Friday, 4 October 2019

Interesting Submission Opportunity

Here is a story from the publishing world, involving dark humour [content note: Nazism] and judgement:

I find anything that has caused debate like this interesting, and can generally see it from more than one side. I do think people should be able to make whatever jokes they like, but I'd like them to be as aware of context as possible, to try and avoid hurting others. However, that hope can only bely the potential to be hurt. Which is natural.

This is, after all, life, which, is currently full of humans. They inevitably make mistakes, but are also capable of such positivity. It's all about controlling what we can in our personal lives - whether you're the one who wants to make a joke, or the one that wants to react to that. Both people can be said to be trying to improve (and impress?) a behavioural community, and, in the case of the 'commenters', they are at least partly trying to improve the 'worldview' as it were.

I think the submission opportunity is, from their point of view, a good move (ideologically, and easy to get publicity for), and I have thought about the implications of sending them something... It's one to mull over...

I couldn't say much more without going into a book-length essay (I've already made this longer than I wanted to!) If I receive a suitable advance, maybe I'll get cracking on that. Anyway, what do you think?

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Way to a Film's Launch

The Way to a Man's Heart poster, courtesy of LBP Productions

Brilliant news! From LBP Productions comes a darkly humourous short film - The Way to a Man’s Heart - based on a short story written by yours truly. I am immensely proud of director Lewis, and his team’s, hard work in scripting, filming, acting, and editing this gem, and think it's a lovely interpretation of the original material. You can, and should, check out the film HERE, and keep up with more LBP Productions news HERE.

In honour of the film’s recent release, I thought I’d say a little bit about the source material - my story, also called ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ - and where that came from. Sometime in 2015, I was watching a documentary about Stephen Fry’s travels around central America in a yellow school bus. He was visiting a prison in Honduras - ‘murder capital of the world’ - where he spoke to a woman who’d had something like seven husbands, who she’d killed and had either eaten, sold as meat, or both. It struck Stephen that she seemed really ‘normal’ to speak to, and it struck me that still, today, there are humans who, for whatever reason, are pulled toward modes of behaviour that seem too ‘evil’ to be real - like the whole Sweeney Todd legend, for example, but it does go on.
Around the same time as this, a dear aunt of mine told me about a short fiction competition I might like to enter - the Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing - which has food and/or drink as its theme, the clue being the title... These two things swam around in my head, and soon coalesced as this thing about a strained relationship being, initially, ‘healed’ by a lovingly-made meal. It’s true that good company and nourishment can improve our mood, but I was intrigued by an almost supernatural angle - inspired in part by the Roman idea that you absorb the characteristics of animals you eat - and I think the first draft came pretty easily. Certainly the dinner scene was the focal point of my efforts, and was a kind of fun to write. I had a lot of polishing to do, though. My word count needed reducing to fit the rules of the competition anyway, and I had a lot of self-indulgent motifery to cut, along with the usual concerns of good writing (no clichés, adverbs, or silly grammatical over-complications, make sure speech is natural, etc, etc), but I took the job as seriously as I ever have, I think.
Around this time, I sent the story out to volunteer friends to proof read, and let me know their thoughts (thank you all, again!). Lewis was one who, happily, obliged. We’d studied at Edge Hill together and shared certain lessons in scriptwriting. I particularly remember one time when we were having a conversation about some of the weird things we have to research for our work, including, for those whose stories involve a bit more gore, how long it would normally take a human to bleed to death from various wounds. Writers, eh? Anyway, we had remained writing compadres, keeping up on each other’s news, and passing along bits to read now and again - as it was with this project.
After reading it, and giving me some feedback, I eventually had my final draft, which was duly dispatched to the Mogford Prize in March 2016. I don’t remember the timeline after this, but there was a moment where interest was expressed in making ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ a film (later in the same year?). Being a good friend, and someone whose writing and positivity I admire, I sold Lewis the rights for a knock-down, virtually nominal fee of one million quid - which I have since invested in local public house projects.
We liaised on it from scripting to casting, and he listened to what I had to say with regards to how certain edits panned out, but honestly, all my input could genuinely be summed up in the ‘brilliant work, keep going’ kind of vein, because that’s how it was, nothing else was needed. As for the story of the filming itself, you’d really have to ask Lewis what the craic was - although he has put some lovely set pictures up on his site, so we can look behind the scenes in that respect. Again, all I can say is how high quality the end result is, in all respects, and, simply, I enjoyed watching it. I hope Lewis and his colleagues gain lots of deserved recognition for their work, and that they keep feeling inspired and energetic, thus producing many more fine pieces like this. 
         And just so you know, ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ did not win the Mogford Prize. I know, I know, the judges are absolutely blind, and I was totally the best by a million clear miles. Yes, yes, must’ve been favouritism. A conspiracy, you say? Oh, I don’t know if I’d go that far. But now you mention it… Anyway, now that the boos have died down, I can say that none of that matters, really, because I feel like I’ve won a much more valuable prize in seeing Lewis’ vision come wonderfully to life. It’s a prize you too can view, and that link, again, is thus:
Peace, love, and light, folks!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

