Category Archives: writing

My Little Pony Women

I must give dues to my brother for this title – which cries out to be a spoof.

For 20 years, I considered that Louisa May Alcott’s 1860s classic of a New England family was very worthy of one: saccharine self giving, bucolic innocuity, inoffensive innocence, all heading towards the only telos for these female penned classics: early marriage – or death.

Like so much of the repeatedly adapted literature – the latest screen offering is no 3 in 25 years, and the second in only 2 – the title of Little Women could so easily be confused: My Younger Sister, Wives and Daughters, and tellingly, the sequel of this saga – Good Wives. And yes, this sort of story appeals to the (my little) pony loving girl who wants to grow up to find a good loving neighbour to marry and to produce foals of her own.

Fed up of the pure-so-as-not-to-offend classics, I was perturbed when this turned up on a book group reading list 2 years ago. I cringed often. The opening dialogue is what modern writing schools deride as exposition – giving information via clunky dialogue. I fished out the 1994 film, which I mercifully found second hand for only 50p, and expected to return it after a single viewing.

But I discovered from that book group a different Little Women. Having just seen the new Greta Gerwig film, I have further sought out the alternative, if not real readings of LM Alcott.



When I first read the book, before seeing any adaptations, I saw much of Jo in myself and hoped for a Teddy. In realising that Jo was not destined for this lovely friend, but an older foreigner (I couldn’t imagine being or loving a 40 year old at half that age), I stormed across my university corridor to throw the book at my friend. Gabriel Byrne in the soon following film didn’t assuage that feeling. What was Louisa up to? She’d set up the romance we all wanted and then gave this man to the snub nosed vain younger sister. It was like comparable Anne of Green Gables not getting Gilbert. The Canadian TV with Megan Follows dangled an older man at her whilst away – who’s not in the novels – but she swiftly turns him down and back on course to her childhood friend. But not Jo.

There’s much in common in these east side of North America tales: female writers with the same initials living in a rural close community; semi autobiographical vignettes creating a long running series; an imaginative impassioned heroine striving to be good, and a childhood male friend who’s always loved her, but needs to move away and dabble in other romance to come back to marry her.

And – a scary dose of scarlet fever, replete with brow mopping, and a memorable tragic death.

For me, there really is one Little Woman – the other three sisters are backdrop to Jo, foils and catalysts to her character.

The writing advice both Anne and Jo are given by their male friends is to drop the fanciful racy stuff they’re churning out, and write what they know…local tales about and for local people. Something I took on board, but I see more kindred now in the pirate adventures of sinners who may or may not repent…

I discovered in 2017 that writing advice in Little Women is the opposite of what LM Alcott wanted to do. She preferred her pirate stories to the best known tales (there are many others) which she called ‘moral pap’ – exactly what I had come to see them as. Louisa (May we be on first name terms) grew up in a community which practised Transcendentalism, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Louisa’s father was visionary but poor. Amos Bronson Alcott persuaded his publisher to take his work if his daughter gave him the ‘moral pap’ for girls she had been persuaded to turn out (instead of her colourful preferred genre). So Little Women was born out of family loyalty and financial need. Louisa’s racier work was published under a pseudonym. (Amen sister!)

Louisa didn’t marry and didn’t want Jo to, but her publisher and her public demanded it for all of the girls – save Beth, who died too soon. On lesbian website After Ellen, a 2007 piece by Browne points out that a later character in the story, Nan, remains single to pursue a career. This same article states that Little Women took 43rd place in a LGBT book list, surprising the author, and me… but then, it made sense…

Jo March is boyish and does not behave with the decorum expected of a proper young woman – much to her older sister’s chagrin. Jo often says she’d like to be a boy, and dresses as one in the Pickwick Society meetings and charades. It might be that in her era, women had such little rein that she may have simply perceived that being male gave her more options. (Her neighbour shows us that rich men also had reins.) Jo is possessive over her sisters, but marriage can feel a kind of loss to a long running closeknit set up. But then there is the quote from Louisa about having loved many women and no men, and one wonders if this isn’t so much a modern queer eye but actually what was intended. I note that unlike Anne Shirley, Jo March is not allowed a female bosom pal. The companion Jo does have is a brotherly one. They play silly juvenile games – unfitting for these old before their time Little Women. Louisa didn’t want the relationship with Teddy to be a prelude to marriage and felt that Jo would turn Laurie down. It took me two decades to agree.

