, we are no longer dinning at the top table.  Not that this is any excuse for sleeping creatively, but as a certain Mr Clinton once remarked, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’
With the global economy flat lining, there has probably never been a worse time to be involved in the creative arts.  They only thing worse than being an aspiring writer right now is probably being an aspiring actor, although the two go hand in glove to some extent giving the paucity of original drama currently being commissioned and broadcast by the UK’s terrestrial channels (HBO in America, by contrast, is light years ahead of the curve).
The public gets what the public wants, and what it apparently wants is to watch greedy awful people making dinner for other greedy awful people while scheming to appear slightly less greedy and awful than they really are.  Then the are the D-lebrities in the jungle or the Big Brother House, largely following the above script, not to mention Simon Cowell’s latest karaoke offering.  Admittedly, even at my most curmudgeonly, I can’t deny Susan Boyle has a great singing voice, but the circus of exploitation that went along with her “discovery” was nothing short of shameful.  Surely the measure of any society is how well it protects the vulnerable.
What all the above have in common is that they’re cheap to make and more or less write themselves, making them an attractive alternative to commissioning original work.  That, perhaps, makes the exceptions all the more important.  Abi Morgan’s excellent “The Hour” and Shane Meadows’ “This Is England 86” provided compelling, and in the case of the later, often uncomfortable viewing, as did William Boyd’s adaption of his novel “Any Human Heart”.  That all three dramas were, to varying degrees, set in the past is perhaps telling of our need to escape from the harsh realities of the present.  A series such as “Mad Men” allows us to look back and see the sixties as simpler times, better, and more wholesome, even though we know this to be a lie.
Of the UK series presented above, only “The Hour” stands as truly original, “This Is England 86” being a sequel to Meadows’ earlier film and “Any Human Heart” being a book adaption.
If television is grim, film in ten times as worse, with a slew of sequels and franchise extensions in the works.  Hollywood likes nothing better than a pre-established audience, be it fans of a best selling novel or game.  But with films costing millions of dollars who can blame them for wanting a little box office security?  Back in the day, having a “star” was sufficient to open a film - the public didn’t care what film Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson were in, just that they were on screen.  Nowadays a star reprising a well known role is required, as proven by Johnny Depp’s multimillion dollar payday for “Pirates Of The Caribbean IV” (I’m willing to forgive Depp for this on account of the fact the he recently lost millions of dollars of his own money that he’d ploughed into the adaptation of “The Rum Diary”, his warm hearted tribute to his friend Hunter S. Thompson).
Truth be told, sometimes I like to put my brain in neutral and watch shit explode.  I might not be guilty of watching reality TV but I’m definitely part of the franchise problem - must see trips to the cinema in 2012 will involve Star Trek (12 or 2 depending on who is counting), Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Bond 23: Skyfall.  Three franchise juggernauts, a comic strip adaptation reboot and a book adaptation.  Of course, amongst such popcorn fodder, I’ll be hoping for the next “The Usual Suspects” or “American Beauty”, but the trouble with original and thought provoking films is that they appear unannounced and are promoted by word of mouth.  “The Disappearance Of Alice Creed” and “Winter’s Bone” both came to my attention in this fashion.  The former an original low budget Brit flick that proves that the British film industry isn’t quite dead in the water, the latter a wonderfully shot and acted adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name.  Other classic book adaptations of late have been “The Rum Diary”, mentioned above, and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.  You would have to have been living under a rock to have avoided the second, but with a strong cast and beautifully understated direction it more than lived up to the hype and critical praise.  Whether the American remake of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” can pull off a similar feat remains to be seen.
On the face of it, film or television adaptations are surely the Holy Grail for an author.  Best case, it exposes a new audience to your work and sales rocket.  But even if it stinks, you still get to keep the money (unless you’re Alan Moore and actually have the balls and integrity to return the cheque).
If only it were that simple.  The reality is that once a film or television production company has “optioned” your work i.e. paid a nominal fee for the exclusive rights to adapt it for the big or small screen, there’re no guarantee the project will ever get made.  Numerous book adaptations have festered in production hell, only for the option to lapse, be bought by another company and for the whole process to repeat.  You’ll make some money from the above but not enough to turn pro.  Then there is the issue of creative control.  Assuming the cheque has enough zeroes you might well be happy enough to cash it and distance yourself from the fact that they’ve turned your beautiful baby into a crack addled whore.  To be fair, unless you have sufficient clout to have some form of veto written into your contract, odds are you’ll have to lie back and take it.  Same goes for your chances of negotiating a cut of the box office or merchandising.  Myself, I’d at least want an option on first draft of the screenplay, if only so I could hold it up against the final draft and say, ‘Look what those bastards did to my book!’

Friday, 18 November 2011

All me to introduce myself...

Welcome to "The Violet Hour" the blog for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writer Leon Steelgrave.
Another writer's blog, you say?  Well, yes, I won't deny that there will be discussions on writing, writers, books and even fiction posted here, not to mention updates as to the status of my current projects.  There will also (hopefully) be guest appearances by other writers, too.  More than that, there will be music, film, television and politics, because when all is said and done, I'm something of a geek.  You probably are as well, else you wouldn't have come here.  Don't think bowing your head and avoiding eye contact is going to let you off the hook.  Your card is well and truly marked.  If you know what Docking Bay 94 is and you can complete the sentence, "I'm a doctor, not a…" you'll fit in well here.  If not, stick around anyway and you might learn something.  Useless trivia for the most part, but information nonetheless.  Knowledge might well be power but it all rather depends on which direction your moral compass is pointing.  Ask a politician.
In short, the aim is to inform, entertain and never bore.  Time is all we've got, so I'll try my damndest to make sure your investment is worthwhile.  As ever, it's all about the words, which are without doubt a writer's stock in trade.  On this blog all the words are free, elsewhere you'll have to pay for them.  If I've done my job correctly, it will be a case of fair exchange, no robbery.
On that note, a word from our sponsor:
White Vampyre the debut novel by Leon Steelgrave will shortly be available in various eBook formats from Amazon and Smashwords.  Updates and details can be found at, via twitter @LeonSteelgrave, on facebook, and at The Violet Hour.