A Right Ol' Catch-Up

It's been that long since I posted anything, that a lot of you - especially my enemies at home and abroad - may be thinking/hoping that I've died. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I've not. I'm still very much here, and still kicking up stinks.
   I've been very busy with work, family matters, and self-abuse. In-between this trio of fantastic pursuits (especially fantastic for the 18-30 demographic, according to Fantastic Pursuits for People Aged Eighteen to Thirty Weekly), I have been lucky enough to do some illuminating things what I enjoy. The main thing what I've enjoyed is the third Morecambe Fringe Festival, which ran from the 4th July to the 20th, and already seems like it was months ago... I managed to see four shows, and the quality was high, as always.
   The first one I saw was my good pal Jim Lupton, and June Metcalfe, who are part of the 'West End Players'. I'm so happy for Jim, who expanded on his work at the last 'Scratch Festival' in Morecambe - a series of spoken word pieces. He'd put so much effort in to remember lots of material, and one of his newest characters - the Cooler King - involved a lot of dramatic acting, which he really sold. He made us laugh, cogitate, and cry, with his tales and poetry centring on the theme of solitude. I can't wait to see what he gets up to next. June was fantastic, also, performing some of Alan Bennett's 'Talking Heads' monologues with real flair. I was genuinely laughing out loud, and, as a comedy snob, that's an achievement in itself.
   The next one was Dean Tsang, who is a rising star and a half. He's an experimental poet who used a variety of forms and voices to explore the theme of 'awkward questions'. He looked at some genuinely touching personal issues in his work, which I thought was very generous, along with more universal things, and yet there was lots of humorous wit, too, so as an audience member, I felt my emotional muscles were getting a good workout. In the context of the local scene as I know it, it's even more amazing that there's such a bright, innovative, and mature talent. My abiding memory is of one poem where he basically performed multivocally, layering different sentences and sounds over each other (well, that was the effect, at least), a very impressive facet of his performative skill. I was even luckier to get to speak to him afterwards, and chat about his work.
   Then I saw Rowan Padmore, whose show was about "bereavement, loss and loneliness in Morecambe." It was a powerful show, and, honestly, I felt depressed afterwards. Not that it was one-dimensional at all - there were laughs aplenty - but the sense of loss was quite relentless and stuck with me afterwards. My imagination was in overdrive - perhaps aided slightly by being set in my home town - with the rich characters, and the driving through-narrative that tied the performance poetry together, which all speaks to Padmore's talent as a writer.
   Lastly, I saw the last show - Laura Monmoth's 'Trans Vision Scamp'. I don't know if I've ever mentioned the fact that I'm a comedy snob before, but Laura broke through all of my silly hubris, and I was crying with laughter at points. Being sat at the front, I was picked on a couple of times, but it felt warm, which is key - as Mr Rickles will tell you. I'm not sure what else to say! I don't want to ruin any gags - especially not the multimedia ones - in case you go see her (which you should, given half the chance), but just know that it gets five hilarity stars out of five from me.
   I got, and took, the chance to review Dean and Rowan for the Lancashire Evening Post. It was an honour to contribute, alongside a number of other volunteers, and be published with what I'd normally enjoy writing during the Fringe anyway. I think this was part of the reason I didn't review them on Blogtastic before now, as I had used up my reflective impetus somewhat. I'm not sure if I'm able to reproduce the reviews here, but I'm going to assume so, until such time as I am told otherwise :)
   More recently (three days ago, in fact), I was lucky enough to take part in doing a bit of setting up the Make My Day festival that the Exchange Creative Community organises and executes annually. I was working through the festival itself, so couldn't attend, but it was lovely meeting up with the other volunteers, having a laugh, getting stuck in and helping out, y'know. With the way my life's going at the mo, it felt like a holiday, and was most replenishing, even though I was knackered afterwards haha. One lovely memory from the day of the festival itself; from my window at work, I saw a family walking down the prom - a parental couple and two children - and the dad was faithfully clutching a pair of wooden dogs that they had crafted at the festival, and I knew that they'd had a lovely day together, with memories that'll last a long time. Look out for it next year, and make sure to keep up with what's happening through their mailing list, or Facebook, or whatever the hell your preference is.
   I was going to talk about other things, such as what I've been reading lately, how the writing's going, and whether I've finally set a date for the wedding, but my editor's giving me a look, like, "Oh god, he's at it again... If you have to go on another interminable solipsistic ramble, at least break it up and put it in another post. You do this all the time, writing all these long, drawn-out pieces that, y'know, might be excusable if they were only on a decent topic, or, hey, just written in a fresh, exciting way, like, had an engaging tone. But no. It's like trying to eat your way through so much sawdust - bland, nutritionless, hard work. Could you imagine what he's like outside of work? I bet it's 'me me me'. All. The. Flipping. Time. We should fire this guy. Seriously! I know he's been sneaking out with office supplies. I'm not just talking about a pen here, and a pen there... I caught him last week trying to load one of our photocopiers into his mate's van. He tried to shrug it off with a joke, but that was as pathetic as his blogging: unfunny, poorly-structured, and leaving me questioning why I bother. And would it kill him to put even just a penny into our monthly charity nominations box? How can you not want to help puppy amputees? I won't even go into the whole rant he went on when I questioned him about it, 'charity begins at home, we need to stop giving money to foreigners and take back control'... How he ever landed head writer at Blogtastic, I'll never know..." so I suppose, I'll sign off for now.