Greta Gerwig, who made Ladybird and is partner of Noah ‘Squid and the Whale‘ Baumbach, has brought the alternative reading to the fore. Laurie is played by an actor known for a same sex relationship role (Timothee Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name). Saoirse Ronan’s Jo seems distinctly tomboyish and her haircut, picked up in Timmy Timato’s parody, is a choppy ‘dykey’ style – cf the very different crop on Winona Ryder.

I’m uncomfortable with the implication that being non gender standard or like the opposite sex is synonymous with being gay or trans. That’s something I write against in my own novels. Neither Jo nor Laurie have same sex potential companions to demonstrate or deny this thesis.

This version also brings out the writing dilemma for Ms March, reflecting Ms Alcott’s. She’s made to give an unsatisfactory ending regarding the German professor, as well as standing up to publishers wanting to pay her pittance and take the copyright. This made me cheer in the cinema, although I also know that paid writing and acclaim come far too soon to writers in fiction.

It focusses less on the other aspects of March/Alcott life, which the Gillian Anderson film did pick up: Jo discusses Transcendentalism with Prof Bhaer, which he points out is an old German philosophy; Meg March is ribbed for not wearing silk because her family deride the child labour used to make it; and Susan Sarandon opines about women’s roles in hers as Marmee. I think there’s even a critique of the medical world: rich patriarch neighbour turns up announced with his personal physician for Beth, but the doctor can’t do anything both his methods put Beth more at risk.

Marmee March is sent for, and not only does her love aid Beth’s recovery the first time she’s ill, but she knows to draw the fever out by the feet with natural remedies.

Aunt March represents the world that is being critiqued and broken free from. Money, decorum, right by privilege… No wonder this aunt chooses vain, money loving Amy to be her globetrotting companion over Jo. Aunt’s death isn’t hugely mourned – she’s just got a house to make into a school to begin a new kind of education – like LM Alcott’s father did. No film really dramatised the real reason that Amy was punished and removed from the local school. The book says that the girls were governed by love alone, which is extraordinary for the day. Yet love can be a manipulative source – pleasing Marmee or Father to do good and strive towards perfection is as much a bit in the mouth as fear and punishment.

Note what little role Father plays… he’s absent even when he’s present again. This is a Women’s family, with a female head – who gets her slippers prewarmed – and a matriarch ruler Aunt, whereas next door, it’s the Laurences who are the male refraction of that: a repressive, rich household with a kind heart against a poorer, freer, less conventional clan.

Father is given a bigger role in the BBC/Masterpiece version of 2017/18 – he’s the writer working for 2 decades on his book, which I sympathise with, but his daughter gets her validation through quick publication even when it’s not her best work or what her heart’s in. Research has made me wonder if I don’t have more sympathy for Amos Bronson Alcott than his daughter. Even the author of the website about him criticises Amos, but these detractors are applying their own conventional materialistic standards to a man who flouted the glory and profit ridden institutions who line their pockets. I found him intriguing and extraordinary, and perhaps it is unfair that his daughter – who conformed by churning out the stories her public but not she wanted, putting earnings first – is better known than her trailblazing philosopher and pioneer father. Whatever Louisa felt about him – she satirised his Fruitlands farm experiment – or the likes of Harriet Reisin who made a book and film about the family, Abigail Alcott stood by her husband and the purity of his principles. And for that, I admire both parents.


I’ve written before of Kate Winslet’s roles being often about the corset coming off, or in the case of Marianne Dashwood, putting it on. I think that many stories, women’s period especially (yes I know what I’ve just written) are about that dichotomy. Which is Little Women?

Jo and Laurie are both beasts not living like Aunt March’s dog – good, squeaky, housetrained creatures all for show and taking orders. Marmee is the tamed Jo, in whom Jo’s spirit still resides.

