After the Novel

Fun activities BEFORE THE NOVEL is published

Trance – to meditate or dance?

What we now call classical music was, in its time of composition, also popular music. The primary decisions may have been by a benefactor and the immediate entourage, but certain pieces of music, and certain composers and musicians, were the beneficiaries of being popular.

So, whether chamber music or opera, solo instrument or choir, different styles appealed to different times and different countries.

And much the same is true of what we call folk music, whether that’s bagpipes, blues, country & western or Irish lullabies.

Within all styles of music, there are always extensive repetitions and refinements. No matter whether long pieces like Concierto de Aranjuez or Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, or Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley jamming for 20 minutes, or a whole album by Bob Dylan or Ed Sheehan, the key to popularity is often a large element of repetition.

frankie-remixes-500pxAnd so disco rhythms and Bee Gees harmonies and progressive rock’s whole side of an album would revolve around emphasising a style with, at times, incidental creative embellishments. And some of those would become exemplars of the style/genre. Nile Rodgers, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Prince – and many others anyone could name – would be instantly recognisable. Just as Chopin may sound instantly distinct from Beethoven, so Frankie Goes to Hollywood sounded unique, even in the 3 or 6 or 9 remixes of their songs.

In simplistic terms, trance evolved out of the dance genre, especially the Ibiza ‘sound’ that filled huge clubs with thousands of fans eager to experience the highly curated sets from the dj/producer/ensemble.

More technically, trance is characterized by a tempo lying between 125 and 150 beats per minute with repeating melodic phrases, but with a musical form that distinctly builds tension and elements throughout a track. There are usually one or two peaks (also known as drops) where instruments or melody will fade out, only to return stronger after the drop. Although trance is a genre of its own, it liberally incorporates influences from other musical styles such as techno, house, pop, chill-out, classical, tech house, ambient, and film scores.

above-and-beyong-podcast-600pxPodcasts proved to be perfect vehicles for trance djs and producers, enabling worldwide distribution of 30-minute and 60-minute and 2-hour episodes – and on a regular basis. Each week, fortnight or month, fans of a trance podcast would be delivered the new episode, capturing and refining a style that includes fresh tunes built on a melodic and repetitive approach. And no matter whether via the podcast, or at a live show, the music is at times like a mantra or meditation, yet experienced and enjoyed, simultaneously, by thousands.

Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy and Shane 54’s International Departures are two highly recommended examples of excellent trance podcasts.

And let us know your favourites.


Altered Carbon is a rip-off!

We have nine episodes in Altered Carbon that, at times, really feel like an honest attempt to inject pace and well-thought futurism into a cops-n-robbers-in-space thriller.

You’ll see lots of references to Blade Runner style and Matrix cyberpunk and the like. All of which is sort of true. And there’s plenty of cruelty, especially against women, that is the stock-in-trade of most crime thrillers, no matter whether set in the past, present or future.

To offset that misogyny, there are four strong female characters, played by Dichen Lachman, Martha Higareda, Kristin Lehman and Renée Elise Goldsberry (pictured with showrunner Laeta Kalogridis). And the lead man is played with a great deal of gritty realism by Joel Kinnaman (he was also impressively taciturn in The Killing series from 2014).

Like many Netflix series, there’s a cookie-cutter approach to the plot and sub-plots. Hero(es) just about get a win but then the carpet is pulled out from under them. All very Hero’s Journey but rather too formulaic now that we’ve seen it in, oh, about 14 Netflix series so far!

In keeping with ‘the future’ there’s plenty of bleak darkness – the dark, rainy streets, the glaring neon, the dark alleys, the stark white labs and the dark settings when hero(es) are in a bind and trapped.

The story? Well, we’ve got galaxy-spanning capabilities and intergalactic stormtroopers and rich people who can live forever (more or less – give or take the odd ‘refresh’). And lots of cops-n-robbers street-level stuff, which is a long way below the super-rich living in their spacescrapers.

And, of course, there’s a sort of fate-of-personkind thing and the revolutionaries (good guys?) versus the establishment (bad guys?).