Peace, love, and light,


From The Lancashire Evening Post.

From The Lancashire Evening Post, also.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Through the Haze

Side one of a locally-distributed Scratch Fest flyer.
There's some pretty cool stuff going on in Morecambe at the mo, at Alt-Space’s 'Scratch-Fest', a festival aiming to air acts and give them feedback before the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe. It's always hard to talk about this kind of thing, because the diversity of a festival of this nature is hard to encapsulate neatly, but hey, here goes.

The first thing I saw - and one of the stand-outs so far - was a stylophone-based musicomedy performance, with self-deprecation and 'off the wall' jumps from image to pun. It’s one the best acts I've seen since Stuart Lee, and you should check out 'Stylophobia With Dan Rubinstein' on Facebook for his upcoming gigs. I found a lot of it was funny because it wasn't all that funny - "corny" is a word Dan used himself, which is a very apt one for me - and the intentional lack of slickness is part of not just the charm, but also the element of surprise, that, for me, made his jokes burn brighter.

On another night, though, we've had a journey through Richard Pulsford's research into his family's military history in 'Conflict of Interest'. I thought, because he was introduced as a comedian, that the presentation he was giving was going to be an elaborate ruse for a whole heap of humour. In the end, it was a 'straight' account of said history and, whereas not my 'usual cup of tea', it was still a pleasure to be able to attend, to see someone's work made reality, and to learn.

There was, of all things, a delightful nun - Sister Christian - who was captivating in her fascination with balls and juggling them, who peppered her performance with double-entendres. It amused me and made me feel very carefree. We had a chap (who I can't find on Facebook - sorry!) perform a scene from his Michael Jackson and Prince show (did you know they were both born in the same year?). They're two artists I'm not overly fond of, but the possibilities of his act - exploring the lives of two such eccentric superstars - are undeniably fascinating (and he's playing both of them, as I understand it). Also, we were treated to some proper magic by local legend Kevin Cunliffe - who I've always found to be a warm guy, generous with his time y'know, just because he's a star, doesn't mean to say he doesn't have time to chat, which is groovy. He kept the audience gasping in surprise, even the sceptics amongst us. We also had a more politically-focused poet, who, despite rhyming, made some good points, and made them in interesting ways. His name escapes me, as he replaced someone else on the roster, but, well, just be on the lookout for any poetry in your area, and maybe he’ll be there? Who knows…

I've talked before about the privilege it is to be able to go to poetry readings - and this festival is very similar. It’s not just being in an environment where works are more ‘in progress’ than you might see in, say, a big arena, but also to get to talk to the artists afterwards is great. I had a good few words with Richard after his show about the process of him putting his presentation together, and he was very generous in chatting to me - especially as I’m just this randomer with a can of lager and healthy disrespect for personal boundaries.

To have time with them away from the stage (i.e. in the pub) is always fascinating, too. I often consider it my duty to buy these heroes of the stage a drink (a personal thank you for their efforts), and often we have a chat about their act. In Dan's case, we spoke comedic aesthetics, and the possibilities of punnery, as well as how lucky we felt to have him, and how lucky he felt to have such a space (outside his usual London) to take his work. In Kev's case, we spoke a bit about his career (punctuated by more 'tricks' of his).