Beth comes pre-tamed, and thus can leave the world early, having attained the goodness that her sisters need to continue to work on for some years yet. The ideal of Transcendentalism, selfless, ungrudging Beth accepts illness and death without fear or regret. Meg is proper, and quickly accepts the life that most women then – and til recently – wished for. Although not rich, she becomes wife and mother whilst young, leading the others towards what could feel like compromise. Meg is to Jo what Diana is to Anne Shirley – yoking herself to roly poly Fred Wright/John Brooke in dull domesticity, not a marriage we’re meant to get excited over. They both stay local whilst our real heroines start travelling.

I’m still struggling with these books, for its queer queer portrayal as much as its ideals, which includes that swift publication and earning are preferred over keeping to one’s principles; and I’m still perturbed that Little Women with its central thesis of abnegation remains so popular. Maybe I’ll be assembling some plastic ponies in front of a video camera after all.

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Other self published authors’ wisdom

“We read to know we’re not alone… We write to know it…”

Yes I am quoting yours truly – though the first bit was from screenwriter William Nicholson.

It’s good to find other writers and those who also chose to self publish and give advice and support on that.

Joanne Phillips is generous with her advice, which you can read here. I hope you’ll also discover her books too.

She posted of another writer, Jan Ruth, who wrote a brilliant piece subverting the negative self publishing attitudes.

I’ll be sharing more of my own thoughts on this and the rest of the world soon


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Why I chose to self publish

I feel a little defensive – or that I at least need to explain. And some of me is cross about that, and that I have spent longer in awards entry covering letters and in interviews on why I’m self published than what the story is about.

But I wanted to tell you all, because it’s not only a choice, it’s a statement, the nearest that a pacifist gets to a battle cry.

Because I want to change things.

I want to bring Fair Trade to the book industry and subvert the current model.

Firstly – I self published because


And secondly, to show


anymore than other businesses need permission to set up shop and start fulfilling their dreams.

Then there was those stats – two I put together:

8% of submissions to agents and publishers don’t get rejected and if you get through that tiny hole you keep 8% of the profits

So that means that not even JK Rowling is rolling in royalties as much as her gargantuan book success would suggest. (JK Rowling is someone I admire – for her journey and spirit as much as her writing).

And other famous names are needing other supporting work, or struggling.

And the less famous names aren’t doing so well at all. They probably have a day jobs or claim welfare.

And I felt: why is this accepted – that writers are poor?! And that someone else takes over 90% of the earnings for the work that they have by far put the most into?

I will write about shops in another post, but there are issues with the size of their slice – one that may mean I skip trying to sell that way.

But shops and libraries and wholesalers are stuffy about self pubbers.

We’re rejects. We’re not real, serious authors, they say. And even if you’re local, there’s no reason for us to take your book.

I heard an independent shop owner say that publically. Then he told his own story.

Analysis: he gave up on his own writing dream, and wants to squash other people’s.

He wants to pour out the tough love of failure and relinquishment that someone tipped over him. I really hope to see him in print one day. But I hope in the meantime, he stops crushing others who are already.

As I’ll share more later, sending away loyal customers who are also writers and small publishers is not how to continue their custom, and perhaps not their friends’ either. Most of us are in touch with others like us, and we share experiences.

So I’ve not yet allowed any shop or library the pleasure of turning me down. I am wondering if I shall. I’ll speak more about this and whether it’s worth getting an ISBN later.

So if you’re wondering – did I not get my fill of rejections when trying to get published?

Well, I got a few, but I never sent out my work that often. What I learned was that they can take ages, lose your work (Canongate – that was the first place I tried), and not feed back. So you don’t learn, and I also felt it was just a case of taste.

I’ve also had many affirming comments about my work, and I knew I could write, without exterior validation – that’s one of the themes and messages of the novel. So it’s often not a quality issue with agents and publishers, but a “dare I take a risk”. I’m learning that those risks are taken less, that feedback is minimal, and that agents and publishers no longer dig out diamonds. They want cut and sparking and ready to wear jewels – but you still have to fit their ring. After the honing and publishing I’d done, I didn’t want to do any more cutting for anyone’s else’s ring thank you.