But, and it’s a big BUT, the whole fin de siècle turns out to be completely prosaic when we reach the finale and the underlying reason for a huge percentage of the story.

Spoiler alert: I’m sorry, but the people who are supposed to have lived for a few hundred years would have sorted out the petty insecurities that supposedly set off the main ‘bad deed’.

It’s like we’ve just watched nine episodes of Twin Peaks and the tenth episode (and ‘resolution’) is a weak sub-plot from Dallas.

The Frozen Dead outwit the living dead

If ever there was a gong for a TV series with pointless sub-plots, this would get the award. The Frozen Dead, from Gaumont and Metropole, is supposed to be a psychological thriller. Fortunately, it’s only six episodes long (currently screening on Netflix).

There’s the boss detective repeatedly running over beautiful clean, white snow – in a bright red jacket! With his gun out and chasing “baddies” who also have guns. So he should have been dead by episode two.

And he would certainly be the dead dummy cop in any American or UK thriller, as he also goes running alone into warehouses and hydro stations – dark, echoing chambers so every footstep can be heard – without calling for backup. That is, without calling for backup before or during his John Wayne lone-sheriff dumbness.

And he’s got a drinking problem – of course – and smokes too much – of course – and frequently suffers nosebleeds. And he has “issues” from the past. And may or may not know what the hell he’s doing most of the time.

So there’s four paragraphs telling you about the series and none of that is spoiler, because none of it relates to the main story. Nor, by the way, do most of the secondary characters know what they’re doing or why.

The real story is that incompetence and corruption existed in the police force years ago, and still does. Ho hum. And the tedious drawing out of that corruption and incompetence spans six very long episodes that could have been soooo much better if they’d had left the tropes behind and concentrated on making interesting new character types over the top of a real psychological thriller story arc. 1 star for scenery!

Writing Retreat begins

A two-week writing retreat has great appeal. And that’s just what I’m doing for the next fortnight!

But more, I’m at a beautiful lakeside location in New Zealand, and have a stunning view to assist with inspiration.

What’s that? What am I writing?
That’s simple. I’m ‘polishing’ the first book in a planned trilogy. I’ve written most of book one and half of book two and one-quarter of book three.
But, of course, all three books are meticulously planned and researched, so it will be a simple job to finish them.
*Hysterical laughs interrupt …. *

Charlotte Gainsbourg explores the sharp edges of grief

Known for her famous family and collaborations with other artists, the singer is finally speaking for herself

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG is full of nervous energy, switching from sitting on the sofa to the floor, pouring streams of green tea. It has been nearly eight years since the release of her last studio album, the critically acclaimed “IRM”, and her long hair has since been lopped off into a bob. She will release “Rest”, her new album, on November 17th, and is starring in two upcoming films—“The Snowman”, an English-language crime drama, and “Promise at Dawn”, a French adaptation of a novel by Romain Gary.

Notoriously shy, she is still no stranger to exposure. Her parents—Serge Gainsbourg, France’s most revered musician, and Jane Birkin, an English actress and singer—courted the tabloid obsession with their scandalously chic family. Ms Gainsbourg began her music career aged 12 with “Lemon Incest”, a duet with her father (the sort of thing which would make less avant-garde tweenagers combust with embarrassment). Even now, at 46, she appreciates her father’s attentions as an artistic collaborator. “I like touchy subjects and things that make you uncomfortable,” she says. She remembers being in the spotlight with him fondly. “The way for my father to tell me that he loved me was through the media. He wasn’t very outgoing in private; he disguised his feelings much more.”

Continue reading “Charlotte Gainsbourg explores the sharp edges of grief”

Netflix Discovery Portal

Just when you thought it was safe to retire from binge-viewing on Netflix, up they come with another raft of interesting, intriguing and often excellent series.

Of course, Netflix is also essential for major historical catch-ups. Those episodes you missed when you were travelling, or even whole series that didn’t work when they were broadcast on networks at weird times, or even networks you didn’t like.

Or you were in a country that didn’t have the series playing while you were there. But now, often, Netflix fills in the gaps. Plus introduces a lot of opportunities to discover new actors, actresses, directors, producers, etc.