I've also been lucky to spend quite a bit of time with Walter DeForest, creator and embodier of the fantastic and internationally-renowned 'Van Gogh Find Yourself'. Whereas last time I spoke to him more about his act, this time it was thrilling to just ramble about any old anecdotes, share in cheeky puerile humour, and some of the Sportz Banter (TM). Other members of our fair Morecumbrian society were talking about CBD-soaked (literally) times, and, although the oils weren't flowing in reality, the intoxication was caused by these crazy, switched-on, rule-makers and -breakers, the inspirers and questioners of our time and place. It's a massive boon that there are suddenly places now in my home town that cater for us misfits, thanks to Matt Panesh and his team. It's just wonderful to be mixed with all these idea-mongers and talent-spinners, talking across genres and experience levels.

And this festival's only just beginning, y'know. My good friend Jim will be performing later today, and there’s more through the week. I could do with knocking [some... most...] of the drinking I previously alluded to on the head, but, I must admit, alcohol is an easy lubricant that gets some of the big-energy ideas dripping out the holes in our brainsponge. It is through this haze that I've largely been looking lately - and the things I have seen, my friend... Oh, the things I have seen...
Side two, detailing the acts.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Pages: Robert Sheppard reading with Rachael Allen and For...

Pages: Robert Sheppard reading with Rachael Allen and For...: I shall be reading at The Arts Centre, Edge Hill University, in Ormskirk, with Forrest Gander and Rachael Allen on Friday 15 th Februar...

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema

from :)
I've always been a big film fan. I think as a kid, I found comfort in the rise and fall of a classic fairytale-esque storyline and, of course, good triumphing over evil (such good preparation for later life...). Later I enjoyed watching writers and directors push the boundaries of all the action you could fit on a screen, my teenage years filled with films that were about exploring coolness via largely large males wreaking havoc on various villains, seemingly invincible, yet just human enough. Since then I have, as with all medias, tried to expand what I watch, learn about what effects are used (and how), become critical of the mainstream and generally seek to find things that offer fresh perspectives on art and life.

Mark Kermode is a bit of a hero of mine. For a long time I wanted to be a film critic, and he is just one of those people that I'd like to be like: knowledgeable, erudite and cool to boot. Now I (we, us!) can watch five hours of him on our screens, doing what he does best: entertaining and educating us, in his groovy way.

I've watched three episodes so far, the Heist one (probably the genre I'm most familiar with on the list), the RomCom one (I'd never been a big fan of the idea of RomComs, especially as the ones I've seen (Along Came Polly, or Hitch type saccharine shtick) have done nothing to inspire me, but Kermode explains examples I'd never thought or heard of in a way that changes my conception of what they are and what they can do, which makes me want to watch more) and, just now, the Coming of Age one (which is quite moving, actually. It explored the idea of the filmmakers' personality and experience coming out in the finished product and, indeed, explained the gravity of the task of trying to capture a universal human moment, such as when adulthood invades and subsumes child-like innocence for good). The reason why I didn't want to comment after watching every episode was because I'd end up with five separate rambles (I struggled to write as little as I did in this paragraph, and it's hardly 'streamlined'), and writing this half-way through at least helps me comment on why I think you should watch the series.

It's such a joy to learn from experts. What you get per episode is someone who looks at archetypes and exceptions to give you a picture of the overall genre - structured with a few sub-sections, such as character, location, music etc. What is so amazing to me is the period of time that an episode spans. Because Kermode's knowledge base is so broad, we are taken on a trip potentially from the first movie of its kind (so potentially even pre-1920, before the first 'talkie'), to this year's releases. We are shown instances of homage in the intersticial period (and you may be surprised how many homages there are in a single genre, the Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers/Mission Impossible one being salient), but also points to where writers and filmmakers grow tired of the self-referentiality, the cliché, and break out to do something unexpected.

Another part of why the series as a whole is worth a look, is that it examines (if only in passing) outside the films, the current Hollywood (and beyond) 'scene', addressing sexism and inequalities etc, hoping for things to be addressed further and bettered. I suppose it's this - looking at what's being done wrong and right in the industry, to how exactly humanity and other existential dilemmas are configured through filmic arts directly - that makes me feel privileged to watch it. I'm learning about life and philosophy, about the possibilities of our mind. It really feels that deep to me, while not coming across as heavy or lecturey at all. Even though I consider myself (at least temporarily) 'offline' as a writer now, I find this series inspiring, and I hope you do too.

Enjoy! It's available for another nine months from the time of publishing this - and the horror episode might well be good for the upcoming Halloween celebrations :)