Then there is the trust issue with agents and editors. I’d love to think that they all are sagacious and have my best interests at heart. But they don’t always know what’s best and they are often thinking of the market and what they can make money from.

So it means that the perceived market shapes what we can express and read.

And that is capitalism at its worst. And like much of capitalism, it’s based on fear, and conversely, seeing what caused the recessions – it’s risk adverse. It’s taking out all the adventure and putting money first.

It’s not just the publishers and agents – I think it’s ultimately the shops, who have shrunk their range with their bookseller’s duties and increasingly centralised.

So it isn’t just the self published who are having difficulty in being taken by shops (and libraries). It’s small and anything deemed specialist publishers, or even new titles from something established.

It’s also space based – shops and libraries don’t have infinite shelves, but the universe of virtual and home publishing does. Again, brings in capitalism’s old friend, competition, jostling for space and attention…something which self publishing can subvert into sharing space, not squeezing out those around you.

So might I, days on from my book becoming publically available, be enjoying greater sales and a sense of validity if I had found an agent?

For a dark moment, sitting in a conventional bookshop full of conventionally published titles, it was easy to feel “They’ve all got agents” – do I know that? And they’ve all got less than 10% of the cover price, and perhaps not a very big advance.

Perhaps they had to organise a launch themselves too. Marketing departments in publishing houses seem to be proportionally active to how well they predict you’ll do. When I learned that I as a new author was likely to get the marketing equivalent of the theatrical release of a foreign art house film, I felt all the more that I would stop sending out my work to agents. So it would be self fulfilling as to how well I did, and I’d be constricted by someone else’s judgment, and quickly given up on after a few tweets and half hearted leafleting shots at buyers, and then they’d move on.

If I was conventionally published, they’d have all the rights. They could decide when to take the book out of print and when to reduce to clear. They could decide the cover and put pressure on to change aspects which mattered to me, such as title, names, or cut important points. They could sell rights to a film company and I could easily lose my twin dream of writing the script – for my work was conceived for the screen, and is also adapted for the stage. And new authors are unlikely to stipulate that they must be involved in the lucrative movie. I’d be expected to sign away and stand back.

It may be like handing over your kids for someone else to bring up and then seeing them when they’d come of age, with hardly any visiting rights.

But as publisher, I can withhold rights and find someone that I want to work with, not for.

As it is, I feel I can say like a film director who also wrote, produced and perhaps starred:

A novel by Elspeth Rushbrook.

I designed the cover, using my own images. I typeset it all. I edited it. And it’s how I want it.

I find it liberating, not blamemaking that any faults are mine too, for I can change them; they are in my power, not someone else’s who imposed on me.

I don’t even know if I’d want an agent and publisher now. I enjoyed doing all this myself. I know I’ll want to do it for my other work.

It’s like being happy being single. If someone extra special appeared in your life, you may get married, but you’d have to be sure it was an enhancing partnership, and not a pairing for social expectation, or a dependency.

Really, I’m just moving with the wheel that’s already turning – the one that began with self publishing, then went to what we’d now call vanity – the author paid the publisher a fee – and now autonomous publishing is back. And I’m on top of the wheel, hoping that it is a revolution that works for all, wherever on the wheel you choose to ride.






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The day my life has been leading up to

Sorry, Middlemarch and Robin Hood, you’ve been queue jumped by the most significant day in my life.

Until now, I have hidden my surname from you, but because of what I am about to share with you, I realise I have to come out.

This day, I am a published author.

Last autumn, I asked people around the globe to help me get my wings.

I said it was time to fly.

Now I am flying.

It’s a day I’ve waited 25 years to see.

I feel that literally my life – which is somewhat longer than 25 years – has been leading towards this moment. The things I’ve done, people I’ve met; my journey of faith and personal development.

I’ve likened it to a birth – for it feels like a first born that I want to hold up like the cub in the Lion king, and also a marriage and a business launch all in one.

It is a day I want to bask in – and with the temperature – it’s hard to do little other than bask. So bask I shall.

