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Monday, February 24, 2020

Just Been To See...Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears!

This evening I went to see Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears at the Classic, my local cinema. I get their newsletter and simply couldn’t resist buying a ticket. It was not that much more than a regular ticket and you got a glass of bubbly with it. People were encouraged to turn up in costume, but I don’t have anything remotely like 1920s clothing any more. If it was a con, I might stitch some sequins on to a black t shirt, and I do have a hat that might do for a cloche, but there was no time, so I admired other people in costume. 

Samples from the costume exhibition 

I have been reading Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels from the start, after I read a newspaper article about a number of crime fiction heroines; the one who lives in 1928 Melbourne and zooms around in a flashy red Hispano Suiza car appealed the most to me and before I knew it I was reading the lot, buying them as they came out and attending the launches at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville. There are twenty of them. I doubt there will be any more, as they had gone over into 1929, and the author really, really didn’t want to go as far as the Depression. 

People in hall costume! 
But the TV series was visually stunning, the costumes carefully crafted and the scenery gorgeous. The creators have done their research on the 1920s, even if the first season episodes, which were based on the novels, were not as good as the books on which they were based.  The second and third seasons were original stories(the one about Jock McHale’s hat was only very loosely inspired by the short story, and they added a murder, so it doesn’t count). They were able to play with it as they couldn’t with the novels, so those episodes were better. Mind you, that romance between Phryne and Jack Robinson was not in the novels, where he was happily married with children. But audiences want some URST, and they got it; Jack was divorced with no children, so free to give his heart. 

The third season, cut short because the star, Essie Davis, was off overseas to be in Game Of Thrones, ended with Phryne flying off to London to help her obnoxious father, with the implication that Jack will follow her. 

At the start of this movie, which could happen because it was crowdfunded, he hasn’t actually followed her, for reasons you find out later, but he does go to England for other reasons I can’t tell you because spoilers. 

It was great fun, and so was the actual experience of being there. It was a bit like being at a con, with people in hall costumes and there because they were fans. I arrived early to make sure I got a decent seat, and asked a lady at one of the cinema foyer tables if she minded sharing. The lady, whose name was Robyn, was also there for Crypt Of Tears, and afternoon a couple of minutes I discovered she was a fan, as in fannish, though I don’t know if she goes to conventions. But we were yakking away about fannish stuff and favourite films and shows and books, and she, like me, enjoyed both crime fiction - British - and SF/F, including Doctor Who(her first Doctor, like mine, was William Hartnell, and she collects the DVDs). Her daughter arrived and she couldn’t even wait for the complimentary glass of bubbly; she bought them a glass at the counter! I picked up my free glass and found that I was able to drink it without getting fuzzy, as I usually do, after filling my stomach with food. However, I only drank a half before we proceeded into the cinema. I didn’t want to fall asleep.

The film had a couple of murders and a lot of riding around on camels and zooming on motorbikes. Despite the London setting of some of it, the London scenes were filmed right here in Melbourne. I recognised the English mansion as Werribee Park, and some of the internals were filmed at Ripponlea, a stately home not far from where I live. They have used Ripponlea before, but I didn’t recognise all of it; a lady I met afterwards at the tram stop said that she works there and the ballroom was the Ripponlea ballroom. I may even have been there once, for a reception, but it has been a very long time! 

“Jerusalem” and the “Negev Desert” were filmed in Morocco. I’ve been to both places and realised early on that they were not what they were supposed to be. I do remember a sandstorm - there were two in this film and, yes, they can whip up very quickly. And I remember one night in a bus between the Negev cities of Beersheva and Arad seeing a man step off in the dark and walk confidently into the desert. 

I did wonder if there could possibly be an emerald as huge as the one shown in the film. I’m talking a polished gem around 30-35 centimetres long. Maybe an emerald expert reading this can tell me? Also, a dead body over 2000 years old who looked merely asleep. Apparently she was preserved in honey? I’ve never seen a mummy that good, even preserved in a desert climate. 

No matter - it was fun, and afterwards, it was raining, but I caught the tram soon. 

An enjoyable evening - and tomorrow I get to hear Neil Gaiman! 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Just Been To See... Emma!

This week I went to see the newest film version of Emma. It has been filmed several times, for the big screen and the small, including a modern version set in a Hollywood high school, Clueless.  

I read the novel years ago, so have forgotten many of the details, but who can forget the storyline? In case you haven’t read or seen it, it’s Jane Austen’s tale of Emma Woodhouse, a rich young woman who had a single success in matchmaking, of her governess, and now thinks she can do it for others. Unfortunately, she merely interferes in other people’s lives, including a naive young girl, Harriet Smith, whom she persuades to reject the young farmer who loves her, and whom she loves, in favour of someone of a higher class. Also, she is so busy trying to matchmake others that she nearly misses her own chance at happiness. This being Jane Austen, everything is sorted out, on time for a happy ending for all. 