For example, Hotel Beau Sejour and its quirky, supernatural theme. And its peculiar combination of ordinary soap tropes (pregnant teenager, reconstituted families, step-sibling rivalry, etc) and the occasional hammy acting.

But then one story arc or one character stands out. And, in this case, it’s not the main actors/actresses – who in many cases are purely playing ciphers. Thankfully, though, Charlotte Timmers brought every scene alive with her convincing and expressive portrayal, from the slightest twitch of a muscle to the full beam of her smile.

Charlotte Timmers

Two-thirds of the way through the series the story arcs got bogged down – not unlike many novels – and then the final few episodes raced all over the place to tie up the threads. If they’d stayed more on track as a supernatural thriller, rather than trying to create an episodic soap, this could have been a stand-out series. 3/5

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc (Giramondo Publishing)

Selected comments by author Ali Alizadeh at a panel discussion at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2017

Iran and France were close and Napoleon used Iran as a pawn against the British. Jeanne’s role, gender and age surprised me at first. I later discovered that in late mediaeval France women were often in such positions of power.

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc by Ali Alizadeh

France needed a saviour at that time. There were prophesies that a young woman would come and save the country. There were other similar prophecies, especially re a virgin, and about a people’s heroine. The peasantry has been very important in many cultural revolutions, despite being downtrodden. Jeanne was initially dismissed by royalty and the powerful Flemish merchants of the time. And, as part of the misogyny the English, Jeanne was seen as a witch.

It’s worth noting that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, which began with a women’s day march. Revolutions are by definition for the whole nation. Jeanne united a very divided people. France’s population declined by about a third during the Hundred Years War. So Jeanne took it personally and understood the need for the ordinary people to bring about change. And only someone likeJeanne could rise within the context of that time.

Continue reading “The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc”

An Audience with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh was one of the special guests at Word Cafe Raglan 2017, a Writers & Readers Festival in New Zealand.

In a very full hour, Nalini discussed many issues facing authors today along with background on her own writing journey and the genesis of her series of novels.

“I wrote six books for Harlequin. At the time they were the only ones taking submissions from authors without an agent. But I had been through a number of changes of editors and didn’t get on with the new one. So I sat down and started writing the start of my whole Psy/Changeling series. I wrote the first draft of book one in three weeks, eating peanut butter toast for dinner each night.”

Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling series and Guild Hunter series

When asked about her Breakthrough point, Nalini explained how she became a full time writer. 

“I needed an agent so I went online and made a list of agencies who were working with the writers and publishers that I wanted to work with. I condensed my pitch down to three simple paragraphs:
Para 1 = about me
Para 2 = brief book synopsis
Para 3 – why I wanted work with that agency

Continue reading “An Audience with Nalini Singh”

The State of Music re Glastonbury 2017

Thoughts on the current state of the music industry, in part inspired by the standard of talent on display at Glastonbury 2017.
Chris Cornell 2017
Foo Fighters
The recent death of Chris Cornell brings much of what has been described as grunge into sharp focus. If Soundgarden were central and Audio Slave were heavy rock then Foo Fighters are often thrash. And their 2017 set proved to be a meandering, unfocussed thrash that continues my belief that Grohl lacks the musical creativity of most of the grunge leaders.
The Pretty Reckless 2017
The Pretty Reckless
In stark contrast is the power and authenticity of Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless, who provided one of the most heartfelt tributes to Cornell in their live performance of Like A Stone. It was interesting to note, however, the majority of lady-led bands at Glastonbury 2017 were way back down the road compared to the energy, variety and professionalism of Momsen & Co.

Continue reading “The State of Music re Glastonbury 2017”

The Sparkling Ghost in the Shell Extravaganza

I have no idea what all the complaints are about. Authors and Filmmakers appropriate storylines and characters from all of history and all countries. Charlton Heston shouldn’t be in a Roman epic? Mel Gibson shouldn’t be in a Western? And Scarlett Johansson shouldn’t be in Anime?

This is all political and/or cultural and/or censorship correctness gone mad.