Here is my book:

I shall have much more to say about writing – as well as the rest of the world, anon.




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A post for Kate Winslet’s 40th

Life begins at – and has already been significant for….

Within a week, two of my favourite actresses turn 40. I am choosing to write this on the birthday of the younger of the two, as that is the person I know best and have followed for the longest.

I think I’ve known Kate Winslet for her whole career, and she has been important to me for much of that time. Anyone who’s read this blog before, or even glanced at the tag cloud on the right, will see that Kate is someone who has taken up much screen time – on my computers, on my television sets, of my cinema going. I have seen all her films, often at the cinema and within days of its release; and I own and have rewatched many of them. Click on the cloud to see my analyses of these. It will keep growing.

Yet it is more than reviews and articles that she has inspired in me.

The power of those we don’t know, those that are public and we have an idea of and yet none at all of their real selves, is a theme that drives much of my work. It is true of queens who died centuries before I was born, princesses who died during my lifetime, and superhuman princesses that are invented, but yet feel like real people.

With an actor, there is who they are really, their persona, and the roles they play. There is what they say in the media, and what the media says of them. We glean ideas about them from those roles, those interviews, the analyses of the dresses they wear and the causes they choose. But perhaps like Sarah Douglas said of her role as the black shiny clad Ursa in Superman, the slits in the costume that seem to show the bare skin of the wearer are highly calculated false portals. “You think you see me in places you don’t.”

This theme of revelation of self and of celebrity is pertinent right now. I’ve already said so much about Kate on here, and will continue to view her films (two new ones coming out next month!), but I wanted to speak a little about what she means to me, or rather, what function she has served in my life. It is true of other actors, but her especially.

We don’t need to know our muse, or them to know who we are, and who we think they are doesn’t have to be true. That’s not to say I don’t want to meet Kate – she might be the living famous person I’d most like to – but that a sort of relationship can be created without an exchange, at least, on my side.

I’ve found Kate’s c2000 roles her most powerful and enduring. As a person that I’d like to be with, I’d choose Maddie from Quills, though I’d like to take her far from Charenton, and also Hester from Enigma. I also warmed to Sabine in A Little Chaos.

At this time, I am also doing a Sarah Douglas costume, starting to show some well planned slits as I make my writing known to the world, because I’m launching my book. Although my creation is separate from Kate Winslet, there is something of and someone like her in my novel (which I plan to also make into a film). It is a story about false bottoms of drawers, of consciousness of the layers of ourselves and what we show, and what we keep to ourselves – and how it is easier to explore and reveal ourselves through personas, even publically, than me as me, to those I know well.

It is about the power of an actor’s persona, one which (like Kate’s) often feels very real, very ordinary (and yet not at all ordinary), and a particular role – one that I invented – to be part of our lives; and for stories to have life changing power, not just a couple of hours of entertainment and escape, but to make you face what you couldn’t bear to see.

Thus today, which is not my birthday, is also for me a time of anniversary and celebration – not yet of a life, like Kate’s, which is full of public recognition; mine has thus far been of preparation.

I would like to thank Kate for the inspiration, joy and challenge she has brought to me and so many others who may not know you but whose lives you have certainly touched.

Marion Cotillard will get her own post when I have seen her latest film, Macbeth – hopefully, any day.

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Eternal Sunshine – going backwards and erasing too much

This is part two on this 10 year old cult indie movie, and part of a Kate Winslet season I’m having on here.

I’ve now watched the whole DVD commentary and the film backwards, and tried to read the shooting script backwards too.

I feel a little fading of my own, as I prewarned in my first post….

The three things going on in different orders make it hard to see, but I still believe that the story should work in chronological order. I’m focussing on Clem and Joel’s original, pre wipe relationship.

I think some significant things have gone to the eraser guys – which seem to be studio bosses. In the DVD commentary, Michel kept seeing, it had to go, it was too long. Says who?

We have this fetish that films – and now novels – have to be a certain length. I’m glad that there’s a trend (which I wanted to start) with two or three movies to adapt one book. I think you often need 4-6 hours of screentime to do a novel justice.