So, how did this film work out? Very well! It was beautifully presented, gorgeous period costume and scenery, and though I only recognised two of the cast, the others did fine. I think Toni Collette, who played Harriet last time, was a bit old for the part. This one really looked like someone hanging around with schoolgirls, though she is in her twenties. The music, by Isobel Waller-Bridge, was charming, but there was also traditional music, including folk songs sung by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. 

I’m a huge fan of Maddy Prior, whom I first heard singing with the delectable folk-rock band Steeleye Span, and I have some of her Carnival Band albums, recorded after Steeleye Span went their separate ways, so it was delightful to hear her singing traditional English folk tunes. 

The two cast members I recognised were Bill Nighy, who was a delight as Emma’s father, and Gemma Whelan as Mrs Weston, Emma’s former governess and her one successful bit of matchmaking. 

You probably know Bill Nighy from all those big name films he has done over the years, eg Love, Actually, which I confess I have mostly missed, plus, of course, he was the Van Gogh exhibition curator in that Matt Smith episode of Doctor Who, in which he got to tell Vincent how wonderful he was, when the Doctor took him briefly to the future to cheer him up. But the first time I heard - not saw - him was as Sam Gamgee in the radio play of Lord Of The Rings, playing as the faithful companion of Frodo, Ian Holm, who went on to play Bilbo in the film. And I rather suspect that Sean Astin used that voice and accent as the basis for his own(He hadn’t read the book, so listened to the radio play). He was William Nighy in that. 

Gemma Whelan was in the Shakespeare sitcom Upstart Crow as Kate, the daughter of Shakespeare’s landlord, who wants desperately to act in his plays, though he keeps telling her that women are not allowed on stage. Kate is not dumb, either; she makes some good points about the absurdity of some of his work, and is never conned for long by the various con artists who appear in the series. She usually figures it out well before Shakespeare does. 

As Mrs Weston, a woman Emma admires and feels a lot of affection for, Gemma Whelan has just the right feel of kindliness, and the right sweet face. 

The film is true to the spirit of the novel, and I did recognise many of the lines from the book. 

Do you have a book-based film that you love because it’s true to at least the spirit of the original?  

Friday, February 14, 2020

Compulsory Valentine’s Day Post 2020

Public domain

Time for my annual compulsory Valentine’s Day post. Whether or not you have a thing going that involves giving or receiving flowers and chocolates, who doesn’t like a bit of romance? I don’t read Mills and Boon, myself, but I do admire the skills of those who can write it. 

So I will just waffle on for a while about some romances I have read.

Did you know that all those YA vampire romances started with a minor variety of standard romance? Mills and Boon, Harlequin, etc., have types of romances varying from “they share a chaste kiss on the last page” to hot and heavy. At some stage, there was the paranormal romance variety, which became big, especially among teenage girls, who adore their demon lovers. 

My personal preference is for rom com. I like the charm of it, and knowing that all will end well. When I was the teacher librarian at a school in Melbourne’s disadvantaged western suburbs, rom com was the top preference of our girls. The rom com books of Lili Wilkinson were always out. (Lili’s fiction has gone all serious lately, so her very sweet and funny Green Valentine is likely to be her last rom com. Pity about that)

YA romance is big, and always has been. The US has had several series, such as the 1980s Sweet Dreams series. Sweet Dreams did have some sub genres, but basically what the stories boiled down to was, a sweet young thing is in love with the captain of the football team, or some other school leader, who couldn’t possibly be interested in her, and has to compete for his love with the popular but mean girl. We all know who ended up with him, unless he turned out to be awful and she decided to go for the best friend who had been kind to her all along. Basically Cinderella, right? There was one I read which was seen from the viewpoint of the “mean girl”, who got sent away for her meanness and had an adventure of her own. But that was in one of the sub genre books.  They were all enjoyed by the girls at my school.

Australia had, first Dolly Fiction, then Girlfriend Fiction, the latter published by Allen and Unwin. Personally, I prefer these to the American stories. There was more variety - and the authors of the Dolly books were mostly writers who either were well known or who went on to do very well as children’s or speculative fiction writers. The Girlfriend authors were all well known, some of the top YA or children’s writers in Australia. Not all of them were even women. Award winning author Barry Jonsberg, for example, wrote a Girlfriend novel, using his skills as a secondary teacher to take us inside the head of a teenage girl. 

And none of those I read featured a Cinderella girl in love with the captain of the football team, and I read quite a few, as I got them for reviewing. They tended to be quirky romantic comedies. The kids loved them just as much as earlier girls had loved the American books. 