Is Ghost in the Shell a great movie? Yes! Is Scarlett a great actress? Yes! Does she do a great job in Ghost? Yes!

Meanwhile, back at the purpose of the movie: entertainment. Ghost is a colourful, exciting and skillful rendition of anime into movie. In other words, job done.

I’d put it in the top 10 of Hollywood adaptations. 5 stars.

The Limp Iron Fist Catastrophe

Iron Fist Colleen WingI’m a comics fan. I’m a noir fan. And many Marvel comics achieve appropriate levels of darkness and noir to keep me engaged. But the Iron Fist tv series is hugely disappointing.

Colleen and Davos are the only ones who act as if their life depended on it.

Danny, Ward and Joy are limp. Danny’s fight scenes are limp. Danny’s dialogue delivery is limp. In fact, everything about Danny is so limp it’s beyond comprehension that Finn Jones got the part. Only Jessica Henrick and Sacha Dhawan convince.

Look, comics are not intended to be great literature – although I’d argue that many are. And comics are not necessarily the foundation of great cinema – and I’d argue that some are. But how Marvel approved the Netflix adaptation of Iron Fist is a great puzzle.

Just makes Iron Man seem even more brilliant! Although much of that is thanks to Robert Downey Jr.

Amazon’s Author and Publisher nightmare

Amazon and Kindle nightmareHow could this process be so difficult? One author plus two books. Easy! But not. Even though CreateSpace and Kindle are owned by Amazon, none of them speak to each other properly. CreateSpace blames Kindle and Kindle blames CreateSpace. That is, until CreateSpace also blames IngramSpark, while IngramSpark refuses to answer queries. Whew!

And CreateSpace is a customer of IngramSpark. Which appears to mean that CreateSpace doesn’t do much at all. They are just a front end – and a clumsy front end – for the real work which is carried out by IngramSpark (print-on-demand books and distribution). And carried out by Kindle Direct Publishing (eBooks). And carried out by Amazon (sales).

Books about Pacific Ocean sailing adventuresThree weeks to get one author and two books onto a platform that is supposed to make publishing easy is nonsense. The left hands and the right hands of the Amazon ecosystem need to speak to each other. And speak properly and efficiently. Otherwise Amazon will continue to have huge turnover and no profit!

The dozens of emails and web chats and web forms that have been necessary to achieve one author page will have cost Amazon et al at least the profits they imagine they make on 100 book/Kindle sales. Sounds like a wasteful way to do business!

The Hillary Clinton logo disaster

hillary-clinton-logo-2016Anyone who follows dystopian literature and comics and movies knows the signs. The logo is the message.

And the message from Hillary Clinton for her 2016 presidential campaign – or at least the message from her designers and marketers and advisers – is that you’ll get shafted.

The logo is brutal. It is ugly. It is authoritarian.

It says Democrats (red) will pierce Republicans (blue).

It says we’re moving way to the right. It says we’ll be so far to the right we’ll have gone beyond the Republicans.

It says “if you think the Republicans are right-wing, wait til you see us.”

Forget the economy and social issues and job security. This logo says “authority rules” and very strongly it adds, “don’t get in our way”.

Who you gonna trust? Upstanding, royal-blue Republicans, standing together? Or the red Democrats, shafting all under them?

Lost in Translation – All Tell and No Show

Book review: The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi

lost-girls-of-romeThere are three or four stories wrapped up in this book. I hesitate to call it a novel as it fails so many tests.

None of the protagonists do much. They are puppets in the travelogue around Rome and environs, and in all cases anything significant is explained, usually at least twice. Once with the dialogue, and then with the following text:

‘Help me, please,’ she said, weeping, without realising that he was already helping her.

And …

‘Yes,’ Costa said, struggling to restrain himself. He was clearly taken aback by the offensive way this man referred to his handicap.

And, of course, there’s the water. Well, that is, the repeated way water is used to ‘reveal’ a hidden door or trapdoor which we’d already guessed, even if the police forensic teams – and the main protagonists – had missed the obvious.

How this can be described as a “literary thriller phenomenon” is, truly, beyond me.

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