Even as a penned for the screen, non adapted story, Eternal… is too short because now I’ve analysed it and got used to it, there’s some important character/story arc missing. Sadly, much of it seems to be lost in the cutting room, for it was actually in the shooting script (ie the published version which they used to shoot the film, though this is often deviated from).

I definitely disagree with Jim Carrey that a Charlie Kaufman script is near perfect; I felt I could do lots of erasing and it would be nothing we’d miss; odd bits of dialogue, mini scenes that we could glean in 1 (eg 3 to show they’re at a beach party), but I don’t believe in cutting dialogue for its own sake, only when something’s said which isn’t needed or is not well written.

Here’s the arc as I see it and what’s missing:

So where do we start from? Joel’s in a nice, safe relationship, but he’s restless.

We have the central dichotomy: nice Naomi vs crazy Clementine

One of the bits of wisdom I love that I think is cut from the movie is where Clem says [in her first re-meeting with Joel] that truth changes; and to stay alive, you must be open to change. She disagrees that a sign of maturity is consistency; for that is how we die.

Feeling frustrated with ennui and unexpressed thoughts, Joel goes to a party without Naomi and meets Clem.

Missing important line: Clem’s opening gambit is, on seeing Joel also alone at the party: “Thank goodness for someone else normal who doesn’t know how to interact at these things”. And Joel is touched by her sensitivity, even though her confident introduction feels like a contradiction.

So I’m liking Clem, understanding why Joel does. Without that line, I don’t.

But what of the rest of that day, where their interaction is important enough for Joel to seek out Clem again after a bad ending and to throw off his live in girlfriend of 2 years?

The little dialogue they had on that first meeting – about shared pharmaceutical drug taking and poetry taste – is cut, and we’re left with maverick, criminal, pushy Clem who disdainfully tells Joel to go. It seems their attraction is mutual, but that they’ve not kissed or talked about it – Clem checks which sex Joel lives with “so [she] knows she’s not barking up the wrong tree” and Joel comments that Clem knew that once he was in the beach house, she had him… and then she goes upstairs to “change into something a little more Ruth” ie like the woman who owns the house, which sounds like seduction is to follow. But how did they get to that point?

The shooting script has Joel then deliberate over his life with Naomi, which he sees continuing forever as it is, and the regretful, hollow older man he’d become… and the aliveness that Clem sparks in him – except I’m struggling to see how a criminal interloper, smotherer, unprofessional employee, pissy, immature Clem represents ebullient life for Joel.

This part is also cut from the finished film.

When Joel seeks out Clem in the bookstore (which we don’t know he knows she works in at that point), another vital line is axed: that Clem represents something important to him. (I note that the script mentions both Barnes & Nobel and Borders – which is it that Clem works at?!)

In the released film, we don’t have Joel’s break up with Naomi, we don’t even fully understand it’s happened. The first date – ‘second acting’ (ie, the theatre without tickets) – is also cut, and it’s important because Joel says he wasn’t fully sure about being with Clem and not Naomi then, but that he is as he was being erased.

Then comes a big chunk of silliness with Joel and Clem together, and it’s where vital turning points are left out.

Joel and Clem feel like their childhood counterparts: immature post student companions, but not lovers, not really a couple. We never see their first kiss, their first protestations of love, their first physical consummation. The script tells us that they made love on the frozen Charles river, and if you freeze frame, you can see the deleted dialogue about this written in Kate Winslet’s hand being pulled out of Patrick Baby Boy’s rucksack towards the end of the film. I think I’d have chosen that memorable place to show Clem and Joel as lovers, to show that development. There’s another love scene without a context on the DVD extras, but not in the movie.

Then comes the turning point scene, the hacked and shortened Velveteen Rabbit speech which becomes a tale beneath the covers about the ugly doll which represents Clem. As Joel reassures Clem she’s pretty, they begin the only passionate kiss I can recall in the film, and that’s when Joel decides he wants to keep a memory…. and then that he’d like to call the erasing off.