The thing is, there are plenty of classics that fall into this category, so no need to sneer at them. Shakespeare wrote rom com. Think about it. He did. Much Ado About Nothing? Taming of The Shrew, whatever we may think of that one in this era.  The Comedy Of Errors? Twelfth Night? And more. Jane Austen, anyone? We all know Pride And Prejudice, but there are others. I believe the latest version of  Emma is out in the cinemas - Emma, the girl who matchmakes for everyone else, stuffs it up and nearly loses her own chance at love.

There are, of course, genre books which have a romance on the side. Cosy whodunnits usually have a heroine who runs a tea shop, a catering service, a cleaning business, whatever, who has a gorgeous boyfriend who works with her to solve crimes. Corinna Chapman, Kerry Greenwood’s baker heroine, has a boyfriend who is a private investigator, so she is the one who helps him. In between investigations, they go out to dinner and home to bed, or they make dinner at home, watch Buffy or Babylon 5, and go to bed. 
Without Daniel, of course, she would just be running her bakery. Some other cosy heroines have a boyfriend who is a police officer. Thing is, you wouldn’t enjoy them so much without the romance on the side.

I’ve recently read a couple of Agatha Raisin novels, by M.C Beaton. Those are pretty much cosies, though the heroine eventually sets up a detective agency. Agatha Raisin is unusual in being middle aged. She left her drunken, good-for-nothing husband and assumed he was dead, till he turned up at her wedding to someone else(and soon became that novel’s murder victim). She has retired early from her successful P.R career and gone to live in the picturesque Costwolds village Carsely. There, she solves a murder in each novel - in one book, she returns from a London to be told that nobody was murdered while she was away. 

She is also in love with love. Her main lover is her next door neighbour James Lacey, a military historian who eventually turns to travel writing. However, she also finds herself attracted to men who turn up for a single novel. They usually end up being the murder victims, or, in one case, the murderer. The murder victims invariably turn out to have been thoroughly nasty. Which doesn’t discourage Agatha, who keeps hoping that the next romance will end in a happy marriage.  

So, readers, what is your favourite type of romance? 

Friday, February 07, 2020

On Reading A Book About Writing Horses!

I think this book is going to be very useful to me in future writing. Judith Tarr is a fantasy writer who focuses on horses in her fiction. My favourite of her novels is A Wind In Cairo, set in mediaeval Egypt, in which a spoiled young man is turned into a stallion as a punishment after committing rape. His rider is a thirteen year old girl. He does learn his lesson. 

She keeps horses herself - Lippizans, no less - so knows all about them. I follow her on Twitter, on which she talks a lot about her beloved animals. These days she is publishing on the ebook writers co-op Bookview Cafe, which was run by Vonda MacIntyre till she passed away recently. I found this particular one when she mentioned on Twitter that her bills desperately needed paying and asked if we would buy some of her books. Quite a few people did, I gather. 

I wandered over to the Bookview Cafe website and browsed among her books. I’d read most of the fiction on offer, so when I found this one I knew immediately which I wanted. I do my research before writing, or at least make sure before submitting that I have it right. I guess it comes of writing so much non fiction myself. So, this has been added to my reference library. 

Not everyone writes about horses, but if you are sending your heroes on a quest in an era when cars are not a thing, you really need to get your horses right. From the way this book is written, beginning with reminding you that horses aren’t dogs and you can’t use your knowledge of dogs to write about horses, the author  must have read quite a bit of horse-inclusive fiction that made her roll her eyes. 

I am fully aware that horses are not furry machines that can’t run non-stop, and probably that you can’t just feed them oats, but I was amazed at how much water a day horses need, and how much grain you need to carry with you on those quests. 
I’m sure I have written something cringe-worthy about horses over the years, and, after reading this, I have decided to be vague about horses from now on. It’s embarrassing to make horse experts laugh. 

The chapter simply describing parts of the horse definitely looks like it’s based on all those novels that got it wrong. No, you can’t kick a horse in the flanks, which are at the end of the ribs, and are sensitive. You move them with a nudge on the barrel.

The book tells you about care of the horse, even naming conventions of various breeds and their problems. Even if you don’t need to worry about that because your story is set in a fantasy universe, as the author says, “On, Bill!” just doesn’t have the same ring as “On, Shadowfax!” 

At the same time, you are probably never going to call your Shetland pony Shadowfax anyway. (I once read a novel in which a girl wants to give her ugly horse a beautiful name and calls him Rosinante, not knowing where the name came from, and has to put up with people laughing)

Even if you don’t write horsey fiction, this book is fun to read, and you may never feel the same about heroic fantasy quest novels again. 

The book is written entertainingly, in a chatty style, warning you of what will happen if you do things like give a horse a lot of oats and walk away(it would die), or what would happen if you ever succeeded in kicking a horse in the flanks instead of the barrel (it would be painful indeed!)