Nothing seems to change in their oddball friendship until suddenly, having had an affectionate time pillow smothering and armpit sniffing, Clem and Joel are ‘the dining dead’, and she’s criticising his domestic habits. Then it’s the fleamarket scene, where they’re in love enough to consider children but in which she threatens to leave him after Joel implies she’s not ready and possibly a unsuitable parent.

Then it’s the bored TV watching scene where Joel plays dead as Clem stomps out and returns at 3am, drunk with a dented car and quite possibility having been unfaithful…. and the fight which ends their 2 year relationship. And we never see or understand Clem’s decision to erase Joel, other than being impulsive. I didn’t feel that fight was big enough to end the relationship, and neither does Joel, who’s tried to make up by Valentine’s day and call, only to find Clem’s number has been erased, and that when he goes into her bookstore, she doesn’t recognise him and is with Patrick.

The film’s ending grates. I think it could be improved with a single line change. So when Clem says, I’ll get bored and feel trapped, that’s what I do… Joel should say, “But what if that’s because you keep telling yourself that. What if you told yourself a different story this time?”

I do note that Joel seems to have learned something, for his mumbling stops by the end, and he is clear and Jim-Carrey-esque in his mind (aren’t many of us clearer and more confident in the privacy of our own thoughts?) I was glad that Joel is, as Clem observes, closed mouthed – I realised how much Jim zanily shows his teeth usually, and therefore what a change of role this is for him. But Clem doesn’t seem to be any more ready for a better relationship.

Joel and Clem’s mutual taste in books is also cut, which gave them a deeper connection, and you don’t see the reading together in the movie, but you do the script. Strangely for a bookseller, Joel tells Dr Howard that he can’t really talk to Clem about books, she’s more of a magazine girl.

If you freeze frame the film, you can see lots of things which are so sped up you’d miss them: eg a scene with Rob, Carrie Joel and Clem – for I was wondering how they were all mutual friends.

I’m unsure about Howard and Mary having had an affair; even the one grown up calm character buys a silly toy (the desk wind up frog) as a sign of love, and it doesn’t fit. What if Mary’s crush were unreturned and therefore Dr Mierzwiak didn’t have to live with a memory and feeling she didn’t? I can see that Mary’s discovery of having gone under the Lacuna experience is the cause of the return of the tapes (and presumably, the end of Lacuna’s business); but I felt little interested in the Lacuna staff and would have gladly lost screentime with them in favour of the missing bits with Joel and Clem.

Yes, I think this all matters, for the kind of person who like this film will analyse deeply – as Kaufman said, they often rewatched several times and notice new things. And for me, ten years on, I’ve noticed that things are missing. Just because it’s in a crazy order with quirky bits and big ideas, doesn’t mean that lack of narrative progression is excusable; and it seems that much of that progression was in Kaufman’s shooting script, but that the director and studio made him erase it, and it’s a poorer film for it.

Take note, studios – the golden 90/100 minute movie is not golden if you don’t tell your story properly.

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Disagreeing with Iris: the power of words

Words get dissed: from God in Neale Donald Walsch’s conversations to a quote in the biopic on Iris Murdoch, important people are recorded as saying that language is ineffectual, inaccurate, inadequate. In Iris (2002), Kate Winslet as the young dame to be says that words are a falsehood. Coming from someone famous for words as philosopher and novelist, and who in a later scene says [slightly altered] ‘I love words, otherwise how can one think?’ such a statement seems a falsehood in itself. Surely the craft and challenge of the writer is to find the right words to convey all the shades of our existence. I find that using imagery helps for the more difficult and abstract. I’d have liked to have been at the college dinner table, answering her soliloquy and impromptu seminar to the adoring fellows, for just because Iris Murdoch was successful and charming and confident doesn’t mean she is right. It is defeating and disappointing to say that the thing we use to communicate is not very good, and that as an academic at what’s considered one of the world’s greatest learning institutions, you concede that what you use to make a name and earn your living doesn’t really work. However, Iris remained a lecturer and went on to write 26 novels as well as poems and plays, so she can’t have rated words so little. Words have been one of my greatest pleasures, but I find using them with music and image gives them their greatest effect, which is why I am so drawn to film.