Well worth a read, even if you don’t write.

You can buy it from the Bookview Cafe website, here, along with her other books. , or on Kindle.

Just Finished Re-Reading...Hail! Hail! by Harry Turtledove

The year is 1934 and the four Marx Brothers(including Zeppo)whose film Duck Soup has recently come out, are on a train through Texas. They arrive in the small town of Nacogdoches, where they had once performed while in vaudeville. When the train is temporarily held up in a storm, they leave it to have a look around at their old stomping ground. Lightning hits, zapping them all back to the year 1826, when there was an attempt in that town to get independence from Mexico for Texas, under the name Republic of Fredonia, which sounds like “Freedonia”, the fictional country of Duck Soup. No Margaret Dumont, of course, but they encounter the Yiddish-speaking (historical) Adolphus Sterne and his Yiddish-speaking slave, and find themselves caught up in the rebellion. As they know a lot about what is going to happen, they are in a position to change history, though not willingly... 

The story is seen from the viewpoint of the eldest Marx Brother, Julius, better known to his fans as as Groucho. The brothers are called by their real names, Julius, Leonard, Arthur and Herbert. Each of them has a personality unlike the character he plays in their films. Leonard aka Chico is a keen gambler. Arthur is definitely not Harpo. He became the one who doesn’t talk because he was hopeless at memorising dialogue. Herbert/ Zeppo is the youngest and best looking, but not much of an actor; Duck Soup was his last film. 

If you’re expecting a Marx Brothers film in written form, you will be disappointed. These are the real brothers, not their movie characters. But they are still sharp and witty, especially Julius, and the historical figures they encounter are almost as absurd as the fictional characters in their films. The story is still fun and it should tell you something that I’ve been happy to reread it a number of times.

As far as I know it’s only available on Amazon, as a Kindle book, but it’s easy enough to get a Kindle app on your iPad. I’m glad of mine, as it has some books I can’t get on Apple Books. 

Well worth a read! 

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Vale Kirk Douglas!

Kirk Douglas 1955. Public Domain.

Vale, Kirk Douglas, who has just passed away. 

He did live to the grand old age of 103, but it’s always sad when an admired person passes away. 

So, why talk about an actor on a book blog? Why not?

He had an amazing career, ninety movies. And there were several based on novels. Let’s look at a few. 

The film Lust For Life was based on Irving Stone’s novel about Vincent Van Gogh. 

In The Devil’s Disciple, based on Bernard Shaw’s play, he played the title role. The character, Richard Dudgeon, is the black sheep of his family during the American Revolution. However, he allows the British to take him away in mistake for minister Rev.Anthony Anderson, played by Burt Lancaster, who is out of the house at the time. Basically, the “Devil’s Disciple” behaves bravely, with honour, while the Reverend discovers that he himself is better as a warrior than a minister and joins the rebels.

Gunfight At The OK Corral(also with Burt Lancaster) was not based on a novel, but featured a screenplay by  Leon Uris, author of Exodus and Mila 18. Kirk Douglas played Doc Holliday. 

The Vikings, in which he played the nasty Viking Einar, with Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh, was based on a novel by Edison Marshall. I have a feeling I have a copy somewhere... 

In the Disney film of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, he played the role of Ned Land, a Canadian seaman who travelled under the sea, with Professor Arronax and his servant Conseil, in Captain Nemo’s submarine. He was even given a cheeky little song in an early scene of the movie. 

There are quite a few novel-based films in which he appeared, but the most famous was Spartacus, based on the wonderful novel by Howard Fast. He was the producer of this one(director was Stanley Kubrick) so got to make the decisions. When he decided that Howard Fast really couldn’t do the screenplay, that it wasn’t working, he changed Hollywood history and almost single-handedly began the ending of the McCarthy witch-hunts by hiring blacklisted screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo and insisting that his name be on the film credits. Not that Howard Fast hadn’t been blacklisted, by the way - in fact, he began writing the novel in prison - but as Douglas said in his autobiography, sometimes the author isn’t the right person to do the script. Dalton Trumbo, about whom a film was made a few years ago, was writing under pen names with others as his “fronts”. He won an Oscar for a low budget movie(his front collected it for him) and also wrote Roman Holiday under his pen name. He wrote the script for Spartacus under his own name. The blacklist began to crumble. 

All because of the amazing Kirk Douglas, Issur Danielovitch, born so poor he didn’t get around to having his bar mitzvah ceremony till he was in his 80s, so proud of his actor son that he bragged that he was now known as Michael Douglas’s father rather than the other way around. 

I have only just discovered he wrote a couple of children’s books, among the many things he did in his old age. I must look them up! 

RIP, Kirk!