Iris was viewed as part of my Kate Winslet season. Other posts here on her and reviews on Amazon UK will follow

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The Wisdom of Ms Roth

It’s tempting, being a generation older than Veronica Roth of Divergent et al fame, to be dismissive of her years to cover my own jealousy and concerns that she has succeeded when I have yet to publish (but that’s changing soon). But I feel that despite society’s messages – much like the dystopia she writes about – we shouldn’t compare or compete, and I won’t be drawn into feeling disharmony toward others: there is room in the world for everyone to do well. I’m also reading Tom Butler-Bowdon’s Never Too Late To Be Great all about slow cooked success and how he cannot find an example of someone without percolation time of at least a decade. Veronica is an example of that, for despite being only 25, she has written since age 12 and had 48 unfinished manuscripts in her draw.

The blog I learned that latter fact from – “The Art of Not Writing” by Ms Roth – is full of wisdom precisely because of her awareness of being young with lots more growth to go. Veronica too is full of encouragement about not panicking at not having early or one chance at success, about being open to further growth and feedback [I’d put a proviso over the last part of that]. “Cultivate humility [my least favourite word], patience, wisdom,” she extols her readers – and have “compassion for yourself and your work”. So despite having a picture of her leaping round her room to music, the text is thoughtful, mature and helpful, and not of the “I’ve made it so I’m a guru to my captive audience” school. And her thoughts about life were also impressive.

There is about to be a little flurry of posts, all connected to someone in Divergent

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Eloquent Expression – fiction dialogue for the congruent

As I writer, I am fed up with hearing – when you write dialogue, make sure nobody says what they mean. And I think – does this mean that all characters, by definition, are inarticulate and not self aware? Surely their journey during the story should be towards greater awareness and the ability to say what’s on their hearts? Some people are taciturn and oblique; some are loquacious and elaborate. The writing world seems to favour the former. But can’t we create characters who are at different stages of the speech spectrum? In film, it means the actor’s facial expressions leave us guessing what a character’s thinking – and sometimes, viewers can guess wrong.

I wondered if characters who were skilled at self expression would make for interesting drama – for there always needs to be something that’s not working for a story to be worth telling. Are they too sorted for the necessary growing and tension?

In life, we strive to be greater at self awareness, at speaking our hearts, at building better relationships with ourselves and others – especially our intimate others. In fiction, characters go on journey too and can be incredibly informing about real life. So why this discrepancy? Why are we encouraged to keep our characters (and our audience) in emotional nappies?

Carol Rogers, the psychotherapist behind person centred counselling, speaks of congruence as one of his three core conditions needed for a therapeutic relationship. It reminds me of school maths and triangles fitting over each other – but I think that’s the point – that what you’re feeling inside fits with what you present to others.

Also – who’s to say no one ever makes speeches or uses mellifluous language in dialogue? We are diverse, and yet the writing world would have everyone have a particular mode of expression – pithy, tangential, limited vocabulary.

I was delighted by the recent film Her in which characters (one human, one virtual) do share their emotions freely. Samantha, the operating system, begins by being open and insightful; as she evolves to ever grater levels, she gets even more adept at it. There is plenty of tension, and yet both Samantha and Theodore always speak their hearts. At last – a drama for the emotionally mature! So thank you to Spike Jonze for penning one and for Joachim Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams for being part of something which demonstrates that self development and being congruent does make for good drama.

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My Bad Girls Series 1 fan fiction has arrived!

I posted it yesterday on Zetaboard’s Nikki and Helen forum. I’ve also started and contributed to other posts on this site, I love the insights on there.

Under the first instalment, I explain how weird it was to write other people’s characters and that it’s not my usual style. We’ve been debating the style of Bad Girl’s writing, and whether it’s too short and misses things, or whether its subtly is part of its quality. Personally, I think the former.

It wouldn’t let me put them all in one file as it’s too long (22,000 words). Here’s the links: eps 1+2 3-5 6-8 9-10

If you’ve got any more specific feedback (make criticism constructive please) I’d love to hear it

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